China’s strict zero Covid-19 policy has once again sparked viral images. “Please return and take a walk around the park. The doors are temporarily closed and leaving is not allowed.” This is how the workers of the Shanghai Disney Resort announced to tens of thousands of visitors on Monday that they would not be able to leave the premises until they tested negative for Covid-19. The unexpected closure took place after the metropolis of 25 million people registered 10 new cases of local transmission the previous day, all of them asymptomatic. Despite the fact that the figures are minuscule compared to those of other countries, Chinese authorities insist that the zero-Covid policy, which involves mass lockdowns and testing, has saved millions of lives and is “the most economical and scientific approach” to controlling the virus.
At 11.39am on Monday, the loudspeakers of Shanghai Disney announced that the gates of the main theme park, as well as the surrounding areas, including its commercial street, would be shut immediately and until further notice. Videos shared on Chinese social media showed hundreds of people rushing to the already locked exits, to no avail.
In its official WeChat account, the Shanghai government reported that both entering and leaving the site was forbidden, and that all tourists would have to wait for a negative PCR result before exiting. In addition, it said that anyone who had visited the park since October 27 should be tested for three consecutive days.
The sudden closure, however, did not prevent visitors from enjoying the rides, which continued to operate. In images shared on Weibo (the Chinese Twitter) workers in protective suits were seen taking samples while fireworks go off in the background. A user reflected: “It’s the most beautiful place to do a PCR.”
Although the number of people who could not leave has not been confirmed, local authorities reported Tuesday that 400,000 people – including staff – were tested. Official sources stated that all the tourists tested negative and were allowed to leave at 8.30pm. This is not the first time that visitors have been trapped in Disney Shanghai due to Covid-19; last November, more than 30,000 people were kept in the park for hours after authorities ordered everyone present to be tested, following a close contact.
Local officials have not provided any details on whether there is a new outbreak in the city, although 1.3 million residents of the central Yangpu district were ordered to stay home on Friday. In a statement released on Monday, the park announced: “We will notify guests as soon as we have a confirmed date to resume operations.” This same formula was used in March, when the resort remained closed for three months due to an increase in cases that led to Draconian lockdown rules. When the park opened in the summer, it did so with many restrictions, less capacity and fewer employees.
In recent months, China has experienced several new Covid outbreaks, which have been attributed to the highly contagious Omicron variant. In images that went viral last weekend, workers at the Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou (the world’s largest iPhone factory) were seen escaping the facility to avoid a lockdown. In one video, several people were seen climbing over fences, while another showed workers sitting next to their luggage on the side of a road while a person wearing protective equipment sprayed them with disinfectant. On Monday, Foxconn denied the rumors that 20,000 employees had been diagnosed with Covid-19.
Last week, the Universal Studios Beijing theme park also closed for five days, and all its visitors had to be quarantined for a few days. On Tuesday, after having detected a positive case, Macau started a round of tests for its 700,000 inhabitants, while Guangzhou has canceled more than 500 flights due to the recent increase in Covid cases in its territory. According to data from the National Health Commission, China – the most populous nation on the planet – has only reported 260,506 cases and 5,226 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
While other parts of the world have relaxed coronavirus restrictions, China continues to strictly adhere to its zero Covid-19 policy, which is aimed at quickly curbing all transmission of the virus. Traveling to China remains hard due to the difficulty of obtaining a visa, the scarcity (and steep prices) of flights and the fact that all travelers must cover the cost of a mandatory seven-day hotel quarantine. The most optimistic analysts believe the situation will not change until the spring of 2023, after the annual legislative meeting is over and the political transition that begun at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party is complete.