The UK Foreign Office (FCO) has advised Britons against “all but essential travel” for at least the next 30 days to prevent the spread of coronavirus. There have been more than 194,000 confirmed cases worldwide, with 1,950 in the UK, at the latest count.

It is the first time that the FCO has issued such a blanket advisory to UK travellers, warning against leaving the UK to anywhere in the world.

British holidaymakers’ plans are now effectively put on hold for the next month, perhaps longer. 

But what is meant by essential travel? What are your rights if you have a holiday planned in the next 30 days? And should you curtail your trip if you are currently overseas?

Here we take a look at some questions Britons may have following the guidance against all but essential travel.

What is essential travel?

There is no official Government explanation to differentiate between essential and non-essential travel. Travel that is urgent and critical is likely to fall under “essential,” according to Telegraph Travel’s chief consumer editor, Nick Trend.

However, holidays are unlikely to be considered essential by travel insurers and therefore travelling against Government advice is likely to invalidate your insurance, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

“When insurers consider [what is essential travel] they usually say that holidays are not essential travel. People should speak to their insurers if they are not sure,” a spokesperson for the ABI told Telegraph Travel.

Without a clear Government explanation of “essential travel” it is difficult to offer definitive legal advice, according to Anthony Baker, President of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers and Partner at Plexus Law. 

“The Government are leaving this to the individual to consider based upon risk factors identified by the FCO. The FCO will only advise against travel where the risk is unacceptably high,” Baker told Telegraph Travel.

“If the FCO specifically warns against travel to a country or region (e.g. China), then even essential travel should not be undertaken and it is likely to invalidate travel insurance cover. From a practical perspective though, it is always worth checking with your travel insurer before any foreign travel regarding confirmation of cover and any exclusions. Examples of essential travel might be for necessary urgent medical treatment abroad, to attend family funerals or for health workers.”

How can I find out if my travel would be considered ‘essential’?

As per the advice above, if you are travelling under extenuating circumstances, you should check with your insurer if you would be covered.

FCO advice says it is a personal decision whether travel is essential and that circumstances differ from person to person. It is for each person to make an informed decision based on the risks and FCO advice, it said. Anyone still planning to travel should check the validity of their travel insurance

The ABI added that some work might be classed as essential, but that it would depend on why the person travelling took the policy out. “Insurers expect people to take reasonable care, so things like holidays are not covered,” said a spokesperson.

“Return travel should be covered under the government advice. Medical reasons could be considered essential. There is no one size fits all policy.”

A spokesperson for insurance provider CoverForYou, said of defining essential travel: “The proof provided would be assessed by the insurance underwriter through the loss adjuster. If there is a dispute, this would be handled in the usual way for complaints and if it wasn’t resolved would go to the ombudsman.”

Britons abroad may be uncertain whether flights will be covered if they cut short their holidays

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What is the latest Government advice? 

“UK travellers abroad now face widespread international border restrictions and lockdowns in various countries. The speed and range of those measures across other countries is unprecedented,” said foreign secretary Dominic Raab in a statement on March 17.

The FCO statement adds that British people who decide that they still need to travel abroad should be fully aware of the increased risks of doing so. That includes the risk that they may not be able to get home, if travel restrictions are put in place. It said that anyone still considering travel to be realistic about the level of disruption they are willing and able to endure, and to make decisions in light of the unprecedented conditions we face.

What does the change in advice mean for holidays in the next 30 days?

The change in official advice does make the situation a little clearer for Britons who have holidays booked in the next few weeks. This is welcome when, in the last week alone, 430 changes have been made to FCO travel advice.

Once the FCO advises against all but essential travel insurance policies kick in. “This unprecedented step actually provides welcome clarity for our customers and the industry. Generally insurance cancellation or travel disruption will relate to FCO advice,” said the ABI in a statement. “This decision will therefore allow policyholders with cancellation or travel disruption cover in place to claim for cancelled trips that were already booked and cannot now go ahead.”

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “This shift from the government to advising against non-essential foreign travel means anyone with upcoming travel plans should be able to claim a refund or rebook for a later date with their package provider, or claim on their insurance for holiday plans that have fallen through.”

Should Britons who are currently abroad return home?

The FCO is not yet advising British people to immediately return to the UK if they are overseas, aside from a few countries included in its travel advice. The FCO website offers detailed travel guidance for each country. 

However, the FCO said British people should keep in mind that flights may be cancelled at short notice or other travel restrictions may be put in place by foreign governments.

It added that people do want to return to the UK soon, then they need to take account of the fast moving situation and plan accordingly, while flights remain available in many places.

Britons who are abroad and not yet due to fly home, but wish to bring their return forward should contact their airline or travel provider in the first instance.

A number of airlines have cancelled international flights, with more being added as official advice is updated.

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