December 18, 2020
18-Dec-2020

AMERICAS

Mexico (Security threat level – 4): At approximately 0140 local time (0740 UTC) on 18 December 2020, a gunman shot and killed Jalisco state’s former Gov. Jorge Aristóteles Sandoval Díaz at the Distrito 5 bar in Puerto Vallarta’s Hotel Zone. The attacker fired multiple shots, specifically targeting the former governor, then fled the scene. Local reports indicate that Sandoval died as medical personnel were transporting him to a nearby hospital. The former governor, who was in office from 2013-2018, faced several allegations of corruption and purportedly had a connection with the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG). Jalisco state’s security cabinet is investigating the murder.

Mexico (Security threat level – 4): On 17 December 2020, Interjet Airlines, the third largest carrier in Mexico, canceled all scheduled flights from 18 to 31 December, reportedly due to a lack of available capital to purchase jet fuel. The company previously halted flights from 1 to 2 November and from 28 November to 2 December after it suspended all international routes indefinitely in March. The Customer Protection Agency in Mexico has advised travelers to reconsider purchasing tickets for Interjet flights.

United States (Security threat level – 2): On 17 December 2020, authorities in San Francisco, California, imposed new entry restrictions for inbound travelers to the city in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. From 18 December to 4 January 2021, travelers entering the city will be required to self-quarantine for 10 days. Exemptions to the quarantine requirement include essential personnel, individuals traveling to perform activities deemed essential, passengers with stopovers at San Francisco International Airport (KSFO/SFO), and those traveling to the city from the nearby counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Santa Cruz. Additionally, authorities discourage non-essential travel between San Francisco and the aforementioned Bay Area counties. Further details regarding the quarantine requirement can be viewed here.

ASIA

Philippines (Security threat level – 4): At approximately 1400 local time on 18 December 2020 (0600 UTC on 17 December), Tropical Depression Vicky — which formed around 0200 local time — made landfall near the Baganga municipality in Davao Oriental province, located on Mindanao island, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration. At that time, Vicky had maximum sustained winds of 45 kph (28 mph). Heavy rainfall associated with the tropical depression caused significant flooding in the areas of Bislig, Surigao del Sur, San Francisco and Bayugan in Agusan de Sur. Following Vicky’s landfall, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council issued an orange rainfall alert for Cebu island and advised residents to be cautious of landslides and flash floods. Thus far, there have been no reports of storm-related casualties. Current forecasts indicate that the tropical depression will move west-northwest over Mindanao and enter the Sulu Sea by 19 December.

Thailand (Security threat level – 3): On 17 December 2020, authorities announced that they will now allow visa-free entry to foreign nationals from the following countries: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, UAE, U.K., U.S. and Vietnam. Under the new rules, all travelers from the aforementioned countries will be allowed to enter for up to 45 days, but they must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival as well as proof of booking at a hotel approved as a quarantine facility. All travelers are also required to undergo a 14-day quarantine, and will be tested for COVID-19 three times during their isolation.

AUSTRALASIA

Fiji (Security threat level – 2): As of 2100 local time (0900 UTC) on 18 December 2020, Tropical Cyclone Yasa was located approximately 370 km (230 mi) east-southeast of Suva, Fiji, and was moving southeast at 19 kph (12 mph), according to the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center. At that time, the cyclone was generating maximum sustained winds of 140 kph, with gusts of up to 167 kph. On its current forecast path, the storm will continue weakening as it moves toward the southeast away from Fiji’s Lau islands and begins turning toward the south during the morning of 19 December. A flash flood alert remains in effect for low-lying areas of Vanau Levu and the eastern half of Viti Levu island, while a flood alert is in effect for low-lying areas near the Bagata and Korovou rivers.

Yasa swept through Vanua Levu and nearby islands on 17-18 December after making landfall as the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane — with wind speeds of up to 250 kph — over Bua province, located in the western portion of the island, bringing heavy rains and strong winds to the area. The cyclone caused significant damage on Vanua Levu, destroying dozens of homes, downing trees and power lines and flooding roadways. In Viti Levu’s Rariraki district, all roadways were impassable due to the flooding. Domestic flights in the country resumed operating on 18 December, and flights are expected to operate as scheduled on 19 December. Taxis and private minibuses have largely resumed operations in Suva, although dozens of roads on both Vanua Levu and Viti Levu islands remain blockaded. Nearly 24,000 people evacuated their homes and took refuge in 456 evacuation centers in the country. According to the National Disaster Management Office, the cyclone affected more than 93,000 residents. Thus far, there have been reports of at least two cyclone-related fatalities.

EUROPE

Cyprus / Spain / United Kingdom (Security threat levels – 2 / 3 / 3): Authorities in Cyprus have extended the current state of crisis until at least 30 June 2021 and will implement additional coronavirus-related restrictions from 18 December until 20 January 2021. Restaurants and bars may not serve patrons after 1800 local time (1600 UTC), except for takeout and delivery services. Hotel restaurants can serve guests until 2100 local time. Businesses can only use 30% of their facility capacity for customers and employees. Holiday gatherings, including New Year’s celebrations, are banned. Local law enforcement officials will inspect businesses for compliance and issue fines when necessary.

