Canadians are starting to rethink their travel plans as illness spreads

Canadians are starting to rethink their travel plans as illness spreads

The excerpted article was written by Sophia Harris · CBC News

As the coronavirus spreads globally, Canadians may start rethinking their travel plans. However, pulling the plug could be costly, depending on what type of travel insurance you have.

Here’s what you need to know before cancelling or booking a trip during the coronavirus outbreak.

Consider trip opt-out insurance

Mike Mitchell and his wife, Marlene, started getting cold feet about a month before their Feb. 27 Asian cruise. The coronavirus was already spreading outside China and their three-week cruise included stops in several nearby countries.

The tipping point for the couple was when news broke in early February that passengers were stuck in quarantine for two weeks onboard the coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship, docked in Japan.

The Mitchells’ cabin on their ship had no windows, so they didn’t want to risk the same fate.

“If we were stuck in this inside cabin for two weeks, what would we do? We would go crazy,” said Mike Mitchell, who lives in Victoria. “I thought, ‘There is no way I want to go on this cruise.'”

However, there was a problem. Mitchell had bought travel insurance — even opted for a premium plan which included extra coverage. But it didn’t include a “Cancel For Any Reason” (CFAR) option, so he’d be on the hook for the entire $5,400 cruise if he and his wife cancelled due to coronavirus fears.

“There was nothing in the rules of the insurance that we could use as an excuse,” said Mitchell. “We would lose all that money.”

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While regular trip cancellation insurance protects people if they say, get sick and can’t travel, it typically won’t cover customers who cancel a trip due to fears that something might go wrong — such as catching the coronavirus.

Travel insurance expert Will McAleer said travellers who want extra protection right now should consider purchasing the CFAR option.

“It essentially allows people — just because they don’t have a good feeling — to make changes to their travel plans,” said McAleer, executive director of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada.

To note, the CFAR option is an added cost and McAleer warns that it generally won’t cover the full amount of a cancelled trip.

Check Canada’s travel advisories

For travellers who only have regular cancellation insurance, McAleer said they typically will only be covered for a coronavirus-related cancellation if they booked a trip before the Canadian government issues a travel advisory to not travel to, or to avoid non-essential travel to, their destination.

The government has issued an advisory to avoid non-essential travel to China, Iran and parts of South Korea. But that wouldn’t have helped Mitchell, who had none of those destinations on his cruise itinerary.

“You get to the point where you say, ‘OK, well, I guess we’re going to lose our money,'” said Mitchell.

However, his luck changed about a week before the trip when his cruise company, Norwegian Cruise Line, sent him an email announcing that it had cancelled the cruise due to growing coronavirus concerns. As a result, Mitchell would get a full refund.

“The weight was off our shoulders,” he said.

Ask for mercy

For travellers who want to cancel their trip and have no travel insurance options, McAleer suggests asking their travel provider for mercy.

“See whether there was anything they could do to change those dates, because what we’re seeing is, airlines and other travel suppliers are becoming much more flexible.”

Currently, Air Canada is waiving the change fee for travellers who want to rebook flights to or from China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Italy, which have widespread cases of coronavirus.

However, that offer doesn’t help Air Canada passenger Vanessa Le, who was set to fly from Vancouver to Tokyo this past Friday to race in the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday.

On Feb. 17, marathon organizers restricted the race to a small number of elite runners after a case of COVID-19 — the illness caused by the coronavirus — was confirmed in Tokyo.

Le, who lives in Langford, B.C., decided to cancel her trip, which cost $2,400 in airfare for herself and her husband.

She said she called Air Canada repeatedly, but that the airline wouldn’t offer a refund or any other options, because Le had bought a discounted, basic economy ticket — which means no refunds or flight changes are allowed.

“It sucks. It’s a lot of money to lose,” said Le. “We shouldn’t be penalized by Air Canada for taking safety into our hands.”

Air Canada didn’t respond to a request for comment in time for the publication of this story.

A happy ending

Sometimes, persistence does pay off. Saidi Chan of Toronto wasn’t covered by travel insurance when she decided to cancel her two-week Asia cruise with Norwegian, leaving on Feb. 6.

Chan was concerned about the spreading coronavirus and feared her flight home from the cruise’s final destination — Hong Kong — would be cancelled as COVID-19 cases mounted in the region.

At the time, Chan said that Norwegian declined to offer a refund or travel credit. However, Chan persisted by continually calling and emailing the cruise line to make her case, she said.

