By Joe Kleiman
ABOVE: Shanghai Disney Resort
The first cases of coronavirus infection in the city of Wuhan were reported by Chinese officials to the World Health Organization at the end of December, 2019. However, it wasn’t until January 20, 2020, just days before the Chinese New Year holiday and Golden Week (Spring Festival). that steps were laid in place for extreme measures to prevent the virus’ spread.
On that day, the National Health Committee of the People’s Republic of China issued Announcement No. 1 for 2020, which put Class A preventative measures for infectious diseases in place. According to the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, this classification is typically reserved for mass bacterial outbreaks, such as plague and cholera.
Class A regulations as listed in the Law on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, call for “restricting or stopping market fairs, theater performances, or other crowd gathering activities.” In areas, such as Shanghai, where cases of the virus had been documented, this meant the immediate closure of theme parks, including the entire Shanghai Disney Resort. In areas where cases had yet to be documented, such as the Pearl River Delta, parks such as Hong Kong Disneyland and Chimelong’s resorts in Zhuhai and Guangzhou remained open, though guest’s temperatures were measured as they entered the parks.
With an exponential number of cases spreading around China, on Saturday, January 25 (New Year’s Day), the majority of provincial governments made the decision to close attractions. This included not only theme parks, but show venues, scenic areas, historical sites, museums, zoos, aquariums, and even sporting events, with the Chinese Basketball Association suspending all games indefinitely.
On the theme park front, as the Hong Kong government declared an extreme public health risk, Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park both closed on Sunday, January 26. Elsewhere in China, Chimelong closed all parks and circus venues at both of its resorts, Lionsgate Entertainment World in Zhuhai and all Merlin Entertainments venues in mainland China ceased operations, OCT (operator of the Happy Valley parks) and Fantawild closed all their parks, as did Haichang Ocean Park, including its new flagship theme parks in Sanya and Shanghai.
On Saturday, January 25, the public areas of the Atlantis Sanya Resort on the island of Hainain, including its aquarium and waterpark, were closed. One day later, the resort’s hotel closed as well. As with other zoological operations, we confirmed that animal care staff are remaining on property during the closure. With over 80,000 trips booked to Hainan over the holiday week, the provincial government raised its local response to Grade II, instituting strict controls at the island’s ports of entry.
As of this writing (January 27, 2020), five cases of the coronavirus have been identified in Macao, with at least one infected individual having crossed into Macao via the new bridge from Hong Kong. While the local government canceled all Chinese New Year festivities, local casino resorts have remained open, although a number are taking precautions. Melco Resorts for, example, is monitoring guest temperatures as they enter the company’s properties. Meclo has also closed a number of entertainment venues, including The House of Dancing Water at City of Dreams and the Warner Bros. Fun Zone at Studio City.
It will take time to determine both the short- and long-term economic implications of the closures. According to the 2018 AECOM/TEA Theme Index, five of the closed theme parks are among the top twenty-five attended in the world, while thirteen are among the top twenty attended in Asia.
In many ways, it parallels the impact on tourism in the United States following the incidents of September 11, 2001. However, the situation in China is much different in that the closures are government dictated and took place during the busiest travel and tourism week of the year. In recent years, more than 700 million people have traveled throughout China during Golden Week.
Just today, the Macao Government Tourism Office released provisional figures for the first three days of Golden Week. On Friday, January 24, the number of visitors to Macao was 34.6% less than the first day of Golden Week in 2019. By Sunday, the divide for the third day of the festival week had increased to 60.5% lower than the previous year (a 66.3% drop on Sunday when only gauging mainland Chinese visitation).
Estimates for the re-opening of theme parks and attractions vary from a few weeks to at least three months and are largely dependent on where they are located and on the overall containment of the coronavirus.