Worried about coronavirus? Your travel insurance questions answered [Updated]

Posted: 3 February 2020 2:38 pm
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warningWarning: Most travel insurance companies will not cover any coronavirus related claim if you buy a policy today. Coronavirus has been a known event since January 2020. You can still buy travel insurance for it's other benefits. For more details on how coronavirus might affect your trip, contact your insurer directly and monitor the developing situation on Smartraveller.

Here's how travel insurers are responding to the epidemic.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared a global emergency on 30 January, pointing to the international spread of the coronavirus as a major concern.

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Since then, the Australian government has ramped up its containment efforts by blocking arrivals from China, as health experts warn the epidemic could soon reach pandemic proportions.

With this in mind, many Australians are asking questions about how their travel insurance will support them if they're suddenly out of pocket or in harm's way due to the epidemic.

Unfortunately, the answer isn't exactly straightforward.

The situation is evolving rapidly, so how your insurance company responds this week might not be the same way it responds next month. The best way to find out how your policy can help is to call your insurance company directly and keep an eye on Smartraveller.

Can I get my money back with travel insurance if I cancel my trip?

It depends on a few things, including where you're travelling, when you bought your travel insurance and what kind of policy you opted for.

If you're travelling to China

The Australian government has issued the highest level of travel alert for China, urging citizens not to visit the country. As a result, you might be able to get a refund from your insurance company if you cancel your trip. However, this will depend on when you bought your policy as well as your insurer's cut-off date.

Contact your travel insurer directly to find out when the coronavirus was recognised as a known event and whether you'll be able to claim on your policy.

If you're not travelling to China

Unless you have CFAR travel insurance, which gives you the ability to cancel for any reason, it's unlikely your insurance company will offer a refund if you cancel your plans solely out of fear.

Usually, a level-four travel alert, the one currently in place for China, must have been issued by the government before your insurance company will consider paying out for change of mind.

However, if you've decided you'd prefer to stay close to home during the outbreak, it's worth contacting individual airlines, hotels and service providers, as they may offer refunds.

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What do I do if my flights have been cancelled or delayed?

A number of major airlines have suspended flights to mainland China, including Qantas, British Airways and Jetstar Asia. However, airlines are also offering refunds or free rescheduling services to affected customers, so you shouldn't be out of pocket for the cost of your ticket.

Australia has also banned non-citizens and non-residents from entering Australia on flights that have either come directly from China or have passed through the country on a connecting flight – your travel insurance might cover these costs depending on when you bought your policy.

Again, it's worth communicating directly with your airline to see what help is on offer. Alternatively, if you bought your ticket with a credit card, you might be able to lodge a dispute for cancelled or unfulfilled services.

Will travel insurance cover me for coronavirus outside of China?

If you bought travel insurance before your insurer recognised the coronavirus as a known event, you'll probably be covered for any medical expenses incurred while you're on holiday. However, if you buy travel insurance after your insurer's cut-off date, you might not be covered.

Again, insurance companies have different cut-off dates in relation to the coronavirus, so it's worth contacting your insurer directly to find out exactly how your policy would help you.

Can I still travel to China?

Technically, yes. If you desperately need to travel to China, you can go. However, it's highly unlikely you'll be able to secure travel insurance from any general providers to cover you while you're away. If you already have travel insurance from a general provider, it will be void because of the level-four travel alert. If you decide to go, just keep in mind that it's at your own risk.

What are epidemic and pandemic exclusions in travel insurance?

Often, general travel insurance policies have an exclusion which restricts what you can claim in relation to epidemics or pandemics. This means that, even if you bought your policy before your insurance company's cut-off date, you might not be covered in the way you think you are.

If your insurance company has an exclusion, you'll be able to find it in the product disclosure statement (PDS). Alternatively, you can call your insurer directly to find out exactly how you're covered. In situations like this, insurers usually assess on a case-by-case basis, so it's always worth communicating with them directly.

This article was updated after its original publication to include additional information on the response from travel insurers and the Chinese government.

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