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Late Tuesday Chinese authorities announced that they are placing a temporary stop on issuing individual visas for mainland tourists wanting to visit Macau as the coronavirus spreads and claims more lives.

The New York Times reported at around 10 p.m. Pacific time Tuesday, that now there are 6,000 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness across the world and 130 deaths. That’s a significant increase from the 4,500 documented cases and 106 mortalities reported earlier today.

The steps taken by Beijing apply to what’s known as Individual Visit Scheme (IVS). That’s the visa tourists – folks not part of tour groups or trips – now must enter the Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of Hong Kong and Macau from the mainland.

As reported by casino.org, just hours after China and Hong Kong announced a host of travel restrictions concerning Macau, news of the temporary ban on IVS issuance was disclosed. Hong Kong’s maritime department said earlier today, that, starting Thursday, ferry service to the gaming hub will stop until the coronavirus is taken care of.

JPMorgan analysts said, “We wouldn’t be surprised to see the IVS suspension itself – while it lasts – hurt GGR by over 30% (for both VIP and mass, though the impact should be relatively bigger for mass), and we see significant downside to February GGR forecasts, as well as January.”

Beijing did not give any clear time frame for when it could lift the visa restrictions.

Heavy Blow

The IVS news can be considered a severe blow to Macau’s six concessionaires, one which comes at an already precarious time for operators in the world’s biggest gaming center.

Typical users of the IVS system come from China’s more advanced, wealthier cities – Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen to name a few – meaning they are often premium mass or VIP gamblers, two crucial demographics for Macau gaming companies.

Markets reflected the dull mood surrounding the raised number of coronavirus cases and the IVS headlines, during Asia’s Wednesday trading session.

According to data from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, shares of Sands China were lower by 5.69 percent, whereas Galaxy Entertainment fell 5.17 percent. Also, Wynn Macau lost more than five percent, whereas SJM Holdings gave up nearly four percent. Melco lost nearly six percent and MGM China was the worst sufferer of the group, shedding 6.67%.

Not Many Substitutes

Already tour groups to Macau have been stopped, and with the IVS frozen, travelers wanting to visit the SAR would need to get business or family visas, a tiresome process analyst view as unattractive to gamblers seeking a quick trip.

Over the last several years, IVS visitors accounted for over 7 million Macau visits annually.

There is an element of twisted historical fate in today’s IVS news: the program was introduced by Beijing in the aftermath of the 2003 SARS epidemic to spur mainland travelers to go to Hong Kong and Macau.

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