Travel is going to be different when we're finally allowed to head offshore. Social distancing on aircraft, in cafes and restaurants, face masks and hand sanitiser as standard, and will it be safe to handle paper money? We're nosing into unknown territory and the protocols are being reformulated to adjust to the new realities that now confront us. Travel insurance is also changing. Coronavirus will have an impact on our insurance cover but that too is an evolving story. According to a spokesperson for the Insurance Council of Australia, "The Australian travel insurance industry are currently working on the travel insurance products they will offer to Australian travellers." There's no rush, since the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has applied a blanket "Do Not Travel" warning to every country outside our own. Here's what the shape of travel insurance could look like in the future.
Can I buy travel insurance now?
Some insurers will sell you a policy for domestic travel but insurance for overseas travel is only available from a limited number of providers, and with restrictions pertaining to claims connected to COVID-19. Travel Insurance Direct and RACV have suspended sales of all travel insurance policies, Insure and Go is not issuing new international travel insurance policies. That will last until the Australian government lifts its total ban on all non-essential overseas travel. American Express continues to sell travel insurance with the caveat "Policies purchased after 23 March 2020 will not provide any cover for claims directly or indirectly arising from, relating to or in any way connected with COVID-19."
Will I be able to get travel insurance for "bubble" countries?
Zorbing in New Zealand. Photo: Tourism New Zealand
There's a chance that the first countries Australian travellers might be able to visit are those deemed to be safe from coronavirus, the "bubble" countries, with New Zealand as a prime candidate. Europe, where borders are opening up, offers an indication of how travel insurance policies might look for Australian travellers visiting those "bubble" countries. In the UK, AXA Travel Insurance advises "…your policy will not cover any trip under the 'Cancellation or curtailment charges and early return' section in relation to coronavirus. AXA will continue to cover medical costs if you become ill in a country or region the FCO (The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office) hasn't advised against visiting." Boots Travel Insurance will not provide cover for those who travel against FCO advice. For Australian travellers therefore, provided you do not visit a country on DFAT's 'Do Not Travel' list it's likely that full coverage would apply. However there may be an exclusion for claims resulting from changes to travel plans related to coronavirus.
Am I covered if I fall sick with COVID-19 when I'm overseas?
That's yet to be decided. Some travel insurance policies currently available in the UK offer cover for travellers who fall ill, including those infected with coronavirus, provided they did not visit a country with a 'Do Not Travel' warning. That might not be the case for Australian travellers. According to Angus Kidman, Editor-in-Chief at Finder, "Coronavirus is a known global pandemic so regardless of whether you travel to a country with or without a strong DFAT warning your insurer is unlikely to cover any virus-related claims. The coronavirus pandemic is still so volatile. Until the risk has subsided with the development of a vaccine it's likely that insurers will continue with strict policies even as we see travel restrictions ease across the globe."
If my trip involves a stopover in a country with a DFAT 'Do Not Travel' warning, does that void my cover?
Entering such a region will disallow any subsequent claim should you fall sick from coronavirus and even a stopover for a change of aircraft is to be avoided as far as possible in such regions. If no other option is available, as long as you are a transit passenger and passing through simply to change aircraft and do not leave the terminal, that would probably not be a reason to invalidate your insurance cover. Check with your insurer and get a response in writing.
What if my cruise ship stops in a country with a DFAT 'Do not Travel' warning, and what happens if I'm subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19?
A cruise ship stops in Venice, Italy. Photo: Getty Images
"When you book a cruise you should be familiar with the route and the countries you'll be stopping in," says Kidman. "If one of these countries is on the 'Do Not Travel' list your insurance will be voided and you'll be travelling at your own risk - even if you don't disembark from the ship yourself."
What if I fall sick with coronavirus before travelling and cancel my trip, would I be compensated for any non-refundable expenses?
In most cases, an illness that causes you to cancel a trip would give you grounds to make a claim against your travel insurance policy, although possibly not if it results from a pre-existing medical condition. However coronavirus is different. According to Kidman, "Because coronavirus is a known event you likely won't be covered."
Is 'Cancel For Any Reason' insurance cover available?
Although such a policy would protect you against loss should you cancel a trip at the last minute, these policies are not available in Australia at the moment.