Thousands of people are worried about their summer holidays and how they could be affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) as news of confirmed cases begin to rack up in popular tourist hotspots like Spain, Italy and France – but how does this affect travel insurance?
Coronavirus – Am I safe to travel?
Before getting yourself too worked up, it’s worth finding out whether or not you’ll be at risk when you travel.
The Foreign Office website displays independent travel advice for 225 countries around the world, offering guidance to those who are concerned about the impact of coronavirus as well as other risks like terrorism, political unrest and natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and flooding.
For example, on February 27th 2020, the website advised against ‘all but essential’ travel to 10 towns in Italy following a coronavirus outbreak in the country, while the city of Wuhan in China – where the disease was first identified – is currently recognised as a strict ‘no travel’ zone.
If you fail to acknowledge the advice given by the Foreign Office and continue to travel as normal, your travel insurance policy will almost always become invalid and will not pay out if you require treatment whilst away. If the advice is issued after you arrive at your destination, you will receive the same cover as usual, because you could not have foreseen a change in circumstances.
Before you travel, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) recommends that you contact your travel insurance provider to discuss any questions you might have.
Travel insurance cancellation cover – what if my holiday is cancelled because of the coronavirus?
The first thing to remember is, at the time of writing (02 March, 2020), the coronavirus is unlikely to have an impact on many holiday destinations. Even places with confirmed cases of the disease are generally safe to travel to.
If the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) or World Health Organisation (WHO) make the decision that a destination is unsafe to travel to, or that ‘all but essential’ travel is unadvised, then your travel insurance provider will pay out if you purchased the relevant cover.
While some policies include it as standard, others will require you to purchase additional cover for any disruption caused by a health outbreak.
Remember, though, that you must have taken out this policy before your destination is listed as ‘unsafe’ – any policy taken out after this will be under the assumption that you are aware of the risks associated with travelling.
Can I cancel my trip if I’m worried about coronavirus?
If there has been no official warning from the FCO or WHO, you won’t be able to claim on your travel insurance policy.
In the majority of cases, your travel insurance policy will only be expected to pay out when the government advises against all or ‘all but essential’ travel to your destination.
A spokesperson for the ABI said:
"In general, cancellation or travel disruption cover will activate when the FCO advises against all travel or all but essential travel to an area.
"Travel insurance is not designed to cover 'disinclination to travel' where the FCO advice has not changed to advise against travel."
What happens if my holiday provider cancels because of the coronavirus?
If you have booked your holiday through an ABTA-affiliated travel firm, it is likely that the company will be in contact with you to discuss your options in the event of your destination being deemed unsafe to travel by authorities.
In some cases, your holiday provider will offer you an alternative destination or date, while some will offer a partial refund on the grounds that only part of your trip has been affected. You are within your rights to decline all of these offers, though, and instead claim all of your money back.
Head of travel proposition at AXA, Nel Mooy, states that customers should contact their holiday provider before making a claim on their insurance, allowing them to assess the potential of receiving an alternative trip or a full refund.
Flight cancellations caused by the coronavirus
Flight cancellations caused by the coronavirus are being treated the same as any other flight cancellations, such as those caused by extreme weather.
This means that you are entitled to claim compensation directly from the airline if your travels are disrupted by a significantly delayed (more than 3hrs) or cancelled flight.
Travel insurance policies do not usually cover flight cancellations as these are generally covered by airlines and holiday providers; however, if you need to cancel a flight for personal reasons, there are a few scenarios in which your travel insurance might reimburse you.
Always be sure to check your cover and rights with your travel insurance provider before travelling.