Penang imposes a temporary halt on medical tourism


GEORGE TOWN: After the arrival of three Indonesians seeking medical treatment here drew much flak on social media, the state wants all agencies regulating medical tourism to report to it.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said Penang had temporarily stopped all medical tourism activities due to a recent spike in Covid-19 cases here over the past week.

“It is compulsory for all agencies involved in medical tourism to give all the information needed to the state government for more effective action on the issue,” he said yesterday.

He expressed regret that the state government was not informed of the “sudden” arrival of the patients from Indonesia.

“Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council and Immigration Department informed us that the standard operating procedure (SOP) was adhered to.

“In the emergency meeting I had today with the state secretary and other agencies, we were briefed about the two cancer patients and another patient from Indonesia who needed urgent treatment.

“I was informed that they were flown in on a special flight on Aug 14 in full compliance with the SOP set by the Federal Government.

“But for now, we will not allow such forms of tourism as the safety of our people is of paramount importance,” Chow said.

He said the state secretary had been directed to hold a technical meeting with various agencies yesterday for further measures to guarantee the safety of people in Penang.

Meanwhile, Penang MCA questioned the state government’s earlier decision to allow the three foreign patients to seek treatment here.

State MCA chairman Datuk Tan Teik Cheng said he was baffled that the state government had allowed the Indonesian patients here during such a critical moment.

“What assurances do we have that the patients followed all SOP and would continue to do so when they are in Penang?” Tan asked.

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) also came out strongly against allowing medical tourists into the state.

“Those who oppose having such tourists here have legitimate concerns as the state is experiencing the effects of Covid-19 clusters that have formed in neighbouring states,” said CAP president Mohideen Abdul Kader.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 rumours and fake news involving the state have been flying wild.

Pulau Tikus assemblyman Chris Lee claimed he had to dispel rumours that he and his family were exposed to Covid-19.

“I hope all the nasty untruths or half-truths will stop as they are causing anxiety to the public.

“My health and my family members’ health is good and health authorities have assured us that we are not at risk,” he said.

In June, the National Security Council (NSC) decided that foreign patients could seek medical treatment in Malaysia without undergoing mandatory quarantine.

Each may be accompanied by a guardian but both must be certified to be Covid-19-negative before boarding the plane to Malaysia.

Upon arrival, they must be sent to a private hospital of their choosing immediately for treatment.

NSC subsequently decided that only foreign medical evacuees – patients with life-threatening conditions – may come to Malaysia for treatment in the initial phase.

More than half of the several hundred thousand medical tourists that come annually for treatment are Indonesians.

As of yesterday, Indonesia (with a population of 267.7 million) has 139,549 accumulated cases and 6,150 Covid-19 deaths.

Since July, the country has recorded about 2,000 cases daily.

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