In this week’s travel advisory: non-essential travel to Hong Kong is now OK, the SEA Games, and climate change protests.
Hong Kong – Non-Essential Travel No Need to Defer Next Week
It is safe to resume non-essential travel to Hong Kong whether for business or leisure travel. This follows several days without violence prior to, on and after the District Council elections on 24 November, as well as the orderly handover of Polytechnic University to its management on 29 November. Whether visitors or residents, travel to locations throughout the Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories is generally safe in the coming week.
Overseas visitors as well as residents must continue to maintain vigilance, as the risk of disputes between police and protesters, and violence, remains. Police reported finding nearly 4,000 petrol bombs and 600 weapons in PolyU, and police used pepper spray on mid-day protesters this week in Central. Public transit service disruptions and early MTR closure continue; even when normal service hours resume the risk of a sudden early closure announcement especially at night necessitates planning alternative transit modes.
Visitors should be flexible with meeting times and locations and expect sudden changes at the request of their counterparty due to sudden transit closures/delays or traffic obstructions. Visitors should not dress like protestors or participate in mass public events, as we advise against visitors engaging in protest tourism. Business travellers should stay in hotels near to meeting/event venues, and encourage counterparties to meet at the hotel. For updates on public assemblies, visitors should follow the police on Twitter; and for updates on transport disruptions, bookmark and visit the MTR and Transport Department websites. When traveling about Hong Kong, be aware that public transit and malls might suddenly close, but hotels do not, and can be a refuge when outside conditions suddenly deteriorate.
Residents and visitors should carry a day bag that includes hand sanitizer, bottled water, and a mobile phone power bank. Always carry identification, as a police officer has power to inspect proof of identity of any person (failure to produce proof of identity is an offence) as well as to a general power to stop and question any person behaving suspiciously.
Travellers should also monitor their airlines for service changes to Hong Kong flights, and Hong Kong Airlines ticket holders should prepare alternatives in the event its troubles remain unresolved.
Week in Review – Terrorism & Protests Amid Natural Disasters
On Friday police shot dead a terrorist at London Bridge after a stabbing attack resulted in two fatalities and multiple injuries. Also on Friday a terrorist stabbing attack in The Hague resulted in three injuries. Earlier in the week police in the Netherlands arrested two men on suspicion of preparing a terrorist attack that would have been carried out in the coming weeks using bomb vests and one or more car bombs. Interpol also announce a joint counter-terrorism operation among police agencies in Asean countries that led to 24 arrests including a fugitive wanted in Pakistan on terrorism charges arrested in Jakarta, and an individual wanted in Thailand on human trafficking charges arrested in Bali.
Environmentalists protested in Europe against Black Friday shopping activities and the damage done to the environment; and in advance of the United Nations climate conference in Madrid, protested government inaction on climate change in 2,400 cities across 157 countries.
Demonstrations, often violent, continued in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. In Chile, ruling party and opposition lawmakers agreed to fast-track actions to improve security, and issued a statement that Chile confronts a crisis of violence and vandalism that threatens its democracy; wise words that politicians and protesters worldwide should listen to.
The early winter storm in the United States that brought snow across a wide area including a bomb cyclone caused travel chaos before Thanksgiving. The storm brought snow, rain and floods in southern California, though it might also bring an end to the latest forest fires.
At week’s end, an out-of-control bushfire near Canberra was upgraded to an emergency warning level and residents and fires continued to burn throughout New South Wales. Air quality in Sydney is poor, though in north NSW air quality is worse, at hazardous levels.
In Albania, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake was followed by over 500 aftershocks, some with a magnitude over 5.0, with nearly 50 fatalities.
Week Ahead – Terrorism, Weather Risks, See You at SEA Games
Investigations into Friday’s attacks in London and The Hague will seek to ascertain whether the incidents are related but regardless, copycat attacks are possible. Post-Thanksgiving and into the Christmas season travellers should increase vigilance in Europe, the United States and warm weather destinations popular with northern hemisphere based travellers. Changes to national governments’ publicly announced threat levels may also be forthcoming. Thus, United Kingdom Home Secretary Priti Patel’s tweet following Friday’s London Bridge attack that she is “very concerned” might not sufficiently describe the current threat level.
In the Philippines, Typhoon Kammuri (local name Tisoy) is expected to bring heavy rain and landslides in Luzon and Visayas. Authorities issued warnings that the storm might strengthen into a super typhoon. Heavy rain in Malaysia’s eastern coastal states is expected to cause floods.
Another type of rain, the criticism sort, is already precipitating down on organisers of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games held in the Philippines in the coming week for airport delays, comic transport capers and food shortages. Athletes, fans, and journalists attending the SEA Games should expect similar challenges throughout the event (which Kammuri might exacerbate); though in a bit of good news, tickets for some events are now free. In Thailand, expect increased security for the Federation Equestre Internationale Asian Championships in Pattaya.
Snow related travel delays were expected to continue this weekend and into next week throughout the United States, and travellers departing from Hong Kong and Asia might experience delays. In England, transportation disruptions will continue due to flooded roads in the south-west, Midlands and north.
Travel disruption is also expected due to industrial action, with South Africa Airways trying to recover from a strike, French flights, trains and buses facing strikes, and in-flight catering workers in the United States threatening sit-ins over the Thanksgiving travel period. Forecasters continue to issue dire heat and fire warnings in Australia.
Hong Kong’s Security Bureau Outbound Travel Alert
The Security Bureau last updated its Iraq travel warning in 2017. Although Iraq is not a popular destination for Hong Kong based travellers, with the death toll from weeks of protests exceeding 400 as of 29 November, an update might be timely and can be combined with a needed Iran update, especially as the protest related death toll in Iran continues to rise and amid anti-Iran sentiment in Iraq at a boiling point.
Does this column make you feel unsafe? Worried about traveling in Asia? Send your questions about travel security to [email protected]
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