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Compare Travel Insurance Mediaroom Coronavirus and Travel Insurance

coronavirus - travel advice for australians


20 February, 2020 By Eugene Wylde

Am I covered by my Australian travel insurance?

The coronavirus has had an unprecedented impact on global travel and the answer isn't as straightforward as one would think. With the global situation surrounding the novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19 rapidly evolving, how your travel insurance policy responded three weeks ago might not be the same as it responds today. We explore the topic, important dates you need to know,
travel insurance cover and how you may be able to recover your costs.

WHat is the coronavirus?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses causing illnesses ranging from a common cold to more severe illness such as pneumonia and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The novel coronavirus (initially known as 2019-nCoV, now known as SARS-CoV-2) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. The disease caused by the virus has been named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization. According to the Australian Government Department of Health, some people recover easily, while others may get very sick very quickly. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus and maintaining good hygiene can help prevent infection.

There is a lot of information and resources in relation to the coronavirus, which includes a lot of false information which can spread faster than the virus.  We recommend authoritative resources such as the World Health Organization (WHO), which provides advice to countries and individuals on measures to protect health and prevent the spread of this outbreak. They answer frequently asked questions about the coronavirus and bust many of the myths.

More resources for the Australian public, health professionals, and industry are available from the Department of Health.

Coronavirus travel restrictions & disruptions

As one would expect with the rapid spread of a virus that is invisible and unpredictable, the coronavirus is causing public panic and widespread travel concerns. Just weeks after airlines cut flights to China over the coronavirus outbreak, airlines are cutting flights elsewhere and many tours and travel events have been cancelled. 

In particular, for anyone planning to travel across Asia, travel disruptions are likely to be on the cards. Airlines, booking agents, tour operators and travel insurers have all reported that even for countries without restrictions in place, a growing number of anxious customers simply want to avoid the region.

As travel restrictions change rapidly, travellers should be prepared for new restrictions to be put in effect with little or no advance notice. We advise Australians that are travelling to sign up to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Smartraveller website to keep up-to-date with overseas travel information. 

Timeline of Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

The summary below demonstrates just how quickly stringent travel restrictions began to play-out.

  • On 23 January, Wuhan went into lockdown with flights and trains blocked and public transport halted.  DFAT upgraded its warning to 'Do Not Travel' to Wuhan.  The city of Wuhan in central Hubei province has since been quarantined, and nearly half of China is currently living 'under travel restrictions' with travel limitations of varying degrees enforced in provinces and cities across the country.
     
  • On 29 January, the Smartraveller website raised the travel warning level to ‘Reconsider your need to travel’ to mainland China, which was later upgraded to 'Do Not Travel' on 2 February.  Many airlines have temporarily reduced or stopped flights to China. You should contact your airline to confirm your travel arrangements.
     
  • On 31 January, the WHO declares the new coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency of international concern.
     
  • A case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed in Cambodia and body temperature screenings were put in place at international airports.
     
  • On 2 February, the US began implementing stringent travel restrictions that include temporarily denying entry to foreign nationals who visited China in the 14 days prior to their arrival in the US.
     
  • On 5 February, after a two-week trip to Southeast Asia, more than 3,600 passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise began their 14-day quarantine aboard the cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan.
     
  • On 5 February, Vietnam introduced stricter measures to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus. If you’ve travelled to China, including transit, in the last 14 days, you won’t be allowed to enter. Expect health screening at entry points.
     
  • On February 7, Hong Kong introduced additional measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.  From 8 February, a 14-day mandatory quarantine will be imposed on anyone entering Hong Kong from mainland China.
     
  • On February 9, Qantas suspended its two direct services between mainland China and Australia (Sydney-Beijing and Sydney-Shanghai) from 9 February until 29 March 2020, due to the entry restrictions imposed by countries including Singapore and the United States.
     
  • A number of countries around the globe have made changes to the immigration regulations as a result of the coronavirus. Many countries have introduced entry restrictions and health screening measures at border crossings and transport hubs, including countries which have not had cases of COVID-19. If you present symptoms of the novel coronavirus, you will be quarantined.
Further travel restrictions can come into effect at short notice.  We strongly recommend that travellers keep up-to-date on the travel advice for all your travel destinations, including your final one. 

my travel has been disrupted - am I covered?

Upcoming travel dilemma

Travellers who had trips booked for February and March have been stuck in limbo facing the difficult question of whether to travel, postpone or cancel their trips. Partly because their health and safety could be at risk and partly because their pre-paid holiday expenses may not be covered by travel insurance.  Would-be holidaymakers are scrambling to understand their entitlements, with some trying to get refunds, while others are unsure of whether to rebook their travel for later dates. In the end, only you can decide on the risk level and which way to go.

Concerned about catching the coronavirus and want to cancel?

Whilst keeping yourself out of harm's way sounds sensible, it's important to note that 'fear of getting sick' or 'change of mind' are not covered reasons to cancel under a standard travel insurance policy.  You would be in a better position to recover any costs with providers if the cancellations are outside of your control.  For example, if your airline is no longer flying to a particular destination and cancels your flight you're likely to be entitled to a full refund.  If you cancel your flight because you don't want to go, you'll probably be left out-of-pocket.  It's worth contacting individual airlines, hotels and service providers, as some are offering penalty-free options to change bookings and may offer refunds.

I bought my policy months before the outbreak, so I'm covered, right?

Maybe not.  Many policies have general exclusions relating to epidemics, pandemics and outbreaks of infectious disease, which can apply regardless of when you purchased your policy. Some travel insurers have indicated that there is cancellation coverage (for coronavirus) subject to when the outbreak was known, whereas some travel insurers have indicated that there is simply no cover at all.

Learn more about how different travel insurers have reacted, travel insurance exclusions and the relevance of your purchase date.

