TREND: The governments of Mexico and the United States have agreed to prolong restrictions on non-essential border crossings until January 21, 2021. Cities on both sides of the international boundary are being overwhelmed by the developing Covid-19 pandemic. Medical tourism, an indispensable activity in the region, has to adjust to continually changing perceptions of security and safety and economic viability during the crisis.
•Limited travel by government ordinance has been in place for the last nine months. Despite this, commerce and people’s movement from one country to the other are still adjusting to the measure. Only essential land crossings are allowed from Mexico to the north. The U.S. State Department definition of “essential travelers” includes American citizens or permanent residents returning to their country and individuals that visit the U.S. for medical reasons.
•The Mexican government has not restricted travel from the United States. American nationals still visit cities south of the border for personal reasons, shopping, and tourism, even if their Mexican neighbors are not free to move. Medical tourism is another critical component of the bilateral relationship and has not stopped during the pandemic.
•Sister cities on the border are Covid-19 hotspots. These counties and their number of confirmed cases during the pandemic (approximate thousands as of the time of this writing) are alarming: El Paso (94), Hidalgo (48), and Webb (23), in Texas; Pima (55), and Yuma (23), in Arizona; San Diego (111), and Imperial (19), in California. The same goes for Mexican towns: Mexicali (14), and Tijuana (10), in Baja California; Nogales (3), and San Luis Río Colorado (2), in Sonora; Ciudad Juárez (18), in Chihuahua; Piedras Negras (4), and Acuña (2), in Coahuila; Reynosa (6), and Matamoros (6) Nuevo Laredo (3), in Tamaulipas. The situation in adjacent places is similar, so take this into account if traveling through them.
•Professional healthcare at affordable prices is the border’s main attraction for American and Canadian citizens; Mexico is the second most popular medical destination globally. Patients head south to buy medicines or visit doctors and clinics for general check-ups, dental treatment, eye surgeries, or more extended hospitalizations. Visitors may save between 40 and 80 percent in their care costs. Tijuana is Mexico’s top recipient of medical tourism. The state of Baja California, for example, received more than 1.7 million patients and their companions in 2018. On September 30, the Medical + Health Cluster in Baja organized a virtual conference about the implications and impact of COVID-19 on its industry. One panel showcased just how vital sanitary infrastructure has developed on the border and hospitality services. Tijuana can provide over one million medical consultations a year, and at least another person accompanies most patients. Look for hotels, clinics, and even pharmacies, that have obtained tourism safety certifications, either by the state government or the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
•For public health reasons and pressure from citizens, local authorities have installed sanitary inspections for international visitors in Mexico. Mexicali and Nuevo Laredo are recent examples of this trend. If traveling for medical reasons, make sure to set up an appointment beforehand and ask for your health practitioner’s instructions. In Reynosa, inspectors discovered eight cases this month of American citizens falsifying prescriptions or medical documentation. Expect similar sanitary inspections at other places in the border: a maximum of two passengers per car and no minors; visitors must wear adequate face-masks; carry documentation justifying medical visits; interrogation about possible symptoms of Covid-19. Failing to meet the criteria of health authorities has led to visitors being returned to the U.S.. Some Mexican citizens may feel that foreign visitors are spreading the virus, so be respectful of local authorities and protocols at all times.
•Clinics are still receiving foreign patients with additional health protocols in place. Some hospitals have been converted into Covid-19 response units around the country, and doctors might have changed the location of their practice to other offices or stand-alone clinics. Additionally, some places might require a patient to have proof of a Covid-19 test before surgery. If traveling with a companion, the number and procedure for visits might have changed; include this in your planning for overnight stays.
TAKEAWAY: Medical treatment for foreigners in Mexico has not abated during the pandemic. Health warnings are in place for border states and cities. Take care to prevent contagion of Covid-19 even before crossing into Mexican territory. Despite national requirements, local authorities have implemented their sanitary guidelines. Preparing for your trip involves taking the necessary steps to deal with safe departure, travel, and arrival: ask for guidance from your medical practitioner.
* Spotlight by Sergio Mendoza, Senior Consultant at Riskop, a consulting firm focused on strategic intelligence and risk mitigation for investors and decision-makers in complex sociopolitical environments. It is located in Monterrey, Mexico. Twitter: @RiskopMx