Omicron COVID-19 Variant Starts to be Seen in Macau

Posted on: December 27, 2021, 09:25h. 

Last updated on: December 27, 2021, 10:17h.

Macau has succumbed to the latest variant of COVID-19. Omicron has arrived in the global gaming hub, but it’s too early to expect a widespread outbreak.

Macau COVID-19 Screening
Visitors arriving to Macau undergo screening upon arrival earlier in the year. The practice may be ramped up for all arrivals again, as omicron reaches the city. (Image: South China Morning Post)

Health officials in the special administrative region (SAR) announced today that a single omicron case has been identified, making it the first imported case in Macau. The individual was a local resident who returned to Macau on December 25 from the US, having had a layover in Singapore along the way.

The traveler, reportedly a student, was asymptomatic when he arrived on Christmas Day. The day after, he began feeling ill and was tested for COVID-19. He was diagnosed with the omicron variant today. He had tested negative when he left the US.

Macau was one of the first locations to feel the effects of COVID-19, right around two years ago. The pandemic crippled the city for much of 2020. But health and government officials have learned a lot since then.

While there isn’t a foolproof way to prevent the virus from finding a way in, Macau has been extremely proactive with testing. This helps reduce the possibility of a large-scale outbreak. Since January of last year, according to Macau Business, Macau has only seen 78 positive COVID-19 cases. None has been fatal.

Hong Kong Not So Lucky

Macau seems to have a handle on dealing with COVID-19, but others don’t. Hong Kong, which is an important feeder market for the city, has 14 imported cases of the omicron variant. This is the highest number of omicron cases ever identified.

Senior health officials warned Monday that there was a high risk of the more transmissive strain spreading quickly around the world. The South China Morning Post reported that, after visiting two hospitals that treat COVID-19 patients, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siuchee acknowledged there is now a greater risk to Hong Kong.

The 14 cases were all identified on Christmas Day. They marked the highest number recorded in a single day.

The rise in cases could have an impact on Macau’s recovery in 2022. Quarantine-free travel was to be the standard next year between mainland China and the two SARs. However, that may no longer be possible.

Omicron is already impacting several Asia-Pacific countries, including Japan, Singapore, Thailand and others. Tourism is expected to dip throughout the region, which will seriously hinder Macau’s goals for next year. The SAR had forecast over 10 million visits for the year. But that won’t happen if more omicron cases emerge.

Fitch Ratings issued a note of caution recently. The last quarter of 2021 had analysts showing more optimism for Asia-Pacific recovery in 2022. However, Fitch, in an update on the fourth-quarter activity, said that international tourism throughout the region was going to slow down. This, in turn, will make the recovery efforts take more time than previously expected.