Coronavirus: an opportunity to improve customer awareness around travel insurance?

globe with respiratory mask

As the number of infections continues to rise (albeit slowing in China), non-essential travel advice to certain areas affects flight cancellations and mass travel disruption – is it time to improve consumer awareness of the protection that travel insurance can offer?

Covid-19

While the spread of Covid-19 has slowed considerably in China, the virus continues to permeate Europe, the Middle East and the US; and the World Health Organization warns of a global shortage of protective equipment.

The virus, which has now infected over 92,800 people around the world and killed more than 3,200, has spread to over 75 countries and territories, some of the worst affected (China aside) being South Korea (with 5,621 reported cases thus far), Iran (2,336), Italy (2,502) and the luxury cruise liner the Diamond Princess (706), which has now allowed all of its passengers and crewmembers to disembark.

In Italy, in particular, the death toll has risen substantially in the past 36 hours, as the virus has claimed the lives of an additional 29 people, taking the number of recorded deaths up to 79 and marking Italy as the country with the most deaths outside of China.

Outside of Italy, Spain has now confirmed its first death from the virus – a man in the region of Valencia died from the coronavirus on 13 February, Regional Health Chief Ana Barcelo confirmed.

Indeed, the EU has raised the risk level of coronavirus infection in Europe from moderate to high, due to the speed of the spread. “The virus is spreading very fast,” said EC President, Ursula von der Leyen, while European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič warned that the situation will worsen: “While we should not give in to panic, the situation is likely to get worse,” she said.

Over in the US, the death toll in Washington state has climbed to nine after the total number of confirmed cases in the state rose to 27 (the current number of active cases sits at 110, with nine recoveries). Eight of the deaths occurred in King County, with one having occurred in neighbouring Snohomish County – they mark the first documented US fatalities.

Amidst all of this, WHO asserts that the global death rate of the virus has increased to 3.4 per cent, where it was previously estimated to be around two per cent. However, WHO also notes that its understanding of how the coronavirus spreads is improving rapidly. "To summarise,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “Covid-19 spreads less efficiently than flu, transmission does not appear to be driven by people who are not sick, it causes more severe illness than flu, there are not yet any vaccines or therapeutics, and it can be contained.”

At a news briefing on Tuesday, Ghebreyesus also warned that while WHO is working with governments, manufacturers and the Pandemic Supply Chain Network to boost production and secure supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for at-risk countries, the current shortage of protective equipment is putting healthcare workers on the frontline at great risk: "Shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline healthcare workers dangerously ill-equipped," he said. "The WHO has shipped nearly half a million sets of personal protective equipment to 27 countries, but supplies are rapidly depleting."

WHO predicted that global supplies would need to be increased by 40 per cent in order to meet demand. And it’s not simply that a dedicated army of frontline workers are depleting the global supply of PPE. Panic buying, hoarding and misuse in response the Covid-19 outbreak is to blame. Indeed, since the start of the outbreak, WHO reports that prices of surgical masks have seen a six-fold increase, N95 respirators have trebled and gowns have doubled.

“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real. Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop Covid-19 without protecting health workers first,” said Ghebreyesus.

The situation appears to be abating in some parts of China – in Wuhan, the first of 16 specially built hospitals was closed as its last recovered patients were discharged and, on Sunday 1 March, Hubei province reported 196 new cases; a sharp decrease from the 570 cases reported the day before.

For an up-to-date visual graphic on the Covid-19 situation, refer to the WHO’s resource here.

Travel insurance

For the travel insurance industry, the effects of the coronavirus are also being felt, but it’s not all bad news.

US-based travel insurance provider VisitorsCoverage has reported that travellers are hungry for accurate travel advice, and they are looking to the insurance industry for answers – travel insurers are now finding themselves with a much larger customer base, including many who would likely not have known nor considered travel insurance before the coronavirus outbreak.

“Our customer service centre has seen a significant rise in call volume and the number of inbound queries relating to the coronavirus,” Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO and Founder of VisitorsCoverage, said. “People want to know if it’s safe to travel, what travel insurance will cover, and what it won’t cover. They are hungry for accurate information and look to our industry to provide that.”

Shrivastava added that mainstream media coverage of travel insurance due to coronavirus is ‘like never before’. “This presents a base of new customers for the industry to build awareness with, and for gaining the trust of travellers who previously may not have known or thought about travel insurance,” he said.

Shrivastava praises those in the industry and calls on them to continue to provide up-to-the-minute information on the coronavirus; educate the consumer on the value of travel insurance – what it does and does not cover; and provide good old-fashioned hand holding and reassurance as travellers agonise over travel decisions during this crisis.

VisitorsCoverage has provided a webpage featuring a wealth of advice for concerned consumers.