Zoos and safari parks set to reopen - everything you need to know

10 June 2020, 16:02 | Updated: 10 June 2020, 17:03

Eddie Donovan and Jamie Turner measure 2m distance at London Zoo
Eddie Donovan and Jamie Turner measure 2m distance at London Zoo. Picture: ZSL

By Megan White

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce the reopening of zoos and safari parks in England from June 15 at today's Government press briefing.

Theme parks, including Thorpe Park and Legoland, will also be able to open their doors from July 4.

But what have these attractions done to make themselves safe amid the coronavirus pandemic?

London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo

The Zoological Society of London, who run both London and Whipsnade Zoos, said they have redesigned their parks to make them “COVID-secure.”

They have introduced additional handwashing facilities and sanitiser stations across our zoos, fun and engaging way finders, 2m distance markers laid out in exhibits and one-way routes introduced to manage the flow of visitors safely.

Tickets will be available to book from this Friday.

ZSL Director General, Dominic Jermey, says: “We are delighted at the news that the Government may allow ZSL London and Whipsnade zoos to reopen as early as next week.

“Thousands of members of the public have written to their MPs to express their faith in the Zoos’ safety measures and their concern for ZSL’s continued survival - we are grateful for everyone’s support - we can’t wait to welcome visitors through our gates as soon as we are able.

“As we explained in detail to government, we have redesigned our zoos, set in acres of parkland, to make them COVID-secure - our zoos will look, feel and be safe, with a whole range of measures introduced, including additional handwashing facilities and sanitiser stations across our zoos, fun and engaging way finders, 2m distance markers laid out in exhibits and one-way routes introduced to manage the flow of visitors safely.

“Both ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos are open-air spaces accessible by car, bike or on foot and offer vital opportunities for people to safely enjoy the outdoors in the heart of their communities - both have made extensive alterations to accommodate social distancing while still providing a wonderful day out.

“We are waiting to hear more details from the Government, but our zoos are raring to go as soon as we are given the go ahead.

“We expect to have tickets ready to book by Friday - and everyone will need to book so we can manage capacity. We hope the support we’ve seen so far for our zoos translates to visitors coming in to support us further.”

He added: “But re-opening the zoos cannot be the end of the story. After being closed for so many months, reopening ZSL’s zoos will by no means be an instant fix: as an international conservation charity which relies heavily on zoo ticket sales to fund our vital work, we will still urgently need support to keep our two zoos running smoothly, our scientists investigating wildlife diseases such as Covid-19, and our conservationists working in the field to protect Critically Endangered species.”

Chester Zoo

The zoo told LBC News a variety of new safety measures will be implemented, including self-scanning ticket lanes, floor markings to clearly indicate two metre distances, multiple hand sanitisation points, a huge amount of signage and protective screens in key locations and service areas.

Visitor numbers will be “heavily limited” each day and every single visitor, and member, must book online prior to arriving at the zoo.

The zoo also said all indoor animal habitats will remain closed, as will restaurants and cafes, but outdoor food and drink kiosks will be open and they have added more outdoor picnic areas.

Hard surfaces, such as touchscreen computers and cash machines will be covered and out of use, and viewing windows will have one metre standoff markings around them, again to prevent touching. Stringent deep cleaning will also be ongoing.

Jamie Christon, Chief Operating Officer at Chester Zoo, said: “We plan to heavily limit visitor numbers, and all visitors, and members, must book online in advance.

“We’ve installed self-scanning ticket lanes, floor markings, one-way systems, multiple cleaning and hand sanitisation points, a huge amount of signage and protective screens in all of our key locations and service areas.

“We’ve also trained staff to ensure that social distancing rules are followed at all times.

“People will be safer here than in public spaces, as we know can manage numbers and social distancing.”

Thorpe Park, Alton Towers and Legoland

The three Merlin Entertainment parks will all open on July 4 with a variety of safety measures in place.

These will include temperature checks for guests, social distancing on rides and extra hygiene stations around the parks.

In a statement on their websites, they said: “As the first step of a phased reopening, we are hoping to resume operations on a reduced capacity basis from 4th July 2020 with a number of rides, activities and experiences open.

“All guests will need to pre-book tickets to guarantee entry. Further information on this will be disclosed in due course, please keep an eye on our website over the coming weeks.

“We would like to reassure everyone that we are taking the necessary measures to provide a safe and hygienic environment.

“The health and safety of our people is an absolute priority and we will always act to safeguard the wellbeing of our employees and guests wherever possible.”

The parks are also implementing an extensive range of safety measures, designed to ensure a happy, safe and healthy experience for all guests and staff, including:

- Lower capacity limits – both for parks as a whole and for each building, queue line or experience. Additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and clothing for staff

- The conducting of temperature checks on guests and employees wishing to enter parks

- The introduction of Enhanced Cleaning, Hygiene Stations and Hand Sanitiser at key locations

- The provision of spatial separation markings and other similar operating adjustments around parks, with the inclusion of rides

- The redesign of particular tasks to reduce the frequency and/or duration of potential ‘close contact’ points between guests and employees

- Theatre style areas such as actor led experiences and 4D cinemas may have limited numbers or will continue to be closed

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