China, Macau ‘Zero-COVID’ Policy Scolded by WHO Director-General

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China, Macau ‘Zero-COVID’ Policy Scolded by WHO Director-General

In a scathing criticism of China and Macau’s “zero-COVID” policy, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the world’s most populated country is going about the pandemic in its late stages in an unsustainable way.

China Macau zero-COVID casino gambling
China Macau zero-COVID casino gambling
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus removes his face mask prior to speaking at the World Health Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 20, 2021. Ghebreyesus is facing backlash from China and Macau for his recent “zero-COVID” comments. (Image: AP)

Ghebreyesus, who himself has faced plenty of criticism for WHO’s handling of the pandemic, scolded the People’s Republic yesterday during a media briefing.

When we talk about the zero-COVID strategy, we don’t think that it is sustainable, considering the behavior of the virus now and what we anticipate in the future,” Ghebreyesus said as he discussed the increased transmissibility of the virus’ latest variant.

China’s “zero-COVID” policy initiates considerable responses to even a handful of new COVID-19 cases. Such measures include travel restrictions, which continue to greatly hamper visitation into Macau. The enclave’s six casinos in the Special Administrative Region have lost billions of dollars in stock valuation since 2020.

“We have discussed this issue with Chinese experts and we indicated that the approach will not be sustainable,” the WHO chief added. “I think a shift in relaxing its zero-COVID policy is very important.”

China immediately censored Ghebreyesus’ comments on WeChat and Weibo, the two most popular social media platforms in the country.

Macau Health Official Responds

Ending COVID-19 mandates and limitations on public life in China similar to what’s occurred in the US would be expected to provide Macau casinos with pent-up demand. But that will presumably only occur when “zero-COVID” is eased.

Wynn Resorts CEO Craig Billings told analysts and investors yesterday during the firm’s earnings call that Macau is ready for its own recovery, not unlike the one being experienced in Las Vegas.

“We remain excited about the prospects for Macau with so much latent demand in the region. Macau is really the most fascinating aspect of our portfolio right now. The equity markets obviously aren’t appreciating that. But that happens from time to time,” Billings said.

A recovery, however, is dependent on more non-residents being allowed to freely come and go in and out of Macau. For now, the strict measures in response to new cases will continue in China and Macau.

Responding to the WHO director-general, Macau Health Bureau Director Alvis Lo Iek Long maintained that “zero-COVID” is “definitely Macau’s only choice.” Lo, a pulmonologist prior to entering public health, added that the enclave now refers to “zero-COVID” as “dynamic zero.”

“We’ve followed the dynamic zero approach for more than two years, and by this approach we have not only protected the safety of our citizens, but their lives have also been normal through most of that time,” Lo said. “We do not see any urgency in shifting into another policy.”

Seniors Vaccine-Hesitant

Though Macau’s vaccination rate is nearing 90%, enclave health officials say older people have a relatively low vaccination rate. Lo rejected media questions about whether Macau might consider adopting a “Living with COVID” policy version that many countries in Asia have adopted in recent months.

“If we adopt other policies, that will result in mass infections,” Lo stated. “Then, how are we to sustain the normal travel ties with mainland China?”

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