What if I catch the coronavirus overseas?

At last some good news, on the back of your really bad news.  If you were to contract the coronavirus overseas, most policies will provide access to a 24-hour emergency assistance team and will cover you medically provided you purchased your policy before any published cut-off dates and you were not travelling against government advice.

If you need urgent consular assistance, contact the Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305, text or WhatsApp +61 420 269 080, or use Smartraveller’s crisis contact form.

 

Other ways to recover costs

If your travel plans have been affected by the coronavirus, there are steps that you can take to recover your pre-paid expenses.  In the event that your travel insurance policy does provide cover, you must do all that you can to reduce the cost of your claim, so here's some tips.
 
Many travel service providers are offering penalty-free options for customers to amend their travel arrangements with some offering refunds to those whose travel plans have been affected by the coronavirus.

1. Contact your booking agent

If you booked through a travel agent or a third-party website, you should contact your booking agent directly regarding the best option in cancelling or altering your trip. Some booking agents are waiving cancellation or amendment fees. Certain agents are offering travel credits to be used within 12 months.

2. Contact your airline directly

Most airlines are offering refunds for travel to and from mainland China and many have announced they are waiving usual penalties for rescheduling or cancelling flights for customers who have had to change plans due to the Coronavirus outbreak. When you purchase a flight, an airline is responsible for getting you to your destination. All your usual consumer rights apply when you purchase domestic flights and international flights departing Australia.

3. Contact your accommodation provider directly

In addition to airlines, hotel chains are doing their part to contain the coronavirus outbreak as well as lessen the impact that the outbreak has on travellers.  A growing number of hotel providers have issued statements that they will offer free cancellations on all bookings in China.

4. Speak with your cruise company

With known cases of Coronavirus onboard cruise ships, cruise lines are taking the coronavirus very seriously.  Many are screening passengers for flu-like symptoms or recent exposure to travel in China.  They're implementing their own precautionary measures and their policies on the situation are evolving. Many cruise lines have cancelled or altered scheduled itineraries and have issued statements to the effect that guests on cancelled cruises will receive full refunds.

5. Check your details

Some airlines are proactively contacting customers about flight rearrangements.  Make sure they can get in touch by ensuring your details are up-to-date in the “online account” or “manage booking” area of the airline’s website.

6. Credit card purchase protection

If you booked your travel with your credit card, you might be able to lodge a dispute for cancelled or unfulfilled services. Many credit card brands include purchase protection benefits, which protect your purchased items for anywhere from 30 days to a year after purchase, provided that you paid for them on your credit card.

 
recover my travel costs

Coronavirus Cover FAQs

Does travel insurance cover coronavirus (COVID-19)?

It depends!  Unfortunately, the answer isn't a straightforward one. There are some situations where cover is available, and others where it is an exclusion. It largely depends on which insurer you bought your policy with; when you bought it; where you're travelling to; when you're travelling; and, the reason for your claim. One thing that is for certain - you're unlikely to be covered for claims relating to the coronavirus for future travel if you haven't yet purchased a travel insurance policy as this is a known event.

Am I covered for medical costs if I contract the coronavirus?

Health and safety of customers is always the priority of all travel insurers. Irrespective of your policy wording, if you contract the coronavirus overseas or require urgent medical attention, you should contact the 24-hour emergency assistance team of your travel insurance provider for guidance.  They will undoubtedly assist you within their ability to do so.

It is also advisable to register your details with Smarttraveller and contact them in the event of an overseas emergency. If you need urgent consular assistance, contact the Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305, text or WhatsApp +61 420 269 080, or use Smartraveller’s crisis contact form.

What does a general pandemic or epidemic exclusion mean?

Most travel insurance policies have an exclusion which restricts what you can claim in relation to the threat of infectious disease, epidemics or pandemics. This means, even if you bought your policy before any travel warnings or cut-off dates were published by your insurance company, you might not be covered. See how different Australian travel insurers policies respond.

Which countries consider coronavirus an epidemic?

On 31 January 2020, (30 January in the Northern Hemisphere), the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.  From a travel insurance perspective, this means that the coronavirus is likely to be considered an epidemic or that there is at least a likely threat of an epidemic.  

Should I cancel my cruise?

Most cruise liners and cruise itineraries outside North Asia are operating as normal. If you're concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on your cruise plans, you should speak directly with your travel agent or cruise company.  It's important to remember that travel insurance doesn't cover 'fear of travel' or 'change of mind'.  For policies that don't have a general exclusion in relation to epidemics, you're unlikely to be covered if you simply cancel your cruise. See also the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) Australasia's policies to prevent the spread of the virus, which all CLIA ocean member cruise lines are required to implement.

You can also hear what our Director, Natalie Ball had to say when she spoke with Cruisepassenger magazine.

Do I need a medical clearance certificate to travel?

Some governments have begun to put precautionary measures in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  For example, the Government of Samoa has introduced new entry requirements for travel to Samoa as a result of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). If you're travelling to Samoa from Australia, you'll need a medical certificate issued within 3 days of entering the country.  Please refer to https://www.health.gov.ws/ to ensure that you meet the requirements indicated to avoid unnecessary delays to your travel. 

For all other COVID-19 entry requirements check with the Government of the countries you're entering.  Entry and exit requirements can change at short notice.

If you have a medical condition that requires special medication or attention during travel, you may need to provide your airline with a medical certificate and should consult with your doctor.


Contributor Eugene Wylde

Eugene Wylde

Eugene is the king of insurance! Having spent more than ten years raising awareness on the importance of holiday protection, he is a self-confessed insurance geek extraordinaire when it comes to the world of travel cover. Eugene loves helping people save time, worry and loads of money with the right policy at the right price. His ideal holiday is any one where he has a pina colada in his hand. Salut!


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