With international borders reopening and the easing of travel restrictions across the European Union in recent weeks, people are dusting off travel plans long put on hold.
However, that doesn't mean travellers can simply ignore the very real health and financial risks that the ongoing pandemic still poses. Mandatory quarantines and travel bans are still in place around the world for those who test positive to COVID-19 during their trip.
Imagine yourself having booked a Sunday afternoon flight back to your home country in time to start work on Monday, only to find yourself coming down with symptoms the day before your departure. You could find yourself subject to a mandatory ten-day quarantine at your own expense, while also being forced to make expensive last-minute changes to your travel plans.
It should be noted here that while COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in protecting against the disease and in mitigating its symptoms, being vaccinated does not guarantee immunity (as this writer can attest to from personal experience). Nor does vaccination prevent transmission of the virus.
As such, all international travellers should factor in the possibility of either contracting COVID-19, or of being in close contact with someone who has during their trip, and the ramifications of such an outcome.
While just about everyone travelling internationally until recently is required to show a negative COVID-19 test before embarking, travellers still face the risk of developing symptoms and testing positive in their destination country.
Such a development would almost certainly result in a nightmare scenario for most travellers of being forced to book up to two weeks of last-minute accommodation, reschedule flights and see work and family commitments impacted.
For example, foreigners in Spain who test positive during their stay in the country are required to undergo a mandatory seven-day quarantine period in their accommodation at their own expense. And on its official gov.uk website, the British government specifically outlines that it will not cover any such costs incurred by British nationals.
Every country has its own specific policies relating to how people who test positive while travelling must act but in almost every case it will require an extended period of self-isolation. Hong Kong, for example, recently reduced its mandatory quarantine requirements from three weeks to two.
It is, therefore, important for all international travellers to be fully aware of the specific restrictions of their chosen destination before travelling.
Travellers should also take note of the possible legal consequences of not reporting a positive COVID-19 test or failing to adhere to self-isolation protocols. Failing to self-isolate in the United Kingdom after testing positive could result in a £1000 fine. Australia's largest state of New South Wales, home of Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, imposes a similar $1000 penalty.
Taking the above into consideration, availing yourself of appropriate travel insurance before crossing any international frontiers has never been more important.
However, when it comes to COVID-19 coverage, not all insurance plans are created equal, and travellers need to closely examine their policies to know exactly what they will and won't cover.
For example, standard travel insurance plans generally won't cover the costs incurred from mandatory quarantine requirements. One of Europe's largest travel insurance providers AXA, for example, specifically does not provide quarantine protection for travellers in the Schengen Zone.
The UK government recommends reviewing your specific policy to see whether it covers additional costs such as alternative flights, accommodation and COVID tests. The most comprehensive insurance option available to travellers will likely be "cancel for any reason" (CFAR) coverage. Upgrading to this kind of plan can increase the cost of travel insurance by up to 50% but provides the greatest likelihood of reimbursement should your travel plans go awry.
Among the world´s 20 largest economies, only Mexico is more dependent on travel and tourism than Spain. The sector accounts for roughly 12-14% of the Iberian nation's GDP and the pandemic has hit the country's hospitality sector hard.
As such, a number of Spanish regions are offering travellers free COVID-19 insurance. These regions include Andalusia, home to two of Spain´s most-visited cities Seville and Granada, as well as the Canary Islands, the Region of Murcia, the Balearic Islands and Galicia.
Importantly, while the specific details of these free policies vary from region to region, they almost universally cover not only medical expenses related to contracted COVID-19, but also extended travel costs.
Andalusia's official tourism website, andalucia.org, states that, "Andalusia provides all non-resident international travellers with free Covid insurance for stays at any type of regulated establishment in the region between 1 January and 30 June 2022."
Another of Spain's most popular tourism destinations, the Canary Islands, provides travellers a similar guarantee of a free insurance policy that covers the main costs of medical expenses, transportation and accommodation in the case of a positive COVID test.
"Canary Islands is strengthening its commitment to its visitors for their safety and peace of mind with a group unnamed insurance policy for foreign and domestic tourists that are visiting the archipelago and any residents of the Canary Islands that are visiting other areas of the islands," states the region's tourism website hellocanaryislands.com.
"Tourists visiting any island in the Canary Islands archipelago for a minimum of one night and a maximum of 30 days, staying at regulated tourist establishments, who test positive in a PCR test for COVID-19 during their stay, will be considered insured parties, and also their accompanying relatives, even if the latter do not test positive."
More details of each region´s specific COVID-19 insurance policies can be found on their respective government websites.
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