This week’s column airs its gripes with the World Health Organisation’s lacklustre actions regarding COVID-19, and continues to advise on other cautionary measures to take on your travels.
Coronavirus – No Winds of Change Yet
In the latest example of the World Health Organisation’s slow response to the virus, it finally decided on COVID-19 as the name. Experts are debating the merits of the name, as well as the legality of travel restrictions. Regardless, and here we go again, we continue to advise against all non-essential air travel within Asia. Shifting quarantine requirements and the potential to be quarantined for common cold symptoms upon arrival at a travel destination that is not one’s home location make travel within Asia this week too risky. For employees who must return to China, Macao, or Hong Kong for personal or business reasons, subsequent outbound travel in the coming weeks will remain difficult if not impossible. When considering an evacuation flight from a location under lock down or a quarantined ship, travellers should fully understand the risks of being on board such a flight, as well as the conditions under which there might be a mandatory quarantine upon return to the home country.
Some good news for hair metal fans, as of now the Singapore Rock Fest II with Whitesnake and Scorpions scheduled for 4 March is still on, and recently a mass wedding proceeded in South Korea. However, the list of events cancelled or postponed events continues to grow, spanning from sports such as Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix and the World Rugby Sevens Series rugby tournaments in Hong Kong and Singapore, to trade shows such as the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and lunar new year and lantern festival events worldwide. Generally, corporate managers should encourage staff to practice good personal hygiene but discourage participation at public events or conferences in locations with a large number of confirmed cases.
Also in the corporate travel context, we previously published guidance about good corporate preparations to protect staff and facilities. In recent days, we have received many inquiries about how to obtain an exemption from quarantine requirements, though few are available worldwide and usually come with laborious documentation requirements that require inordinate costs and time to comply with; this should be reserved only for senior staff and essential travel. We have also received many inquiries about travelling on a second passport so as to hide recent travel to certain locations; companies should prohibit this as penalties for violating quarantine requirements range from fines to prison – and in North Korea, execution. In any event, with biometric systems installed at many airports the use of multiple passports to avoid quarantines might easily be detected.
For leisure travel, all cruise plans, not only in Asia but worldwide, should be postponed indefinitely. If the problems encountered by the Anthem of the Seas, CMV Astor, CMV Columbus, Costa Smeralda, Crystal Serenity, Diamond Princess, SuperStar Aquarius, Westerdam, and Wind Spirit are insufficient warning about the possibility for mandatory quarantine, port entry denial, virus cases among passengers, or crew availability issues might prevent operating schedules from quickly returning to normal.
Hong Kong Travel Security
Hong Kong is not yet a failed state, as a commentator recently opined, but for now non-essential travel should be postponed. Not only do travellers face quarantine upon return, but reduced service makes flexibility to change travel dates extraordinarily difficult.
Unrest due to both the anti-government protests as well as the virus look set to continue, and Joshua Wong recently stated in an interview that once the outbreak of the virus ends, people will take to the street with a large-scale protest. Small scale protests have already occurred, with hundreds participating in this past weekend’s marches in Aberdeen, Tai Po, and Tin Shui Wai against government plans to turn buildings into quarantine centres and demanding full closure of the border with China. A recent arson attack on an outpatient clinic follows recent use of incendiary materials and the arrest of bomb makers. Enforcement activity arising from last year’s protests, such as the recent arrest for money laundering of a recipient of donor funds, may lead to renewed protest activity outside police stations.
Week in Review – Terrorism, Protests, and Winter Storms
Recent terror incidents include an stabbing incident in London, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility; and the stabbings of two Chinese nationals and an Australian in the Maldives, for which a Maldivian group affiliated with the Islamic State claimed responsibility. The conviction in Pakistan on terrorism charges of Hafiz Saeed, wanted in India for his role in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, could prompt retaliatory attacks by his supporters.
Canada is a new entrant to the roster of locations worldwide where social movement or anti-government protest have caused travel disruption, with rail disrupted by protests against a proposed pipeline. Other locations where protests recently caused travel disruption include France (at airports against climate change and at ski resorts against pension changes), India (against the Citizenship Amendment Act), Iraq (against government incompetence), Italy (against populist politics), Lebanon (against the new government), Spain (blocking highways over low produce prices), and the West Bank (against the US proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan).
Winter storm travel disruptions occurred throughout northern Europe, leading to both flight delays and passenger illness. Tourists and rescue were victims of avalanches in Georgia, Japan, and Turkey, a good reminder that tourists visiting avalanche prone locations should familiarise themselves with avalanche preparations and survival tips.
Week Ahead – Hail to the Chief in India
Travel disruption will continue in Australia as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, and Perth could all hear a rumble or two from hail. A Jetstar baggage handlers and ground staff strike on February 17 has forced the airline to pre-emptively cancel numerous flights.
Hurricane-force winds of up to 85 knots (98 mph) and monster waves that could reach over 100 feet high (30 metres) were roaring across the North Atlantic, with winter storm Dennis causing widespread travel disruption. Flooding and high winds are expected in England, Ireland, and Iceland.
President Donald J. Trump has confirmed his trip to India for 24 February and 25 February. Travellers should avoid New Delhi and Ahmedabad over the next week due to security measures. Travellers should also be cautious about travel to Israel amid the protests against the US peace plan and the election scheduled for 2 March.
Notwithstanding concerns about COVID-19, travellers should not neglect personal safety issues in airports, in-flight, or at their destination. Recent reported incidents include a Travel Security Administration security agent arrested for inappropriate actions when screening a female passenger at Los Angeles International Airport, an in-flight sexual assault, and tourists detained for inappropriate attire.
Amid a dispute between the Trump Administration and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, the federal government has prohibited New York residents (including those currently based overseas) from applying for or renewing membership in Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry that allow for quicker clearance at US ports of entry. Whether one supports the Trump Administration or the Cuomo Administration in this fight, travellers affected by this dispute will face longer clearance times.
Hong Kong’s Security Bureau Outbound Travel Alert
No changes this past week to the Outbound Travel Alert. If neither coronavirus cases in destinations outside China nor countries with a recent history of violent protests merit an update (though we think they do), then the Security Bureau should consider adding to the Outbound Travel Alert a link to current virus related restrictions imposed on entry by Hong Kong residents or passport holders, in the absence of which travellers can obtain such information on airline websites. Oddly, the Outbound Travel Alert includes an advisory from the Department of Health about quarantine orders for all people entering Hong Kong from the Mainland.
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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