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Passengers on a flight from Kingston, Jamaica, arrive at Toronto Pearson Airport Terminal 3 on Jan. 6, 2021.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Most major Canadian travel insurers will not cover the cost of the new government-mandated COVID-19 tests for travellers looking to re-enter the country.

As of Thursday morning, the Canadian government will require all air passengers who are five years of age or older to test negative for COVID-19 before travelling from another country to Canada. As a result, airlines will deny boarding to anyone who doesn’t have documentation showing a negative test taken no more than 72 hours prior to a scheduled departure.

The new protocol, which was announced last week on New Year’s Eve, has left the travel industry seeking clarity for customers during a time when many Canadians had already departed the country over the holidays, despite travel warnings from officials not to do so.

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Travel industry experts are now warning travellers who have already left the country – and those preparing to leave – that many out-of-country medical insurance policies do not cover the cost of COVID-19 testing or any subsistence allowances, such as accommodations or meals, in situations where a person may be delayed while waiting for test results.

In addition, insurance companies are warning that out-of-country emergency medical policies will not cover the cost of COVID-19 vaccinations as some Canadians, particularly snowbirds, head to the United States to jump the line for receiving immunizations in Canada.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau confirmed that even those travellers who have received a vaccination will still be required to provide documentation of a negative test prior to boarding any flights to Canada.

Martin Firestone, president of Travel Secure Inc. in Toronto and an insurance broker in travel medical coverage, said Canadians are rolling the dice when they decide to leave the country and could be on the hook for additional hotel and travel costs if they miss a flight while waiting for test results. As well, he said, any delays could mean travellers may have to purchase additional days of medical coverage if their plan expires on their departure date.

“Travellers need to be aware there could be mass confusion at both the departing airport and when arriving in Canada,“ Mr. Firestone said. “If you don’t have the proper documentation, you could end up having to wait days for a negative result, or even worse – stuck in a quarantined facility.”

Travel insurance helps people who have to cancel trips, or receive medical care outside Canada, due to unforeseen events. Policy coverage typically did not include COVID-19 during the onset of the virus in early March. As the coronavirus pandemic continued throughout the summer months, many insurance companies launched policies that include medical expenses related to COVID-19, such as hospital admittance, air ambulance and intensive care treatment.

But insurers are now clarifying that those policies will not include the cost of COVID-19 tests, vaccinations or in some cases any adverse reactions for those receiving the vaccinations outside of Canada.

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Private insurers Ontario Blue Cross and Quebec Blue Cross told The Globe and Mail they will not cover the cost of any “diagnostic test meant to meet government requirements,” including the COVID-19 test, as it is not deemed a medical emergency. As well, any trip or insurance policy purchased on or after Jan. 7 will exclude any subsistence allowances for delayed travellers unless the person is an essential worker.

If a person tests positive and needs to remain abroad longer than their policy coverage, an extension may be purchased if the original policy was bought prior to Jan. 7.

Travel insurer TuGo also confirmed COVID-19 tests are not a covered benefit of its emergency medical insurance. However, if an individual tests positive for COVID-19, medical coverage will be extended up to a maximum of 14 days to allow a traveller to quarantine or self-isolate.

Unlike others, Allianz Global Assistance Canada said it does cover the cost of a COVID-19 test only if the results come back positive. An insured traveller who tests positive will receive an automatic extension of coverage, which includes any medical costs or quarantine costs associated with the virus.

Trip-interruption costs – such as missing a plane because a COVID-19 test result has not been received within the 72-hour timeframe – would not be covered under the Allianz plan.

Similar to other providers, Tour+Med travel insurance excludes COVID-19 tests or vaccinations but will provide a free extension of medical coverage of up to 17 days for a traveller who tested positive for COVID-19.

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Canada’s largest insurance company, Manulife Financial Corp., told The Globe they will continue to evaluate its COVID-19 coverage and clients should contact the company directly for updates. They would not say whether its travel insurance would cover testing or vaccination costs, quarantine extensions or adverse reactions to a COVID-19 vaccination if received abroad.

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