How good is evacuation coverage or travel insurance for coronavirus?

by Feb 14, 2020Insurance

It began as a badly contained rumor, but since late December, the coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, has dominated the news. To date, the virus has reportedly killed over 1,300 people and sickened tens of thousands more.

On Jan. 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). A PHEIC has only been issued six times since 2005, when it was created as a result of the SARS outbreak. Not surprisingly, this has travelers and their families – as well as businesses that rely on travelers — feeling a bit nervous.

According to numerous news reports plus updates from travel insurance companies around the world, travelers are concerned about any travel that will take them to or through Asia and, most specifically, China. Many are wondering whether travel insurance will protect them if they decide to cancel their trip, change their trip, or get sick during their trip.

To get more details, we went to the experts to find out how travelers should protect themselves when on the road, and also to find out how good evacuation coverage and travel insurance actually is for coronavirus.

Evacuation coverage or travel insurance for coronavirus

The most important advice from every expert

In every instance, and perhaps especially this one, remember that travel insurance is protection against an actual loss, not compensation for inconvenience or loss of enjoyment. Underwriters for travel insurance plans worldwide will all use different wording and, depending on the country, different requirements and types of coverage. Always read the product disclosure statement wording very carefully. Look for the general exclusions section, but in the case of the coronavirus or other outbreaks, be sure to read particularly closely any section containing words such as “epidemic” and “pandemic” or anything that mentions a “known event.” Read those parts carefully as they will give you a better understanding of what your travel insurance is intended to cover in a virus outbreak case and therefore what it will or will not do for you.

What is the coronavirus?


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The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new, previously unknown strain of coronavirus, first identified in Wuhan, China, and it is the virus behind the recent outbreak. The highly contagious, pneumonia-like coronavirus comes from the same family of viruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). For the latest information on the coronavirus refer to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. We’d also suggest you subscribe to Global Rescue’s coronavirus daily updates, which include travel restrictions and other related coronavirus information travelers will find helpful.

What should I do if I feel ill?

You should see a doctor immediately if you are experiencing the following symptoms and your travels took you to or through China, or you have been in contact with someone who has: fatigue, headache, difficulty breathing, fever, runny nose, cough or sore throat. A doctor can rule out or confirm any infection. Incubation periods were thought to be 14 days, but some experts are saying they now could be closer to 24.

I haven’t bought travel insurance yet for an upcoming trip. Will I be covered should I get ill or there are other trip interruptions because of coronavirus?

Phil Sylvester, travel safety expert with travel insurance provider World Nomads, wrote in an email to us, “Be aware WHO declared a global health emergency on January 30 which makes this coronavirus outbreak a known event. You cannot purchase travel insurance coverage for a known event – the same way you can’t buy car insurance after you’ve crashed the vehicle. Meaning if you don’t have a policy that pre-dates that WHO announcement there may not be any cover for losses you incur related to the outbreak. Note I said ‘may’, and I urge anyone who has experienced a financial loss to submit a claim and let the insurance company judge the claim on its merits.”

I’ve got a trek booked in Asia, but I am afraid to travel because of the coronavirus. Can I cancel my trip and receive a refund?

If there is no travel restriction to the area you are planning to travel, it is not likely airlines, hotels, cruise ships, travel outfitters, rental car companies or anyone else you may have made travel arrangements with will be willing to offer you a refund simply because you are afraid. And you’re not likely to get much sympathy from a travel insurance company either.

“There has to be a covered reason for cancellation. These reasons are explained in our policy documentation…. World Nomads policies don’t cover ‘change of mind,’” wrote Sylvester. “In the absence of any official government or authority advice to not travel to (a trek in Asia such as Nepal), and with the airlines flying, the hotel open and the tour provider operating, it would seem there’s no covered reason to cancel.”

“Load up with hand sanitizer and face masks. Stay as far away from people sneezing and coughing as possible,” added Sylvester. “…And make sure your new boots are worn-in for your trek.”

If you purchased travel insurance with a “cancel for any reason” option, you may be eligible to receive partial reimbursement from your travel insurance provider but check the fine print. Typically, a “cancel for any reason” travel insurance policy will only reimburse between 50 and 75 percent of the non-refundable trip costs, depending on the policy.

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I am on a cruise ship with others, and we are quarantined. I am not sick but cannot travel. Am I covered by my travel insurance?

Hey, the good news is you are not sick yourself. However, if you are quarantined on board a ship or stranded in a city due to a government lockdown and are not sick yourself, it is unlikely you are covered by travel insurance. However, the best advice is to read the fine print on your travel insurance policy. You may be eligible for travel interruption coverage, but again that depends on your policy.

I was traveling in China and can’t get out of the country. I don’t want to get sick and just need to get home. Will my emergency evacuation coverage help me?

The answer is yes … and no. We spoke with Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue, the company we use ourselves for emergency medical, security, and travel risk coverage when we travel. This is what he said:

“For us to execute a no-cost field rescue for medical reasons,  the member must be 100 or more miles from home, require hospitalization or have an illness or injury that’s likely to cause permanent or serious harm if untreated, and be unable to get themselves to a hospital,” said Richards who added that a non-medical, security evacuation has distinct requirements. “A member must be in a country that has issued a declaration to leave, or the member is in danger of imminent grievous bodily harm with no means of self-evacuation. Additionally, as with this case, COVID-19 (Ed. note: coronavirus) is an infectious disease and treatment of that is regulated by each country. We, like any private organization, have to comply with the rules and laws of the countries we operate in.”

Richards went on to state that Global Rescue has strong relationships with hundreds of countries around the world and works with embassies globally on behalf of its members. But that still doesn’t mean the company can simply fly in and whisk a member out of a country simply because they want to go home, especially a country such as China.

“What we can and will do however, is consult closely with our members who need help. We are doing that right how with members locked down in Wuhan,” added Richards. “We are in daily contact with those members, offering them advice, support and giving them updates and as much information as we can to help them stay healthy and safe.”

Global Rescue is the direct point of contact for all of its members who need assistance, anywhere in the world. Via email, phone or the app, members are able to directly contact the operations center which then works to help in whatever way the team can.

“In this scenario, where we have a member who just wants to get home and is having difficulty managing that on their own, they can contact our operations center, and we will get to work contacting airlines to find them an open seat, book the reservation and help them get home,” said Richards. The company won’t cover the cost as that is not part of the evacuation coverage, but it is a service Global Rescue provides. The company will also help a member work with a travel insurance company to apply for reimbursement if the member has the appropriate coverage.

I traveled through China recently, and now the cruise ship I was supposed to be on will not allow me to board. What should I do? I had ongoing travel plans once disembarking from the cruise. Will travel insurance cover me for hotel and trip cancellations?

“The cessation of services because a region is placed under quarantine (or because of a known event) is not a covered reason that would trigger the cancellation benefit,” says Sylvester.

“You should take this up with your airline, cruise ship and travel providers. The insurance company does not have your money, those providers have it. Given the extraordinary circumstances, they should be making 100-percent refunds. This is a global health emergency, why should they be able to profit by keeping your fares in this crisis? Fortunately, many airlines and cruise providers are making full refunds.”

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