Life in the time of corona: An update from Macau

My blog, “A project manager’s perspective of Macau’s COVID-19 crisis,” February 21, reviews how the Macau S.A.R. government efficiently and effectively manages and controls the crisis. Unfortunately, most governments failed to timely adopt and implement Macau’s disaster management manual. The global situation has meanwhile spiralled out of control into a full-fledged pandemic.

Measures put in place by Macau’s government continue be effective: No new cases had been reported in 40 days, and how recent new cases are dealt with. On Sunday, March 15, a non-resident Korean national returning after a six-week stay in Portugal tested positive for the virus. The public health authorities immediately hospitalized the infected person at the isolation ward. Persons the patient had been in contact with were tracked and quarantined, including one of my own family members (see below). As of Sunday, the authorities had identified and isolated a total of 10 new cases. The common denominator is that all were imported.

A personal aside

On Friday, March 13, fearing an escalation of cases in Portugal with medical services at risk of being overwhelmed, we repatriated my wife’s oldest son, who is studying there. While he was airborne, the university announced that a student on campus had tested positive. (Portugal has meanwhile declared a state of emergency). We alerted the Macau Public Health Department the following morning accordingly. Action was swift and within hours the government announced that all students returning to Macau must undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

He was met by Public Health officials at the Hong Kong – Zhuhai – Macau Bridge Port, tested and brought by ambulance to a hotel prepared for this purpose. He now gets meals from a guy dressed up as an astronaut. The next day, it turned out that my wife’s daughter had been on the same shuttle bus as the above mentioned Korean national. The health authorities immediately home-quarantined her, her father and domestic helper. Both kids are attending virtual classes, the new normal for now.

Hong Kong - Zhuhai - Macau Bridge Port arrival hall on March 14 | Photo by Gert Noordzy
Hong Kong – Zhuhai – Macau Bridge Port arrival hall on March 14 | Photo by Gert Noordzy

Macau continues to manage the crisis well. Increasingly strict measures are being put in place. Getting into a government office is as stringent as a TSA checkpoint, with registration, temperature check and a limited number of people (masked, of course) allowed in at one time. Last week, the government announced entry restrictions for any visitors, except those from greater China, and announced an entry ban for non-resident workers two days later. By far the best practical measure has been to adapt social distancing, which helps reduce the risk of getting infected and delays spreading.

On March 17, the Macau government began enforcing a compulsory 14-day quarantine for any arrival who has traveled outside of greater China, and temporarily requisitioned six hotels as venues of medical observation. “These designated hotels are committed to social responsibility, providing support and coordination with the government for the implementation of the measure of medical observation,” officials said.

Last Friday, the government added the Grand Coloane Resort as the fourth hotel designated for medical observation, considering that it would be a safer option for residents, upon their return to Macau, to through mandatory quarantine at designated hotels for medical observation rather than self-quarantine at home”. Two more hotels were added after that. Typically, these hotels go from zero to 100% occupancy overnight! 😉

Grand Coloane Resort on March 21 | Photo by Gert Noordzy
Grand Coloane Resort on March 21 | Photo by Gert Noordzy

International attention

Local residents are reassured that the authorities in Macau S.A.R have taken the crisis seriously  from the beginning, based on lessons learned from SARS. We are watching in disbelief how Europe, Africa and the Americas have NOT used remaining time, resources and lessons learned to prepare for outbreaks locally.

The World Health Organization announced a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” on January 30, only declaring a pandemic on March 12. During this period, government leaders remained largely in denial and lax in taking decisive action. A serious lack of judgment, leadership and pragmatism at global and regional levels! As a result, Western Europe is currently the epicenter of the pandemic, with ensuing consequences for public health and the economy.

A common practice and critical part of new hotel openings and transitions are simulation exercises (dry run, trial and error) to validate the readiness of the hotel and test the effectiveness of the employee training program. If we compare the current COVID-19 crisis to a dress rehearsal to measure disaster preparedness and our ability to respond to a global outbreak of more contagious and deadly diseases like Ebola, I’d say we failed the test miserably.

The current pandemic serves as a rude wakeup call for global leaders. I am confident that when the crisis subsides, they will get their act together, conduct a “post-project review” of this epic fiasco and prepare for future pandemic scenarios. On top of my list would be developing global response capability and educating the press to report news in context to avoid panic.

Happy hotel openings, although not for a while!