“I didn’t give up,” said Chan, whose cruise included four family members and totalled $14,000. “I felt like it was very unfair.”

On Feb. 23, she got good news. Although the cruise hadn’t been cancelled, Norwegian informed her family by email that they would receive a full refund for the trip.

“I was very extremely relieved and very happy,” said Chan.

CBC News

Edmonton travel agents field calls, re-book and cancel trips over COVID-19

The excerpted article was written by  

Approximately 100 people working in tourism gathered Thursday in Edmonton for an industry conference that touched on the novel coronavirus and its impact on travel.

The coronavirus COVID-19 has reached every continent except for Antarctica and has upheaved the travel industry, disrupting flights, accommodations and tourist attractions around the world.

The conference included tour suppliers as well as independent travel agencies in the city, and some agents said they are busy fielding calls from concerned travelers.

Hidar Elmais, manager of Travel Gurus, said the agency was busy last month repatriating travellers who were stuck overseas in infected areas.

He said this month, the agency is working with travellers who are uncertain about booking a trip or mulling whether a trip should be cancelled.

Elmais said travel insurance is an important consideration, adding that if the federal government said Canadians should avoid non-essential travel to certain countries, travel insurance would kick in to offer a full refund for those looking to cancel or bring travellers who are already overseas back to Canada.

“Travel insurance can be purchased at any time. The problem is it has to be unforeseen. If you were to purchase travel insurance after Canada had declared non-essential travel to that country, you won’t be covered because it was foreseen. The earlier you purchase travel insurance, the better,” Elmais said.

He said that the most important period of time to purchase extra coverage, such as cancel for any reason coverage, is within the first 72 hours of booking a trip.

Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five Tours and Expeditions, said there has been a roughly 10 to 20 per cent drop in business to certain countries. He said that business to Asia has come to a standstill because of the virus.

“Fear is real. People look at this and say, ‘What do I do?’ There’s a lot of questions,” he said.

However, Sanghrajka said the industry has experience in dealing with major disruptions, citing the SARS epidemic as well as concerns over Ebola.

He said travellers have asked to postpone their trips by a year or have asked to re-book in different parts of the world, such as Africa and Latin America.

He said that it is important for travellers to understand their travel insurance and its limitations.

“This is what will happen. Your deposit does become non-refundable because of this, this and this. Understanding all of that. Much like when you’re buying a car, much like when you’re investing in a portfolio,” he said.

Leah Wood of Peace River has been planning a family trip to England and Scotland since last year but the coronavirus prompted her family to re-think their plans.

“The rate of spread. The videos I was seeing out of China. It just was really concerning and now it seems to be spreading – not just in China, everywhere else. I just didn’t want to put my family at risk,” Wood said.

Wood said her family intended to book this month but has decided to postpone travel overseas until the risk of the virus lessens. They could explore Canada instead, she said.

“We’ve seen a lot of people stuck on cruise ships, people stuck at hotels. I did not want to be quarantined to an airplane or another country where I’m not from there and I don’t have family,” Wood said.

“It broke my heart. [But] the safety of my four kids and my family is more important than just a vacation.”

Can you cancel a flight due to fear of Coronavirus?

Pat Foran  | CTV News Toronto

TORONTO — Travellers are growing increasingly nervous and concerned as the novel Coronavirus continues to spread globally.

People working in the travel industry tell CTV News Toronto that they are receiving frantic calls from people who have already booked vacations and business travel, but are wondering if they can cancel.

“The phone has been ringing off the hook with people wondering if they can cancel trips,” said Martin Firestone, who works with Travel Secure, a company that specializes in travel insurance products.

The answer, he said, is usually no, unless the Government of Canada issues a travel advisory to an area, which advises people to avoid all non-essential travel to that area.

If an advisory is issued, then a passenger, who has bought trip insurance, would have their trip cancelled, and they will be refunded, Firestone told CTV News Toronto.

“You have to have bought trip cancellation insurance to a destination that the government of Canada issues a travel warning for non-essential travel to – that’s the trigger that will allow you to get a refund,” he said.

Firestone said that even if someone has travel insurance, they would not get a refund if they are cancelling a trip because they are concerned about the virus, but there is no advisory.

“There is no insurance yet for fear of travel – it just doesn’t exist,” he said.

