Macau shuts down casinos following Covid outbreak


Macau closed all its casinos for the first time in more than two years on Monday after a coronavirus outbreak in the world’s biggest gambling hub.

Authorities have ordered non-essential businesses, which includes over 30 casinos, to shut for a week.

The city has recorded 1,526 Covid cases since the middle of June according to official figures.

Gaming shares slipped on Monday over concerns of tougher rules in the Chinese special administrative region.

Around 19,000 people have been put in mandatory quarantine as the city tackles its worse Covid-19 outbreak since early 2020.

Schools and entertainment venues, including bars and cinemas, had already been closed under earlier guidelines.

Over the weekend, Macau’s Government Information Bureau said all businesses would be required to suspend their operations unless they were “deemed essential to the community and to the day-to-day lives of the members of the public”.

“The latest step is in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the community,” the bureau said in a statement on Saturday.

It has also instructed people to stay at home, and stopped dining-in services at restaurants.

More than 90% of Macau’s residents have received two doses of Covid vaccines. It’s unclear how many have also received their booster doses, but the city is facing the fast-spreading Omicron variant for the first time.

In recent weeks, officials have set up a makeshift hospital and turned several casino resorts into medical facilities, as the former Portuguese colony only has one public hospital serving more than 600,000 residents.

They have also mass tested residents and locked down apartment buildings and hotels where infections were found.

Macau follows China’s strict “zero Covid” strategy, where even handful of cases have led to mass testing, forced quarantine and lockdowns of neighbourhoods and even cities.

While Macau has not imposed the type of city-wide lockdown seen in mainland China, it’s virtually closed as most services have been halted.

Terry Ng, an equity research analyst at Daiwa Capital Markets Hong Kong, told the BBC that Macau authorities were “stuck between a rock and a hard place”.

“Because mainland Chinese tourists accounted for 71% of all tourists and more than 90% of gross gaming revenue, they have to duly follow mainland China’s zero-Covid policy which is highly restrictive,” he said.

Gambling is illegal in mainland China but is allowed in Macau, which like Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China.

Macau casino shares slipped on Monday as the restrictions kicked into effect.

Shares in Sands China, a subsidiary of casino giant Las Vegas Sands, were trading 7% lower by mid-day in Hong Kong. That of SJM Holdings, which was founded by the late Hong Kong tycoon Stanley Ho, fell by 6.1%.

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