(Reuters) – Authorities in Macau have locked down several residential buildings as the world’s biggest gambling hub tries to contain a rising number of COVID-19 cases that have ground the city to a halt, apart from casinos which mostly remain open.
The former Portuguese colony reported 39 new infections on Friday, bringing the total for its current outbreak to 149, with around a dozen buildings locked down and residents banned from leaving, the local government said in a statement.
More than 5,000 people are in mandatory quarantine, the government said.
Macau, a Chinese special administrative region, is testing its more than 600,000 residents for the coronavirus for a second time this week. Testing is due to finish on Friday.
A makeshift hospital, located next to Macau’s Las Vegas modelled Cotai Strip, is also expected to open on Friday.
Macau shut down most of its city, including bars, cinemas, hair salons and outdoor parks on Thursday. Only takeaway is allowed from dining facilities.
The stringent measures come after Macau has been largely COVID-free since an outbreak in October 2021. It has not previously had to deal with the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.
Macau adheres to China’s “zero COVID” policy which aims to eradicate all outbreaks, at just about any cost, running counter to a global trend of trying to co-exist with the virus.
Casino revenues are likely to be close to zero in the coming weeks, analysts said. Only one of the territory’s more than 30 casinos has been closed as an anti-COVID measure, but the others have few customers, residents said.
Macau’s cases are still far below daily infections in other places, including neighbouring Hong Kong where cases have jumped to over 1,000 a day this month.
Hong Kong’s outbreak this year saw more than 1 million confirmed infections, and more than 9,000 deaths, swamping hospitals and public services. Officials there are looking to ease some restrictions.
Macau only has one public hospital with its services already stretched on a daily basis. The territory’s swift plan to test its entire population comes as it keeps open the border with mainland China, with many residents living and working in the adjoining city of Zhuhai.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)