Aug 19, 2021 - Economy

A rescue option if you get COVID overseas

Illustration of a plane with a red cross on the tail.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

There's a lot of pent-up demand for overseas travel, but one thing holding Americans back is the worry that they'll be stranded in a foreign country if they contract COVID-19 while traveling.

Why it matters: The U.S. requires all arriving air passengers — vaccinated or not, including Americans returning home — to test negative for COVID-19 no more than three days before their trip.

  • Isolating for an extra 10 days in a hotel room, even in paradise, can be expensive — not to mention risky, if you get really ill and need medical care in a foreign country.

What's happening: A company called Covac Global will send a medical jet, helicopter or even a speed boat — "whatever it takes," they say — to rescue COVID patients in other countries and bring them home for care.

  • Some vacation destinations are even partnering with Covac to prevent infections from spreading in their country.
  • The Bahamas government is a client, doing weekly evacuations to transport positive visitors off the island, the company says.
  • And some hotels, like the Eden Roc in St. Barts, are including evacuation service in their vacation packages.

Context: Most travel insurance policies like Allianz Travel Protection Plan generally don't cover COVID-19 claims because a pandemic is "foreseeable." Nor do they cover fear of travel.

  • During the ongoing health crisis, however, Allianz says it will temporarily cover emergency medical care as well as trip cancellation for a traveler who becomes ill with COVID-19.
  • Covac Global focuses on getting them home, regardless of whether they are sick.

The intrigue: It's not trip insurance — it's a membership-based service.

  • Membership for a 15-day trip is $675 per person; a 30-day trip costs $995. Annual membership is $2,400, for unlimited trips up to 90 days each.

How it works: Unlike most insurers, Covac doesn't require customers to be hospitalized before it authorizes a medical evacuation.

  • All the company needs is a positive COVID test result and one self-reported symptom, like a scratchy throat, cough or runny nose.
  • Covac medical personnel will pick up the patient wherever they are and transport them back to the U.S.
  • They don't have to comply with the CDC's rules on isolation if the medical team delivers them directly home.
  • "All they have to do is wait in the hotel, and we pay for the whole thing, up to a million dollars, to take them home," CEO Ross Thompson tells Axios.

The bottom line: Since launching the service early in the pandemic, Thompson says Covac has sold "tens of thousands of memberships" and performs "about a dozen" evacuations per month.

  • Most are fully vaccinated travelers who still contracted COVID while abroad, he said.

The catch: Non-members are eligible for evacuation service too, but it could cost as much as $250,000 door-to-door, depending on where they are.

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