Penang Halts Medical Tourism Pending New MOH SOP

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow instructs agencies related to health tourism to keep the state government informed on all matters.

KUALA LUMPUR, August 17 — The Penang state government decided today to prohibit the entry of medical tourists pending new guidelines from the Ministry of Health (MOH) on health tourism.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow expressed regret that the state government was not informed about the “sudden” arrival of two cancer patients and another patient who needed immediate treatment — all three from Indonesia — in Penang on August 14 through a special charter flight.

He acknowledged that the Penang state government was informed that the three Indonesian patients had followed standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by the relevant agencies, including the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) and the Immigration Department.

“The state government takes note that the Ministry of Health (MOH) will finalise the SOP on the health tourism sector, and the state government wishes to state that it will not allow the entry of patients under this category until MOH finalises the new SOP, especially at this time when Penang is still reporting active Covid-19 cases,” Chow said in a statement today.

He said this decision was reached by an emergency meeting he had with the Penang state executive councillor in charge of tourism, the Penang state secretary, the Penang state health department director, and the Penang director in charge of state security from the National Security Council (NSC).

“The state government stresses that all agencies related to the health tourism category are required to give any and all information to the state government so that we can together manage this issue more effectively.”

Kuala Lumpur and Penang are Malaysia’s main destinations for health care travellers. Last June, MHTC welcomed the federal government’s decision to reopen Malaysia’s borders to international medical tourists, saying this would allow the health care travel industry to rebound, as the Covid-19 pandemic has severely hit Malaysia’s tourism sector.

AirAsia reportedly said its first international medical charter flight took off from Medan, Indonesia, to Penang International Airport last Friday. The budget carrier’s next medical charter flight from Indonesia will reportedly take place on August 24 from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur.

The Jakarta Post reported that Indonesia’s Health Ministry recorded 2,081 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, with the coronavirus having spread to all 34 provinces in the country. The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Indonesia is 139,549.

Penang recently recorded new Covid-19 cases, as six locally transmitted cases have been newly confirmed in the northern state in the past 14 days as of August 16. All Penang districts, except for Seberang Perai Selatan that remains “green” with zero new local cases in the past fortnight, are now “yellow”. “Yellow” status denotes 40 new local coronavirus cases or below.

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