Pandemic Travel Insurance

Travel insurance for pandemics and how your travel can be affected by pandemics and epidemics

Pandemic Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance for Pandemics

The SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic affected the entire world in ways almost none of us had experienced before. The novel coronavirus had a significant impact on international and domestic travel including flights and cruising. This sudden impact is also expected to have lasting, possibly even permanent changes to the way we travel, in the same way the September 11 terrorist attacks had a permanent impact on airline security measures.
Travel insurance Product Disclosure Statements (PDS) usually refer to epidemics or pandemics in their general exclusions. However, before we discuss how pandemics and epidemics can affect your travel insurance, we should firstly establish the definitions of travel insurance epidemics, pandemics and general exclusions.

5 steps to travel insurance in a pandemic

  1. Follow the Australian Government’s advice whether you are currently travelling or plan to travel in the future.
  2. If you are already overseas, follow local government and local media advice including quarantine rules in your current location.
  3. Contact your travel insurance company if you need emergency assistance whilst travelling.
  4. Contact your travel agent, hotel, cruise company, tour or other travel providers to see what options are available to you if they or you cancel your trip in part or full.
  5. Check your travel insurance policy to establish your level of cover for any out of pocket cancellations expenses for COVID-19 and submit a claim if you have cover.
Fast Cover Doctor
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What is an epidemic?

An epidemic is a disease that affects a significant proportion of an area, community or region. In the PDS for Fast Cover, an Epidemic is defined as "a sudden development and rapid spreading of a contagious disease in a region where it developed in a simply endemic state or within a previously unscathed community."

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What is a pandemic?

A pandemic is a disease outbreak across a wide, or multiple geographic locations such as countries or continents and has an effect on a large amount of the population. Within the Fast Cover PDS, a Pandemic is defined as "a geographically widespread outbreak of an infectious disease that causes serious illness in humans."

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What is the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic?

COVID-19 was an epidemic when it was limited to Wuhan, China. When the virus spread to other geographical regions, it became a pandemic.

In general terms, a pandemic is a large-scale version of an epidemic, or a travelling epidemic.

What is a General Exclusion?

A PDS contains exclusions specific to a particular benefit. That is, certain situations and circumstances are not able to be covered for that benefit.

General exclusions are classified separately from the different benefit sections because they apply across all sections of the policy, and they apply regardless of when you bought your policy. This means that even if the event, activity, or situation had not started yet, or was not a known event at the time you purchased your policy, you will still not be covered for that event, activity or situation.

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When did COVID-19 become a Pandemic?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11th Match 2020.

Who named novel coronavirus COVID-19?

The WHO named the novel coronavirus on 11th February 2020. It named it “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome CoronaVirus 2” or SARS-CoV-2 due to it being genetically related to the 2002 coronavirus known as SARS. Its abbreviated name is COVID-19 with the ‘CO' standing for Corona, 'VI' for Virus, 'D' for Disease and 19 for the year it was first detected that is, 2019.

Does travel insurance cover Pandemics?

The terms, conditions and exclusions in the PDS will be different between travel insurers.

You should check the relevant PDS to find out if pandemics are covered. If there is a general exclusion for a pandemic, then there is no cover for any claims (eg medical and trip cancellations) related to a pandemic.

Does travel insurance cover epidemics?

Epidemics are often excluded from being covered by travel insurance policies. This means any claims (eg medical and trip cancellations) related to an epidemic would not be covered due to the epidemic travel insurance general exclusion.  

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Why do some travel insurance policies have a general exclusion for epidemics and pandemics?

Insurance is based on the chances of something unexpected happening to only a portion of the people insured by a company. Modelling by actuaries makes a prediction that only a percentage of people will likely have to make a claim, such as having to cancel their holiday due to illness or injury. Based on this prediction, every traveller is charged much less than the actual cost of the cancellation of their trip, but charged enough so there is enough money in reserve to pay for the unfortunate ones who have to cancel their trip due to illness or injury.

However, as demonstrated with the COVID-19 Coronavirus, the implications of Pandemics can rapidly change and escalate in a very short period of time. Pandemics spread across many geographic areas and affects many people, resulting in a much higher percentage of people being affected and needing to make claims than other unexpected events (for example, earthquakes and other natural disasters). This means that the money each individual is charged may not be enough to cover the cost of all the claims.

To manage such a situation, there are two options for travel insurance companies. The first is to have a General Exclusion for Pandemics and Epidemics in a travel insurance policy, or the second option, which is to substantially increase the price of travel insurance all the time, so that if there is a Pandemic or epidemic in the future, there will be enough money in reserve to cover the costs of all claims.

