Frustration is the word of the day in Macau. 2020 was a disastrous year for the city’s casino market and, while 2021 has been substantially better, COVID-19 continues to cause problems. Recent positive tests have forced government and health officials to take a few steps backward on the road to recovery, and it doesn’t look like a swift end to the issues is coming. The new cases are thwarting multiple initiatives designed to help the Chinese SAR evolve its gaming industry.
COVID-19 Forces Macau to Cancel Debate on Gaming Laws
Macau lawmakers recently produced a set of updated draft rules for its gaming operators that left many unanswered questions. Concerns over how licenses would be issued and for how long, as well as how much more control would be implemented on operations, still need to be addressed. A public hearing on the subject was to take place late last month, but had to be canceled due to a sudden and unexpected spike in COVID-19 problems. The fact that this also happened just ahead of Golden Week only added more anxiety, with operators no longer able to count on considerable traffic during the holiday period.
A second hearing has now been canceled. This comes after four new COVID-19 cases have been found, leading to mass testing of local residents. Despite two hearings having been canceled, the 45-day consultation period for the draft rules won’t be extended, according to the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ, for its Portuguese acronym). As per the current schedule, that window will close on October 29, unless the DICJ changes its mind.
Only one hearing on the new gaming laws has been held. That was on September 20 and was limited to only representatives from the gaming industry, not for the general public. Some already expect the current gaming concessions, scheduled to expire next June, to be extended, and the continued delays in the review of the gaming laws could force the timeframe to be altered.
Quarantines, Travel Restrictions Continue
Prior to the new COVID-19 cases emerging, Macau and Zhuhai, a mainland China city that borders Macau, were to ease travel restrictions. Zhuhai is a major feeder for the SAR and the hope was to have certain restrictions lifted as of yesterday afternoon. However, that was pushed back because of the new coronavirus issues, and existing quarantine policies were also extended. A 14-day quarantine requirement for most people entering Zhuhai will stay in place, and no definitive date for its removal has been provided.
Easing the restriction wasn’t going to mean free travel between Macau and Zhuhai. Anyone entering Zhuhai from the SAR would have had to prove that they had received their COVID-19 vaccine and produce a negative nucleic acid test administered within 48 hours prior to their trip. These requirements are seen as a hassle for some, causing them to avoid traveling completely until the restrictions are lifted.
With the four new COVID-19 cases, identified Sunday night, Macau is once again having to go to extreme lengths to prevent a larger outbreak. One of the individuals who tested positive had reportedly stayed at three different hotels since his arrival on September 26, including the Sands Macao, the Grand Emperor Hotel and the Victoria Hotel. As a result, Macau was forced to lock down the Grand Emperor and the Victoria, not allowing anyone to leave while COVID-19 tests were being administered to everyone.