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Singapore doctor becomes billionaire on Covid vaccination drive

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Singapore - May 25, 2018: Raffles hospital, new and old building in view . Raffles Hospital  is a tertiary care private hospital and the flagship of the Raffles Medical Group.
Loo Choon Yong, executive chairman of Raffles Medical Group Ltd., is now worth US$1.1 billion. (PHOTO: Getty)

By Yoojung Lee

(Bloomberg) —A Singapore doctor has joined the ranks of billionaires after his company became involved in efforts to fight the pandemic, helping send its profit and stock surging.

Loo Choon Yong, executive chairman of Raffles Medical Group Ltd., is now worth US$1.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, as the health-care provider’s net income more than doubled in the first half of this year and its shares climbed 104% from a low in March 2020.

Raffles Medical has been operating 15 vaccination centers in the city-state, and helping with air-border screening, pre-event testing and pre-departure swabbing of cruise passengers. It’s the latest example of how businesses adapted during the coronavirus outbreak when other lines of work were hit.

“When the country is facing a challenge like this, we have to help out,” Loo, who owns about 52% of Raffles Medical with his family, said in a video interview. “Although we’re private, we’re part of the health-care system.”

Singapore has been speeding up its Covid-19 vaccination drive, expecting to have 80% of the population fully inoculated by September so that it can relax more virus curbs, including starting to allow quarantine-free travel. Raffles Medical, which operates more than 60 clinics and practices and one hospital across the country, began working on the efforts in January.

“The fact that Raffles Medical is one of the largest health-care providers in Singapore meant that they were able to assist in more ways than one,” said Wee Kuang Tay, an analyst at CGS-CIMB Securities Singapore Pte. Their involvement “has benefited them,” he said.

Loo, 72, co-founded Raffles Medical in 1976. He and his friend, Alfred Loh, initially bought two clinics and gradually built the company. As well as its presence in Singapore, Raffles Medical has three hospitals in China, the latest one opening in Shanghai last week, and also operates in Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia.

“The principle was to look after patients properly,” Loo said. “The business will look after itself. That’s how we grew over the years.”

Things didn’t look so bright when the virus started to spread last year. Raffles Medical’s regular business declined as people stayed away from clinics and hospitals, and medical providers were only allowed to provide essential services, according to Loo.

“During the Covid period, patients get worried and try to stay home,” he said. “You don’t want to go for health checkups and pick up Covid.”

So the company deployed doctors, nurses and other staff into areas such as Covid testing and screening at airports.

Raffles Medical reported profit after tax of S$38.8 million for the first half of this year, up 138% from the same period a year earlier. Revenue rose 42% to S$343.8 million.

The company’s shares have climbed 50% so far this year, compared with a 12% gain for the country’s benchmark stock index.

Tay of CGS-CIMB Securities sounds a note of caution, saying contributions from Covid-19 efforts may have peaked.

“We do not know how the situation will evolve,” he said. Future share-price upside may “need to come from border reopening that can boost medical tourism, and even testing of passenger arrivals at our air border,” he said.

Loo, meanwhile, said amassing a fortune of more than US$1 billion isn’t how he judges his success.

“I don’t measure our contribution or the meaning of my life by the market cap or share price,” he said. “What’s seriously important is how Raffles Medical, as an organization, looks after patients well.”

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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