Macau Readies to Enter ‘Consolidation Phase,’ Ease ‘Zero COVID’ Policy

Macau casinos remain shuttered on the local government’s orders through at least this Saturday, July 23. When they might be permitted to reopen is unclear.

Macau’s typically bustling street markets are ghost towns currently, as the Chinese enclave is on lockdown because of the coronavirus. Macau casinos are hoping to reopen their gaming floors next week. (Image: AFP)

Macau, a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China, remains on lockdown because of a COVID-19 outbreak that began in mid-June. But government officials say new cases and hospitalizations are trending positively in a downward manner, prompting talks as to when life might begin returning to some sense of normal.

SAR leaders explained today that Macau will enter a “consolidation phase” after Saturday barring a spike in new cases. The consolidation phase, the government said, will include the reopening of non-essential businesses on a selective basis.

As to when Macau casinos might turn back on their slot machines and return dealers and gamblers to their baccarat tables, the answer is unknown.

“It remains unclear when some businesses, including casinos, will be permitted to open,” a government spokesperson told Inside Asian Gaming.

Before the coronavirus, gambling accounted for more than 80% of Macau’s annual tax revenue. The gaming industry is also the SAR’s largest employer, as the six licensed commercial casinos employ around 60,000 people.

Containment Strategy

Prior to the June outbreak, Macau had managed to keep its enclave free of new COVID-19 infections for nearly the entire duration of the pandemic. Despite being part of China where the coronavirus is thought to have originated, Macau counted less than 60 cases from 2019 through May 2022.

That all changed when a cluster of new infections spread rapidly last month and into July. Macau has confirmed over 1,700 new cases since the mid-June outbreak.

All non-essential businesses, including casinos, have been closed since July 11. The original one-week lockdown was subsequently extended by five days through July 23.

The lockdown has been a success, so says Dr. Leong Iek Hou, the chief medical expert at Macau’s Novel Coronavirus Response and Coordination Center.

We have recorded a downward trend in the number of community cases detected, Leong explained this week. She went on to say that Macau is now in a new “zero COVID” period where the region has “the means to control and detect positive cases quickly” and “maintain a stable outbreak.”

Leong essentially detailed that Macau is redefining its “zero COVID” policy to allow non-essential businesses to operate regardless of small outbreaks.

COVID Easing Fuels Shares

Macau’s top health official saying non-essential businesses will likely reopen in spite of ongoing COVID-19 cases provided some enthusiasm to weary investors. Shares of the four US-traded Macau casino giants each made considerable gains during Tuesday trading.

Las Vegas Sands was up 2.5%, MGM Resorts was up 3.25%, Wynn Resorts gained more than 5%, and Melco Resorts was the day’s big winner climbing over 7.5%.

Gaming in Macau remains greatly suppressed in 2022 from pre-pandemic levels. Through the first half of the year, casinos have won $3.25 billion. Through six months in 2019, gross gaming revenue totaled over $18.5 billion.

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