The happiest place on earth also looked like one of the most crowded over the weekend in Florida.
Disney World, which was shut down Monday due to the coronavirus outbreak, faced intense backlash online over its decision to keep the theme park until late Sunday – as photos from a Disney World fansite went viral, showing large crowds gathering in Orlando at a time when the government is rapidly closing public venues in order to slow the progression of a deadly virus that has already killed over 6,000 people worldwide.
Representatives for Walt Disney World did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The backlash has been led by Abigail Disney, Walt Disney’s great-niece, who tweeted “Are you f—ing kidding me??” in response to photos that surfaced late Sunday.
As of mid-day Monday, criticism of Disney online had spread through retweets of the photos including one by CNN’s Jake Tapper, who noted that the Centers for Disease Control had recommended canceling all events drawing crowds of more than 50 people for the next 8 weeks.
On March 12, Disney announced plans to close all of its theme parks worldwide, which generated a staggering $26.2 billion in revenue for Disney in 2019. Disney World and its hotels officially closed March 16, while Disneyland in Anaheim shuttered March 14 after getting a brief “exempt” status from the state of California. The Disney World announcement came three days after Florida governors Ron DeSantis declared a stage of emergency at a time when there were 46 COVID-19 cases in Florida.
As of Monday, there were 110 COVID-19 cases and four related deaths in Florida. All four of Disney’s Florida parks – including Universal Studios Orlando, which also remained opened through Sunday were closed as of Monday.
On Feb. 4, Disney announced in its call with investors that the spread of coronavirus in China could deal a blow to the operations of Disney’s theme parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Walt Disney executives said they expected the virus to result to affect $135 million in second-quarter operating income if its Shanghai Disneyland resort is closed for two months and around $40 million in operating income if Hong Kong Disneyland is closed for the same amount of time.
Disneyland Paris closed on Saturday due to coronavirus concerns while the Tokyo theme park shuttered in Japan in late February.
Bob Chapek, who was recently named new CEO of Disney on Feb. 25 to replace Bob Iger, is the former chairman of Disney Parks.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Disney World photos originated from Disney – they came from a Disney World fan site.