Macau is closing its casinos and non-essential businesses amid the COVID wave

Macau, which is facing the worst episode since the coronavirus epidemic began, announced on Saturday that it would close its casinos and non-essential businesses for a week.

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Starting Monday, this former Portuguese colony will be placed under “static management” for a week and residents will have to stay at home, senior city official Andre Cheong said at a news conference. Violators face up to two years in prison.

Some public services and businesses, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, can remain open, but casinos – which typically account for around 80% of government revenue – have to close.

Macau, with a population of 600,000, is the only place in China where casinos are allowed.

Macau reported 71 new COVID cases on Saturday, bringing the total number of infections to 1,374 since the last wave began on June 18. This figure is very low compared to other parts of the world, but the city follows mainland China’s strict zero-Covid policy.

For the past month, Macau has shut down most of its businesses, from bars to cinemas, to comply with a strategy aimed at eradicating the virus through closures, strict border controls and mass testing.

Authorities said Saturday employers would not have to pay their employees during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Macau is home to a large casino industry, even larger than that of Las Vegas in the United States. They generate more than half of the city’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employ almost a fifth of the population.

Despite strict health guidelines, casinos had managed to stay open after an initial 15-day shutdown early in the pandemic.

But last week, authorities shut down one of Macau’s most notorious casinos, Grand Lisboa, and locked up more than 500 people after discovering 13 infections linked to the venue.

Macau has seen its tourism revenue wiped out by the tough measures taken to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has also prompted increased scrutiny of wasteful gamblers and corrupt officials who may be traveling to Macau to launder money.

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