Macau has closed all its casinos for the first time in more than two years as authorities struggle to contain the worst outbreak of the coronavirus to date in the world’s largest gambling hub.
The city’s more than 30 casinos, along with other non-essential businesses, will close for a week from Monday and people have been ordered to stay at home. Police would monitor the flow of people outside, the government said, and severe penalties would be imposed on those who disobeyed.
Hospitals, pharmacies, supermarkets and fresh produce markets are some of the essential services that are allowed to remain open.
Macau has registered about 1,500 Covid-19 infections since mid-June. About 19,000 people are in mandatory quarantine, according to government figures.
More than 30 zones in the city that were considered high-risk are now closed, meaning no one is allowed to enter or leave for at least five days. Although the government said it would not impose a citywide lockdown, the strict measures mean Macau is effectively closed.
Macau is adhering to China’s “zero-covid” policy that aims to eradicate all outbreaks, contrary to a global trend of trying to co-exist with the virus.
Casinos were last closed for 15 days in Macau in February 2020.
The government was previously hesitant to close casinos because of its mandate to protect jobs. Industry directly or indirectly employs most of the population and accounts for more than 80% of government revenues.
Casinos owned by Sands China, Wynn Macau, SJM Holdings, Galaxy Entertainment, Melco Resorts and MGM Resorts have been effectively closed in recent weeks, with no gamblers and minimum staffing requirements as per government requirements for people to work from home.
Analysts said it was likely the suspension could be extended for a few more weeks, with a recovery in gaming revenues unlikely through the end of the third or fourth quarter.
“Even if the outbreak in Macau comes under control, it will likely be a few more weeks before Macau-Zhuhai can lift quarantine requirements,” said Terry Ng, an analyst at Daiwa Capital Markets in Hong Kong.
Frustration is mounting with the government’s handling of the outbreak. Some residents have been arguing at testing centers, while others have had to queue for more than 20 hours to access healthcare facilities.
Residents will have to take part in massive Covid testing four times this week as the government tries to cut transmission chains.
Residents have already been tested six times since mid-June and are expected to take rapid antigen tests daily.
More than 90% of Macau’s 600,000 residents have been fully vaccinated against Covid, but this marks the city’s first time with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.
Authorities have added two hotels in popular casino resorts to be used as Covid medical facilities as they try to increase capacity to deal with the wave of infections.