The South China Morning Post (SCMP) published an article yesterday (18 Mar) reporting that Hong Kong and Singapore are now seen as safe harbors by American and Southeast Asian travellers amidst the current Covid-19 outbreak.
There have been reports of influx of people seeking Covid-19 treatment and testing, heading to both cities, which are seen to have good healthcare systems. In Singapore, there has been more than 300 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with zero deaths. Close to 40 per cent of the confirmed cases have already recovered.
Experts, however, are concerned that this increase in foreign arrivals may put both cities at risk of a new wave of infections.
In Jakarta, 48-year-old businessman Widjaja got his family of 12 to Singapore on Sun evening (15 Mar) just before Singapore started to restrict travellers from ASEAN countries at midnight of Mon (16 Mar). Travellers from ASEAN countries now have to submit information on their health condition through the Singapore Overseas Mission in the country they are residing before coming to Singapore.
“We are concerned that things might get worse,” Widjaja said. “We have confidence in the Singapore healthcare system. It is one of the top in the world.”
Another Jakarta resident, 29-year-old Paulina, told SCMP that she arrived in Singapore on 6 Mar, just days after Indonesia announced its first cases. The trip was not planned but had given her peace of mind, she said. “I flew to Singapore as an act of disease prevention. I chose Singapore because it is geographically nearer to Indonesia, and I have friends and a sister here as a support system.”
Indonesia currently has less number of confirmed Covid-19 cases than Singapore’s but with the number of deaths registered at 19 as of yesterday. However, a number experts say it is not a true picture given Indonesia’s low testing rates.
Dr Asok Kurup, an infectious disease physician at Mount Elizabeth Hospital revealed to SCMP that on a daily basis, there are about 15 to 20 people, mostly Indonesians, who want to be tested for the coronavirus. But they were turned away because they did not meet the criteria to be tested. Even if these Indonesians insist and want to pay a lot more for a Covid-19 test, Singapore doctors will not be able to do so as the test kits are government-subsidized and controlled.
Singapore currently only tests those who have been to areas with surging infection rates or those with severe respiratory infections. Indonesia at the moment is not seen as an area with surging infection rates.
Another doctor, Dr Leong Hoe Nam, told SCMP that he has been getting about 5 calls a day from foreigners, mostly from Indonesia and Cambodia, asking to be tested for Covid-19. “Everyone has so much fear, and fear can [cause panic, leading us to] use our tests [on healthy people],” he said.
Some Americans are also thinking of coming to Singapore to weather the current worldwide pandemic Covid-19 outbreak. Jen Lasher, a 37-year-old lawyer from California, said Singapore’s use of technology to trace and contain the coronavirus made her want to move her family to Singapore. But she has since decided against it as it is now “too risky” to fly from Los Angeles International Airport, where large numbers of travellers transit.
Poor quality of public health services in Indonesia
According to Just Landed, a company which provides information, resources and services to help expats settle overseas, this is how it describes Indonesia’s healthcare system on its website:
“Indonesia is troubled by a high rate of corruption throughout the country’s public sector, and the healthcare system is no exception. Doctors’ priorities are not always based on the level of urgency but rather the price on offer.”
“Although the government is trying to improve the quality of the public health services, most of them are still considered low-quality. Despite their efforts, this lack of quality has made Indonesia’s healthcare system one of the worst in South Asian countries.”
“Even if Indonesian doctors have medical diplomas, it doesn’t mean they are always fit to treat patients or have the qualifications to do so. The high corruption rates are also an issue in the education system, where places in health schools can be bought: the lower your grades are, the more you pay to get into medical school. This has weakened the required entry standards of people studying medicine.”
“On top of this corruption, the health schools do not always follow the global accreditation standards, which explains why their diploma cannot be recognized out of the country. Many expats coming from wealthier countries find doctors to have very low professional and clinical skills, so it’s important to be careful when choosing your doctor. Asking for recommendations in expat communities is a good place to start.”
“Quality is also lacking in many of Indonesia’s health facilities. Out of Indonesia’s 1,800 hospitals, only 16 are internationally accredited… most of them do not necessarily follow international health guidelines. Even though you can find ‘decent’ public hospitals in the big urban areas, they don’t always have the necessary medical equipment needed for certain treatments, reliable electricity or even clean water.”
“Few medical clinics and hospitals accept payments by credit card, so be sure to carry enough cash before going… When it comes to the Indonesian health care system, it is better to be safe than sorry. Take precautions before flying to the country and make sure to get all the necessary information you need.”