The parks were originally planning to reopen at the end of March

By Hannah Chubb
March 27, 2020 04:59 PM

The Walt Disney Company has announced that both Disneyland and Walt Disney World will be closed indefinitely amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The parks were originally planning to reopen at the end of the month.

The company shared the announcement in a statement on their official Twitter, writing, “While there is still much uncertainty with respect to the impacts of COVID-19, the safety and well-being of our guests and employees remains The Walt Disney Company’s top priority.”

They have continued to pay their park employees since the parks first closed, and they indicate in the statement that they “have made the decision to extend paying hourly parks and resorts cast members through April 18.”

On Thursday, March 12, PEOPLE first reported that Disneyland and Disney World would both close over the weekend, following the closure of other major tourist attractions and events around the world.

The governors of both California and Florida had already declared a state of emergency in order to redirect funds to fight the spread of the virus in their states. On Friday, March 13, President Trump declared a national state of emergency.

Marc Rasmus/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

Regarding the California resort, Disney tweeted on their official Public Affairs Twitter: “While there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at Disneyland Resort, after carefully reviewing the guidelines of the Governor of California’s executive order . . . we are proceeding with the closure of Disneyland Park and Disneyland California Adventure, beginning the morning of March 14 through the end of the month.”

The announcement indicated that those who had already planned visits to the park during this time would be able to speak with Disney representatives to change or cancel their plans, and Disney will be providing refunds to those who have hotel bookings during the closure period.

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Currently, Disney has closed all of its attractions, hotels and stores in North America. This includes Aulani resort in Hawaii, which was the last Disney property in the U.S. to close in the midst of the pandemic, as PEOPLE reported on Monday, March 23.

The company notified guests of this decision in a statement posted on the Aulani website, writing that the resort will officially close its doors at 5pm on Tuesday, March 24, with plans to reopen on Tuesday, March 31. They shared that the decision to close was made “in line with state guidance, in an abundance of caution and in the best interests of our Guests and Cast Members.” There is currently no information on whether the resort will indeed reopen on Tuesday.

Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii
courtesy Disney

The statement also notes that they will be working with guests to reschedule their stays, and “waiving all Disney-imposed change and cancellation fees up to the date of check-in” for impacted reservations.

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This is the only the third time in history that Disneyland has closed completely for reasons other than weather. Previously, Disneyland shut down following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the national day of mourning after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

Walt Disney World in Orlando has only ever shut its doors due to the threat of hurricanes — most recently, Hurricane Dorian in September 2019 — and the day after the 2001 attacks.

Neither park has ever closed due to the outbreak of an illness.

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Shanghai Disneyland, currently closed indefinitely

Several Disney parks in Asia, where this coronavirus outbreak began, have also closed.

Disney’s Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo parks were the first to close their gates. The Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai locations are closed indefinitely — though Disneyland Shanghai has begun to slowly reopen some parts of the resort. Tokyo Disney originally planned to reopen on March 16.

Shanghai Disneyland in 2016
Marcio Machado/Getty Images

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A spokesperson for Walt Disney World told PEOPLE in the days leading up to the closure that the company had been monitoring the situation, and that the parks had been ramping up their sanitation procedures.

“We know there is new information this week about Coronavirus in Florida,” the spokesperson said in a statement on March 3.

“We have very stringent sanitation procedures in place at Walt Disney World Resort. We are in close contact with health agencies for information and guidance, and at this time, we are continuing to communicate to our Cast the importance of preventative measures such as frequent handwashing and rigorous cleaning processes.” Adding, “For guest convenience, we have placed additional hand sanitizers throughout our parks and resorts and will adjust our protocols as the situation warrants.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the best prevention methods against COVID-19 are basic forms of hygiene — careful handwashing, avoiding touching the face, moving away from people who are coughing or sneezing and staying home at signs of illness.

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As of Friday, there are at least 85,381 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, which now has the most cases in the world. 1,271 Americans have died from coronavirus-related illnesses.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

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