Firestone said that Canadians should know their government is keeping an eye on the situation. He said that while it’s important to be cautious, people with planned trips should not be too concerned.

He said he advises people to communicate with their airline or travel company or insurer.

“If the Canadian government is allowing you to travel somewhere then believe me there is not going to be any issues,” he said. “If they have concerns they would create a travel warning which would trigger trip cancellation.”

There is, however, a newer insurance product offered by some companies called “change your mind” insurance, which would let someone cancel a trip for any reason they want, but it can be expensive and does come with some limitations.

Will travel insurance cover coronavirus? Experts break down why and why not

The excerpted article was written by  

The decision to travel amid a viral disease outbreak can be harrowing, but that’s what purchasing travel insurance is for — right?

According to experts, it depends on when.

The general consensus is that the coronavirus will be covered by travel insurance providers as long as the insurance was purchased prior to a government “no non-essential travel” or “do not travel” advisory.

John Shmuel, managing editor at Lowestrates.ca, said that whether or not insurance will cover disease outbreak is less about the coronavirus itself being covered, as much as it is the conditions surrounding when a person is travelling — in this case, flying to a country for which the Government of Canada has issued a travel advisory, specifically China.

“It’s not coronavirus that’s being covered per se, it’s any medical emergencies,” he said.

“If you’re buying travel insurance right now, most consumer policies will deny you because there is an advisory in place.”

Shmuel said a variety of consumer policies include epidemics and pandemics, provided consumers purchase insurance before they happen.

Those looking to purchase travel insurance after the government advisory change may be out of luck.  However, “if you bought your insurance before this outbreak happened, before the advisory, and you get sick, then your insurance company will cover it, they’ll cover your treatment there, and they’ll likely fly you back home,” Shmuel said.

He added that trip cancellation insurance, which often goes hand-in-hand with travel insurance, could save someone thousands of dollars on typically non-refundable flights with major airlines.

n February, the Canadian government updated its China travel advisory, urging Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel in and out of the country.

In the province of Hubei, the advisory was updated to “avoid all travel,” including the cities of Wuhan, Huanggang and Ezhou, due to the imposition of heavy travel restrictions in order to limit the coronavirus from spreading.

The Canadian government said many of the initial cases of the disease outbreak were linked to the Huanan Seafood Market (also known as Wuhan South China Seafood City and South China Seafood Wholesale Market). The market was closed Jan. 1 for cleaning and disinfection, but the source of the virus is still unknown.

Chinese health authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the disease could be spread from human to human and that transmission is occurring, but it is unclear how easily the virus is transmitted between people.

So far, the latest figures show 24,642 cases and 493 deaths.

Anne Marie Thomas, an insurance expert with Insurance Hotline, told Global News there are many reasons an insurer wouldn’t cover disease outbreak following a ‘do not fly’ travel advisory, but it boils down to this: anybody travelling once a travel advisory is in place is making a choice to proceed to an area in which they could get sick.

“Travel insurance is designed to protect you from unexpected or unanticipated illness or delays,” she said. ”

If there is a travel advisory in place, it’s not going to be something that’s unexpected, like if you get sick over there or if your flights get cancelled.”

To her knowledge, Thomas said there are no “cover-all” insurance policies that will waive a government travel advisory. Those required to travel for work purposes, like diplomats or medical officials, for example, could have specialized insurance provided through their employers that would cover the viral outbreak.

Could the coronavirus affect your finances?

Thomas said the coronavirus could have “an extremely detrimental effect” on a person’s finances if they were to get sick abroad without already-purchased travel insurance.

Hospital and ambulance bills, medication costs and flights could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in certain countries.

“A simple hospital stay, if you think about it even in the U.S., if you had a hospital stay with tests and medications, that could be tens of thousands of dollars for one day,” she said.

“You pay a little bit of money to purchase a travel insurance policy and that protects you financially from potential devastation.”

Canada preparing plane to fly Canadians from Wuhan, once China gives OK

By Mike Blanchfield and Hina Alam

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada has a plane being prepared to fly Canadians out of the province in China at the centre of an outbreak of a new coronavirus, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Wednesday.

The government is also advising all Canadians to avoid  “non-essential” travel to China and has also scaled back its diplomatic presence in the country because of the outbreak.

The next step in the evacuation process is to secure co-operation from China to assist the 160 Canadians who have requested some form of help, Champagne said. Not all of them want to leave, he emphasized in an appearance on Parliament Hill.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, later warned that not everyone who wants to come back to Canada may be able to leave.

