China locks down Shanghai Disneyland and tests 34,000 visitors after single Covid case

The popular theme park became the site of a suspected Delta outbreak, with authorities mass testing tens of thousands in the pursuit of Covid zero

As fireworks lit up the sky over Shanghai Disney Resort on Sunday, chatter began to spread through the crowds. Qian, a young Chinese woman who’d decided to spend her Halloween at the theme park, saw a Weibo alert from Disney saying the park had closed and rides had stopped. No more guests could enter Disneyland – those already inside, all 34,000 of them, would have to be tested and isolate.

The news filtered through the throngs of parkgoers but, as Qian described, caused no panic, despite the worsening outbreak of Delta across 16 Chinese provinces.

“The tourists around me started discussing this matter, but they all finished watching the first fireworks in peace,” she posted on Weibo.

As they moved towards the exit, the crowd learned no one could leave until all were tested. They were ushered along outdoor trestle tables staffed by PPE-wearing healthworkers for testing, as the second evening fireworks show blasted in the background. The gates were closed and the rail lines shut down.

“I never thought that the longest queue in Disneyland would be for a nucleic acid test,” another visitor wryly noted on social media.

A child holds Mickey Mouse balloons as visitors receive Covid-19 tests at the Shanghai Disney Resort
A child holds Mickey Mouse balloons as visitors receive Covid-19 tests at the Shanghai Disney Resort Photograph: AP

Late in the night more than 200 buses took people home for two days of self-isolation and further testing. Another 100,000 people who visited the park on the weekend will also be tested.

The surreal scenes were prompted by the discovery of one case, a Saturday visitor Shanghai who was later found to be positive. Reports were conflicted on whether she had even gone to Disneyland. Disney’s initial alert had only attributed the closure to a need to “cooperate with the pandemic investigation in other provinces and cities”.

Regardless, the park and Disneytown – its retail hub – shut until Wednesday.

On Monday, China reported another 54 cases in a stubborn outbreak of Delta which, while dwarfed by numbers around the world, is threatening China’s commitment to remaining free from Covid.

So far about 500 people have been diagnosed across at least 16 provinces, initially centred around Inner Mongolia but now mostly in Heilongjiang. Throughout the pandemic authorities have responded swiftly and strongly to outbreaks, with sudden lockdowns, transport restrictions and mass testing drives. But the high transmissibility of the Delta variant has seen a rise in more creative attempts to curb its spread.

Communities are largely complying – in Heilongjiang an official bragged of the 35,000 people who rushed to the testing stations, queueing under umbrellas. But tolerance is beginning to wane, especially when it involves so few cases.

In Jiangxi authorities turned all traffic lights red to halt movement after a single case was identified – its first in almost two years. The move was reversed after public outcry. In Beijing some residents complained of glitchy health apps recording their location in the wrong place, and leaving them stranded. On Monday Beijing’s health commission asked people to avoid leaving or returning if possible.

In Ruili, a small town on the border between China’s Yunnan and Myanmar, repeated lockdowns and waves of outbreaks have driven people away. Local media reported that one baby in the city who had been tested 74 times since September.

In late October, someone who claimed to be a Ruili student posted on Weibo that he and his family were unable to return home. Local officials told Chinese media that since 2020 the number of residents had reduced from half a million to 200,000. “Impacted by the epidemic for a long time, many people found life hard to cope with,” one said. The mayor has made an extraordinary plea for help from Beijing.

China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are among the last global jurisdictions still clinging to elimination strategies for the virus. For all three it involves the continuation of strict border closures and quarantine systems.

Some have begun to question the sustainability of the strategy, as the rest of the world begins reopening and accepting life with the virus, mitigated by high rates of vaccination and less intrusive health measures. Others note that the strategy has worked – all three places are largely Covid free, having seen few of the world’s five million recorded deaths.

In Shanghai, Qian praised the response at Disneyland.

“One can really believe in Shanghai for ever. The response speed and the measures to deal with the epidemic are really fast and reasonable,” she said. “This Halloween will be unforgettable, a happy, beautiful, and wonderful journey with no dangers. I hope the epidemic gets better soon and everyone is safe and sound.”


Helen Davidson in Taipei

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
China locks down part of Guangzhou amid outbreak of Indian Covid variant
Hundreds of flights have been cancelled, and authorities ordered residents of some streets in the Liwan neighbourhood of Guangzhou city to isolate

Helen Davidson in Taipei

01, Jun, 2021 @5:45 AM

Article image
‘No end in sight’: Shanghai residents chafe at harsh Covid measures
Tensions rise again as lockdowns grind on and the city’s population tire of strict zero-Covid policy

Vincent Ni China affairs correspondent

10, May, 2022 @1:21 AM

Article image
China locks down part of Wuhan, nearly three years after first Covid case emerged
More than 800,000 people locked down in site of world’s first Covid outbreak in 2019, as other Chinese cities seal up streets and homes

Guardian staff with agencies

27, Oct, 2022 @5:07 AM

Article image
Covid lockdown extended in Shanghai as outbreaks put economy on the skids
China’s largest city and financial powerhouse is struggling to cope with the country’s worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic in Wuhan

Martin Farrer and agencies

01, Apr, 2022 @5:56 AM

Article image
Chinese city of 1.2 million people locked down after three Covid cases emerge
Public transport halted and cars banned in Yuzhou as China pursues zero-Covid strategy ahead of Winter Olympics

Helen Davidson and agencies

04, Jan, 2022 @8:20 AM

Article image
Shanghai begins locking down millions as China’s Covid cases surge
China will shut down city in two stages as it sticks to a ‘zero-Covid’ strategy amid growing outbreaks

Vincent Ni

28, Mar, 2022 @2:50 PM

Article image
China approves Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine for general use
Rollout to begin ‘soon’ but about a million have already received injection under emergency approvals

Helen Davidson in Taipei

31, Dec, 2020 @3:52 AM

Article image
Reports of teenager dying in Covid quarantine cause outcry in China
Video of girl struggling to breathe is circulating online, with claims family’s pleas for help were ignored

Helen Davidson in Taipei

19, Oct, 2022 @9:20 AM

Article image
China places millions into Covid lockdown again as economy continues to struggle
Key cities of Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Dalian are under curbs again, amid protests and data showing factory slowdown

Martin Farrer and agencies

31, Aug, 2022 @5:45 AM

Article image
China records first Covid death since May as WHO team arrives in Wuhan
Delegation arrives as China suffers growing outbreak of coronavirus in Hebei province

Helen Davidson in Taipei

14, Jan, 2021 @9:22 AM