Taal volcano in Philippines, Coronavirus in Wuhan and Middle East geopolitical shifts – International SOS highlights the latest threats to help protect mobile workforces

16 January, 2020

We may only be just over two weeks into the new decade, but there are already a number of factors impacting corporate traveller welfare. Medical and travel security risk services company International SOS had highlighted towards the end of 2019 the likely be the top disruptors to the mobile workforce in 2020, but it is already providing new guidance.

The results from its ‘Business Resilience Trends Watch’ revealed the top reasons business travel managers expect to change itineraries in 2020, with more than half (51%) believing that health and security risks increased in the past year and a slightly smaller number (47%) anticipating risks will rise in the coming year. The biggest risk was identified as security threats (68%) – up 23 percentage points on the past year, ahead of civil unrest (52%) – up 14 percentage points; geopolitical unrest (52%) – up 20 percentage points; and natural disasters (51%) – up 15 percentage points.

Into 2020, International SOS has been continuing to provide advice and information for its members affected by the ongoing bushfires across Australia, warning that travel planning should account for bushfire danger warnings at least until Feb-2020. “Members travelling in Australia should closely monitor ongoing bushfires and be prepared to defer or change travel plans at short notice, especially for journeys to non-urban areas,” it advises.

The recent eruption of Taal Volcano in the Batangas province of the Philippines has seen International SOS warn that there remains a potential for imminent additional eruptions. With an exclusion zone around the crater area, it warns that the main issue currently for travellers is the health impact of the thick volcanic ash.

“Ash can cause localised symptoms such as itchy eyes, runny nose, sore throat and cough,” it warns. Most people will only likely experience temporary symptoms, it says, but it notes that effects may be more pronounced in people with underlying health conditions, particularly respiratory problems such as bronchitis, emphysema or asthma.

You can view its special video report from its medical and security experts on what business travellers can expect in the current situation, what health and security risks there are and how people in the vicinity can protect themselves and what organisations can do to support their staff and ensure business continuity.

The company is also advising its members on the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, sharing its current knowledge, the possible modes of transmission, the potential for further spread and what it means for operations in the area and general pandemic planning advise on what organisations should be doing now.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had said the evidence was highly suggestive that the outbreak is associated with “exposures in one seafood market in Wuhan”. The market was closed on 1-Jan-2020 and there had been no clear evidence of human to human transmission. Among the 41 confirmed cases, there has been one fatality, a patient with serious underlying medical conditions. The virus has also been detected in Japan and Thailand, but was found on travellers from Wuhan.

And then, of course, we have the geopolitical shifts in the Middle East. International SOS says Iran’s retaliation to the US drone attack that killed the country’s most valued military commander “is highly likely”. To date, it has been more symbolic than anything, but “it is difficult to predict the exact timeframe and location of a response,” warns the risk experts.

While, certain locations will see a higher risk of retaliation, namely, those with Iran-aligned forces active in them, such as Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, International SOS says that in general, travel to the majority of the countries in the Middle East, particularly the Arab Gulf states can continue, but with additional caution.

You can view International SOS’s assessment on the current situation in Middle East, areas for potential escalation, and crucial advice on how to build resilience to the risks now and in future in this video report.

The crash of flight ‘PS752’, a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 on departure from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International airport on 08-Jan-2020 has sensibly seen airlines reroute flights away from Iran’s airspace and many others suspend flights into the country and also into destinations in Iraq.

Iranian airspace generally handles around 1,000 flights per day, 80% of which are overflights. As these overflights are pushed north or south to avoid Iranian airspace, ICAO models indicate a potential tripling of the traffic over Syria. That airspace already has restrictions and makes flying in the region even more complex.