Officials in Macau are evaluating relaxing travel controls on visitors looking to enter the Special Administrative Region (SAR) from mainland China while considering restrictions on the number of European travelers seeking admittance to the gaming mecca due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Macau Health Bureau believes the COVID-19 situation on the mainland is improving and the peninsula itself hasn’t had a confirmed case of the respiratory illness in over a month, potentially paving the way for easing previously implemented entry bans.
The current situation of COVID-19 in mainland China is easing, infection numbers in many provinces and cities have not increased for many days, so we are evaluating the current policies towards mainland China,” said members of the health bureau at a Wednesday press briefing.
The news comes at a critical time for the world’s largest gaming hub, emerging three weeks after a 15-day closure of casinos there ended. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, visits to Macau have slowed to a trickle and gross gaming revenue (GGR) through the first eight days of this month was lower by 79 percent on a year-over-year basis.
European Ban Being Considered
While Macau authorities are mulling easing restrictions on visits from mainland China – the primary source of the SAR’s gamblers – harsh bans on travelers from Europe are being evaluated.
Italy, the Eurozone’s third-largest economy, has become one of the global epicenters of the virus. The country is currently under a national lockdown, including severe travel limitations. As of Wednesday, the virus caused 831 deaths there, an increase of about 200 in just 24 hours. Italy’s Civil Protection Agency said that, as of Wednesday evening, there were 12,462 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness there.
“However, regarding the current situation of the epidemic in European countries, we are considering placing more European countries on the high-risk areas list. We will announce the latest measures soon,” said the Macau Health Bureau.
Italy, France, Germany and Spain are among several countries deemed “high risk” by Macau authorities, meaning the SAR’s officials are taking steps to limit travel to and from those nations.
Even if some travel controls are eased, it’s still far from business as usual on Macau where just half the table games at casinos are currently operational. Additionally, South Korea – an important contributor to Macau’s gaming economy – is on the SAR’s list of high risk countries.
In late February, 24 Asian airlines confirmed that they will be limiting or canceling service to the peninsula this month, citing the coronavirus.
While the COVID-19 situation appears to be improving on mainland China, Beijing isn’t yet calling it fully contained. That presents a hurdle for Macau’s return to normalcy because until policymakers can say with some level of certainty that the virus is controlled, the ban on the individual visit scheme (IVS) – an important source of visas for mainland gamblers looking to enter Macau – is likely to remain in place.