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Macau reimposes tough COVID curbs with casino lockdown as cases rise

HONG KONG — Macau authorities reinstated tough coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) curbs including locking down a major casino over the weekend after a handful of cases were detected, even as China announced a loosening of visa rules for visitors to the world’s biggest gambling hub.

Authorities locked down the MGM Cotai casino resort owned by MGM China on Sunday with staff and guests ordered to stay inside until Nov. 1. All of Macau’s 700,000 residents are mandated to take antigen tests daily during the period, the government said.

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

Macau has been coronavirus-free for more than three months until last week. The swift return of curbs marks a potential setback for industry executives and investors who were keen for a quick recovery in gambling revenues in the Chinese special administrative region.

The prospects for travel to Macau have improved, however, with China’s immigration bureau saying on Monday that mainland residents would be able to 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 bureau said that as the current COVID situation in Macau was stable and demand to visit the city was increasing, the government had decided to offer e-visas.

Shares in Hong Kong-listed Galaxy Entertainment and Wynn Macau dropped more than 3% early in Monday’s session but later reversed course to trade in positive territory.

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

Macau’s six casino operators — Sands China, Wynn Macau, Galaxy Entertainment, MGM China, Melco Resorts and SJM Holdings — are awaiting a government decision on whether they will be granted new licences that would allow them to continue operating in 2023.

Any operators unable to secure a new license would be required to return their premises to the government. New license terms will be 10 years versus 20 years previously, giving operators a shorter horizon to make back billions of dollars they have to invest under the government’s mandate. — Reuters

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