Disney World in Florida reopens a bit -- but no rides yet

Miami (AFP) –


Walt Disney World cracked open its doors on Wednesday, offering dining and shopping to masked customers but leaving the beloved rides closed, as Florida begins to slowly get back to business after a coronavirus lockdown.

As the park welcomed people to the Disney Springs shopping strip in Orlando, the new reality of life in the COVID-19 era was stark.

Parking was limited, barriers have been erected to encourage social distancing, visiting hours have been reduced and staffers repeatedly disinfected high-touch surfaces.

People were asked to undergo temperature checks as they entered, and face masks are mandatory -- grim stuff for "the happiest place on Earth."

Also posted on the Disney Springs website is this warning: "COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death."

"By visiting Disney Springs, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19," it adds.

As part of Florida's phased reopening following a virtual economic shutdown in mid-March to curb the spread of the virus, more restaurants and bars will open up next week.

But there is no date yet for the reopening of the Sunshine State's wildly popular amusement parks -- Disney World and Universal Studios top the list.

Most beaches in south Florida also remain closed.

"Today's world is different, and it's going to require a shared responsibility, with everyone doing their part," Disney Springs vice president Matt Simon wrote in a blog post.

Disney shares rose five percent on the New York Stock Exchange following press reports -- denied by the company -- that it would announce Thursday when the parks would reopen.

- Uneven Florida reopening -

Florida began to slowly reactivate its economy two weeks ago in an uneven manner, with different rules in the state's dizzying patchwork of counties and cities.

As of Wednesday, Florida had officially reported more than 47,000 novel coronavirus cases, and nearly 2,100 fatalities, with the number of cases starting to drop.

However, the figures may be inaccurate: a state health department worker has said that she was forced to undercount the number of cases, something that the office of Governor Ron DeSantis denies.

In some cases, residents from out of state are not being included in the tally, and in others, the victim's cause of death is attributed to underlying conditions, according to press reports.

Florida's first phase of reopening does not include hotels, gyms, bars or movie theaters.

Since Monday, most restaurants in south Florida are allowed to be open at half-capacity, and all workers and customers must wear face masks.

All passengers traveling through Miami's busy international airport must also wear masks.

But in Miami Beach, a magnet for tourists worldwide, restaurants will not open until May 27.

The idea is to avoid a flood of visitors arriving for the long Memorial Day weekend -- which traditionally marks the beginning of summer and begins on Friday.

"We cannot interpret our phased reopening as a signal that the virus has left the community," warned Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber.

On Wednesday, just a few stores on Lincoln Road -- an iconic open-air Miami Beach promenade -- were open to the public. And people mostly stayed away.

"We had a few customers throughout the day but not as many as we were anticipating," said Kylie Bentley, manager of an Urban Outfitters store.

"But I heard from other stores in the state that it takes a couple of days for everyone to realize that we are open."