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Does The Coronavirus Outbreak Affect Your Travel Insurance?

  • 5 min read

In December 2019 an outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (nCoV) broke out in the city of Wuhan in China and has since spread across the globe. This meant there was a good chance that with international travel the virus may make its way to the country at some point – it did, and this has resulted in devastating consequences. Consequently, South Africa was forced to place an international travel ban in March 2020 which will be lifted from the 1st of October 2020. As a result, those who are traveling abroad need to be aware of the disease and its symptoms and take all necessary precautions. It is also essential to ensure that their travel insurance will cover them should they contract the virus.

Recognise the symptoms and take precautions

“nCoV is a virus, as its name suggests, that is easily spread through droplets of saliva from carriers coughing and sneezing. It is difficult to diagnose, as the symptoms are very similar to those of the flu, and tests must be done to confirm the cause. Symptoms include fever, congestion and breathing difficulties. However, nCoV can cause a rapid decline in the health of a patient and people have died from complications such as pneumonia and kidney failure,” explains Dr David Samuel, Clinical Advisor at Turnberry.

“Those most at risk of severe illness include the very young and very old as well as immunocompromised people such as diabetics, pregnant women and those who have HIV. South Africa has a population of around seven million people living with HIV, which means that if the disease does come into the country it could have dire consequences. There is no specific treatment as yet, and antibiotics are not helpful in fighting the disease. Preventing the spread of disease is the best line of defence,” he adds.

The best methods of prevention apply to nCoV and any other illness. The virus can survive for several hours outside of the body on other surfaces, so frequent hand washing for at least 20 seconds with either soap and water or medical alcohol is critical. Good hygiene practices such as covering the mouth and nose while sneezing and coughing are also essential. In addition it is advisable to avoid close contact with people who are sick and avoid sharing utensils or drinks with them. An N95 hospital mask can also be worn by those who are ill or those who are at risk, however due to the outbreak there is currently a global shortage. Most importantly if a person becomes ill with any of the symptoms of nCoV it is important to seek medical attention promptly, to ensure that it can be contained if necessary.  Yet what are the implications if you have to travel and what are the health and financial risks you expose yourself to?

Check your insurance if you are traveling internationally

Since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic, many measures have been put into place internationally to curb the spread of the disease. This included travel restrictions to and from countries with high infection rates as well as screening and self-isolation of persons who come in and out of the country. Now that travel bans are being lifted, individuals need to be aware of their medical insurance to stay safe and covered.

“Travel insurance with medical cover is more critical than ever in light of the nCoV pandemic, and travellers need to ensure that their plan covers them in case they contract the disease while they are overseas. Insurance needs to fully cover you for emergency medical and related expenses should you contract the coronavirus on a journey. Related expenses that should be covered include medical transportation and medical repatriation, repatriation of children and travel companions and burial or cremation or return of mortal remains,” says Tony Singleton, CEO of Turnberry.

For example, a 71-year-old male from South Africa presented with difficulty in breathing whilst he was on a cruise ship overseas. He was immediately taken to a medical facility in Germany and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) on the 30th of March 2020. He consequently tested positive for Covid-19 which resulted in severe pneumonia. The traveller was kept hospitalised and ventilated for over two months. With his last Covid-19 test was conducted on the 25th of April 2020 his results came back negative. The man was subsequently declared fit to fly by air ambulance and the process was initiated at the end of May 2020. Luckily, this senior citizen was repatriated and landed at Cape Town (RSA) International Airport where he was immediately transferred to a medical facility in order to be further treated. This 71-year-old man’s medical costs accumulated to a total of R 2 934 180,00 and without the cover that his Travel Insurance provided he would have certainly faced unprecedented financial pressure for the rest of his life.

“Travel insurance is especially important given that the South African Port of Health Authorities may refuse to repatriate a patient in order to protect the country. Without cover for medical expenses overseas, you could find yourself severely ill and at risk of significant out of pocket medical expenses,” he concludes.