Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng said Tuesday that suspending the operation of the city’s casinos for half a month was a difficult but necessary decision for the health of Macau residents, stressing that while the government has confidence in tackling the novel coronavirus situation, the public has to join the battle against the new viral threat.
The measure was announced during an 80-minute press conference at Government House during the lunch period, where Ho repeatedly urged residents to stay at home to reduce the risk of cross-infection, as there are not always obvious symptoms during the incubation period.
Ho pointed out that he talked to the nation’s highly respected respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan Tuesday morning, who told him that the next few days are a critical period and the temporary closure of casinos is, therefore, an appropriate measure.
“We have decided on adopting different measures depending on the development of the situation, now with three local residents infected with the virus, and one of them is a casino staff member, so we decided to close the casinos,” Ho explained, adding the impact of the measure would be no income for the gaming industry for two weeks.
‘Economy to be in the red’
“So this year’s economy will be in the red for sure,” Ho said, adding: “Income in other sectors will be very little in terms of taxes, plus we’re preparing for tax relief measures as support measure for people at this difficult time, and the forecast for the economy is that it will be in the red, so be prepared.”
Quoting a famous Chinese saying that “No flower can bloom for a hundred days”, Ho said it was necessary to prepare for adverse situations, and it was time to use the government’s financial reserves to support the “fragile” economy.
With the 9th patient being a Macau resident who was infected when attending a family gathering at the home of the 8th patient over the Chinese New Year holiday, Ho said he hoped all residents will stay at home, except for going to buy groceries. However, he reminded residents to wear facemasks even at wet markets or supermarkets.
‘Don’t let your guard down’
“Don’t let your guard down; don’t think it’s not a problem. As I said, these seven to 10 days could be very serious,” Ho told Macau people.
The government has ordered the closure of public administration offices – except for “urgent services” – this week and has asked other sectors to follow suit,with schools closed until further notice, so people can stay at home, work at home and learn at home.
“This is not a holiday,” Ho said, “It’s not for you to go out, go to gatherings, go jogging or do exercises, it’s not for this, but for people to stay at home.”
He added that the government has shortened the opening hours of the Barrier Gate checkpoint and reduced frequencies of buses and the light rail transit (LRT) system, which might not be convenient but he asked for residents’ understanding.
With measures that make it inconvenient for people to go out, asked by a reporter why doesn’t the government just close all border checkpoints, Ho firmly said that he would not consider the move.
No closed borders
“If we close the borders so people in the mainland cannot come here and people in Macau cannot go to the mainland, then what are we going to eat? All our fresh produce is imported from the mainland, many of the workers in Macau in cleaning, rubbish collection and security live in Zhuhai because Macau’s housing prices are very high. If we close the border, who collects our rubbish, who does the security work, how will the fresh produce get here?” Ho said.
Ho, who has been Macau’s head of government since December 20, said that while it was easy to demand “close the borders”, there were consequences that come with it. However, Ho admitted that he won’t totally rule out the suspension of certain border checkpoints or adjust the opening hours, but such a move needed to be reviewed.
In addition, he urged residents to be honest and tell their doctor about their medical history, as Macau’s 8th novel coronavirus patient concealed the fact that she had been treated for herpes zoster at a Zhuhai hospital when she went to Kiang Wu Hospital after feeling unwell, so medical staff here were unaware of her high-risk condition.
“One patient caused 28 medical staff to be put in isolation. They can’t work for 14 days. How many doctors and nurses do we have in Macau? If 10 patients were like this, 280 medical staff would have to be put in isolation. So residents need to take up their civic duty and responsibilities, don’t cause harm to others,” Ho urged, adding “It’s you and your family’s sake, for the benefit of the whole community, tell doctors clearly and honestly [about your health].”
Regarding the supply of facemasks imported by the government, Ho pledged that the 20 million facemasks he promised are guaranteed, and that the government is continuously looking for more.
“The nation will support us, but during this period the nation has a shortage [of facemasks], so we are looking around the world for masks. What we in Macau can do, we’ll do what we should do,” Ho said, “It’s not good to ask the nation [for facemasks] when they have a shortage”
He pointed out that the 20 million masks are enough for a month only, and as factories resume production after the Chinese New Year, there would be more supply. He added that Macau’s supply of fresh produce, food and daily essentials is stable, urging people not to resort to panic buying.
Ho said that besides the virus, the government has been holding meetings to review measures to stimulate the economy in the post-coronavirus situation, such as measures to guarantee work for residents, and the infrastructure – to find out what the government can do to stimulate job creation and economic development when the gaming sector is not doing well.
(The Macau Post Daily/Macau News)
PHOTO © Government Information Bureau