Case study: Corona virus

Modi’s Kashmir gambit stokes fears of more violence

Fresh from a major election victory few months earlier, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made one of his boldest moves yet in early August after his government revoked the special status granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.  The unilateral move came at a time where Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have continuously embarked on a nationalistic drive to rally the support of the people toward the government. In the aftermath of the revocation, anxiety and fears have also gripped the Muslim-dominated part of India, resulting in thousands of troops being poured into the region to maintain calm and security. Restrictive measures were also being taken in order to prevent large-scale mobilization of protesters over the revocation. 

The presence of Section 370 that guaranteed the autonomy of Kashmir has long been viewed as a stumbling block for the region’s development and investment by Modi. For him, the so-called autonomy had only been used by various clans to advance their political interests, instead of the people and he had made it clear in the BJP election manifesto that the provision will be revoked if he got re-elected for the second term.  Although the motion was eventually passed, it was met with loud jeers from the opposition with some expressing concerns that Modi’s move was just aimed at stripping the power away from a region that has little bond with the central government in Delhi. 

Since the revocation, the Indian government has also taken no chances in preserving stability in a region that is prone to outbreak of violence. Troops were being deployed into main cities and towns in the Kashmir region including Srinagar where a curfew was imposed. Additionally, a lockdown was also put in place while communication infrastructures such as phone and internet lines were completely cut off for at least eight million residents. The curfew was occasionally relaxed to allow for movement of people due to special events such as the Eid al-Adha celebrations but there has not been a clear timeline on when all the restrictions will be completely lifted. With such information blackout, there have also been contradicting reports on the situation on the ground with the government claiming that only small protests have erupted while others insisting that clashes have broken out between the police and protesters. 

Apart from protests, there have also been fears that Modi’s move could drive up militancy in a region, where attacks against government installations as well as security forces are not uncommon. With Delhi’s troubled relationship with the locals, it is likely that the revocation will only further alienate the latter, who believed that they share very little in common with the rest of the country. Already one of the most militarized regions in the world, the government’s decision to pour in more troops to suppress any opposition is likely to only make matters worse. 

While the citizens of Kashmir continued to live in the dark, Modi instead used the country’s national day celebrations to rally support from the rest of India for his move. With the opposition parties remained in shambles, the government had managed to somehow keep the domestic resistance at bay though it was altogether a different scene internationally. The revocation had attracted strong criticisms from India’s archrival, Pakistan as well as China in which a boundary issue near Kashmir has lasted for several decades. As India’s most vocal critic, the Pakistani government said it rejected Modi’s announcements whereas the army said it will go to “any extent” against such move. The Pakistani airspace was also briefly closed following the revocation. Both countries’ relationship has already hit an all-time low after the Pulwama attack in February and India’s latest move is all but certain to escalate the tension further. 

What is Article 370?

Article 370 is a constitutional provision that grants special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir. It was drafted in 1947 by Sheikh Abdullah, who had by then been appointed the prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir. The provision guaranteed that the state government had the final say on all matters with the exception of defence, foreign affairs, communications and finance. The provision has also raised a number of controversies in the past. For instance, the provision stated that non-Kashmir citizens are not allowed to purchase land or property in the state that some argued have hindered developments for the past several decades.

Chan Hoi Cheong
Security risk analyst based in Kuala Lumpur

Extradition bill stand-off raises concerns for travellers in Hong Kong

After more than two months, the series of street protests that have erupted over a controversial extradition bill in Hong Kong appeared to have shown little signs of losing steam. Instead, the protest movements have expanded in terms of scale as well as level of violence with scenes of protesters clashing with riot police officers in various parts of the city. At times, such protests also paralysed movement of commuters and tourists alike, raising concerns on the city’s status as an international hub for finance, trade as well as tourism. What started as a protest against an extradition bill that critics said could be abused by the central government in Beijing has now become what the protesters claimed as their final battle in protecting the democratic rights they hold dear and developments to date seem to suggest that the ongoing stand-off between the government and various activist movements will not end anytime soon. In this special report, Safeture will look at some of the topics that may come across travellers’ minds when it comes to the protests and what can be done in order to mitigate the effects on his or her travelling plan.  

Where the protests have been occurring?

