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Coronavirus: does travel insurance cover you in the event of a pandemic?

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A novel strain of coronavirus is grabbing the headlines, with thousands of confirmed cases in Asia and five in Australia.

The virus is said to have originated in Wuhan, China, and has so far claimed 106 lives. For those travelling abroad, particularly to China, fears are mounting as the virus reportedly "quadruples".

So what should travellers know?

What is coronavirus?

coronavirus travel insurance

A virus transmitted between humans, coronavirus has so far infected at least 4515 people, predominantly in Wuhan city, where the outbreak was sourced to a fresh food market.

Symptoms are said to include fever, coughing and difficulty in breathing. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

Which countries are affected?

China has seen the largest number of cases. The Chinese government " locked down" 12 cities, affecting about 35 million people.

One or more cases have been found in Cambodia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

International airports have stepped up screening of passengers and  travellers have been warned to expect longer transit times.

Should I cancel my trip?  

Although the panic is understandable, experts are advising travellers not to put their holiday plans on hold just yet.

The World Health Organisation has not yet declared a public health emergency, saying: "This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency."

Nevertheless, the Australian government has raised its travel level for Wuhan province to five —do not travel.

Does travel insurance cover cancellation due to coronavirus? 

Travellers wanting to cancel their trips are unlikely to be covered for a change of mind.

We've had inquiries from travellers wanting to cancel their holiday to China. Unfortunately, insurance does not cover cancellation for fear of contracting the virus.

However, those who are at a higher risk of contracting an infectious disease may have provision to claim.

If your immunity is suppressed in any way, insurers will assess your claim based on your particular condition.

The government is advising against travel to Wuhan, so if this was part of your holiday plan, you may have provision to claim. In these circumstances, all cases are reviewed individually.

We also advise travellers to contact their airlines and travel providers, as many have begun accommodating those who want to modify, delay or cancel their itineraries to China.

flight from wuhan arrives in sydney coronavirus travel
Passengers arrive at Sydney International Airport on January 23. The flight from Wuhan departed the Chinese city prior to officials temporarily closing down transport from the city to help stop the outbreak of coronavirus. Photo: Don Arnold/Getty Images

Does travel insurance cover cancellation due to pandemics?

Not all travel insurance policies will cover trip cancellation due to a pandemic once official travel warnings have been released.

Should coronavirus be declared a public emergency, travellers should speak to their insurer and note any exclusions in their policy wording.

Travel insurance exists to cover the unforeseen, not events travellers are already aware of. Many policies will not cover pandemics as a general rule. However, certain insurers may still pay out cancellation benefits provided your policy was purchased before a warning was issued.

Some companies, such as Columbus Direct, Go Insurance, InsureandGo, Tick Travel Insurance and Travel Insuranz, will pay a benefit should you need to cancel your trip due to government restrictions (after a pandemic).

However, your policy must have been purchased before a warning was issued for your destination.

For example, if you had booked a holiday to China before the declaration of a pandemic, you may have provision to claim under cancellation.

Other providers such as Allianz, Fast Cover and 1Cover list pandemics and epidemics as a general exclusion, so according to the black-and-white print there is no cover, regardless of when you purchased your policy.

What if I go and contract the virus? 

If you travel to an affected country and contract coronavirus, in most instances your medical costs would be covered.

If travellers end up in a medical emergency overseas due to the virus, your insurer is likely to do everything they can to assist you.

This not only includes covering the costs of medical treatment, but also providing support and updates to family members where appropriate.

A final word 

While fears regarding coronavirus are not unfounded, the general population will most likely remain unaffected by the disease.

Elderly and immunosuppressed travellers should speak to their medical practitioners before flying to any majorly affected regions.

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Natalie Ball is a travel and money writer, and director of travel insurance comparison site Comparetravelinsurance.com.au. With 20 years of experience in the financial services and digital tech spaces, she is a financial literacy campaigner passionate about making insurance clear and customer-friendly.
Comments
Graham Nicholson
January 29, 2020 5.09pm

I was contacted today by my travel agent saying THEY were cancelling and recommending either a re-schedule OR cancellation, but that there would be considerable cancellation fees if I chose this option. InsureandGo are currently hiding behind the technicality that since the Smart Traveller advice does not actually say Don't Go but merely "reconsider" they will pay NOTHING. This is perverse.

John Bellamy
January 29, 2020 11.51pm

Perverse but correct. The decision to cancel has been made by your Travel Agent - so I guess your recovery of any costs is from them, not your insurer, as your government has NOT advised to "not go". I suspect the mention of considerable cancellation fees is a threat by your travel agent, ensuring you stick with them and not cancel completely. I think your discussion is with your Travel Agent and not with your insurer

Gloria Gearon
February 1, 2020 3.02pm

My son & partner are travelling next week to Singapore and then to Sri Lanka. There have been a coupe of cases of coronavirus there. His travel insurance which was taken out in September last year lists not covered for Epidemic/pandemic. However in his comprehensive policy it says emergency medical or hospital unlimited cover. Would this mean that if either of them contracted the virus, that they would NOT be treated at all and would not be covered for the treatment. It is not considered a pandemic/epidemic at the moment is it. So they should be treated?

Justine Phelan
February 3, 2020 6.48pm

Travel booked through Webjet who have mysteriously jumped under writers from Allianz to Covermore. Turns out, both cover less. My policy for my daughter and I wouldn't be worth the paper it was written on if I'd bothered to print it off. Absolutely disgraceful. My only option is to reschedule. The Allianz claims adviser said don't take out a policy until you are about to travel. Not the usual advice you'd expect to get!

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