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From modified itineraries, suspended sailings to ship quarantines. The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted many cruise journeys to date and some cruisers with sailings booked ahead have also started questioning their travel plans.

An expert from Compare Travel Insurance, a leading Australian travel insurance comparison site, has the following suggestions on whether passengers should be cancelling their cruise, how to check for what your insurance covers and what are your options.

Cruise operators’ response

Cruise liners have taken proactive precautions to combat the risk of an outbreak.

Natalie Ball, director Comparetravelinsurance.com.au says: “Currently, all major cruise operators have suspended sailing to and from mainland China. Cruise ships are taking great measures to ensure passenger safety, including pre-boarding health screenings and itinerary modifications.”

According to The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), all members, including Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruises and P&O cruises, are denying boarding to passengers who have been in mainland China over the previous 14 days. All guests with signs of respiratory illness may also be risk assessed and potentially restricted from boarding.

Most operators have cancelled all cruises to China and will skip or reschedule port calls in mainland China and, in some cases, Hong Kong. Norwegian Cruise Line has gone one step further and cancelled all sailings in Asia through to December 2020.

Does travel insurance cover the coronavirus?

“The majority of travel insurance policies don’t cover known events in the mass media such as pandemics like the coronavirus,” notes Ball. “However, insurers are of course considering the vast impact coronavirus is having on travellers. All claims will be assessed on individual circumstances and the policy’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.”

Ball continues, “Given the rapidly changing situation, the entitlements of your policy may change depending on what the Australian government is advising. Coverage may also depend on the date you purchased your policy. If coronavirus was widespread and considered to be a ‘known event’ by the time you bought insurance, you would most likely be unable to claim.”

Travellers are also encouraged to first contact their travel providers before making a claim.

“Until you’ve spoken to your cruise operator or airline about refund or rebooking options, you would be unlikely to make a claim through your travel insurer,” says Ball.

I’m booked to sail around China. Can I cancel?

Ball says that due to government recommendations against travel to China, most cruise liners have now cancelled or suspended all movements to China. As a result, travellers will most likely receive full refunds or have their itineraries changed by their cruise company.

Ball advises that travellers not eligible for refunds should check their policy fine print and take note of any exclusions on pandemics.

“Be aware that you may not be covered for something you were aware of at the time of purchase. Policies differ greatly so take the time to read your Policy Disclosure Statement (PDS) before you buy, paying attention to any general exclusions.”

I’m not travelling through China. Can I cancel my trip anyway?

Ball notes that to date, there have not been any recommendations to avoid travel outside of China, therefore, travellers wanting to cancel due to change of mind will not be entitled to claim.

“Unless a ‘do not travel’ advisory is issued by the government, like the one currently in place for China, your insurance company is unlikely to pay for you to cancel.”

“Once travel alerts are raised for your destination, you may be able to claim, depending on when you bought your policy and which insurer you purchased with.”

Lastly Ball recommends travellers keep up to date with latest media developments along with emergency services. Those in limbo over their travel plans should direct any queries to their cruise company first, and then to their insurer.

“Keep your eye out on updates from Smarttraveller, and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Until coronavirus is sufficiently contained, travellers should understand their entitlements and know their options.”