If you've been following the news lately, it can be pretty concerning to watch the numbers of those infected by the novel coronavirus continues to creep up. As of 12 March 2020, the total number of those in Singapore with the disease COIVID-19 infected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, stands at 187, over a month after the first case of local transmission was reported (refer to the Ministry of Health website for updated statistics).
Globally, well over 100,000 have officially been diagnosed with the coronavirus as of 13 March 2020, which first originated in the city of Wuhan, in the Hubei province of China. Meanwhile, close to 5,000 deaths have been reported so far, of which a vast majority of over 3,000 has been reported in China. So how worried should travellers be? And if you have travel plans for work or other necessary reasons, what steps should you take to protect yourself as best as you can?
Here, we answer your questions based on what we know thus far about the mysterious virus, including what precautions to take, especially if you have upcoming travel plans.
What is the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19?
The disease COVID-19, first emerged in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China around mid-December 2019.
Some scientists believe the exact spot was Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan where stalls were selling live wildlife such as wolves, snakes and koalas for consumption.
The theory is that the coronavirus was able to mutate from an animal host to infect humans. Bats and snakes have both since been identified as possible carriers of the coronavirus.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms of the virus have ranged from those who are completely asymptomatic or have very mild flu-like symptoms to those with severe respiratory issues.
While most coronaviruses are not severe, this particular strain of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) can be fatal in some cases.
However, it's important to note that those with pre-existing conditions, weaker immune systems and the elderly are at a higher risk of developing more serious symptoms from the virus such as pneumonia.
Symptoms of COVID-19
Most symptoms of the virus start out similar to the common cold or flu. However, COVID-19 is a respiratory condition which has the potential to take a more serious turn if a patient develops shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. You should refer to the Ministry of Health for more information.
- Shortness of breath
What is particularly worrying about this is that there have been reported cases of the virus spreading from asymptomatic carriers who show no symptoms.
How does COVID-19 affect travel?
After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020, many countries, including Singapore, have imposed travel bans and restrictions on incoming travellers from high-risk regions. This has since escalated particularly as the WHO described COVID-19 as a pandemic on 11 March 2020.
The Singapore government has placed its own travel restrictions on travellers with a recent travel history to China within the last 14 days, barring them from visiting or transiting in Singapore. Chinese passport-holders, except Singapore permanent residents (PR) and long-term pass holders are currently not allowed to enter Singapore as well. This has since been expanded to several other countries such as Iran, Republic of Korea, Germany, Italy, France and Spain. For Singapore residents with a travel history to such countries within the last 14 days, they would be subjected to a Stay-Home-Notice or quarantine (for Hubei) upon their return. For more updated information, refer to the Ministry of Health’s website.
The city of Wuhan and many other cities within the Hubei province have also been on lockdown since 23 January 2020 as an effort by the People's Republic of China government to contain the spread of the virus. Flights from the areas on lockdown have also been suspended.
Before travelling or making plans, keep yourself up to date with possible travel restrictions (upon return to Singapore) and also in your destinations by checking mass media reports and official government websites.
Is it still safe to travel during the coronavirus outbreak?
While it's important for the public not to panic and cancel their travel plans too rashly, it's equally crucial for travellers to take precautions and understand what the risks of travel are.
While many reports have insisted there is so far no proof that the coronavirus is airborne, this remains a possibility under certain circumstances and scientists have not officially ruled it out. The fact is, there is still a lot of research underway to understand the nature of the virus which means we don't yet know conclusively how the virus spreads.
However, officials and scientists have determined that the virus can be transmitted through the following mediums:
- Direct contact with droplets (saliva or mucus) emitted through sneezing, coughing or talking through an infected person
- Contact with contaminated surfaces which have been compromised by the virus droplets
With travel, the risks of these two types of transmission tend to increase when travelling in enclosed spaces for long periods or spending extended amounts of time in areas with a large number of people.
A good exemplification of these risks is the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan which was quarantined after an infected passenger was diagnosed onboard. Close to 700 passengers were found to be infected aboard after the quarantine ended.
Do also take heed of the Ministry of Health travel advisories and avoid non-essential travel to certain countries as advised.
How do I protect myself from the coronavirus?
While all this may seem pretty bleak, there are many steps you can take to reduce your risk of falling ill with this virus during your travels. Here are some tips to protect yourself as much as you can:
- Wash your hands with soap thoroughly at regular intervals or use hand sanitizer when soap is not available
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Avoid sharing food or drinks with others using the same cutlery
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meats
- If you are sick, stay home and avoid further travel if possible. If you have no choice and need to go out (for e.g., to visit the doctor), wear a face mask.
