Successful pandemic prevention not possible without hotel and gaming sectors – Study

The successful prevention efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic in the SAR would not have been possible without the financial resources and room capacity provided by the hotel and gaming industry, a study carried out by a University of Macau researcher argues.

The argument was included in a study by UM sociology professor, Loretta Lou, titled ‘ Casino capitalism in the era of Covid-19: examining Macau’s pandemic response’.

For the study, the author carried out virtual interviews with 13 local people from different sectors of Macau in July 2020 and undertook an extensive review of the Macau government’s pandemic policies.

According to the report – devised in 2020 but published in March of this year – the Macau SAR government’s ‘swift and effective’ coronavirus policies are ‘deeply intertwined with the urban fabric and political economy of the city’s casino capitalism’, which endowed the government with surplus funds and an infrastructure that enabled the implementation of an array of strict measures that few other countries could afford to subsidise.

The researcher posits that the public’s high compliance with mandatory health measures; the generous benefits and financial support for citizens and businesses; and the compulsory quarantine required of all incoming travellers – who are lodged in hotel rooms left empty when casino tourists stopped coming – were key factors to assure the pandemic did not take hold in the SAR.

Measures that would have not been possible if not for a political economy backed by the “peculiarities of casino capitalism and its resultant tax revenues”.

No community cases have been reported in the city for 400 consecutive days, with the city reporting so far only 49 confirmed cases and no deaths.

Aside from the obvious advantage of holding almost MOP600 billion in financial reserves thanks to years of considerable gaming tax revenues since the city’s gaming sector boom, Professor Lou also points to the crucial role hotels and resorts had in preventing the spread of the virus by serving as ‘quarantine hotels’.

Since late February, 2020 anyone who has been to an area with a high incidence of coronavirus infections prior to their entry into Macau has been required to undergo
quarantine and medical observation between 14 and days at a designated hotel [by the time the report was completed].

“In terms of cost, the fee for room and board is waived for Macau residents, whereas nonlocals are asked to pay MOP5,600 for their two-week quarantine. By the end of May, [2020] the Macau Government had spent MOP70 million on quarantine hotels,’ the report notes.

At the peak of the pandemic, some nine hotels were used for quarantines.

There are currently some 120 operating hotels and 35,700 hotel rooms in Macau and as of today, there are more than 1,200 people under medical observation in local hotels.

The researcher cites a recent commentary published in Nature Human Behaviour, medical anthropologist Susan Erikson, which argued that too much dependence on the private sector weakened the USA’s pandemic response, with Lo opposing that the case of Macau is perhaps one of the few “counterexamples of this statement”.

“While tax revenues from the gambling industry provide economic relief to Macau during this challenging time, the casino hotels serve as a ‘spatial buffer’ or ‘first line of defence’ against potential carriers of COVID-19. This positive aspect is worth exploring, as past studies tend to emphasise the negative impacts of the gaming industry on the host community,” Lo added.

The study also questioned stereotypes of Macau people as “obedient” to authority and ready to accept face-covering and social distancing rules without questioning them or the influence of Confucianism and authoritarianism as elements that contributed to Macau’s pandemic success.

“I refute this claim by situating Macau’s ‘docility’ in the context of its historical and cultural particularities. I argue that their willingness to comply with rules is neither a result of Confucian values nor authoritarian rule but, rather, a manifestation of the Macau people’s ‘habitus’ and their ‘cultural intimacy’,” Lo argues.

“The Macanese’s cooperation with their government’s COVID-19 policies cannot be understood as a simple penchant for social harmony. Their cooperation is, in fact, a cumulative effect of multiple factors, such as the collective memories of SARS, the impact of Typhoon Hato, economic support from the government and a relatively spacious living home environment, all of which have contributed to strong adherence to social distancing regulations by the Macau people”.