Malaysia cuts medical tourism targets as border control tightens

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia's aim to attract medical tourists by focusing on curbing the coronavirus outbreak hit a roadblock as resurgences around the world limited its ability to reopen borders.

Hospitals in the country can expect to earn RM800 million (S$263.1 million) of revenue from medical tourists next year, compared with RM500 million this year, according to the Malaysia Healthcare Tourism Council. That's far short of the RM1.7 billion the industry earned in 2019 and its earlier 2020 target for RM2 billion.

"We may not have a normal travel behaviour pattern returning soon," the council's chief executive officer Sherene Azli said. "Before this we thought that the borders, the pandemic will go earlier than expected, now we are thinking borders will not be relaxed even in mid-2021 or even at the end of 2021."

Malaysia started allowing medical tourists from six countries including Singapore, Japan and Australia to enter from July. Since then the country has banned citizens of dozens of countries with more than 150,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, amid concern over local outbreaks that could be traced back to visitors from overseas.

The country expects to welcome fewer than 300,000 medical tourists in 2020, compared with 1.2 million last year, Ms Sherene said.

Malaysia's hospitals have resorted to offering online consultations to adapt, with plans to focus on improving services for cancer, heart diseases and fertility treatment during this slow period, she added.

"We feel that that is a strong trust that we can build for Malaysia in terms of delivering world-class quality healthcare," Ms Sherene said.



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