As of midday on March 10th 2020, there have been six UK deaths from the coronavirus (all among elderly individuals with underlying health conditions) and more than 300 people have been reported to be infected.
The new human coronavirus — now known by the scientific name of COVID-19 — is actually one of many coronaviruses that exist, with others including the viruses that cause the common cold.
Rather than being on par with the common cold, however, COVID-19 is at the more serious end of the spectrum alongside previous outbreaks of coronaviruses such as sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
Originating in a province in Central China, the virus has now spread to multiple countries around the world. Outside the UK, countries are taking sweeping measures to limit the spread of the disease, with Italy announcing a total lockdown for its citizens and South Korea testing almost 200,000 of its citizens for free as of March 10th.
Common symptoms of coronavirus are very similar to the common cold at first, including:
These symptoms can go on to develop into shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. This is the limit of the symptoms most people will suffer, with the likelihood being recovery thereafter.
However, in more severe cases — typically found among the elderly, young children, pregnant women, the immunocompromised, those with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, asthma and diabetes, and other vulnerable groups — coronavirus can lead to pneumonia, respiratory, kidney and multiple organ failure, and even death.
It is estimated that around 10% of the population will require hospitalisation as a result of contracting the virus.
There could be between 2 and 14 days between becoming infected and exhibiting symptoms; during this period people may be contagious without realising they have COVID-19.
Many of our clients are asking whether any of the following group protection schemes will cover coronavirus:
The answer is a bit of a mixed bag, with some policies covering the disease while for others the condition won’t meet the criteria or will be beyond the policy’s scope to offer cover.
Group Health Insurance allows you to receive healthcare in a private hospital setting with the cost picked up by an insurer.
However, the way private hospitals work in the UK mean that they aren’t set up for treatment of a disease such as coronavirus, which requires isolation units and other infection control measures, as well as easy access to intensive care units and emergency departments in case it’s required.
Private healthcare doesn’t cover emergency treatment, which would still need to be taken care of by an NHS Accident & Emergency Department.
Meanwhile, the NHS remains the healthcare provider best set up for dealing with cases of the virus, with the right infrastructure in place to contain the disease, limit its spread and treat patients, better than could be carried out under any private healthcare setting currently.
Where the policy may step in is to cover hospitalisation in an NHS hopsital by the disease. Some policies have a hospitalisation benefit attached that pays out a set amount per night spent in an NHS hospital; speak to your provider or your adviser to discuss whether this applies to you and your staff.
Another area to consider is that Group Private Medical Insurance often comes with remote / digital GP services, offering access to a doctor via video conference 24/7 at a time that suits you.
Given current NHS advice is to stay away from hospitals and GP surgeries wherever possible and use the 111 NHS telephone service, a remote GP service could be incredibly useful for those patients with mild symptoms needing advice and reassurance rather than supportive, interventionist hospital treatment.
Group Income Protection would cover the coronavirus.
If one of your staff needs to be off for longer than your deferral period to recover from the coronavirus, Group Income Protection would pay out on the basis that they can’t work. They’d receive a proportion of their income for the benefit period laid out in the policy.
Some providers are extending their remote GP services from their Health Insurance policies to other policies (if not already included). Again, this could be a valuable resource for those seeking advice and reassurance who have mild symptoms given current NHS advice to avoid A&E and doctor surgeries wherever possible.
With Critical Illness Insurance, you have to be diagnosed with one of a specified list of critical illnesses at a set severity to be able to make a successful claim.
These illnesses are outlined in the policy’s terms and conditions and include conditions such as cancer, heart attacks and strokes.
Coronavirus infection is not typically included in this list of illnesses, so workers generally wouldn’t be able to make a successful claim under Critical Illness Cover.
Death in Service Insurance covers you should you pass away while employed with the company that owns the scheme and is paying for your cover.
You don’t have to pass away at work — you can die anywhere, at anytime, including if you catch COVID-19 while travelling abroad and unfortunately die overseas.
Your loved ones will receive a lump sum equivalent to a multiple of your salary, as defined in your policy terms, if you pass away during the life of the policy.
Of course, while there are insurance options should you unfortunately contract the coronavirus, the best thing is not to catch COVID-19 in the first place.
There are mitigation measures you can take to avoid the disease, with hand washing with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds being listed as the best way to protect yourself against the virus.
Other methods include avoiding touching your face and eyes, especially with unwashed hands, coughing and sneezing into disposable tissues and getting rid of them into a closed bin, and avoiding contact with those who are unwell.
Face masks are helpful for those with the virus to avoid them spreading it further, but are not believed to be particularly effective to avoid contracting the disease.
If you suspect you may have the coronavirus, the NHS and the government maintains that the best course of action is to avoid GP surgeries, hospitals and pharmacies wherever possible and dial 111 for help and advice.
You may be asked to self-isolate and could then be tested for the disease depending on your circumstances.
If your condition worsens, you may need to be admitted to hospital for supportive treatment.
Head of Employee Benefits at Drewberry
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