Macau casinos, largest gambling hub, to shut amid virus outbreak

05, Feb. 2020


HONG KONG, Kyodo - The casino city of Macau will halt all casino operations for two weeks, leader Ho Iat Seng said Tuesday, a step aimed at stopping the spread of a new coronavirus outbreak in the world's largest gambling hub.

The move was prompted by the diagnosis the same day with the virus of a 29-year-old local woman, a hotel worker, who had been using shuttle buses used by casino industry workers.

Secretary for Economy and Finance Lei Wai Nong said in a statement that by midnight Tuesday, all 41 casinos and other premises, including movie theatres, pubs and nightclubs, will suspend operation for 15 days.

The area's six major casino operators have also promised the government that they will continue to pay their employees during the suspension, to show their social responsibility.

Macau reported two new cases on Tuesday, including the woman's, bringing the total in the Chinese territory to 10.

The woman had access to "casino shuttle buses and staff canteen, which is most worrying as other casino workers would also use the buses," Ho told reporters in Macau.

"This is a tough decision to make, but the health of Macau people is our only goal. For now, we can still bear the economic loss," he said.

The Macau leader said a decision will be made immediately on resuming casino operations after two weeks if the situation has stabilized.

The territory's civil servants have been given another week of leave following Thursday's end of a weeklong Lunar New Year holiday. During this period, only urgent public services are being maintained.

Ho urged the residents of the former Portuguese colony not to leave home unless necessary. "Heed us. Stay home unless you really need to go out."

Until now, the Macau government has taken a series of preventive measures, including requiring casino patrons and workers, and commuters on public transport to wear masks.

Macao opened its casino sector in 2002, ending a monopoly system over it. Its casino-related revenue exceeded that of Las Vegas in 2006, making it the world's largest gambling hub.

The gaming industry, the territory's major economic engine, brought 293 billion patacas ($37 billion) in revenue to Macau in 2019. (Kyodo)