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COVID-19: Some Indonesian medical tourists put off travel to Singapore

For now, Indonesian medical tourists are postponing their trips, unless there are essential or critical procedures involved.

JAKARTA: Indonesian Fredy Tan is supposed to go to Singapore at the end of February for an annual medical check-up with his wife and one-year-old son.

But with more than 80 cases of COVID-19 being reported in the country, the 52-year-old Jakartan may postpone his travel plans. 

Mr Tan has been regularly travelling to Singapore for medical check-ups since 2000, as he admires the professionalism of the doctors and trusts the health system. 

However, the current situation is worrying from his perspective. “I think it is serious,” he told CNA.

“We do not want to be near any hospital because they have so many germs,” Mr Tan explained, adding that they are also avoiding malls and other places where crowds typically gather.

Tourists walking along Singapore's Cavenagh Bridge in February 2020. (File photo: Jeremy Long)

Indonesian medical tourists interviewed by CNA said that they are postponing their travel plans, especially if the trips are for non-essential treatments. 

Mr Tan’s concerns are shared by Ms Cecilia Juarso, a Surabaya resident who also had plans to travel to Singapore for medical screening.

The 34-year-old business owner usually flies to Singapore once or twice a year for a medical check-up and was planning to go there sometime in February or March with her mother.

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But given the latest situation in Singapore, Ms Juarso is now postponing it.

“I’d prefer to wait for the situation to get better first, or even wait until there is a vaccine ready,” Ms Juarso said.

She said the medical check-up can be rescheduled as it is not urgent and they have yet to buy tickets.

She and her mother, however, are still going to Penang, Malaysia for a separate medical check-up this week since her mother suffers from age-related macular degeneration.

The health screening has to be done on time and routinely by the doctor in Penang who handled her mother from the beginning – she is now in her seventh year of treatment.

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“I actually do worry a bit (to go to Penang) but the doctor’s schedule cannot be postponed as it may pose a risk to semi-permanent blindness if we delay it.

“Besides, the COVID-19 cases seem to be more prominent in Singapore, perhaps as Singapore is a worldwide point of flight transit, unlike Penang,” she said.

Malaysia has more than 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases, while Indonesia has yet to report its first case.

A row of empty seats are seen on board a Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore from Jakarta International Airport, before the aircraft's departure from the Indonesian capital on Feb 18, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Goh Chai Hin)

Mr Ronny Winata, a Jakarta-based travel consultant with Aviatour, said: "I have a few medical tourist customers who cancelled their trips (to Singapore). But if it is urgent, they’re still going.”

He was speaking to CNA during a rather quiet Singapore Airlines travel fair in Jakarta last weekend.


In some instances, the doctors are advising patients against trips to Singapore.

An Indonesian woman living in Jakarta, who did not want to named, said she was supposed to head to Singapore this weekend for health screening but is now cancelling the trip.

The breast cancer survivor was told by her doctor to avoid visiting Singapore for the time being, as her condition is vulnerable.

“The doctor said I should wait until the (DORSCON) alert level is downgraded to Yellow ... They will call me again early March,” said the woman who is in her 60s.

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Singapore raised the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level to orange from yellow on Feb 7.

Responding to CNA's queries, Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital said it has advised patients to defer non-essential procedures.

“Since the Singapore Ministry of Health raised the DORSCON level to Orange on Feb 7, and until we have a firmer grip on the situation, we have advised all our local and overseas patients to postpone non-essential procedures and treatments at our hospitals.

“This is to limit the risk of exposure for all patients, their visitors and loved ones,” Dr Noel Yeo, Chief Executive Officer of Mount Elizabeth Hospital said in a written statement.

People are seen wearing protective face masks at Orchard Road, Singapore on Jan 28, 2020. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

He added: “Nevertheless, there are still many patients who come to us for critical or essential treatment.

“They are unable to defer their care or find alternative medical options in their home country. For such patients, our hospitals have put in place all necessary precautions to protect their well-being and minimise the risk of infections."

Dr Yeo is also the chairman of the DORSCON Orange Command Centre at Parkway Pantai’s Singapore Operations Division.

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A spokesperson from Farrer Park Hospital said that adjustments have been made to patients’ visits so that they can come to Singapore during a safer time.

“This measure is taken with good intentions to ensure patients returning from Singapore are not subjected to unnecessary quarantine. In the meantime, we extend the patients' medications till a visit can be arranged,” said the spokesperson.

As a result, the number of Indonesian patients visiting the hospital is lower, said the spokesperson. However, Farrer Park Hospital said it is difficult to ascertain the exact drop in the number of patients given the fluidity of the situation.

A woman wearing a facemask walks past screens showing thermal imaging scans of arriving passengers at Sukarno-Hatta international airport on Jan 24, 2020, as airports across the region stay alert in response to a deadly coronavirus. (Photo: AFP/Adek Berry)

More than 3.1 million Indonesians visited Singapore in 2019, making it the second-largest number of international tourists in the country after China.

Despite the outbreak, Mr Mohamed Firhan Abdul Salam, Singapore Tourism Board's area director for Indonesia was quoted as saying by Indonesian media earlier this week: "We're ready for business-as-usual."

"All businesses and tourism sites are open and operating normally. However, we are very cautious about people who are sick and showing symptoms of the virus," he noted.

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Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, the medical tourists maintained that there is trust in Singapore's hospitals and doctors.

“I think the Singaporean medical services are good and the doctors are professional,” said Ms Lydia Sheridan, 36, even as she is thinking of postponing her trip in April.

The self-employed Jakartan is scheduled to get her yearly medical check-up with her mother in Singapore as she used to live there and still has relatives living in Singapore.

“The situation is worrying as it (COVID-19) spreads within clusters rapidly ... But I’m positive the situation will be handled and is soon under control," she said. 

Singapore city skyline. (Photo: Unsplash/Mike Enerio)

Mr Fredy Tan also has confidence in the Singapore system, even though he is staying away for now.

He thinks Singapore has the best system in the region to detect and handle the outbreak.

“The government did a good job at informing the public albeit sacrificing the economy a bit ... Kudos to the government of Singapore," he said.

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Source: CNA/ks(aw)


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