Macau Bans Inbound Flights from Outside China After Omicron Cases Detected

Posted on: January 6, 2022, 01:41h. 

Last updated on: January 6, 2022, 02:22h.

Macau has responded to the arrival of three suspected omicron cases via overseas passenger flights. They are now banning all inbound commercial air travel from outside China for two weeks.

Macau omicron
Incoming flights to Macau International Airport, pictured, will be canceled for two weeks after the gambling hub doubles down on its strict “zero Covid” policy.

Macau’s Novel Coronavirus Response and Coordination Center announced Wednesday the prohibition will come into effect from midnight, January 9.

Officials in the gambling hub announced earlier this week that three passengers had tested positive for the highly contagious coronavirus variant. They were discovered on arrival at Macau International Airport.

Two were members of the same family who had arrived on a flight from London via Singapore. The third was an acquaintance who joined them in Singapore. All are vaccinated Macau residents and are currently asymptomatic, officials said.

Macau’s Public Health Laboratory said Wednesday at least one of the travelers was carrying the omicron variant.

Zero-COVID Approach

Macau shares mainland China’s harsh “zero-COVID” approach to the pandemic. The special administrative region (SAR) currently bans non-residents from visiting from outside China, while residents who have traveled from overseas must quarantine for at least 21 days.

These measures have left Macau largely untroubled by COVID, at least from a public health persepctive. Since the pandemic began, it has recorded just 79 cases and no deaths.

Between May 2020 and August 2021, the SAR was virus-free. When a family of four was found to be carrying the Delta variant in early August, Macau’s government ordered compulsory testing for all 680,000 residents.

On Thursday, stricter quarantine measures for arrivals from 22 countries deemed to be “very high risk” came into effect.

Travelers from these regions are required to present a proof of three ‘negative’ Covid-19 tests issued within five days, and at least 24 hours apart, and will be subject to a 28-day quarantine

Pressure on Casino Sector

Tough measures have come at a cost to the casino sector. While Las Vegas has rebounded from COVID-19, Macau’s revenues remain well below pre-pandemic levels. That’s although they have improved since the resumption of quarantine-free cross-border travel between Macau and the mainland.

In 2019, 71 percent of visitors to Macau came from mainland China, some 27.9 million people. More than 7.3 million, or 18 percent, came from Hong Kong.

Shortly before the appearance of omicron, Beijing was poised to allow frictionless cross-border travel between the two SARs. That plan is now on hold indefinitely.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong this week introduced travel restrictions of its own in the face of a new wave of infections. On Wednesday morning, Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam said flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the UK, and the US would be banned for the next two weeks.

The financial hub had been largely virus-free for the previous seven months.