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Global firms, excluded from epidemic insurance, face heavy coronavirus costs

Published by on January 29th, 2020.


Coronavirus, Firms, Insurance

Many global companies from hotels and airlines to industrial houses are expected to have to foot the bill for disruptions caused by a new coronavirus in China, with epidemics usually excluded from insurance cover, experts said.

With 132 deaths in China and new cases being reported around the world, companies are set to face billions of dollars in losses linked to events and travel cancellations and closure of businesses, they said.

The virus originated in the city of Wuhan, forcing airlines to cancel flights and companies including Facebook and HSBC to suspend travel to China.

ALSO READ: Facebook warns staff to halt travel to China amid coronavirus

“For insurers, the bulk of the claims from this outbreak will come from businesses, mainly travel, hospitality and event firms, followed by mortality and healthcare costs,” said a Hong Kong-based insurance sector lawyer with a global law firm.

Risk modeling firm RMS said it was too early to estimate insured losses.

While some large global firms buy coverage for communicable diseases, most “standard insurance policies” exclude such outbreaks to keep costs low, said the lawyer, declining to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Global insurers typically cover risks such as earthquakes and plane crashes but have been paring back exposure to certain risks, such as shipping, to avoid huge losses.

Previous viruses, such as SARS, Ebola, and Zika, have also led insurers to be more cautious about exposure, with specific virus exclusions added to most basic coverage policies, industry insiders said.

ALSO READ: As Coronavirus threatens, countries plan to evacuate citizens, diplomatic staff from China virus areas

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome pandemic which spread to 37 countries in 2003 caused $4 billion worth of economic losses in Hong Kong, $3-$6 billion in Canada, and $5 billion in Singapore, according to insurance broker Marsh.

Insurance experts also told Reuters that most event cancellation policies would not cover the new virus.

“A lot of these airlines and hotels are offering refunds to their customers,” said Richard Coyle, London-based head of risk financing and non-standard solutions at Miller Insurance. “Without adequate insurance in place, the airlines and hotels are absorbing the financial losses themselves.”

A standard event cancellation policy issued by firms in the 99-member Lloyd’s of London [SOLYD.UL] insurance market and elsewhere has a “communicable disease” exclusion, two underwriters said.

Source: Reuters

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