Coronavirus Impacts Travel Insurance Coverage: Stay Protected

With commercial airline traffic to and from China virtually shut down, and with little prospect that control of the coronavirus is imminent, travellers need to do a quick study of what travel insurance can or cannot do in protecting them from unexpected costs of emergency medical care, trip cancellations, disruptions, re-routings or possibly even temporary isolation far from home.

To help with that study, we have asked Matt Davies, Senior Product Specialist with MSH International to help us navigate through the finer points of travel insurance benefits and limitations as they are provided to Canadian travellers planning visits to countries impacted by the coronavirus epidemic.

One important point to emphasize is that these guidelines or limitations are largely dependent on government assessments of health or other risks in foreign countries and are not just arbitrary rulings set out by insurers.

The before or after rule

Generally, if you purchase insurance for travel to any nation for which the government of Canada has issued “avoid non-essential travel” or “avoid all travel” warnings, certain benefits normally provided may be limited or excluded.

In the case of China, where there is a Canadian government warning extant against non-essential travel to the country as a whole, and all travel to the specific province of Hubei (the immediate site of the coronavirus outbreak), any medical expenses you incur related to that disease would not be coverable if you bought your insurance after those warnings were raised. Once the warnings are lifted, coverage returns to normal.

But if you purchased travel insurance for a trip to China before the government issued its warnings, and you either cancelled your trip or decided to return home early due to concerns about the coronavirus, your trip cancellation and interruption benefits would remain intact.

What would those benefits be?

Again: for trip cancellation and interruption benefits to be applicable, you must have purchased your insurance before the government raised its travel warnings.

Any money you prepaid for your trip that is not recoverable from airlines or hotels or other tour services

may be covered by your travel insurance. But if your airline or tour operator offers refunds or vouchers for future travel, that will reduce your insurer’s obligations.  No double-dipping. And though we say your costs would be covered, we must add that all such costs are subject to certain daily specified in your policy. Know those when you sign your contract.

If you choose to interrupt your trip due to the travel warning raised by your government, your trip interruption benefit will pay the cost of your economy airfare home if your return ticket is not changeable or refundable by your airline.  And if you’re returned home by a government-arranged charter (as some have been during this recent coronavirus crisis) and the government charges you a fee,  your travel insurance may reimburse you up to the cost of an economy airfare.

Your trip interruption benefits may also cover any out- of- pocket costs of unexpected layovers that are beyond your control, such as for meals, hotels, taxis, telephone charges. But these expenses will be subject to daily limits and you need to check them out in your policy. Don’t expect free nights at the Ritz Carlton if your original tour had you booked in a Holiday Inn.

Remember that covered benefits for trip interruption are designed to keep you safe and comfortable and get you home as conveniently as possible. And again, that only works if your insurance was purchased before your government raised its warning to “avoid non-essential travel” or “avoid all travel.”

So know your policy. Know the reimbursement limits. And always stay tuned in to the government travel advisories that often change from day to day–

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Let’s Talk about the Real Flu

I saw a post on Twitter the other day and it really made me laugh. It truly hits the mark on the reality of having a bad case of influenza (“the flu”).

The flu is nothing like a typical cold or mild upper respiratory infection. It is not a stuffy nose, sore throat, and some mild muscle aches.

You are sick. And I mean really sick.

You can feel like you were hit by a train, or the other analogy I hear all the time is feeling like you were hit by a transport truck. You have a bad cough. Your muscles hurt so much you can barely walk. You just want to lie in bed all day and you begin to feel like you will never be “normal” again! I have even heard people tell me they think they are dying.

Misconceptions about the flu

A big problem is the public’s use of the word “flu.” People say all the time that they have the flu, when in fact they don’t. They have a minor other type of respiratory virus that is not the actual influenza A or B virus. As a result, there becomes confusion over what a true case of flu is. People don’t think there is anything to worry about when in fact there should be some concern, particularly when you are at risk of complications.

The actual flu is predominantly a respiratory or lung infection. A dry cough is a very prominent symptom. You often become sick rather quickly with a high fever, severe muscle aches, headache, and feeling generally unwell, that “hit by a train” feeling. Most of the time, you feel terrible with influenza but get better after 7–10 days. It’s not fun and people often miss a lot of work or end up having to forego a vacation they were looking forward to.

Others are not so lucky. The main complication of influenza is pneumonia. Sometimes this is a viral pneumonia: inflammation to the lung tissue caused by the influenza virus itself. Other times, pneumonia, caused by bacteria, can set up shop in your lungs when they’re raw and inflamed. In that state, they become an easy target for any other infection that normally wouldn’t affect you.

I have seen plenty of previously healthy young people develop these complications and end up in respiratory failure in the intensive care unit. No one can believe that “the flu” could do this because they thought “the flu” was nothing to worry about, it’s just the sniffles and some aches. This kind of thinking needs to be addressed with better public health education and perspective.

People at risk

Luckily, most people with true influenza get better. Those at extremes of age, the young and the old, are at higher risk; and so are pregnant women, even if they are otherwise healthy. Anyone with a compromised immune system, such as a cancer or organ transplant patient, is particularly vulnerable.

It needs to be emphasized, though, that many healthy individuals can and do die from influenza. It’s rare but it does happen; I have seen it and it’s devastating.

What you can do

The best defense is to avoid exposure to others who are sick. Wash your hands a lot when in public spaces. Eat and sleep well to keep your immune system strong. Get the influenza vaccine to protect yourself and those around you who are at higher risk. The flu shot is not always effective for every flu season, but studies show that even if it doesn’t stop you from getting the flu, it may reduce the severity of your illness.

Are you an international student? Let us help you feel at home while you study abroad. We cover all your health insurance needs, give you easily accessible resources for navigating the healthcare systems, provide physical and mental wellness support through the Stay Healthy at School program, 24/7 claim services should you need assistance, and much more.

For individual student travellers, get a quote here .

For more information or for a group quote for schools, call us at 1-855-649-4182 or email us at