Coronavirus and travel insurance: Will Australian travel insurance cover you?

​The outbreak of coronavirus has caused panic across the world, particularly in China, as health authorities rush to halt its spread. By Friday afternoon, more than 200 people had died and with 7834 confirmed cases of the virus around the world.

But for travellers there is another dimension: travel insurance. Specifically, are you covered if your holiday is disrupted? Or worse, what if you contract the disease overseas?

The coronavirus outbreak would not be considered 'unforeseeable'

Some airlines have cancelled all flights to and from China, while others such as Qantas are continuing to fly there. The Australian government's travel advice for China is to "reconsider your need to travel". It also declares Wuhan and the entire Hubei province a no-go zone.

Are you covered?

Travel insurance policies are renowned for being full of confusing legal language, plus there's so much variation between policies it is difficult to compare them directly. The best advice is to check with your insurer to be sure.

Many travel insurance policies have broad exclusions for certain events such as health pandemics, pre-existing medical conditions and acts of terrorism.

For those that do include cover for pandemics, one of the confusing things is that different insurers each declare different dates when the pandemic became "known". In other words, any cover purchased beyond that point would not cover coronavirus-related claims.

Insurance Council of Australia communications manager Lisa Kable said each insurer's policies are different and each has their own inclusions and exclusions.

"There are so many nuances on this," Ms Kable said. "You've got people who are over there who may want to cancel the rest of their trip, you've got people who are planning on going who have bought their insurance, and those who would like to travel but haven't yet bought insurance."


Insurance giant AIG says it began treating the outbreak as a "known and foreseen" event on January 24.

"Travellers who purchased or confirmed travel insurance cover on or after 24 January 2020 may not be covered as the coronavirus outbreak would not be considered 'unforeseeable'," the insurer says on its website.

Last week NIB, which also covers the Travel Insurance Direct and World Nomads brands, declared they would "no longer cover claims arising from any event related to coronavirus for travel to and/or from China" on policies purchased after 5pm on January 23.

On Friday the insurer updated that to exclude all affected travel to any destinations (not just China) for claims relating to the deadly virus.

Budget Direct says it does not cover claims "caused by an event you were already aware of when you bought the policy". It nominates January 20 as the date when the virus became a known event.

CoverMore insurance says while exclusions apply to some claims relating to the virus, customers who actually contract the virus overseas will still be covered for medical expenses they incur.

Ms Kable's overall advice was not to simply purchase the cheapest cover, but rather "you should buy insurance that matches the trip you're going on".

A useful tip is to look on the Find An Insurer website to choose a provider that offers the cover you require.

See also: Can masks actually protect you from coronavirus?

See also: Where the Chinese go on holiday – how coronavirus lockdown will decimate global tourism