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Does travel insurance cover coronavirus?

04 February, 2020 By Natali Mansberg

A novel strain of coronavirus has hit international headlines, with thousands infected across nearly two-dozen countries. The virus is said to originate in Wuhan, China, and has so far claimed 305 lives. For those travelling abroad, and particularly to China, fears are mounting as the virus is declared a ‘global health emergency.’  So what should travellers know? 


What exactly is the coronavirus?

A virus transmitted between humans, coronavirus has so far infected hundreds of people in China, with the predominant number of cases in Wuhan city, where the outbreak was sourced back to a fresh food market. Symptoms are said to include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

For guidance on prevention, signs and symptoms and treatment of the coronavirus, visit the Ministry of Health website.

Which countries are affected?

China has seen the largest number of coronavirus cases, with a total of 14,400 cases reported across major cities in China. The Chinese government has placed a lockdown on 12 cities, affecting about 35 million people. One or more cases have been found on every inhabitable continent. Countries across the globe have closed their borders to most, if not all, flights from China, or to foreign visitors who have recently been to China.

For further travel advice in relation to the Coronavirus, we recommend New Zealanders visit  https://www.safetravel.govt.nz/

should i cancel my trip?

Although the panic over the virus is understandable, experts are advising that travellers should not put their holiday plans on hold unless travelling to China. On January 30, The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency saying: "Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it." Consequently, the New Zealand government, MFAT raised its travel level to China to level 5 — “do not travel.”

Advice for travellers to china

Travellers with trips booked to China should first enquire about obtaining a refund through their airline and accommodation providers. Airlines with cancelled services are offering refunds or free rescheduling services so affected customers will be able to recoup their costs.

Travellers who have not yet bought travel insurance would most likely be unable to claim for any lost costs as a result of the coronavirus. Those who had bought travel insurance prior to their insurers cut-off date may be able to make a claim. The cut-off date refers to the date your insurer recognised the coronavirus outbreak to be a 'known event.'

Insurer's response

Insurance companies will vary in their policy terms and cut-off dates for coronavirus cover. The following table outlines some important dates and travel advice statements made by a number of New Zealand travel insurers.

It is important to know that irrespective of any cut-off dates that travel insurers publish on their site, all policyholders are entitled to make a travel insurance claim.  All claims are assessed on a case-by-case basis taking into account individual facts and circumstances and the policy terms.


Important Note: We have not compared all the insurers in the market and the information we have relied on is current at the time of publication. We have endeavoured to ensure that the information is accurate and current but we cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of the information on which we've relied.  Insurers change their policies from time to time, so some information may have changed. You should always read the Product Disclosure Statement of your chosen insurer to understand what is covered and what isn't. The information provided is of a general nature only and does not take into account any personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before making a decision you should consider the appropriateness of the information having regard to your personal circumstances.

Timeline of applicable Coronavirus-related warnings and advice, deemed to be known events, by date and country/region (as at 4 February 2020):

  • 20 January - Wuhan City, in the Hubei Province of China – Coronavirus identified as an outbreak by Chinese authorities
  • 25 January - Safe Travel website raised the travel warning level to ‘Do not travel’ for the Hubei Province, China
  • 27 January - Samoan authorities implemented travel restrictions in response to the coronavirus outbreak in China.
  • 30 January - WHO declared coronavirus outbreak, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)
  • 2 February - Safe travel website raised the travel warning level to 'Do not travel' for mainland China. This does not include, Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR or Taiwan

It is important to know that irrespective of any cut-off dates that travel insurers publish on their site, all policyholders are entitled to make a travel insurance claim.  All claims are assessed on a case-by-case basis taking into account individual facts and circumstances and the policy terms.

does travel insurance cover cancellation due to coronavirus?

Travellers wanting to change their travel plans and cancel their trips are unlikely to be covered for ‘change of mind'. However, due to the 'do not travel' warning in place to China, travellers are advised to contact their travel providers and insurer to understand their options. Currently, insurers are assessing claims for all customers booked to travel to China. While the majority of policies do exclude claims relating to pandemics, in some cases customers will be able to claim for disruptions caused by flight cancellations.

Alternately, those booked to travel to China are also likely to be eligible for refunds and rebooking options through their airlines and travel providers. Those who have booked travel through their credit cards may be able to lodge a dispute for 'unfulfilled services.'

what if I go on my trip and contract coronavirus?

If you travel to an affected country and contract coronavirus, your travel insurer is likely to do everything they can to assist you.  In most instances, your medical costs would be covered, subject to when you purchased your policy and any advice warning that are in place. This not only includes covering the costs for medical treatment but also providing support and updates to family members where appropriate.

A final word

While fears regarding coronavirus are not unfounded, the general population will most likely remain unaffected by the disease. Travellers should avoid travelling to China in the immediate future and contact their insurers and travel providers for any queries.

Read further information on travel disruptions due to coronavirus and the steps you can take to recover your costs.

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