Non-essential travel to many countries in Asia is advised against, as the COVID-19 outbreak and social unrest continues.
COVID-19 – US CDC Mask Guide Doesn’t Mask Risks
The World Health Organisation (WHO) never ceases to amaze with its lack of speed and the issues it prioritises amid the COVID-19 outbreak. In its latest travel advice issued on 29 February, the WHO continues to advise against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and concludes that travel bans to affected areas or denial of entry to passengers coming from affected areas are usually not effective in preventing the importation of cases but may have a significant economic and social impact. The WHO also has time to fight the infodemic, its term for the conspiracies, unsubstantiated claims, and phony cures surrounding the outbreak.
The surge in cases in South Korea (as of the beginning of this week, approaching 5,000, and about half of the global total outside China) and Italy (approaching 2,000 cases) led the US State Department to merely warn that travellers should reconsider travel to each of South Korea (with an advisory not to travel to Daegu) and Italy (with an advisory not to travel to Lombardy and Veneto). In our view, this illustrates again that bureaucratic hurdles can delay, and diplomatic concerns can influence, the usefulness of government issued travel advisories.
In Asia, we advise against travel to Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea. There is a possibility for unknown clusters in Indonesia cases, amid confirmed cases in Jakarta, quarantine of travellers returning to Singapore from Batam, and concerns that Bali lacks sufficient medical resources.
For the corporate world, the WHO finally issued workplace safety tips on 27 February, nearly a month after experts began to warn the corporate world to take action to secure the workplace. We continue to see examples of internal communications that lack clarity as to permissible domestic or overseas travel, what safety measures are required in the office, and last minute announcements about telecommute. Global, regional and local management (including support functions such as communications, human resources, and security) are often out of sync, which can detract from message clarity.
With confirmed cases increasing throughout the world, we advise corporates to temporarily halt all employee overseas travel, as well as non-essential domestic travel unless by private car. Corporates that still permit employee travel by air should ascertain that their airline partner disinfects aircrafts to a sufficiently high standard. Although the WHO continues to encourage leisure travel, we advise rescheduling especially if traveling with children, the elderly, or if members of the traveling party have injuries or medical issues due to the extraordinary inconvenience that arises if, upon arrival, authorities order the traveling party to quarantine in a location that is not one’s home. For those willing to travel, we advise rescheduling cruises, as cruises are the target of violent protests to prevent docking even if there is no reason to believe the ship has a virus outbreak.
For those who wear masks despite experts repeated appeals not to, the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has published a guide for how to properly wear a mask both for the clean shaven and those with facial hair.
Hong Kong – Postpone Non-Essential Inbound Travel
We recommend rescheduling non-essential inbound travel to Hong Kong due to the virus outbreak, though remain concerned about social unrest. The return of violent protests last weekend follows recent statements by activists that Hong Kong is at an existential crossroads as well as other trigger events such as the arrest last week of publisher Jimmy Lai and pro-democracy politicians. Upcoming six month anniversaries of events last fall, the approaching Legislative Council election campaign season, and police manpower shortages increase the likelihood that last weekend’s violence is an indicator of things to come, even if the immediate security concern is related crime such as the recent toilet paper theft.
As the arrest of a Dutch tourist illustrates, tourists are not immune from criminal charges for involvement in protest activity. We reiterate our earlier guidance that visitors, as well as those who live in Hong Kong but are not permanent residents, should not engage in protest tourism.
Week in Review – Floods, Protests & Terrorism
The United Kingdom continued to suffer from severe winter weather including snow and floods, which then spread to central and northern Europe and helped remedy what was previously an unusually warm and snowless winter.
COVID-19 does not deter protesters around the world; as an Iraqi participant observed, “The government was happy thinking coronavirus will curb our wave, but they are totally wrong.” Recent protest activity occurred in Canada, Dominican Republic, France, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Russia, Spain, Thailand, and the West Bank.
President Donald J. Trump’s short visit to India was a logistical success, though concurrent protests occurred in New Delhi and other parts of the country against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
The virus does not deter terrorist planning and attacks; in recent days security agencies killed Islamic State leaders in Kenya and Tunisia, and a jihadi inspired hammer attack that killed a woman on a Toronto street was described by experts as the kind of a low-sophistication, low-resource attack that may become more prevalent. Recent acts of violence at restaurants and malls in Germany, the Philippines, and Thailand, although not inspired by jihadi terrorism, are a reminder that travellers must take precautions when visiting tourist sites and other public facilities.
Week Ahead – Kim Is Back, Political Change, It’s Still Winter
North Korea’s recent short-range ballistic missile test in the Sea of Japan could indicate more to follow; after the virus situation improves, the risk of disruption in air travel (including for the Tokyo Olympics) remains high.
COVID-19 did not deter voters from participating in Israel’s third election in less than a year, and although protests by supporters of the losing side are unlikely, visitors should confirm that their itinerary avoids rallies or protests. In Malaysia, the sudden change in government remains peaceful with political party supporters and protesters adhering to police warnings against unauthorised events. The rising death toll in India necessitates careful review of itineraries in order to avoid protest events.
Greek police have been using teargas to deter hundreds of migrants from attempting to cross from Turkey after its president announced he was “opening the doors” to allow Syrian refugees to flee into European Union countries, which, might be the precursor to a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis with disruption at borders and transportation nodes such as train stations.
Following the Tennessee tornado that resulted in over twenty fatalities, severe weather is expected to continue across the United States, and the United Kingdom is expected to face a difficult week of floods, ice and snow. Of course, getting out of Hong Kong might be more difficult in the near term, given Cathay Pacific’s decision to park aircrafts and cancel flights, similar to other airlines, including for flights to Hong Kong.
Travellers to Indonesia should monitor the ongoing eruption of Mount Merapi, which forced the Solo airport to close.
Hong Kong’s Security Bureau Outbound Travel Alert
The Security Bureau updated its Outbound Travel Alert with COVID-19 warnings about travel to Italy, Iran, and South Korea. The Outbound Travel Alert continues to lack 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. The Outbound Travel Alert also continues to bury at the bottom of the page Department of Health travel advisories for destinations including Mainland China, Iran, Italy, Korea and Japan; in this regard the somewhat disorganised messaging is similar to what we often see in the corporate world. We remain disappointed that the Outbound Travel Alert for India has yet to note the ongoing and often violent Citizenship Amendment Act protests.
Does this column make you feel unsafe? Worried about traveling in Asia? Send your questions about travel security to [email protected]
Printer: R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong