In the midst of the COVID wave, Macau closes its casinos and non-essential businesses

Amid COVID wave, Macau closes casinos and non-essential businesses

UPDATE DAY

Macau, facing its worst episode since the start of the coronavirus epidemic, announced on Saturday the closure for a week of its casinos and non-essential businesses. 

As of Monday, this former Portuguese colony will enter “static management” for a week and residents will be required to stay at home, senior city official Andre Cheong told a news conference. Violators risk up to two years in prison.

Some public services and businesses such as supermarkets and pharmacies will be able to stay open, but casinos – which usually account for some 80% of government revenue – will have to close.

Macau, which has a population of 600,000, is the only place in China where casinos are allowed.

Macau reported 71 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the total infections to 1,374 since the latest wave began on June 18. This figure is very low compared to other parts of the world, but the city is following mainland China's strict zero COVID policy.

Last month, Macau closed most of its businesses, from bars to cinemas, to comply with this strategy which aims to eradicate the virus through closures, strict border controls and mass testing.

Authorities clarified on Saturday that employers were not required to pay workers during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Macau is home to a large casino industry, even bigger than Las Vegas in the USA. They account for more than half of the city's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employ almost a fifth of the population. 

Despite strict sanitation policies, the casinos had managed to stay open after an initial 15-day closure at the start of the pandemic.

But last week authorities shut down one of Macau's most notorious casinos, Grand Lisboa, and locked more than 500 people in inside after discovering 13 infections linked to this location.

Macau has seen its tourism revenue wiped out by the harsh measures imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign has also led to increased scrutiny of spendthrift gamblers and corrupt officials who may travel to Macau to launder money.