The Sars outbreak took a toll on Hong Kong's insurers last month, as sales of life and travel insurance policies fell. Life sales were affected as agents found it hard to arrange face-to-face meetings with potential clients, Insurance Commissioner Benjamin Tang Kwok-bun told the South China Morning Post yesterday. 'Even if clients are willing to meet agents, many of them are reluctant to go to clinics or hospitals to have medical check-ups as required under the terms of the policies,' he said. It was inevitable that the local insurance industry would be affected by Sars, he said. 'But in the longer term, it should lead to an increased demand for insurance as people become more aware of the need for protection,' Mr Tang said. 'Travel insurance has been the sector hit hardest due to the drop in business and leisure travellers because of the Sars outbreak.' Other industry sectors affected include employee compensation, as unemployment increased, and fire insurance sales, as residential transactions slowed. However, Mr Tang said the health crisis was boosting sales of medical insurance products. 'The only benefit has been that insurers appear to be selling more medical insurance products. Some have said they have had hundreds of calls a day from potential customers who want cover for Sars.' While China has ordered insurance companies to cover customers against Sars, Mr Tang said Hong Kong's insurance regulator believed claims should be determined according to the terms of clients' policies. 'In the case of disputes among companies and policyholders, they can always take things before a court to be settled,' he said. Mr Tang said most disputes were likely to arise from claims for interruption to business because it would be hard to determine if Sars had been directly responsible. Manulife International vice-president for Hong Kong distribution David Wong Tai-wai said sales of life policies had fallen last month. 'The focus of policyholders has also changed,' he said. 'Policyholders used to focus on the investment return of their policies. Now, they ask if they are covered against Sars and they are concerned about the amount of compensation their families will receive if they die. 'We are also seeing more younger people buying medical and life policies since the outbreak.' Mr Wong said Manulife had received seven death claims as a result of Sars. Eagle Star director Denny Chan Yung-leung said its travel insurance sales fell 80 per cent last month but medical insurance sales were up 15 per cent. The company had paid one Sars death claim. MassMutual Asia managing director & chief executive Elroy Chan Siu-yuen said it had sold 30 per cent more combined life and medical policies last month from a year earlier. He said medical claims arising from the outbreak would not be a problem as Sars patients were treated in public hospitals, where costs were not high.