TRAVELLERS from Hong Kong and Singapore arrive at Cape Town International Airport wearing face masks to protect them from the coronavirus. Henk Kruger African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town International Airport was last week flooded with dozens of travellers who reunited with loved ones as they unmasked themselves after overnight flights from China and nearby locations.

Like citizens of other countries, many were asking if their loved ones had been infected with the highly infectious coronavirus. The virus has now been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and has raised concerns in both the insurance and tourism industry.

More than 360 people have died from the virus in China and more than 7000 cases confirmed, according to WHO.

Local health authorities say they’re on high alert to detect the coronavirus. They say measures are being put in place to keep South Africans safe from the virus. With the coronavirus outbreak in China, many people had to cancel or postpone their travel arrangements to the affected countries.

Travel insurance exists to cover the unforeseen, not events travellers are already aware of. Many policies will not cover pandemics as a general rule. However, certain insurers may still pay out cancellation benefits provided your policy was purchased before a warning was issued. Travel insurance will cover cancellation if it is due to public transport services being cancelled or diverted as a result of the virus outbreak. It will also cover the unused portion of the trip if the client is already overseas and the trip has to be cut short as a result of the outbreak.

If the public transport services are not cancelled or diverted, travel insurance will refund 50 percent of the costs subject to conditions that the cancellation must be at least 48 hours before the trip date.

Old Mutual Insure insurance expert Christelle Colman said if you travel to an affected country and contract the virus, in most instances your medical costs would be covered, and if travellers end up in a medical emergency overseas, the insurer is likely to do everything they can to assist you.

This not only includes covering the costs of medical treatment, but also providing support and updates to family members.

What about South African expats? For expats in Wuhan (the city at the centre of the outbreak), there is no special regulation scheduled for foreign patients. If they have symptoms, they have to follow the public system at this stage, some international VIP clinics in Wuhan might refuse to accept consultation with suspicious cases and their resources are limited.

There are nine designated hospitals in Wuhan for fever patient consultations, but the government plans to open more hospitals and beds for patient accommodation. So far there is a significant shortage of ward beds for admission of patients.

“We further advise travellers to contact their airlines and travel providers, as many have begun accommodating those who want to modify, delay or cancel their itineraries to China,” added Colman.