UPDATE: The U.S. Department of State has issued an updated Worldwide Caution alert following the terrorists attacks in Paris, saying they "serve as a reminder that U.S. citizens need to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness." The caution offers a detailed assesment of threats to Americans traveling in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South Asia, and Africa (predominately North Africa).
The news out of Paris this week has been heart-wrenching, to say the least—and unnerving for travelers with imminent plans to visit the City of Light. And even as Parisians go on high alert, Britain’s MI5 intelligence head, Andrew Parker, is warning of increased threat levels in the U.K. from Al Qaeda and extremists groups in Syria and Iraq. (The official threat level remains at “severe,” where it has been since August.) The country has stepped up security checks at ports and border points, especially on passengers and goods coming from France and the rest of Europe.
In January, we first reported on chikungunya, a “rare viral disease” spreading in the Caribbean, with around 100 confirmed cases in the region. Flash forward eleven months, that number is up to over 16,000 confirmed and 874,000 suspected cases. Should Caribbean-bound beachgoers be worried? Here’s what you need to know:
What is it, and what are the symptoms?
Chikungunya is a virus transmitted to humans from mosquitos. According to the Centers for Disease Control, most people infected with the virus will experience fever and severe joint pain. Other symptoms could include muscle pain, headache, and joint swelling. Confusingly, many of these symptoms overlap with dengue fever.
Amid rising fears of more cases of Ebola reaching our shores, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Centers for Disease Control have introduced enhanced passenger-screening procedures at several international airports. Screenings at New York's JFK airport (which receives 43 percent of travelers from Ebola-afflicted nations) began last week; similar protocols are scheduled to start this week at Newark Liberty, Washington-Dulles, Chicago O’Hare, and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Minnesota officials are also lobbying for screenings at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Breaking news that a Dallas health care worker took a flight to Cleveland from Dallas the night before she reported symptoms of Ebola (for which she has tested positive), will certainly send another shudder through the aviation industry, as airlines and airport workers evaluate what procedures they have in place to handle infected passengers. As a reminder: Ebola is not transmittable through casual contact. A person must be exhibiting symptoms to spread the virus—putting health-care workers and close family members at greatest risk.
Smartphone, tablet, laptop. Chances are you carry at least two of these devices on the road. I’ve been known to pack all three, along with a BlackBerry, for good measure. (Yes, I know: overkill.)
In many ways, our gadgets have become invaluable travel companions. But with their proliferation come new opportunities for cybersecurity breaches—whether it’s using an insecure Wi-Fi hot spot to check your e-mail or losing a device as you move from place to place. Unless you are carrying state or trade secrets, you are probably not a target for major espionage. But even the most leisurely of leisure travelers is still vulnerable. The risks run the gamut from having your credit card information stolen to full-on identity theft. Here are the major threats you should be aware of—and how to avoid them.
As new cases of Ebola continue to be reported in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea—plus two each in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (the first outside of West Africa)—travel bans are increasing through the continent, implemented by both international airlines and local African governments. Here is what you need to know now.
The news coming out of West Africa this week as been alarming—to say the least. The latest outbreak of Ebola, which started in Guinea earlier this year, has now spread to Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. (There’s even been a suspected Ebola death in Saudi Arabia.) To date, nearly 1,000 people have died of Ebola—a number that will surely increase in the coming weeks as public-health officials struggle to contain the virus. The crisis is such that the World Health Organization has now declared the outbreak “a public health emergency of international concern."
So…what does this mean for travelers?
Sort of good news for Israel: the FAA has lifted its 36-hour ban on flights into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport and the European Aviation Safety Agency, which had previously issued a recommendation for carriers to avoid the area, is now only cautioning national aviation authorities to “base their decisions [on whether to allow carriers to fly there]…on thorough risk assessments.”
All the major U.S. carriers have cancelled today's scheduled arrivals into Tel Aviv, though their arrivals for tomorrow are still set to depart. Lufthansa, however, is suspending flights through today and tomorrow—a prohibition that applies to Lufthansa, Germanwings, Austrian Airlines, Swiss, and Brussels Airlines. The carrier issued the following statement: “Lufthansa acknowledges the considerable efforts made by Israel to provide the best possible protection for Ben Gurion Airport with the ‘Iron Dome’ shield. As soon as this protection can be verifiably guaranteed, we will resume flight operations.”
Travelers beware! On Wednesday, a massive sandstorm swept through parts of northwest China’s Gansu province, turning the air a yellow-orange hue and reducing visibility to 60 feet in places. Cars, buildings and residents were coated with the gritty dust.
According to the province’s meteorological center, this was the strongest sandstorm since 1996. (The photograph above depicts a heavy sandstorm that swept through China's Tiananmen Square in 2002.)
Watch footage from the massive storm here.
Rebecca Hiscott is Travel + Leisure's digital intern. Follow her on Twitter at @rebeccahiscott.
Photo by Alamy
The State Department has updated its travel alerts for Thailand and Ukraine, responding to an uptick in politically-charged violence affecting both countries.
In Ukraine, demonstrations have flared up after the government opted for closer economic ties with Russia rather than with the EU. Since Thursday, over 100 individuals have died in the Kiev street riots. And anti-government rallies in Bangkok claimed their twelfth casulty—a police officer—on the February 18th.
We've been monitoring the Thai situation for months, and the new travel alert sends the same message: US citizens should avoid protest sites and any large gatherings.
Cruises have been hit hard this season by the notorious norovirus. In January, a Royal Caribbean voyage was cut short when nearly 700 passengers and crew were sickened by norovirus, and a Caribbean Princess ship aborted its itinerary when 189 cases were reported. An unidentified agent also caused a norovirus-like outbreak on the Norwegian Star in early January.
Because this gastrointestinal virus is so easily transmitted—it spreads from person to person, or via contaminated food and water—cruise ships (with their close living quarters) can act as powerful incubators. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified the particular strain on the ill-fated Caribbean ships as GHII, a new(ish) Sydney-based norovirus that has been associated with more severe symptoms, and may have a higher rate of infection.