Chinese gambling hub Macau shuts businesses for COVID testing

Mass testing comes after dozens of locally transmitted cases were discovered in the former Portuguese colony.

Chinese territory Macau, the world’s biggest gambling hub, began its second day of mass COVID-19 testing on Monday, with banks, schools, government services and other businesses forced to shut, but casinos remaining open.

The testing of Macau’s roughly 600,000 residents is expected to end on Tuesday and comes after dozens of locally transmitted cases were discovered over the weekend.

The Chinese-ruled former Portuguese colony adheres to China’s “zero COVID” policy which aims to eradicate all outbreaks at just about any cost, running counter to a global trend of trying to coexist with the virus.

Most residents are being asked to stay at home, restaurants will be shut for dine-in, and border restrictions have been tightened, meaning casino revenues are likely to be close to zero for at least a week and likely in the coming weeks, analysts said.

Macau’s government relies on casinos for more than 80 percent of its income, with most of the population employed directly or indirectly by the casino industry.

The latest outbreak came suddenly and has been spreading rapidly with the source still unknown, Macau’s Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng said in a statement on the government’s website.

Macau’s previous coronavirus outbreak was in October last year. An outbreak in the neighbouring Chinese territory of Hong Kong this year saw more than 1 million confirmed infections and more than 9,000 deaths, swamping hospitals and public services.

Macau only has one public hospital with its services already stretched on a daily basis.

Macau’s legislature is this week due to approve an amended gaming law that will lay the groundwork for what is required from the multibillion-dollar casino operators to continue operating.

“Depending on how quickly Macau is able to get the newest outbreak under control, there is risk of delay to finalisation of the gaming law amendments and subsequent concession tender process,” said Vitaly Umansky, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein in Hong Kong.