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Does travel insurance cover coronavirus? All you need to know about travelling during a viral disease outbreak

The deadly coronavirus is continuing to spread across mainland China and the world. As the Australian Government upgrades its travel advice to ‘do not travel’, many will be feeling anxious about upcoming trips or making new travel plans. This isn’t the first time the world has been shocked by an outbreak like this, but you might be wondering if you’re covered by your travel insurance policy. Our General Insurance team gives you a rundown on how to protect yourself when travelling abroad.

So, you finally pulled the trigger and locked in that dream holiday or next business trip. We’re sure the least of your concerns was the likelihood of a global health crisis. But you open up Facebook one not-so-eventful morning,  bleary-eyed and are suddenly wide awake when you read of the coronavirus. 

The pandemic has thrown the world into a frenzy, halted tens of thousands of flights worldwide and has been responsible for 811 deaths (and counting). Now you’re thinking, “Surely my travel insurance covers me for this?” 

Well, in reality, it all depends on when you signed on the dotted line.

Already booked your travel?

The general consensus is that the coronavirus will be covered by travel insurance providers as long as the insurance policy was purchased prior to the government’s ‘no non-essential travel’ or ‘do not travel’ advisory. That’s good news because I don’t know about you but spending two weeks in a makeshift quarantine facility on Christmas Island, or locked in a windowless cruise ship cabin is certainly not what you imagine when you’re daydreaming at the office on a Monday afternoon.   

Whether or not insurance will cover a viral outbreak is less about the coronavirus itself being covered, as much as it is the conditions surrounding when a person is travelling - in this case, flying to a country for which DFAT has issued a travel advisory. It is very rare that a country is attributed with a do not travel warning, so it’s paramount that one is aware of why such advice has been handed down by authorities across the globe. 

While this outbreak of coronavirus continues to cause angst amongst travellers, it is reassuring that policies and procedures are in place to protect and limit the human-to-human spread of the virus. The disease will cause widespread loss so it’s no surprise many would be considering what options they have with regard to travel arrangements. 

However, if you bought your insurance before this outbreak happened, before the advisory, and you get sick, then your insurance company should come to the table, typically meeting the cost of treatment and potentially flying you back home. Phew, that’s a relief. 

Not letting this crisis alter your planning?

If you’re buying travel insurance right now, most policies won’t provide cover for travel to China because there’s an advisory in place.

Essentially, travel insurance is designed to protect you from unexpected or unanticipated illness, delays, and a wide array of other coverage depending on your provider and policy. If there’s a travel advisory in place, sickness or delays are no longer going to be something that’s classified as “unexpected”. Anybody travelling once a travel advisory is in place is making an informed choice to travel to a region in which they could get sick, and bears any costs arising from that decision themselves.

Coronavirus aside, travel insurance remains an essential purchase for any traveller, with hospital and ambulance bills, medication and flights resulting from an accident or illness potentially amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars in some countries. Daunting  to consider - a one-day stay in a US hospital can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.  

So, it’s all about timing. 

As soon as you book your next work trip or holiday, get in early and pay a little bit of money to purchase a suitable travel insurance policy. Alternatively, research taking out an annual policy for business or frequent travellers to safeguard yourself from the potentially crippling cost of a travel emergency. A small investment can go a long way in curbing the stress of an unforeseen situation, made worse when you’re hundreds of kilometres away from home and the standard of care is not what you’re accustomed to. 

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