Coronavirus (Covid-19) - Travel and Insurance
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, has worldwide ramifications, from severe widespread travel disruption to stoking fears of a global recession as stock markets fall. In this piece, we take a look at the impact of the outbreak on travel and insurance.
While the risk to individual travellers remains low, some governments (such as the UK) have raised the national risk level from low to moderate in order to allow the authorities to plan for all eventualities.
The UK Department of Health has advised any travellers who have travelled to the UK from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, or Macau within the last 14 days to self-isolate or call NHS 111 if experiencing symptoms including cough, fever, or shortness of breath. Enhanced monitoring of direct flights from the aforementioned areas remains in place.
Those who have returned from Iran, lockdown areas in Italy, or ‘special care zones’ in South Korea within the last seven days have also been advised to call NHS 111 and self-isolate even in the absence of symptoms.
Those returning from northern Italy, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, or Myanmar within the last seven days should avoid contact with other people and call NHS 111 if symptoms start to develop.
Outside of the UK, a number of countries have implemented temporary travel bans and other restrictions on people returning from areas worst-affected by the outbreak: China, Italy, Iran, Japan, and South Korea.
Advice from the British government to nationals returning from quarantined towns in northern Italy has been to self-isolate, irrespective of if they are showing any symptoms or not. Public Health England has also advised people returning from northern Italy to self-isolate if they show symptoms associated with the coronavirus.
For the workforce, this has opened up the question of whether or not people will still get paid if they have to self-isolate. It is standard for most offices to have a system in place for flexible working arrangements, and if you are able to work from home you should be able to carry on as normal. However, retail staff, factory workers and manual labourers will not have that option; in which case it is widely considered ‘good practice’ for employers to treat it as sick leave, or for the time off to be taken as holiday. Crucially, it is important employees are not incentivised to risk going into work because they want to get paid – potentially spreading the virus.
Those showing symptoms of illness associated with the virus will qualify for at least statutory sick pay (£94.35 per week for up to 28 weeks). However, according to the law, there is no statutory right to pay if you aren’t sick, although some contracts can be more generous than others. Those who are prevented from working due to a risk to public health should be able to claim universal credit and may be entitled to contributory employment and support allowance.
Recently, employees of US oil giant, Chevron, sent more than 300 workers home from their Canary Wharf office in central London after two employees showed coronavirus symptoms. The employees will undergo tests and are understood to have recently returned from a country experiencing a coronavirus outbreak. A school in Northern Ireland's County Antrim has also ordered 50 pupils and staff to stay home and self-quarantine following a ski trip to northern Italy. Several other schools have also either sent pupils home or closed following similar trips over half-term. Online lessons have been made available to affected students.
Impact on travel insurance
The UK government currently advises against all travel to the Hubei province in China (the epicentre of the outbreak) and all but essential travel to mainland China. In South Korea, all but essential travel warnings apply to Daegu and Cheongdo, which have been designated as ‘special care zones’. The government has also advised against all but essential travel to 11 towns in the northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto, but no such warnings have been issued for the entire country.
Many are considering cancelling trips to Italy or Tenerife in the Canary Islands over the outbreak. Insurers in the UK typically follow the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) - meaning that those who choose to cancel a trip to Milan or Venice (both near quarantined towns) will likely not be reimbursed.
Axa UK has advised travellers trying to cancel, postpone, or arrange a refund for a trip to do so by contacting their airline, travel provider, or accommodation, then they should contact their insurer to make a claim.
While insurers are unlikely to cover cancellation costs if the FCO hasn’t issued a warning, many airlines are beginning to sympathise with travellers and are allowing passengers to rebook flights to certain areas free of charge for a later date. British Airways, Delta, and Air Canada are among those announcing such policies. Some hotels in areas under lockdown are also offering refunds or the option to rebook. The impact of this means that the travel and tourism industries are expected to be hit hard by the outbreak, at both international and local level. This will in turn have a huge impact on the global economy, with stock markets around the world already plummeting.
Trips for leisure are typically not classed as ‘essential’ travel but business trips or other work-related travel could potentially invalidate your insurance. The same is true if you choose to go against government advice. Whether travellers will lose out financially greatly depends on their choice of airline and the small print of insurance policies.
For those in areas where the government advice is to return home, such as Iran, it’s possible that some travel insurance policies will cover out-of-pocket losses or additional costs incurred in doing so.
Sports events and fixtures, cancellations and impacts
Many sports events across the world have faced cancellations and postponement due to the high-risk nature of mass gatherings involving large groups of people from affected areas. On Wednesday it was confirmed that the Ireland vs Italy men’s and women’s Six Nations Rugby games which were scheduled to take place in Dublin on 07 and 08 March have now been postponed due to the coronavirus. If the match is ultimately cancelled, it’s expected to cost millions and it’s unclear who would absorb that cost. The Scotland vs Italy women’s match was also called off on Sunday and has yet to be rearranged.
Japanese rugby matches are also set to be suspended for two weeks, with Japan's Rugby Top League matches scheduled for this weekend and next postponed. Serie A football matches in Italy have also been impacted by the outbreak, with five matches to be played behind closed doors this weekend, including Juventus’ match at home vs Inter Milan. The decision comes after several games were postponed last weekend. The Chinese Grand Prix, scheduled for 17 April, has also been postponed amid questions surrounding other early-season races. The Vietnam International Challenge badminton event has also been rescheduled from late March to early June.
Other major events to be cancelled or postponed include the Venice carnival and the Bologna book fair in Italy. Elsewhere, in Switzerland, all major events of 1,000 participants or more have been suspended until 15 March to combat the virus. Those who have bought tickets for cancelled or postponed events may be able to secure a refund for their ticket by contacting the event organiser; however, travel and accommodation costs are unlikely to be recuperated.
Advice for travellers
Enhanced screening or monitoring at entry and exit ports has been widely implemented amid the outbreak. Travellers should allow extra times for these checks and be prepared to self-isolate if asked to do so.
Generally, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions face an increased risk of severe infection. Where possible, those more vulnerable to contracting the virus should reconsider their need for travel.
Travellers should also check what impact the outbreak may have had on their travel insurance coverage – particularly medical repatriation costs. General good hygiene practices will also help prevent the spread of the virus, including regular hand-washing with soap or alcohol-based hand sanitiser; avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid close contact with ill people; stay at home if you feel unwell; cover coughs and sneezes; clean frequently touched surfaces and objects.
In the event of becoming unwell whilst abroad, self-isolate if possible and contact your health provider and/or insurance company. Follow public health guidance and consider seeking medical attention. Avoid any further travel until you have fully recovered.