Last Updated: Friday, April 3, 2020
This article focuses primarily on how the coronavirus is taken into consideration in international travel insurance plans such as travel medical insurance, visitors insurance, and travel insurance for persons traveling internationally to the U.S. and other countries. There are some situations where coverage is available, and others where it is excluded. If you’re traveling or considering travel now, you need to be aware of how it could affect your plans.
There is a major outbreak currently called the coronavirus. It was first identified in Wuhan in Hubei Province of China, as of late December 2019. This specific strain is called COVID-19. The coronavirus is zoonotic, meaning that it can be transmitted between animals and people. The SARS-CoV was first transmitted from civet cats to humans, and the MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization made the assessment to characterize COVID-19 as a pandemic.
The coronavirus is a respiratory illness that spreads through person-to-person contact or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The illness may present itself with flu-like symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. It can take anywhere from two days to two weeks for the symptoms to appear after a person has been infected with the virus. However, in many people, there are no symptoms.
Reported cases of coronavirus have ranged in severity from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. As of April 3, 2020, there have been more than one million confirmed cases and more than 58,000 deaths worldwide. Cases have been reported in more than 180 countries. Of those, there are more than 82,500 confirmed cases in China (more than 3,000 deaths), more than 260,000 confirmed cases in the United States (more than 6,500 deaths), and more than 2,500 confirmed cases in India (72 deaths).
There is currently no specific medication or vaccination recommended to prevent or treat COVID-19. People who think they may have contracted the illness should contact their health care provider immediately.
There is currently no vaccination or treatment available for this strain of coronavirus. However, as per the CDC recommendations, taking the following measures may help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If that is not possible, consider using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, use the crook of your elbow.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. You can consider using a standard household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Get the flu vaccine.
Only wear a mask if you are ill with coronavirus symptoms or caring for someone demonstrating coronavirus symptoms. As these disposable face masks can only be worn once, wearing them as a preventative measure is a waste of medical resources. There is currently a worldwide shortage of disposable face masks, and the World Health Organization urges rational use of medical masks to conserve resources for patients and health care professionals.
The virus that causes COVID-19 affects people of all ages. However, it appears that two groups of people have a higher risk of developing severe symptoms: older people (people over 60 years old), and those with underlying medical conditions (like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer). The World Health Organization offers the following advice for those two groups, as well as to everyone—even if you aren’t in one of the high-risk groups, you might pass the disease to someone who is.
- To maintain social distance, exchange “one-meter greetings” like a wave, nod, or bow.
- Ask visitors and those you live with to wash their hands.
- Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces in your home, especially ones that get touched regularly.
- If someone you live with isn’t feeling well (especially with COVID-19 symptoms), limit your shared spaces.
- If you become ill with symptoms of COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider by telephone before visiting your health care facility.
- Make a plan in preparation for an outbreak of COVID-19 in your community.
- When in public, follow the same preventative guidelines as you would at home.
- Stay up-to-date and educated with information from reliable sources.
The coronavirus outbreak is a rapidly changing situation. Many world leaders and national and international organizations have announced that they are implementing precautionary and cautionary measures to contain the virus and protect citizens around the world. Some of these measures include:
- On March 10, 2020, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that the entire country of Italy would be placed on lockdown, expanding containment efforts previously only in effect in the northern region of the country. The Prime Minister urged the country’s residents to avoid traveling outside areas where they live unless they can prove it’s because of a medical or work emergency. The extended lockdown took effect on Tuesday, March 11, and will remain in effect until April 3.
- On March 11, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a monthlong travel restriction between the United States and the Schengen Area of Europe. A proclamation released that night declares that the entry into the U.S. of all aliens and non-permanent residents, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, who were physically present within the Schengen Area during the two-week period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the country has been suspended and limited. The ban does not apply to the following groups: U.S. citizens and permanent residents; children, foster children, wards, adoptees, alien spouses, parents, or legal guardians of U.S. citizens and permanent residents; unmarried alien siblings under age 21 of U.S. citizens and permanent residents; The U.S. State Department also issued a global health advisory cautioning U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad due to the virus.
- At least 135 colleges and universities around the U.S. have closed their campuses and cancelled in-person classes.
- On March 11, 2020, the California Department of Public Health issued an advisory requesting that officials postpone or cancel any gatherings of 250 people or more. A gathering is defined as anything “that brings together people in a single room or single space at the same time, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, cafeteria, or any other indoor or outdoor space.”
- As of March 12, 2020, the U.S. Capitol Building is closed to the public until April 1, 2020.
- On Friday, March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national state of emergency for the United States of America.
- On Sunday, March 15, 2020, the U.S. CDC recommended that any large events and mass gatherings of more than 50 people be postponed or canceled for at least the next eight weeks.
