Government officials are considering a reopening of medical tourism for “green bubble” countries.

PETALING JAYA: Health experts have urged Putrajaya to exercise diligence in ensuring public safety when reopening the borders to medical tourism.

Dr Kuljit Singh, president of the Association of Private Hospitals, said medical workers need to be properly protected. “We can’t do anything until the risk of allowing in overseas patients is minimised,” he told FMT. “If we were to open up and we ourselves are not safe, that is a problem for us.”

He said “cost and competency” had driven Malaysia’s strong medical tourism industry. “In Malaysia, comparatively speaking, our healthcare is much cheaper than our regional neighbours, and our level of care and expertise is high.”

The Galen Centre healthcare think tank said there would need to be strict adherence to existing protocols in order to foster a “confidence level which is comfortable for the sending and receiving countries”.

Its chief executive, Azrul Khalib, said medical tourism should receive continued investment from the government, because of earnings from foreign currency and revenue from patients who are often accompanied by family members and friends who then occupy hotel rooms, pay for services and spend their money in local businesses.

Government officials recently spoke of establishing a “green bubble” comprising Malaysia and other countries with low Covid-19 infection rates, through which medical tourism would be revived.

Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council chief executive Sherene Azli said the council was working on recovery plans for the industry, which recorded among the highest volume of medical tourist arrivals in the world: 900,000 in 2018 and 1.3 million in 2019, which contributed RM8 billion to the economy in 2019.

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Azrul urged the government to consider allowing the industry a two-year tax break to help businesses involved to rebuild and recover.

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