Macau residents bristle at restrictions as COVID lockdown enters 2nd week
Rumbles of public discontent have emerged in Macau, better known for its glitzy casinos than anti-government protests, as residents endure a prolonged lockdown ordered by authorities to contain surging Covid-19 infections.
Social media has been flooded with photos of residents wearing white t-shirts emblazoned with red Chinese characters reading ‘no jobs, no food’ but also carrying handwritten messages of support for the government’s pandemic efforts and frontline workers. The photos were taken as residents made their way to testing centers around the city, the only reason apart from buying basic necessities for which they are allowed to leave their homes.
Macau entered its second week of lockdown on Monday, which forced the closure of all non-essential businesses, including its 42 casinos that fuel its massive economy, leaving the streets once bustling with tourists and gamblers eerily quiet.
Authorities are adhering to the central government’s favored “dynamic-zero” Covid-19 strategy, which calls for eradicating cases using repeated mass testing and lockdowns, as opposed to the “living with the virus” approach taken by most countries.
While many of Macau’s 680,000 residents have supported the government’s efforts, they have at the same time bristled at the restrictions, desperate to know when life might return to normal.
For 37-year-old teacher Mandy*, another week confined to her home meant more discomfort for her two dogs, who are used to regular walks outside.
“My dogs are already four years old, so it’s impossible to retrain them (to defecate outdoors) in such a short time,” she said. “They don’t know how…at home and can only hold him back.”
Mandy admitted she once escaped for a brief walk, but then learned that her friends had been warned by the police to take their dogs outside. She and her husband, who was also a teacher, were loath to break the law, but Mandy said they struggled between caring for their pets and following the rules. Authorities made 27 arrests for breaching Covid-19 restrictions last week.
“I felt like a criminal walking my dog down the street. It’s a witch hunt for lawbreakers,” she said.
Casino staff have also been struggling with the drastic changes. Lai Cheong-kuong, a 40-year-old manager of Greater Lisboa Macau, was one of many workers asked to take their annual leave.
Lai said that before the pandemic hit in 2020, the casino was operating up to 195 gaming tables a day, but by the time the lockdown was ordered the number had dropped to 30, with each earning only 20% of his usual salary. amount.
While the director said he understood cost savings were needed given the casinos’ financial situation, Cloee Chao Sao-fong, president of the New Macau Gaming Staff Rights Association, expressed disappointment with the stance. from the government on labor rights during the health emergency.
She referred to a policy that released employers from any obligation to pay workers during the shutdown, which was a reversal of practice during the previous round of casino closures in February 2020.
“A casino employee contacted me to say he would be offered paid time off, but once the government announced this policy, the company changed its mind,” she said. “The government (effectively) encourages casinos not to pay their employees.”
Casino employees who lived in mainland China could face further financial hardship, warned Lei Kwun-hei, president of Gaming Employee Home. Some casinos had even required employees living in Zhuhai and Hengqin to apply for paid leave in person, despite the extreme difficulty of crossing the border.
“Some were forced to go on unpaid leave because they couldn’t go back to the casino,” he said.
The government pledged on Saturday to provide an additional 10 billion patacas ($1.24 billion) to struggling businesses, but Terence Chan Tai-lun, 37, said he was worried whether the two retail outlets that he owned at St Lazarus Church would survive. if the strict measures were to continue.
Calling the last week “the darkest time” he’s been through since starting his business in 2014, Chan estimated he’s lost 70,000 patacas in sales since the lockdown began.
“Mainland tourists account for at least 50% of our sales,” he said. “Once our borders were closed and entry restrictions tightened, our sales fell by 90%.
Joshua Long Kin-hou was also losing money with his interior renovation business as most building materials were imported from the mainland and cross-border transport was now limited.
“The cost of logistics has doubled. It’s really bad for business,” Long said, adding that he missed about 300,000 patacas in sales last week.
Health authorities reported just 15 new confirmed infections on Sunday, the fewest since the lockdown began, and only two preliminary cases were detected in the community as opposed to ‘supervised areas’, such as isolation facilities. , compared to 47 two weeks ago. The city’s tally of confirmed Covid-19 cases stood at 742 with five related deaths. Authorities keep a separate tally for suspected infections.
The upheaval was set to continue for some time, given that the Macau government adhered so closely to the national “zero-Covid” strategy, said Hong Kong-based respiratory medicine specialist Dr Leung Chi-chiu.
“Early intervention measures are drastic but effective given the significant drop in the number of new infections detected in the community over the past week, but it still takes some time, possibly more than a week, to approach zero,” he said. “Residents and businesses need to be patient.”
Former lawmaker Sulu Sou Ka-hou, now vice president of pro-democracy association New Macau, said the government should work to reassure workers of their rights to assuage public anger that broods.
“It involves a wide range of issues around wages, insurance and compensation. The government cannot just remain vague and seek to tame discontent simply with cash handouts,” he said.
*Name changed at the request of the interviewee
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