Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng did not rule out the possibility of forcing the closure of casinos in the coming days, as the government anticipates that the novel coronavirus outbreak will peak over the Chinese New Year period.
The announcement comes after the second case in Macau was diagnosed in a tourist from Wuhan. The 66-year-old patient entered Macau on Wednesday through the Border Gate and was detected as having a fever.
He was tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus after undergoing a thorough examination at Conde S. Januário Hospital.
In a special conference yesterday, Ho remarked, “I will not rule out that possibility [of closing casinos]. The condition keeps changing and we will only act accordingly.”
“The worst time is after the Lunar New Year,” he added, referring to the first day of the festival on Saturday, when families traditionally stay at home.
Yesterday, local authorities said that the territory now requires residents and tourists to complete health declaration forms upon entering and departing the city at Inner Harbor Ferry Terminal, Macau Outer Harbor Ferry Terminal and Cotai Frontier Port.
According to the Health Bureau (SSM), the measure was implemented yesterday at 4:30 p.m.
According to Ho, he has met with Zhuhai authorities, and with the Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak and Secretary for Transport and Public Works Raimundo do Rosario to work on epidemic prevention after Wanzai Port began operating yesterday morning.
Both Zhuhai and Macau are enacting a series of measures to monitor travelers entering and departing the cities.
“I have already given instructions to the SSM to start taking these measures starting this afternoon. It’s not just for us. We must have the same control and prevention measures with the other party to at least have the same indicators and the same criteria for banning the exit of people from Macau who have a fever and prevent[ing] them from leaving [Macau] to enter Zhuhai,” said Ho.
Ho called on the local residents to stay home during the annual festival as he noted that, “it is hard to pinpoint potential cases because during the incubation period patients can have no fever. Sore throat and body pain can be misinterpreted as symptoms of flu.”
“We need to be very cautious. Although 17 years ago we had one SARS case, it doesn’t mean we can easily get through [the situation] this time. With all the people moving around, it makes prevention especially difficult. We have to prepare for the worst,” said Ho.
Meanwhile, questioned by the press on whether there are plans to ban visitors from Wuhan, the city’s top official said that as the situation is “not that serious,” the borders of Macau would remain open.
He recalled that Macau also did not ban any visitors during the SARS outbreak in 2003, and then implied that Wuhan authorities could only assist the SAR to limit visa issuance for its residents.
“At the time of the SARS virus outbreak, we also did not prohibit the entry of people from Hong Kong and we refused to think of establishing a quota for entries from Hong Kong for the time being.”
Currently, there are about 5,000 people in Macau from Wuhan.
According to Ho, 129 Hubei residents left the SAR on Wednesday.
The top official also dismissed the possibility of a quota, arguing, “Even the World Health Organization has not issued that suggestion.”
Starting from 6 p.m. yesterday, approximately 50 pharmacies in collaborative partnerships with public health institutions started selling surgical face masks in packs of 10 for 8 patacas.
To participate in the scheme, residents should present a valid identification card and are only allowed to purchase of 10 masks in 10 days.
Last night, several netizens posted photos of long queues at the pharmacies on social media.
According to the Novel Coronavirus Response and Coordination Center, there are 15 people who are under observation: 10 have had contact with infected patients, and five have a high possibility of having contracted the virus.
Non-residents now covered by mask rationing
The Health Bureau (SSM) has decided to include non-resident workers in a scheme allowing masks to be purchased at a low cost by providing their identification card. Initially, SSM had announced that the 20 million stockpiled masks being gradually distributed to collaborating pharmacies could only be bought by local residents. However, the health authority has now said that each Macau identification card or blue card entitles the holder to purchase up to 10 masks at a time. The same ID be used to buy masks again after 10 days. As of yesterday afternoon, these 50 accredited pharmacies have a shared computerized record to track residents who have already purchased surgical face masks.