World’s densest region avoids explosion of cases . . .
The last confirmed COVID-19 patient under treatment in Macau was discharged from hospital yesterday. The 15-year-old Macau resident’s release represents a key milestone for the city, which saw its first case in late January and a first wave ‘peak’ in early February with caseloads only in the single digits. A second wave peaked in late March for a total of 45 confirmed cases to date. The Special Administrative Region’s containment measures have been a relative success given its relatively close proximity to Wuhan, just 1,000 kilometres away, and its population density: three times denser than Singapore, and four times denser than Toronto and Vancouver.
Masks, small population helped . . .
Early, well-coordinated actions by Macau’s authorities have helped the city’s performance relative to many of its neighbours. By January, the public could purchase masks procured by the government, while local authorities took early and stringent steps to collect health information and limit visitor flows compared to neighbouring Hong Kong. Economic relief measures were announced around the same time that many public places were closed, likely furthering public buy in for the government’s response plan. Macau’s small population is also a factor: with fewer than 700,000 people, in contrast to Hong Kong’s 7.5 million, Macau has the policy tools of a global state, such as border controls, to help the population of a small city.
Casino city has no easy path to economic normal . . .
The city faces a potentially bigger challenge in managing its economy: more than 80 per cent of Macau’s revenues are earned by the operation of casinos or gambling-related businesses. COVID-19 has heavily impacted Macau’s casinos, with reports of major locations averaging just a handful of players during any given day. Gaming revenues for the first three months of 2020 saw a 60 per cent year-on-year fall, and eyes are on this coming Friday’s National People’s Congress (NPC) meeting to see what Beijing’s announcements could mean for this Special Administrative Region. Local hopes rest on the NPC revealing stimulus measures for China’s overall economy, but how Macau manages its service sector-dominated economy could hold key lessons for other service sectors around the world.