First Coronavirus Case Reported in Macau Just Days Before Chinese New Year Festivities

Posted on: January 22, 2020, 09:14h. 

Last updated on: January 22, 2020, 10:40h.

A 52-year old woman from China’s Hubei province is Macau’s first case of the coronavirus, the respiratory illness that has resulted in 17 deaths on the mainland in recent days.

Macau is dealing with its first coronavirus case just days before Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations are scheduled to begin. (Image: USA Today)

Macau authorities say the woman entered the gaming hub Sunday through the border gate that links the Special Administrative Region (SAR) to the city of Zhuhai in Guangdong province. She is from the Hubei capital of Wuhan, a metro area that has been wracked with coronavirus cases. The city in central China has 440 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nine fatalities.

The woman, whose name isn’t being released, traveled to Zhuhai from Wuhan by train before entering Macau. It’s believed she was visiting the world’s largest gaming center for business purposes.

She’s now under quarantine at a local hospital that she checked into yesterday, complaining of a lingering cough. The woman told doctors there she felt ill for about a week leading up to her Macau trip. Officials on the peninsula don’t believe she’s a “super spreader” of the virus, i.e., someone more likely to infect others.

Precautionary Measures

Gaming operators on the peninsula are taking precautionary steps to protect staff and prevent a more severe coronavirus outbreak there. Patrons entering integrated resorts must pass through temperature screening machines, and all staffers, including table game dealers, are wearing surgical masks.

The woman from Wuhan spent the bulk of her time at the New Orient Landmark Hotel, reports The South China Morning Post. That venue, classified as a five-star property by the Macau government, is near the Fisherman’s Wharf and is owned by real estate developer New Orient Group. The hotel and its gaming area remain open.

The coronavirus outbreak has stoked fears of a sequel to the 2003 SARS epidemic that killed nearly 300 people in Hong Kong. But medical officials, to this point, believe the new respiratory virus isn’t as serious as SARS.

Authorities in the casino hub said it discouraged citizens to travel to Wuhan, but had no plans to ban tour groups from heading there,” reports the Morning Post.

Thus far, Hong Kong has two cases of coronavirus, while Taiwan has one.

Tough Timing

The timing of a new viral outbreak would never be good. But the emergence of coronavirus in Macau comes just days before the start of Chinese Lunar New Year festivities, which are slated to begin on Jan. 25.

The SAR is coming off a rough 2019 in terms of gross gaming revenue (GGR), a scenario that was exacerbated late in the year because of strict visa controls. Entering 2020, many analysts were forecasting a GGR rebound in Macau this year, one that could be hindered if travelers stay home amid coronavirus fears.

Macau travel and tourism officials said the peninsula’s hotels are currently booked at or near capacity in advance of the New Year celebration.

Larry So Man-yum, a Macau expert, told the Morning Post that if there’s just one coronavirus case, the negative impact on New Year’s visits to the peninsula is likely to be minor. But if more instances occur, the drop in tourism this month could be substantial, perhaps reaching a double-digit percentage decline.