Macau has taken its first steps on the road to recovery as the casino capital resumes issuing tourist visas.
The gaming hub in Asia has turned into a ghost town after coronavirus lockdowns saw a severe drop in visitor numbers.
Macau authorities said they would slowly start issuing tourist visas from Wednesday to bring players back.
Casino operators lost $ 15million (£ 11.5million) per day in spending, according to estimates.
Visas for individual and group travel from mainland China will be reinstated in stages. Macau, like Hong Kong, is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) in China.
Authorities have not specified when visas will be made available to tourists wishing to travel to Macau from outside China.
Macau’s neighbor, Zhuhai, is the first city on the mainland to receive tourist visas. The opportunity will be gradually rolled out to the rest of the country in August and September, according to a statement from China’s national immigration administration.
Casino operators are excited about the relaxation of the travel ban, which was introduced in late January to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Their income is typically five times that of the Las Vegas Strip, largely thanks to Chinese demand.
In addition to the re-issuance of visas, a two-week quarantine imposed on travelers from Macau 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 dependent on the tourism and gaming industry, which fell 49% in the first quarter of this year.
While casino operators were allowed to reopen after a 15-day shutdown in February, the world’s largest gambling center was virtually deserted as no tourists were allowed there.
Visitors from mainland China make up over 90% of tourists to Macau, home to major casino operators including Sands, Wynn, Galaxy, and MGM.
Investment bank Morgan Stanley has warned that Macau casinos could rack up losses of $ 1 billion in the April-June quarter.
The number of visitors for the first semester is down 84% compared to 2019.