Thailand has on 12 February been included for the first time by WHO as one of the countries and territories with autochthonous (local) transmission of Zika virus.
Thailand and the Maldives are the only two countries in Asia on the list of 34 countries with autochthonous transmission of Zika virus as at that date. Most of the countries on the list are in the Americas.
On 1 February, WHO declared the virus an international public health emergency. WHO said: “Women’s reproductive health has been thrust into the limelight with the spread of the Zika virus. The latest evidence suggests that Zika virus infection during pregnancy may be linked to microcephaly in newborn babies.” Microcephaly is a condition in which babies are born with head and brain abnormalities.
WHO said: “Women who are pregnant should discuss their travel plans with their health care provider and consider delaying travel to any area where locally acquired Zika infection is occurring.”
Travel cancellation claims
One of the top US travel insurers, RoamRight, told Reuters that sales of its “Cancel For Any Reason” policy surged 81% in January as compared to last year for travel to Zika-impacted areas in the Americas.
In Australia, consumer advocacy group CHOICE said: “Most, if not all, travel insurance policies contain some sort of exclusion for claims arising from pandemics or epidemics. In the event that an infectious disease flares up in a region, insurers will not compensate travellers if their travel is cancelled, interrupted, delayed or rescheduled as a result. Some insurers go further in the wording of their policies to exclude claims arising from “likely” epidemics or even the “threat” of an epidemic.
So far insurers seem to be split on whether Zika is a pandemic. A QBE Australia spokesperson told CHOICE that although a WHO announcement does not a pandemic make, “our policies don’t provide cover for any cancellations our customers may wish to make due to concerns about the virus”.
Meanwhile, Bupa has said it will accept cancellation claims for some people who bought their policy before the WHO announcement on 1 February. Pregnant women are the exception: because Australia’s DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) issued a warning for expectant mothers to re-consider their travel needs to Zika-affected countries on 25 January, the insurer will only accept cancellation claims for policies bought before this date.