Coronavirus: Foreign Office advice over Italy confuses British holidaymakers

FCO still says travel to Lombardy is largely safe despite quarantine of 16m inhabitants

The Foreign Office is facing a backlash over its lack of clear advice for British people with holidays booked in northern Italy and those currently in areas locked down due to its escalating coronavirus crisis.

The department is still advising it is safe to travel to anywhere in Italy, apart from 10 towns where the outbreak originated, meaning flights are still scheduled to depart to Milan and others areas in Lombardy where 16 million Italians are in mandatory quarantine.

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How coronavirus is wreaking havoc with readers’ travel plans

The Observer has been inundated with queries about flights and bookings since the outbreak. Our expert gives her advice

The numbers of diagnosed coronavirus cases in the UK is still relatively low, but the epidemic has been causing havoc for those with travel plans. As the situation evolves, individual countries – and travel operators – are introducing different policies, leaving some travellers stranded, others uncertain and many out of pocket. Advice from airlines has been confusing, with some offering refunds or rebookings to passengers headed for risky regions and some leaving them to their fate. Insurers are similarly divided in what they will and won’t offer. For those wondering what to do about an impending holiday, it’s important to know when a refund is a right and when it depends on goodwill.

I’m due to go on holiday to Venice this month but I’m worried about the infection in northern Italy. I’m a diabetic and the symptoms could prove severe. If I cancel am I entitled to my money back?
RD, Buxton, Derbyshire

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What does coronavirus mean for holidays, travel insurance and gigs?

What you can do to get a refund if your flight, sports match or festival is cancelled

Yes. The Association of British Insurers confirmed this week that someone booking a holiday to Spain in, say, June, and buying travel insurance would be covered for cancellation, but only if the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) later advised against travel to the country. The insurance has to have been bought before a country was declared off limits.

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Coronavirus leads to surge in travel insurance sales

Demand for holiday cover rises steeply – even though policies will only pay out if the Foreign Office upgrades its travel advice

The number of people booking travel insurance rose sharply last month, despite the fact that most policies won’t pay out if people cancel due to concerns around coronavirus.

According to the Association of British Insurers, cancellations will only be covered if the Foreign Office (FCO) advice changes to all but essential travel to a destination after booking. However, with growing concerns about coronavirus and uncertainty over whether the FCO may widen its advice to include additional countries or regions, insurance providers saw a surge in the sales of policies in February. Many of these policies are for trips much later in the year, as people rush to secure cover instead of leaving it to the last minute, which insurers say is often the case.

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Flybe won’t be the last business to be downed by the coronavirus | Josie Cox

Other high-profile casualties that rely on the travel sector may follow – but smaller businesses will take the biggest hit

As the infection and death toll from coronavirus continues to creep higher, sending ripples of panic through communities and financial markets, the first high-profile corporate casualties are starting to emerge.

Related: We don’t need another Flybe – we need a radical plan for regional transport | Christian Wolmar

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