Macau keeps casinos open during COVID shutdown testing “blitz”

Jon Pill
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Posted on: August 5, 2021 2:49 am EDT

A smattering of community-seeded COVID cases in Macau has led to a partial shutdown of the entire Special Administrative Region. But if you’re hoping to find a poker game, you probably still can, though you might find it hard to scrape up any other activities while you’re there.

While the government has ordered the closure of numerous other leisure businesses, casinos remain open for the time being. All this in response to four confirmed cases.

Until now, Macau has not seen a community-seeded case of COVID in a year and a half. In part, this is because of strong measures like this.

It is surprising to find that casinos have been left off the list.

The Macau SAR Government issued a statement justifying the double standard by saying, “[In February 2020, we closed casinos for [fifteen] days because the infections had activities in casinos. This time the infections have not, but if we find any cases in a casino we will close that casino immediately.”

Macau’s casinos make up the backbone of the SAR’s economy. It is likely that finances are a factor in keeping them open as long as possible.

Macau’s Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng added, “It is unlikely we could monitor everyone in karaoke bars or saunas and massage parlors to ensure they wear masks all the time. So we decided to close this kind of entertainment venue. But the situation in casinos is different. We do not want to shut down all business activities once an outbreak occurs.”

As an additional countermeasure, every Macanese resident must submit a COVID test within 72 hours of 9 AM local time Wednesday, August 4, 2021. This should provide a fascinating snapshot of COVID in the city.

The news follows an outbreak of COVID on the mainland around the city of Nanjing. Zhuhai province, which borders Macau, has not shown any new cases yet.

The economic impact

Early 2021 looked hopeful for the casino market in Macau. However, in the wake of this news, Credit Suisse issued a pessimistic analysis.

“From our on-the-ground checks, the players are currently in a rush to perform the COVID-19 test in order to return home, as there is a risk that Macau would become a medium risk area. If that happens, players would need to be quarantined when they return home,” the analysts at Credit Suisse wrote.

The full list of businesses closed by the current pandemic prevention order includes cinemas, theatres, amusement parks, arcades, billiard rooms, bowling alleys, saunas, spas, beauty salons, gyms, karaoke bars, and regular bars. The list even closes the full 20th-century nightclub spectrum from “discos and dance halls” to “cabarets.”

“Given that the 1H of August is typically the high season for summer holidays and September would be a low season,” the Credit Suisse analysts add. “And with both China and Macau imposing a certain level of restrictions, we expect [the third quarter of 2021] will again be weaker than expected and will trigger another round of earnings downgrades.”

As of right now, a closure of Macau’s borders is not on the table. To some extent, this means that the success or failure of Macau’s industry and COVID protocols are as much in the hands of mainland China as with the SAR’s government.

Featured image source: Flickr by Kevin Chung