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Is it safe to travel outside Australia?

The government has 4 levels of travel advice which they provide for each country with level 1 being the least risky and level 4 being the riskiest.

Travellers should follow the advice of DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), as this can keep you safe, and may affect any claims that you may make. You can monitor the Australian Government Overall Travel Advice by downloading the Smartraveller app and monitoring the Smartraveller website.

What is a Travel Ban?

A travel ban is imposed by the Australian Government, and forbids any overseas travel by Australians (with a few exceptions, for example, if your usual place of residence is overseas, you would be allowed to return home).

On 24th March 2020, under the Biosecurity Act 2015, the Australian Government issued a travel ban in relation to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that prevented all Australians travelling overseas. The Overall Advice Level for all countries outside of Australia was raised to Level 4 Do Not Travel.

What is a Level 4 – Do Not Travel warning?

  • You should not travel to any country or destination with an Overall Travel Advice of ‘Do Not Travel’
  • If you are already in a country with a Level 4 Alert, you should consider leaving immediately
  • In a Level 4 Alert destination, your personal health or safety may be at extreme risk from a pandemic, terrorist attack, civil unrest or violent crime which may result in serious injury, death, kidnapping or imprisonment
  • The Australian Government may not be able to provide consular assistance or it may be very limited

What if I still choose to travel to a country with a travel ban?

If you still choose to stay in, or travel to, a country or region with this type of travel advice, you are doing so at your own risk.

Some things that you should do and know are:

  • Get professional security advice (you may need to hire personal security)
  • Have a detailed risk and emergency management plan in place
  • Know that you may die and you should have a current will and an enduring power of attorney in place
  • Follow all advice provided for Travel Advice Levels 1, 2 and 3
  • Your travel insurance policy is unlikely to cover you. This means that in the event of your death or any other serious incident, your family, not the Australian Government, will be responsible for not only the financial aspects of your situation, but also the logistics of managing your state of affairs
  • If you need to be quarantined in that country, you will most likely need to pay for any quarantine expenses that you incur, and these costs may not be covered by your travel insurance policy

Are pandemic cancellation expenses covered?

A pandemic or epidemic may mean a travel provider will cancel parts or all of your trip, or you may be required to cut short or cancel your trip as a result of following the Australian Government’s travel advice. This could result in a number of expenses that may or may not be covered by travel insurance which you should consider:

  • Lost deposits for flights, hotels, cruises, tours etc
  • Cancellation expenses for flights, accommodation, rental vehicles, cruises, pre-booked activities and event tickets
  • Quarantine expenses
  • Medical expenses such as testing, treatment or hospitalisation for COVID-19 Coronavirus
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Am I covered for a pandemic?

Every travel insurance company is different. You should read the relevant PDS for your policy or for any policy you are considering purchasing.

You should pay particular attention to any reference to pandemics, epidemics and government travel warnings in the General Exclusion section of the PDS.

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Am I covered if I bought a travel insurance policy before the pandemic is declared?

Pandemics are often listed as a General Exclusion in the PDS of insurance policies. If a pandemic is excluded from cover in the PDS for your policy, there is no cover for the pandemic regardless of:

  • The date you purchased the policy
  • Your travel dates
  • When you booked or paid for your holiday
  • When the Australian Government issued a travel ban
  • When WHO declared the virus a pandemic
  • When your travel insurance company issued a travel alert

Am I covered for the pandemic if I have special circumstances? (spouse, family in another country)

Regardless of your reason for travel, and whether or not you have special clearance to leave Australia and enter another country, if your travel insurance policy has a general exclusion for pandemics, you will not have cover for any claims related to the pandemic.

You should refer to the PDS and contact your travel insurance company if you are unsure about your cover.

Can I get a refund on my travel insurance policy because my travel has been cancelled and I can’t claim?

Travel insurance policies offer a 14 day cooling off period where you can get a full refund if you have not exercised any right under your policy, such as making a claim or your policy has started. After this time, it is up to the individual travel insurance company whether they will offer you a credit, a refund or nothing.

If you have not departed for your trip, you may not feel like you have used your travel insurance policy - but if your policy has the cancellation benefit, you actually have been! Your policy could have actually been covering you for weeks or months for potential unexpected cancellation (like illness or injury), depending on how many weeks prior to your departure date you purchased the policy.

For example, if you had an accident and broke your leg and you had to cancel your trip, you would have provision to claim for this. Therefore, your request for a refund may be declined as you have actually been using your policy or you may be offered a lesser amount of what you have paid, to account for what you have used of the policy.

