The Chinese city of Macau has asked its 41 casinos to close for the next two weeks as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus outbreak afflicting the region. Macau has also suspended basic public services and residents have been urged not to leave their homes except to get food.
The former Portuguese colony is the world’s biggest gambling center. The city was returned to Chinese control in 1999. Just two weeks ago, Macau was bustling with tourists from mainland China celebrating the Lunar New Year holiday. The city has already seen visits drop by 80 percent.
The coronavirus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan. It has since sickened thousands of people in the country and started to spread around the world. The coronavirus has killed at least 490 people in mainland China, one in the Philippines, and one in Hong Kong.
No deaths have been reported in Macau, but 10 people in the city have been confirmed as being sickened by the illness. One of the confirmed cases was a hotel employee at Galaxy Casino, one of the city’s busiest gambling establishments. The worker had shared shuttle buses and the casino cafeteria with colleagues.
Macau is the only part of China that allows casino gambling and gambling accounts for nearly 80 percent of the Macau government’s revenue. According to the Gaming Inspection & Coordination Bureau, Macau’s gaming revenue totaled $36.5 billion last year, 3.4 percent lower than the year before. It has been estimated that the two-week closure could reduce Macau’s gaming revenue by 5 to 15 percent this year.
In China, more than 40 million people have been put under lockdown, including 11 million in Wuhan, the city that officials say is the epicenter of the outbreak. Many companies have decided to shut factories and close stores for a couple of weeks to prevent further spread of the illness.
A number of airlines have suspended their flights to China for the near term. Several countries, including the United States, have discouraged travel to China, and American citizens and permanent residents who fly to the United States from China are now subject to a two-week quarantine.