- As of March 18, 2020, the U.S. Center for Immigration Services (USCIS) has temporarily closed its offices to the public.
- On Tuesday, March 24, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed that it is postponing the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games until 2021.
Return from Abroad
The CDC has released a packet of information specifically for people who have recently returned from a country facing a coronavirus outbreak. Those who have returned from countries or regions with quarantine orders, such as the Hubei province in China, are being monitored by public health officials at their destination. Those not under quarantine are urged to take the following steps:
- Take your temperature twice a day, and watch for symptoms like coughing or difficulty breathing.
- Stay home from school.
- Discuss your work situation with your employer before returning to work.
- Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares.
- Avoid crowded places and limit your activities in public.
- Keep your distance from others (about 6 feet or 2 meters).
- If you need to seek medical care for other reasons, call your doctor’s office ahead of time and inform them about your recent travel to China.
If you have a fever (a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), a cough, trouble breathing, or any other coronavirus symptoms, follow these steps:
- Don’t go out in public.
- Call your state’s health department and inform them of your situation.
- If you can’t reach the health department, seek medical advice. Call ahead before you go to tell them about your recent travel, symptoms, and guidance received from the health department.
- Avoid contact with others.
- Do not travel while sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Wash your hands with soap and water immediately after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60%-95% alcohol.
Travel Medical Insurance
Many travelers have questioned whether they have coverage related to the coronavirus in their international travel medical insurance or travel insurance plans. Regarding travel insurance, coverage depends on factors like the specific insurance plan’s exclusions and the destination. Most international insurance plans have an exclusion for coverage related to epidemics or pandemics if a travel warning for the destination (host) country has been issued. Coverage is available in some situations.
Like travel medical insurance and visitors medical insurance, travel insurance is available for many different travel arrangements. Specific coverages may or may not be available depending on your unique situation. Many people purchase travel insurance with trip cancellation insurance to prevent the loss of their prepaid, non-refundable trip costs in case they need to cancel their trip due to the covered reasons. However, if you have not already purchased this coverage, it is too late to purchase it now because the coronavirus is already a known problem.
The best option is to purchase Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) Travel Insurance in case you have an upcoming trip and you may need to cancel the trip. Please note that there are specific requirements such as: You must purchase such travel insurance within a certain duration after the initial trip deposit, you must insure your full trip cost, and you must generally cancel your trip at least 48 hours in advance. You would get up to 75% of your trip cost back.
However, if you already know that you want to or need to cancel your trip and you want to buy the cancel for any reason travel insurance now, it is not going to work because CFAR travel insurance must be purchased within 10-21 days after your initial trip deposit (specific duration is plan dependent).
Potential High-Risk Scenarios
International insurance may or may not be of help in some potential high-risk scenarios, but you can try to help ensure that other people are not exposed. The following are three higher-risk scenarios for a person that could be in contact with someone that has recently visited a country with a Level 3 Travel Health Notices, or a person that has recently returned to the United States from one of these countries.
Scenario 1: Say that you’re in the United States and you haven’t been to a Level 3 country since the outbreak of the virus, but you live or congregate in an area with a high concentration of people that could have recently traveled back from one of these countries.
If you start feeling sick, we recommend that you take the precautions listed above. We especially recommend staying home and taking time to recover until you feel better. If symptoms persist, schedule a doctor’s appointment.
Scenario 2: Say that you’re in the United States and you haven’t been to a Level 3 country since the outbreak of the virus, but you’ve had contact with family or friends who have recently returned from one of them.
If you start feeling sick, we still recommend that you take the precautions listed above. We especially recommend staying home and taking time to recover until you feel better. Make contact with your family or friends who have recently returned (by phone or email, if possible), and ask if they have also been feeling sick. If they have, and if your symptoms persist, schedule a doctor’s appointment. When scheduling an appointment, be sure to explain that you have been in contact with someone that recently returned from a country with a Level 3 Travel Health Notice in effect and would like to take the necessary cautions to limit exposing yourself to other people unnecessarily if you can.
Scenario 3: Say that you have visited a Level 3 country since the outbreak of the virus and recently returned to the United States. If you start feeling sick, schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.
We recommend calling the doctor’s office to inform them of your situation in advance. Explain that you’ve recently returned from a country with a Level 3 Travel Health Notice in effect and are concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19. Ask the office how they would like to handle your situation. It would be better for them to be able to take precautions to limit your contact with staff and other patients. In the meantime, take the precautions listed above, and try to stay home and limit your contact with others as much as possible.
Planning for trips involves more than just booking airfare, hotel accommodations, and making sure you’ve packed the right clothing. Life is unpredictable in so many ways; you don’t know what will happen or when disaster can strike. For any trips away from home, make sure that you select the best travel insurance for your journey. You should also reference our Coronavirus and Travel Insurance FAQ for more information.