As more countries succumb to the outbreak of COVID-19 or the novel corona virus and suspected victims or anyone who has come in close contact with them are being quarantined, one of the worst hit sections are travellers. For those quarantined while on a vacation in a foreign country, the situation gets doubly difficult – who will pay the bills incurred for extended stay, meals and medical charges. While country after country is issuing travel advisories, so far no uniform decision has been taken about who is responsible for payments, including travel insurance coverage.
Speaking to TIME, a U.S. State Department representative said that cruise companies whose ships have been placed on quarantine in East Asia have assumed the cost of accommodation of passengers but in most cases, the individual traveller are expected to pay for their self-quarantine.
However, in its early March report, TIME also quoted a Berlin resident who confirmed that her parents staying in a hotel under lockdown in the Canary Islands (Spain) have not been asked to pay for anything from the time the hotel has been quarantined. [The lockdown has been lifted now].
According to the Bangkok Post, foreigners who are short-term visit pass holders to Singapore and seek treatment for COVID-19 in Singapore need to pay but testing for the virus remains free.
In a March 4 guideline, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has clearly stated about the norms under which all claims reported under coronavirus shall be handled. One of the norms mention that ‘where hospitalisation is covered in a product, insurers shall ensure that the cases related to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) shall be expeditiously handled’. It also mentioned that ‘costs of admissible medical expenses during the course of treatment including the treatment during quarantine period shall be settled in accordance to the applicable terms and conditions of policy contract and the extant regulatory framework’. However, IRDAI has not clarified anything yet on travel insurance covering coronavirus or what happens if you require treatment while travelling in a foreign country.
The Association of British Insurers have come up with a set of regulations covering travel insurance implications following the novel coronavirus outbreak. According to the company, anyone planning to travel should check and follow the government's foreign travel advice. Anyone travelling to a country or region against government advice risks invalidating their travel insurance. If the insured person makes alternative travel plans, they may be able to transfer their travel insurance to cover the new destination.
Travel insurance policies may cover some out-of-pocket losses, and also help the person to leave the area and return to the UK if advised to do so, and if they are unable to get assistance from any other source. If anyone travels against government advice, they are likely to have their travel insurance invalidated.
According to media reports, insurance companies are tackling the problem on a case by case basis. So if you have already invested in a vacation or have to travel for business purpose, it is best to clarify with the travel and health insurance companies before leaving the home country. Read the fine print on your health and travel insurance policies and get clarifications from the agency advice many financial planners.