Macau reimposes COVID restrictions as China loosens visa rules for gambling hub

HONG KONG, Oct 31 (Reuters) – Authorities in Macau reinstated strict COVID-19 restrictions, including closing a major casino over the weekend after some cases were detected, even as China announced an easing of restrictions. visa rules for visitors to the world’s largest casino. center.

Authorities closed the MGM Cotai casino complex owned by MGM China (2282.HK) on Sunday, ordering staff and guests to stay inside until Nov. 1. More than 1,500 people are locked inside the property, the government said Monday.

All 700,000 Macau residents have been ordered to take rapid antigen tests daily from Sunday until at least November 1 and will be required to take an official PCR test on Tuesday, the government said Monday.

The casino closure deals a blow to operators who have already been dealing with China’s zero COVID restrictions for more than two and a half years, losing millions of dollars monthly.

Macau had been coronavirus-free for more than three months as of last week. The swift return of restrictions marks a potential setback for industry executives and investors who were eager for a quick recovery of gaming revenues in China’s special administrative region.

MGM China did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Industry publication Inside Asian Gaming, which showed footage of two men who were captured and returned to the casino after trying to flee, quoted the company as saying it would work with the Macau government on all preventative actions to reduce the risk of transmission. from COVID.

However, prospects for travel to Macau have improved as China’s immigration office said on Monday mainland residents could use an online visa system from Nov. 1 to travel to the former Portuguese colony.

In-person applications have been required for the past two and a half years due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the office said that as the current COVID situation in Macau was stable and the demand to visit the city was increasing, the government had decided to offer electronic visas.

Shares of Hong Kong-listed Macau casinos rose 2-5% on Monday, buoyed by easier access to the gaming hub for mainland visitors.

“It will be a great help for Macau’s return to normalcy,” said DS Kim, an analyst at JP Morgan in Hong Kong.

There are still multiple COVID-19 testing requirements to enter Macau and return to the mainland, but the resumption “greatly eases friction for a trip to Macau…and could signal to many that it’s ‘okay’ to come to Macau.” now”.

Macau casino executives also said a decision on new licenses could come this week.

Macau’s six casino operators – Sands China (1928.HK), Wynn Macau (WYNN.O), Galaxy Entertainment (0027.HK), MGM China, Melco Resorts and SJM Holdings (0880.HK) – are awaiting a decision. of the government on whether they will be granted new licenses that would allow them to continue operating in 2023.

Any operator unable to obtain a new license will be required to return their facilities to the government. The new license terms will be 10 years compared to the previous 20 years, giving operators a shorter horizon to recoup billions of dollars they have to invest under government mandate.

Information from Farah Master, Twinnie Siu and the Beijing newsroom; Edited by Kim Coghill, Kenneth Maxwell, and Edmund Klamann

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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