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Disney struggles with reopening global theme parks as Disneyland finally gets California rules

The company is laying off 28,000 US employees as Disneyland stays shut and Disney World attendance remains capped.

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Disneyland California

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland in California remains closed.

Corinne Reichert/CNET
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When Disney's theme parks closed indefinitely during the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020, many wondered and worried about when they would reopen. Both Shanghai Disney and Hong Kong Disney closed in late January, followed by the Tokyo Disney Resort in late February. Disneyland Paris closed March 12, as did Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Of all of the parks, Disneyland remains the only one still closed.

Disney announced Sept. 29 that it will lay off 28,000 US employees, laying the blame on reduced capacity at its theme parks due to social distancing requirements, as well as California's "unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen." 

"We have made the very difficult decision to begin the process of reducing our workforce at our Parks, Experiences and Products segment at all levels, having kept non-working cast members on furlough since April while paying healthcare benefits," Josh D'Amaro, Disney Parks chair, said in a statement. "Approximately 28,000 domestic employees will be affected, of which about 67% are part time."

Here's when Disney can open its California parks and how COVID-19 has affected its other parks.

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Disneyland: Whenever Orange County reaches 'minimal' cases

California revealed its theme park reopening guidelines on Oct. 20. The state will allow large parks like Disneyland to open only once the county they're in is in the "yellow," or minimal, tier of COVID-19 transmission, meaning the area must have less than one daily new case of coronavirus per 100,000 people, as well as less than 2% of tests coming back positive.

Disneyland's home of Orange County is still stuck in the red tier, with "substantial" spread of COVID-19. At present, it has 4.6 new cases per day per 100,000 people, with a 3.2% positive rate on test results. Once Disneyland does reopen, park capacity will be limited to 25% and reservations will be required.

Disney protested the strict rules, calling them "arbitrary" and "unworkable." Disneyland President Ken Potrock said the company has proved it can open responsibly. "The state of California continues to ignore this fact," he said. "State guidelines will keep us shuttered for the foreseeable future ... irreparably devastating the Anaheim/Southern California community."

"We do believe that it is possible," California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Oct. 20 when asked if Orange County can reach the yellow tier. He added it'll take hard work, constant vigilance, widespread testing and contact tracing.

Smaller theme parks -- those with a total capacity of 15,000 people or fewer -- are permitted to reopen once their county reaches the orange or "moderate" tier, but they'll be capped at 25% attendance or 500 people, whichever is less; only outdoor attractions can be open; reservations are required; and only locals can attend.

Prior to those rules, Disneyland initially announced an optimistic reopening date of July 17, on the 65th anniversary of the resort. It was forced to backtrack in late June when California refused to issue theme park guidance. Gov. Gavin Newsom warned on June 22 that the first coronavirus wave wasn't finished yet, and union leaders who represent Disneyland's 17,000 employees were also pushing for the theme park to slow down its plans to reopen until it was safer.

"We have no choice but to delay the reopening of our theme parks and resort hotels until we receive approval from government officials," Disney Parks tweeted at the time.

Orange County was downgraded from "widespread" to "substantial" in California's COVID-19 classification system on Sept. 8. Still pushing for a reopening, Disneyland on Sept. 22 hosted an online press conference where it practically begged to be allowed to open. "We need guidelines that are fair and equitable," said Josh D'Amaro, chair of Disney Parks, according to Theme Park Insider. "The longer we wait, the more devastating the impact will be to Orange County and the Anaheim communities and the tens of thousands of people who rely on us for employment."

Disneyland reached an agreement with 11 unions representing its workers as of Oct. 14, according to The OC Register, so that it can be ready to open immediately. The California Health and Human Services Agency reportedly sent state health officials to assess Disney World in Florida during the first week of October, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Disney announced Oct. 23 that it will be extending the Downtown Disney shopping and dining district into the main street area of California Adventure theme park, stretching from Buena Vista street up to the Carthay Circle lounge.

The Downtown Disney shopping and dining area reopened July 9 in line with California's restaurant and retail opening guidelines. The reopening was affected by Newsom's rules announced July 1, which involve closing down all bars as well as the indoor portions of restaurants. It also included operational hours of 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.; only the Simba parking lot is open; guests with a temperature of 100.4 F or higher aren't allowed in; hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations are present throughout the area; all guests must bring and wear their own masks; and there are ground markings for social distancing.

Newsom's original plan to reopen California said the "highest risk" venues like concert halls, convention centers and sports stadiums shouldn't reopen until "therapeutics have been developed."

Hong Kong Disneyland: June 18-July 15 and again Sept. 25

Hong Kong Disneyland announced June 15 that it would reopen on June 18 with reduced capacity, enhanced health measures and a new reservation system -- but then closed down indefinitely again on July 15 after a spike in coronavirus cases in the region. "As required by the government and health authorities in line with prevention efforts taking place across Hong Kong, Hong Kong Disneyland Park will temporarily close," Disney said on the theme park website at the time.

The theme park reopened Sept. 25, Disney announced on Sept. 22. Hong Kong Disneyland remains closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays for now, and will require reservations via its online reservation system up to seven days in advance.

Disneyland Paris: July 15

Disneyland Paris reopened on July 15, starting with both Disneyland Paris parks, Disney's Newport Bay Club hotel and the Disney Village shopping and dining area. Likewise, it has limited attendance under a reservation system, physical distancing and more emphasis on cleaning.

Disney's hotels have "sneeze guards" installed, and only one family at a time may use the elevators. Character meet-and-greets have been replaced by "unexpected appearances to new Selfie Spots." Parades and fireworks are cancelled, but the Lion King stage show will return some time during summer 2020.

The reopening of Disneyland Paris comes despite French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe saying in May that public events with more than 5,000 people would be against the law until September.

Disney World: July 11

Disney reopened Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, with Epcot and Hollywood Studios following on July 15. The Orlando Disney parks have social distancing and wellness measures, including temperature screenings, wearings masks, keeping guests six feet apart while lining up for attractions and a guest reservation system to limit capacity.

Fireworks, parades and character meet and greets have been suspended. Disney World resorts and hotels began reopening in late June. 

Disney Springs shopping and dining area reopened May 20 with limited parking, fewer entrances, temperature screening before entry, masks required, physically distanced lines and barriers, reduced hours, no entertainment and more sanitization and disinfectant. Disney-owned stores and restaurants in Disney Springs began reopening May 27.

disney-world-fireworks

Disney World's fireworks show is on hold, though the Magic Kingdom has a planned reopening date of July 11

Disney

Tokyo Disney Resort: July 1

Disney Parks announced on June 23 that it would be opening Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea on July 1.

Japan began reopening in late May, with the Tokyo Disney Resort saying June 4 that the opening date for the Tokyo Disneyland major expansion area will be determined once the situation can be gauged after reopening both parks." The extensive expansion -- which includes a Beauty and the Beast-themed area and a Baymax ride -- was originally slated to begin opening on April 15, 2020.

Disneyland Shanghai: May 11

Disney CEO Bob Iger announced May 5 that the Shanghai park would reopen Monday, May 11. It has limits on attendance, a reservation system to gain entry to the park, an entry control system, social distancing requirements, tape markings keeping guests distanced while in lines for rides, masks, temperature screenings, contact tracing and government-required health procedures. It increased capacity from 30% to 50% of the park on Aug. 24, and also restarted its night-time fireworks show.

Shanghai began opening restaurants and stores on March 9 in Disneytown, Wishing Star Park and at the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel, requiring all guests to undergo temperature screening, present a green Shanghai QR health code at dining venues, constantly wear a mask and "maintain respectful social distances at all times."

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.