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What the Ebola outbreak means for business travel

At a glance

  • The Ebola virus is prevalent in West African regions, with health organisations working hard to stop the spread
  • Medical assistance is challenging in these regions due to the circumstances Ebola presents
  • Brokers are receiving queries from clients regarding their travel plans and need to know how to respond to these

The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers the current Ebola outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. The first Briton to contract Ebola did so whilst in Sierra Leone and was air lifted to the UK for treatment. They have now been discharged from hospital having made a full recovery.

Many businesses have employees travelling to the affected regions, and this poses a lot of questions for customers and their insurance brokers.

Brokers’ FAQS

  • Can I go to the affected areas?
  • Am I covered if I do?
  • What guidance can you give?

Zurich’s Steve Coleman, Senior Market Underwriter for Accident and Health, explains the current position and offers assistance to brokers on how they should be guiding their customers.

“Our brokers and customers want to know: ‘’Can I go to the country?’, ‘Am I covered?’ and ‘What guidance can you give us?’” says Steve.

Should I stay or should I go?

“The covers we are mostly talking about here are medical expenses and medical evacuation,” Steve explains.

“As far as Zurich’s insurance product is concerned, we do have excluded territories, but these are related to war and terrorism. We don’t exclude any travel to the West African countries currently affected by Ebola.”

So brokers don’t need to tell Zurich if they have people travelling there. There is nothing in the insurance policy to say that they cannot.

“The only time cover will change is if the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) say you shouldn’t travel there,” says Steve. “In those circumstances, we wouldn’t cover certain things like emergency evacuation costs, under the political and natural disaster section, as you should not be travelling there in the first instance. It is important to clarify that this wouldn’t change the medical expenses cover provided.”

“At the moment, the FCO is not saying that; they are just advising that only essential travel is undertaken. Whether that will change we don’t know, which is why brokers and their customers need to keep monitoring the situation.”

What are the difficulties in providing medical assistance?

The WHO estimates the Ebola survival rate to be only 47% in the current outbreak. It is therefore essential that those showing symptoms receive expert care in specialist facilities.

To provide medical assistance, Zurich has contracted CEGA. CEGA is a leading assistance provider with a global capability and is very effective at helping customers in remote locations.

“For instance, Zurich insures a relatively large charity that operates in remote locations,” says Steve. “And I have yet to encounter a time where CEGA have not been able to assist.”

That said, there are real difficulties in actually dealing with a medical emergency in the sort of circumstances Ebola presents.

“In many cases, the borders will have been closed,” says Steve. “If someone has Ebola, the tendency is to isolate them. Medical assistance is not going to be able to just fly in, put you on a plane and get you out. That is just not possible.

“What CEGA will be able to do, though, is make sure you have the best medical care available – and perhaps get you to the front of the queue. That, under the circumstances, may be the most they can do.

“People travelling to these regions must go with the knowledge that it is going to be much more difficult to deal with a medical emergency.”

What can brokers do now?

Brokers should determine which clients are travelling to affected areas and advise them accordingly in terms of the risks and precautions.

Customers should be assured that they are covered with Zurich, but that medical assistance is more challenging due to the particular circumstances Ebola presents. Customers should, therefore, look to follow the FCO’s guidance and assess whether travel to these regions is absolutely essential during the current outbreak.

Image © Getty

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