Few tourists, deserted streets in casino hub Macau after reopening

By Joyce Zhou and Tyrone Siu

MACAU (Reuters) - Three years of COVID-19 forced Becky Zhang’s specialty food business in Macau to near collapse. Founded by her grandmother more than fifty years ago, her store selling pastries and dried beef only survived thanks to residents who bought small quantities to help keep them afloat.

Now, even after the recent reopening of the world’s biggest gambling hub, tourists are few and many businesses are shuttered, underlining analysts' views that a recovery will be uneven and take some time.

“Macau has not seen any improvement after the recent reopening of the city because many people are infected with COVID, many shops are unable to open, and no staff are working,” 40-year-old Zhang said.

“Now not even 1% of the people come to Macau. Many shops on this street closed because they couldn’t hold on…it’s miserable.”

Macau, a special Chinese administrative region, closely followed China’s tough zero-Covid strategy since 2019. But in line with mainland China, it reversed course toward living with the virus on Dec. 7.

The densely populated hub of 700,000 sits on China's southern coastline and has an open border with the mainland, with many people living and working in neighbouring Chinese city Zhuhai.

However, Macau has been closed off to the rest of the world, including neighbouring financial hub Hong Kong, for the past three years.

On Dec. 22, Macau authorities announced that international arrivals including those from Hong Kong and Taiwan no longer needed to undergo a nucleic acid test after landing and could move freely, the biggest steps yet to relax stringent COVID measures. Previously visitors were also required to quarantine in a self-paid hotel for a week.

Since reopening, Macau has grappled with a widespread COVID-19 wave, impacting the number of workers across the city. There has been no sizable uptick in visitor volume in the past week, with industry executives forecasting little change until the Lunar New Year holiday starting on Jan. 21.

Some tourists who managed to travel to Macau from the mainland for Christmas said they were happy about the lack of crowds.

Huang Dandan , a 22-year old woman visiting the Ruins of St Paul, one of its most famous landmarks, said she didn’t mind many of the shops being closed due to the pandemic.

“It’s easier for us to take good pictures at popular locations, so I am very happy about it.”

Shanghai residents Oscar Beltran and his wife Marta, originally from Spain, said Macau was their first family holiday in three years.

“Everyone is so excited, people are outside. We are very happy to move around and travel again.”

(Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Kim Coghill)