Shipping Out: Week in Review – Lunar New Year, avoid travel to China indefinitely

This week, SafePro advises travellers to completely avoid travel to China amid Wuhan coronavirus concerns, and other Lunar New Year tips.

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No Travel to China, But Avoid Coronavirus Myths

All travel to China should be postponed indefinitely. Those who were recently in China and have travelled onward to other locations should remain under self-imposed quarantine in the coming days and should not attend family Lunar New Year gatherings. Anyone one who has recently travelled via aircraft or train in Asia in recent days, especially if the mode of transport included passengers who were recently in China, should consider a self-imposed quarantine especially if they have any symptoms. Those who work in the transportation industry such as flight crew, or in transportation hubs such as airports and train stations, are especially vulnerable. 

Regardless of one’s 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 continue to expand temperature screening. If unwell (regardless of the illness), don’t travel, so as to avoid quarantine risk at the arrival destination.

Carry an adequate supply of hand sanitizer, drink lots of water, and wear an N95 facemask. In Hong Kong face and gas mask fashions sometimes exceeded utility during the height of last year’s protests, however, an N95 face mask will suffice. After exposure the virus has an incubation period of approximately 14 days without showing symptoms, which indicates that more cases are likely before the worst is over.

Last week we wrote that we do not share the World Health Organization’s (WHO) optimism about the coronavirus after the WHO issued a statement that it is reassured of the quality of the ongoing investigations and the response measures implemented in Wuhan, and the commitment to share information regularly. We are disappointed that the WHO this week continues to issue statements that it does not recommend any specific health measures for travellers. The WHO updated its “advice for international travel and trade in relation to the outbreak of pneumonia caused by a new coronavirus in China” on 20 January, 2020, notwithstanding the subsequent spread of reported or suspected cases to locations worldwide. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) apes the WHO; it is closely monitoring developments related to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan (China) and is actively engaged with the World Health Organization (WHO) Secretariat, International Civil Aviation Organization and the US Centres for Disease Control, and IATA repeats that the WHO does not recommend any specific health measures for travellers. 

The situation is certainly more dangerous than these organisations’ optimistic statements indicate.

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) alert level of four, meaning an “explosive eruption” could happen in the coming hours or days, remains unchanged. 

PHILVOCS issues periodic updates on its website and Twitter feed and includes information about recent hours ash and steam emissions as well as volcanic earthquakes, which over the past ten days number in the hundreds of varying intensities. Travellers already in Manila should, prior to departing hotels for business or leisure activity, inquire with the 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. Travellers flying in or out of Ninoy Aquino International Airport should monitor its Facebook and Twitter.

Lunar New Year Travel Safety

While the Lunar New Year festival lasts a total of 15 days, the number of public holidays varies by location especially as festival begins on the weekend. The risk of petty crime, such as pickpocketing and theft, is high; avoid keeping valuables in your back pocket or backpack and instead use a money belt to store valuables, cash, and red packets.

In addition to the Wuhan coronavirus, Lunar New Year also coincides with the winter flu season in Northeast Asia, thus travellers should vaccinate with flu vaccine prior to travel. Purchase adequate supply of medication before travelling as medical facilities may be closed, have shorter opening hours, reduced staffing or may be busy responding to suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases.

Hong Kong – New Year, New Safety Concerns

The 19 January, 2020 “universal siege on communists” descended into chaos with the police use of tear gas and numerous arrests. Visitors and those who are not permanent residents should avoid protest events notwithstanding organiser efforts to ensure the events are peaceful. 

When attending new year fairs and outdoor events, be aware these events are politicised and are liable to government enforcement action if the decorations run afoul of regulations, which could lead to clashes between government officials and organisers or attendees.

A new potential venue for clashes is District Council meetings or other events organised by District Councils. With pro-democracy parties now in the majority, attendance is enthusiastic and includes those with a range of political views, with a media presence that encourages attendees to perform for the cameras. When police officials appear to answer District Councillor questions, tensions may significantly increase. A District Councilor recently waved a piece of raw pork at a council meeting to invoke a Cantonese saying that alludes to people being framed, implying the police are falsely arresting people. Amid concerns about the role of raw food in the transmission of the coronavirus, we advise against playing with pork in public.

Recent media reports once again confirmed that burglars, muggers, and other criminals continue to take advantage of protest related re-allocation of police resources. Avoid carrying cash and valuables in Hong Kong even if it was your past habit to do so, and, be sure cash and valuables in hotel rooms or your home when travelling are properly secured in a safe.

Week in Review – Bushfires, Protests & Terrorism

In Australia, despite hail, thunderstorms, and hundreds of millimetres of rain over the past week, bushfires continue to burn even if the precipitation helped firefighters control their spread with some fires downgraded from uncontained to contained. In Oceania, Cyclone Tino brought severe damage to Fiji and food shortages are expected until re-supply is possible. 

Transportation began to return to normal in Paris and other regions of France over the past week, though other unions hungered for industrial action such as the power company employees who cut power to a Paris wholesale food market. Protest activity continued in India, Iraq, Iran (both pro and anti-government). 

Airline operational risk whether from industrial action or financial difficulties continue to impact travellers worldwide, with South African Airways cancelling more flights and a possible Lufthansa cabin crew strike.

The worldwide risk of terrorist violence targeting US and European, and allied, groups continues to grow following the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. The recent designation by additional governments worldwide of Iran-backed Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, as well as asset freezes targeting the group, increases the likelihood of retaliatory action whether against physical or cyber assets. Terrorist attacks and counter-terrorism operations by security forces (sometimes with foreign assistance) occurred in recent days from Burkina Faso to Kenya. Abu Sayaf terrorist from the Philippines crossed the sea border to kidnap five Indonesian fishermen. In Norway, the ruling coalition collapsed when a party pulled out over a decision to allow an ISIS bride to return home from Syria.

Week Ahead – Bushfires Continue, Don’t Hope for France Protests to End

Recent heavy storms with hail as big as golf balls falling in Canberra will not stop bushfires from returning, with flight delays at Canberra airport, brown rain in Melbourne, and soaring temperatures an indicator of the renewed fire risk. Business and leisure travellers should avoid non-essential travel to Australia.

In France, further protests and transportation disruption is expected from 24 January as unions plan action amid expected cabinet discussion of the pension reform bill; English language traffic disruption information is available here. Dangerous floods and travel disruption are expected in southwest France and northern Spain. Protests in Lebanon are expected to escalate amid public rejection of the new government, with solidarity protests planned worldwide.

India’s Citizenship Amendment Act protests are likely to continue with commentators opining that “Hong Kong was the protest story of 2019. This year it’s Modi’s India,” and the protests receiving positive global media coverage. Business and leisure travellers should consider rescheduling travel in the near term especially in February if President Donald Trump proceeds with plans to visit.

With Boris Johnson’s announcement that the United Kingdom has crossed the Brexit finish line, travellers might encounter some delays when exiting or entering the United Kingdom on and after 31 January. Some travellers have turned their attention to more practical issues such as the post-Brexit rules for UK drivers driving in Europe and the impact on leisure travel activities such as a booze cruise.

Hong Kong’s Security Bureau Outbound Travel Alert

No changes this past week to the Outbound Travel Alert. If ongoing events such as bushfires in Australia or the Taal Volcano in the Philippines do not merit an update (though we think they do), then the Security Bureau should take the opportunity to update the alert for destinations in desperate need of one, such as France (last updated 11 December 2018) and India (last updated 14 February 2019).

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.

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