A number of Macau gaming labour groups has expressed staff-safety concerns about coronavirus transmission at work, following the Macau government decision to tell the city’s casinos to reopen from Thursday (February 20) after a 15-day shutdown. The notice applies unless operators request special permission to extend closures at particular venues for up to 30 days more.
Cloee Chao, head of local gaming labour activist group New Macau Gaming Staff Rights Association, handed in a letter from the group to Macau’s government headquarters on that topic on Wednesday, suggesting the reopenings were premature.
It was addressed to Macau Chief Executive, Ho Iat Seng and called the government decision on casino reopenings “irresponsible”, suggesting local effort to combat spread of the novel coronavirus – the reason for the original shutdown – was still at a “critical” stage.
Ms Chao told GGRAsia: “Reopening casinos is just increasing the instances of people going around and gathering, especially for the [casino] staff that are catching their companies’ shuttles and eating at canteens.”
She added: “All these gatherings of people just added to the risk of spreading the virus. The operation of casinos is supported by, apart from dealers, several other types of back office staff such as the cleaning workers, security workers, administrative staff, chefs and waiters at the staff canteens. They are all coming back collectively when the virus risk is still there.”
By Wednesday all six Macau casino operators had confirmed to GGRAsia that they would – starting on Thursday – embark on some form of phased reopening, although details were in short supply in some instances.
Macau’s casino regulator, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, issued on Tuesday a notice on casino floor operations during the transition period; with information on how to put space between each patron and reduce risk of human-to-human spread of Covid-19, as the pathogen is now known.
The notice also said all Macau operators ought to enhance the frequency with which they cleaned and disinfected their venues. Staff and patrons at the casino properties were additionally requested by the Macau authorities to: complete a written declaration on the condition of their health; ensure they undergo temperature screening when entering venues; and to wear protective masks.
But Ms Chao told us: “Gaming chips are as dirty as money. We do hope dealers can be at least given an option to wear gloves when working. Some dealer members also suggest that catering services to gaming patrons at the [casino] tables should be suspended.”
Workplace cleansing, quarantine rules
Ms Chao and Stephen Lao Ka Weng – the latter the president of the gaming labour group Power of the Macao Gaming Association – said their members were specifically concerned about whether there would be enough masks and sufficient frequency of disinfection in the workplace.
The labour leaders also questioned why only non-resident workers would face 14-day quarantine from Thursday onward if they tried to enter Macau from mainland China, while Macau residents would still be able to come and go across that border.
Ms Chao told us: “There are many Macau residents that are working at the casinos here but also live in Zhuhai [in neighbouring Guangdong province] and commute daily between both places but they do not need to go through the quarantine.”
Apart from health risks amid the virus outbreak, gaming workers also worried whether their normal pay and holiday rights could be sustained, given the business uncertainties caused by the coronavirus alert, said respectively Ms Chao and Mr Lao.
Nomura’s Instinet LLC said in a Tuesday note, referring to a Macau government plea to casino operators not to cut casino workforces or wages during the crisis: “‘Reopening’ the casinos is probably being driven by the government’s commitment to having the operators continue to eat the operating costs, particularly labour.”
Nomura’s analysts Harry Curtis, Daniel Adam and Brian Dobson said they expected “little material improvement” either in the volume of customers at the casinos; gross gaming revenue; or in operators’ earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation, until the Chinese government resumed visa schemes for individual mainland visitors and tour groups. The institution thought those things “may not normalise for another six weeks”.
On a positive note, Nomura highlighted that Macau has maintained a total of 10 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection for about two weeks. “In our view, the government(s) will reopen the IVS [Individual Visit scheme] and tour systems gradually and regionally once no new cases have been identified,” the Nomura analysts wrote.
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"The casinos have to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The decision [to suspend casino operations] is up to the government. As of now, we don’t have any plan to change the existing regulations"
Lei Wai Nong
Macau Secretary for Economy and Finance