Macau uses two more casino hotels for COVID medical facilities

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HONG KONG, July 8 (Reuters) – Authorities in Macau have added two hotels at popular casino resorts that will be used as COVID-19 medical facilities from Friday as they try to increase capacity to handle a surge of infections in the largest gaming center in the world.

The east wing of the Grand Lisboa Palace owned by SJM Holdings (0880.HK) and the Grand Hyatt hotel owned by Melco Resorts will together provide nearly 800 rooms, they said.

The Sheraton Hotel and the London complex of Sands China (1928.HK) have previously been used as quarantine facilities.

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The announcement comes as Macau reported 128 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 1,215 cases since mid-June. More than 15,000 people are in quarantine, authorities said.

Authorities have locked down 22 residential buildings across Macau as they carry out a fifth round of citywide mass testing for all residents. Read more

Sealed buildings include the iconic Grand Lisboa hotel on Macau’s bustling Main Peninsula. More than 500 people have been locked inside the hotel for at least five days from Tuesday after infected cases were discovered. Read more

The former Portuguese colony has just one public hospital for its more than 600,000 residents, and its medical system was already strained before the coronavirus outbreak.

Authorities have set up a makeshift hospital in a sports dome near the city’s Las Vegas-style Cotai Strip and have around 600 mainland medical workers assisting them.

More than 90 percent of Macau residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but this is the first time the city has grappled with the fast-spreading variant of the Omicron coronavirus.

Macau adheres to China’s “zero-COVID” policy which aims to curb all outbreaks at almost any cost, bucking a global trend of trying to coexist with the virus.

Although the government has not imposed the kind of citywide lockdown seen in mainland Chinese cities, Macau is effectively locked down and most facilities are closed. Residents have been asked to stay at home, public transport is reduced and restaurants only offer take-out.

LOCKDOWN RUMORS

Residents thronged to food markets and grocery stores on Thursday, fearing the city could be shut down completely. The government denied the rumors and urged the public not to panic and hoard food, according to local TV station TDM.

The neighboring global financial hub of Hong Kong has seen similar chaos after lockdown rumors repeatedly surfaced. Authorities there never imposed a full lockdown and began easing COVID restrictions even as cases hit around 3,000 a day.

Frustration is mounting among residents over the government’s handling of the outbreak. Some residents have had to wait in line for more than 20 hours to access health facilities, and many are desperate to return to work.

“There is so much anger in the community,” said a casino executive who declined to be named due to company policy.

Casinos are allowed to stay open to protect jobs, but executives said it didn’t make sense to have staff on hand despite the lack of activity.

The gambling industry accounts for over 80% of government revenue, with most people employed directly or indirectly by casinos.

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Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Tom Hogue

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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