OPINION – Slow drive

The Labour Day week – particularly the holiday weekend – brought Macau the highest number of visitors since the Covid pandemic struck. Remember, after January 2020, their numbers dropped very fast, and we recorded a disastrous sequence of figures between April to July last year.

In those four months, the combined total short of 125,000 visitors represented less than one per cent of the average monthly inflow in the previous year. 

A slow recovery started in August, and the figures have improved. However, a succession of ups and downs in making such recovery more protracted than many expected. The public budget revenue forecasts for the year assumed that the flows between Hong Kong and Macau would be ‘normalizing’ by May. That has not happened.

It is still unclear when such movements may resume, let alone when stable flows will be established at economically sustainable levels, even if they are still short of the usual numbers.

May recorded more than 860,000 visitors, signalling that, somehow, consolidation the recovery started in August last year might be in the making. But the impulse seems to have subsided. Further, in the absence of meaningful negotiations to open corridors from other sources of visitors, the dependence on flows of mainland tourists has only increased in relative terms.

That adds to another worrying development. The share of visitors with individual visas, which proved in previous times more active spenders than the average, is below pre-pandemic levels.  

New outbursts of the disease and the uncertainties about the evolution of the situation across the border (especially in neighbouring regions) have only compounded the continuing concerns about the economy’s resilience.

We still lack a clear blueprint for the exit of the current predicament, and the “protected bubble” mindset that has prevailed so far is unlikely to change shortly. In this context, it is unfortunate that what we might call the most significant economic measure – mass vaccination – failed to gain an early impetus. 

The figures for Macau vaccination are unexplainably dismal, and even among the health sector personnel, they are well below what would be justifiable. The more robust than before commitment seen lately notwithstanding, the government drive still appears weaker than the circumstances would warrant, and a speedier return to normalcy will require. 

The recovery sluggishness is adding stress to the economic and social fabric and dims the prospects for the normalization of the life of its residents.