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The Shape of Healthcare Travel

Special Features
The Shape of Healthcare Travel

Looking to current healthcare travel trends for future travel plans.

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Many of us are surely looking forward to going on holiday as soon as it is safe to do so. To get an idea of when that might be, we spoke with Nik Yazmin Nik Azman, Chief Commercial Officer at the Malaysia Health Travel Council (MHTC), the agency responsible for promoting the country's healthcare travel industry to the world.

Nik Yazmin Nik Azman, Chief Commercial Officer at the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC).
Nik Yazmin Nik Azman, Chief Commercial Officer at the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC).

As an authority invested in both the travel as well as health industry, when do you think would be safe for Malaysians to travel, whether domestically or internationally?
With the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented measures had to be taken to secure the safety of each country’s own citizens. With news about the pandemic changing by the hour, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific time frame of when it is safe to travel domestically and internationally. Even if travel restrictions are lifted, it will take time for things to return to normal, taking into account the different ways that each country is dealing with COVID-19. When in doubt, it is recommended to check with local health authorities for the latest travel advice.

What are precautions travellers should be aware of when they travel?
The most responsible action at this moment in time is to avoid all non-essential travel, whether by land, air, or sea. With Malaysia currently in the second phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO), there are signs that the Government’s efforts are working according to the Director General of Health, Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah. He reiterated how crucial the MCO is, and stressed the importance of continuing the current precautions and guidelines against COVID-19. This was supported by former Health Director General, Tan Sri Dr. Ismail Merican. He has advised the public to continue practising social distancing, and avoid mass gatherings for at least six months after the MCO has been lifted. According to him, this is vital to prevent asymptomatic or mild cases that may linger from spreading. However, if travelling is absolutely necessary, it is best to continue with the usual precautions such as proper handwashing, avoiding large crowds, and quarantining for 14 days upon completion of travel. Do also avoid close contact with sections of the population at a higher risk of COVID-19 like the elderly or those more susceptible to falling ill.

When planning for future travels, precautions should still be taken based on guidelines by the WHO and local authorities.
When planning for future travels, precautions should still be taken based on guidelines by the WHO and local authorities.

Some countries are hit a lot worse than others, while some are hardly affected by COVID-19. Do you think this should be taken into account when planning for future travels?
The countries that have been more impacted, whether by time or volume, are mostly countries that are popular with travellers. We have to acknowledge the role that travel has played in the spreading of COVID-19 globally. While the decision to travel will hinge upon a variety of factors, there must be an understanding that we are constantly at risk of contracting the virus. It is impossible to anticipate the levels of risk in each country or area in times to come. When planning for travels in the future after the pandemic has died down, it is advisable to continue following precautionary measures. When in doubt, refer to agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or local authorities for the latest travel advisories and guidelines. In these challenging times, staying informed is key.

Meanwhile, when it comes to visitors to Malaysia, how safe is it for healthcare travellers to come here for medical treatments right now, and after the pandemic has, hopefully, ended?
In accordance with the travel restrictions implemented by each country, we highly advise all healthcare travellers to cut down on travel and consult with local healthcare specialists until the situation improves. While it is a trying time, Malaysia remains dedicated to public health and national safety. So much so that Malaysia has been commended by WHO for our strong and proven capabilities in managing the spread of the virus. This also led us to being ranked 18th worldwide, and third in Asia, for pandemic preparedness in the Global Health Security Index, as produced by the John Hopkins Centre for Health Security. To further support precautionary steps taken by the Government to curb the spread of the virus, MHTC has deferred its key campaign for the year, the Malaysia Year of Healthcare Travel 2020. We have also rescheduled two of our annual events – insigHT2020 and the Medical Travel Media Awards 2020 (MTMA2020). We trust that once the situation improves, with Malaysia’s quality healthcare offerings and warm hospitality, we will continue to see an encouraging inflow of healthcare travellers eager to experience Malaysia, the World’s Healthcare Marvel.

For the time being, it is advisable to consult with your local healthcare provider instead of travelling overseas for medical attention.
For the time being, it is advisable to consult with your local healthcare provider instead of travelling overseas for medical attention.

What can all of us do to stop the spread of COVID-19 as soon as possible?
Every individual in the global community needs to play their part to stop the spread of the disease. Besides taking general precautions such as washing your hands with soap or using sanitisers, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and practice proper social distancing. If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek early medical care. Staying at home and limiting your interactions with others will also be able to help flatten the curve. Until then, let us work together to support our brothers and sisters who are battling COVID-19 at the frontlines. Collectively, let us show our gratitude to their sacrifices by taking care of one another and staying at home, as well as adhering to the precautionary measures to contain and eradicate the spread of the virus #kitajagakita.

Let’s all do our part in stopping the spread of COVID-19 so that we can look forward to planning our travels.

Video/Audio: Khalid A. Hamzah
Video Copy: Zurien Onn

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