Macau has shut all its casinos for the first time in more than two years as authorities struggle to contain the worst coronavirus outbreak yet in the world’s biggest gambling hub.
The city’s 30-plus casinos, along with other non-essential businesses, will shut for one week from Monday and people have been ordered to stay at home. Police would monitor flows of people outside, the government said, and stringent punishments would be imposed for those who disobeyed.
Hospitals, pharmacies, supermarkets and fresh food markets are some of the essential services that can remain open.
Macau has recorded about 1,500 Covid-19 infections since mid-June. Around 19,000 people are in mandatory quarantine, according to government figures.
More than 30 zones in the city that have been deemed high risk are now under lockdown, meaning no one is allowed to enter or exit for at least five days. While the government said it was not imposing a citywide lockdown, the stringent measures mean Macau is effectively closed.
Macau adheres to China’s “zero-Covid” policy that aims to stamp out all outbreaks, running counter to a global trend of trying to coexist with the virus.
Casinos were last shut in Macau in February 2020 for 15 days.
The government had previously been hesitant to close casinos due to its mandate to protect jobs. The industry employs most of the population directly or indirectly 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 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 Macau gets under control, it will likely be another few weeks before Macau-Zhuhai can remove quarantine requirements,” said Terry Ng, an analyst at Daiwa Capital Markets in Hong Kong.
Frustration is mounting at the government’s handling of the outbreak. Some residents have got into fights at testing centres while others have had to queue for more than 20 hours to access healthcare facilities.
Residents will be required to take part in mass Covid tests four times this week as the government attempts to cut transmission chains.
Residents have already been tested six times since mid June and are expected to do rapid antigen tests daily.
More than 90% of Macau’s 600,000 residents are fully vaccinated against Covid but this is the first time the city has had to grapple with the fast-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 handle the surge of infections.