In light of the Wuhan coronavirus crisis, absolutely no travel to China – including non-essential travel to Hong Kong – is recommended in this week’s travel advisory.
No Travel to China, Avoid Coronavirus Myths, Corporate Preparation
The World Health Organisation (WHO) finally declared that the coronavirus outbreak now meets the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), and on 30 January the United States also changed its travel advisory for China to “Do Not Travel”. Our advice from last week that all travel to China should be postponed indefinitely remains unchanged, and we recommend non-essential travel to destinations in East and Southeast Asia, including Hong Kong, be postponed for the next fourteen days, notwithstanding WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ statement on 30 January that the WHO is against limiting trade or travel between countries. We’re especially concerned about the Philippines, where despite government efforts to manage the risk from Hubei-based tourists, some of the tens of thousands of Chinese nationals employed in the online gaming industry may have returned to China over the recent Lunar New Year, and are now back in the Philippines.
Thus, our warning from mid-January that we do not share the WHO’s optimism about the new coronavirus still applies. Ever the optimist, Tedros also claimed that the main reason for the public health emergency declaration is not because of what is happening in China, and that WHO continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.
When assessing travel to corporate offices or whether or not staff should travel, we recently published a corporate preparation guide. As wearing an N95 respirator is serious business, we recommend travellers familiarise themselves with best practices for both wearing masks as well as mask maintenance, especially amid the controversy in Hong Kong over mask steaming.
We are frequently asked about whether persons currently in China should immediately evacuate. Those who feel unsafe, especially if with families or elderly dependents, should accelerate evacuation planning. In the interim, self-isolate and follow the instructions from local authorities, home country foreign ministries, and airlines about when to arrive at the airport. However, airports and aircraft as with any gathering of a large number of persons in a congested space increases the risk of transmission, and upon arrival at the destination the travellers may be subject to quarantine. Review medical and travel insurance policies carefully, as coverage often excludes the present circumstances i.e., travel in a pandemic area.
Travellers with itineraries within Asia should also monitor rapidly changing restrictions and warnings such as those announced by Singapore which prohibits visitors with recent travel history to China (not only Hubei) from entry and transit and Japan’s travel warning for Hong Kong and Macao.
Hong Kong – Virus & Bombs
Although we recommend postponement of non-essential business and leisure travel to Hong Kong in the next fourteen days, travellers planning to enter Hong Kong should continually check government websites for up to date information. The Department of Health Centre for Health Protection coronavirus website has press releases about the number of cases in Hong Kong and other prevention and control developments. The CHP also provides information in Bahasa Indonesia Hindi, Nepali, Tagalog, Thai, and Urdu. Other government websites with relevant information include the Immigration Department, the general government press releases portal, and the dedicated protest response portal.
The Hong Kong government has reportedly warned diplomats it is bracing for a bombing campaign by radical pro-democracy protesters. This comes following Telegram messages of more bombs to come after recent bomb attacks on four police stations, a hospital, and the arrest of suspected bomb markers in multiple locations earlier in January. Due to lax security at office buildings and malls, such a bombing campaign is likely to instil fear in residents and visitors even if the bombs are not intended to kill.
Week in Review – Bushfires, Protests, and Volcano Eruptions
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) reduced its Taal Volcano alert level to three from four because the eruptive and subsurface activity at the volcano has been in decline. Even though authorities re-deployed security personnel away from the area, earthquakes, ashfall, and lethal volcanic gas expulsions can still occur and threaten areas within Taal Volcano Island and nearby lakeshores. PHILVOCS continues to issues periodic updates on its website and Twitter feed.
Bushfires in Australia ranged from Perth to Tasmania, as heatwave conditions hit large swathes of Australia’s eastern and southern coasts in the states of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.
Social unrest continued worldwide. Fresh mass protests against pension reform again occurred in France, and, in a scene reminiscent of incidents in Hong Kong when police and fire services argued with each other last year, French riot police clashed with uniformed firefighters at protests in Paris. Other protest locations included Spain (across 11 regions over agricultural industry losses), Catalan (separatists), Finland (labour action), India (over the Citizenship Amendment Law, including the use of a gun by a man taunting protesters in Delhi), Iraq (against the US military presence), Iran (against the US), Lebanon (against government malfeasance), South Korea (over quarantine policy), and the West Bank (against the US-Israel proposal for Palestinian autonomy).
Islamic terrorism risk that has increased in recent months was exemplified by a large scale attack in Burkina Faso, as well as incidents in Kashmir and Philippines, where authorities have yet to receive a ransom request for five Indonesian fishermen kidnapped off the Malaysian coast on 15 January.
Week Ahead – Protests, Fire, India
With airlines cancelling or reducing capacity on flights to the mainland as well as Hong Kong, significant knock-on impact on travel to Asia from the United States and Europe, as well as within Asia, is expected. German cabin crew continue to threaten to strike, and travellers entering the United Kingdom or Europe from Hong Kong in the coming days should monitor for Brexit related delays as well as implementation of virus-prevention measures that might target a growing number of inbound destinations.
In Australia, Victorians are being warned to expect brownouts this weekend due to the hot weather, and the heatwave conditions in the south-eastern states, with temperatures topping 40°C in some parts, creates a “very high” fire danger. Haze is expected in Canberra. Business and leisure travellers should avoid non-essential travel to Australia.
In addition to Citizenship Amendment Act protests, business and leisure travellers should consider rescheduling travel in the near term as President Donald Trump proceeds with plans to visit, although the itinerary remains in flux.
Hong Kong’s Security Bureau Outbound Travel Alert
No changes this past week to the Outbound Travel Alert. If coronavirus cases in destinations outside China do not merit an update (though we think they do), then we reiterate last week’s observation that 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) especially after the Delhi gunfire incident.
Does this column make you feel unsafe? Worried about traveling in Asia? Send your questions about travel security to [email protected]