China Begins Allowing Mainlanders Into Macau

The new Health Passport Program in China is in full-swing, this scheme will enable those who have been vaccinated to travel once again. The new so-called ‘International Travel Health Certificate’ has been a welcomed addition to the Chinese COVID policy, the shift will enable much more freedoms for people already vaccinated. The hope from the Macau gambling sector is pre-COVID footfall levels are about to imminently return.

COVID-19 vaccines.

The rollout of the vaccine in China’s mainland is in full-swing, and a new program to issue vaccine passports is being cooked up with the hope of helping the casino hub in Macau open up again to international visitors. ©torstensimon/Pixabay

Government officials in the free economic zone of Macau are now very optimistic that a return to pre-COVID normality is imminent. The Chinese vaccine rollout has been swift, and accompanying the vaccine themselves is a program to document and register people on an ‘International Travel Health Certificate’ once they’ve already been vaccinated. This is fantastic news for the casinos in Macau that had their revenues almost entirely wiped out this time last year as quarantine measures took hold around the world.

The official with the most influence over this matter is Macau’s chief tourism officer, Maria Fernandes. At a conference focused on the impact that a COVID vaccine passport could have for Macau, Fernandes was entirely supportive of the scheme and welcomed any initiative that could quickly restore the city’s casino hub to its former glory.

At its core, this new program will restore confidence and rekindle the atmosphere of international tourism in Macau, whilst also being an effective control measure for imported cases at the border. Macau as we all know is a city propped up on the Gross Gaming Revenues of its constituent casinos, the total footfall fell by nearly 90 percent in 2020, as the borders were sealed shut and casinos were forced to close their doors for the most part.

Macau Hugely Dependent on Mainland China Visitors

Whilst Macau’s new casino resorts like to portray the image of self-sufficiency, independence, and wealth, its stability is completely reliant on capital flows from China’s mainland. Looking at the statistics this balance is clear to see; out of a total 40 million visitors in 2019, nearly 28 million of them were from the Chinese mainland.

The close relationship between the authorities in China and Macau have enabled this quick resolution to be put in play, avoiding the typical bureaucracy that has plagued other countries looking for similar quick solutions to the problem. In the coming weeks and months, it will be seen what the true effects of these measures have been. If cases begin to rise sharply then it could spell the end of any Macau revival hopes in 2021.

Entry requirements into the Macau gambling hub have been slightly relaxed over the past few months. The first development was the executive decision to scrap the 14-day quarantine requirement for new arrivals, and then officials announced that admission to the casinos would no longer be dependent on a negative COVID test.

Whilst several requirements for entry have come and gone, the underlying message is an entrant must have a good purpose for entering the city. The local authorities state that this must be in the public interest, and proper care must have been taken to ensure that the prevention of further infection is mitigated.

Privacy Concerns Surrounding Health Passport Initiative

As with any public health operation on a large scale, data privacy, health care quality, and spending efficiency are the three main areas of concern. Fortunately for China, they already have the infrastructure in place to pursue these ambitious policies, and it will be one of the country’s most successful tech companies, WeChat has been charged with the responsibility of managing the underlying infrastructure in a vaccine passport program.

In essence, Chinese mainlanders will simply need to launch the app, follow a quick application process, then proceed to upload their vaccine results when they arrive. This will summarily produce a vaccine passport showing that the holder has had a vaccine, along with the verification that the certificate is legitimate through 2-factor authentication. The 2FA mechanism will be implemented through a QR code.

Naturally, in the west, independents are looking at this as a disaster for data privacy. There are huge apprehensions about what could go wrong, a mobile app is essentially going to be holding health data on millions of people. Privacy and fraud risks have already been identified, and it will be a laborious engineering task to ensure the systems remain completely intact throughout this process.

The World Health Organization chimed in to advise caution in any vaccine passport program. The efficacy of certain vaccines is still not completely clear, not to mention global supplies are limited in places. We can only hope that this ambitious solution to the footfall shortage problem in Macau will be a success, and customers can return to the casinos soon.

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