(BBC) – Macau has taken its first steps on the road to recovery as the casino capital starts issuing tourist visas again.
Asia’s gambling hub became a ghost town after coronavirus lockdowns saw a severe downturn in visitors.
Macau authorities said they will slowly start handing out tourist visas from Wednesday to bring gamblers back.
Casino operators have been losing $15m (£11.5m) daily in expenses, according to estimates.
Visas for both individuals and group tours from mainland China will be restored in phases. Macau, like Hong Kong, is a special administrative region (SAR) of China.
Authorities did not say when visas will be made available to tourists wanting to travel to Macau from outside China.
Macau’s neighbour Zhuhai is the first mainland city to be issued tourist visas. The opportunity will gradually be rolled out to the rest of the country during August and September, according to a statement from China’s National Immigration Administration.
Casino operators are excited by the relaxation of the travel ban, which was introduced in late January to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Their revenues are typically five times that of the Las Vegas Strip, driven largely by Chinese demand.
On top of the re-issuing of visas, a two-week quarantine imposed on Macau travellers upon their return to mainland China was lifted across the country on Wednesday.
Macau has seen a very low level of coronavirus infections with just 46 cases and no deaths.
In the red
Macau’s economy is heavily reliant on the tourism and gaming industry, which shrank 49% in the first quarter of this year.
While casino operators were permitted to reopen after a 15-day shutdown in February, the world’s biggest gambling hub was virtually deserted as no tourists were allowed in.
Visitors from mainland China make up more than 90% of Macau’s tourists, which is home to major casino operators including Sands, Wynn, Galaxy and MGM.
Investment bank Morgan Stanley has warned casinos in Macau could rack up losses of $1bn over the April to June quarter.
Visitor numbers for the first half of the year are down 84% compared to 2019.