Macau Casinos to Reopen After Coronavirus Shutdown, but Crippling Travel Restrictions Remain in Place

Posted on: February 17, 2020, 10:33h. 

Last updated on: February 17, 2020, 05:30h.

The reels will start spinning again in Macau at the stroke of midnight CST (China Standard Time) Thursday, as the casino hub ends a 15-day shutdown triggered by the novel coronavirus.

Macau coronavirus
Casinos to reopen, but some 60,000 to 70,000 workers will not be able to cross the border without 14 days’ quarantine. (Image: The Economic Times)

The casinos closed on February 4, after 10 cases of the virus — now called Covid-19 — were confirmed in the special administrative region. Two casino workers were among those diagnosed.

It was only the second time officials had ordered Macau’s casinos to close. The first, in 2018, in response to Typhoon Mangkhut, lasted just 33 hours. Analysts estimated this month’s shutdown cost Macau’s casino sector $100 million per day.

There had been talk of an extension of the closure for a further 15 days. But authorities said Monday that no new cases had been uncovered. Of the ten people infected, half have made a full recovery, while the other five remain in the hospital under quarantine.

780 Million Under Travel Ban

But things won’t return to normal just yet. Controls on visitor entry to Macau remain tight, and ferry services from Hong Kong are still suspended.

Meanwhile, according to analysis from CNN, some 780 million people, over half the population of the Chinese mainland, are living under various types of travel restrictions.

At a press conference Monday, government officials said non-resident workers entering Macau from mainland China would be required to remain in quarantine for 14 days.

They would first have to obtain an official certificate issued by medical authorities in the neighboring city of Zhuhai, stating they were free of Covid-19.

Macau lawmaker Au Kam-san told The South China Morning Post that, under normal circumstances, some 60,000 to 70,000 people cross the border each day to work in the casinos. He speculated employers would have to find temporary accommodation for them in order to resume normal services.

Your business just can’t operate if they [workers] have to be quarantined for 14 days when they enter Macau,” he said.

“The gaming industry is too important to Macau,” he added. “The government could not afford to let it close for too long. There could also be pressure from the casino operators, because they are still paying the staff while the casinos are closed.”

Tables Limited

Reuters reports that government services, largely suspended since the beginning of February, had resumed. But all places of entertainment that aren’t casinos, such as cinemas, bars, and steam rooms, will remain shuttered by order of the government.

Secretary for Economy and Finance Lei Wai-nong said casino patrons would still be required to wear masks and have their body temperatures checked as they enter the premises.

The government is considering additional measures, such as adjusting the minimum distance between gaming tables to lower the chances of infection. The permitted number of tables at each venue will also be reduced in the short term.