Macau hedges its bets with casino reopenings

Macau's casinos will reopen on Saturday after being closed for 12 days but less than half of their staff can return to work as authorities announced the city's business and industrial operations will only see a limited resumption.

The city recorded 18 Covid-19 cases yesterday, rising from 10 on Tuesday and taking the tally of its ongoing wave to 1,783.

Of yesterday's cases, only five were detected in the community while the rest were found to be close contacts of those who had already gone into isolation, authorities said, adding the risk of community transmission has come down.

The city will enter a weeklong "solidifying period" on Saturday, which will entail the reopening of businesses - including casinos, banks and barbershops - on "limited circumstances."

However, less than half of the staff in these premises will be permitted to return to work and there will also be a cap on customers.

Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Elsie Ao Ieong advised residents to continue staying at home.

She added that during this period, cinemas, gyms, childcare centers and stores located in shopping malls will remain closed while indoor renovation works will also be suspended.

The news came as Hong Kong recorded 3,805 cases - 3,625 locally transmitted and 180 imported - and one death of a man who is believed to have committed suicide after contracting Covid. Additionally, 299 schools reported 364 cases.

Authorities also announced that those who contract the Omicron subvariants BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5 will be allowed to observe quarantine at home rather than at isolation facilities.

The policy change came after analysis revealed the strains were not necessarily more severe than other variants.

The Centre for Health Protection's Chuang Shuk-kwan said: "It's not that useful to impose stricter quarantine requirements on people who contract the three subvariants."

As of Monday, she said, the SAR has recorded 1,093 suspected cases of BA.2.12.1 while another 372 were suspected to be BA.4 or BA.5.

Currently, 4,400 patients are observing isolation at Penny's Bay while another 600 are staying in quarantine hotels.

Across the border, Shenzhen authorities announced yesterday they will tighten policies for cross-border drivers from Hong Kong, including banning them from transporting private belongings on behalf of others and from opening the windows or doors of their trucks unless necessary.