Expat Focus International Healthcare Update February 2022

The international healthcare news for expats is still dominated by Covid-19, but the better news is that Omicron – while not completely unproblematic – seems to be proving to be comparatively mild among the vaccinated. More and more countries are starting to open up, with a few holdouts such as Hong Kong and New Zealand, and travel is beginning to become a little easier. In this article, we’ll take a look at all the latest healthcare news affecting expats around the world.

 

Africa aims to reverse medical brain drain

The Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Dr John Nkengasong, told the Observer recently that the organisation is planning on introducing measures to attract medics back from the African diaspora. 2.5% of NHS staff in the UK are from the African continent. Over 10% of these personnel are Nigerian, followed by medics from Zimbabwe, Ghana and Egypt. Nkengasong says:

“We need a very deliberate programme that facilitates Africans in the diaspora to come back to the continent and do a rotation. A Ghanaian or Nigerian in London doesn’t just wake up in the morning and think, ‘I’m going to go to Nigeria for a year.’ That person needs lodging, basic transportation. They have responsibilities, a job.”

Although Nigeria has around 70,000 registered doctors, only around half are currently working in Nigeria itself, and the CDC would like this to change. A number of African countries have cutting edge disease control facilities – one reason why Omicron was spotted earlier in the continent than anywhere else – but a more joined up cross border approach is essential.

 

Hong Kong under strain from zero Covid-19 policy

Hong Kong continues to undergo repercussions from its severe Covid-19 policy, as the pandemic begins to die down elsewhere. Despite drastic measures, including a hamster cull, infections are rising and the territory’s banks have suspended operations in an effort to reduce transmission. The majority of the elderly population of the territory are still unvaccinated. In addition, people are leaving HK in droves: nearly 90,000 people left the former colony last year, and the UK government says they have had 88,000 applications for British National (Overseas) visas in the first three quarters of 2021. The territory has been seeing a corresponding ‘brain drain’ of personnel from the healthcare sector, and the Straits Times predicts that this will have an impact on residents for years to come.

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But it’s not all rosy on the mainland either, with strict border controls and Covid-19 regulations continuing to apply. Some experts are predicting an expat exodus from China itself, as well as adjoining Hong Kong. Expats who ran businesses in cities such as Wuhan, where the pandemic began, say that their businesses have been decimated by the lack of foreign custom. The American Chambers of Commerce in Shanghai and Beijing say that “the zero Covid policy is hurting international trade and driving expatriates away” and add that China’s economic development has relied upon an openness to the world – something that the pandemic has badly affected.

The Shanghai-based American Chamber of Commerce says that 53.4% of companies have told them that anti-Covid restrictions have made it harder to attract expats, and 45.1% say that Covid restrictions have affected their businesses negatively. International recruiters are wondering whether the Chinese government really wants expats in the country at all, since the drain was beginning before Covid. They question whether Beijing is following a Singaporean model and replacing expats with local hires.

 

Atlanta comes top in ‘cheapest healthy lifestyle’ poll

The US city of Atlanta has come first in a poll of American cities to assess the cheapest healthy lifestyle. The poll, conducted by Amerisleep, the sleep experts, takes into consideration factors such as gym membership, the cost of private health insurance premiums, the cost of visiting a private doctor, and the price of fruit and vegetables. California does well in the poll, with San Francisco coming second and San Jose third. Seattle and Denver also feature in the top ten. If the cost of your health is a concern, don’t move to Baton Rouge, which was calculated to be the most expensive city in the States when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

 

Europe’s plans to extend Covid-19 certificates

The EU is currently planning to extend Covid vaccination certificates – the Digital COVID-19 Certificate (DCC) – until 30th June 2023. Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, says:
“We cannot predict how the pandemic will evolve, but we can make sure that citizens continue to benefit from a certificate that works and is accepted wherever they go.”

The Commission may change the testing requirements, to broaden the number of tests deemed acceptable, so keep an eye on this changing legislation just in case. They’re also looking at more comprehensive registration of vaccination status across the EU, to ensure that vaccinated EU residents are on the system regardless of where they were vaccinated.

In addition, the new Covid pill is being approved for use within the EU by the Commission, across all member states. Pfizer-produced Paxlovid has been approved by the UK and USA since December, but is now likely to be rolled out across European nations as well. European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kriakides says that the approval is “a key step in bringing the most promising therapeutics to citizens and a strong, second line of defence against the pandemic after vaccination.”

 

UK plans to scrap isolation

The UK has also been updating its Covid-19 regulations, with the Prime Minister announcing in mid-February that there is an intention to scrap all Covid-19 restrictions, including isolation after testing positive, from the end of the month. Isolation rules were due to end on March 24th, but it now appears that the move will be brought forward by a month, provided the data continues to back up the current downward trend of the pandemic in the UK. If you are travelling out of the country, however, make sure you are up to speed with your destination’s Covid-19 requirements, as these may be different from those in the UK.


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