Does your company have travel assistance insurance for employees who travel abroad on behalf of your company? Do you also have appropriate cover for your expats abroad? We cannot stress the importance of good insurance, especially in times of an outbreak of a serious virus such as coronavirus.
What are the possible consequences of an epidemic such as coronavirus on travel assistance insurance? We highlight both the medical costs associated with becoming infected with the virus and more practical information regarding repatriation or cancellation of a booked trip.
Cover of medical expenses
Diseases or illnesses caused by a virus are generally covered in a travel assistance policy, although cover is often limited to medical expenses incurred abroad and repatriation to the home country.
Has one of your employees become infected with coronavirus, and do they need follow-up treatment once they are back home? Or do they, as in this case, have to remain in quarantine for at least another two weeks after they return? You should be aware that medical expenses for follow-up care in the home country are not always covered by a travel assistance insurance policy. And if such costs are covered, they are usually limited.
A travel assistance insurer may also offer assistance in the event of the death or permanent disability of a victim. However, in the event of death or permanent disability as a result of coronavirus, the insurer will not intervene because the payment of the insured capital only applies after an accident and not after illness.
Cancellation of a pre-booked trip to a country with an increased risk of coronavirus infection is provided for by some travel assistance insurers, but only if the cancellation is beyond the control and will of the policyholder or insured party. This includes the cancellation of flights by the airline or a complete ban on travelling to a particular destination, for example.
Given the scale of this virus, flights to China have already been stopped by a number of airlines. With some insurers, tickets that have already been booked can be recovered in the event of flights being cancelled by the airline. We recommend that you contact your insurer’s assistance centre for more information.
Some countries are in the process of organising repatriations from Wuhan (China) and the surrounding area. Belgium has also repatriated some citizens and Chinese family members. Whether insurers will reimburse the associated costs, however, is currently unclear. Under normal circumstances, the assistance centre determines, in consultation with the victim, whether, when and how they will be repatriated to their home country. Yet in the event of a global crisis, it is the government that makes the decision and organises repatriation. If you decide to recall your employees early as a precaution, your insurance will not, as a rule, cover the costs incurred.
What preventative measures can you, as a company, take to protect employees? As an employer, you have a duty of care towards your employees, regardless of whether they are in Belgium or working abroad for your company. We would like to give you a few tips to help you provide your employees with the best possible assistance in uncertain situations during their business trip or stay abroad.
Taking out proper travel insurance for your employees is a good start. Such insurance offers them financial protection and professional assistance in the event of unforeseen circumstances abroad. It is advisable to support your employees prior to their stay abroad or even during reintegration after their return. Some travel insurers provide support and online tools, often through a specialised partner, including online training regarding the risks associated with a particular destination, ranging from political unrest to common illnesses.
It is important for travellers who may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak to be aware of the symptoms of such an infection, important dos and don’ts when it comes to hygiene in social environments, accurate travel advice, and more. Furthermore, regular updates on company policy are also crucial (such as travel bans to a certain region or necessary vaccinations). For any questions and concerns about their well-being and safety, your employees can contact the insurer’s assistance centre 24/7.
What about expats?
What if your company has expats in a country that has suddenly been declared a high-risk area, as is the case today in China? For expats travelling from their country of expatriation to a high-risk area (or from that high-risk area to another country), the same rules apply for travel assistance cover. Unnecessary travel to a high-risk area is generally not recommended at that time. We advise companies with expats located in a high-risk area to contact the assistance centre of the travel and/or expatriate insurance provider or the relevant government authorities. They are best placed to assess the situation on site and decide whether or not to evacuate. Here, too, due to atypical circumstances in the event of a global crisis, it is currently unclear whether insurers will reimburse the associated costs.
We keep track of insurance developments and inform you about new developments that have an impact on insurance cover. If you have any questions about the insurance cover you have taken out for your employees abroad, you can contact your insurer’s assistance centre (telephone number specified on your travel assistance card) or our colleague Geert De Krem at email@example.com.