“The Chinese authority will not let anyone who might be infected on the plane,” she told the House of Commons health committee.

China has all but sealed off one of its central provinces where the novel coronavirus was first detected. The virus causes respiratory symptoms similar to the common cold, but it can be deadly in very severe cases.

At Champagne’s side, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government still has to decide what will happen with the Canadians who leave China, so as to prevent any spread of the illness.

Asked whether returning travellers would be held in quarantine, Hajdu replied:  “We will always work to ensure the health of Canadians, whether they’re abroad or whether they’re here. So, yes what we’re looking at is a scenario where we have all the measures in place to protect Canadians from exposure to the virus. Having said that, that’s about as far as I can go.”

Officials say the 201 Americans taken to the United States from the Chinese city at the centre of the virus outbreak are undergoing three days of monitoring at a southern California military base to make sure they do not show signs of the virus.

Hajdu said the U.S. has a process that is working  “efficiently.”

Champagne said Canada is working with allies to co-ordinate plans and make the logistics work, and that could take more time.

Some other countries have promised similar help for their citizens stuck in the province of Hubei particularly those that have diplomatic offices there, which Canada does not and Champagne said Canada isn’t far behind them.

“The only plane which has landed is a U.S. plane that was scheduled to be there,” Champagne said, which was then followed by a plane sent by Japan earlier Wednesday.

He said Canada was at the  “forefront” of the international response.

The virus has killed 170 people and infected more than 7,700 on the Chinese mainland and abroad.

A Twitter message by the Canadian Embassy in China said that as of Wednesday its diplomatic missions are working with reduced staff due to the coronavirus. It urged Canadians in need of emergency consular assistance to call or email the emergency response centre of Global Affairs Canada in Ottawa.

It also posted the contact phone number of 1-613-996-8885 and the email address of sos?international.gc.ca.

A teacher who is living with his pregnant Canadian wife and child in a city that is the epicentre of China‘s coronavirus outbreak had been hoping to leave the country on a British flight.

Tom Williams is hoping to get his wife, Lauren, who is about 35 weeks pregnant, out of Wuhan, the Hubei city that has been essentially locked down with the emergence of the disease. The couple also has a two-and-a-half-year-old son, James, who is Canadian.

Williams is a British expat and his wife and son are from British Columbia.

“We’re just currently waiting to hear confirmation whether we’ve got space on the British flight,” Williams told The Canadian Press in a FaceTime interview from China on Wednesday, before Champagne’s announcement.

The family received a call from officials in Ottawa earlier this week, who asked permission to share his wife’s file with the British Embassy, he said.

“We have some stuff laid out in case it’s a last-minute departure.”

At least 250 Canadians have registered with Global Affairs Canada to say they are in Wuhan, said Champagne, who added that officials are trying to contact everyone to assess their needs.

Williams said looking at options isn’t really helping people on the ground, although he understands that Canada doesn’t have a diplomatic presence in Wuhan, a city of 11 million. Canadian offices in Beijing and Shanghai are closed until Sunday for the Lunar New Year holiday.

“We’re just a little anxious and hoping for some answers pretty soon,” said Williams, who added that he and his family are  “still healthy and still OK.”

The family went out during the day Wednesday and the streets were “very quiet,” he said. They take their temperatures whenever they enter and leave their apartment complex.

James was watching “Toy Story” Wednesday afternoon.

“He’s a little bit clingy, but we’re doing our best with train sets and different things. Trying to keep him entertained.”

Canadian Wayne Duplessis, who teaches in China, said he and his family registered with the emergency response centre in Ottawa to know what help may be available in Wuhan.

But Duplessis, who is originally from Espanola, Ont., said he is not looking to leave.

Most people he knows are taking the situation in stride, although he said there is  “a certain resignation” and  “despair.” Duplessis and his family members take their temperatures every morning at breakfast.

More restrictions have been placed on cars and some people are worried those might affect day-to-day activities such as getting groceries, he said.

From his 28th-floor balcony, Duplessis said he could see the highway, usually buzzing with activity, was empty.

“The IKEA mall across the street is empty, which is too bad. There’s great lunches there,” he said.

“An IKEA meatball lunch would be nice right now.”