The anti-extradition bill protests have occurred at various locations in the city. Some of these protests have seen participants organizing sit-ins while others have seen them marching toward government buildings, resulting in congestion and road closures along the way. Several areas have become focal points for the protesters, and they are as follows:

Admiralty, Central
The areas around the Legislative Council Building (LegCo) such as Harcourt Road, Tim Wa Avenue and Tamar Park have seen some of the most violent clashes at the initial stages of the protests. At some point, some protesters also managed to break into the LegCo building, occupying it for several hours before being dispersed by the police. The Liaison Office Of The Central People’s Government In Hong Kong also became a target when the national emblem was smeared by black paint by the anti-extradition protesters. Barriers have been put at the location as precautionary measure.

Cross-Harbour Tunnel
On 3 August, large group of protesters blocked the entrance to the tunnel, paralysing traffic movement between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The tunnel was also blocked on 5 August during a general strike in the city.

Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)
The airport has seen its operation being severely disrupted several times in recent weeks due to protesters who moved to occupy the check-in area in the terminal building. Between 11-13 August, the airport saw its operation completely suspended twice, resulting in hundreds of flights being cancelled as well as thousands of passengers stranded. Police officers also clashed with the protesters as they moved to disperse them, resulting in injuries and arrests.

MTR stations and railway station
There have been several occasions in which protesters clashed with police officers inside the station. The most recent one occurred on the night of 11 August when police confronted the protesters at the Tai Koo MTR station. Heavy-handed tactics were reportedly used as the officers apprehended some of the protesters. Additionally, violence had also broken out at the Yuen Long MTR station when a group of mobs who dressed in white shirts started attacking protesters and passengers alike, resulting in 45 injuries.

Police stations
Protesters have also gathered outside police stations to protest against alleged police brutality. Projectiles have been thrown toward the compound previously, though there were no injuries. The police stations that have seen such gathering included the ones in Sham Shui Po, Kwai Chung, Tin Shui Wai, Wong Tai Sin and Tsim Sha Tsui.

Protests have taken place in various districts in Hong Kong such as Central, Admiralty, Tseung Kwan O, Causeway Bay, Sham Shui Po, Tuen Mun, Yuen Long, Tung Chung and Tai Po among others.
Protests have taken place in various districts in Hong Kong such as Central, Admiralty, Tseung Kwan O, Causeway Bay, Sham Shui Po, Tuen Mun, Yuen Long, Tung Chung and Tai Po among others.

Territory’s transport crippled amid strike action

In addition to protests, a general strike was also held on 5 August, resulting in widespread disruption in the city. Flights were cancelled at the city’s airport as a group of air traffic controllers decided to participate in the strike. A number of MTR services also suffered from severe delays as some protesters blocked trains from running on their tracks as well as refusing to let the platform doors closed. Shuttle buses were provided to lessen the impact but many of the city’s office workers still did not manage to turn up on time for work due to congestion and diversions.

Police tactics
The Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) had thus far deployed a mixture of tactics in suppressing the protests. Riot shields, batons, pepper sprays, rubber bullets and tear gas have all been used in various situations todisperse the protesters. Human rights groups have accused the police of using excessive force while dispersing the protesters though the government had defended the force, insisting that they have exercised maximum restraint. The HKPF also confirmed the delivery of three water cannons in August though they have yet to be deployed despite undergoing successful testing. 

What should I do if I am currently in Hong Kong or heading there soon?

While travel advisories have been issued by multiple countries, there are still yet to be any “not to travel” warning with regards to the ongoing situation in Hong Kong. Despite this, some might choose to revise their travel plans to the territory while others continue to carry on with existing plans until situation turns otherwise. Here are some tips that you should know if you are currently in Hong Kong or planning to go there in the foreseeable future.

  • Avoid protest flashpoints/sites at all times (see above for list of common sites). Instances of clashes that involved bystanders have happened before and any protest sites should be avoided. Safeture provides regular updates on the upcoming protests and details such as location and time. You should plan your journey bypassing these locations.
  • Always be ready to consider alternative travel options. While the MTR remains one of the most popular ways to get around Hong Kong, disruptions due to protest action have happened numerous times, resulting in severe delays and overcrowded platforms. You should consider alternative travel options such as trams, buses and taxis under such circumstances. It is also important to note that these options are still subject to road conditions and diversions during the protests, but they could still be faster as long as they do not pass by the protest sites. Downloading transportation apps such as MTR Mobile for rail, CitybusNWFB and APP 1933 – KMB/LWB for buses as well as HKTaxi for taxis might also come in handy if you are in the territory.
  • Keep your embassy/consulate contact details with you while travelling. Should you need any assistance, contact them immediately. The Australian consulate-general for instance had deployed officials to the airport during the 11-13 August protests that cancelled hundreds of flights.
  • Check flight status regularly. If you have a flight to catch from the city’s airport, contact the airline service provider for updates before heading there. At the height of the protests at the airport, numerous airline companies such as British Airways, American Airlines, United Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Air Asia, Egypt Air, Malaysia Airlines, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways among others were forced to cancel their flights due to suspension of check-in services. Additionally, the highway toward Chek Lap Kok, where the airport is located, and the Airport Express rail services might also be affected due to protest action. Be prepared to leave earlier than usual due to such situation.

