Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 November 2020


Holidaymakers buy war zone insurance to cover coronavirus

Speciality insurer battleface has been inundated with requests from anxious sunseekers

Sunseekers do not usually have to think about being covered for war. Getty Images
Sunseekers do not usually have to think about being covered for war. Getty Images

Thousands of holidaymakers are taking up insurance with a company that covers correspondents in war zones so they can travel to coronavirus-infected countries against government advice.

Sales have rocketed at battleface, which provides moderately priced medical cover for people who are choosing to ignore the instructions of the British Foreign Office.

Holidaymakers booked for Spain or Portugal have been able to continue with their plans after taking up the cover when their usual travel insurance became invalid because of the government advice.

Last Saturday, the British government ordered that anyone returning from Spain had to go into a 14-day quarantine.

“We advise against all non-essential travel to Spain now,” the Foreign Office said.

This meant that many medical insurance policies were automatically cancelled, including for those already in Spain.

Boris Johnson's decision to impose quarantine on those returning from Spain left many people with insurance difficulties. AFP
Boris Johnson's decision to impose quarantine on those returning from Spain left many people with insurance difficulties. AFP

But battleface still offered medical insurance sales for Covid-19, even for those in Spain.

Under a special deal made with Lloyd’s of London, the company can cover people whether they are in a war zone, a natural disaster or a disease outbreak such as Covid-19.

People who faced the prospect of having their holiday cancelled over a lack of insurance are now flocking to battleface.

Insuring the uninsurable

But providing holiday cover amid a pandemic was never the idea behind the insurance agency, says Sasha Gainullin, who co-founded battleface a decade ago.

“We were working in emergency medical evacuation insurance and I had journalists come to me saying, ‘I can’t find travel insurance that will cover me’, because of all the explosions in places like Afghanistan or Iraq," said Mr Gainullin, 42, who is also chief executive of battleface.

"Second, it was because of what they were doing. ‘If I’m a surfer or a diver or war correspondent, I’m already being labelled high-risk’, they said.”

He took his idea to the insurance brokers at Lloyd's who “like weird, obscure and challenging situations”, and they agreed to underwrite it.

By normal standards, the offer for cash-strapped freelancers was cheap – $145 a week covering the war in Afghanistan, with $250,000 in medical expenses and $50,000 in evacuation costs.

The company's first customer was a high-profile journalist, and Mr Gainullin thought that interviewing her for the blog would help with marketing. Soon there was a stampede of journalists.

Another market opened up when Mr Gainullin, who often holds down the helpline, discovered that younger adventure travellers were also struggling for insurance.

From 2018 the biggest market became ‘millenials’ who wanted experimental travel. Mr Gainullin said: “For millienials it’s one week ‘I’m going to India because I want to learn to cook, the other week I’m going to Argentina because I want to learn the tango’.” Just before Covid hit they were taking multiple booking for ski trips in the mountains of Afghanistan.

While there was a significant dip in policies sold in the early months of lockdown the company has now been overwhelmed with customers.

“We've literally seen in increase in thousands of per cent,” said Mr Gainullin. “Obviously the younger you are the cheaper it is. Also, from listening in to the helpline, I heard that what really upset many people that once travelling all of sudden their policy was invalid while they are out there.”

The policy price is based on a customer’s destination, number of travellers, their ages and length of stay. A week’s holiday for a family of five in France – that could soon fall foul of Foreign Office advice – costs £121 with £5 million in medical expenses, plus £2,000 cover each for baggage loss, cancellation and theft.

So far the customer reviews on Trustpilot have backed battlespace. “The only company that I could find that would cover my student son returning to study in the US,” wrote one.

Another added: “Fantastic to have the informed option to travel against FCO advice but have the security of full medical cover, which no family should travel without.”

Battlespace puts countries into four different categories based on the danger or the potential risk of coronavirus infection. Level one is the highest in danger, four the lowest. Below are some examples:

1. Afghanistan, Iraq, Chad, Congo

2. Bangladesh, Kashmir, Kurdistan, Rwanda

3. Angola, Guatemala, Honduras, Jordan

4. UK, Belgium, Canada, Greece

Updated: August 3, 2020 03:48 PM

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