Worldview Security Update – February 10, 2020
10-Feb-20

ASIA

China (Security threat level – 3) : As 10 February 2020, approximately 40,570 cases of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) have been confirmed worldwide with 910 fatalities. Notably, total fatalities from the coronavirus have officially surpassed fatality numbers from the 2002-03 SARS epidemic that began in China. On 8-9 February, authorities in Wuhan confirmed the deaths of a U.S. citizen and a Japanese national; officials had quarantined both in Wuhan after they contracted the virus.

On 10 February, Chinese authorities lifted some travel restrictions as businesses began to reopen following an extended Lunar New Year holiday; many employers were allowing staff to work from home, if possible. Thermal scanners have been installed at transportation nodes and officials are reportedly enforcing temperature checks and mask requirements.  Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has dispatched a team to Beijing to assist authorities in investigating and containing the virus outbreak.

Ships continue to face quarantine and it remains uncertain how long these measures will last. At least 3,711 passengers and crew aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship — which has been docked at the Japanese port of Yokohama since 4 February — remain quarantined. Thus far, there have been at least 136 confirmed cases of the virus aboard the ship; infected individuals have been evacuated to health facilities in Tokyo. Japanese health officials are considering whether to screen everyone aboard the vessel; at present, authorities have limited the scope of screening procedures to those passengers labeled most "at risk" due to a shortage in supplies. Another cruise ship — Holland America’s MS Westerdam — continues to wait off the southwest coast of Taiwan as it seeks access to a port facility to disembark its 2,257 passengers and crew members. The governments of Guam, Japan and South Korea have refused to allow the ship to dock due to virus concerns. The vessel has reported that it has no confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus, and no quarantines have been implemented on board.

Meanwhile, at least 21 countries have evacuated their citizens from Wuhan or mainland China, including Canada, France, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. The evacuees will be tested for the virus and quarantined in accordance with each country’s specific set of procedures.

Taiwan has announced that residents of Hong Kong and Macao will no longer be allowed to enter beginning on 11 February, except for business travelers, residents of Taiwan and their dependents, and employees who were transferred to Taiwan.  

Kazakhstan (Security threat level – 3): Overnight on 7-8 February 2020, clashes broke out between local Kazakhs and ethnic Dungans — a Muslim community of Chinese origin — in the villages of Auquatty Bulan-Batyr and Masanchi in the Zhambyl region, located along the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border. The clashes intensified after riot police officers attempted to disperse the participants, who engaged officers with metal objects, stones and sporadic gunfire. At least 10 people were killed and approximately 40 others, including at least two police officers, were injured in the violence. More than 45 structures and 23 vehicles were significantly damaged. Authorities arrested 47 people in connection with the riots and seized at least two firearms. According to a Kazakh deputy interior minister, the clashes followed an altercation between two men related to a traffic dispute on a highway.

Thailand (Security threat level – 3): On 8 February 2020, a Thai soldier armed with several firearms opened fire at the Terminal 21 shopping center in Nakhon Ratchasima — also known as Khorat City — located approximately 200 km (125 mi) northeast of the capital Bangkok. Prior to the attack, at approximately 1530 local time (0830 UTC), the assailant shot and killed his commanding officer and two others at a military base in the city, stole a Humvee military vehicle and drove to the shopping mall. Upon arriving at the mall, the gunman started firing at random, killing at least 21 and injuring 57 others while posting live updates on a social media site. Authorities placed the city under lockdown, as security personnel engaged the gunman, who was inside the shopping center with an unknown number of hostages.

At approximately 0930 local time on 9 February, authorities reported that security personnel had killed the perpetrator. The assailant was reportedly involved in a conflict over a property dispute with his commanding officer and the officers’ relative, both of whom were killed at the military base. No further information has emerged regarding the motive for the attack. 

AUSTRALASIA

South Pacific Islands (Security threat level – 1): According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), Tropical Cyclone Uesi was located approximately 615 km (380 mi) west of Port Vila, Vanuatu, as of 0900 UTC on 10 February 2020, and was moving southwest at 11 kph (7 mph). At that time, Uesi was generating maximum sustained winds of 111 kph, with gusts of up to 140 kph. On its current path, the cyclone is expected to track near the French territory of New Caledonia from 11-12 February before shifting toward Australia on 14 February. Rainfall of 150- 300 mm (6-12 in) is in the forecast across New Caledonia, with the northwestern half of the island expected to receive the most rain.

