- Macau’s casinos will be shut down for a week due to a persistent COVID-19 outbreak in the Asian gambling epicenter.
- Gaming revenue accounts for 80% of the city’s income and they’ve not recovered fully since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Macau is following China’s COVID mitigation strategy which seeks to completely eliminate the virus. Experts have questioned the wisdom and feasibility of this scenario.
In what shouldn’t be taken as a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the world (hopefully), the Asian gaming epicenter of Macau is once again suffering a significant COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, the island’s casinos–along with all other non-essential businesses–will be shut down for one week. City officials have indicated that grocery stores, pharmacies and other key operations will remain open. Any business not deemed ‘essential’ will cease operations at midnight July 11 local time. The tentative reopening time is midnight, July 18.
One issue is China’s uncompromising strategy against COVID-19. Most countries have reached the point where they’re trying to live with the virus as they would any other endemic disease. There have been outbreaks here and there but for the most part life has returned to some semblance of normalcy in most Western nations. China, by contrast, is pursuing what has been described as a ‘COVID-zero’ policy. An article from BBC.com explains:
While the rest of the world is trying to live with Covid, China is the only major economy still prioritising the fight against the virus above almost everything else.
So-called zero Covid measures involve mass testing, tracking and strict isolation. Just a handful of cases can spark a city-wide lockdown.
Beijing has had only a few infections recently but its more than 21 million residents are required to queue for PCR tests every three days to access public buildings and even corner shops.
When a Covid case is confirmed, a whole suburb can be swiftly cordoned off. It’s been especially hard for businesses – shops, bars and restaurants can be seen pulling down shutters for good.
Everyone in China is living under a cloud of uncertainty. It’s difficult to make plans, and it makes one wonder how much longer people will put up with this.
There are other issues in addition to a desire to completely eradicate the virus. One significant problem has been lower than advisable vaccination rates, particularly among the most vulnerable residents:
It’s not clear why China dropped the ball on vaccination rates, which are still seen as too low for the country to safely reopen. Officials fear that a widespread outbreak could overwhelm hospitals and cause many deaths.
“Some vulnerable groups haven’t been fully vaccinated with two doses or booster shots, so we can’t just give in,” Professor Liang Wannian from China’s National Health Commission said in March.
There’s been a belated move to ramp up vaccine rates – 89% of people have had two shots, but only 56% of those eligible have received a booster, according to official data.
A few months ago, the situation was much worse.
It’s been especially worrying among the elderly. In Hong Kong, a huge proportion of those who’ve died have been older and unvaccinated.
Generally speaking, the situation is better in Beijing but life is nowhere near being back to normal. Another problem is propaganda from the Chinese communist party. They’ve repeatedly spoke of the efforts to mitigate COVID in terms of a military conflict, stressing that the country can ‘defeat’ the virus and ‘win the war against the pandemic’. Government officials have ridiculed other countries for opening up and emphasized that China would not do this.
Unfortunately, several US based gaming companies have considerable exposure to Macau. Las Vegas Sands owns five properties in the region, Wynn Resorts owns three properties and MGM Resorts is a partner with casino majordomo Pansy Ho on two properties. A very significant issue for the US gaming companies is how little control they have over their Macau operations during this time. Last week, the government of Macau ‘locked down’ the Grand Lisboa hotel casino after a cluster of cases was detected there. The government has also used the Grand Lisboa for overflow medical facilities at times in the past month, along with the Melco Resorts owned Grand Hyatt Macau (IMO, the best hotel in the area).
Given Beijing’s ‘Zero-COVID’ strategy, there’s no timeline for Macau’s gaming industry to return to some degree of normalcy. The Grand Hyatt and the entire City of Dreams complex will be shut down for the week with only a few restaurants remaining open for takeout. Getting the gaming properties open again is only part of the challenge–there are still significant travel restrictions to the area and with virtually all visitors coming from off the island (including 90%+ from mainland China) is the bigger problem.