Ethnic conflicts threaten to overshadow 2020 elections in Ethiopia

Following a failed coup attempt in June by the Amhara hardliners, there have been growing concerns that Ethiopia could plunge further into another bout of violent conflicts between various ethnic groups ahead of a critical election in 2020. The fault line in Ethiopia’s fragile ethnic relationship can be traced back to a system that defines citizenship, politics and identity based upon ethnic grounds led by then Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Alongside the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO), and the Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Front (SEPDF), they formed the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to rule the country after successfully overthrowing the communist regime in 1991. Since then, ethnic violence continued to remain unabated as a TPLF dominated political system sidelined some of the coalition partners for years, leading to regular anti-regime protests and armed conflicts nationwide. A massive uprising ultimately thrusted Abiy Ahmed and his allies into power in 2018, heralding a new era in Ethiopia’s political scene.

Abiy has positioned himself as a reformist of the country and a source of hope for the nation prior to April 2018. There is little doubt that Abiy has triggered unprecedented transformation ever since coming into power. As a start, he had freed political prisoners and activists, lifted the ban on political parties countrywide and armed wings such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and on the international front, he had also successfully ended a 20-year border dispute with Eritrea. However, his ability to address Ethiopia’s ethnic conflicts is still underwhelming if not ineffective. Some have even suggested he had somehow allowed the rise of historical hostilities that have been suppressed by the previous authoritarian leadership. Although Abiy has consistently promoted the idea of a federal form of government with a view of “citizenship-based politics”, as a solution to stabilize the country’s long conflict, his tactics and actions towards “revolutionary democracy” that was aimed to change the political identity through ethnicity has so far remained ambiguous.

Diagram 1: Map illustrating the incidents of civil unrest and insurgency activities in Ethiopia for the past three months

During his first months in office, he has been greeted by many as “national savior” both domestically and abroad. As time passes however, he had been attacked by various quarters for being too weak in taming the violence between various ethnic groups. Ethiopia’s ethnic violence has grown in the past year in tandem with deadly protests due to lingering insecurities such as economic inequality, deep-rooted corruptions and human rights violations that he has yet to address. The events in Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa that the government described as a “coup attempt” has also stoked fears that Abiy is losing the momentum in resolving the conflict between the Oromo and the Amhara peoples. While the power grab has been described as a failed attempt, this clearly underscored the deep ethno-nationalist tensions that have heightened under Abiy, thus further complicating his reform agenda as well as setting a rocky path toward the highly anticipated general election in 2020. Suffice to say, an election that goes sideway will certainly push Ethiopia to the edge, and the consequences would have been catastrophic for the nation of over 100 million that has already been beset by mass displacement and other social insecurities.

Will ethnic violence prevail amid forthcoming 2020 elections?
There is a risk that large-scale ethnic violence erupting further ahead of the 2020 elections if Abiy failed to address the various conflicts that have been plaguing the country. Looking back at the June’s coup attempt, Amhara leaders felt their group has been marginalized within EPRDF’s rule, leaving them to take matters into their own hands. It is possible that political leaders of other ethnics or even the armed groups such as Oromo nationalists or Tigrayan separatists seek to exploit the moment for their political gains. While the attack might not have been widespread enough to overthrow the entire administration, it perhaps can be interpreted as a move to further divide the nation ahead of the key election year. This has also shown that there is an “anti-reform” movement that is trying to subvert Abiy’s wide-ranging reform measures. Abiy’s hardline response on the coup attempt could also make it harder for him to gain support within the EPRDF for continued reforms. As reforms stagnated and if the election was to be put on hold, Ethiopia’s transition toward a full-fledged democracy could further be undermined. Furthermore, if Abiy stays indecisive over actions to create his proposed non-ethnic based federal system, this may also create uncertainty and eventually destabilize the country further.

