Four months ago, America’s most populous state was struggling to combat a surge in coronavirus that packed hospital patients into outdoor tents and killed hundreds of people each day.
On Friday, Disneyland, California’s world-famous theme park, will reopen to visitors after an unprecedented 13-month closure in what tourism officials hope is a sign of the state’s rebound from the pandemic, reports the Associated Press.
The news comes as California boasts the country’s lowest rate of confirmed coronavirus infections and more than half of the population eligible for vaccination has received at least one dose of the shot.
It’s a dramatic turnaround from December, when hospitals across the state were running out of ICU beds and treating patients at overflow locations.
Now, children are returning to school, shops and restaurants are shifting up a gear, and Governor Gavin Newsom has set June 15 as a target date to further reopen the economy, albeit with some health-related restrictions.
Theme parks were among the last businesses allowed to reopen in California. That’s a contrast to states with fewer restrictions such as Florida, where Disney World’s Magic Kingdom resort has been up and running, though at lower-than-usual capacity, since last July.
While California continues to “strongly discourage” anyone from visiting the state as tourists, the travel industry is banking on pent-up demand from its own 40 million residents for a profitable comeback.
The amusement park will reopen with capacity capped at 25% under state health rules. Reservations are required, hugs and handshakes with Mickey Mouse, Snow White and other famous characters are off limits, and the famous parades and fireworks shows have been shelved to limit crowding.
California currently allows state only residents and fully vaccinated out-of-state visitors to attend theme parks. The state could open its economy more fully on June 15 provided vaccine supply is sufficient and hospitalisations remain stable and low.
But in a state with so many people shut in for so long, even in-state tourism could be a huge boost.
The reopening is also good news for theme park employees eager to get back to work and owners of hotels and shops in the surrounding city of Anaheim, which is running a deficit of over US$100 million due to pandemic-related closures.
Earlier this week, Disneyland lit up its hallmark Sleeping Beauty castle for the first time in months.
Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort said, “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow ahead for all of us.”