Everyone is talking about Coronavirus. Everyone is reading about it. And most of us are at least a little worried about it – especially those of us with plans to travel in the near future.
As of 9am on 10 February 2020, more than 30,000 cases have been confirmed globally – including another 60 passengers on a quarantined cruise ship – and deaths have already exceeded those caused by SARS.
Analysing the level of risk and chances of contracting the virus is still very complicated, and we’re sure you’re reading a lot of that already, so we’re going to focus on our area of expertise: how it affects travel insurance. That has been a very popular search on Google over the past few weeks, and understandably so.
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
I have a holiday booked in China, what do I do?
Now that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has issued advice against all travel to Hubei Province and against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China, you really shouldn’t go.
Many airlines have cancelled their flights to and from China anyway. New flights to and from China can’t be booked right now, and this will probably be the case for at least another few weeks.
If you go to China despite the FCO’s advice, most travel insurance policies will become invalid – and that applies to the entire policy, not only if you fall ill with Coronavirus.
Can I get a refund?
If you booked a holiday in China through a travel agent or tour operator, they should provide you with a refund or a suitable alternative.
If you booked yourself, you must contact the airline and hotel. Many airlines are providing refunds or alternative flights as this is required by law under the EU Passenger Travel Directive for bookings made within the EU.
Hotels will make their own decisions though and are not subject to this law. If you paid with a credit card you may be able to get money back from the credit card company.
Is cancellation covered by my travel insurance?
When it comes to travel insurance, every policy is different so read the terms and conditions in your policy wording.
The insurer of Onestop4 policies (our sister company) will consider claims for cancellation if the FCO advice advises against all travel or all but essential travel, 48 hours before travellers are due to depart. So for now, this applies to China only.
If advice against travel is issued for any other affected destination, e.g. Hong Kong, the 48 hours would apply to that specific destination. For now, Hong Kong trips should proceed as normal and any cancellations or changes would be for the traveller’s own expense.
However, we would advise anyone intending to travel to Hong Kong to be very aware of what their tour operator is saying, because travel into Hong Kong from China is now restricted and the Hong Kong authorities are saying anyone entering from China should have 14 days self-imposed isolation. We are also aware that some cruises originally due to travel to Hong Kong have changed their itineraries or cancelled completely, and have heard of some people being offered refunds.
Cancellation on a policy cannot be covered for any destinations for which the FCO has not advised against all travel / all but essential travel. Unless there is specific advice against travel, not wanting to go is not covered as a valid reason for cancellation by any policy.
Safe Journey’s cover for cancellation due to “disinclination to travel” is one of the only instances of this in the UK and it is very specific, relating only to acts of terrorism within a 40-mile radius of your destination, up to 6 weeks before you depart.
What if my cruise itinerary changes?
Necessary changes to cruise itineraries due to various factors are included in cruise terms and conditions. Skipping a call at Shanghai, for example, is similar to skipping the Bahamas during a hurricane and re-routing to a safer port. Unless the entire cruise is cancelled, there is unlikely to be a refund and this doesn’t qualify for an insurance claim as it will be covered by the cruise company’s booking Ts+Cs.
Many cruise lines will now be re-routing to avoid Chinese ports. Some may even cancel entire cruises and/or offer alternate dates or itineraries, but this depends on the itinerary and the cruise line’s policies.
Is it safe to travel to other destinations?
With the virus spreading and often only detectable a few days after the carrier becomes infectious, there is a greater health risk than usual. Whether it makes cancellation necessary is something each person has to decide for themselves.
A few details to consider:
- Current numbers show a death rate of around 3%, but those worst affected are babies, the elderly, and those who already have other health issues.
- Governments in affected countries are taking serious steps to prevent further spread, including stopping transport to and from China.
- Many have also banned travellers who have visited China in the past two weeks from entering, and/or have implemented quarantine periods for their own citizens returning from China – see our travel safety round-up for details.
- Many other countries are conducting health checks at ports, stations and airports to identify potential carriers.
- Coronavirus is spread by inhaling air containing the virus (if someone coughs right next to you) or by touching surfaces that are contaminated. This usually happens when someone coughs/sneezes into the palm of their hand and then touches a hand-rail, table, etc.
There are precautions we can take to avoid contracting Coronavirus as well as many other illnesses – from the flu to Norovirus.
- Carry hand sanitizer and use it regularly, but don’t substitute it for hand washing.
- Wash your hands thoroughly (the CDC recommends 13 – 20 seconds) with soap and warm water.
- Washing your hands is especially important before eating or drinking, but viruses can also be spread simply by touching your eyes, nose or mouth without washing your hands first.
- Use a tissue/cloth when you touch doors, handles and handrails at events, in public spaces, in a car and on public transport.
- Don’t visit someone who is ill – you can deliver food or medicine but don’t stick around to chat.
- Call 111 or your GP if you have been travelling and feel ill. Don’t go to your doctor or A&E without calling first, as you may infect other people.
- Don’t wait for symptoms to get worse – seek medical advice immediately if you don’t feel well.
Hopefully the measures currently being taken will halt the spread of the virus before it becomes more of a danger. Now more than ever, keep a close watch on news relating to your travel route and destinations, and on the relevant FCO pages so you know if anything happens to affect your plans. We wish you safe and healthy travels.
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