Macau’s Casinos Cave to COVID

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A view of the hotel-casinos is pictured in Macau on December 19, 2019. Eduardo Leal via AFP

The island of Macau is following mainland China’s “zero-COVID” policy and all forms of entertainment have already been shuttered, including its world-renowned casinos, due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19.

Omicron Variant Spreads

Macau reported 71 new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the number to 1,374 since the most recent wave began on June 18th. Mainland China has issued severe restrictions to its residents and the penalties for violating the policies can be as stiff as two years in prison.

Citizens must remain indoors unless it is a verifiable emergency, and even then, N95 masks or an equivalent are mandatory at all times. All non-essential businesses have been ordered to shut down and only supermarkets and medical facilities will remain open. The directive will go into effect on July 11th and will be vigilantly enforced for one week. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.

The Last Domino to Fall

The Omicron variant has been spreading like wildfire despite 90% of the residents on the semi-autonomous island being vaccinated. Shuttering the casinos was a monumental decision considering it contributes to 80 percent of the local economy and employs over 20 percent of its residents.

The closing of casinos was the last domino to fall, as last month Macau was quick to halt business at all of its entertainment venues including cinemas, restaurants, and pubs. But casinos were conspicuously absent from the lengthy list until it was announced over the weekend they would no longer be exempt.

The “zero-COVID” strategy implemented by mainland China is now being employed by Macau including border shutdowns, mass testing, and forced quarantine of those who are infected. There is no tolerance for any departures in policy and despite an economic punch to the gut, casinos will also be temporarily shuttered.

China’s Crackdown

Macau has been subject to more stringent rules from the mainland as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has targeted money laundering in Macau. The thousands of residents employed by the casino industry will not be paid during the shutdown causing even more strife to the island’s economic emergency.

China’s once laissez-faire approach to its gambling mecca has sharpened since last year and the population of over 600,000 relies on tourism and big bettors to maintain its economic stability.

Danny Woo Ying-ming, the former prison chief of the Correctional Services Department, has recently been appointed by Beijing as the commissioner for the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

Attacking Corruption

The ICAC is in charge of curbing, and ultimately eliminating, corruption and although Woo Ying-ming may work in Hong Kong, his tentacles will extend to the Guangdong province and Macau, located only an hour away.

Woo Ying-ming stated, “Integrity is fundamental for policies and governance goals to be realized. Otherwise, disruptions may occur, and residents would not be able to enjoy the fruits of governance or may even suffer,” he said.

Bloomberg News noted, “Beyond the virus, the casino business has other hurdles, such as a new regulation that dramatically tightens government supervision over operations and Beijing’s crackdown on high-stakes gamblers to limit capital outflow.”