Posted on: January 4, 2022, 10:29h.
Last updated on: January 4, 2022, 11:15h.
Macau and Hong Kong officials have been hoping to resume cross-border travel between the two Chinese Special Administrative Regions (SAR) for months without quarantine requirements. But the COVID-19 omicron variant has greatly set back those ambitions.
Macau’s downtown area is seen. Casinos are in desperate need of gamblers, but omicron is stalling the resumption of quarantine-free travel with Hong Kong. (Image: Bloomberg)
Omicron is spreading around the globe, including in the coronavirus’ origin country of China. Macau and Hong Kong are both reporting confirmed cases of the highly contagious yet less severe coronavirus variant.
The Hong Kong government says vaccination rates have improved since omicron was detected in the region. But the spread will nonetheless push back the resumption of quarantine-free travel to the nearby casino hub.
We will have to wait for a while before we could put in place this resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and the mainland,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters this morning, as first reported by GGRAsia.
Hong Kong is currently averaging 17 new COVID-19 infections a day. Lam said the region has confirmed more than 100 omicron infections.
Macau presently only has quarantine-free cross-border travel arrangements in place with most parts of the mainland. That could soon change, as China is maintaining its “zero-COVID” approach that requires an array of restrictions reimplemented upon detection of a coronavirus cluster, spread, or outbreak.
Prior to the pandemic, the mainland in 2019 accounted for 27.9 million visitors to Macau — or 71 percent of all travelers. More than 7.3 million Hongkongers ventured to the casino destination that year.
Macau’s gaming industry hasn’t recovered from the pandemic’s gravest days in 2020 at nearly the same rate as other major casino markets. While Las Vegas experienced record gaming revenue in 2021, Macau continues to struggle. That’s because of China’s “zero-COVID” policies and the enclave government’s rules requiring the six casinos to refrain from laying off workers despite minimal business operations.
Macau casinos won $10.82 billion last year. Though that’s a nearly 44 percent year-over-year improvement, the 2021 total gaming win was a far cry from the $36.4 billion the same casinos won in pre-pandemic 2019.
Along with the pandemic, Macau casinos are trying to find a new sense of normal when it comes to VIP play. The recent crackdown and ousting of junket groups in town is forcing the casinos to rethink their premium market operations.
A recent note from brokerage Bernstein explained that the average high roller brought to Macau by junkets lost around $27,000 per visit gambling last year.
Omicron is forcing governments around the world to reimpose restrictions on businesses and everyday life. The setback comes just weeks after Macau and Hong Kong were moving close to resuming cross-border travel between the SARs without mandatory isolations or medical observations.
Once conditions improve, Macau and Hong Kong have said in recent weeks that only fully vaccinated individuals will be allowed to travel to and from the SARs without quarantining.
Hong Kong has deployed its health tracking app “Leave Home Safe,” which allows users to store their vaccination credentials. Hongkongers seeking to travel to Macau will need to allow the app to track their movements prior to seeking permission to venture to the casino region.