Worldview Security Update – February 17, 2020
17-Feb-20

AMERICAS

Colombia (Security threat level – 4): Nationwide strikes and protests are scheduled to take place in Colombia beginning on 20 February 2020. The Colombian Federation of Education Workers (FECODE) has called for a national strike to be held on 20-21 February to denounce state-sponsored violence and the persecution of teachers. Meanwhile, members of the Colombian National Strike Committee (CNP) are expected to stage a new round of anti-government protests beginning on 21 February. The CNP previously staged anti-government protests in November 2019, and briefly suspended them while committee leaders and government officials sought a mutual agreement. The CNP has demanded that the Colombian government fulfill its demands, including the immediate dissolution of the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD) that is blamed for killing dozens of protesters over the last two decades. The upcoming protests will likely cause disruptions to transportation and other public services. Additionally, as evinced in the past, such actions can turn violent and collaterally affect individuals in the areas where demonstrations are occurring.

ASIA

China / United States / Cambodia / Malaysia / Thailand / Guam / Philippines / Japan / Australia / France (Security threat levels – 3 / 2 / 3 / 3 / 3 / 1 / 4 / 1 / 2 / 3): As of 17 February 2020, approximately 71,435 confirmed novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases have been reported worldwide, with 1,775 fatalities. Outside of mainland China, at least 775 confirmed cases of the virus have been reported. More than 410 cases have been reported in Japan, a figure that includes quarantined passengers onboard the cruise ship Princess Dream. Additionally, France confirmed on 15 February the death of an 80-year-old Chinese tourist, marking the first coronavirus death in Europe.

Chinese authorities continue to impose varying lockdown measures across the mainland. Provincial authorities in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, have declared that all vehicles — except for ambulances, police cars and those transporting essential supplies — are banned from the roads in the province. In addition, all public venues except for supermarkets and pharmacies in the province are closed. In the city of Wuhan, Chinese authorities have launched nine makeshift hospitals with nearly 7,000 beds. Approximately 25,635 medical professionals have been deployed to Hubei province. Despite the restrictions imposed throughout China, authorities in the Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) announced on 17 February that casinos within the territory will be permitted to resume operations beginning on 20 February. Authorities ordered the closure of casinos as well as theaters, clubs, bars and other entertainment venues on 5 February. Only casinos are allowed to open on 20 February, and will be given 30 days to fully reopen. Macao officials also announced that beginning on 20 February any non-resident workers who have visited mainland China within 14 days of their arrivals will be required to be quarantined for medical observation in the nearby city of Zhuhai before entry.

In the U.S., authorities in California’s San Diego County have declared a local and public health emergency over the coronavirus, which will allow the county to access emergency supplies and extra funding. There have been two confirmed cases of coronavirus in the county. In view of coronavirus concerns in the county, the IBM information technology firm publicly announced that it will not attend a major cybersecurity conference to be held in San Francisco from 24-28 February. Separately, a Japanese visitor to Hawaii was confirmed to have coronavirus upon returning to Japan. The Japanese tourist visited Hawaii from 28 January-7 February. It is unknown how or where the traveler became infected, but reportedly the tourist developed cold symptoms toward the end of the trip.

Passengers have been evacuated from virus-stricken cruise ships. On 15 February the cruise ship MS Westerdam finally disembarked all passengers in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, after being denied permission to dock in Guam, Japan, Thailand and the Philippines over coronavirus concerns. Holland America, the company that owns the cruise ship, had claimed that no one aboard showed symptoms of the virus. However, a U.S. national who disembarked the MS Westerdam in Cambodia tested positive for the coronavirus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 16 February. The U.S. national was one of 140 U.S. passengers from the MS Westerdam who had flown to Kuala Lumpur from Cambodia. Separately, as of 16 February, the cruise ship Diamond Princess docked at the Japanese port of Yokohama had nearly 455 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The U.S. government evacuated nearly 400 of its citizens from the Diamond Princess via chartered aircraft; 14 of those individuals aboard the aircraft tested positive for the virus. Previously, 40 U.S. citizens who had confirmed cases prior to the evacuation were not allowed to board the aircraft and were sent to hospitals in Japan. The Australian government also plans to evacuate nearly 200 of its citizens from the Princess Dream.

In Japan, officials continue to cancel or make alterations to major events. Authorities have canceled birthday celebrations for the new Emperor Naruhito amid coronavirus fears, and the Tokyo Marathon, scheduled for 1 March, will not allow general entry. Instead, the marathon will be invitation only in order to reduce the number of travelers to Japan.

EUROPE

United Kingdom / France (Security threat levels – 3 / 3): As of 17 February 2020, severe winter weather associated with Storm Dennis has caused significant disruptions across northern Europe. Wind gusts of up to 145 kph (90 mph) and rainfall of up to 155 mm (6 in) have been recorded across the region. In the U.K., approximately 600 flood warnings and alerts were issued across the country, including a “red warning” alert for life-threatening flooding in southern Wales. Thousands of businesses and residences experienced power outages during the storm. At least two people were killed due to the severe weather. Transportation disruptions continue across the country due to flooding and debris on railways and roads. Additionally, hundreds of flights to U.K. airports were canceled over the past weekend. Authorities also deployed military personnel to some areas in the U.K. to assist with relief efforts.

In northwest France, approximately 60,000 residences were left without power as the storm moved across regions of Brittany, Normandy and Pays de la Loire. The storm brought heavy rainfall and strong winds across Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Disruptions to air and rail transportation occurred throughout the day on 16 February, but most services have resumed operations. Storm Dennis is expected to continue across northern Europe though 18 February before dissipating.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Cameroon (Security threat level – 4): On 14 February 2020, unidentified militants attacked Ntumbo village, located in the Anglophone Northwest region of Cameroon. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 22 villagers were killed. Thus far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, an opposition party and at least one separatist leader alleged that Cameroonian soldiers — who have been engaged in a crackdown against the ongoing separatist movement in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions — carried out the attack on the villagers. The government released a statement on 17 February denying that its armed forces were responsible for the attack, calling it an “unfortunate accident” and launching a full investigation. The English-speaking separatist movement in Cameroon began in late 2016, and separatists have recently increased the use of violence against civilians who disagree with them publicly, including kidnappings and executions.

GOVERNMENT WARNINGS

Gabon (Security threat level – 3): On 17 February 2020, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued updated travel advice regarding homosexual relations in Gabon, which reads in part as follows: “The Gabon Penal Code criminalises consensual same-sex sexual relations. Under the law, same-sex sexual relations is punishable with up to six months in prison and a fine of up to 5 million CFA francs. Same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples. There’s no legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Gabon remains a conservative society and discrimination can be a problem for those open about their sexual identity. Same-sex marriage isn’t recognised in Gabon. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.”