Hospitality Ireland presents a round-up of global hospitality venue news.
UK Says COVID Surge "Extremely Difficult" As Omicron Grips Europe
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday December 20 he would tighten coronavirus curbs to slow the spread of the Omicron variant if needed, after the Netherlands began a fourth lockdown and as other European nations consider Christmas restrictions.
Speaking after UK media reported Britain might impose new curbs after Christmas, Johnson said the situation was "extremely difficult" and hospitalisations were rising steeply in London.
"I have to say to the British public, and I say to everybody, we will not exclude the possibility of going further if we have to do things to protect the public," Johnson said after a cabinet meeting.
Omicron infections are multiplying rapidly across Europe and the United States, doubling every two or three days in London and elsewhere and taking a heavy toll on financial markets, which fear the impact on the global economic recovery.
The variant was first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong and so far been reported in at least 89 countries. The severity of illness it causes remains unclear.
Any limits on Christmas celebrations would come at a high political cost for Johnson, already under fire over reports he and his staff broke lockdown rules last year.
Asked about speculation the government would ban indoor socialising and limit tourism, Johnson said: "We're looking at all kinds of things ... we will rule nothing out."
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced a shutdown on Saturday December 18, ordering the closure of all but essential stores, as well as restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, museums and other public places until at least Jan. 14.
Germany plans to limit private gatherings from Dec. 28 to a maximum of 10 people who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, according to a draft of proposed steps. The document also said access to restaurants would remain limited to people who could provide proof of vaccination or recovery.
Ireland on Friday December 17 ordered bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m. and reduced the capacity in all public events. Italy is also considering new measures, newspapers reported on Sunday December 19.
Coronavirus cases surged in New York City and around the United States over the weekend, dashing hopes for a more normal holiday season and stretching the country's testing infrastructure just days before Christmas.
In Washington D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city would reinstate an indoor mask mandate beginning Tuesday December 21 and running until the morning of Jan. 31. All employees, contractors and grantees of the District of Columbia government must be fully vaccinated against COVID and have a booster shot, she said.
In Geneva, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Omicron is spreading faster Delta variant and causing infections in people already vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19.
China, where the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, must be more forthcoming with information about its origin, Tedros said. "We need to continue until we know the origins. We need to push harder because we should learn from what happened this time in order to (do) better in the future."
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said it was too early to conclude Omicron is milder than prior versions of the virus, adding that it could still make enough people sick to "overburden" healthcare systems.
Many monoclonal drugs "will not work with Omicron," she said of the infused treatment used to lessen disease severity of COVID-19 patients.
Monoclonal antibody drugs deliver lab-made versions of the body's natural antibodies to fight infection, while vaccines spur the body to make its own antibodies and build its own immunity.
Wall Street's main indexes opened lower on Monday December 21, dragged down by concerns about the impact of tighter COVID-19 curbs on the global economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down more than 500 points, or nearly 1.5% in afternoon trading on Monday December 20.
European stocks were down 1.33%. Shopper numbers across Britain's high streets fell 2.6% over the Dec. 18-19 weekend versus the previous weekend, researcher Springboard said.
Last week, the European Central Bank cut its euro zone growth forecast for next year to 4.2% from 4.6% previously, citing the pandemic among "headwinds".
ECB President Christine Lagarde said, even if economies were learning to adapt to living with COVID-19, tighter restrictions could delay the recovery.
Israel added the United States to its "no-fly" list, citing concerns over the Omicron variant. U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Omicron was "raging through the world" as he urged Americans to get booster shots.
Booster shots, on top of two-shot vaccinations, appear critical to fighting the variant. Moderna Inc said a booster dose of its vaccine seemed to be protective against Omicron in laboratory testing, and the current version of the shot would remain Moderna’s "first line of defence".
More than 274 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally since the pandemic began. More than 5.65 million people have died.
The World Economic Forum on Monday December 21 postponed its annual meeting in Davos due to the spread of Omicron, putting off the event scheduled for January until mid-2022.
Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/2FThSv7 in an external browser.
Eikon users can click https://apac1.apps.cp.thomsonreuters.com/cms/?navid=1063154666 for a case tracker.
Macau's Casinos Pin Hopes On Everyday Gamblers After Junket Shutdowns
Macau's casinos face a bleak short-term outlook after shutting most of their lucrative gaming rooms catering to wealthy gamblers and as COVID-19 travel restrictions prevent the shift to mass-market customers that they will depend on in the future.
