Coronavirus: Are you covered if you want to cancel your overseas trip?

Coronavirus: Are you covered if you want to cancel your overseas trip?

COVID 19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus, is causing major havoc in the travel industry: international conferences are being cancelled, as well as flights to many destinations, because people are too terrified to travel, even to places like Cyprus, which hasn’t had any confirmed cases; and airlines are laying off staff, and grounding planes.

Coronavirus blood test
Coronavirus blood test/ iStock

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And for those who have paid for tickets, tours, and accommodation in some of the hot spot regions, it’s a nightmare.

Take Kavisha Bhagwan’s situation. In January, she and her fiance booked and fully paid for their honeymoon - flying to Dubai, Turkey, and Greece, departing on the 18th of May.

And they took travel insurance.

With Greece now on high alert, thanks to its proximity to Italy - site of the biggest outbreak in Europe by far, with 107 deaths - they are now too afraid to travel.

But the cost of cancelling is high.

“Our travel agent did contact the airline of which they are not refunding our tickets,” she told me. “I have also contacted my travel insurer with regard to being covered for cancelling my airline tickets due to this virus. I was told that I will not be paid out should I cancel because of the coronavirus as flights are not grounded in those countries and the World Health Organisation has not declared that country as infected.

“So either we lose all our money or put our lives at risk because we are now forced to travel as our travel insurance is not willing to pay us out. What is the real point then of buying travel insurance?

“The coronavirus is out of my hands and I would not have chosen to cancel if this deadly virus was contained. We are now unsure about what to do.”

That’s just one of many such cases that have made its way to my inbox in the past few weeks.

Another is Charlene Cheblal, who in December booked and paid for a holiday to Delhi, India, departing on April 1.

“The travel agency is not willing to cancel or postpone the holiday, despite there being confirmed cases of corona virus in Delhi,” she told me.

“The travel agency supervisor told me in February that should be any cases in India before we depart, we will be refunded, but now the story has changed.

“My family and I are reluctant to travel, especially with my six-year-old.

“Is there any way I can cancel and get my money back?”

Charlene’s particular concern about her child is shared by many, the assumption being that children are at highest risk of falling victim to Covid-19.

In fact, the opposite is true. For some reason, doctors have not yet fathomed, children are mostly being spared. The incidence in children, especially under nine, globally is extremely rare - 0.9%. Just 1.2% of confirmed cases were teens, and 8.1% were 20-somethings.

By far the worst affected are the elderly, particularly those with heart conditions.

So, what refund rights do those who are too scared to travel to Europe or the East because of the alarming spread in those countries, do they really have to forfeit everything they’ve spent on airfares and accommodation?

Well, that depends. If the World Health Organisation declares a country a red zone, and your flight or cruise has to be cancelled for that reason, then you’ll probably be refunded in full.

That’s what happened in Sandy Naidu of Durban's case. She and her husband paid Imagine Cruises R90,000 for a Royal Caribbean cruise - on the ship Quantum of the Seas - which was due to leave Cape Town on Sunday, bound for Singapore, plus four nights in Singapore, then on to Bali for six days.

The cruise was cancelled because of WHO warnings - no-one’s taking chances with cruises after the outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship - and Sandy’s getting all her money back.

But if your destination is not yet a red zone, you are unlikely to get a full refund if you cancel.

As for travel insurance, again, that depends on which policy you opted for and when.

But generally, waiting for a day or two before you depart is not a wise move.

For example, Hollard Travel Insurance policyholders are covered for medical expenses should they contract the Coronavirus, or if they are forced to cancel their travel plans as a result of the disease.

So if you contract the Coronavirus while on your trip, you will be covered up to the limit of liability under your policy’s overseas medical expenses benefit minus an excess payment.

If you contract the Coronavirus before you travel, you are covered under the cancel unexpected illness benefit.

If you are not ill but you don’t want to risk travelling to another country, you can also claim – but here’s the important bit: you must have bought your policy within 24 hours of paying your trip deposit, AND you must cancel your trip more than 48 hours before departure.

I’m pretty sure all the other travel insurers have in the past month or two come up with their own coronavirus cover, so do your homework, and read all the terms and conditions, and especially the exclusions.

To those who booked holidays in December, just before the outbreak hit the news, and are now playing a waiting game, hold tight and wait until the last few days to cancel - the travel operator may well be forced to cancel which will leave you in a far better position financially.

READ: What if your Valentine's Day flowers are delivered late?

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