‘Travel bubble’ to help Palauans seeking medical services in Taiwan

Taipei, March 29 (CNA) The upcoming “travel bubble” arrangement between Taiwan and Palau will benefit Palauan residents who need access to medical services abroad, Palauan President Surangel Whipps Jr. was quoted as saying by a Taiwanese hospital administrator Monday.

Whipps arrived in Taiwan on Sunday afternoon for a five-day visit.

On the last day of his visit, he will launch a “travel bubble,” which will allow people from each country to visit the other with fewer COVID-19-related restrictions, and take the first flight under the initiative back to Palau.

As part of his itinerary in Taiwan, Whipps had a medical checkup Monday morning at the Shin-Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital, including a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

Whipps left the hospital for his next activity after a brief photo opportunity of him receiving souvenirs from high-level administrators of the hospital.

Whipps did not address the media, but Hung Tzu-jen (洪子仁), the hospital’s deputy superintendent, said the visiting president toured the hospital’s facilities and described Taiwan’s medical standards as “fantastic.”

On the travel bubble, Whipps said that aside from its economic benefits, it will also open up a “medical corridor” for patients in Palau who seek medical attention in Taiwan, according to Hung.

“Over the past year, Palauan patients who wished to be treated in Taiwan faced a lot of obstacles. Now, the travel bubble will again allow them to visit Taiwan more conveniently,” Hung said, quoting Whipps.

Palau, one of Taiwan’s 15 diplomatic allies, has not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to World Health Organization data.

Taiwan has recorded 1,023 cases with 10 fatalities, according to official statistics as of Monday.

In 2008, Shin-Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital signed an agreement on a medical referral program with Palau to help the Pacific country, which has only one hospital and several small clinics within its territory, to meet its citizens’ medical needs.

The program was officially launched five years later, and to date the hospital has cared for more than 4,000 patients from Palau, many with complicated conditions, according to Hung.

Since the pandemic erupted last year, as many as 120 Palauan nationals have sought treatment in Taiwan after taking charter flights, Hung said in an interview with CNA on Saturday.

There were no Palauan patients in the hospital prior to Whipps visit, but about 10 people flew into Taiwan with the president to get treatment there and were immediately put into isolation Sunday in accordance with COVID-19 prevention protocols.

Palauan nationals who take physical examinations in Taiwan get a US$500 subsidy from the Pacific nation’s heath insurance program for their care, Hung said.

(By Yu Hsiao-han, Chang Ming-hsuan and Emerson Lim)