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China lockdowns: insurers revive 'quarantine insurance' offerings as Covid infections strain medical costs among residents

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Some of China's biggest insurers have revived their Covid-19 insurance products on e-commerce platforms to cover for medical costs and death, as financial pressure mounts following a recent surge in infections.

Public Mutual Insurance Corp is offering a new version of a previous policy that is designed to pay 200 yuan (US$31.40) per day during quarantine under certain conditions. Hong Kong-listed ZhongAn Online P&C Insurance revised a similar product with a similar payout for people required to quarantine in state-mandated facilities.

The marketing, under the watchful eyes of regulators, follows sporadic lockdowns in major technology and financial hubs in Shenzhen and Shanghai as China battles its worst outbreak in two years. Thousands of neighbourhoods were subjected to lockdowns, from northern Jilin province to Shenzhen in southern Guangdong province.

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Shanghai, the nation's commercial hub, has logged five straight days of record cases even as 25 million residents in the city face an extended lockdown and mass testing.

Dubbed "quarantine insurance", coverage also includes compensation for hospitalisation and death due to Covid-19, as well as disability as a result of Covid-19 vaccination.

Both Public Mutual and ZhongAn have reduced the coverage period to three months from one year. The number of days insured people can claim was also cut - to no more than 14 days, from as many as 60 days previously.

The competition has prompted the insurers to engage in a mini price war. Public Mutual cut the cost of its new product by 1 yuan to 58 yuan, while ZhongAn cut it by 10 yuan to 49. Meanwhile, PICC Property and Casualty Company is offering a quarantine insurance product at 39 yuan.

The products have been revised following a catalogue of consumer complaints that it was difficult to claim on earlier policies, and after warnings by central and local authorities.

Some people complained previously about complicated claim procedures, which required official documents that are difficult to obtain or because some terms barred them from making a legitimate claim. For example, the definition of "quarantine" was different in various products.

The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) said in early February that insurers should not mislead consumers or "maliciously hype up" the products. The Shanghai office of the CBIRC on March 18 also asked the public to fully understand the terms and conditions of such products.

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Chinese insurers have been under pressure to boost profitability amid a slowing economy and headwinds from Covid-19 disruptions, the debt crisis of Chinese developers, and huge losses for claims related to the historic floods in central Henan province.

In 2021, industry giant China Life Insurance Company recorded net profit growth of 1.3 per cent to 50.9 billion yuan, while Ping An Insurance reported a 29 per cent slump in net profit partly due to the impact of soured investments in troubled developer China Fortune Land Development.

However, online insurer ZhongAn saw net profit surge 110.3 per cent to 1.16 billion yuan thanks to the aggressive roll-out of new products.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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