What hit the medical travel headlines in 2021?

As we approach the year end, let’s take a look at what hit the headlines in 2021 in medical travel. Or, specifically, which IMTJ news stories attracted the most views from our readership.

In 2021, IMTJ published over 500 news items and articles. We’ve looked at the top 50. Of course, there’s one topic that dominated… COVID-19. Search IMTJ for “Covid” and you will find 3,270 results for the search! Sadly, it seems that, despite early hopes of overcoming the virus, we face further challenges with the emergence of the Omicron variant. COVID-19 will no doubt dominate the IMTJ news for some months to come. Let’s hope it’s not years.

Optimism shines through, balanced by the reality

We clearly have an optimistic readership. Faced by the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions that, in effect, put a stop to medical travel and tourism in general, our readers were attracted to “good news” rather than “bad news”. Our most popular articles featured the opening up of destinations:

  • Turkey hopes for tourism from June
    Restrictions were eased, resulting in a partial recovery of travel and tourism numbers. Jan-Oct 2021 tourism volumes were 50% of those recorded in 2019, but double the number recorded in 2020.
  • China to open borders in 2022
    The reopening of the China outbound market is eagerly awaited by those serving this high value patient market. The plan is to open up when 85% of the population are full vaccinated, perhaps in January 2022. However, on December 9th, China reported its first case of the Omicron variant in Tianjin, posing what could be the biggest threat to date to the country’s zero-Covid strategy and the planned opening of borders.
  • Indonesia to partially open to international visitors
    Some optimism here, but the restrictions have and will continue to have a significant knock on effect for outbound medical tourism to Malaysia, as two out of three medical tourists to this destination are from Indonesia.
  • Abu Dhabi to end quarantine in July
    The UAE has managed to keep infection rates at a low level. Dubai’s tourism numbers have remained fairly resilient compared to other destinations. Jan-Oct 2021 tourism volumes grew by 58% over 2020.

Certificates, passports etc etc

One of the recurring themes of 2021 was the invention and reinvention of various schemes to provide safe travel and ease entry into medical travel destinations. In our “most read” list, these news items featured highly:

  • Progress on EU-wide Digital Green Certificate
    A progressive move by the EU to standardise the use of “Covid passports” within the EU. The new rules will apply as of 10 January 2022, However, the use of the digital pass has been widely adopted across the EU.
  • EU Covid certificate: the global standard?
    And it seems that where the EU leads, the rest of the world follows. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged countries to make the EU Digital Certificate their global standard for digital vaccine certificates. In addition to the 27 EU member states, a further 60 countries are looking to use the DCC specification in their own certification. “Even the UK?”, you ask.
  • Malaysia: vaccine passport will boost medical tourism
    Malaysia, with a well-funded and forward thinking Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council, moved quickly to protect its inbound medical tourism programme and facilitate medical travel during the pandemic.
  • Insurance required for travel to and from Oman
    Insurance that covers treatment for COVID-19 is becoming a must-have for medical travellers and tourists in general. Some destinations, such as Oman, are making it a requirement for inbound travellers.

Rounding off our top ten

And to complete our top ten of IMTJ News of 2021, here’s a couple that caught my eye.