- If you are ill and have recently travelled to China or other highly affected countries, seek medical attention promptly at a polyclinic or a Public Health Preparedness Clinic.
- Follow the advice provided by the Ministry of Health on their website including their FAQs on COVID-19.
Does your travel insurance cover COVID-19?
Okay, so what if your flight tickets have been booked, bags have been packed and there's no getting out of your travel plans, especially if it's related to work?
Aside from considering whether you want to travel at this point, if travel is unavoidable or you are travelling to a relatively low-risk country, you'll want to check if you are covered by travel insurance.
Because COVID-19 has been declared as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and described as a pandemic, an infection caused by the coronavirus is now commonly considered by many travel insurance providers to be a known event and no longer unforeseen.
Travel policies generally exclude claims arising from known (at time of trip booking, policy purchase and/or journey commencement) circumstances, such as travelling against travel advice issued by official bodies (e.g., Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, World Health Organisation) or mass media. This means that, unfortunately, providers are unlikely to offer coverage for the virus if you had purchased your policy after an outbreak in a particular country was announced in mass media or travel advisories issued.
If you purchased your policy for travel to a destination before a travel advisory was issued against it, you may be covered for trip cancellation – but if you choose to continue on your trip, you are unlikely to be covered from any claims resulting from COVID-19. Although generally, you may still enjoy coverage if you are travelling to a destination not identified as the subject of a travel advisory, do note that there are some travel policies which do not cover claims arising from epidemics/pandemics at all.
If you've already purchased your travel insurance for your trip (and we hope you have!) you might want to be aware of what protection for the virus your policy offers. Due to the ever-changing situation, as much as we would like to compile the information for you, we would recommend that you check with the insurer prior to purchasing – checking their website for notices on COVID-19 (which may not always be updated) or contacting them as necessary.
|Travel insurance provider
||Contact details for claims related issues
Customer service hotline: +65 6327 2215 (Mon-Fri: 9am-5:30pm)
Customer service hotline: +65 6827 9966 (Mon-Fri: 8:45am-5:30pm)
(underwritten by Chubb)
Customer service hotline: +65 6299 0988 (Mon-Fri 9.00am to 5.00pm)
Customer service hotline: +65 6665 5555 (Mon-Fri: 8am-8pm)
Customer service hotline: +65 6829 9199
Customer service hotline: +65 6887 8777 (Mon-Fri: 9am-6pm)
Customer service hotline: +65 6820 8888 (Mon-Fri: 9am-10pm, Sat: 9am-1pm)
Customer service hotline: 1800 248 2888 (Mon-Fri: 9am-5:30pm)
|Hong Leong Assurance
Customer service hotline: +65 6702 0202 (Mon-Fri: 9am-6pm)
Online form: https://appsonline.income.com.sg/uiEnquiryForm/EnquiryForm.aspx
Customer service hotline: +65 6788 6616 (Mon-Fri: 8:30am-6:30pm)
Some questions to ask a travel insurance provider on COVID-19 before policy purchase or trip:
- Will a trip cancellation to my specific destination be covered by my travel insurance due to COVID-19?
- Will medical expenses and hospital admission be covered to my specific destination should I fall ill with COVID-19?
- How much will I be covered for trip cancellations, postponements, shortening of trips as well as medical expenses?
While no one could have seen the coronavirus coming, it's nonetheless very important to plan and book travel insurance early as it may still be possible to safeguard against this particularly if you are travelling to countries relatively unaffected by COVID-19.
So if you have a trip scheduled anytime soon, it's best to make sure you choose a policy that protects you from COVID-19 as early as possible before your provider deems it a known event in your destination. Check with the provider before purchasing a policy, and also just before your trip to confirm your coverage still stands.
To help you make this important decision, GoBear's comparison tool is here to help!
The information in this article is accurate as of 13 March 2020 unless otherwise stated. Whilst we endeavour to keep the information accurate and updated, GoBear makes no representation or warranties for the accuracy of the information in this article or content of any websites which are linked.
This article is for informational and promotional purposes only; it does not constitute advice or recommendation and does not take into account your own individual circumstances. The information in this article may not be updated and you should always refer to the relevant Policy Wording and insurer. In the event of any inconsistency, the Policy Wording and/or information from the insurer shall prevail.