A tourist wears a mask as he walks along the observation deck of the Macau Tower on January 30, 2020. Photo: Philip Fong / AFP

Macau is usually bustling with gamblers during China’s Lunar New Year holiday but the flood of tourists has been reduced to a trickle this year as fears grow over a coronavirus that has killed more than 360 people.

The number of visitors to the world’s largest casino hub has plunged nearly 80% in the past week, transforming the city into a shadow of its former self.

As the only place in China that allows gambling, the former Portuguese colony is normally a huge draw for people from other parts of the vast country.

But on the sixth day of the holiday, only several dozen people were seen at the usually teeming ruins of the 17th-century St Paul’s church – a tourist hotspot.

Most wore surgical masks as a preventative measure against the novel coronavirus, which has infected almost 12,000 people across the nation.

“Everyone is wearing a mask. It is not convenient to take pictures – we dare not remove the masks,” 23-year-old Wei I Ting, a tourist from Taiwan, said.

Shotah Zhang, who owns a pastry shop, said he was worried about the future of his business.

“As you can see, almost no one is here. We have quite a big problem because we are a small business,” Zhang said.

The outbreak is dealing a heavy blow to Macau’s economy, which has bet most of its chips on gambling and tourism. Figures for January show gaming revenue fell 11.3% in the same month last year.

The city had confirmed seven cases of the virus as of Saturday and authorities have announced measures to curb its spread, including temperature checks and mandatory health declarations for visitors at the border with mainland China.

In casinos, all staff have been ordered to wear masks and temperature checks are being carried out at entrances.

The government has also banned anyone who has visited Hubei province – the epicenter of the outbreak – from entering casinos altogether.

But a 24-year-old marketing supervisor for a coffee shop was more hopeful. “We believe that after the virus is gone, customers will come back,” she said.


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