The former Portuguese colony that is the world's biggest gambling hub in terms of money wagered has long relied on the revenue from the VIP gaming rooms where high-rollers placed massive bets.
But the Chinese government's recent crackdown on the junket business, which arranged the transportation, accommodation and the credit necessary to gamble for wealthy clients, is calling into question the financial outlook for casino operators including Wynn Macau, Sands China and MGM China.
Junket-run gaming rooms inside casinos made up roughly a third of Macau's overall gaming revenues in 2019, according to Alidad Tash, managing director at 2NT8 Limited, a consultancy specializing in international casinos and integrated resorts.
However, that revenue has dried up after the arrest in November of Alvin Chau, the head of Macau's biggest junket operator Suncity, triggered the shutdown of gaming rooms throughout the city's casinos. Chau is charged with setting up an internet platform based in Macau that let bettors in mainland China, where gambling is illegal, place overseas wagers.
Replacing the VIP revenue will depend on the ability of casinos to draw the mass-market gamers that analysts at Bernstein have said are the "secular long-term growth story" for the sector, but that hinges on controlling COVID-19.
"The pace of recovery in late 2021 and 2022 depends on COVID outbreaks, travel restrictions coming down, and the key to recovery is to have mass players coming back to Macau at more normal levels," the analysts said in a note.
"The future remains in mass and premium mass recovery."
Mass refers to mom-and-pop players who play table games, such as baccarat or blackjack, or slot machines. Premium mass includes players who bet large enough amounts that they earn complimentary rooms, food and transportation but do not have their losses discounted nor are they extended credit from the casinos.
Representatives from Wynn Macau, Sands China and MGM China did not respond to requests for comment on their plans to replace VIP revenues when contacted by Reuters.
Since Chau's arrest, shares of Wynn Macau have plunged about 23%, Sands China has fallen about 13% and MGM China have dropped 20%.
Suncity could not be reached for comment.
China's strict COVID-19 movement restrictions have limited the pool of mainland gamblers that can enter Macau. In the pre-COVID month of October 2019, there were 3.2 million visitors that came into Macau, in October 2021 that plunged to 328,245 visitors.
Visits remain depressed even though quarantine-free travel is allowed for most arrivals from mainland China.
Group visas for players have not been issued since the COVID-19 pandemic and individual visas to Macau have come under greater scrutiny, according to Ben Lee, founder of Macau gaming consultancy IGamiX.
There are also concerns as to how gamblers in Macau will be able to bring funds into the region.
Junkets, besides extending credit to high-rollers, also operated a shadow banking network that helped players skirt China's capital outflow rules that limit taking only the equivalent of $50,000 out of the country in one year.
Premium mass and premium direct players, who wager enough to gain rebates on their losses and received credit from the casinos, also utilized the methods to move funds.
But with junkets closed down, players have lost the most convenient channel to bring money into Macau, said 2NT8's Tash.
Bigger Fries Off The Menu As Japan McDonald's Faces Supply Crunch
McDonald's Holdings Company Japan said on Tuesday December 20 it would suspend the sale of medium- and large-sized french fries for a week starting on Friday due to supply chain bottlenecks.
The company is seeing delays in potato shipments due to supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as from shipping disruptions in Canada. The potatoes used for the french fries are imported from North America, it said.
The popular fast-food company said french fries in small sizes will continue to be on sale.
The company did not quantify the financial impact of the temporary suspension.
BRITISH PUB OPERATOR MITCHELLS & BUTLERS AGREES 650 MLN STG PENSION BUY-IN WITH LEGAL & GENERAL
Mitchells & Butlers Agrees $860m Pension Insurance Deal With L&G
British pub operator Mitchells & Butlers has agreed a £650 million pension insurance deal with Legal & General, L&G said on Tuesday December 21.
The deal insures all members in the Mitchells & Butlers Executive Pension Plan, British insurer L&G said in a statement.
British companies have been paying insurers to take on the risk of their defined benefit, or final salary, pension schemes in recent years through the so-called bulk annuity market, as the schemes are costly to run, and many are in deficit.
Insurance enables companies to take pension risk off their balance sheets.
The bulk annuity market will likely see a lower value of transactions this year than last, industry specialists say, due to a lack of large - £1 billion-plus - deals.
However, the pipeline remains strong, they add.