The government announced on late on Wednesday that it would declare the coronavirus strain COVID-19 a notifiable disease. The Department of Health and Social Care framed the decision as one made in order to help businesses to recoup their losses through existing insurance plans.
Businesses have keenly awaited Parliament’s stance on the 2019-2020 coronavirus outbreak. Many companies have taken a hit financially, and some insurance policies specify that diseases must be notifiable in order to be covered.
In late February, the Scottish and Northern Irish governments formally declared that COVID-19 was notifiable. They were swiftly followed by the Republic of Ireland and Guernsey.
What is a notifiable disease?
The government’s list of notifiable diseases covers 32 diseases linked to outbreaks and epidemics. These include malaria, SARS and tuberculosis.
Under the terms of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 and Health Protection (Notification) Regulations 2010, registered medical practitioners must notify the Proper Officer at their local council or health protection team of suspected cases of these diseases. This is in order to catch infectious diseases before they become widespread.
The financial blow to businesses
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We want to ensure any steps taken to protect the public during the COVID-19 outbreak are proportionate and do not come at an unnecessary social or economic cost.
“To mitigate the impact on businesses, we will register COVID-19 as a notifiable disease. This will help companies seek compensation through their insurance policies in the event of any cancellations they may have to make as a result of the spread of the virus.”
However, there is no guarantee that businesses will be covered by their existing policies. The Association of British Insurers stresses that insurance policies are contracts and business owners must check the fine print for themselves.
“Commercial insurance policies provide cover against a wide range of risks, that can be tailored to the needs of individual businesses, including extensions to cover. Businesses who are concerned about this should check the scope of their cover, and speak to their insurance adviser or broker,” an ABI spokesperson said.
“It may be possible to buy consequential business interruption cover for notifiable diseases as an extension to a business insurance policy, subject to any policy terms and conditions. Standard business insurance policies are designed and priced to cover standard risks, not those that are very unlikely, such as the effects of COVID-19. More generally, all UK insurers are capitalised under Solvency II to withstand a wide range of severe events, including pandemics.”
If the insurance industry maintains this position, it will be another significant financial blow to businesses. British employers are already expected to foot the bill for statutory sick pay, which has been adjusted to cover absence from day one in a bid to encourage self-isolation in suspected cases of COVID-19.