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Coronavirus latest: iPMI and protection providers on high alert

Employee benefit consultancies also working hard to keep businesses informed

The health insurance and protection industry is working hard to respond to the escalating public healthcare scare over coronavirus – the life-threatening virus which is thought to have originated in China and caused panic around the world.

International private medical insurance (iPMI) and assistance companies have been quick to update members and advisers about the virus, its spread and its potential impact to individuals, businesses and public health.

iPMI providers, including Cigna, are have produced guidance for members and brokers about what they need to know about coronavirus

The UK individual life and protection industry is also keeping a close eye on the situation as it develops.

The virus is thought to have emerged from illegally traded wildlife at a seafood market in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in China and where most cases and deaths have been reported.

UnitedGlobal Healthcare issued an update today on the latest situation

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in China has now hit 7,711, with all regions and territories now affected.

It is thought that 170 have now died as a result of the virus, while countries across the world take urgent steps to stop it from spreading further.

“The current sentiment is to be alert, not afraid”
Sarah Dennis, head of international at advisers Towergate Health & Protection, says the consultancy is “proactively monitoring” developments 

There is no specific cure or vaccine for the virus, which can cause severe acute respiratory infection and lead to death, with the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions particularly at risk.

Health officials stress, though, that many people who contract it have only mild symptoms and do recover from it.

However, the virus has affected businesses across the world, with many multinational companies closing their businesses in China temporarily, while flights in and out of China have suffered major disruption.

Meanwhile, it is understood that a flight to bring about 200 British nationals back to the UK from coronavirus-hit Wuhan is unable to take off as planned, as it awaits clearance from Chinese authorities.

Employee benefit consultancies have been working to give as much possible information and support to concerned businesses and their workers.

In the UK, life and protection providers and advisers have also been assessing how to respond to the potential threat and what their members need to know.

Emma Walker, chief marketing officer of LifeSearch, says existing life and IP customers should be covered for any impact – but CI policyholders are unlikely to be covered

Emma Walker, chief marketing officer at protection intermediary LifeSearch, said that if someone here dies as a result of the coronavirus, life cover would be expected to pay out.

Similarly, if someone contracted the virus and could not work as a result, IP policies would also be expected to pay out.

However, Walker said it is unlikely a successful claim could be made under a critical illness (CI) policy because it would not meet the illness definitions nor qualify under the total permanent disability part of the product. Aside from death, there are currently no signs that the coronavirus causes long-term disability.

“While no UK life office has confirmed it is planning to change its application questions or underwriting as a result of the virus, recent travel to certain countries will continue to trigger a referral for an underwriter to review the application,” Walker said.