For more than 18 months, Macao has continued its efforts in the global battle against Covid-19. The pandemic has brought many trials and tribulations to the city, but with quick government intervention and citizen co-operation, Macao is prevailing. We take a look at the measures that allowed the SAR to push through and spotlight the vaccination efforts driving us towards a post-pandemic future.
When Covid-19 first struck Macao on 22 January 2020, the government immediately took action by implementing safety measures for the benefit of the entire city. This quick response is what ensured the city was one of the best prepared to face the pandemic.
The government’s rapid intervention in acquiring 1.4 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine – Germany’s BioNTech mRNA and China’s Sinopharm inactivated vaccines in late 2020 allowed for public walk-in vaccination sites to be opened as early as 18 May 2021. Other government protocols such as readily available personal hygiene suggestions and measures as well as the sale of reasonably priced masks subsidised by the government secured the city as one of the fortunate few to have registered no local cases or fatalities.
The most rigorous Covid-19 measures in 2020 saw the closure of the border with mainland China, the shutdown of casinos and public institutions for 13 days, and non-Macao residents barred from entering the SAR. With a population of 685,000 crammed into just 32.9 square kilometres, Macao is an example of how correctly applied measures can prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the community.
With these precautions in place, Macao safely held important public events in 2020. Among these were the Macau Grand Prix, the Macao International Marathon, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Light Festival and the Macao Food Festival, which gave residents a chance to enjoy moments of leisure and entertainment reminiscent of pre-Covid days.
It’s also noteworthy that infrastructure work planned for 2020 and 2021 still went ahead. The construction of a fourth bridge to connect Macao to Taipa and Coloane and the expansion of the lightrail transit to new housing areas and to Hengqin have progressed as forecasted, as have the tunnels and other scheduled improvements to pedestrian zones.
Moving towards group immunity
At the end of July 2021, 42 per cent of the population had been fully vaccinated though this is still far from the minimum percentage necessary to get herd immunity, which the Macao Health Bureau (SSM) places at 80 per cent.
Private entities also supported the government’s Covid-19 measures by motivating their workers and their families to get vaccinated.Financial institutions, business groups, hotels and integrated resorts have created incentives including cash handouts or time off work, to commit to this goal. For instance, Banco Nacional Ultramarino (BNU) offered extra leave and prizes to vaccinated staff.
Efforts were also made by other private entities, such as The Macao News media group which produced the ‘This Is Our Shot’ campaign to encourage citizens to get their Covid-19 jabs. The first video of its kind to be produced in Macao and first launched across their digital channels, it featured local residents of various nationalities, industries and ages, all calling for the population to get their jabs.
The video is currently being shown on MOME’s platforms which include screens on public transportation buses, supermarkets, pharmacies, office building lobbies and more. The videos on the buses have been viewed by more than 536,000 passengers daily. The ‘This Is Our Shot’ video is also being shown across the city on Sands China’s marquee screens and property communication channels.
In the campaign, Galaxy Entertainment Group Senior Vice President of Public Relations Buddy Lam reminds residents that we are fortunate to have the choice of two free vaccines either the BioNTech mRNA vaccine or the inactivated Sinopharm vaccine in contrast to regions with insufficient vaccine supplies. He urged residents to take their Covid-19 shot, a position shared by local pop group MFM, as well as BNU CEO Carlos Cid Álvares who points to the ‘artificial situation’ [travel restrictions] the city is currently enduring.
Kevin Ho, president of the Industry and Commerce Association of Macau, stressed the dangers a Covid-19 outbreak would pose to the community and the need for group immunisation, to prevent the very easy spread of the virus in the ‘densest city in the world’.
Paula Carion, Joe Liu, and Carlos Couto allay the fears of many residents regarding the negative effects of the vaccination, all recalling that they felt no pain during their shot and no symptoms afterwards. For Carion, getting her shot was ‘a requirement’ to protect herself and ‘to save everybody else around’ her. To that end, they emphasised the need for everyone to be vaccinated, for the good of Macao’s population and families.
As Macao continues its return to normal life, the city is considering measures that will allow greater connection with the outside world, while still safeguarding its citizens. With mutations of the virus spreading globally, the SSM has established a programme of containment and immunisation. Though these measures require the reduced movement of tourists and residents alike, they remain extremely important for maintaining the near-normal situation in the city.
Currently, the SSM classifies only Macao and mainland China as Covid-19 low-risk areas, while Hong Kong is classified as a low to medium risk and Taiwan as a medium-risk. Everywhere else is still classified as a highrisk area. However, the turbulent nature of the virus still raises uncertainties, especially with a spate of Covid-19 cases in Nanjing and other parts of the mainland in mid-July. This episode prompted local officials to issue an emergency order for all 150 travellers who went through the Chinese city’s airport to undergo immediate hotel quarantine.
Tai Wa Hou, a clinical director of the Conde de São Januário Hospital Centre, said that vaccination peaked at around 10,000 appointments near the end of June and beginning of July, but have since decreased to similar levels when the drive was first launched in February, which were around 2,000.
As Macau Green Student Union Chairman Joe Chan says in the ‘This Is Our Shot’ video, many have yet to get their vaccines as they ‘wait and see’ how it will affect others. But, he says, if people keep waiting things out, ‘the pandemic may become worse’.
With inoculations remaining voluntary, health officials have urged Macao residents to get their Covid-19 shots as soon as possible. Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Elsie Ao Ieong U also urged residents to assume their ‘social responsibility’ by getting their vaccines to help create herd immunity in the SAR and aid in the gradual easing of travel restrictions.
Benjamin Kidder Hodges, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Macau, underscored the significance for the SAR to return to normal, stating that the flow of people in and out of the SAR is the ‘lifeblood of Macao’. As he and many others have pointed out, the sooner residents get vaccinated, the sooner herd immunity can be achieved. The sooner this happens, the sooner Macao’s pre-pandemic lifestyle can become less of a memory and more of a reality.
Since early 2020, the pandemic has regrettably impacted every aspect of life in every country across the world. Fortunately, here in Macao, we have been, for the most part, spared the worst aspects of the pandemic with a low case total and no loss of life. With the continued efforts of the Macao government and residents alike, Macao will continue as a city that is both social and safe.