Expat Focus International Healthcare Update June 2022

Covid-19 seems, finally, to be on its way out – but as recent events in China have proved, it’s not over yet. In this article, we take a look at the post-pandemic world and other health related news.

Spain removes all Covid-19 entry restrictions

In early June, Spain removed all Covid-19 entry restrictions for travellers coming in from the Schengen areas and the EU, including the need for proof of vaccination. The changes are based on an EU document published at the end of April, the “COVID-19: Supporting the EU’s preparedness and response with a view to the future” report, which has been driving post-pandemic health policy in EU countries. It notes that the Spanish rates of vaccination have been higher than those of some other EU nations, and thus recommends lifting the restrictions.

Third party nationals may be subjected to ongoing health measures, including a temperature check, for instance. However, there’s no longer a ban on unvaccinated visitors from nations outside the EU or the Schengen Area, and the country has already relaxed its entry rules for British visitors.

New medical centre for expats in Valencia

There is a new medical centre focusing on British and French expats opening in Valencia: the Centro Medico Maria. The aim of this initiative is to offer native-language medical services to local expats, who may struggle with Spanish when it comes to health-related issues. Rates run alongside insurance packages, and the clinic will offer a wide range of services, from basic GP appointments to ultrasounds, medical laboratory tests and physio. You will be able to phone and make an appointment in English.

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Qatar regulates health services for expats

In Qatar, the Council of Ministers have approved a draft resolution in order to regulate healthcare services. Under the proposed new legislation, insurance from companies approved by the Ministry will cover overseas residents of the country. Health insurance will be mandatory and will cover non-Qatari workers in both the public and private sectors, including manual workers, domestic workers and visitors.

Insurance companies must provide recruiters with health insurance cards for employees, and recruiters and employers will need to cover the premium for employees and renew this annually.

Dubai health authority claims over half a million ‘health tourists’

The Dubai health authority says that over 600,000 ‘medical tourists’ sought treatment in the Emirate in 2021, but statistical experts suggest that this claim needs to be unpacked, as travel restrictions remained high throughout the year, and the figures may relate to overseas residents already in the country, rather than travellers coming in from abroad. Dubai has a population of 3.41 million people, of whom 2.45 million are expats, so it’s important not to confuse existing residents with inbound medical tourists.

However, it is certainly the case that medical procedures are sought after in Dubai, whether from overseas residents or medical tourists. Dental treatment comes at the top of the list, with 45% of patients coming from Arab or Gulf states, and 15% from Europe. The remainder are Asian and, overall, patients from Asia seem to make up a high percentage of people coming into the region for medical purposes. Dermatology, gynaecology, orthopaedic surgery, cosmetic surgery and ophthalmology are also popular, again primarily with GCC nationals, but there are nonetheless a significant percentage of patients who come in from Europe.

Now that the pandemic is finally waning, medical tourism across the world is once more on the rise. Cosmetic medical tourism agency AbroadCare, based in Glasgow, is looking to open up beyond its current destinations of Turkey and Mexico. Turkey is currently a major destination in treating conditions such as male pattern baldness, and there are over 600 clinics for medical procedures for travellers in Istanbul alone. It says that ‘incidentals,’ such as flights and accommodation, are important. People going abroad for medical procedures, which can be an anxiety-provoking and stressful process, need to feel that they are being looked after.

AbroadCare should find that their market is expanding: Comercializadora de Servicios Médicos Cubanos S.A. (CSMC), the state medical tourism promotion agency in Cuba, as an example, has recently contracted with both the Cubanacan hotel group and the Meliá hotel chain. The first International Fair of Medical Tourism and Wellbeing is due to be held in Havana from October 17th to 20th 2022.

Jordan, too, is looking to expand its medical tourism sector, with a platform of natural advantages, such as hot springs and the Dead Sea, combining medical tourism with the wellness industry, in addition to the more general tourist sector. Medical tourism is in its infancy in places such as Jordan, which still need more mainstream infrastructure to treat locals as well as incomers. However, medical authorities have their eye on the future and believe that such countries need a road map for the next decade if they are to expand into this lucrative market.

If you are planning to travel abroad to undertake a medical procedure, do be careful. You will have a lot of choice, but some clinics are obviously more reliable than others.

Saudi to offer free health insurance

The Saudi National Health Insurance Centre (NHIC) is to provide free health insurance cover for all Saudi citizens who are not already covered under other schemes, the Gulf News reported in early June. The scheme will include non-Saudis in certain sectors, such as government workers. Health services and budgets will be transferred across to the NHIC, in an overhaul of Saudi healthcare.

Shanghai opens up again after lockdown

The last Wednesday in May saw Shanghai residents freed from their own homes, as the city’s strict Covid-19 lockdown finally came to an end. Firecrackers and fireworks were set off in celebration, but everyone is painfully aware that this might not be the end of it and that further lockdowns are possible.

The restrictions have taken a severe toll on local businesses, particularly small family-run ones, as reported in early June by the BBC, and the Guardian says that the economy plummeted by 40%-65%. However, the phenomenon of ‘revenge spending’ might have put some more money in local coffers, as people flocked to favourite street eateries. In saying this, restaurants are still not open, and the government remains locked into its zero-Covid policy.


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