No timeline yet for IVS restart – Secretary for Economy

Secretary for Economy and Finance Lei Wai Nong today (Wednesday) was noncommittal on a possible timeline for the restart by Chinese authorities of the individual visa scheme (IVS), even if limited to Guangdong residents.

“Communications between Macau and Guangdong are very close. We will maintain gradual efforts to reopen the borders but we need time,” Secretary Lei noted today.

The Individual Visit Scheme (IVS) allows mainland residents to visit Macau and Hong Kong in their individual capacity, and currently covers 49 Chinese cities, and accounted for half of all mainland visitors to Macau last year.

Suspended since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in January, several analysts have highlighted that locale economic recovery is pending on the IVS restart.

In April, Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng even stated that the local government would not just negotiate for individual travel visa scheme to be reinstated but also expanded to more Chinese cities.

In a note today, Union Gaming analyst John DeCree indicated that the recent flare up of new COVID-19 infections in Hong Kong will likely delay any meaningful reopening of IVS for now.

‘However, if Hong Kong is unable to get the pandemic under control, the relaxing of quarantine restrictions in Guangdong does give us some hope the IVS could be reinstated for Macau with or without Hong Kong,’ the analyst indicated.

Analysts from JP Morgan even pointed out that an IVS reinstatement could take place in the next two to three weeks in August.

Without an update on this matter, the Secretary chose to underline that the lift of some travel restrictions between Macau and Guangdong on July 15 was already “milestone” date in the progress for resuming normal border flows.

On July 15 people travelling from Macau were allowed to no longer have to undergo the mandatory 14 days quarantine in the Chinese Province, if they can provide a negative Covid-19 test and make a declaration of their good health through the health codes of both regions.

Yesterday, the exemption was extended to the whole of the Guangdong province, with the measures effectively allowing residents from the province to visit the city since they are not required to undergo a quarantine upon return.

However, visitation to the city has only increased slightly, with Guangdong residents are still required to have a negative Covid-19 test result and have to hold a valid visa for entry in the SAR.

“Only after resuming tourist flows can we recover the normal economic activities, not just for the gaming sector […] We know the pandemic has persisted and we have tried to gradually lift restrictions between Macau and Guangdong […] We have made all forts for visitors to see how safe the city is,” Secretary Lei noted.

However, the government representative expressed that people should not have the expectation that the city would quickly return to the visitor numbers reported in 2019.

Macau received 39.4 million visitors in 2019, of which 71 per cent were from Mainland China and 18.7 per cent from Hong Kong.

“We hope that as the pandemic subsides the procedures for crossing border between the two regions can gradually resume […] We have to persist and complete the last steps of this long walk,” Secretary Lei indicated.

The Secretary made the comments after a Tourism and Leisure Enterprise Vocational Skills Competition jointly organized at JW Marriott by the Macao Federation of Trade Unions (FAOM) and the Labour Affairs bureau.