Macau, the little island that’s the largest gambling hub in the world, has been fighting to stay open despite the coronavirus crisis. But things are about to change. Macau’s government has announced it will direct all casinos to close for a period of two weeks in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. This announcement comes just hours after the island confirmed the tenth case of coronavirus and China announced the number of cases has jumped to over 20,000.
This will be the second time in history that Macau’s casinos have closed. The first time was in 2018, after a massive typhoon forced a 33-hour shutdown and caused the island to come to a standstill.
Macau struggled in 2019, suffering a major decline in revenue after imposing a smoking ban. While it seemed that things were starting to get better recently, a two-week closure will put serious pressure on the industry. Macau’s chief executive, Ho Iat Seng, who took office in December, expressed yesterday that they are prepared to extend the two-week period if necessary, depending on what happens with the spread of the virus this month.
“This is a difficult decision, but we have to do it, for the health of our Macau residents,” he told reporters. Ho Iat Seng is set to meet with gaming industry representatives today to decide on the exact day and time the closure will take effect.
Macau has been closely monitoring the spread of the coronavirus and the government had warned it would take drastic measures if necessary. Less than two weeks ago, all casino workers were ordered to wear masks at work, but with over 35 million people visiting the island every year, it seemed unlikely that this would be the only step needed to make a difference.
Visitor numbers were already down 80% last week, and Macau has been bracing for the inevitable for weeks. While Macau is not closing its borders with China just yet, Macau’s chief executive Ho Iat Seng is urging residents to stay indoors as much as possible.
“Don’t go on the streets if not necessary. I hope everyone will wear a mask no matter where you go, supermarkets or wet markets. Don’t be careless. Don’t take it lightly,” he said.
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