Christmas with Covid … It has almost a jolly ring to it, as if a favourite uncle is visiting for the holidays, a merry time is planned round the dinner table, roast turkey with all the trimmings, laughing at the silly cracker jokes.
But no. For many around the world Christmas this year will be no joking matter. Lockdowns and loneliness, businesses going bust, financial hardship and heartbreak with the loss of friends and family members to the dreaded virus.
As I write this in early November, the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas have started to appear; the ubiquitous odour of mothballs as winter clothes are pulled out of storage, high winds, low humidity and glorious blue skies, the roast chestnut man in Senado Square, the bustling night food market stalls by the Macau Tower – like the jingly carols being played in all the shops, a sure sign that Christmas is on its way.
Exhausted by weeks of US election that hold us spell-bound with razor thin margins between candidates, I find it hard to shake off a heavy sense of gloom and foreboding as to what the future holds. We stay cocooned in our safe little bubble that is Macau. Like a duck treading water on the surface things look cheerful enough; how fortunate is the average man on the street in Macau as he weathers the Covid-storm and lives relatively unscathed.
But there’s a dangerous undercurrent and the duck is paddling furiously; below the surface our integrated resorts, the very life blood of Macau’s economy, bleed money at unsustainable rates. Our casinos are reeling from the repercussions of Covid-19. 60% of their workforce is furloughed without pay yet they still lose millions of dollars a day. The eagerly anticipated reinstatement of the Individual Visa Scheme (allowing visitors from China where 90% of our visitors come from) has failed to lift the sagging industry.
In an effort to curb Covid, Macau’s policy forbidding foreign passport holders to come has torn families apart for almost a year. Teachers that gave up jobs overseas to join our schools have been kept waiting to come since August. The Grand Prix, our annual calendar highlight, has only one non-Chinese participant (and I’m still not sure how he was able to avoid the no-foreign passports rule). Significantly-sized businesses that established in Macau earlier this year are held in limbo whilst they wait to bring in foreign passport holding senior management.
It’s the not-knowing when this will all end. As we navigate into the next ‘normal’ what will 2021 hold for us and our families? When can we expect to see light at the end of the tunnel, when can we be reunited with loved ones? So many questions without answers. Thank goodness for the wonderful Chinese work ethic, the grit and determination mixed with optimism that the Motherland will never allow Macau to fail. Cooler temperatures give us a bounce in our step. Chinese New Year is within sight, there’s excitement and anticipation in the air. As we move from the year of the pesky rat to the hardworking, reliable ox, let’s clean the slate and start anew.
Of all places in the world, as a long term resident, I’d prefer to live in no other than Macau. (But paleeeze Hong Kong, open up your airport to us!)
In these strange and confusing times, I wish all Macau Closer readers a very happy Christmas.