HONG KONG, July 9 ― Macau on Saturday announced a weeklong shutdown of its casinos and non-essential businesses as the Chinese gambling hub confronted its worst coronavirus outbreak yet.
Macau will enter “static management” for a week starting July 11 and residents must stay home, with rulebreakers liable to be jailed for up to two years, top city official Andre Cheong said at a press conference.
Some public services and businesses such as supermarkets and pharmacies can stay open, but casinos ― which in normal times accounted for around 80 percent of government revenue ― will need to close their doors.
Macau on Saturday reported 71 new Covid cases, bringing the total of infections to 1,374 since the latest wave began on June 18, low by global standards but the city follows mainland China’s strict zero-Covid policy.
Health officials said imposing “static management” coupled with intensive PCR testing in the outbreak’s third week would help prevent a resurgence.
Last month Macau closed most of its businesses, ranging from bars to cinemas, as it adheres to China’s zero-Covid strategy which seeks to stamp out the virus through lockdowns, strict border controls and mass testing.
Despite stringent health policies, the city’s casinos had managed to stay open after an initial 15-day shutdown around the start of the pandemic.
But last week authorities locked down one of Macau’s most famous casinos, the Grand Lisboa, and trapped more than 500 people inside after finding 13 infections linked to the venue.
The 600,000 residents of the former Portuguese colony have been told to minimise unnecessary activity outside the home and have undergone multiple rounds of citywide Covid testing.
Macau hosts a casino industry bigger than that of Las Vegas, accounting for more than half the city’s gross domestic product and employing nearly one-fifth of the population.
The only city in China where casino gambling is permitted, Macau has seen its vital tourism revenues wiped out by some of the world’s harshest measures to tackle the virus -- including tough border controls, weeks-long quarantines and targeted lockdowns.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has also seen increased scrutiny of big-spending gamblers and corrupt officials who might travel to Macau to launder money.
Macau residents may face further economic woes as city officials declared on Saturday that employers are not obligated to pay workers during the Covid-related shutdown. ― AFP