***Updated 27th March 2020
There are now 549,359 coronavirus cases worldwide and although the death toll has passed 24,872, it is likely to increase, as the virus has now spread to more than 47 countries including Greece, Italy, France and Switzerland. Around 11,658 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK, and more than 578 people have died.
In more recent news, the UK government is actively encouraging its citizens to stay at home whilst encouraging businesses to work remotely. Travel restrictions have been put in place across the country with only NHS and key workers permitted to leave their homes.
Airlines including British Airways and Ryanair have suspended a majority of their flights as international borders tighten restrictions.
According to the BBC, the 2020 Olympics due to take place in Tokyo has now been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Glastonbury music festival and Eurovision have also been cancelled. England’s Six Nations games against Italy, which were due to take place on 14th and 15th March 2020, have also been postponed. Other major sporting events, such as the France v Ireland Six Nations rugby game and Dublin’s annual St Patrick’s Day, were respectively postponed and cancelled.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’, and have also announced the outbreak is now a pandemic. The latest advice, according to the BBC is: ‘People will be asked to self-isolate for seven days after showing mild symptoms.’ Those who are living with someone who is displaying symptoms of the virus are being advised to isolate at home for 14 days. The 14-day isolation rule has been extended to people over the age of 70 as well as those who have a long-term condition or for those who are pregnant.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) released a warning on 23rd March 2020, advising ‘all British travellers to return to the UK now.’ The directive comes as major airlines suspend flights and travel back home becomes increasingly difficult.
The FCO also advised ‘British people against all non-essential travel worldwide.’ The ban has been put in place for at least 30-days from 17th March 2020. Several countries including the US, EU as well as countries in Asia are restricting travel as the coronavirus becomes a global issue. International borders have also closed in an attempt to contain the virus. More information about travel restrictions can be found on the FCO’s website.
Can I buy a travel insurance policy to protect my trip against coronavirus?
As long as your travel insurance policy offers cover if the FCO changes its advice, your trip will be protected – providing you purchased the policy before the change was announced. If you are booking a trip now, you should purchase a travel insurance policy with this cover immediately – if you purchase your policy after the FCO changes its advice, you will not be covered.
If the FCO advice changes due to coronavirus, what am I entitled to?
If you booked a package holiday, you should contact your travel agent or tour operator who will either offer to reimburse the cost of any pre-paid expenses or offer alternative travel dates or destinations. Terms and conditions will differ between companies, so those due to travel soon should speak directly to the company they booked with.
Some airlines may offer to rebook, reroute, or refund passengers; however, they are not obligated to provide compensation for cancellations due to the FCO advising against travel. This is due to coronavirus being considered an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ (something which is outside of the airline’s control).
If passengers are unable to recuperate costs from their tour operator or airline, they will need to speak to their travel insurance provider. It is worth noting, however, that not all policies will include cover for cancellation if the FCO advises against travel to a specific region. If passengers chose to travel against the advice of the FCO, it is likely it will void their policy.
Travel insurance policies that do offer cancellation cover if the FCO advises against travel, will need to have been purchased before the announcement was made.
My flight has been cancelled because of the coronavirus, what should I do?
If the airline has suspended flights, those who have not booked through a tour operator or travel agent should contact their airline who will refund the cost of any unused tickets, or rebook the flight for a later date.
Those who have accommodation bookings that they are no longer able to use due to the cancellations will need to speak to their hotel directly. Most hotel and accommodation providers have strict cancellation policies but may offer to reimburse costs as a gesture of goodwill due to the circumstances. It is worth noting, that this is not guaranteed and will vary between accommodation providers.
Those who are unable to recuperate costs are advised to check the cover available under their travel insurance policy. If their flight back to the UK has been cancelled, and passengers are stranded abroad, then some travel insurance policies will contribute towards the cost of food and additional accommodation, some may also include cover for the additional costs of getting home. The cover available will differ between insurers, so it is best to speak to them directly.
Will my travel insurance cover cancellation due to coronavirus?
Cancellation clauses between travel insurance companies will differ greatly. Generally speaking, cancelling due to the fear of an epidemic, pandemic, infection, or allergic reaction will not be covered.
As mentioned above, some travel insurance companies will offer to cover for cancellation if the FCO advises against travel.
Those who can change their travel dates or destination should speak to their travel insurance company, who may offer to amend the policy to suit their new trip, free of charge. In some cases, an administration fee will apply. Similarly, those who have been able to recuperate costs elsewhere and no longer need their travel insurance policy may be entitled to receive a pro-rata refund.
If I catch the coronavirus abroad, will my travel insurance cover medical expenses?
Generally speaking, those who contract the coronavirus abroad will be covered for medical expenses under their travel insurance policy. In the event where medical repatriation is necessary, travellers will need to obtain a fit to fly certificate from the treating doctor and keep in contact with their travel insurer.
If I am quarantined abroad, what cover am I entitled to?
Those who are confined to their accommodation due to the coronavirus may be entitled to claim a small contribution from their travel insurance company for food and the cost of returning home. This will differ between policies, so travellers will need to check their policy wording carefully.
Am I covered if my connecting flight stops over in a country affected by coronavirus?
Travellers who are due to catch a connecting flight will need to speak to their airline directly to amend their route.
Travellers passing through airports in affected areas should ensure they are following the advice of airport staff and take personal hygiene incredibly seriously.
Which airlines are restricting travel?
Qantas has cancelled several flights to and from Italy after releasing a statement on its website, saying:
‘The wellbeing of our customers is, and always has been our highest priority. We continue to monitor the Coronavirus situation closely and review our flights based on the advice of the World Health Organisation, Centre for Disease Control and Australia’s Chief Medical Officer. If there are any changes to your flight, you’ll be contacted directly to discuss your options.’
Meanwhile, British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair are amongst those airlines who are also cancelling flights to parts of Italy following the FCO’s advice of ‘all but essential travel’ to the country. British Airways announced:
“We recognise the increased uncertainty in some areas in Northern Italy may be causing our customers and have therefore introduced flexible rebooking options for customers booked to travel to/from some Northern Italian airports.
Customers booked to travel between London and the Northern Italian destinations including, Milan (Linate and Malpensa), Turin, Bologna, Venice, Bergamo and Verona up to 2 March 2020, can rebook to a later travel date up to 31 March 2020.”
The airline has also temporarily suspended all flights until the 17th April 2020 to and from Beijing and Shanghai; flights to Hong Kong, however, remain unaffected. It is not yet known when other airlines will be resuming flights to the affected regions.
Who else has been affected?
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now advising against all but essential international travel for British nationals. Holidaymakers currently abroad should contact their airline and tour operators to arrange a flight back home as soon as possible.
On 14th March 2020, Spain declared a State of Emergency and began advising British holidaymakers who were in Spain at the time that, should they wish to do so, they should arrange plans to leave immediately.
As countries begin shutting down borders for international travel, California has issued a ‘stay at home’ directive which only allows people to leave their homes for a limited number of reasons including, buying shopping, medication or walking a pet. Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand are banning foreign travellers from entering the countries. Border restrictions have been imposed in Canada, the US as well as the EU.
Countries in Asia including China are asking those who have visited foreign countries with high reports of the outbreak to quarantine for a period of 14-days in the event they wish to visit certain areas. Meanwhile, Hong Kong requires any new arrivals to don an electronic tag that will track their movements.
In India, visas have been suspended for all foreign nationals until April in the very least, whilst Japan is no longer allowing foreign travellers entry to the country if they have frequented Iran, South Korea or Italy within the previous 14 days.