Business travel has not been significantly impacted by the current Ebola outbreak, according to a poll of travel managers conducted by the GBTA Foundation, the education and research arm of the Global Business Travel Association. Nearly 80 per cent of the managers said international business travel has either not been impacted at all, or has not been impacted much during the past month. Likewise, more than 90 per cent of managers said that domestic business travel has either not been impacted at all or has not been impacted much during the past month.
“Although Ebola is top of mind across the country, its business as usual for most business travellers,” said GBTA Executive Director and COO Michael W. McCormick. “But that is not to say that companies are not monitoring this outbreak closely. A majority of travel managers said they either are, or plan to provide, their employees with updated information on staying safe while traveling.”
According to McCormick, it is imperative that the government and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide accurate and timely information to the public. The poll found that more than one third (36 per cent) of traveller managers are providing their road warriors with tips on staying safe, while 41 per cent said they plan to do so in the future.
Although the majority of business domestic and international travellers aren’t changing their schedules, companies that do business in West Africa are making changes – but not by a wide margin. Fifty-two percent of travel managers who do business in West Africa said they are restricting travel to that part of the world.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged people travelling to countries that have been affected by the Ebola outbreak to ensure they purchase travel insurance that covers treatment for the disease and evacuation back to their home country. Carrie McLean, director of customer care at eHealthInsurance, a US-based firm, reminded customers that while policies in accordance with the Affordable Care Act will cover treatment for Ebola, they may not cover evacuation back to the US should the policyholder become infected. She explained that ‘some plans limit the insurance payout to a figure that might not be enough to cover the costs of the intensive treatment and quarantine that come with Ebola’.
Other companies offer ‘cancel for any reason’ coverage, so travellers who have invested the not insignificant sum for those policies will see payouts on their cancellation claims. HCC Medical Insurance Services, also based in the US, gave its policyholders 10 days to leave countries identified by the CDC as high-risk for Ebola, otherwise their coverage would be invalid. The US State Department website is clear in its expectation of travellers: “We encourage US citizens travelling to Ebola-affected countries to purchase travel insurance that includes medical evacuation for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). Policyholders should confirm the availability of medical care and evacuation services at their travel destinations prior to travel.”
Australia’s Smartraveller programme had this to say: “We currently advise Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Australians in these three affected countries should leave while limited commercial options remain available. If you choose to travel to, or remain in these countries, we strongly recommend that you register your travel and contact details with us, so that we can keep you informed.”
Airlines, meanwhile, are aware that if the disease is going to be spread far and wide across the globe, it is likely going to be via air travel. Therefore, according to Sean Gates, consultant at international law firm Hill Dickinson, airlines should follow guidelines issued by the World Health Organization and CDC for dealing with passengers travelling from countries that have been affected by Ebola, or else face the prospect of dealing with legal action by passengers who were infected during a flight. Gates warned: “If it can be proven that airlines have not complied, then they may have to pay claims, though they will commonly be insured up to US$2 billion. This would be fine for passengers, but if some court in the US found the airline liable for importing the disease, and that victims were within the ambit of their duty of care, then the exposure could easily exceed the available insurance.” Just to make the situation even more murky, Logan Payne, senior account manager at Lockton global insurance brokerage, pointed out that if a globally mobile employee were to get on a flight with Ebola and infect fellow passengers, would the employer, under duty of care laws, be liable for claims from the infected passengers? Let us hope that it doesn’t come to that.
Travel risk focus
Meanwhile, Drum Cussac, a global business risk consultancy that helps businesses operate in emerging and complex markets, reported that it has seen a 'significant rise' in requests for bespoke travel risk assesments that specifically include the risks associated with Ebola. With no indication that the recent rise in Ebola virus disease cases will be halted in West Africa, companies are forward planning to keep their travellers protected globally and ensure business continuity. Drum Cussac Travel Risk Assessments outline the key risks and offer mitigation measures tailored for and appropriate to clients’ business requirements.
Chris Dell, director of information services for Drum Cussac, commented: “The cost to companies to assist their personnel can become a severe business risk if they haven't already taken steps to mitigate such events. We often see rises in specific travel risk assessments as media focus turn to world events that have a potential to disrupt business continuity and we are delighted to assist with plans for risk mitigation.”
Heathrow Airport started to screen passengers for symptoms of Ebola on 14 October. A Heathrow spokesperson said: “The welfare of our passengers and colleagues is always our main priority and we are working with Government to support the implementation of targeted screening measures as announced by the Health Secretary. We would like to reassure passengers that the Government assesses the risk of a traveller contracting Ebola to be low. We would encourage anybody with individual questions or concerns to refer to guidance from Public Health England and the Foreign Office.”
Public Health England is helping to roll out enhanced screening for Ebola starting at Heathrow, then Gatwick and St Pancras (Eurostar), in passengers that Border Force officers identify as having travelled from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Passengers will have their temperature taken and complete a questionnaire asking about their current health, recent travel history and whether they might be at potential risk through contact with Ebola patients. Based on the information provided and their temperature, passengers will either be given advice and allowed to continue their journey, or undergo a clinical assessment by PHE staff and if necessary be transferred to hospital for further tests. Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at PHE, said:“Anyone who is well but may have been at increased risk of contact with the Ebola virus will be given printed information and a PHE contact number to call in case they develop symptoms. People infected with Ebola can only spread the virus to other people once they have developed symptoms, such as a fever. Even if someone has symptoms, the virus is only transmitted by direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person. It’s important to remember this is just one part of the screening process. PHE is also working with the international community and local health authorities to ensure robust exit screening remains in place at airports in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, which will pick up anyone who is symptomatic before they leave these countries. Although no system can completely prevent a case of Ebola coming into the UK, enhanced screening in high volume ports of entry will ensure that individuals at risk know exactly what to do if they start feeling ill, and can receive the expert advice they need immediately. Overall the risk of Ebola in the UK remains low, and we have a world-class domestic health system that is ready to respond if we do see a case in the UK.”
Life cover question
With the growing concern about the possible spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (Ebola), Michael Ward, managing director of PayingTooMuch, an online insurance comparison site, commented on how it could impact on life insurance in the UK. “For policies already in force, if a death occurs as a result of Ebola current life insurance would pay out in full. But for new life insurance policies, are prices about to rise and will they cover Ebola? What we need to be concerned about is if the virus begins to mutate so that transmission occurs more easily. Current thinking is that mutation is unlikely, but this could change. If it did, I’d expect insurers to either apply an exclusion for Ebola deaths for new policies taken out or increase premiums. I would expect insurers are already reviewing the position on a regular basis and expect them to react if circumstances change.”
Ward added: “Life insurance premiums are currently at historically low levels but with margins so small for insurers, any increase in mortality experience would likely lead to an immediate rate rise as it did with HIV/AIDS about a decade ago. But at the moment I think this is unlikely.”