Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng announced today that the government is considering to ask local casinos to suspend operations for two weeks as a measure to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“We held a meeting this morning to discuss if some casino services should be suspended.[…] This afternoon we will meet with gaming concessionaire and legal advisers. It’s a difficult measure but we have to take it to protect the health of residents. It will have a great impact on the local economy but we need to face this challenge,” CE Ho Iat Seng noted.
The official start of the suspension will only be defined after the meeting but with Ho noting “it would not be too late”, even admitting it could start tonight.
The casino suspension will only be lifted if after the two week suspension period the health risk situation is not considered to have improved.
There are currently 41 casinos in Macau and about 85,100 people or 24.7 per cent of the working population employed in the gaming sector, with some 15,808 being non-residents.
The CE also noted the government will recommend gaming operators not to decrease or stop, the salaries to the employees, stating they “also have social responsibilities”.
Gaming operators’ employees will also be asked to take paid annual leave during the suspension.
Non-resident and local residents living in Zhuhai but working in Macau were also advised not to travel to the SAR for now.
With previous estimates for the city’s economic development this year already predicting a downturn, Ho admitted the measures could further negatively impact the economy and even lead to a budget deficit.
“If we shut down the casinos we will not have revenue. Honestly, I haven’t made yet the calculations but there will likely be a budget deficit. In January we still had gaming revenues but if there is a two-week suspension there will be no revenues with other sector revenues to be limited […] I’m sure there will be a budget deficit this year,” the CE stated.
“I had previously noted as Legislative assembly president the need to save expenses. We have financial reserves and we are in a tough situation so we will use them to overcome this difficult period”
Ho also indicated that authorities would consider and launch more financial measures to minimize the effects.
“Every day we have two-hour meetings with all Secretaries and Executive Council members to study the situation of the city […] We also hear the opinions of associations, residents, and legislators who can show their opinion,” he added.
“Macau is a fragile economy. before we were discussing if we should impose a tourism tax and know there are not even tourists”
Two confirmed coronavirus cases by Macau residents were revealed today, with three confirmed so far and bringing up the total tally in the city to 10.
The ninth case involves a Galaxy casino worker, with the 10th involving a travel agency worker.
According to Ho the next seven to 10 days will be a high-risk period for the epidemic, with necessary measures having to be enforced.
“The number of cases has already surpassed the level of SARS. We don’t know how long we will have to deal with the disease,” he noted.
Ho indicated about 600 people per day have received treatment in local hospitals.
The CE also said that he was considering to even suspend public basic services and only maintain emergency services.
No border closure was announced but with Ho considering it was also being studied.
[To be updated]