Can you still get cover in the age of coronavirus?

Getty/iStock
Getty/iStock

As holidays and business travel abroad resume, many people are concerned about the risks posed by coronavirus – and the problems they may face getting adequate insurance.

These are the key questions and answers.

I booked my August holiday to Greece last January and took out insurance at the time. Will it still cover me for coronavirus?

It depends on the precise details of your cover. Some policies may have a general exclusion for claims triggered by pandemics. But otherwise you can expect to be covered for claims related to coronavirus.

There are two main areas of claims.

The first is for recompense of funds lost because of cancellations. A typical example: suppose Greece were to continue its ban on UK flights beyond 15 July (which, by the way, I don’t expect). If you have booked a DIY holiday, you would automatically be entitled to a full refund from the airline.

But if you had booked a non-refundable apartment separately, that money could be irrecoverable from the property owner. If all your efforts to get your money back fail, your insurance may cover you.

The other aspect: medical treatment and other expenses should you become symptomatic and test positive for Covid-19 while away. Again, your pre-coronavirus insurance should cover you.

I want to book a holiday to Spain in September, but I am worried that no insurer will cover me for coronavirus. Are there any policies I can buy?

Yes – but you need to seek them out, and they may be more expensive than you would like.

Almost all policies taken out since the coronavirus pandemic are likely to have Covid exclusions, as it is a known risk at the time the policy was taken out.

One of the leading travel insurers, Columbus Direct, says: “We are no longer able to offer cover for claims arising from, or related to, coronavirus.”

You should assume that any standard travel insurance policy will have the same condition.

But there is clearly a business opportunity for people who feel they need travel insurance for coronavirus.

The first essential is to decide whether you need it for medical treatment only – which is likely to be the most significant risk – or you want cancellation cover as well.

Trailfinders includes both in its standard policy: “Up to £5,000 cover for cancellation and curtailment, including claims arising from Covid-19.

“Up to £10m cover for medical expenses and repatriation, including claims arising from Covid-19.”

They are by no means the cheapest policies available; a week in Europe for one adult aged 40 is £27, while an annual policy is £155.

Children can be included on the policy free of additional charge. Cover for cancellation due to redundancy is also included, which in difficult economic times may be useful.

Staysure has a policy for medical cover only. The firm stresses: “The only cover your new policy will give you for coronavirus, is emergency medical expenses and repatriation if you catch the virus during your insured trip.

“This means if you develop Covid-19 while on holiday and need help, you’ll be covered as long as you have declared your pre-existing conditions.

“For all other events that might be caused by coronavirus, including cancellations, you wouldn’t be covered to make a claim.

“With up to unlimited medical expenses and repatriation, when it’s safe to travel, you can go with peace of mind.”

A basic policy costs just £9 for Europe, and just £27 for annual cover – though Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Spain, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia are excluded from the latter.

Would that price apply to someone with pre-existing medical conditions, or an older traveller?

No, the premiums are likely to be 10 or 20 times higher. But at least they are becoming available.

Besides Staysure, Insurancewith has announced that it will cover “any medical expenses for those with pre-existing health conditions, should they fall ill with the coronavirus while on holiday”. Again, cancellation costs are excluded.

Is travel insurance compulsory?

Usually, no. Only for a few countries that insist on evidence of cover; search online for “Foreign Office” and the name of the nation you’re visiting to see UK government advice about whether it is a requirement for your destination.

The Foreign Office says: “Wherever you’re travelling, getting the right travel insurance is one of the most important things to do before you go. It could save you and your family a lot of money and difficulty if things go wrong before or during your trip.”

Abta, the travel association, goes one stage further: “Taking out travel insurance is crucial when you book your holiday, whether it’s a domestic break or overseas.”

But I contend that you might, after careful thought, rationally decide not to insure if you are travelling within Europe.

The main purpose of travel insurance is to provide medical treatment if you fall ill abroad. Until the end of 2020, British travellers are covered by the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) scheme, offering treatment in public hospitals on the same basis as local citizens.

You may already have cover for valuables through your household insurance policy, or indeed not be carrying anything that you can’t afford to replace. And you may be prepared to accept the risk that, for example, you abandon the trip before it starts because of illness.

Of course insurance is invalidated anyway if you behave stupidly: it does not cover reckless activities such as renting scooters after a liquid lunch.

I have had the same annual policy for years. Will I still be covered if I renew?

Probably not. In the early stages of the coronavirus crisis, some companies were saying that they were allowing loyal customers to renew on the same terms. But as the pandemic worsened and claims rocketed, that idea was largely dropped.

Columbus said: “Regrettably, we have had to take the decision to no longer provide cover in respect of the coronavirus for any new policies purchased after 13 March 2020.

“This will impact existing policies that will be renewed after this time.”

But we’re still not allowed to leave the country…

The Foreign Office has warned against all non-essential travel abroad since 17 March. That has the effect of voiding almost all travel insurance policies anyway, except those issued (at a high premium) by specialists such as Campbell Irvine and High Risk Voyager.

Once government advice is relaxed, then your travel policy will operate as normal, as long as it is deemed safe to travel to the country concerned.

If you have travelled out against Foreign Office advice your insurance should revive once the warning lifts.

What about quarantine rules?

Some countries are imposing a requirement for new arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days. If your intended destination is one of them, and you don’t want to travel because you will need to quarantine, then – if there is no Covid exclusion – insurers would most likely be sympathetic and may pay a cancellation claim if you are getting no value from the holiday (such as the prospect of a one- or two-week trip fully in quarantine).

That assumes that there is nowhere else you can claim from. But anyone who has booked a package holiday from the UK to any destination with mandatory quarantine can cancel on the grounds that the holiday as promised cannot be delivered.

They are entitled to a full refund under the Package Travel Regulations, which state: “In the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the place of destination … the traveller may terminate the package travel contract before the start of the package without paying any termination fee.”

If you have to quarantine when you return to the UK, and are not prepared to do so, insurers are likely see this as “disinclination to travel” – unless there was a very good reason such as you were going to lose your job because you couldn’t work from home.

I really don’t want to go abroad, even if the government says I can. What are my rights to claim from insurance?

None. Most policies have specific reasons for cancellation, and “fear of an epidemic, pandemic or infection” is not one of them. But you should certainly talk to your travel company and see if they will allow you to postpone; many, particularly package holiday firms, are prepared to be flexible.

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