Macau begins lockdown, HK mulls health app


TAKE A GAMBLE This file photo from September 20, 2012 shows croupiers standing at a Sic Bo gaming table inside a casino at the Sands Cotai Central in Macau. AP PHOTO

HONG KONG: Macau’s streets were empty on Monday as casinos and most other businesses in the region began a week-long shutdown to curb its worst coronavirus outbreak, while neighboring Hong Kong mulls a health code system of Beijing-style.

The lockdown sent the stock prices of six gaming conglomerates – Sands China, Galaxy Entertainment, SJM Holdings, Melco International, MGM China and Wynn Macau – plummeting between 6% and nearly 9% in morning trading.

It is the first casino lockdown in more than two years, reversing a previous agreement between the industry and the Macau government that only those found with infections should close temporarily.

The former Portuguese colony – which was returned to mainland China in 1999 – is the only place in the East Asian country where gambling is legal, but the pandemic has hammered the city’s fortunes as it sticks to Beijing’s zero Covid policy.

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While casinos have remained open for most of the pandemic, they have seen a fraction of pre-Covid business.

A Bloomberg gauge of the city’s six licensed casino operators is down 20% this year.

Authorities earlier announced the lockdown after recording more than 1,500 infections in the past three weeks despite several rounds of mandatory mass testing of the city’s 650,000 residents. On Monday, the government reported 59 new cases.

All residents must stay home except to shop for daily necessities and to get tested for the virus, with violators facing up to two years in prison.

Some public services and businesses, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, can remain open and only people with special permission or a low-risk health code can use public transport.

China is using mandatory health code apps to track people’s movements and coronavirus outbreaks. Only those with green codes can move freely.

It’s a system the Hong Kong government is now considering employing, new health minister Lo Chung-mau said on Monday.

“The so-called freedom can sometimes be easily confused with selfishness,” Lo told RTHK radio. “Infected people shouldn’t have the freedom to go where they want and affect our health.”

Hong Kong is currently being reshaped in the image of the authoritarian mainland after huge democratic protests three years ago.

The regional business hub has adopted a slimmed-down version of the zero-Covid strategy, which has battered the economy and left the city cut off from the international for more than two years.

The newly installed administration of chief executive John Lee, a former security official, has pledged both to stamp out infections and resume travel to the mainland and the outside world.

To do this, authorities may need to deploy more mass surveillance of the mainland-like population.

Hong Kong currently uses a less restrictive mobile phone app than the mainland, which stores a resident’s vaccination record and is used to verify businesses and locations.


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