In Spain, local health officials and authorities in the eastern autonomous community of Valencia announced that they will prohibit non-resident travelers from entering the region from 21 December until 15 January 2021, as part of an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Travelers seeking to enter the region to visit family will be prohibited, and public and private gatherings are restricted to a maximum of 10 people. Additionally, regional officials will impose a nightly curfew that starts at 2300 local time (2200 UTC), an hour earlier than the existing nationwide curfew. Meanwhile, authorities in the northeastern autonomous community of Catalonia announced a series of restrictions, effective from 21 December until at least 11 January. During this time, the community-wide nightly curfew from 2200-0600 local time (2100-0600 UTC) will remain in place and non-resident travelers will be prohibited from entering the region. In addition, gatherings will be restricted to no more than six people, bars and restaurants may operate in-person services from 0730-0930 local time and 1300-1530 local time (takeout and delivery services are permitted until 2200 and 2300 local time, respectively) and recreational facilities are restricted to 50% capacity. The measures will be partially rolled back on several dates during the upcoming holidays. On 24 and 31 December, the nighttime curfew will be shortened to 0100-0600 local time and on 5 January to 2300-0600 local time. Gatherings of up to 10 people from two separate bubbles will be permitted on the following dates: 24-26 December, 31 December, as well as 1 and 6 January 2021.

In the United Kingdom, authorities in Northern Ireland announced plans to introduce a lockdown over the territory, effective from 26 December 2020 until at least 6 February 2021, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. During the lockdown, nonessential businesses must close and hospitality businesses, including cafes and restaurants, may operate takeout and delivery services only. Alcohol sales for takeout are permitted from 0800-2000 local time/UTC Monday to Saturday and 1000-2000 local time on Sunday. Places of worship may remain open and will be subject to compliance with strict health protocols. The distinction between essential and nonessential businesses will be more strictly defined, resulting in fewer businesses permitted to remain open during the lockdown period compared to the previous lockdown imposed in March. The measures will be reviewed every four weeks. Meanwhile, a number of additional restrictions will be imposed in Northern Ireland from 26 December to 2 January. During this time, a territory-wide nightly curfew from 2000-0600 local time/UTC will be in place, businesses permitted to operate under the aforementioned restrictions must close, no indoor or outdoor gatherings are permitted, and outdoor exercise is permitted only with members of the same household.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Ghana (Security threat level – 3): On 17 December 2020, at least 200 supporters of opposition presidential candidate John Mahama marched to the headquarters of the Ghana Electoral Commission in the capital Accra to contest the results of the recent presidential election. Incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo was declared the winner of the election with almost 52% of the vote. Security forces used water cannons to disperse the demonstrators, but there were no reports of other clashes or casualties. Security officials stated that they arrested several demonstrators but did not provide details.

Somalia (Security threat level – 5): On 18 December 2020, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device at Abdullahi Isse Stadium in the northern Somali town of Galkaayo, located approximately 720 km (450 mi) north of Mogadishu. The bombing occurred while preparations were underway for an address by Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, but the prime minister had not arrived at the stadium. Initial reports indicate that two senior military officials were wounded in the explosion, but the casualty toll is expected to increase. While no group has claimed responsibility for the bombing, it is consistent with similar attacks by the jihadi militant group al-Shabab.

GOVERNMENT WARNINGS

Iraq (Security threat level – 5): On 17 December 2020, the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) updated its travel advice for Iraq, which reads in part as follows: “3 January 2021 is the first anniversary of the killing of senior Iranian and Iraqi security leaders Qasim Soleimani and Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis by the United States outside Baghdad International Airport. It is possible that the security situation could deteriorate in the period around this date.”

Mali (Security threat level – 5): On 17 December 2020, the U.S. Embassy in Bamako issued a Security Alert, which reads in part as follows: “The U.S. Embassy has been made aware of a spate of violent, armed robberies in Bamako during late 2020 that have resulted in injury and death. Violent crime, such as armed robbery, carjacking, and kidnapping, is common in Mali, and the U.S. Department of State recommends against travel to Mali due to the security environment.”

The full text of the alert can be read here.

Slovakia (Security threat level – 2): On 17 December 2020, the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) issued updated travel advice for Slovakia, which reads in part as follows:

““From 5am on 19 December, there are nationwide restrictions on movement outside the home. This curfew applies until 29 December, but is expected to be extended further until mid-January. Exceptions to the curfew include:

  • Going to work, doing essential shopping, and accessing essential services such as banking and post offices
  • For medical appointments including C19 testing, care of relatives and of pets
  • For recreation (maximum 2 households), walks in the countryside, and individual sports
  • Church services, attending funerals of close family, or to get married
  • Journeys in order to travel abroad, or to return home from foreign travel

“Further information (in Slovak only) is on the Interior Ministry website. ”

United States (Security threat level – 2): On 17 December 2020, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued an Alert regarding recent hacking attacks targeting U.S. government agencies and private sector entities, which reads in part as follows: “The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is aware of compromises of U.S. government agencies, critical infrastructure entities, and private sector organizations by an advanced persistent threat (APT) actor beginning in at least March 2020. This APT actor has demonstrated patience, operational security, and complex tradecraft in these intrusions. CISA expects that removing this threat actor from compromised environments will be highly complex and challenging for organizations.”

To read the full text of the Alert, please click here.

Analyst Comment: The term “Advanced Persistent Threat” is commonly used in the cybersecurity domain to describe a well-resourced and highly coordinated hacking group, usually one that is part of, or working for, a nation-state’s intelligence service or military.