Our recent columns began with weather events, though if our readers had hoped September and October would bring the end of the Pacific typhoon and South Asia monsoon seasons and would allow us to focus on other travel security topics, Mother Nature had other plans.
Simultaneous to the historic strength of Hurricane Dorian in the Atlantic, powerful September storms in Northeast Asia were also a common occurrence. In India, amid the most torrential rainfall in 25 years and a monsoon season that extended past the usual early September end, hundreds died in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Typhoon Lingling caused death and power outages in the Philippines, Okinawa, and the Korean peninsula, and was followed shortly after by Typhoon Faxai which caused significant damage in Japan including three deaths, nearly one million homes without power, and a surprising amount of public transport service disruption in Tokyo. Typhoon Mitag prompted several cities in Taiwan to declare a typhoon holiday, and subsequently brought heavy rain and blackouts to Japan, including the Chiba region which was recovering from Typhoon Faxai. In recent days Typhoon Hagibis brought a surprising amount of fatalities and destruction across a large part of Japan’s east coast including in areas recovering from Faxai.
Fire and disease
Haze from forest fires in Indonesia and Malaysia continue to be a problem, with descriptions ranging from worst ever to apocalyptic. In India and other parts of Asia, explosive outbreaks of dengue, chikungunya and malaria cases continue to be reported, infecting hundreds of thousands. The Philippines reported a polio comeback after a 19 year absence.
In France, terrorist incidents, yellow vest protests that led police to use tear gas, and firefighter industrial action have disrupted travel in major cities. The attack on a synagogue in Germany, which occurred as congregants gathered for a Jewish holiday, is a reminder that terrorists monitor locations and events both religious and cultural.
In Jakarta, protests to oppose criminal code changes that may erode freedom of speech and a new law that weakens anti-corruption efforts has resulted in fatalities and hundreds of injuries.
Travel Risk – Upcoming Weeks
Travel disruption in Japan will continue due to bullet train network damage, road closures and the potential for landslides; travellers with plans to visit Japan over Christmas and New Year, or Lunar New Year, should immediately check whether their destination suffered from damages. In Australia, bush fire season began early, and travellers with plans to visit during the North Asia winter should continually monitor the situation.
Thailand’s North and Northeast continue to be impacted by floods triggered by September storms that damaged roads in 24 provinces. Asia’s dengue outbreak is expected to continue, and proper mosquito precautions should be taken seriously in Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
The presidential inauguration in Jakarta on 20 October might spark further protest events, and business trips to Jakarta in the short term should be rescheduled. Travel to Indonesia will also be disrupted in coming days due to the haze, with parts of Sumatra and Borneo both closing schools this week.
In Barcelona – a favourite European destination for Asian travelers – protests descended into chaos as crowds clashed with police at the airport after separatist leaders received lengthy prison sentences. Ahead of the 10 November parliamentary election, weeks of violent protests are expected in Barcelona and, after the election, possibly in cities.
Rising tensions in the Middle East, and the possibility of another drone strike in Saudi Arabia similar to the September 14th attack on oil refineries is an ongoing risk for leisure travellers, as well as for business travellers who must visit petrochemical industry or critical infrastructure facilities. We suggest travellers assess the security situation carefully before taking advantage of Saudi Arabia’s recently announced relaxations to rules governing foreign visitor visas, dress codes, and men and women sharing hotel rooms.
The impact of the Hong Kong protests continues to spread, with solidarity rallies recently held worldwide. We discourage foreigners from joining solidarity rallies in jurisdictions where they are not citizens (though in response to Denise Ho’s participation in a rally in Taipei, the Taiwan government stated foreigners are allowed to participate in such events). An arrest for civil disobedience or participation in an event that lacks a permit can result in deportation and an entry ban, and a question about deportation or entry ban might be asked by other jurisdictions when assessing eligibility for entry. Campus violence worldwide is also a concern, as students from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan argue over the ongoing events.
We also advise travellers to increase their awareness of operational issues. These include the fallout from the Thomas Cook closure, potential travel disruption as airline staff and security personnel worldwide adjust to Brexit realties, and restrictions on vaping devices in carry-on baggage. A series of pilot and cabin crew strikes in Europe over recent months is set to continue, with Lufthansa cabin crew the latest to schedule a strike. Travelers should review what they bring in their carry-on bag and prepare for extended delays in airports after their luggage is checked in; mobile phone power banks and/or chargers are a must.
Hong Kong – Re-Schedule Non-Essential Travel
We now advise both corporate and leisure travellers to reschedule non-essential travel to Hong Kong. The frequency of protest events both on weekends and weekdays, the level of violence used by protestors against commercial establishments, periodic closure of the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system, the sudden disappearance of map apps, and possibility for protest activity to occur in neighbourhoods across Hong Kong and Kowloon may result in travellers spending time in hotel rooms rather than engaging in the corporate or leisure activities that were the purpose of their visit. For essential travel, risk mitigation measures should be reviewed prior to landing. With regard to Hong Kong International Airport, entry restrictions have for now prevented another closure, though future attempts to disrupt road or rail access to the airport remain possible. If Hong Kong-based counterparties agree to make business meetings nearby, alternatives for which travel by air is feasible from include many locations such as Macau, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai.
We are frequently asked whether it is safe for foreign visitors to observe the protests even if from a distance. Foreign visitors to Hong Kong should avoid protests just as foreign visitors to other jurisdictions should avoid solidarity rallies. Even a peaceful event in Hong Kong can rapidly deteriorate into a violent situation that police respond to with force, and neither side can distinguish a tourist from a participant. We also discourage foreign visitors from relying on claims to be a “citizen journalist” and urge journalists to have proper credentials, though even journalists are at a risk when a situation deteriorates into a confrontation between police and protesters.
Hong Kong’s Security Bureau Outbound Travel Alert
The Hong Kong Security Bureau’s Outbound Travel Alert has no recent updates, though given the frequency that Hong Kong residents travel to Jakarta we think the Security Bureau should update the warning it posted on 21 May about post-election violence. Perhaps the similarity and proximity to Hong Kong’s protests makes this a situation the Security Bureau wants to avoid issuing a warning over.
Does this column make you feel unsafe? Worried about traveling in Asia? Send your questions about travel security to email@example.com
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