The new coronavirus is turning Macau into a ghost town

There isn't a single face exposed in the cavernous Galaxy casino. Everyone is wearing a mask, including the croupiers, waitresses and security guards -- who happen to vastly outnumber the scattered customers gambling at blackjack and roulette tables.

Visitors only momentarily drop their masks at the entrances to the casino, to pose for thermal cameras on the lookout for the deadly Wuhan coronavirus that has killed hundreds of people in mainland China and infected thousands more.

The outbreak has left the free-wheeling, semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Macao shell-shocked.

Last year, the city received almost 40 million visitors. Now, streets and squares once teeming with tourists from mainland China are empty. Ambulances roam the city, operated by emergency workers dressed in hazardous materials suits.

According to the Macao government, January tourism figures plunged 87% compared to the previous year, even though the busiest holiday of the year -- Lunar New Year -- fell in that period.

Hotels that were nearly at 100% capacity during the 2019 Lunar New Year were left half empty. The health scare has threatened the business model at the heart of Macao's economy. The unofficial gambling capital of the world depends on millions of visitors from mainland China.

But now administrators are trying to ensure that the deadly new coronavirus first discovered last December in the Chinese city of Wuhan does not take root in this tiny former Portuguese colony.

(c) AFP 01/30/2020

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