We’ve all seen the news: the big global health issue, the coronavirus known as COVID-19, is spreading. Flights are stopped or delayed, and people on cruises have been in quarantine for weeks.
So, if you’ve got a holiday booked in the coming months, it’s understandable that you’re worried coronavirus might impede your trip or even mean it’s cancelled.
We’ve put together this guide to make sure coronavirus doesn’t ruin your holiday.
- What is the problem?
- Why COVID-19 could ruin your holiday
- Get good travel insurance cover
- Book your travel insurance NOW
- Cancelling your holiday because of coronavirus
- If COVID-19 interrupts your holiday
- How to avoid the coronavirus
- Ask questions about travel refunds
For many people, catching COVID-19 isn’t going to be the big problem the media make it out to be. The problem is that it’s easy to catch – and that means it spreads easily to vulnerable people.
Those with low immune systems and the elderly could be at risk of developing severe symptoms.
It’s also a problem because infected people don’t show symptoms for up to the first 14 days. That means you can catch the virus and walk around like normal, in an infectious stage, without knowing it. When you start to show symptoms, it can feel like a common cold: for many with the virus, it’s relatively mild and they fully recover. This makes tracing and containing the virus very difficult for public health authorities.
The reported epicentre of the virus, the Wuhan province in China, went on lockdown. The entire province is under quarantine.
Unfortunately, this only worked to an extent. International flights carried people with the virus to lots of different countries – and that’s why airports have stepped up their passenger screening.
Italy, for example, is a recent location with a known outbreak. They now screen passengers arriving from certain areas, checking their temperatures and looking for potential symptoms. Anyone suspected of having the virus is immediately quarantined for 14 days.
If you’re getting a flight from the UK, at time of writing, it’s unlikely you’ll be screened on arrival at your destination. However, if you’re visiting a country with a recorded outbreak, you may be screened on your return.
Or, like the Diamond Princess cruise ship, if you’re on transport with someone known to have the virus, everyone on board could be quarantined for at least 14 days. This means you’ll miss your holiday, be delayed returning – and this has knock-on effects for your jobs, home routine, and even pets you’ve left behind in boarding.
The costs associated with delayed trips or – at worst – overseas medical expenses if you get the virus can be huge.
Your holiday might also be affected if flights are stopped to the country you’re visiting, or if your package holiday operator cancels your trip entirely.
Travel insurance is the best way to protect yourself against potentially huge bills caused by the coronavirus outbreak. You need to be savvy about your policy, though.
Make sure it covers medical expenses – including repatriation – to avoid the biggest bills of all. It’s worth paying extra for decent medical cover – and you may want to add on travel disruption premiums, too.
Even if your trip isn’t for several months, get your travel insurance in place RIGHT NOW. If the country then suffers an outbreak and goes into lockdown, you’re covered for refunds and related costs.
Some companies won’t cover you as fully as you think. For example, if you visit an area which then goes into lockdown while you’re there, a very basic travel policy might not pay out. No insurance companies currently cover visits to areas that are officially under lockdown.
Others, however, have issued statements to reassure customers with existing policies, or those purchased now for trips to countries not yet under lockdown, will be covered.
For example, Neil Wright, Founder and Director of CoverForYou says: “CoverForYou will consider all claims if your policy was purchased and your trip booked before the FCO – or other regulatory authority in a country to/from which you are travelling – advised against all travel or all but essential travel to the country/specific area you are travelling to if you are due to travel on or before 30/04/2020 (inclusive).”
If you haven’t bought travel insurance yet, it’s bad news. New policies are now unlikely to cover pandemics as a reason to receive a refund, unless you can’t travel because you’re sick yourself (which falls under the medical cancellation element of a policy).
Think carefully about choosing to cancel your holiday. If you’re planning to visit a country that’s not had a reported outbreak, your travel insurance company is unlikely to pay out.
Keep an eye on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s advice. If the area you’re visiting becomes a COVID-19 concern, the FCO will issue a statement advising against all but essential travel.
When this happens, you can apply to your package operator for a cancellation and refund.
For those who’ve booked independently of an operator, the first thing is to contact your travel carriers and accommodation. Obtain written evidence of any refund disputes from them. Use this to claim the costs back from your travel insurance.
Planning ahead is all very well – but what if you’re already on holiday when your area goes into lockdown and you can’t get a flight home?
Each country has a responsibility to its citizens wherever they are in the world. So, while the first step is likely to be screening and quarantine, the next step is to find out what help the UK Government is offering.
They may, for example, arrange repatriation flights for people affected in a lockdown area. The first thing you need to do is contact the local British Embassy or consulate. Tell them your accommodation details, whether you’re in quarantine, and any other details they ask for.
Make sure you also tell your travel insurance company and transport operator about the situation. They’ll advise you on the support available to you and let you know what’s covered on your travel insurance.
If your holiday is due in the next few weeks and has been cancelled, you’re entitled to a full refund. Many operators are only offering vouchers for replacement holidays at a later date – but consumer law means you’re entitled to a full refund if the operator is the one who cancelled the service (such as a flight or hotel booking).
Your credit card provider is jointly liable for purchases made over £100 – so if you’re trying to get your money back from suppliers with little success, try speaking to your card provider instead. If you’re still not getting anywhere, contact the UK European Consumer Centre – a little-known free ombudsman service that can help get your money back.
The coronavirus is much like the flu. It spreads easily as it’s airborne, and the virus can live on surfaces for a while, too.
The most important thing you can do is practice basic hygiene: wash your hands!
Don’t share drinks or food with other people, either.
If you’ve got a cough or need to sneeze, use a tissue and dispose of it immediately, then wash your hands. Some people carry travel-sized hand sanitizer with them when they’re out and about, too.
Similarly, if you’re showing symptoms of a cold and have recently returned from travelling, don’t go to your doctor! Instead, call NHS 111 and explain the situation: if they think you’re at risk of the virus, a containment and quarantine process will be instigated. Avoid other people. Definitely don’t go to your GP or hospital: this could spread the virus to lots of vulnerable people.
coronavirus Update 18/03/2020
Classed as a pandemic
On Monday the same 16th March 2020, in response to the World Health Organisation classifying coronavirus as a global pandemic, the British government advised all UK citizens to avoid unnecessary travel, gatherings and public places. This includes pubs, restaurants, artistic pursuits and even the workplace if the option to work from home is available.
Total number of recorded cases
The amount of people affected by coronavirus has significantly increased in the past week bringing the death toll to over 100 at the time of writing. As before, those who sadly passed away after contracting the virus were mostly of advanced age and suffered from a pre-existing health condition. Even those who were not considered elderly that passed were indeed confirmed to have such a condition.
The number of recorded cases at the time of writing is over 2000 and rising. The difficulty here is that the virus can take several days before symptoms develop, meaning people may have the virus and not know it yet.
Travel Bans and lockdowns
The United States has now added the UK, Ireland and Turkey to its list of countries on its travel ban. This now means all of Europe is unable to travel across the Atlantic until the situation is contained. France and many other nations have also closed their borders and urged citizens to not travel or visit public places unless absolutely necessary.
If you’re struggling to decide whether to cancel your holiday, or if you’re having trouble getting refunds from airlines, there’s now a place to ask your questions!
Hop on over to our MoneyMagpie Messageboard and ask your travel queries in our dedicated coronavirus refunds forum. You’ll get replies from the MoneyMagpie team, vetted experts, and other Magpies in your community about their experience.
You can also win a £25 Amazon voucher each week, just for posting and getting involved in the conversation!