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Your Coronavirus Travel Insurance Questions Answered

The Coronavirus has had an unprecedented impact on global travel, and navigating insurance policies isn't always straightforward. 10 daily enlisted the help of three experts to help wade through the fine print.

Travel insurance policies usually cover four main things:  trip cancellation, trip interruption, medical evacuation, and emergency medical costs.

However, feeling nervous or uncertain about a possible pandemic like COVID-19 and spiking a trip isn't something you can be reimbursed for.

"Unfortunately if you're just scared or worried about the situation, I probably don't have a lot of good news for people," Canstar's Editor-at-Large Effie Zahos told 10 daily.

Speaking to experts from the Insurance Council Of Australia plus financial comparison websites Canstar and Finder, we found out how to get covered.

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Will I be covered if I get coronavirus on holidays or while travelling?

“Travel insurance will typically cover you if you get sick before a trip but not for cancellations due to a change of mind," Sophie Walsh, insurance specialist at Finder told 10 daily.

"If you contract Coronavirus while on a trip, some insurers will cover medical costs -- depending on whether you were aware of the infectious outbreak before booking.

Airport receptionists wait for travelers at Don Mueang Airport, Thailand on February 28. Image: Adisorn Chabsungnoen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

If travel warnings are updated for the country you're visiting then you may be able to claim, but it will depend on when you took out your travel insurance policy -- whether it was before or after Coronavirus became a known event" Walsh said.

The cut-off date for Coronavirus becoming a 'known event' is around January 23 this year, however each insurer has a different cut-off date.

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Are pandemics still covered by insurance companies?

Many insurance companies include epidemics, pandemics and disease as an exclusion in policy -- meaning that claims arising from these categories wouldn't be covered.

“Pandemic is a fairly standard exclusion in most travel insurance policies,” Lisa Kable from Insurance Council of Australia said.

Given what happened in 2009 with the swine flu, and in 2014 with the Ebola virus, insurance companies may put a blanket ban on claims relating to virus outbreaks, but this has not yet happened with Coronavirus.

People wear protective face masks at El Alto-La Paz international airport in Bolivia on February 28. Image: AIZAR RALDES/AFP via Getty

Again, the date you bought your travel insurance also plays a role.

"This means that, even if you bought your policy before your insurance company's cut-off date, you might not be fully covered but it really is a case-by-case basis depending on your policy and your insurer," she said.

Finder recently analysed the product disclosure statements of 32 leading travel insurers in Australia.

  • 14 companies exclude cover if a claim is related to an epidemic, a pandemic or even just the threat of an epidemic or pandemic
  • 10 of the policies include some cover for claims related to epidemics and pandemics
  • 8 didn't directly explain how they would treat the situation.

What if my insurer's policy changes?

“As the situation is changing on a daily basis, regardless of where you’re travelling internationally, get in touch with your insurer before you book to find out what your options will be if your trip is disrupted,” Walsh said.

Walsh suggests that if you have not yet booked your overseas holiday, it is best to choose flexible options.

A tourist wearing a protective face mask poses in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in the centre of Milan on February 28. Image: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty

For Zahos, it's important to keep a record of your agreement as insurance companies are likely to shift their criteria.

"Record it, copy what you were told and what is on their website as things may change and you will want documentary evidence of what you were told or signed up to at the time, " Zahos said.

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Is there a standout, or winner, in current insurance policy offers?

Canstar has also analysed different insurance offerings, but couldn't pick a clear

"They all have their pros and cons. Ideally it would be great to get the best of all policies and put them together, but I would be hesitant to suggest one was 'the best,'" Zahos said.

Canstar analysts found that CoverMore -- which provides travel insurance on behalf of NRMA, SGIO and SGIC -- wouldn't fully cover all claims caused by an epidemic, pandemic or outbreak of infectious disease.

However, Budget Direct’s policy document doesn't specifically mention any exclusion, instead stating it would cover the costs of travel cancellation if customers were unable to travel because of epidemic travel restrictions. Budget Direct has since stipulated this only applies to policies bought before January 20.

A display at Hamburg Airport in Germany on February 28 refers to behaviour patterns in relation to Coronavirus. Image: Bodo Marks/picture alliance via Getty

When it comes to CGU and HBF’s travel insurance policies, both don't offer cover for pandemics, epidemics or other infectious disease outbreaks if a customers books travel and an alert or warning had been distributed regarding outbreaks or even possible outbreaks.

The Canstar deep dive also found AAMI and Southern Cross Travel Insurance will only process claims, costs, losses or damages if customers bought a policy without being informed of or aware of the Coronavirus outbreak.

What does 'Cancel For Any Reason' insurance mean?

If you want an (almost) silver bullet insurance policy, you'll need to pay more to get one.

"There is a product called Cancel For Any Reason. It’s an add-on to a core travel insurance product, but it gives people thinking about travelling and booking some peace of mind should this Coronavirus epidemic expand, and it gives them peace of mind for cancellation,” Kable said.

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She said for a two-week trip to Bali for two adults and two children, it costs as little as an additional $10.

But Zahos says there are still some conditions there -- despite the name 'any reason' suggesting otherwise.

In most cases, you'll need to buy the insurance within 48 hours of booking your travel and if you need to cancel you can get around flights or accommodation 75 per cent of the cost of the trip refunded.

Should I just avoid overseas and travel in Australia?

Walsh says more Aussies may be looking to stay on home soil amid health concerns, or driven by a desire to support the local economy by visiting towns impacted by bushfire.

“The Coronavirus coupled with the recent bushfire crisis are both major factors that could reinvigorate domestic tourism. It’s likely we will see more Australians holidaying at home over the next 12 months -- from camping trips to interstate travel."

But it doesn't mean domestic travel is hassle-free.

The Norwegian Jewel cruise ship sits in SydneyHarbour in lock-down whilst health authorities test a man for coronavirus on February 14. Image: James D. Morgan/Getty

“Keep in mind it’s not just international travel that’s been impacted by Coronavirus, with some domestic flights -- most recently Tigerair -- impacted. So, as above, choose flexible options where possible,” she said.

Where do I find the latest information?

"This is changing on a daily basis and there is so much to insurance policies that may be written in a way not easy to follow ... contact the insurance [company] and ask lots of questions and what ifs," Zahos said

For international travel updates, visit Smart Traveller.

Coronavirus Myth Busting

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au