Macau casino shares yesterday plunged as the Chinese territory embarked on a week-long lockdown to curb its worst COVID-19 outbreak, while neighboring Hong Kong said it was mulling a mainland-style health code system.
Share prices of six gaming conglomerates — Sands China, Galaxy Entertainment, SJM Holdings, Melco International, MGM China and Wynn Macau — fell by between 6 and nearly 9 percent in yesterday morning trade.
It is the first casino lockdown in more than two years, overriding a previous deal between the industry and the Macau government that only those found with infections would need to close temporarily.
Macau, the world’s biggest gambling hub, is the only place in China where casinos are legal, but the COVID-19 pandemic has hammered its fortunes as it adheres to Beijing’s “zero COVID-19” model.
While casinos have remained open throughout most of the pandemic they have seen a fraction of pre-COVID-19 business.
A Bloomberg gauge of the territory’s six licensed casino operators is down 20 percent this year.
Authorities announced a week of lockdowns starting yesterday after recording more than 1,500 infections in the past three weeks despite multiple rounds of compulsory mass testing of Macau’s 650,000 people.
All residents must stay home except to go shopping for daily necessities and to get tested for the virus, with rule-breakers facing up to two years in jail.
Some public services and businesses such as supermarkets and pharmacies can stay open, and only people with special permission or a low-risk health code can use public transportation.
China uses mandatory health code apps to trace people’s movements and COVID-19 outbreaks. Only those with green codes can move freely.
It is a system that Hong Kong’s government is now considering employing, Hong Kong Secretary of Health Lo Chung-mau (盧寵茂) said yesterday.
“So-called freedom can sometimes be easily confused with selfishness,” Lo told public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong.
“Infected people should not have the freedom to go wherever they want and affect our health,” he added.
Hong Kong is being remolded in the authoritarian mainland’s image after huge democracy protests three years ago.
The territory has hewed to a lighter version of the “zero COVID-19” model, which has battered the economy and left Hong Kong internationally cut off for more than two years.
The newly installed administration of Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee (李家超), a former security official, has vowed to stamp out infections and restart travel to the mainland and outside world.
To do that, authorities might need to deploy more mainland-style mass monitoring of the population.
Hong Kong currently uses a less restrictive mobile phone app than the mainland one, which keeps a resident’s vaccination record and is used to check into businesses and venues.
Newly married and with his first child on the way, auto worker Wang (王) wanted to move into the apartment he bought in Wuhan three years ago, but those hopes were dashed by China’s ballooning property crisis. Saddled with nearly US$300,000 in debt and with his unit nowhere near completion, the 34-year-old decided he had enough and stopped making mortgage payments. He is among numerous home buyers across dozens of cities in China who have boycotted payments over fears that their properties will not be completed by cash-strapped, debt-laden developers. “They said construction would resume soon,” Wang said, only giving his surname. “But
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