Essential advice for travellers concerned about coronavirus

If there isn’t a travel ban in place, there’s no need to cancel your holiday, says Sarah Marshall.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock – or a 10-tonne pallet of toilet roll for that matter, COVID-19 will now be a household term. With the world avidly awaiting daily updates, many of us have been struck by inertia, not wanting to move for fear of being sneezed, coughed or spluttered upon by potential germ carriers. The idea of self-isolation is beginning to sound as appealing as a five-star beach break in the Maldives.

But the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has warned against implementing travel bans unless absolutely necessary; often they are ineffective and the potential social and economic impact could be devastating.

Of course, the Foreign And Commonwealth Office (travelaware.campaign.gov.uk) is your best source of guidance for safe travel, but if you are planning a holiday in the coming weeks – or months, here’s some further advice to consider.

Don’t assume cancellation is the only option

Rather than cancelling a trip altogether, and risk losing money, travellers are being encouraged to postpone their plans temporarily. Etihad, for example, has temporarily removed all date change fees for flights and holidays booked between March 8 and April 7, 2020.

Tour operator Kuoni have also fast-tracked the launch of their Kuoni Flex initiative, which offers customers the flexibility to reschedule their holiday to alternative travel dates without charge up until seven days before departure. This applies to several destinations – including Mauritius, the Maldives, Thailand, Bali, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean, Mexico and select India group departures – and is available for a limited booking period until March 16, on holidays departing from now until the February 15, 2021.

Appreciating this is a fast-moving situation, Royal Caribbean International has also announced a ‘Cruise With Confidence’ policy, permitting changes in travel plans up to 48 hours before sailing. Applicable to both new and existing bookings with Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea, the policy (which applies to all cruises with a sailing date on or before July 31, 2020), allows guests to re-book with full credit on alternative cruises with the company in 2020 and 2021.

Monitor FCO advice to ensure your insurance policy is valid

In terms of no-go zones, keep checking the FCO website for details. Currently, Iran, Hubei province in China and Italy have been ruled out for all but essential travel.

If you booked a holiday before the FCO advice was issued, then travel insurance will cover you for unused and non-refundable travel and accommodation costs in that destination. But in the first instance, you should always approach the airline, your tour operator or your travel company for a possible refund, or to see if they will amend your itinerary, advises Chris Rolland, CEO of specialist medical travel insurance provider AllClear Travel (allcleartravel.co.uk).

You will also be covered for emergency medical expenses if you contract coronavirus in a country where there was no FCO advisory at the time of departure.

Milan cathedral in northern Italy, currently off limits to travellers due to coronavirus.

Check the fine print thoroughly

“Travel insurance policies will cover emergency medical expenses and repatriation costs if treatment is needed as a result of the coronavirus,” says Rebecca Kingsley, brand manager of consumer awareness initiative, Travel Insurance Explained (travelinsuranceexplained.co.uk).

“Policies may also be extended should you be unable to return on your scheduled date, due to quarantine restrictions.”

But she advises checking to find out exactly what is covered. Some policies, for example, will cover additional accommodation and food costs incurred if you are quarantined while away. She also warns that delays are often only covered on outbound (and not return) journeys, so check this too.

Even staycations require insurance cover

Right now, a holiday at home might seem like the safer option, but don’t neglect insurance cover.

“Although we have free medical care in the UK, travel insurance will cover you if you need to cancel your holiday or return home early and cannot claim back the cost from elsewhere,” says Kingsley. “In addition, some travel insurance policies will offer to cover the cost of pre-paid, non-refundable excursions and car hire, if you are unable to make your trip.”

It’s worth noting, however, that some policies will only cover UK holidays if they are more than a minimum number of nights in duration.