Omicron-dominant outbreak shutters casinos . . .
Last Saturday, the Macau government extended the week-long COVID-19 lockdown scheduled to expire on July 18. Non-essential businesses, including the 42 casinos in the global gambling hub, will remain closed for five more days. In the meantime, residents must stay home except to get groceries and emergency supplies. As the city of 680,000 grapples with the Omicron variant for the first time, the latest outbreak has induced the first city-wide closure of casinos in more than two years, crumbling Macau’s economic pillar. Despite the C$1.6-billion government handout on the way, disgruntled locals protested by wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the rallying cry “no jobs, no food.” Today, Macau reported 10 new local infections, for a total of 1,700 cases since mid-June, when the current outbreak began.
Quarantine-free travel . . .
While Macau adheres to China’s ‘zero-COVID’ policy, neighbouring Hong Kong is pivoting its pandemic response in a targeted and less disruptive direction. Invoking the ‘one country, two systems’ framework, Health Chief Lo Chung-mau said last week that Hong Kong need not strictly follow mainland China’s COVID policies. He added that conditional quarantine-free travel to the city could materialize by November. While a re-opened Hong Kong seems within reach, the city’s re-introduction of electronic wristbands to home quarantine and its proposal to implement a Chinese-style health code system muddy the waters.
A tale of two cities . . .
Macau’s relatively muted and controlled political environment may have afforded authorities some latitude in adopting draconian restrictions, so long as COVID-19 transmissions are wiped out quickly. The same may not be true of Hong Kong after waves of outbreaks and years of political upheaval. Notably, Hong Kong has not yet enacted a ‘living with COVID’ policy, despite recent calls for developing ‘hybrid immunity’ via vaccination and infection issued by four pandemic experts, including two government advisors. A clear roadmap for Hong Kong’s way out of the pandemic remains to be seen.
- Bloomberg: Hong Kong talent pool drained further as graduates join exodus
- Reuters: In COVID closedown, Macau casinos take billion-dollar hit holding out for new licences
- South China Morning Post: Hong Kong health minister Lo Chung-mau is in the hot seat - and his public appearances reveal how he plans to steer city out of pandemic, and more