Shipping Out: Week in Review – SARS scare over unknown illness

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New Year’s Week travel tips, a potential SARS outbreak, and more from SafePro’s weekly travel advisory.

Hong Kong and Macao

Security concerns in the coming days continue to include the possibility of skirmishes between protesters and the police (or between pro-government and anti-government individuals). These tend to follow peaceful events that received government approval such as the Civil Human Rights Front march on New Year’s Day, as well as flash gatherings at MTR stations, malls, and shops perceived as pro-China. Continue to prepare for contingencies when traveling throughout Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the New Territories on the public holiday or weekend, and carry a day bag with certain essentials.

Extra care when traveling to Macao is advised following the temporary imposition of security inspection checkpoints on the eastern artificial island of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and entry denials to journalists and politicians. If planning travel to Macao in the near term check not only traffic (if traveling by road) or weather conditions (if traveling by ferry) but also recent security and entry denial news. 

Week in Review – Terrorism, Weather, and SARS Returns

Houses of worship and spaces associated with religious observance have been subjected to recent attacks. This includes targeted attacks against Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey and a church attack in Texas

The death toll from Typhoon Phanfone (known locally as Ursula) in the Philippines neared fifty, though this number may climb higher as recovery efforts continue. Impacted areas include tourist-popular Boracay, Eastern Visayas, Southern Luzon and Western Visayas. Widespread travel disruption will continue in the coming days due to blocked roads. Australia’s fire crisis continued to worsen and travellers should reconsider visits to impacted areas. 

A potential SARS outbreak in China comes amid Asia’s ongoing dengue outbreak, which is reportedly the worst year on record. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its dengue warning for Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The Oceania measles outbreak abated somewhat, with a state of emergency lifted in Samoa.

Protests worldwide over issues such as climate change, political leadership, and the cost of living impacted travel throughout 2019, and in recent days social unrest continued in Chile, France, India, Iraq, and Lebanon.

New Year’s Week Travel

Whether at countdown parties, religious gatherings, or other public events this week:

  • Be vigilant in crowds. Guard against pickpocketing by using a money belt to store valuables, cash, and red packets; avoid keeping valuables in your back pocket or backpack.
  • Inside venues such as churches, discos, and pubs, familiarise yourself with the location of fire exists. In large cities or locations where Christians are a minority, attend churches that have security measures in place to inspect visitors.
  • Pyrotechnics such as fireworks, if improperly handled, may pose a fire hazard, cause physical harm, or even inflict structural damage. Refer to event staff instructions for safe locations from which to watch fireworks.

The tragic deaths of a British father and two children who died in a swimming pool while on holiday in Spain is a reminder to be vigilant at pools and beaches, and always implement the buddy system even at venues with lifeguards.

Russia announced that the United States provided intelligence that helped foil a plot to attack St Petersburg over the new year period; terrorism risk remains significant in the US and Europe. This risk will increase following recent US airstrikes in Iraq.

Australia’s extreme heat will continue and will create dangerous bushfire conditions across the country.  

Travelers should monitor media reports for labour disputes at their airline as well as arrival and departure airports amid a worldwide series of industrial action. A flight attendant strike in Germany and possible strike in France this week may lead to significant cancellations or delays, with action also possible in Canada and India.

US nationals with plans to visit the Philippines should monitor possible changes to visa policies which may be imposed in retaliation for Philippine officials who are denied entry to the United States as sought by its senators.

Iran and Thailand and likely to re-join the list of countries with widespread rallies or protests. Travelers to Bolivia, Mexico, and Spain should monitor developments amid Bolivia’s accusations about Mexico and Spain’s interference in its domestic politics. For the Taiwan election scheduled for 11 January, the final ten days will include island-wide rallies. Expect enthusiastic participants though election violence is rare. 

Recent controversy over the removal of President Donald J. Trump from a scene in Home Alone 2, and supermodel Bella Hadid incorrectly tagging the airport she was at on Instagram serve as reminders to remain vigilant as to the location of everyone in your traveling party at airports – including yourself.

Hong Kong’s Security Bureau Outbound Travel Alert

The Security Bureau last updated its France travel warning in December 2018 and its United Kingdom travel warning in August 2018. With terrorism risk in both countries, France’s ongoing protests, and Brexit uncertainties, we hope these are updated prior to the lunar new year travel season.

Does this column make you feel unsafe? Worried about traveling in Asia? Send your questions about travel security to

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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