The gates have been thrown open at Walt Disney World in Florida as the US state posts record numbers of coronavirus infections.
The Walt Disney Company welcomed a limited number of guests to its two most popular parks Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on Saturday – where they found a host of boosted safety measures as the southern state recorded more than 15,000 new cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours on Sunday.
Close encounters with Donald, Mickey and the park’s other stars were out, but they did wave at visitors from a safe social distance.
Pictures posted online showed people close together waiting to get in but social distancing measures were quickly enforced by Disney employees after about half an hour.
Florida has been steadily reopening since a stay-at-home order ended on April 30, with a confirmed number of 269,811 cases statewide since the outbreak of the pandemic, including a further 15,299 overnight.
In addition, more than 48 of the state’s hospitals say their intensive care units are full due to the surge in virus patients.
So far, 4242 people have lost their lives in Florida to COVID-19.
Anti-mask protests held the same day
While Star Wars Storm Troopers enforced mask-wearing at Disney, about 19 kilometres down the road an anti-mask protest was underway.
Anti-mask activist Tara Hill said the coronavirus was very well-contained.
“Everyone is responsible for their own health care decisions … We want our choices respected as well,” she said.
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In the past two weeks, Florida has emerged as an epicentre of COVID-19 infections, posting record numbers of new cases five times in the past 10 days.
If Florida was a country, it would rank fourth in the world for most new coronavirus cases in a day, behind the US, Brazil and India.
Its daily increases in cases have already surpassed the highest tallies reported by any European country during the height of the pandemic there.
Florida passed the state of New York’s record of 12,847 new cases on April 10, when it was the epicentre of the US outbreak.
Nationally, the US has broken global records by registering about 60,000 new cases a day for the past four days, according to a Reuters tally.
Hospitalisations and positive test rates are also rising in the other states at the centre of the outbreak: Arizona, California and Texas.
Health officials have pleaded with Americans to wear masks to limit the spread of the virus, but the issue has become politically divisive.
Seven months into the pandemic, US President Donald Trump wore a mask for the first time in public when he visited a Washington DC area military medical centre on Saturday.
Mr Trump had previously refused to wear a mask in public or ask Americans to wear face coverings, saying it was a personal choice.
Many Americans still refuse to wear a mask, which health experts say helps stop transmission of the virus.
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COVID-19 has killed a total of 135,176 Americans.