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Coronavirus – preparing for a pandemic

Feb 11, 2020

We learned yesterday that the Department of Health has described the coronavirus as a “serious and imminent threat” to public health. This signals a tightening of some regulations to help enforce quarantine powers should the situation worsen but we are already seeing an emerging business impact for some of our customers.

We encourage all our customers to have in place an up to date pandemic plan covering both staff safety and business continuity concerns that may result from an epidemic / pandemic event.

Which businesses are most likely to be impacted by the Coronavirus?

The number of victims so far is now higher than that from the Sars epidemic which killed 349 people. The initial impact has been for those businesses connected directly to China:

  • Those with a presence there
  • Those who are reliant on products originating from China
  • Those where business is directly affected by a Chinese population not able to travel.

The tourist industry in the UK is an obvious area of focus and we have already seen the likes of hoteliers and restaurants impacted in the Cotswolds where Chinese tourists flock.

We are just beginning to see wider concerns emerging in the supply chain but also in the risks of employees who travel outside of the UK. As brokers we are reinforcing our advice in helping our customers to focus on business continuity, duty of care responsibilities to employees and travel plans.

How does the Coronavirus impact Business Continuity plans?

In terms of Business Continuity those businesses that have most recently looked at the impact of being in an exclusion zone following UK Terrorist incidents are most likely to be equally considering the impact of quarantine measures, preventing the spread of the virus, alternative ways of working and travel plans.

I have a client whose business supplies Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and they have seen an uplift of enquiries around dust and respirator masks and gloves by way of a practical illustration of changing circumstance.

Why is Personal Accident and Business Travel insurance important during the Coronavirus pandemic?

I have always believed that businesses insure against Physical damage but look to protect employees. Employee travel disruption, injury or death – can result in significant financial loss and loss of reputation. This is why Personal Accident and Business Travel should be considered as essential cover for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Every employer has a legal obligation to formally risk assess their employees’ work activities and reasonably manage areas of risk. This would include employees on business trips.

Policies usually include cover for trip cancellation, curtailment, rearrangement, medical expenses and repatriation. Comprehensive medical assistance services and advice is also available, including pre-travel advice.

Generally, non-refundable costs from cancelled or curtailed business trips due to concern about coronavirus would not be recoverable. If trips are cancelled due to FCO advice not to travel, or curtailed due to FCO advice to leave, the policy would normally respond.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issues worldwide travel guidance and will regularly update depending on local, political, geographical and medical circumstances. The key factor is the date that the Foreign Office started warning people against travelling to a country. Insurers will cover cancellations from that point, as long as you have already tried and failed to get the airline or other provider to sort the problem out. It does vary though in terms of timings so it pays to check.

The fixed benefits provided by Personal Accident insurance can be used to offset lost revenue or cover additional expenses incurred, such as recruitment and extra staffing costs.

Business Travel will ensure major expenses are covered when something goes wrong during a business trip. Insurers travel assistance services allow situations to be resolved quickly and with minimal disruption to the business.

If a traveller is taken ill and needs assistance all medical costs would normally be covered. This would include costs of medical repatriation where agreed or arranged with the policy emergency assistance provider.

Employers’ Liability coverage in respect of employees working abroad, including in potentially affected areas, also continues as usual. Being fully aware of the advice published by the FCO, considering travel policies and ensuring employees are briefed is all essential risk management advice.

The Association of British Insurers has recently published its advice.

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