Postponing the 2020 elections will create the largest political vacuum and the biggest uncertainty into which all kinds of unpredictable political actors will try to fill the vacuum. As such, many analysts concurred that the scheduled elections are essential for the citizens, even though fragmented, to contain the growing ethnic tensions and other insecurities. A truly democratic-elected government on the other hand enjoys greater legitimacy thus allowing it to mitigate these conflicts more effectively. Anything positive or negative may happen in the time before, during and after the highly anticipated and probably most competitive elections in years. While the EPRDF is expected to retain its parliamentary majority, the opposition is likely to remain at odds with each other on some fundamental issues, therefore making a broad counter-alliance impossible. A successful election may turn out to be a game-changer in Ethiopia’s political history, not to mention a triumph of freedom in a country that had its fair share of repressive rulers in the past.

Ezza Omar
GWS Analyst
Security risk analyst based in Kuala Lumpur

Escalating communal violence adds to Nigeria’s security woes

The militancy of Boko Haram in Northeast Nigeria has often emerged as the key security threats facing the sub-Saharan Africa nation. Amidst international media outlets’ focus on the group, the communal violence that has been surging in Nigeria since 2011 has also proven to be yet another security headache to the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, who just won an election in February 2019. Often underreported, the human cost of this conflict is thought to be even deadlier compared to those inflicted by the Boko Haram group as more than 300 lives have been lost in the first five months of 2019 alone. In comparison, the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast has left more than 411 casualties for the whole of 2018. While the epicentre of the crisis has always been the states of Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina, some of the violent activities have also threatened to spill over into the neighbouring states of Niger, Kano and Sokoto in recent years.

The ongoing communal violence in Nigeria can be traced back to 2011 when rural farmers and herders clashed regularly over cattle destroying crops. As fertile lands became scarce, the rival groups also began to launch more violent attacks backed by light weapons on each other, resulting in a tit-for-tat response. On top of that, there is also an ethnic dimension into the conflict as the farmers mostly belong to the Hausa community while the herders are from the Fulani community. To make matters worse, the Nigerian security forces that have been stretched thin due to a shortage of manpower has also been regarded as leaning toward the Hausa militias due to the partnership formed between both sides in order to ensure stability in the affected regions. As the Fulani herdsmen felt sidelined and antagonized by reports of extra-judicial killings by the rival group, it is hardly surprising that such a cycle of violence becomes almost impossible to break. 

Although the Nigerian federal government has increased its efforts in combating the crisis, they appeared to be futile since they are reactive in nature and did not address the underlying issues namely rural economy, border security and employment directly. Deployment of additional security personnel has also been ineffective as many villages are located in vast regions and remain vulnerable. As such, these loopholes are often exploited by various bandit groups seeking to extort money from the locals. Despite this, some villages have taken matters to their own hands by forming vigilante groups to fend off the bandits, resulting in deadly clashes at times. While the vigilante groups might be able to protect some of the communities, the situation remains dire particularly in Zamfara and Katsina states where thousands of people have been internally displaced by the constant clashes. 

A different approach would be required in order to stifle the conflict and this may include getting all rival parties to sit together for a dialogue as demonstrated in an initiative by the governor of Katsina state, Aminu Bello Masari. His measures have been regarded as pragmatic as they attempted to address some of the root causes of the conflict. Besides dialogue, he also offered amnesty to repentant herdsmen while creating rapid response units that are equipped with tracking systems so that security personnel can track the bandits wherever they are.  More importantly perhaps, he also promised to empower youths and women by helping them to learn new skills as well as providing employment opportunities through various programmes. Although more efforts from various quarters might still be needed, it has been hoped that such initiatives are able to be replicated by other state governments in order to prevent the ongoing crisis to spiral out of control.

Major herders-farmers related violence in Nigeria in the first six months of 2019

Following is some of the major attacks that have been linked to the Fulani-Hausa conflict for the period January-June 2019:

  • 28 January 2019: Seven herders were burnt to death by vigilantes in Zamfara state
  • 10-11 February 2019: At least 130 Fulanis were killed in one of the worst massacres seen in Kaduna state in recent years
  • 26 February 2019: Attack by Fulani herdsmen in Kajuru, Kaduna state in which 40 Adara people were killed 
  • 10 March 2019: Unidentified gunmen attacked a group of vigilantes in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna state, killing 17 of them
  • 11 March 2019: Suspected Fulani herdsmen launched attacks against the Adara community in the village of Maro, Kaduna state, killing at least 16-52 people
  • 8 June 2019: A night raid by bandits in the villages of Kalhu, Tsage and Geeri in Rabah, Sokoto state left at least 25 people dead
  • 9 June 2019: Bandits attacked farming and herding villages in Shiroro, Niger state. At least 47 people were confirmed dead
  • 14 June 2019: Bandit attack in Shinkafi, Zamfara state left at least 34 casualties
Chan Hoi Cheong
Security risk analyst based in Kuala Lumpur

