How We’re Dealing With The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

With the unprecedented spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the team here at Robert Gerrard wanted to let you know that we’re doing all we can to ensure business as usual, as well as provide some helpful advice and insights into the aspects of insurance that most people are asking us about.

Precautions we’re taking

We are committed to ensuring the safety of our staff and our clients amidst the developing coronavirus situation.

Here’s what we’re doing:

  • All staff are required to go directly to the kitchen on arrival at our office and wash their hands with warm water for at least 20 seconds
  • Providing paper tissues, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitisers throughout the office
  • Ensuring regular disinfecting of surfaces and objects
  • Restricting outside client visits to reduce the volume of person-to-person contact
  • Sending home any members of staff presenting known coronavirus symptoms to self-isolate under the latest Government guidelines

To help us protect the health of our staff, we are restricting all client communication to email and telephone and are asking clients to avoid visiting our offices in person until further notice. Any payments or paperwork should be placed through our letterbox, even if the office is open. Thank you for your understanding.

Ensuring business continuity

We have in place a robust business continuity plan designed to enable us to continue serving our clients in the event of an unplanned event such as the spread of the coronavirus.

Here’s how we are prepared:

  • We run a paperless office with secure digital access to all client records from any location.
  • We are fully geared up to run our business away from the office should this become necessary. Last year we invested in a new, fully secure cloud-based IT and telephone system that allows us to communicate with clients seamlessly by email and telephone regardless of where we are working from.
  • To ensure cyber security, all staff working from home do so via a clean, secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) and using our own virus protected laptops rather than their own networks and devices.
  • All team members are trained on a multi-disciplinary basis meaning there is no aspect of our service that any one person cannot deal with.
  • We are splitting our dedicated individual teams so that half of the team works from home whilst the other half works within the office. This is intended to minimise the chances of a full wipe-out of a dedicated team in the event of the virus spreading through the office.
  • Most of our insurance providers have already notified us that they have measures in place for their own staff to operate from home should it become necessary. Some have taken the decision to move their operation to staff home environments altogether. This will ensure we are able to maintain seamless contact with them on your behalf.

Your insurance and the coronavirus

The majority of enquiries to our office following the spread of COVID-19 have concerned business interruption cover and travel insurance, both of which we will explore in individual detail. For other types of cover, as well as these, the Association of British Insurers has put together a useful Q&A which provides more in-depth information on most aspects of insurance.

One general point which may help you better understand how cover works is to consider that, in order to be able to underwrite a policy, there has to be a certain level of knowledge about the risk.

Considering that the coronavirus is effectively a new disease, and that there is not yet any hard evidence as to the extent of the damage and disruption it may cause, or how long it may last, it is therefore impossible for an insurance underwriter to comprehensively and accurately assess the risks involved. It is therefore unlikely that any current policy will cover the issues associated with the coronavirus.

Let’s take a look at the specifics of business interruption and travel insurance.

Business interruption insurance

Generally, there are really only two areas where some business interruption cover may be available, according to the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA). These are notifiable diseases, and denial of access.

Notifiable diseases

COVID-19 has been declared a notifiable disease. Policies normally set out a list of specified notifiable diseases that are covered. Naturally, as the coronavirus has only recently surfaced, this will not be listed under the notifiable diseases, which means cover will not extend to business interruption caused by the virus.

There are a very small number of policies written on a non-specific basis, for example covering ‘loss resulting from interruption of or interference with the business during the indemnity period following any human infectious or contagious disease which is notifiable to the local authority manifested by any person whilst on the premises.’ Under this type of wording, business interruption losses arising as a direct result of the virus may be covered.

Denial of access

If certain areas of any premises are quarantined with travel restricted or halted, this will clearly have a considerable impact upon a business.

Some policies include a denial of access extension, however this usually relates to physical damage to the premises which prevents access. As such this would not apply in the event of a quarantine situation.

Some policies however may include a non-damage clause which may include infectious diseases, although these are generally rare and will be subject to different insurers’ terms and conditions. Some will be subject to COVID-19 being named with its list of infectious diseases, but this is currently unlikely as the virus is so new. Some will cover unspecified infectious diseases, but these generally tend to be policies held by larger businesses.

