The novel coronavirus outbreak and insurance

As the World Health Organisation declares the novel coronavirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and the Australian Government has taken radical measures to offset the risk of the virus spreading, many Australian travellers across China are in limbo.

Based on updated health advice from the Commonwealth’s Chief Medical Officer and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and the increased risk posed by the spread of the virus, the Federal Government has introduced strict new travel restrictions and new travel advice. Prime Minister Morrison has announced that any foreign travelers who have passed through or left from mainland China will be denied entry to Australia to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

Morrison has assured that Australian citizens, permanent residents along with their as will their immediate family members (spouses, legal guardians or dependants only), are exempt from these unprecedented measures and that this step is temporary and  will be reviewed in 14 days. This exemption will also be extended to airline crews who have been using appropriate personal protective equipment.

Any foreign nationals who do arrive in Australia notwithstanding the prohibition, and who choose not to immediately return to their port of origin, will be subject to mandatory quarantine.

The Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) has cautioned that broad exclusions normally apply for pandemics and epidemics. Tim Grafton, Chief Executive of ICNZ said, “Global pandemics are generally not insurable and haven’t been for a long time. This is because insurers can’t measure or understand what potential losses could eventuate from an outbreak of an infectious disease like this.”

As the situation continues to evolve DFAT has raised the travel advice to Australians for all of mainland China to Level Four – “Do not travel.”.

ICNZ also cautioned that effects of the outbreak may also be felt by the business community. “Unfortunately, the same exclusions would apply which means there would likely be no cover for loss or damage to property, or interruption or interference to the insured business as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.”

While the situation continues to evolve, insurers are stepping up to advise and protect their customers. Peter Klemt CEO TravelCard Real-Time™ Travel Insurance said, “During times of pandemic many travel insurance policies may not cover the costs where the cause is related to the pandemic. It is important that people travelling to China or Hong Kong, and indeed anywhere, understand that if their holiday changes due to the coronavirus, their policy may not cover their changes.”

Klemt added, “At TravelCard we have made the decision to provide support to our customers by extending our leisure travel policy beyond its usual parameters. Given the seriousness of the emerging situation we will also support TravelCard customers in China and Hong Kong returning to Australia by covering their reasonable costs of changing their return flights if they want to return home in the next seventy-two (72) hours. The situation remains volatile, airlines are suspending or reducing flights and we want our customers to be safe.”