Coronavirus forcing couples to rethink weddings: ‘I really wanted them here’

Click to play video: 'AMA Travel: Cancellation travel insurance in light of coronavirus'
AMA Travel: Cancellation travel insurance in light of coronavirus
WATCH ABOVE: With the coronavirus affecting tourist destinations around the world, many people are cancelling or changing their travel plans. Nikola Berube with AMA Travel joined us to talk about changing your plans and what insurance covers. (Sponsored by AMA) – Mar 6, 2020

Editor’s Note: This story was published before the World Health Organization declared novel coronavirus a pandemic and Canada’s chief health officer labelled the virus a “serious public health threat.” For the latest coronavirus news, click here.

Giancarlo Silvestri is ready to marry his fiancée in Toronto this month. 

But the couple’s late March wedding will be missing a few crucial guests Silvestri’s best friends from northern Italy, who are now part of the 16 million people under mandatory quarantine and cannot leave the country. 

“I didn’t expect a lot to come just because of the costs, but a few of them were like, ‘For sure, I wouldn’t miss it for the world,’” said Silvestri, 37. “Up until like two days ago, they were coming … but now, they’re not allowed to move.”

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After spending part of his childhood and his late 20s in Italy, it’s upsetting that his closest friend, in particular, won’t be able to attend an important moment in his life, he said.

“I really wanted them there just because we went through a lot together,” he said. “I really wanted him there to celebrate my wedding with me.”

The wedding industry is facing disruptions amid the new coronavirus pandemic, as it’s impacting destination and cruise ship weddings, dress and decoration deliveries, and guests are having to cancel last minute.

Wedding insurance that some couples opt for to protect their event might not cover coronavirus-related scenarios — especially if guests are simply unwilling to travel rather than being forced to stay home. 

Currently, the Canadian government has travel advisories out for seven regions around the world, including Italy and China. They’ve also advised against any cruise ship travel due to the possibility of being infected in a small space after Canadians have fallen ill on ships.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: WHO declares COVID-19 a global pandemic'
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Despite the missing guests, there are no plans for Silvestri to postpone the wedding.

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The couple is hoping to make do with a Skype or FaceTime call with those who can’t attend. His fiancée’s uncle, is also missing out because he lives in Paris, is feeling unwell and is concerned he’ll be quarantined. 

“But I mean, it goes on,” he said. “We have a planner…it’s kind of late to make any major changes.”

Silvestri isn’t overly concerned about the virus when hosting the event, as he knows guests will stay home if they are unwell. They will be asking the venue if hand sanitizer can be provided and they are both optimistic that the wedding will go off without a hitch, he said. 

“I don’t think we should worry about that stuff until there’s actually something to worry about. I trust that all of our guests who are in Canada are responsible enough to self-exclude if they aren’t feeling well or if they’ve been in contact with somebody [sick],” he said.

Changing guest lists and delayed deliveries 

For weddings taking place in Canada, Diana Pires, who is the founder of a Toronto-based wedding event company, says many of her clients have been in touch, as they are concerned about changing guest counts.

“We’ve had to reach out to venues just to discuss the final guest count to confirm whether or not we would be able to reduce numbers just in case,” she said, adding that some clients were supposed to have guests flying in from China. 

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In recent weeks, Pires and her team have had to ensure any flowers or dresses imported from China were arranged in advance or make alternative arrangements with local vendors. 

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They have also discussed with clients the possibility of older guests or those with immune system deficiencies having to stay home. Even how the food is presented may be modified to reduce cross-contamination by eliminating antipasto bars before dinner, Pires said.

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Above all, she’s always encouraged clients to opt into wedding insurance. But they would have had to purchase that prior to the novel coronavirus outbreak becoming a known global pandemic, she said.

“It doesn’t matter if something is happening or it’s not. It’s always better to be protected. There’s unforeseen circumstances — you never know,” she said. “The main thing for us is we’re creating solutions and not fuelling the fire…we’re doing the proper research to ensure that we’re ahead to keep our clients at ease.”

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Wedding insurance may not cover coronavirus-related cancellations 

Whether your wedding insurance covers a global health crisis like the new coronavirus will depend on the terms. 

Companies like Front Row Insurance Brokers currently have a coronavirus exclusion.

“We will not pay for any loss or expense caused directly or indirectly by or resulting from the novel coronavirus,” the company states on its website. 

Wedding insurance typically includes coverage for a variety of event elements that could include ceremony, reception, any damage to a rented property, unexpected wedding cancellations, honeymoon cancellations and even lost or damaged clothing, rings, cakes and flowers, said Adam Mitchell, president of Mitchell and Whale Insurance Brokers. 

There are usually a variety of conditions and exclusions, however, including cancellations due to death, injury, illness or compulsory quarantine, he explained. You’d need to check the fine print in your policy.

“Coronavirus is a pre-known condition and would not be covered if a bride and groom or vendor cancels or postpones,” said Mitchell in an email to Global News. Each insurance company has its own rules, he said. 

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“One company is taking the stance that if they booked and insured a wedding before we knew about coronavirus, then it would be covered, but most companies are saying that you would need to take legal action against the venue to get your deposit back,” he said. 

Lisa, whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, recently purchased wedding insurance for her May ceremony in Portugal. 

She and her fiancé are Canadians living in London, England who had planned for a destination wedding. They decided to purchase wedding insurance this week as the number of coronavirus cases has increased in Europe.

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Coronavirus around the world: March 11, 2020

“We’re not worried yet,” she said, explaining that as of now, the wedding should go ahead.

“We’ve purchased wedding and travel insurance now just in case. Our main worry as of now is if there’s a government directive, if flights are stopped to Portugal.”

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The couple’s wedding insurance will cover them if family members can’t attend or if a venue pulls out, she said. It cost them a couple hundred dollars for the insurance. 

“If your wedding is going to be held in a low-risk area and you don’t have family members who would be affected easily…personally, I don’t see a huge need for [insurance],” she said.

‘Hysteria is the main concern’

Niki Hyndman and her fiancé. Supplied by Niki Hyndman. Supplied by Niki Hyndman

With her wedding in Spain about six months away, Niki Hyndman, who is originally from Belleville, Ont., hasn’t purchased wedding insurance and isn’t planning to, she said.

Hyndman moved to an area north of Madrid six years ago and will be tying the knot in the more rural region where she lives. The distance from a major city has quelled some of her concerns surrounding the new coronavirus as she’s using mostly local vendors. 

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Her worries stem more from whether her guests coming from places like Canada will be discouraged from travelling this summer than the actual virus, she said.

“I asked my guests to RSVP as of last Friday before things started to get really crazy in Spain. I’m thinking that maybe some of the people that confirmed from Canada might be feeling now that it’s not safe,” she said. 

She hopes by the late summer the number of cases will start to decline and everything will be under better control.

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“I want to see how the next couple of months play out. I’m not feeling I’m going to have to make any major alterations at this point,” she said. 

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Changes may need to be made, especially for older guests, down the line — but they will consider that more seriously closer to the date, she said.

“The hysteria is the main concern for me….what I’ve been trying to do is follow the most reliable sources of information and get updates from there and nowhere else, just because it seems to be a lot of fear-mongering,” she said.

The new coronavirus was first identified in Hubei province, China, in December 2019 and spread rapidly. While the outbreak has begun to level off in China, it seems the virus has found a foothold in a number of countries around the world, and it continues to spread.

Confused about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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