Dozens gathered in a Macau square in a second protest in a month after authorities in the Special Administrative Region banned a protest, citing Covid-19 social distancing rules.

Several dozen people gathered at Tap Seac Square on Sunday over Covid-19 spending coupons, even though organisers urged residents to stay away following the government’s ban on the event, All About Macau Media reported.

Over 100 police officers cordoned off the square and took 12 individuals away, although no one has been charged, the online media organisation in the semi-autonomous region reported. A video showed one man being taken away by two officers.

The protest is the second the city has seen in a month. Over 100 individuals gathered two weeks ago to demonstrate against the lack of government support for unemployed Macau residents.

Sunday’s protest was prompted by plans to distribute consumption coupons to residents in an attempt to stimulate the economy in the wake of the coronavirus. The scheme has faced criticism since residents must pay for goods upfront before getting reimbursements in the form of the spending coupons.

Legislators Au Kam-san and Ng Kuok-Cheong, who called for the protest, demanded the government provide spending credits through an e-consumption card rather than coupons.

But top government officials told organisers the day before the protest that their criticism had been heard and plans for the consumption coupons would be improved accordingly.

macau protest
Video: All About Macau screenshot.

“We told them during the meeting we would continue with the rally,” Ng told HKFP. “But in the evening the police told Au — whose name was on the application form for the rally — that they decided to ban it after consulting with the Health Bureau.”

Ng said he had assured authorities that they would comply with any epidemic-control measures, although they would not be able to promise that turnout would exceed what organisers initially stated.

The casino town bordering Hong Kong has not recorded any coronavirus cases at all since early February and has had just 48 cases with no deaths since the pandemic began. But its gambling-based economy has been hard-hit by bans on visitors.

The Health Bureau of Macau said in a statement that organisers could not ensure people taking part would observe epidemic control measures such as social distancing.

Ng kuok-cheong and Au Kam-san
Legislators Ng Kuok-cheong (left) and Au Kam-san (centre). Photo: Ng and Au’s office via Facebook.

In a statement posted on Facebook on Saturday evening, the legislators announced that the event was scrapped. “Because the protest is cancelled, we call upon the public to avoid gathering at Tap Seac Square in order to avoid creating a misunderstanding where police would accuse it as an illegal gathering,” Au wrote.

The Secretary for Economy and Finance met both Au and Ng the day before the protest to hear their opinions, Au wrote, and clearly conveyed the message that the government would allow the use of e-consumption cards.

Macau's Tap Seac Square.
Macau’s Tap Seac Square. Photo: Whhalbert via Wikipedia.

“It’s clear that even though the protest could not take place, the voice of the people was clearly conveyed and received a positive response from the government,” Au’s statement read.

Macau was handed back by Portugal to China in 1999, two years after Hong Kong’s return by Britain, but unlike its neighbour, it has experienced few major protests since then.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.