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Macao to reopen casinos Saturday in gradual easing of COVID curbs

Residents still required to stay home; cinemas, fitness clubs to remain closed

The Casino Lisboa in Macau in 2019: In saying some essential businesses will be able to reopen on July 23, the government gave no specific information on casinos.   © Reuters

HONG KONG (Reuters) -- Macao will reopen its casinos on Saturday, authorities said as they seek to unwind some stringent measures which locked down the world's biggest gambling hub for 12 days to curb its worst outbreak of COVID-19.

The announcement, made at a daily press briefing, confirmed an earlier report by Reuters citing a source.

Some essential businesses and premises will be able to reopen on July 23, the government announced in a statement on Wednesday. It gave no details on casinos specifically.

While casinos will formally reopen, there will probably be little business for several weeks, executives and analysts said, with many coronavirus rules set to remain in place.

The government has wanted to keep casinos open to protect jobs and livelihoods, as most of the population in the China-ruled territory are employed directly or indirectly by the gaming resorts.

The partial reopening will take place over two weeks with cinemas, fitness and health clubs as well as beauty parlors continuing to be shut. Authorities will also extend mass coronavirus testing of the city's more than 600,000 residents.

Residents are still required to stay home apart from those who need to go out for "work, shopping or other urgent reasons," the statement said.

Infections have fallen over the past week with only 10 cases reported on Tuesday.

Macao shut all its casinos for the first time in more than two years on July 11.

The former Portuguese colony has recorded around 1,800 COVID-19 infections since mid-June. This is the first time Macao has had to grapple with the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

More than 90% of Macao's residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but authorities have closely followed China's zero-COVID mandate, which seeks to curb all outbreaks at almost any cost, contrary to the rest of the world which is already living with the virus.

Macao's casinos are soaking up losses as they prepare to bid for new licenses by next month in a business that generated $36 billion in revenue in 2019, the last year before COVID curbs slammed the sector.

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