A non-damage denial of access extension may also include cover for interruption that results from government imposed restrictions, such as a lockdown. Again, these tend to be rare.

In any case, a non-damage clause will usually be restricted by a minimum timespan, for example 24 hours, and tend to include a geographical limit such as the incident having to be within a set number of miles of the premises.

Cover, terms and conditions and exclusions vary from one insurer to another and from policy to policy and all claims are considered on individual merits. It is therefore essential to check individual wording. You are welcome to speak to us should you be in any doubt as to what you are specifically covered for.

BIBA has some very useful coronavirus information for business customers on its website.

Travel insurance

Firstly, anyone planning to travel at this time is advised to consult the guidance issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) which is updated on a regular basis.

Because the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a pandemic situation, most insurance policies will exclude claims arising COVID-19. Further, it may be more difficult to obtain new travel insurance if travelling to an area that has been affected. What’s more, now coronavirus has been declared a notifiable disease, the majority of new policies will now include a coronavirus exclusion clause.

When it comes to potential claims for disruption such as curtailment or cancellation, the date of any FCO advice against ‘all’ or ‘all but essential travel’ to a particular place is key to how insurers will consider a claim.

If your trip is booked AFTER FCO advice against all or all but essential travel to a particular place then you will be unlikely to see a claim for cancellation honoured. The converse does however apply in most cases, although this will be subject to the individual terms of the policy.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has issued some very helpful Q&A advice on travel and the coronavirus covering the likes of what happens if you ignore Government advice against all but essential travel; what will occur if you cancel your travel plans and whether you can claim the costs on your travel insurance; what is classed as essential travel, and what happens if you find yourself needing to follow Government advice to return home.

Insurers will generally only consider claims for any additional costs incurred on a trip if it was undertaken in line with FCO advice at the time of travel; if the costs were beyond the policyholder’s control and if they were reasonable and necessary and could not be otherwise recovered. It’s worth being aware that your own reluctance to travel won’t be sufficient grounds for a claim.

Working from home – important cyber-crime warning

Working from home may be becoming a viable solution for many businesses during the coronavirus outbreak, but there are serious cyber risk aspects to consider.

Remote working is said to be creating opportunities for cyber criminals. It is therefore vital that steps are taking to ensure the utmost security, and it is vital to bear in mind that cyber insurance is unlikely to cover breaches that stem from remote working where certain measures have not been put in place.

When staff are using remote desktop protocol (RDP) to login to your network, it is crucial that multi-factor authentication (MFA) is used otherwise an unsecured network could open a gateway to hackers. A large percentage of ransomware attacks are initiated through RDP. Logging on through a trusted network via MFA-secured, virus-protected official organisation devices is highly recommended. Allowing employees to use their own devices and networks will put the business at serious risk.

Phishing attack warning

One more word of warning… sadly, the Coronavirus is increasingly being used in phishing attempts with cyber criminals taking advantage of those seeking advice on the outbreak. Emails have been intercepted impersonating the World Health Organization, asking victims to click on a link to download a ‘safety measure’. Users are then asked to verify their email by entering their login details. Always verify the source of any emails you receive and never click on links asking to verify login credentials.

Useful coronavirus resources

Some useful coronavirus resources we’ve found that you may find helpful are listed below:

Video – how to protect against COVID-19 – World Health Organization

Guidance for British people travelling and living overseas following the outbreak of Coronavirus

COVID-19: Government support for businesses

COVID-19: Government guidance for employees

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Coronavirus (COVID-19): latest information and advice

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 were introduced in February this year by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the announcement that the outbreak was of significant enough threat to put measures in place to delay further spread.

As of 9am on 16 March 2020, 44,105 people had been tested for COVID-19 in the UK, of which 42,562 were confirmed negative and 1,543 were confirmed as positive. These figures should put things into perspective; whilst this is clearly an incredibly serious situation, it is wise that we do not panic, but instead stick to official advice and do whatever we can to protect ourselves and those around us, and support those who are most vulnerable.

Should you have any concerns about your individual insurance cover, you are welcome to get in touch, we are here to help.