All non-essential foreign travel from the UK should be halted, according to advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
It comes amid mass cancellation of flights as new cases are being diagnosed around the world every day. So what does the outbreak mean for your travel plans?
What are my travel rights?
In general, insurers and airlines take their cue from official UK foreign travel advice.
If you go against it, you risk invalidating your insurance policy.
If the advice is against “all but essential travel” and your trip is essential, some insurers will still maintain cover.
Your rights can also depend on your choice of airline and the small print of your insurance policy – so do read it carefully.
Where should be avoided?
The FCO is constantly updating its advice and is ruling out all but essential travel worldwide for at least a month.
If your flight is cancelled, the airline should offer a refund.
Airlines also have a duty of care to get passengers home if a return flight is cancelled, unless the passenger has accepted a refund for that return trip. Rescue flights are being organised for those struggling to get home from certain destinations around the world.
As well as UK government advice, other countries have their own restrictions. For example, there are strict EU restrictions in place.
Can I rebook instead?
Many airlines, including British Airways, EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic, are currently letting passengers rebook flights for free.
Many hotels in areas under lockdown are offering refunds or the option to rebook. But if the hotel and its location are open, and the booking is non-refundable, travellers may lose out.
Insurers are telling customers they should ask their holiday provider or airline for refunds or rebookings first. Even when travel tickets are refunded, there can be other costs, such as hotel rooms and car hire, which travel insurance may cover.
“People should keep all their travel invoices and receipts to help the claims process go smoothly,” says Laura Dawson, of the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
You might find insurers take a different view on when you can put in a claim. Some will look at it within 28 days of your planned departure. Others ask the traveller to wait until 48 hours before, just in case the FCO advice changes.
Have insurance companies changed cover?
A host of insurance companies have stopped selling new policies, or altered cover, in the wake of the outbreak.
The key is “disruption cover” which should pay out for costs such as unused hotel bookings or car hire. Many policies do not have this as standard.
Some insurers have limited or changed cover for claims relating to the disease. This may mean that a trip booked now may not be covered for disruption, even if you have a valid annual travel insurance policy.
Many have suspended travel insurance sales completely for the moment, including the Post Office.
The Association of British Insurers said that travel insurance is for unforeseen circumstances and coronavirus no longer met that criteria.
Will my insurance cover me if I miss my flight home because of quarantine?
It very much depends on the type of holiday you booked and the type of travel insurance you have.
Most insurers advise customers to check their policies carefully to see what kind of coverage they get.
A policy’s travel delay coverage should outline how much can be reimbursed for additional expenses – such as nights in hotels or meals – if you cannot leave on your scheduled day, according to consumer organisation Which?.
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