In Depth

Britons to avoid non-essential travel: what should holidaymakers do?

Foreign Office urges against any non-essential travel abroad for next 30 days

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has advised Brits to avoid all non-essential travel anywhere in the world for at least 30 days. 

Addressing the House of Commons, Raab said the decision followed the prime minister’s announcement yesterday that everyone should avoid non-essential social contact with others, as well as avoiding pubs, clubs and restaurants.

Raab told the Commons that the decision was a response to “fast-changing international circumstances”, including the growing number of countries that have shut their borders. 

He added: “UK travellers abroad now face widespread international border restrictions and lockdowns in various countries.”

What happens next?

Raab said that the advice is aimed at “reduc[ing] the risk of leaving vulnerable British travellers stranded overseas”, but added that anyone deciding to travel would have to take responsibility for any consequences should they be unable to return home.

In a statement, the Foreign Office said that anyone still considering going abroad should “be realistic about the level of disruption they are willing and able to endure”.

The foreign secretary also said that the government will not offer to fund emergency repatriation for many tourists. “No one should be under any illusions. It is costly, it is expensive to coordinate,” he said.

Responding to this news, Labour foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, labelled the government’s decision to leave individual travellers stranded abroad “a chronic failure of global leadership and coordination”.

The only type of travel not included in the advice is international haulage and freight, which Raab said is considered “essential”.

What if your holiday is disrupted?

According to MoneySavingExpert.com, the “key trigger for holiday insurance paying out is if the Foreign Office formally advises against travel”.

Now that has happened, the site reports that “you will be able to claim on most, but not all, travel insurance policies, even if your flight and hotel are still available”.

However, the site notes that insurance companies such as Admiral, Churchill and Direct Line have stopped selling travel insurance policies altogether owing to the current unpredictability. This means that if you did not get insurance “ASAB (As Soon As you Book)” you may now struggle to find cover. 

Many insurance companies will also only pay out if you got the insurance before the country was ruled off-limits, the site says, meaning that you may now be out of pocket.

An exception to this is if you booked a package holiday, which should be protected by Abta or Atol. You should therefore receive a full refund or you can choose to rebook for another time, although a sensible time to rebook is unclear.

What if my flight is cancelled?

The Independent reports that if only your flight is cancelled as a result of the government advice, your airline should be in touch via email or text with what to do next.

Under European air passengers’ rights legislation, the airline is required to find and pay for alternative transport for you and, sometimes, offer food and accommodation if you are left stranded. 

In reality, the paper adds, the overwhelming number of passengers affected by coronavirus may mean that you will receive a refund but will have to get back home under your own steam.

Due to the large numbers of people contacting airline helplines, you're advised to check the carrier's website for any updates first.

What if I have a summer holiday booked?

The best advice right now is to wait and see what happens. This, The Daily Telegraph notes, is especially true if you have to pay a fee or lose your deposit if you cancel now.

China, where the virus originated, seems to be gaining control over its spread with just 21 new cases since yesterday at the time of writing. While Europe is seeing the virus spread more rapidly, it is at an earlier stage in the pandemic than China.

There is no concrete timescale for when the coronavirus will end and, as money-saving expert Martin Lewis writes, booking “further out is trickier”. 

“Summer holidays are four months away – the first Covid-19 case was only reported to the World Health Organization two months ago. This shows things can change quickly and many more countries may be off limits in summer.” 

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