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Casino hub Macau launches third round of COVID testing as infections rise

Visitors take photos in front of a scale replica of Eiffel Tower in Macau, China, Aug. 16, 2016. — REUTERS/BOBBY YIP

HONG KONG — Macau launched a third round of mandatory coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing for its more than 600,000 residents on Monday, in a push to curb a rise in infections in the world’s biggest gambling hub.

Authorities in Macau have locked down multiple buildings and put more than 5,000 people in quarantine in the past few days, the city’s government said. Health authorities said 38 new COVID cases were recorded on Sunday, taking the total number of infections to 299 in the latest outbreak.

Two rounds of COVID tests were conducted in Macau in the past week. The latest round is expected to end on Tuesday.

Authorities have asked people to remain at home as much as possible with most of the city effectively closed, including bars, hair salons and outdoor parks. Only takeaway is allowed from dining facilities.

Casinos, while mostly deserted, are allowed to stay open, the city’s government said, in a move to protect local jobs.

The stringent measures come after the Chinese special administrative region 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.

Macau’s cases are still far below daily infections in other places, including neighboring Hong Kong where cases have jumped to close to 2,000 a day this month.

This year Hong Kong’s outbreak 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 population comes as it keeps open the border with mainland China, with many residents living and working in the adjoining city of Zhuhai. — Reuters

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