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OPINION: How long must Macau wait for the borders to open?

After weeks of anticipation, the governments of Macau and Guangdong have finally offered some small relief to certain Macau residents via exemptions from mandatory quarantine when entering mainland China via Zhuhai.

But gaming and tourism operators as well as various other business sectors in Macau have been left disappointed that this latest exemption does not include Chinese visitors. Worse, such exemptions don’t appear to be on the table any time soon.

The latest relaxations, announced on Wednesday, only allow residents to be exempted for business purposes and “special reasons”. Nevertheless, details such as the actual implementation date, daily application quotas and the standard for approval won’t be offered by the SAR government until Friday.

This is a strong signal indicating that the two governments have not yet agreed on all implementation details. Likely the Macau government decided to make the announcement anyway since it has been facing increasing pressure to be seen to be doing something to ease the economic plight of its business community and the considerable and extended inconvenience to Macau society at large.

On top of the growing depression of the local economy, the SAR government is also facing mounting complaints from the general public. The local community is far from satisfied by this latest easing which is seen as having too many limitations and complicated procedures. Of course, dining, shopping and general entertainment in Zhuhai are not the reasons for this exemption, but all were part of daily life for many Macau residents before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From Macau’s NPC deputies to CPPCC members, from legislators to leaders of local associations, from significant business representatives to general netizens on social media, voices from various sectors are urging the resumption of normal border operations.

Don’t forget the previous easing, which allowed Chinese non-resident workers holding Zhuhai residential cards to cross the border without quarantine, was announced on 11 May. It took a full month for the governments of Macau and Zhuhai to slightly ease restrictions further, suggesting extreme concern and caution on their part. It also hints at another month before the the next step is announced.

The Macau government says it will reopen borders “step by step”, but the next step is expected to extend the exemption groups for more local residents rather than for more visitors, in order to respond to grumbling public opinion in Macau.

The Secretary for Security, Wong Sio Chak, told media on Thursday that the SAR Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng and security authorities had been consistently maintaining close communications and negotiations with Guangdong Province. Wong said he fully understood the public’s urges, but added “it not only depends on the two or three jurisdictions (Macau, Guangdong and Hong Kong), but mainly depends on the Central government.”

Macau has ants in its pants, but operators may need to stay patient for some time to come.

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