Shipping Out: Week in Review – Disease strikes Hong Kong, Australia burns, US-Iran tensions

Your favourite travel advisory is now available for listening in its new podcast form! This week, beware of global tensions due to US-Iran conflict, unknown illnesses in China, and the fires ravaging down under.

No time to read? You can now listen to your favourite travel advisory on our new podcast to get the main takeaways from this column.

Hong Kong – Protest Violence & Earthquakes

The small number of protesters who confronted police after the large New Year’s Day rally, and the use of petrol bombs following a peaceful rally against parallel trading last Sunday, indicates the continued risk of skirmishes between protesters and the police (or between pro-government and anti-government individuals) following government-approval and generally peaceful events. Targeted violence at MTR stations, malls and shops perceived as pro-China will continue especially on weekends in the weeks prior to the lunar new year. Continue to prepare for contingencies when traveling throughout Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories, and carry a day bag with certain essentials

The Hong Kong earthquake on 5 January was a literal one, notwithstanding that Hong Kong politics are frequently described as an earthquake (or tsunami). Corporate security or facilities officials, and families, should review earthquake preparation measures and practice drop, cover, and hold on.

Airlines continue to adjust staffing and capacity amid the reduction in inbound travel to Hong Kong, with news in recent days about redundancies at Hong Kong Airlines, and news that Air India suspended summer flights on the Mumbai – Hong Kong route. 

Week in Review – War, Terrorism, Natural Disasters & Infections Spread Worldwide

The worldwide risk of violence targeting US and European targets preceded the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. Mass demonstrations outside the US Embassy in Baghdad followed US airstrikes on an Iranian-backed militia group. In Paris, prosecutors said a knife attack near Paris might be an act of terrorism, as the attacker had Salafist books in his bag. In New York City, a rally was held to demand better police protection following recent acts of violence against Jewish communities. Protests continued in India in opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Amid the ongoing fires in Australia, data from one Canberra monitoring site reached an extremely alarming level that experts described as the world’s worst air quality, and the smoke forced the department which oversees Australia’s emergency response to temporarily close. In Jakarta, the death toll from flooding rose to 66 and 173,000 residents sought temporary shelter after the most powerful monsoon rains seen in years. A 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico on Monday, causing power outages and damage to homes.

The new year brought continued industrial action around the world that impacted travel, including strikes that disrupted transportation in Montreal and Paris.

Concern continues to increase in Northeast Asia about the spread of disease. China confirmed four recent cases of plague and one case of cholera.

Week Ahead – Soleimani Retaliation Not the Only Concern

The risk of retaliatory action by state and non-state actors related to the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani is significant. Local and national governments in Asia, Europe, and the US are raising alert levels and issuing warnings. Travellers with plans to visit major cities that are at risk of terrorist attack should review the latest risk assessments and consider removing venues from their itineraries activities that terrorists have frequently targeted, such as popular tourist sites and outdoor markets. Non-essential travel should be avoided to areas of Israel that border the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, as well as to cities in other parts of the Middle East with a recent history of street protests. Travellers of Iranian descent (including US citizens) reported additional scrutiny at US immigration checkpoints in recent days.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the country no longer feels bound by its self-imposed suspension on nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile tests; any tests along with the military response by the US, Japan, and South Korea could disrupt air travel in the region. Indonesia deployed additional warships to a standoff with Chinese fishing boats in the South China Sea, and travellers in Southeast Asia should monitor the situation given past examples of when South China Sea-related rallies against Chinese targets turned violent.

In Australia, sooty rain that fell from Sydney to Melbourne (including torrential rain in some parts of New South Wales) will be replaced by dry, hot weather in the coming days with government officials expecting separate fires to combine into a mega blaze. Business and leisure travellers should consider delaying non-essential travel to the areas in or near fires. Tourism Australia recently paused a new ad campaign as tourists are evacuated from bushfire areas.

Prior to presidential and legislative elections on Saturday, large rallies are planned throughout Taiwan including in the capital Taipei on both Thursday and Friday night. Election violence in Taiwan is rare but visitors should monitor developments and avoid locations where supporters of the losing side congregate following the election.

Protests or transportation strikes are expected in the coming weeks in Chile, France, India, and Lebanon. Labour disputes that might impact travel are ongoing in Germany.

Authorities claim that the mysterious viral pneumonia that infected at least 59 victims in Wuhan recently is not Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, bird flu or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. This also means authorities do not yet know what it is. Additional health screening at airports in Asia (especially when combined with inspections imposed due to the swine flu outbreak) may delay the speed at which travellers can retrieve their luggage and pass through immigration and customs channels.

Despite the unknowns over the ongoing viral pneumonia, the World Health Organisation announced that it does not recommend any specific measures for travellers, and advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China based on the current information available on this event. The WHO also encourages travellers who display symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness during or after travel to seek medical attention and share travel history with their healthcare provider. We take this more seriously and if visiting Wuhan or nearby areas, we suggest speaking to your healthcare provider prior to travel, and while travelling carry an adequate supply of hand wash and N95 facemasks

Hong Kong’s Security Bureau Outbound Travel Alert

Following Soleimani’s killing, the Security Bureau updated only its Iraq travel warning and Iran travel warning, using identical wording: “On 3 January 2020, an Iranian military commander was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq. The incident led to increased tensions in the region.” This is an insufficient description of the worldwide travel risks that arise from the killing and US-Iran tensions, and we hope the Security Bureau expands both the locations and descriptions in the coming days. 

Does this column make you feel unsafe? Worried about traveling in Asia? Send your questions about travel security to [email protected]

SafePro Group is a global travel security and protection specialist firm. With a veteran team from law enforcement, military, and intelligence services throughout Asia, SafePro Group provides corporate, government, and non-profit organisation travelers with comprehensive solutions to guarantee their safety and security.

Printer: R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong 

the author

Ross Feingold has extensive experience with international finance, regulatory, and policy issues. Mr. Feingold worked in Hong Kong for The Royal Bank of Scotland supporting its Asia Sale Program, and was the project manager for the bank's opening of a new office in Taiwan. He has worked with Deutsche Bank (Hong Kong), J.P. Morgan (Singapore) and international law firm Russin & Vecchi (Taipei), and Jardine Fleming (Taipei). Mr. Feingold presently serves on the global board and as Asia director of The Association of Americans Resident Overseas, a non-partisan advocacy organization that represents the interests of U.S. citizens living and working abroad. He advises on strategic communications and outreach efforts, and interacts extensively with Asian governments and numerous international organizations. He is admitted to practice law in New York and Washington DC Formerly: Asia Chairman, Republicans Abroad Asia Chairman, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (Primary, 2008) Asia Chairman, John McCain campaign (General Election, 2008) International finance committee, Mitt Romney Presidential Campaign (2012) East Asian Studies and Political Science, cum laude, from Bucknell University J.D.,American University's Washington College of Law (Securities and Corporate Finance Mr. Feingold studied Mandarin at National University of Singapore and National Taiwan Normal University. Mr. Feingold speaks frequently about political and foreign policy issues, appearing on BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Channel News Asia, Voice of America and other networks.