Vancouver Sun | Randy Shore

If you are tempted to take advantage of a cheap flight to COVID-19 hot spots such as Italy or China, you could be paying your own hospital bills if you get sick.

Pacific Blue Cross is warning its clients that that will not be covered for medical expenses related to infectious disease if a travel advisory or health warning for your destination is issued by the Canadian government and publicized before your departure date.

The company advises members to check for government health advisories for their destination.

“If you have or want to purchase travel medical or trip protection insurance or if you are covered under a group travel medical plan, you should be aware of your coverage before you travel,” the company said in a statement.

Canada has issued Level 3 travel advisories for China, Iran and northern Italy to “avoid non-essential travel.” Travelling to a country under a Level 3 or 4 warning typically voids your coverage for medical expenses.

In practice, that means that your medical claims will be honoured as long as there is no Level 3 or 4 advisory for your destination on the effective date of your medical coverage, travel industry insiders say.

A Level 1 travel advisory means exercise normal security precautions, Level 2 advises a high degree of caution. Level 3 advises avoiding non-essential travel, while Level 4 advises Canadians to avoid all travel to the affected region.

Level 1 health notices have been issued for Singapore and Hong Kong, and Level 2 notices are in force for South Korea and Japan.

Confirm the exact terms of your health care and travel coverage with your insurer, as there is considerable variability among companies and policies are changing almost daily in response to the growing crisis.

Canada Life Financial “will continue to assess” claims related to COVID-19, including those that occur during travel to a country with a travel advisory warning.

The company has expedited disability claims related to COVID-19 and is also considering claims from people under quarantine at the direction of a physician, a company official said.

BCAA also will not provide trip cancellation or trip interruption coverage on claims related to COVID-19 on policies purchased after March 5. TuGo will not provide coverage for claims related to COVID-19 on policies purchased on or after March 4.

The Public Health Agency of Canada and Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, have also recommended that people “avoid all cruise ship travel.”

Canadians who take a cruise against that advice may not be able to return home on a government-organized repatriation flight, or may have to pay the cost of returning should they become ensnared in a quarantine, the agency said.

If the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is detected on your ship, you could be subject to quarantine aboard the ship or in a foreign country under local rules. Your access to consular services may also be limited by local authorities.

Ports in India, Malaysia, Doha, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates have banned cruise ships outright, while many other countries have banned passengers from China, Iran, Italy and Korea from disembarking.

The cruise warning is not a Level 3 advisory, so there are no insurance implications, yet. It’s effect has been devastating, nonetheless.

“That advisory is the single biggest blow to the industry since this virus became headline news,” said travel agent Claire Newell. “I was surprised because there are hundreds and hundreds of ships in regions that haven’t been affected.”

The onslaught of holiday cancellations has triggered an overhaul of the insurance products being offered to travellers, many of them temporary offers.

“A lot of package tour operators are offering worry-free clauses in their cancellation policies,” she said.  “The industry has been hit very hard and they are trying to spur bookings because people are afraid.”

However, the cancellation windows vary from 30 days before departure to as little as 48 hours. Most allow you to rebook free, but do not offer refunds.

Discounts of up to 75 per cent are available for people willing to book a cruise.

“That’s what is going to get people over their fear, a hell of a good deal,” she said, adding that more than 90 per cent of people who are booking a holiday also buy cancel-for-any-reason insurance.

The COVID-19 epidemic is fuelling demand for “self-driving” holidays and Canadian destinations such as Niagara and the Gaspé, as well as destinations such as Iceland, Scotland and South America, where only a handful of cases are confirmed.

“There is a lot of interest in Peru, which is a great bucket list destination,” said Newell.

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