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Coronavirus: Can I get travel insurance and what are my travel rights?


Bournemouth Pier Image copyright Getty Images

Coronavirus has meant most people have been forced to abandon or hastily rearrange holiday plans for 2020, whether in the UK or abroad.

Foreign Office advice against all non-essential travel has now been lifted for countries where the public health risk is no longer “unacceptably high” and quarantine restrictions have been relaxed for travellers returning to the UK from dozens of countries.

Should I book my summer holiday?

Different parts of the UK are relaxing restrictions at different times, which opens the option of a staycation.

You are now allowed to stay overnight in many parts of the country and can travel as far as you want within the borders of the countries of the UK.

Many hotels, B&Bs, self-catering properties, caravan parks, campsites, hostels and boarding houses are now open or, in the case of Scotland, will be from 15 July.

The Welsh government has said that people are likely to be able to stay in self-contained accommodation or hotels with en-suite rooms from 11 July.

What about going abroad?

This is more complicated.

Foreign Office advice against all non-essential travel overseas has now been lifted.

Travel advice has been eased for countries and territories where the public health risk is no longer considered to be “unacceptably high”.

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Media captionFlying is a very different experience in the age of coronavirus

As well as the official travel advice from the Foreign Office, there are exemption lists which mean anyone returning from those nations would not need to self-isolate for a fortnight upon their return.

This includes about 60 countries at present. Scotland’s list of countries is slightly different to the list for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For example, Scotland still requires people from Spain to quarantine.

Will travel insurance cover me if I get coronavirus?

Where the Foreign Office advice states UK residents should not travel, it is very unlikely that any travel insurance will be valid.

For example, Foreign Office advice against taking a cruise holiday remains in place as it does for travel to a number of high-risk countries.

In countries where travel is acceptable, according to the Foreign Office, there will be different cover depending on your policy.

While most policies will cover treatment for illness and injury while overseas, not all will do so for coronavirus-related illness.

A number of policies are now being sold that will cover people for emergency treatment or repatriation for Covid-19 contracted while in a resort, but not cases that arose by getting it beforehand in the UK.

What about insurance if I have to self-isolate?

Anyone still faces testing positive for the virus, or coming into contact with somebody who has it, and being alerted by the new test and trace systems being used in the UK.

The government has said it is a “civic duty” for people to self-isolate for 14 days after being notified of a contact.

This could lead to cancelled or delayed holidays, but insurance broadly falls into three categories:

  • Anyone who already had a travel insurance policy bought or renewed prior to around early March may still be able to make a claim for such a cancellation, but they should check their policy
  • Renewals of annual policies may now be unavailable, or have coronavirus exclusions. In other words, the terms may have changed and cover reduced
  • People buying travel insurance now are unlikely to be covered for any coronavirus-related delays or cancellations

Can I rearrange my package holiday if I develop symptoms?

Again, there will be relatively little protection for those who cannot travel because they are told to self-isolate or who develop symptoms just before they are due to travel.

Travel companies are unlikely to give a refund or allow people to rearrange in those circumstances.

People will also need to make a claim on their travel insurance if they are affected by the virus while abroad.

However, if the UK or a destination country announces fresh restrictions on travel, then a refund for the whole holiday or the opportunity to rearrange should be granted.

Can I get a refund for cancelled flights or package holidays?

Yes, but there have been delays for many people who have been seeking refunds for holidays cancelled while restrictions were in place – both abroad and in the UK.

The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) told BBC News that people “absolutely have the right to a refund” for package holidays cancelled by a provider, but payments would take longer than the 14 statutory days.

Image copyright Getty Images

If your flight is cancelled, you are also entitled to a full refund to your original form of payment, within seven days. Huge backlogs mean these have been delayed considerably, prompting complaints to airlines and the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority.

Many customers have reported their airlines have been offering a voucher for another flight instead of a refund.

And trade body Airlines UK told BBC News in early April, vouchers were its preferred method of compensation in a “very grave” financial situation.

If you are offered a voucher, or a free rebooking instead of cash, you can accept or refuse it.

But if the airline later folds, the voucher will probably become invalid.

If you rebook and later decide against going on a flight that has not been cancelled, you will have lost your right to a refund and are unlikely to be covered by your travel insurance.

The Association of British Insurers said travel insurance was to cover losses incurred by unforeseen circumstances and coronavirus no longer met that criteria.

People should also pay attention to “disruption cover” in terms and conditions, which may, or may not, pay out for costs such as unused hotel bookings or car hire.


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CoronaVirus translator

What do all these terms mean?

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  • Antibodies test

    A medical test that can show if a person has had the coronavirus and now has some immunity. The test detects antibodies in the blood, which are produced by the body to fight off the disease.

