With more to 31,000 cases and more than 630 deaths worldwide resulting from the Wuhan Coronavirus, countries around the world are not just limiting travel into and out of Wuhan but also mainland China.
Here in Singapore, as of 6 Feb 2020, we have a total of 30 confirmed cases of people with the coronavirus.
Singapore citizens have been advised to wash our hands frequently and maintain good personal hygiene. We have also been advised to be socially responsible by wearing a mask, especially when you are not feeling well. Masks contain filters that prevent germs from being spread. The Government is even providing every Singapore household a pack of 4 masks from 1 Feb to 9 Feb 2020
In light of the developing Coronavirus outbreak in China, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has issued a travel advisory for Singaporeans to defer all travel to Hubei Province and all non-essential travel to Mainland China. Companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Apple have also restricted all non-essential travel to China.
To guard against the Wuhan Coronavirus, the Singapore Government has announced that there will be no entry or transit through Singapore for:
- All new visitors with recent Hubei travel history within the last 14 days
- Holders of PRC passports issued in Hubei
New visas for holders of Chinese passports issued in Hubei will also be suspended.
With such an advisory issued, what will happen if you defer your travel to mainland China? Will your travel insurance cover the trip cancellation? The MOH website states that you are advised to check with your respective travel insurance providers for information on coverage and compensation.
WILL MY TRAVEL INSURANCE COVER CANCELLATIONS MADE IN LIGHT OF THE CORONAVIRUS?
Travel insurance covers travellers for a multitude of things, including cancellation and delays of flights, hotels, missing luggage, medical expenses and more. However, in situations like the Coronavirus, an outbreak of a virus often has limited coverage under travel insurance plans for trip cancellation purposes.
Many airlines have suspended flights to China cancelling their flights to China, these include Singapore Airlines, Qantas Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways and more.
Singapore Airlines' budget carrier Scoot cancelled its daily flight to Wuhan, and customers already booked on those flights will receive emails with further information regarding refunds. Major hotel chains such as Hilton, Marriott, Accor and InterContinental have offered free changes or cancellations to bookings up to Feb 8.
Some insurance companies have also issued announcements on their sites regarding the Coronavirus outbreak and whether claims arising from Coronavirus-related disruptions will be covered.
Here's what some of them have announced on their site (as of 6 Feb 2020):
"We will not provide coverage for trip cancellations to any countries in relation to Wuhan Virus for travel insurance policy issued from 22 Jan 2020 onwards. For our customers who purchased the policies on 21 Jan 2020 or before, we will respond based on the terms and conditions and the benefits claimed."
"Only travel policies purchased before 20 Jan 2020 are eligible for claims related to the Novel Coronavirus outbreak. Claims unrelated to this event remain covered, subject to our policy terms and conditions."
In view of MFA's advisory to defer non-essential travel to mainland China, please note that claims arising from these activities and related disruptions are deemed as a "known" event" and will therefore not be covered, if:
You have purchased a travel insurance to Wuhan on or after 11 Jan 2020
You have purchased a travel insurance to mainland China, excluding Wuhan, on or after 27 January 2020
For further details, please refer to policy wordings of your specific travel product.
"The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared on Thursday (Jan 30) that the coronavirus epidemic in China now constitutes a public health emergency of international concern. We are treating this Event as known and foreseen, effective 31 Jan 2020."
"As such, any claims arising globally from this Event will not be covered unless your policy was issued prior to 31 Jan 2020, 0001 hours.Notwithstanding the above, Etiqa Singapore will honour claims related to / caused by this Event, subject to the terms and conditions of your policy, if your policy was issued before:
- 22 Jan 2020, 0001 hours for Insured(s) travelling to Wuhan
- 27 Jan 2020, 0001 hours for Insured(s) travelling to the rest of Mainland China (excluding Hong Kong, Macau & Taiwan)
As the situation develops, cover to the other areas are subject to change."
"Please note claims arising in connection with this event will not be covered if you bought your travel policy on/after 23 Jan 2020, or if you travel in, to or through China on/after 23 Jan 2020. Claims unrelated to this event remain covered, subject to policy T&Cs."
"For travellers going to Wuhan, please note that the Wuhan virus is currently considered a known event and there will be no coverage for any claims arising from the Wuhan virus for your travels to Wuhan. Travellers who have purchased their Travel Insurance to Wuhan before 8pm on 20 Jan 2020, can file a claim for Cancelling/Shortening/Postponing your trip or Trip Disruption according to our travel policy terms and conditions."
Source: NTUC Income
"Novel Coronavirus outbreak: Dear valued customers, please be aware that our travel insurance does not cover any claims arising from the Novel Coronavirus outbreak for trips to or passing through these destinations if the policy or trip is purchased on these dates or later:
- 22 Jan 2020 for Wuhan,
- 23 Jan 2020 for Hubei Province,
- 27 Jan 2020 for Mainland China (excluding Hong Kong, Macau & Taiwan).
As the situation develops, cover to other areas are subject to change. Please refer to the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the latest update."
"Please note that Travel Insurance policies purchased after
- 22 Jan 2020, 8pm for travel to Wuhan & Hubei,
- 27 Jan 2020, 7pm for travel to the rest of Mainland China
will not be covering any claims arising directly or indirectly from Novel Coronavirus outbreak, as it is considered as a known event.
Claims unrelated to the event will be covered according to our policy terms and conditions."
From these announcements, it's clear that any travel insurance purchased after specific dates will not cover you for claims made as a result of or reasons related to the Coronavirus outbreak. If you are unsure, we suggest that you check with your travel insurance provider for more details.
IMPORTANCE OF BUYING TRAVEL INSURANCE EARLY
Frankly, no one could have predicted the onset of the Coronavirus or the severity of its impact globally.
What we can do, however, is to protect ourselves from similar future outbreaks and unknown situations. You can consider purchasing a single trip travel insurance policy the moment you confirm the destination and dates of your overseas trip. Frequent travellers can opt to purchase an annual travel plan.
For most cases, if you've bought your travel insurance before the advisory was announced (different insurers may use different dates), the trip disruption, postponement or cancellation will be covered up to your policy's benefit limit.
You should also pay closer attention to the T&Cs of the insurance policy documents. For example, some travel insurance plans offer trip cancellations for any reason (be it as part of the policy or as an upgrade or add-on), which would then cover you for a situation like the Coronavirus outbreak.
The truth is a lot of us end up buying travel insurance at the very last minute. At times (we're all guilty as charged), we buy it minutes before stepping onto the airplane. However, purchasing our travel insurance weeks, or even months, before the actual trip can save our wallets from unprecedented costs incurred when we are pushed to cancel our trip.
For the latest updates on the Wuhan virus, visit here.
This article was first published in SingSaver.com.sg.