Street protests return to Hong Kong amid Beijing’s encroachment fears

Street protests once again gripped one of the world’s busiest financial hubs, Hong Kong in early June following the government’s attempt to pass a controversial extradition bill that has been regarded as part of Beijing’s ambition to grow its influence in the territory. In scenes reminiscent of the Occupy Movement protests back in 2014, protesters besieged government buildings including the Legislative Council Complex (LegCo) in Admiralty and their action eventually paralyzed the Central district, the heartbeat of the city. Businesses, banking services as well as public transportation were brought to a halt as defiant protesters, mostly youths launched sit-ins and clashed with police officers several times. At some point, the protests attracted at least two million people in a single day, making it the largest since the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. While the territory’s chief executive Carrie Lam insisted that the bill is “necessary and sensible”, the latest round of protests have also threatened to further polarize the city’s society, especially among its middle class with some being less inclined in demanding for universal suffrage and independence. 

The protests over the extradition bill came at a time of increased anger over continuous encroachment of the semi-autonomous territory by the central government in China. Critics have argued that the “one country, two systems” principle since the handover in 1997 has been undermined as Beijing had in the past ignored the views of the territory’s citizens on multiple issues including the selection process of a chief executive among others. With the extradition bill, some citizens of the territory have certainly felt that they have been pushed to the edge and the street protests could be their last stand against their diminishing freedom. As described by a Democratic Party’s activists, Martin Lee, the bill has emerged as one of the most serious threats to their freedoms and way of life. 

The protests over the extradition bill came at a time of increased anger over continuous encroachment of the semi-autonomous territory by the central government in China. Critics have argued that the “one country, two systems” principle since the handover in 1997 has been undermined as Beijing had in the past ignored the views of the territory’s citizens on multiple issues including the selection process of a chief executive among others. With the extradition bill, some citizens of the territory have certainly felt that they have been pushed to the edge and the street protests could be their last stand against their diminishing freedom. As described by a Democratic Party’s activists, Martin Lee, the bill has emerged as one of the most serious threats to their freedoms and way of life. 

Lam’s claim that the bill will effectively curb criminals from China seeking safe haven in the territory was also rebuked by activists who argued that it will be used by the central government in Beijing to target political dissidents in which they will face trial under a justice system where torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detentions are not unheard of. In a wider perspective, the continuous erosion of the territory’s autonomy also put the reputation of the world’s financial centre at stake, making it “just like another Chinese city”. Apart from local activists, the protests also gained attention from foreign governments including the territory’s former colonial ruler, the United Kingdom as well as the United States. Both countries have spoken out against the violence that gripped the city with some lawmakers in the US urging Donald Trump’s administration to strip trade privileges for Hong Kong. In return, Chinese state-run media blamed the “west” for the chaos, alluding to US role in organizing the protests due to an ongoing trade war between the two giants. 

Although Lam’s government had backed down and suspended the bill for now, protest movement leaders remained wary and called for it to be scrapped altogether. They have also vowed to continue the protests until she steps down. The tenacity of the protesters will be tested in the days to come as the government’s attempt to tone down the bill instead of a full withdrawal could result in the current stand-off being dragged on. While massive one-off protests are still highly likely, the probability of sit-ins as seen during the 2014 Umbrella Revolution should also be taken into consideration as protest movements might change their tactics in pressuring the government to throw out the bill. Disruptions that may paralyze the Central district also cannot be ruled out and eventually, the government might once again employ similar tactics to disperse the protesters by force, making the scenes during the 2014 Umbrella Revolution all too similar. 

One country, two systems

As a constitutional principle laid down by Deng Xiaoping, the “one country, two systems” formula states that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and way of life will be guaranteed for at least 50 years after the 1997 handover. Under the principle, both Hong Kong and mainland China will have separate government systems as well as own say in legal, economic and financial affairs including trade relations. In recent years however, the principle has come under increased encroachment from the Chinese government with the demand for universal suffrage by pro-democracy movements being largely ignored. A series of sit-in protests over the issue gripped the territory’s Central district in 2014 in what was later being referred to as the “Umbrella Revolution”.

Chan Hoi Cheong
Security risk analyst based in Kuala Lumpur

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro signs decree easing gun rules

On 7 May, Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro signed a decree relaxing the rules for carrying firearms and raising a limit on ammunition purchases. This means that at least 20 million new people will be allowed to potentially carry firearms in the country, formerly restricted to the security forces.  

