Macau lockdown begins, Hong Kong mulls health code enforcement

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Macau is the only place in China where casinos are legal, but the pandemic has hammered the city’s fortunes.

HONG KONG: Macau casino shares plunged on Monday as the Chinese city embarked on a week-long lockdown to curb its worst coronavirus outbreak while neighbor Hong Kong said it was mulling a system of continental style health code.

Share prices of six gaming conglomerates – Sands China, Galaxy Entertainment, SJM Holdings, Melco International, MGM China and Wynn Macau – fell 6% to nearly 9% in Monday 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.

Macau, the world’s largest gambling hub, is the only place in China where casinos are legal, but the pandemic has hammered the city’s fortunes as it sticks to Beijing’s zero Covid model.

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

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

Authorities announced a week of closures starting Monday 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.

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

The business center has adopted a slimmed-down version of the zero-Covid model, which has wreaked havoc on the economy and left the city cut off from international trade for more than two years.

The newly installed administration of chief executive John Lee, a former security official, has pledged 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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