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People walk in front of Casino Lisboa in Macau, China. - Reuters

HONG KONG: Macau has locked down one of the city's most famous hotels, the Grand Lisboa, after more than a dozen COVID-19 cases were found there on Tuesday, with infections spreading rapidly in the world's biggest gambling hub.

At least 16 other buildings across the special Chinese administrative region are also under restrictions with no one allowed to exit or enter.

Authorities reported 146 new infections on Wednesday taking the total to more than 1,000 cases since mid-June. More than 14,000 people are in quarantine as the city battles to contain its biggest outbreak since the pandemic began. Macau had largely been COVID-free since an outbreak in October 2021.

The Grand Lisboa is the second casino hotel to be locked down in recent weeks. Owned by SJM Holdings, which was started by former Macau kingpin Stanley Ho, the Lisboa is one of the city's best known landmarks.

Local media showed photos of the hotel sealed off with people in protection gear and hazmat suits standing outside. The Grand Lisboa was not immediately available for comment.

While the government has stopped short of imposing a full lockdown, seen in Chinese cities such as Shanghai, most facilities in Macau are shut and restaurants can only provide takeaway.

The more than 600,000 residents in the former Portuguese colony have been asked to stay at home when possible and are required to take part in three citywide COVID-19 tests this week. People are also required to take rapid antigen tests in between.

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Only Macau's casinos have been allowed to stay open in an effort to ensure job security. The government relies on the industry for more than 80% of its tax revenue with most of the population employed directly or indirectly by the casino resorts.

Although physically open, there are few patrons inside and only a small number of staff, with many employees asked to stay at home to comply with the government's request.

Macau adheres to China's "zero-COVID" policy which aims to eradicate all outbreaks, at almost any price, running counter to a global trend of trying to co-exist with the virus.

It has an open border with mainland China, and its economy depends on the inflow of Chinese visitors.

Chinese and Hong Kong stocks fell on Wednesday in response to the continued COVID crisis.

Macau's cases remain far below daily infections in other places, including neighbouring Hong Kong where they have jumped to more than 2,000 a day this month.

However the densley-populated hub only has one public hospital, which was stretched even before the COVID-19 outbreak. Officials have put up a makeshift hospital next to the city's Las Vegas-style Cotai strip to help cope with the rise in cases.

Casino revenues are likely to be zero for at least several weeks analysts said, exacerbating tight liqudity caused by the impact of more than two years of pandemic.

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