The carry permit implies the authorization to hold a weapon at all times, including outside residential premises, and the renewed decree expands it to a range of twenty professions such as lawyers, elected politicians, prison officers, police reporters, truck drivers and residents of rural areas. Among the changes the decree also opens the country to guns and ammunition made outside of its territory and allows children to take artillery lessons.

According to the Public Federal Ministry, which has demanded the immediate and full suspension of the measure, it infringes the Statute of Disarmament sanctioned in 2003 and threatens the public security of all people. Prosecutors point out that since weapons are durable goods, the increase in its purchase will have a significant impact for decades as many firearms acquired before the Statue have been used in criminal activity up to this point.  

President Bolsonaro, a retired military officer and a congressman representing the state of Rio de Janeiro for 27 years, has long taken part of the pro-gun lobby known as the “Bible, beef and bullets” caucus. In 2018 he made use of a militarized speech to get elected. But subject matter authorities have warned that easing regulatory constraints on carrying weapons would incite violence in a country that has long been the world leader in overall homicides, and which already has one of the highest murder rates in the world.  Consequently, the more weapons and ammunition available, the more it will end up in the hands of criminal gangs and the more the death toll is expected to escalate throughout the country.

In addition, airlines and government representatives are concerned about the decree as it also appears to give scope to the boarding of armed people in commercial passenger flights, which could lead foreign airlines to cancel flights in the country, increasing ticket prices.

Safeture will continue to monitor crime-related incidents in Brazil as well as the security policies of the newly elected far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Patrícia Baruffi
Safeture analyst
based in São Paulo

Preparing for the global measles outbreak

Measles is making a comeback worldwide with reports of 112,163 outbreak cases as of 15 April 2019. A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that the number of measles cases has increased by 300 percent in the first quarter of this year. This outbreak has alarmed public and especially travellers as measles is a serious and potentially fatal disease.

Measles outbreak is a risk to travellers

Measles is a disease that is easily infectious just like the flu virus. It is highly contagious and can live up to two hours in the airspace where an infected person breathed, coughed or sneezed. The measles virus remains suspended in air like light dust particles allowing pathogen to linger and float and may likely spread between 9 to 19 people who are not immunized.

Travellers are at risk as the early symptoms of the virus may not be obvious and may look like many other common respiratory illnesses. Measles can spread to other people four days before a rash appears, and up to four days after, making it possible for an infected person to spread the disease when they do not appear ill.

Additionally, travellers are easily exposed to the virus as the air travel that carries at least one person with the measles disease is able to infect others in the flight. Furthermore, the lower the temperature, the higher the survival rate of the airborne virus making it easier to spread, especially to unvaccinated travellers.

Sources of measles exposure also include destinations popular among domestic and international travellers. Mass gathering events such as Christmas parties, New Year’s Eve celebrations, funerals, night clubs, weddings, group prayers, community markets, music festivals and theme parks can also contribute to measles outbreaks.

Persistence of the outbreak

Imported cases

A number of causes have been associated with the measles outbreak. A cause that is often cited is the introduction of a foreign virus having strained into the country through people who were infected outside the continent.  For example, recent outbreaks in New Jersey and New York in the United States were linked to unvaccinated travellers who came back from Israel and Ukraine where there are large outbreaks of the disease.

Vaccination rates

Such outbreaks became more frequent and bigger in numbers as they were boosted by populations who refused to get vaccinated for medical or non-medical reasons. An underlying problem of the anti-vaccination movement has caused the declining vaccination rates that made outbreaks more commonplace. An unvaccinated person coming back from Eastern Europe, for instance, may carry a strain of virus and spread it to unvaccinated communities. The community then spreads the virus when they visit public places and may pose risk to others, especially pregnant women and babies.

Low risk-perception

Many travellers may not know that they are under-immunised and therefore do not consider the measles virus when getting their travel vaccines. Additionally, seasoned travellers may feel that they have not encountered such outbreaks due to previous overseas travel and may choose not to seek pre-travel health advice from health professionals.

Travellers only consider getting vaccination when going on, for instance, an African safari, but often ignore the risks when travelling to places such as France, Israel, Greece, England or the Philippines. The pockets of transmission in the countries are rising around the world not only in the countries mentioned. Therefore, it is better for travellers to check their vaccination history before travelling abroad.

