Macao shuts down casinos in race to curb COVID-19 spread

HONG KONG: Macao shut all its casinos for the first time in more than two years on Monday (Jul 11) as authorities struggle to contain the worst coronavirus outbreak yet in the world’s biggest gambling hub.

The city’s more than 30 casinos, along with other non-essential businesses will shut for one week and people were ordered to stay at home. Police will monitor flows of people outside and stringent punishments will be imposed for those who disobey, the government said.

Hospitals, pharmacies, supermarkets and fresh food markets are some of the essential services that can remain open.

Macao has recorded around 1,500 COVID-19 infections since mid-June. Around 19,000 people are in mandatory quarantine, according to government figures.

Casinos were last closed in Macao in February 2020 for 15 days in an unprecedented move to fight the virus.

The government has been hesitant to close casinos due to its mandate to protect jobs. The industry employs most of the population directly and indirectly and accounts for more than 80 per cent of government revenues.

Casinos have been effectively shut for the past few weeks, with no gamblers and minimal staffing as per government requirements for people to work from home.

Analysts said it was likely that the suspension could be extended by another few weeks with a recovery in gaming revenue unlikely until the end of the third or fourth quarter.

“Even if the outbreak in Macao gets under control, it will likely be another few weeks before Macao-Zhuhai can remove quarantine requirements,” said Terry Ng, analyst at Daiwa Capital Markets in Hong Kong.

Authorities have added two hotels in popular casino resorts to be used as COVID-19 medical facilities as they try to increase capacity to handle the surge of infections.

More than 90 per cent of Macao’s residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but this is the first time the city has had to grapple with the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

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