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Macau Optimistic Regarding China’s ‘International Travel Heath Certificate’

Tourism officials in Macau are optimistic regarding China forming a health passport program to allow mainland residents who have been vaccinated to travel internationally. 

Macau’s chief tourism official, Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, is seen here on the right last October with one of her deputy directors. She said this week that the casino hub supports the development of health passports in China. (Image: GGRAsia)

The People’s Republic of China recently announced the creation of an “international travel health certificate.” The program permits people fully vaccinated from the COVID-19 virus to present the credential at cross-border gates. 

[A] vaccine passport is going to be a major trend in the future,” said Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, the director of the Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO). 

The tourism boss said not only will the passport initiative “give everyone confidence and revive tourism,” but also “help better in preventing imported cases” of COVID-19. 

Macau, home to the richest casinos in the world, greatly relies on gaming and hospitality to propel its economy. Total visitor arrivals in the Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR) tumbled 85 percent in 2020, as the enclave closed its borders and limited entry for most of the year. 

Gross gaming revenue (GGR) subsequently dropped from $36.5 billion in 2019 to just $7.5 billion. It was the gaming industry’s worst year since 2006. 

Macau Mainland Dependence

Macau welcomed more than 39.4 million visitors in 2019. Almost 71 percent — or 27.9 million — arrived from the mainland. 

Slowly but surely, Macau is easing its entry procedures. However, the enclave is still only accessible to people arriving from the mainland, Hong Kong, or Taiwan.

There are special exemptions. But the main requirement is that an applicant “prove that their entry into Macau is in the public interest of the SAR, particularly for the prevention, control and treatment of diseases, relief and emergency, and in exceptional cases of maintaining the normal functioning of the SAR or the basic living needs of residents.”

A major development came last month when Macau did away with mandatory 14-day quarantine requirements for individuals arriving from China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan. Another step in the right direction followed as the Macau government said guests no longer needed to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test to enter a casino. 

Health Passport Concerns

China is launching its international travel health certificate in conjunction with WeChat, a wildly popular social media and mobile payment app in China. Mainlanders can go on the app, apply for a health passport, and upload their test and vaccination certifications. 

Jase Ramsey, a professor of management at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Lutgert College of Business, says there are naturally apprehensions about an app holding so much health data.

As with any app that stores health records, there will be privacy and fraud concerns,” Ramsey told CNBC. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged caution to countries considering health passports. “This is because the efficacy of vaccines in preventing transmission is not yet clear, and global vaccine supply is limited,” said WHO. 

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