The leading countries reporting measles epidemic are as follows:

Preventing measles virus

The best protection is to get vaccinated with MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) six weeks before travelling abroad. Travellers can determine if they are fully protected against measles by visiting general practitioners. Health professionals can interpret age and vaccine history to determine the vaccines that the body needs, and this can be categorised as follows:

  • Travellers born before 1970 who are not immune to measles should get one dose of the MMR vaccine
  • Those who are born in or after 1970 and not immune to measles should get one dose of the MMR vaccine

Besides vaccination, travellers are advised to:

  • Keep hygiene habits and cleanliness by washing hands frequently especially after touching public installations and before touching your nose, eyes and mouth.
  • Cover the nose and mouth with a surgical mask when having respiratory symptoms.
  • Regularly disinfect surfaces that are touched frequently.
  • Check and get your MMR vaccine before travelling as vaccination protects you and those who are not vaccinated.

Measles symptoms

Measles usually begins with a high fever, runny nose, cough and sore red eyes, followed by uncomfortable rash starting behind the ears and spreading to the body. The rash makes itself known about three to five days after infection. Some may experience the symptoms after one or two weeks after coming into contact with the virus. Loss of appetite and malaise are common symptoms as well.

One in three people may develop complications such as ear infections, pneumonia, diarrhea or in rare cases inflammation of the brain. These complications mostly arise in people whose immune systems are already weakened due to age, pre-existing diseases or malnutrition.

Ezza Omar
GWS Analyst
Security risk analyst based in Kuala Lumpur

Summer is approaching: will we see a repeat of 2018’s deadly heatwave?

The summer period between June and September of 2018 was marked by a particularly deadly heatwave that brought extreme hot weather to several countries in the Northern hemisphere, particularly in Europe. Countries that form the European Union usually experience summer temperatures between an average of 20 to 30 Celcius. In 2018, new records were met with temperatures reaching above 40 Celcius in several countries such as Greece and Portugal. Further north in the Scandinavian region which typically experiences a cool summer, Sweden saw an average of 30 Celsius through July 2018, breaking a 260-year record for the warmest month of July. The heatwave sparked major wildfires across the country.

A key characteristic of a heatwave is a persistent number of days with a tempterature above average levels. The summer heatwave of 2018 not only lasted from July until August but it surprised observers in the amount of countries which experienced simultaneously, from Canada on the North American continent to Japan in East Asia, and of course the EU states. 2018’s summer, while not the hottest, covered a lot of ground with extreme hot weather for several months.

Hundreds of people were killed in Europe alone in heatwave-related deaths while the hot weather facilitated wildfires, which devastated wide swathes of forests from Greece to Sweden. As June approaches and the weather turns warmer, are we likely to see a repeat of last year’s extreme heatwave?

According to experts, heatwaves similar to 2018’s extreme weather are indeed possible due to climate change and the El Nino effect. Climate change scientists from Europe to Japan have found strong links that suggest Earth’s average temperature is increasing annually due to human-related activities such as the unsustainable burning of fossil fuels. It has increased to a level whereby prediction of extreme weather is becoming easier and scientists have predicted that further heatwaves will become the norm. United Kingdom’s Meteorological Office has also come to the same conclusion and is likewise forecasting another heatwave. The forecast came amid an unusually hot Easter week for the country.

The weather could get warmer additionally due to the El Nino effect which officially formed during February 2019. A typical characteristic of this natural phenomenon is warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. While the impact of this year’s El Nino is considered minor, it is expected to raise the planet’s general temperature further this year.  

Other factors such as jet-stream flows also help determine how likely this year’s summer hot weather will be. While these factors are more difficult to predict, a hazardous heatwave is indeed possible. Preparation for the worst-case scenario should be considered before summer comes.

Travel Advisory

Taking care of yourself and your family by making sure everyone is cool and hydrated is perhaps the most important step not just during a heatwave but also any hot weather.  Further information can be found in Safeture’s more comprehensive heatwave advisory which elaborates on other important individual self-care tips such as  warning signs of a heatstroke

Additionally, it is anticipated that many travelers will be taking time off from work and go on a vacation around Europe. Before and during your travels, always plan ahead by keeping track of heatwave-associated hazards during the journey. Heatwaves may also cause wildfires such as the deadly wildfire that swept through Mati, Greece during last year’s summer. As it is a popular beach resort, the fire killed dozens of holiday-goers as well as locals who were caught in its path.

Other associated heatwave risks include road closures due to melting roads and power outages which may impact air conditioning. Furthermore, traffic congestions are anticipated during the busy summer vacation period. Getting caught in a poorly ventilated car on a congested route with associated heatwave-disruptions could potentially be dangerous. Keeping track of these risks especially on the go is vital for the safety of yourself, family and friends. Safeture will continue to monitor the weather situation throughout this year’s summer and provide necessary alerts on extreme conditions through the Safeture app.

