HONG KONG: Macau tightened social distancing restrictions on Thursday, closing almost everything but casinos as the Chinese gambling hub embarked on another round of citywide testing to combat a Covid-19 outbreak ( Photo). The number of cases is low by global comparison, with just 110 announced since the last outbreak began, but authorities moved quickly to stamp out transmission by following mainland China’s strict zero-Covid policy. The virus has been largely brought under control in Macau, but leader Ho Iat-seng said on Thursday the situation was now “more complicated and serious than ever”.
After 48 hours of mass testing that ended on Tuesday, the city ordered all residents to undergo another round starting Thursday. Bars, cinemas, nightclubs, hair and beauty salons, gyms and sports fields have been closed. All restaurants were forced to suspend catering services and the school year ended early after classes were halted earlier in the week. Government buildings and banks also remain closed. But casinos, which in normal times account for around 80% of government revenue, are unaffected by the restrictions. During an epidemic in 2020, casinos were closed for 15 days.
On Tuesday, local media reported that a hotel and casino complex had been locked down with 700 people inside after an infection was discovered. Almost all gambling is banned in mainland China, but it is allowed in Macau, a former Portuguese colony that has a bigger casino industry than Las Vegas. Macau’s casinos typically account for more than half of the city’s gross domestic product, with almost a fifth of the workforce employed in the industry. And the pandemic is not the only challenge facing the sector. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has led to increased scrutiny of spendthrift gamblers and corrupt officials who may travel to Macau to launder money.
On Tuesday, Macau’s rubber stamp legislature passed a new gambling law that will give the Chinese government more control over the industry, with the sector instructed not to undermine China’s national security . Macau’s six major casino operators are all required to re-bid for their licenses this year. * Follow us on Instagram and join our Telegram and/or WhatsApp channels for the latest news you don’t want to miss.
* Do you have access to the Daily Express electronic newspaper and exclusive news online? View available subscription plans.