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Macao shuts most businesses, restaurants amid mass COVID-19 testing; casinos stay open

Macao shuts most businesses, restaurants amid mass COVID-19 testing; casinos stay open

File photo. People wear masks as they walk near Ruins of St Paul’s on Feb 5, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

HONG KONG: The world's biggest gambling hub Macao began its second day of mass COVID-19 testing on Monday (Jun 20), with banks, schools, government services and other businesses shut, but casinos remaining open.

The testing of Macao'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 co-exist with the virus.

Most residents are 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 the coming weeks, analysts said.

Macao's government relies on casinos for more than 80 per cent 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, Macao's chief executive Ho Iat Seng said in a statement on the government's website.

Macao'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.

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

Macao's legislature is this week due to approve an ammended gaming law which will lay the groundwork for what is required from the multibillion dollar casino operators to continue operating.

"Depending on how quickly Macao 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, analyst at Sanford C Bernstein.

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Source: Reuters/aj
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