This Dec 19, 2019 photo shows hotel-casinos in the city of Macao. (EDUARDO LEAL / AFP)
HONG KONG – Macao shut all its casinos for the first time in more than two years on Monday as authorities struggle to contain the worst coronavirus outbreak yet in the world's biggest gambling hub.
The city's more than 30 casinos, along with other non-essential businesses will shut for one week and people were ordered to stay at home.
Police will monitor flows of people outside and stringent punishments will be imposed for those who disobey, the government said.
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Hospitals, pharmacies, supermarkets and fresh food markets are some of the essential services that can remain open.
Even if the outbreak in Macao gets under control, it will likely be another few weeks before Macao-Zhuhai can remove quarantine requirements.
Terry Ng, Analyst, Daiwa Capital Markets, Hong Kong
The development came as the Chinese mainland authorities reported registering 46 locally-transmitted confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 17 in Guangdong and nine in Anhui, and identifying 306 local asymptomatic carriers in 13 provincial-level regions on Sunday.
No new deaths from COVID-19 were recorded that day, with the death toll standing at 5,226, while 51 patients were discharged from hospitals after recovery, the National Health Commission said on Monday.
The Macao Special Administrative Region has recorded around 1,500 COVID-19 infections since mid-June. Around 19,000 people are in mandatory quarantine, according to government figures.
In an unprecedented move to fight the virus there, casinos were last closed in February 2020 for 15 days.
The government has been hesitant to close casinos due to its mandate to protect jobs. The industry employs most of the population directly and indirectly and accounts for more than 80 percent of government revenues.
Casinos have been effectively shut for the past few weeks, with no gamblers and minimal staffing as per government requirements for people to work from home.
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Analysts said it was likely that the suspension could be extended by another few weeks with a recovery in gaming revenue unlikely until the end of the third or fourth quarter.
"Even if the outbreak in Macao gets under control, it will likely be another few weeks before Macao-Zhuhai can remove quarantine requirements," said Terry Ng, analyst at Daiwa Capital Markets in Hong Kong.
A staff member packs goods at Jiamei Supermarket in Sixian county, Suzhou city, east China's Anhui province, July 4, 2022. (HUANG BOHAN / XINHUA)
Authorities have added two hotels in popular casino resorts to be used as COVID-19 medical facilities as they try to increase capacity to handle the surge of infections.
More than 90 percent of Macao's residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but this is the first time the city has had to grapple with the fast-spreading Omicron variant.