What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus and Your Travel Insurance

The World Health Organization declares the coronavirus a global health emergency.

Airlines are suspending flights. Governments are recommending travellers avoid visiting China. And, the World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a global health emergency. In the span of two short months, the coronavirus has afflicted thousands of people resulting in hundreds of deaths.

If you have plans to travel to China, you may want to reconsider your destination. The Canadian government has issued an advisory to “avoid non-essential travel” to the country and an “avoid all travel” to the Hubei province in particular. The Hubei province is home to the city of Wuhan where the outbreak started.

What’s the Difference Between the Two Travel Advisories?

When the Government of Canada issues an avoid non-essential travel notice it does so to, “protect the health of Canadian travellers and the Canadian public. The notice outlines specific precautions to take when visiting the region and what to do if you become ill during or after travel.”

The avoid non-essential travel advisory to China was issued on January 29, 2020.

An avoid all travel advisory goes one step further. It advises, “travellers to avoid all travel in order to protect the health of the Canadian public. [It’s] issued if there is a high risk of spread of disease to the general public regardless of measures taken while travelling. Avoiding travel will limit the spread of the disease in Canada and internationally.”

The avoid all travel advisory to the Hubei province was issued on January 27, 2020. Prior to this, however, an avoid non-essential travel notice was in place for the Hubei province as well. This was issued on January 24, 2020.

The release dates of the advisories are important to note as it can determine whether or not you have travel insurance coverage.

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Travel Advisories and Your Travel Insurance

With both of these advisories in place, travellers have a lot to think about.

What Happens if You Decide to Ignore the Travel Warnings?

If you decide to ignore the advisories in place and book a new trip to China, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a travel insurance policy that will offer trip cancellation coverage. You’ll also find that you’ll likely be without emergency medical insurance if you fall ill from the coronavirus. Many policies have an exclusion that says something like:

This policy does not cover losses or expenses related in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, to any of the following: Travel to, from or through any country, region or city for which, prior to your departure date, the Canadian Government, or any department thereof, has issued a warning to avoid all travel or to avoid non-essential travel during the time of your trip if the loss is the result of the reason for which the warning was issued.

If your trip to China was booked ahead of the travel advisories and you plan to continue on with your trip, the same exclusion may apply. Travel medical insurance is intended to offer you protection for unexpected and unforeseen events. If you choose to ignore a travel warning then it could be viewed that you're expecting the unexpected and depending on the policy, you may not be covered.

What Happens if You Decide to Heed the Travel Warnings?

If you booked your trip ahead of the travel advisories (not after) and purchased trip cancellation insurance at the time, then you’ll be able to submit a claim for your non-refundable deposits and bookings if you decide to cancel. This is exactly the type of situation that trip cancellation is designed to cover.

Trip cancellation insurance also provides coverage, for example, if there is a death in your family, you're called to jury duty, you suffer a sudden injury or illness that prevents you from travelling, you're laid off from your job, or even if your home suffers a catastrophic loss like fire or flooding.

If you did not buy trip cancellation insurance prior to the advisories, you won’t be able to now. Instead, you’ll have to turn to your airline or travel provider for a credit or refund.

Some airlines, however, are being accommodating. Air Canada, for example, is offering refunds to eligible travellers who have tickets that were issued no later than January 28, 2020 flying into Beijing or Shanghai for travel dates from January 24 to February 29, 2020.