Can I buy travel insurance with COVID-19 Coronavirus cover if I haven't bought it already?

No. There are 3 reasons why you cannot get COVID-19 travel insurance cover.

  1. There may be a General Exclusion in the PDS that excludes cover for Pandemics. This means that even claims for medical expenses for COVID-19 coronavirus would not be covered.
  2. COVID-19 is a known event and travel insurance does not cover for any events that you would know about already and could result in a loss, including cancellation expenses for novel coronavirus.
  3. The PDS may also include a General Exclusion for travel against Australian Government Travel Alerts of Level 4: Do Not Travel or Level 3: Reconsider Your Need To travel.
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Am I covered for non pandemic medical expenses and assistance while I am overseas?

If your travel insurance policy has a general exclusion for pandemics and epidemics, medical claims not directly or indirectly related to a pandemic or epidemic can be submitted to your travel insurance provider for consideration.

However, if you still choose to travel during a pandemic or epidemic, you are doing so at your own risk. While your travel insurance company may wish to seek assistance for you, they would still be relying on the local medical staff, who may not be available! For example: if you are injured and present yourself to hospital, you may not get the attention you need, as the hospital system may be overstretched trying to cope with pandemic patients.

Claims are usually assessed on a case-by-case, in accordance with the terms, conditions and exclusions of your policy and will depend on your particular situation. This includes also taking into account whether you travelled against government advice, and whether you took care to keep yourself safe.

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I want to travel later in the year, can I get travel insurance?

There are a few travel insurance companies who are still able to sell policies, while many suspended sales once the Australian Government’s travel ban came into place.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

However, of the companies who are able to sell policies, there may be a restriction on when a policy can start.

When you are planning a trip and buying travel insurance, you should consider:

  • General Exclusions for Pandemics or Epidemics: which means there is no cover for COVID-19 coronavirus or any future Pandemics or Epidemics
  • Current Australian Government travel advice: travel insurance policies often include a General Exclusion when the Australian Government has a Travel Ban in place or when a destination country has a Travel Alert Level 4: Do Not Travel or Level 3: Reconsider Your Need to Travel in place. This means you will have no cover under your travel insurance policy if you still choose to travel to one of these countries
  • Travel insurance companies Travel Alerts: Companies can issue a travel alert which states that there is no cover for a certain event once it becomes a known event, such as being reported in the mainstream media. If you buy a policy after the date the travel alert is issued by a travel insurance company, you will have no cover for any claims relating to the event in the travel alert
  • Specific benefit exclusions: these exclusions will apply to specific benefits in the policy

Where can I find Pandemic General Exclusions?

General Exclusions are listed in the PDS and they are usually near the rear of a PDS.

Have pandemic and epidemic General Exclusions just been added to PDSs because of COVID-19?

No, pandemic and epidemic general exclusions have not just been introduced to policies since COVID-19 appeared. When you buy a policy, there will always be a PDS applicable to your policy at that time, and it will have an effective date for when it was released. The benefits, terms, conditions and general exclusions will be stated in that PDS, and the Claims team will assess any claims you make with reference to the specific PDS which applies to your policy.

Historically, pandemic general exclusions have been added over the years to insurance PDSs since the impact of the 2002 SARS epidemic in Asia.

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Pandemic Travel Insurance FAQs

Our policies contain a general exclusion relating to epidemics and pandemics which means there is no cover for any claims related to Coronavirus (COVID-19) regardless of when the policy was purchased, the dates of travel, and the travel destinations.

You can change your travel dates by using our Your Policy tools online, calling us on 1300 409 322 or emailing info@fastcover.com.au.

Our policies contain a general exclusion relating to epidemics and pandemics which means there is no cover for any claims related to Coronavirus (COVID-19), regardless of when the policy was purchased, the dates of travel, and the travel destinations.

While Coronavirus (COVID-19) is excluded from coverage, you are welcome to Make a Claim for consideration. You can make a claim online 24/7 and our Claims Team will assist you. All claims will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and in accordance with the terms, conditions and exclusions of your policy.

Contact our Emergency Assistance team by phone or email.

Overseas: +61 2 8320 7999
In Australia: 02 8320 7999
  1. You should consider the Australian Governments advice and return to Australia ASAP or not travel internationally at this point in time. 
  2. You MUST follow all government advice from the country you are in.
  3. All non COVID-19 related claims will be assessed on a case by case basis.
  4. There is the likelihood you will NOT be covered if you have:
    1. Not followed Government advice or 
    2. Failed to act responsibly to protect yourself.

There is no cover whatsoever if you decide to commence travel during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

 

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