A little good news was unveiled over the weekend as Macau and Zhuhai finally reached consensus on the mutual recognition of COVID-19 virus tests and health code systems, allowing some mainland non-resident workers to enter Zhuhai without undergoing mandatory quarantine.
Local residents and business sectors alike are looking forward to a full reopening of borders between Macau and Guangdong Province, a much needed panacea to the crushing downturn experienced in recent months by Macau’s gaming and tourism industries.
The reality, however, is that border controls won’t be fully eased for some time. Government officials in Macau have made it clear that preventive measures for COVID-19 are set to become “normalized” practice in the short-term pending development of the pandemic, while Zhuhai Preventive Headquarters has stated border controls will be eased “in phases” or “step by step.”
Macau and Zhuhai have put considerable time and effort into setting up virus testing facilities for the public as well as their respective green-yellow-red health code systems, indicating that virus tests will remain a requirement for all visitors crossing the Macau and Zhuhai borders.
Macau residents and non-resident workers without Zhuhai resident cards still need to undergo a 14-day quarantine when entering Zhuhai, and Macau requires all arrivals from mainland China to submit virus test certificates. In the next phase, they will be exempt from quarantine but most likely required to be tested for COVID-19.
Before the coronavirus, thousands of Macau residents would travel between Macau and Zhuhai as part of their daily routine, be it for dining, entertainment, to visit relatives or to shop. As COVID-19 test results will only be valid for seven days and only the first test is to be free, the number of residents passing through the borders, even once restrictions are eased, can reasonably be expected to be less than pre-coronavirus levels.
The testing abilities of Macau and Zhuhai are another concern given Macau says it only has a daily quota of 6,000 tests currently available. Before the coronavirus around ten times that number of people entered Macau from Zhuhai every day.
While those coming to Macau for entertainment purposes will no longer need to wait for six to eight hours once arriving in Macau – as was the case before the introduction of mandatory quarantine measures in late March, they might need to endure cotton swabs in their noses and throats every time they visit Macau. Depending on how long they stay, they might also require a test on their way back home too.
The mainland China government has other concerns. For instance, allowing visitors to return from Macau to Zhuhai without quarantine may raise the likelihood of COVID-19 spreading again through multiple provinces, which would in turn slow the process of easing border restrictions.
And of course, the Individual Visit Scheme (IVS) won’t resume until all other preventive measures have been implemented smoothly.
An extension to the test result validation period would accelerate the resumption of normal relations between the two cities.
Whatever the case, a full removal of all border controls between Macau and mainland China won’t be complete until mutual trust regarding control of the pandemic between Macau, Hong Kong and Guangdong Province is reached.
This process will not be like flicking a light switch. While the border is likely to be back “open for business” quite soon, we can reasonably expect it to be many months before pre-coronavirus normalcy is restored.