Adam Yusoff
Safeture Analyst
Security risk analyst based in Kuala Lumpur

Uncertainty lingers in Sudan despite removal of Bashir

After months of unrest, the long-time ruler of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir was finally removed in a bloodless coup led by the military. For 30 years, Bashir, one of the few remaining dictators in the continent, ruled the country with an iron fist amid accusations of widespread corruption as well as human rights abuses in the Darfur region that an arrest warrant has been issued for him by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Despite his ouster, the celebrations were short-lived as concerns grow over the role that the military will play in the country’s transition to become a democracy. Although the civil society movement that has been organizing the protests wants a complete break from the past, the military’s refusal to give up control has continued to stoke fears that the political crisis in the country is far from over and Bashir’s removal is just the “end of the beginning” of another regime, which is not much different from the one they overthrew.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) that has been leading the protest efforts since day one has remained the most vocal critic of the so-called military council that was established following the end of Bashir’s presidency. The SPA clearly understands that the coup will just represent a change in form but not substance if the military wields significant influence on the newly-formed transitional government. Instead of dying down, the protests that were originally initiated to demand for Bashir’s resignation turned their attention to the military and the coup leader General Ibn Auf was eventually forced to resign barely one day after chairing the council. Apart from the protests, the general’s resignation has also been linked to dissent among the military ranks as well as opposition from the international players on his role as facilitator during the transition period.

His replacement General al-Burhan has promised to look into the demands of the protesters though he did not elaborate on his intention of a complete handover to a civilian-led government. Despite this, he has agreed broadly to some of the other demands such as fighting corruption, ensuring freedom and justice as well as promoting accountability among others. His assurances however did very little in calming down the protesters on the streets of Khartoum and elsewhere as there have been doubts that the military rulers will ever break from its former past amid allegations that they could just be another puppet for remnants the ex-regime.

On the other hand, the tenacity of the opposition movement has also been put under the spotlight as the post-coup crisis dragged on. There have already been divisions on ways forward in dealing with the military council as the opposition has loosely been united by the goal of removing Bashir. Fractions along generational, ideological, geographical and ethnic lines are likely to put the precarious coalition under more pressure going forward. The military could also exploit these tensions and wait until the right moment to reinstate its legitimacy by accusing the opposition of being unable to provide stability the country desperately needs. All these if not handled well could result in further chaos in a country that has been beaming with hope after the removal of one of sub-Saharan Africa’s last dictators, Omar al-Bashir.

Following is a timeline of the coup in Sudan as well as Safeture reports (all times local):

After months of protests, the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was finally removed from power following a coup d’état by the military. Since 11 April, Safeture has published at least 20 updates related to the coup and its impacts to safety and security for Safeture users in Sudan.

The reports of a coup in Sudan came in several hours after midnight of 11 April as the military forces under the command of General Ibn Auf seized the state broadcaster and urged the country’s citizens to wait for an important announcement. His forces were also deployed to the presidential palace where the president Omar al-Bashir was later detained.

First red alert (with sms) by Safeture on the coup attempt at 06:29 on 11 April

After months of protests, the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was finally removed from power following a coup d’état by the military. Since 11 April, Safeture has published at least 20 updates related to the coup and its impacts to safety and security for Safeture users in Sudan.

The reports of a coup in Sudan came in several hours after midnight of 11 April as the military forces under the command of General Ibn Auf seized the state broadcaster and urged the country’s citizens to wait for an important announcement. His forces were also deployed to the presidential palace where the president Omar al-Bashir was later detained.

Safeture on the coup attempt at 06:29 on 11 April

Safeture sent out an alert for its users about the possibility of a coup in the country as troop movements were reported in several key areas in Khartoum.

Second red alert (with SMS) by Safeture on a rally near the military headquarters at 06:44 on 11 April

As day breaks, the SPA called for supporters to rally around the military headquarters in Khartoum while the coup got underway. The main airport in Khartoum was also closed as a result of the political situation.

The military announces the removal of Omar al-Bashir as the country’s president at around noon on 11 April.

Subsequent alerts by Safeture following the coup by the military

Safeture continued to update its users about the ongoing protests in the country as protesters demanded the removal of the transitional military council. A sit-in also got underway for days in front of the military headquarters while a curfew was also imposed in the country few days after the coup.

Chan Hoi Cheong
Safeture Analyst
Security risk analyst based in Kuala Lumpur