The Covidian Era

Paulo Coutinho

Well into year 3 of the Covidian Era, Macau Daily Times today marks 15 years of uninterrupted publication which should be a date of celebration and joy. It still is, but it is hard to ignore what’s going on out and about.

We could not foresee in 2019 that we would be living in a dystopian world caused by a deadly pandemic – breaking health systems, economic markets and disrupting the daily life of virtually everyone on earth.

Last year, in 2021, we could not foresee that on top of that, there would be a war raging in the heart of Europe, the invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s Russia, with global implications in terms of geopolitics, trade, finance, and basic resources.

Just today, the people of Denmark are voting in a referendum to possibly revert a decision made decades ago not to participate in the European common defense policy after neutral Finland and Sweden had submitted their applications to become NATO members.

In the course of 15 years, we have witnessed and reported many stories of hate, murder and human rights violations – all over the world. But nothing compares to now.

Now, a newly-shaped Cold War is back in a world of polarized interests and blocks that erect walls and barriers after historians and philosophers not so long ago declared the “end of history” and that the world was “plain” – leveraged through globalization, accelerated by technological breakthroughs and, naturally, the advances of the internet.

Metaverse – an alternative reality, a world 2.0 – is around the corner as much as a return to the dark ages is. Simultaneously, we can leap forward to an era of knowledge, fairness, equality, and liberty; or fall back to a medieval kind of rage, war and famine.

Macau, this little-big town of ours, agonizes in its isolation, economic hardship, and restrictions of movement.

Following basically a health policy of zero-tolerance toward Covid, the government succeeded in withstanding the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and we are almost free of cases; one of a kind.

But what was our strength became a threat: people by the thousands left or are leaving Macau. Because they lost their jobs or because they can’t cope with the isolation anymore while watching the economy collapse with no opportunities in sight.

Today, the third consumption subsidy scheme (the MOP5,000+3,000 vouchers) enters into effect putting money in residents’ pockets in an attempt to revitalize the weakened local small and micro-enterprises.

Although modified to include basic needs like water and electricity, this measure brings inflation to the market, and when the cards are exhausted the inflation stays and people have already spent their “grant,” according to local entrepreneurs heard by the Times.

As economist José Isaac Duarte said recently in an interview with TDM TV, “there has been no study done yet” to measure the real impact of the consumption scheme on the sustainability of businesses.

Economy and Finance Secretary Lei this week admitted possible adverse effects of the program, at a time when a new line of support aimed at lowering the unemployment of locals was announced.

On the frontier front, Macau has also responded with baby steps to allow non-resident relatives and foreign labor to enter the city, and lowered the quarantine period.

Perhaps this is too late to stop the exodus, as much damage has already been done to a vision built on the back of gaming and tourism. That was wiped off and we haven’t replaced it with anything else. The globe is shifting in all directions, yet Macau is left without a new foothold to pivot from.

Categories Editorial Macau Opinion