Covid-19-Free Macau Says No to Travel Corridor with Hong Kong

Posted on: May 6, 2021, 09:15h. 

Last updated on: May 6, 2021, 02:24h.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam’s recent proposal of a “travel bubble” between Macau and Hong Kong set tumbleweeds in motion on the other side of the Pearl River Delta.

Macau Carrie Lam
Hong Kong Carrie Lam, seen at a press conference above, overtures towards Macau have been rebuffed by the COVID-19-free gambling hub, according to reports. (Image: NBC News)

The South China Morning Post reports that Lam’s overtures were “cold-shouldered” by her counterpart in Macau, which has begun its bounce-back from a pandemic-induced slump.

Macau has proved to be remarkably COVID-19 resistant and wants to keep it that way. The gambling hub has recorded only a few dozen cases in total, all of them in the earliest stages of the pandemic. In fact, the enclave has been completely COVID-19-free for 400 days.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has seen four coronavirus waves, with 11,755 cases and 209 deaths. The SAR was recording upwards of 120 cases per day at its peak last year.

Those figures are tame in comparison with global COVID hotspots. But for some regional perspective, cases in Hong Kong, population 7 million, consistently outstripped the entire Chinese mainland, population 1.4 billion, for most the past year — at least, officially.

Visitors Return

After an initial period of self-isolation, Macau began welcoming visitors from mainland China, largely without quarantine restrictions, in September. Visitors from Hong Kong are still subject to a compulsory 21-day quarantine.

Despite billions having been spent on new infrastructure to bring the two special administrative regions closer together in recent years, it looks like it will stay that way for now.

Hong Kong’s case numbers have dwindled to single figures. But Macau officials said last week there had been no talks about creating any new travel bubbles with any other region.

There’s too much at stake for the gambling hub, which is now marketing itself as a safe tourist destination. Visitor numbers plummeted by 85 percent in 2020. In March, they rose to their highest since before the pandemic, with 754,541 arrivals.

Macau is also gaining travelers who might have otherwise gone to Hong Kong. Mainlanders have been put off by the pandemic and the social unrest that has gripped the city.

Bullish on Macau

UBS analysts said Thursday that gaming stocks represent a buying opportunity, as they expected casino revenues in Macau to skyrocket once it fully reopens its borders.

And until then, the market will continue to benefit from the pent-up demand of mainland travelers.

Ultimately it depends on whether the border will completely reopen,” said Angus Chan of UBS Global Research.

“When and how Macau’s border with Hong Kong reopens will also have an impact. These are more short-term volatilities. But our base case is that Covid-19 will pass eventually,” Chan continued.