There is a great deal of unanimity around the way the Macau Government has managed this first year of the pandemic.
MB January 2021 Special Report | The COVID-19 year
“Macau is an authentic case study of how to control a pandemic,” argues Vera Lúcia Raposo, a professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Macau.
In the following text of this special report, the reader will find several compliments like this (or even more emphatic) for the work carried out by the government of Ho Iat Seng. “Macau took this epidemic outbreak as a most dangerous and serious situation that might cause huge damage to Macau society. There have been several policies and strategies announced and applied in Macau since 23 Jan 2020, based on the suggestions from Dr. Zhong Nanshan, the head of the high-level expert team of the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China,” states Kerry Hsu, Macau Polytechnic Institute.
But what made the Chief Executive so special after all?
Here are some of the main measures for future memory:
1) Taking advantage of the possibilities opened by Law no. 2/2004 – The law on prevention, control and treatment of communicable diseases was created in the aftermath of the health crisis generated by SARS in 2001-2003. Government did not wait for the first cases to move forward: on January 21, 2020, the New Coronavirus Contingency Coordination Center was created.
2) Coinciding with the diagnosis of the first case in Macau, on January 22, the measurement of body temperature at the entrance of various public services and schools was implemented, with the consequent impediment of entry for anyone who revealed a fever. The same is applied to everyone who leaves and enters MSAR. Later, visitors were required to bring a health declaration stating that they were not infected, otherwise they would be subject to civil and criminal punishment. Visitors to Macau were also subjected to medical examinations upon arrival.
3) From 17 March onward, anyone with a body temperature above 37.3ºC was prevented from entering, a measure implemented after a case of infection resulted from someone who had arrived in Macau with a fever. This was the moment when Macau practically closed itself off to the world, allowing the entry of only residents of Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China and non-resident workers, by order of the CE. Even these individuals were subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon entering Macau, to be carried out in home, in the case of residents, or at hotels appointed by the government.
4) At the same time, Macau applied hospital isolation measures to infected patients.
5) Hospital isolation came in conjunction with a request, made by the government in early February, for residents to remain in voluntary quarantine, without implying mandatory quarantine. “The mandatory nature of the measure was not necessary because it was always scrupulously complied with by everyone,” noted Professor Vera Lúcia Raposo, in her research paper Macau, a luta contra a Covid-19 no olho do furação (“Macau, the fight against Covid-19 in the eye of the hurricane”).
6) While, in the West, it was discussed whether or not the use of masks was advisable to combat the spread of the epidemic, their use was already widespread in Macau. The government ensured that every citizen, resident or non-resident, had access to masks, avoiding, for example, price speculation and rationing.
7) In Macau, as in all other places, one of the most recommended measures was social distance (in restaurants, bars or gymnasiums), also avoiding on the other hand agglomerations. As a result, all school activity was suspended for about a month. It is in this context that one of the most iconic measures was inserted, which we have already highlighted in a previous text: the closure of all casinos for two weeks.
8) The innovative implementation of the so-called Daily Declaration of Health, for the purpose of access to various public and private places. The Declaration was completed online on the Macau Health Services website.
At the same time that the population’s adherence to the measures proposed by the government has been praised by different sectors, the police authorities have not stopped doing their job.
In the first few months, the Public Prosecutor’s Office accused eight people, five of whom were residents, of violating quarantine measures for medical observation.
Among the eight cases, there is one in which more than 300 masks provided by the government were maliciously contaminated, an act that was considered serious by the Public Ministry, which accused the alleged perpetrator of the crime of qualified damage, punishable by up to 5 years’ imprisonment.
The measures to prevent the epidemic, with the severe restriction of displacements or concentrations of people, in Macau and all over the place, promoted “the reduction of crimes of cross-border drug trafficking to Macau through minors and also related to crimes related to the gambling sector. However, we note that, following the epidemic evolution, there has been a trend towards an increase in investigations of crimes committed over the Internet, and fraud crimes with counterfeit money have also emerged,” according to the Prosecutor General, Ip Son Sang.