The incoming eruption of Taal Volcano means avoid all non-essential travel to the Philippines, while protests continue worldwide and the Wuhan virus reaches Thailand.
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.
Cancel Non-Essential Travel to the Philippines
Amid the ongoing eruption of Taal Volcano, non-essential travel to or via the Philippines should be rescheduled especially for travellers who have existing respiratory difficulties. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) has raised the alert level to four, meaning an “explosive eruption” could happen in the coming hours or days. PHIVOLCS has urged a total evacuation of the 930,000 people who live within a 17 kilometre (10.5 miles) radius around the volcano, which is located only 60 kilometres (37 miles) south of Manila.
Travellers already in Manila, or who are in the Philippines and plan to travel to Manila, should follow PHIVOLCS on Twitter or up to date information. Prior to departing hotels for business or leisure activity, inquire with the hotel concierge about the impact of the eruption on your proposed itinerary. For business meetings, encourage counterparties to come to your hotel. Review volcano eruption preparation measures which include a shelter-in-place plan from ash; in the shelter cover ventilation openings, and seal both doors and windows.
Travellers planning to fly to the Philippines should monitor their airline’s website and install the airline’s app. We also recommend travellers monitor Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Facebook and Twitter; the Twitter account is regularly updated. If checking in luggage prepare a carry on bag with essentials including mobile phone power banks and chargers.
Hong Kong – Protest Vigilance on Sunday, Entry Denials
A rally this past Sunday was peaceful although it was only intended as preparation for what the organiser, Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team, hopes will be a large “universal siege on communists” march on Sunday, 19 January, through Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai, and Causeway Bay. Travellers, and residents not participating in the event, should avoid Hong Kong island onward from noon. Information is available on the organiser’s Facebook, Telegram, and Twitter.
On 12 January at Hong Kong International Airport, authorities denied entry to Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. This incident again brought global media coverage to the issue of foreigners who are denied entry to Hong Kong. Our clients also report incidents involving additional screening for arriving travellers holding passports of countries whose nationals have either been arrested at protests or attracted significant media coverage for their commentary or participation. Business travellers should take in their carry on bag documentary proof of their business travel, including hotel confirmations, trade show or similar credentials, and business cards.
Airlines continue to adjust staffing and capacity amid the reduction in inbound travel to Hong Kong, with news in recent days that Hong Kong Airlines cancelled an order for new aircraft.
Week in Review – War, Terrorism, Natural Disasters, and Infections Spread Worldwide
The worldwide risk of violence toward US and European targets that preceded the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani continues to grow in its severity. Anti-US or anti-war protests were held in India, Iraq, and the United States among other locations. In Iran, anti-government protests erupted again throughout the country. The detention of the United Kingdom ambassador to Iran while near a protest illustrates the dangers for foreign nationals appearing near political events, even at the ambassadorial level.
The first traveller outside China diagnosed with the pneumonia-like virus that has already infected dozens of people occurred in Bangkok with an inbound traveller quarantined upon arrival from Wuhan, where the outbreak began in December. It has been identified as a coronavirus, which can cause illnesses ranging from common colds to SARS. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement that casually noted that the possibility of cases being identified in other countries was not unexpected but that the WHO is reassured of the quality of the ongoing investigations and the response measures implemented in Wuhan, and the commitment to share information regularly.
Due to Australia’s bushfires, air quality across Victoria, including Sydney, was very poor in recent days as a result of smoke, and roads in parts of the state remain unsafe with stranded persons evacuated in military vehicles. In South Australia a major escalation in the fire emergency occurred in recent days. Melbourne also suffered from poor air quality.
Nationalist marches in Spain against a new government occurred in several cities. Post holiday protests continued in France, including an appearance by Spiderman. In Germany protesters rallied against climate change, indicating this global movement continues to successfully mobilise people after a series of events in 2019. Protests and social unrest continued in India over the citizenship act and in Lebanon over the failure to form a government.
More than 100 Alitalia flights were cancelled during a four-hour staff strike, though Jetstar staff in Australia extended a strike moratorium.
Taiwan’s election occurred without incident; although China’s foreign minister Wang Yi stated after the election that separatists will cause a ten thousand year stench (分裂國家，注定遺臭萬年), as of yet there no reported malodorous incidents.
Week Ahead – No Wuhan Travel, Hope for France Protests to End
We do not share the WHO’s optimism about the new coronavirus. Avoid non-essential travel to Wuhan but if travel is essential, speak to your healthcare provider prior to travel, and while travelling carry an adequate supply of hand-wash and N95 face masks. Regardless of destination in Asia, travellers should familiarise themselves with common signs of infection and standard recommendations to prevent infection spread. Expect delays at ports of entry as authorities implement temperature screening and if unwell (regardless of the illness), avoid travel so as to avoid quarantine risk at the arrival destination.
The UK government currently assesses the threat to the UK from terrorism to be “substantial”, the mid-level threat on their five level scale. By contrast, the threat to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland-related terrorism is “severe” – one level higher. We advise against any travel to Iran and Iraq including Kurdistan despite reports efforts to position the capital, Erbil, as a safe haven for expatriates. Oman should be avoided this week amid security measures and traffic disruption caused by dignitaries attending the funeral activities for Sultan Qaboos.
In France, a government proposal to compromise on the pension reform that fuelled recent protests provides hope that the strikes and rallies may end soon. For now, transport disruption will continue.
A cabin crew strike at Scandinavian Airlines may cause delays or cancellations. Travellers to Ireland are unlikely to experience disruption from the snap election announced for 8 February.
Amid reports that President Donald Trump is planning his first India visit for February, travellers should consider rescheduling due to security measures and traffic disruption if the trip coincides with the dates and locations.
Business and leisure travellers should avoid non-essential travel to Australia this week notwithstanding that the forecast for rain in some areas may ease fire conditions. Up to date information is provided on the Twitter feeds of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and New South Wales Bureau of Meteorology.
Hong Kong’s Security Bureau Outbound Travel Alert
A relatively peaceful week in Hong Kong appears to have provided the Security Bureau time to update its website, though, the paucity of updates in recent months may be the reason that the updates need improvement.
The Security Bureau added Australia under “other information” (as distinguished from an Outbound Travel Alert) with a brief note about bushfires “in multiple regions of the country”. Australia is a big country; surely the Security Bureau can provide more specificity.
Within one day of the Taal Volcano eruption the Security Bureau added a brief note to its Amber (Monitor situation/Exercise caution) warning for the Philippines. Details about the history of Hong Kong travel warnings for the Philippines might be why the Security Bureau added the note so quickly, though frankly, the information is of limited use.
For Iran, the Security Bureau added the following note: On 8 January 2020, there were reports of Iran firing missiles against two U.S. military bases in Iraq. Tensions in the area may escalate rapidly. Perhaps President Trump’s next Tweet in Farsi can be “No kidding!” There is no note about the shoot down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 that occurred on the same day, an event that is obviously of great relevance to travellers.
Does this column make you feel unsafe? Worried about traveling in Asia? Send your questions about travel security to email@example.com
Printer: R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong