Will you get a travel policy to cover a risk like coronavirus?

Kusum Tewari


Most Indian airlines have suspended operations to China given the severity of the situation, but some foreign airlines are still flying to China via India. Ixigo.com, a travel and hotel booking platform, has seen Indians booking flights to Chinese cities, including Guangzhou, Harbin, Kunming, Shanghai, Shenyang and Xiamen, for travel within the next 60 days.

If you are among those who need to travel even in the midst of an epidemic like coronavirus, you may want to buy a travel insurance policy. But will you get one in such a situation? Will your existing policy work? We answer these and some other questions for existing and new policyholders.

EXISTING holders

Travel policies, generally, come with certain exclusions or do not cover certain situations. These include travel to a country which has been declared a war zone or which has been experiencing civil unrest or political uncertainties. In such cases, your medical and other travel-related expenses won’t be covered. In fact, there is a list of countries for which travel insurance is not available.

What if you are travelling to China? There is no exclusion for an epidemic like coronavirus. So different insurers have different approaches to its coverage.

For instance, IFFCO Tokio General Insurance Co. Ltd will most likely pay medical expenses even if there is a travel advisory in place. “In the present circumstances, if you are an existing policyholder and happen to be in China or travel to China even after the advisory is issued, then you will be covered for OPD and hospitalization expenses as per the travel plan,” said Subrata Mondal, executive vice president, underwriting, IFFCO Tokio General Insurance.

On the other hand, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co. Ltd may not pay the expenses if policyholders travel to a country against which a travel advisory has been issued. “In case a person commences travel after being well aware of the situation and without the knowledge of the insurer to a country where an advisory related to health or political issues has been issued by either the Indian government or the local government of that country or WHO, the policy will not come into force,” said Sweetie Salve, vertical head claims medical management, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance.

So, it is advisable to check the travel advisories issued by various government departments and check with your insurer if your trip will be covered. “We also try to communicate to our policyholders if such advisories are issued by the government,” said Salve. You can check disease-related advisories at the ministry of health and family welfare’s website: mohfw.gov.in/media/disease-alerts.

What if you get infected in transit? In case you are travelling to some other country and get infected in transit, you will get a cover. “You will be covered if you get infected while travelling to some other country or in transit,” Mondal said.

What if you cancel or reschedule your trip? If you want to avoid the risk of getting infected and cancel or reschedule your trip, it is unlikely that your insurer will cover your loss due to cancellation of tickets.

“The virus outbreak is not covered in most standard travel insurance plans. However, if you have opted for ‘cancel for any reason’ then some level of trip cancellation protection may be available. Recouping all the losses associated with trips cancelled due to coronavirus fears are far from guaranteed,” said Tarun Mathur, chief business officer, general insurance, Policybazaar.com, an online insurance marketplace.

“The loss due to ticket or accommodation cancellation is compensated only for reasons like death, serious injury or sudden sickness requiring minimum three days of hospitalization of the insured or his spouse, parents or children. Inclement weather conditions, natural disasters or the government imposing compulsory quarantine or prevention of travel are the other valid grounds of loss payout,” said Salve.

However, some airlines are issuing refunds to travellers in case of ticket cancellation due to coronavirus. Airlines like Indigo have extended suspension of flights till 15 June and have waived cancellation fees to all flights to South East Asia till 29 February, according to information provided by Ixigo .com.

Prospective holders

You can buy a multi-trip or single-trip policy, depending on how often you travel.

In case of a single-trip policy, insurers generally ask you to give the details of the country or region you are likely to travel to. In the current situation, most insurers may reject your request for a new travel insurance policy for a trip to China.

“Considering the safety of travelling members, and to discourage travel to coronavirus-affected countries, we have advised to avoid issuing new policies to China, Hong Kong and Macau in the wake of an advisory issued by the government. In case any emergency travel is to be undertaken and insurance has to be opted, it will go through the underwriting process. This will continue till the advisory is withdrawn,” said Bajaj Allianz’s Salve.

ICICI Lombard General Insurance Co. Ltd, however, may issue policies based on certain conditions. Sanjay Datta, Chief – Underwriting, Claims, Reinsurance and Actuary, ICICI Lombard General Insurance Company Ltd., said, “It’s an advisory not a ban, therefore we are not bound by it. Insurance companies may or may not issue policies to people as it’s a matter of covering their risks.” In case a country is on a ban list, the insurance company will not issue a policy, he added.

IFFCO Tokio General Insurance is assessing the situation before issuing policies. “We are currently not declining the people approaching us to buy a travel insurance policy for travelling to China. We will assess the situation in terms of which region of China the person is travelling and the purpose of travel and then decide whether to issue the policy or not,” said Mondal.

A multi-trip or annual policy may not require you to give the travel details in advance, so you may get the policy. However, at the time of claim, expenses related to a trip to China may not be covered. “China will not be covered till a travel advisory is in place. The insurer will ask about the destination at the time of the claim,” said Mathur.

Last but not the least, remember that a coronavirus-related medical claim may not arise as people are being treated or quarantined at government facilities. But it is always good to buy a comprehensive travel insurance cover to deal with any medical emergencies and other travel-related expenses, especially if you are a frequent traveller.

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