Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng said on Tuesday that only after COVID-19 vaccines are available can Macao’s economy and employment situation improve.
Ho made the remarks during a Q&A session in the legislature’s hemicycle Tuesday afternoon. The chief executive attended the four-hour session, which was held a day after he delivered his 2021 Policy Address, to answer questions from 31 lawmakers in the 33-member Legislative Assembly (AL), which is headed by Kou Hoi In. The marathon Q&A included a 15-minute coffee break.
Ho said that the economy and employment situation of many countries and regions all over the world has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Macao is one of them.
Ho admitted that therefore, at least for the time being, it was difficult to tackle Macao’s unemployment issue, which could only be solved by an economic recovery.
According to the Statistics and Census Bureau (DSEC), residents’ unemployment rate reached 4.1 per cent in the July-September employment survey period. The underemployment rate climbed to 4.7 per cent.
Pointing out that certain COVID-19 vaccines are now widely expected to become available in the near future, Ho said that after all Macao residents get vaccinated against COVID-19, the government would lift its current entry ban on foreigners who then wouldn’t even need to be tested for COVID-19 before entering Macao.
Foreign nationals without a local residence permit have been banned from entering the special administrative region since March.
Ho said that the availability of COVID-19 vaccines was a “key factor” that would change Macao’s current “bad” economy and employment situation.
“After [Macao residents] get their COVID-19 vaccination and develop antibodies, the government will dare to reopen [Macao’s tourism] market [to the world],” Ho said.
“If all people [in Macao] get their COVID-19 vaccination, the situation [in terms of its economy and employment] will change, as we won’t need to be scared of tourists who may have been infected with the [novel coronavirus] disease,” Ho said.
Ho said he believed that Macao, as a small economy which has suffered a sharp downturn, will be able to have a quick recovery.
Ho underlined that the Macao government will strive to purchase a sufficient number of doses of COVID-19 vaccines so as to cover the city’s whole population.
According to official demographics, Macao’s population – comprising residents and non-resident workers – stood at 682,800 at the end of the third quarter.
The Health Bureau (SSM) has said that the local government aims to purchase 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines covering the city’s whole population – two shots for each person.
Ho also admitted that the real number of the jobless in Macao is higher than what the official unemployment figure suggests. Ho said that some residents have chosen to take unpaid of half-paid leave as they did not want to terminate their employment contracts with their current employers, as they were worried that they would not be employed by the companies again once the economy starts to recover.