EUROPE

United Kingdom / Belgium / Denmark / France / Germany / Luxembourg / Norway / Sweden (Security threat levels – 3 / 3 / 2 / 3 / 3 / 1 / 2 / 2): As of 10 February 2020, severe winter weather associated with Storm Ciara has caused significant disruptions across northern Europe. Wind gusts of up to 145 kph (90 mph) have been recorded across the region. In the U.K., the Met Office issued 250 emergency flood warnings and 183 flood watch alerts, as the country experienced significant rain and snowfall. Over 324,000 businesses and residences experienced power outages during the storm. Transportation disruptions continue across the country due to flooding and debris on railways and roads. Flights also continue to be disrupted at London Heathrow Airport (EGLL/LHR), as hundreds of flights were canceled or temporarily grounded due to the storm.

Mainland Europe — including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden — has also experienced severe weather and significant transportation disruptions. In Germany, Storm Ciara — locally referred to as “Sabine” — disrupted hundreds of flights to cities across the country, including Berlin, Bremen, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich. Officials at Luxembourg Airport (ELLX/LUX) also canceled most flights during the morning of 10 February. Additionally, the Øresund Bridge connecting Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmö, Sweden, was closed due to the high winds.

Thousands of people remain without power and transportation services continue to be affected as the storm continues across the continent. Travelers should check road conditions and the status of their flights before traveling to airports, as further disruptions due to weather conditions remain probable. Severe winter weather conditions are expected to continue across the region until at least 13 February.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Cameroon (Security threat level – 4): On 9 February 2020, general elections took place in Cameroon amid a heavy security presence, especially in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions. Voter turnout was particularly low in the two regions, where low-level violence occurred during the poll. In the Northwest region’s town of Mbengue, sporadic gunfire was heard in the early hours of the voting day; in addition, a clash broke out near a polling station in Muyaka. Separately, in the Southwest region, there were reports of shootings in the regional capital Buea as well as in the town of Kuma. However, there were no reports of injuries or fatalities in the polling-related violence.

Elsewhere in Cameroon’s French-speaking regions, including the capital Yaoundé, the polling concluded peacefully, although voter turnout was lower than expected. Approximately one third of the roughly 7 million eligible voters participated in the polls in the French-speaking regions. Although election results are not expected to emerge for approximately 20 days, the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (RDPC) party is anticipated to retain its majority in the Parliament, as the opposition largely boycotted the elections.

GOVERNMENT WARNINGS

Burkina Faso (Security threat level – 4): On 7 February 2020, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued updated travel advice for Burkina Faso, which reads in part as follows: “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to the capital Ouagadougou, up to the toll booths on all roads out of the city. The FCO now advise against all travel to the rest of Burkina Faso.”

Analyst Comment: The FCO’s updated travel advice reflects increased insecurity and an expansion in the overall terrorism threat, including terror-related kidnapping, across Burkina Faso since 2019. Individuals with plans to travel to the country should only do so after undertaking a thorough threat assessment; if travel is deemed absolutely essential, travelers should make extensive security arrangements.

Iraq (Security threat level – 5): On 10 February 2020, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a Demonstration Alert, which reads in part as follows:

"Location: Baghdad and Najaf

"Event: According to reports, large-scale demonstrations, events, and processions are expected to take place in Baghdad, February 11-13, as well as in Najaf on February 14. As with prior demonstrations, road closures, including in the Baghdad International Zone and in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport, may occur. Public consular operations in Baghdad remain suspended. U.S. citizens should not approach the Embassy. The U.S. Consulate General in Erbil is open for visa and American Citizen Services appointments, including passport issuance. U.S. citizens in Iraq or those concerned about family in Iraq should contact the Department of State at +1-202-501-4444 or toll-free in the U.S. at 1-888-407-4747."

Maldives (Security threat level – 3): On 10 February 2020, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued updated travel advice, which reads in part as follows: “On 6 February 2020, the Maldives police confirmed the arrest of 3 people in relation to a knife attack on foreign residents in Hulhumale. The attack was claimed by an extremist group. You should remain vigilant.”

Zambia (Security threat level – 3): On 8 February 2020, the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka issued a Security Alert, which reads in part as follows:

“Location: Northwestern Province.

“Event: Rumors of ritualistic killings have led to incidents of civil unrest in several districts of Northwestern Province. The U.S. Embassy’s Regional Security Office has received reports of groups exhibiting aggressive and mob-like behavior, to include some reports of group members armed with weapons surrounding and searching vehicles, as well as people targeting persons suspected of association with ritual killings or other criminal activity. The provincial government has deployed additional police forces in these districts, but unrest and violence persist and has yet to be consistently contained.

"U.S. government personnel are prohibited from travel to Northwestern Province, with the exception of Solwezi, until further notice. Personnel are further advsied to exercise increased caution while traveling in surrounding provinces, especially the Copperbelt, as the security situation can change quickly.”