HONG KONG (Reuters) – The world’s largest gambling hub, Macau, began its second day of mass COVID-19 testing on Monday after dozens of locally transmitted cases were discovered over the weekend, with most businesses being closed but the casinos remaining open.
Testing of Macau’s roughly 600,000 residents is set to end on Tuesday as the Chinese-ruled former Portuguese colony embraces China’s “zero COVID” policy aimed at eradicating all outbreaks at just about any cost.
Most residents are asked to stay home, restaurants will be closed for on-site dining and border restrictions have been tightened, meaning casino revenue is expected to be close to zero for at least a week and likely coming weeks, analysts said.
Macau casino shares fell on Monday morning, with Sands China leading the fall of more than 8%, the biggest drop since March 15.
MGM China, Wynn Macau, Galaxy Entertainment, Melco and SJM Holdings fell 4-7%.
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The Macau government depends on casinos for over 80% of its revenue, with most of the population employed directly or indirectly by the casino industry.
The latest outbreak came suddenly and spread rapidly with an as-yet-unknown source, Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng said in a statement posted on the government’s website.
Macau’s previous coronavirus outbreak was in October last year. An outbreak in the neighboring Chinese territory of Hong Kong this year has seen more than a million confirmed infections and more than 9,000 deaths, overwhelming hospitals and public services.
While Hong Kong has seen an increase of more than 1,000 daily cases over the past week, officials have said restrictions are unlikely to be further tightened as pressure on medical services has not increased. .
Macau has only one public hospital and its services are already in demand on a daily basis. The territory’s rapid plan to test its entire population comes as it keeps the border with mainland China open, with many residents living and working in the nearby Chinese city of Zhuhai.
China, on the other hand, has not opened its borders to Hong Kong, with the financial hub largely isolated from the mainland and the international world.
Macau’s legislature is due to approve an amended gaming law this week that will lay the groundwork for what is required of multi-billion dollar casino operators to keep operating.
“Depending on how quickly Macau is able to bring the new outbreak under control, there is a risk of delay in finalizing amendments to the Gaming Law and subsequent concession
bidding process,” said Sanford C Bernstein analyst Vitaly Umansky.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Michael Perry and Stephen Coates)
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