What travellers need to know about the coronavirus

With a highly visible minority of travellers sporting surgical masks, and many airline and security personnel doing likewise, the scene at Toronto Pearson International Airport recalls the early days of the 2003 SARS outbreak.

This despite Government of Canada assurances that as of Jan. 27, “the overall risk of the novel coronavirus to Canadian travellers and to Canada remains low.”

The profusion of masks has much to do with memories of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), says Frederic Dimanche, director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. The outbreak, which infected 257 people in Ontario, “had a significant impact not just on the travel industry, but also on people’s minds. Now, with the coronavirus, here’s another threat coming from another viral respiratory disease originating in China. People see it as the same story happening again.”

The good news, Dimanche adds, is that the travel industry is reacting much more quickly and efficiently than it did in 2003. “They’ve learned from what happened and are taking measures from the very beginning to make people feel more comfortable.”

MAJOR PLAYERS OFFERING REFUNDS

A wide range of airlines, hotel chains and tour operators have announced “goodwill policies” that allow travellers to cancel or change bookings related to China free of charge.

On Jan. 26, Air Canada announced that passengers who recently booked travel to Beijing Capital International Airport, Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Wuhan Tianhe International Airport can change their flights to another date or destination free of charge (subject to date restrictions and availability). This followed similar moves by other major carriers such as Air China, Cathay Pacific and Qantas Airways, all of which announced free refunds for journeys to and from mainland China. Several multinational hotel chains, including InterContinental Hotels and Hyatt Hotels, are also allowing free cancellations and date changes at hundreds of properties across China.

Canadian tour operators are following suit. On Jan. 24, many received an official notice from China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism requesting that they suspend services to China until further notice. China has also ordered all domestic agencies to suspend sales of domestic and international tours.

Toronto-based G Adventures, for its part, has cancelled all tours to China through Feb. 29, with travellers who have already booked having the option to postpone, transfer to an alternative tour or cancel and receive a full refund. “The safety and well-being of our travellers continues to be our top priority, and our local team will continue to monitor the situation and update travellers and agents on any changes to future departures,” spokesman Tim Chan said.

OTTAWA RECOMMENDS AVOIDING NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL

Given the safety and security risks associated with measures being taken by Chinese authorities to contain the virus – public transportation shutdowns, event cancellations and strict travel restrictions that could change quickly – the Government of Canada recommended that Canadians avoid non-essential travel to the central Chinese region of Hubei province as of Jan. 28. Likewise, Chinese authorities have asked the public to avoid all non-essential travel to and from the city of Wuhan.

As of Jan. 24, the World Health Organization advised that “measures to limit the risk of exportation or importation of the disease should be implemented, without unnecessary restrictions of international traffic.”

This balancing act “is all about risk management,” Dimanche says. “Nobody wants to be held accountable if the outbreak gets worse. After all, there’s a precedent for this.”

IF YOU GO

With the outbreak coinciding with the Lunar New Year, one of China’s busiest travel seasons, the risk of visitors getting sick increases, Dimanche points out, adding that the severe measures taken by Chinese authorities highlight the seriousness of the situation. “Travellers must take responsibility for their decisions to go to China by being informed about the situation as it evolves, and checking advisories from the Canadian and Chinese governments,” he says.

As part of its “avoid non-essential travel” recommendation, the federal government is highlighting health and travel precautions such as extra attentiveness to messages and instructions at airports, expecting increased health measures at airports throughout China, avoiding high-risk areas such as farms and live animal markets and signing up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service in case of emergencies.

CANCEL-FOR-ANY-REASON-INSURANCE ON THE UPSWING

Another sign of public skittishness over the virus – a recent uptick in cancel-for-any-reason-insurance bookings. According to Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, average daily Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) bookings have “nearly doubled” since Jan. 22, with close to 60 per cent of purchasers listing their primary destination as China or Southeast Asia.

Standard trip-cancellation policies will not provide reimbursement to travellers who cancel owing to outbreak concerns or health alerts from authorities, Sandberg explains, adding that policies with an added CFAR upgrade will provide this coverage, subject to significant premium increases and various terms and conditions.

Dimanche, for his part, says travellers should base their decisions on the levels of risk they can tolerate. “Some of us are risk-takers and some of us or not. If you’re not comfortable with the level of risk, cancelling or rescheduling might make sense. If you are comfortable with the risks, you still have to understand that this is a public health issue that could affect millions of people all over the world. It’s not just about you and your trip.”

Source: The Globe and Mail

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