  • Asymptomatic

    Someone who has a disease but does not have any of the symptoms it causes. Some studies suggest some people with coronavirus carry the disease but don’t show the common symptoms, such as a persistent cough or high temperature.

  • Containment phase

    The first part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, which involved trying to identify infected people early and trace anyone who had been in close contact with them.

  • Coronavirus

    One of a group of viruses that can cause severe or mild illness in humans and animals. The coronavirus currently sweeping the world causes the disease Covid-19. The common cold and influenza (flu) are other types of coronaviruses.

  • Covid-19

    The disease caused by the coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. It primarily affects the lungs.

  • Delay phase

    The second part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, in which measures such as social distancing are used to delay its spread.

  • Fixed penalty notice

    A fine designed to deal with an offence on the spot, instead of in court. These are often for driving offences, but now also cover anti-social behaviour and breaches of the coronavirus lockdown.

  • Flatten the curve

    Health experts use a line on a chart to show numbers of new coronavirus cases. If a lot of people get the virus in a short period of time, the line might rise sharply and look a bit like a mountain. However, taking measures to reduce infections can spread cases out over a longer period and means the “curve” is flatter. This makes it easier for health systems to cope.

  • Flu

    Short for influenza, a virus that routinely causes disease in humans and animals, in seasonal epidemics.

  • Furlough

    Supports firms hit by coronavirus by temporarily helping pay the wages of some staff. It allows employees to remain on the payroll, even though they aren’t working.

  • Herd immunity

    How the spread of a disease slows after a sufficiently large proportion of a population has been exposed to it.

  • Immune

    A person whose body can withstand or fend off a disease is said to be immune to it. Once a person has recovered from the disease caused by the coronavirus, Covid-19, for example, it is thought they cannot catch it again for a certain period of time.

  • Incubation period

    The period of time between catching a disease and starting to display symptoms.

  • Intensive care

    Hospital wards which treat patients who are very ill. They are run by specially-trained healthcare staff and contain specialist equipment.

  • Lockdown

    Restrictions on movement or daily life, where public buildings are closed and people told to stay at home. Lockdowns have been imposed in several countries as part of drastic efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus.

  • Mitigation phase

    The third part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, which will involve attempts to lessen the impact of a high number of cases on public services. This could mean the NHS halting all non-critical care and police responding to major crimes and emergencies only.

  • NHS 111

    The NHS’s 24-hour phone and online service, which offers medical advice to anyone who needs it. People in England and Wales are advised to ring the service if they are worried about their symptoms. In Scotland, they should check NHS inform, then ring their GP in office hours or 111 out of hours. In Northern Ireland, they should call their GP.

  • Outbreak

    Multiple cases of a disease occurring rapidly, in a cluster or different locations.

  • Pandemic

    An epidemic of serious disease spreading rapidly in many countries simultaneously.

  • Phase 2

    This is when the UK will start to lift some of its lockdown rules while still trying to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

  • PPE

    PPE, or personal protective equipment, is clothing and kit such as masks, aprons, gloves and goggles used by medical staff, care workers and others to protect themselves against infection from coronavirus patients and other people who might be carrying the disease.

  • Quarantine

    The isolation of people exposed to a contagious disease to prevent its spread.

  • R0

    R0, pronounced “R-naught”, is the average number of people who will catch the disease from a single infected person. If the R0 of coronavirus in a particular population is 2, then on average each case will create two more new cases. The value therefore gives an indication of how much the infection could spread.

  • Recession

    This happens when there is a significant drop in income, jobs and sales in a country for two consecutive three-month periods.

  • Sars

    Severe acute respiratory syndrome, a type of coronavirus that emerged in Asia in 2003.

  • Self-isolation

    Staying inside and avoiding all contact with other people, with the aim of preventing the spread of a disease.

  • Social distancing

    Keeping away from other people, with the aim of slowing down transmission of a disease. The government advises not seeing friends or relatives other than those you live with, working from home where possible and avoiding public transport.

  • State of emergency

    Measures taken by a government to restrict daily life while it deals with a crisis. This can involve closing schools and workplaces, restricting the movement of people and even deploying the armed forces to support the regular emergency services.

  • Statutory instrument

    These can be used by government ministers to implement new laws or regulations, or change existing laws. They are an easier alternative to passing a full Act of Parliament.

  • Symptoms

    Any sign of disease, triggered by the body’s immune system as it attempts to fight off the infection. The main symptoms of the coronavirus are a fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.

  • Vaccine

    A treatment that causes the body to produce antibodies, which fight off a disease, and gives immunity against further infection.

  • Ventilator

    A machine that takes over breathing for the body when disease has caused the lungs to fail.

  • Virus

    A tiny agent that copies itself inside the living cells of any organism. Viruses can cause these cells to die and interrupt the body’s normal chemical processes, causing disease.

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What do all these terms mean?

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