In our monthly travel safety forecast for March we examine elections, climate change and the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Guinea faces an unpopular referendum while Iran is set to become more hawkish after its February elections as well.
However, Tehran will need to temper its radical rhetoric as it seeks international assistance for its unexpected outbreak.
Coronavirus has now spread beyond China, catching governments by surprise from Italy to South Korea. Health professionals, politicians and crisis management personnel are scrambling to determine how to properly contain the disease. The international community will need to co-operate.
However, possible collaboration is being threatened by disjointed government actions. States are not co-ordinating with one another, or even following the advice of experts.
Scientists have warned that closing borders does not work, but numerous countries have done exactly that. Sensible advice is for people to avoid crowds in affected areas. Scientists have also warned that face masks have only limited effectiveness. Why, then, are people queueing up and crowding shops to buy dwindling supplies of masks?
Many media outlets are guilty of whipping up hysteria. Governments are subsequently feeling pressured to act. They appear more intent on saving their reputation than the lives of potential victims. Meanwhile, the fallout of the virus and subsequent government policies will critically harm global economies. Restrictions on movement, be it through protectionist policies or ill-advised pandemic responses will devastate many businesses.
Until there is some sort of acceptance of scientific knowledge, the situation will remain badly managed. The best advice is to prepare for possible disruption; avoid crowds in affected areas; and take general hygiene precautions. The CDC offers some basic but effective anti-flu advice in minimising the risk of infection here.
Otherwise, if you have information to share, on the outbreak or any other aspect of travel safety, please register with our site and upload comments on the locations that you know. The more everyone contributes, the more we will all benefit from one another’s insight.
A different perspective
While the Covid-19 outbreak increasingly looks like a global pandemic, bear in mind that the mortality rate is still low. Thousands upon thousands of people die of the flu every year. Hundreds of thousands die of road accidents. Travellers continue to visit areas with endemic diseases without taking proper precautions.
The outbreak should be seen as a way for governments to practise public safety measures effectively, so that in the future if (or rather, when) a more serious outbreak occurs, the world is able to tackle it effectively, and in unison.
As mentioned above, one hindrance to this is the current climate of poor international relations. Inter-governmental hostility does little to help the fight of such a global development. One such focal point of diplomatic discord is Iran.
As we warned was to be expected in our last travel safety forecast, turnout for the recent Iranian elections was low. Moderate candidates also performed badly (if they were allowed to run at all).
In our March travel safety forecast we can confidently predict that a more hawkish, anti-Western government will emerge. The stance of this new government will polarise international relations further. President Rouhani, despite all his efforts, will face increasing difficulties ahead of the next presidential elections due in 2021.
For now, however, the country faces the more pressing issue of its unexpected Covid-19 outbreak. Even the Deputy Health Minister has been infected.
The authorities and the country’s underdeveloped healthcare systems will struggle to contain the outbreak, especially without global assistance.
What is most alarming is the scale at which the disease has spread before being officially reported. It may be that the Iranians sat on the information for some time for fear of generating public panic. This will reflect extremely badly on the authorities in the coming months.
Unrest in Guinea
Guinea holds a national assembly election on the 1st March. The public will also be asked to vote on a controversial referendum to alter the constitution.
Since the poll was announced last year there have been regular protests, many of which have turned violent. Dozens of people have been killed and injured. More violence is likely to occur in the coming days and weeks.
Secular clampdown in Central Asia
On the same day as Guinea, Tajikistan holds elections for its Assembly of Representatives. Amid a clampdown on alleged dissenters, one of the main opposition parties has been banned. The ruling People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan is widely expected to win. Expect further repression of civil liberties in the coming term as a result.
Bibi tries again
This is despite previous failures to form a stable government. It also comes amid close results in recent opinion polls as well as the possibility of Covid-19 related disruption. Even if he succeeds, he also faces a corruption trial set to begin on the 17th March.
Note that there may also be unrest in Palestinian areas this month. Many will oppose his re-election. The Palestinian territories also mark ‘Land Day’ on the 30th March, a date that often sees protests.
Guyana holds general elections on the same day as Israel. The armed forces registered their votes earlier in February, in what appears to have been orderly proceedings according to international observers.
However, trouble may be brewing over a 40-year oil deal signed between the current government and a consortium led by Exxon Mobil Corp.
The deal grants extraction rights for crude oil from the offshore Stabroek block. However, some view it as unfair, believing that the government has not negotiated favourable enough terms. There may be growing calls from the public to re-negotiate the deal and redistribute the generated wealth.
Mali is due to hold postponed elections on the 29th March. Ongoing instability and violence in several parts of the country have caused the polls to be delayed on several occasions.
Recent weeks have seen a continuation of this violence. Indeed, the situation is only likely to deteriorate further, posing a risk to all personnel, particularly in the north. It will be extremely difficult to hold the polls in many parts of the country. If it goes ahead, turnout is likely to be low. Regardless of the election result, the next government will continue to struggle with endemic insecurity.
Seasonal weather changes
The month of March normally marks the end of winter in the northern hemisphere but bad weather can still persist in many areas. The weather starts to heat up in Persian Gulf destinations such as Dubai, marking the end of the most pleasant time of the year. However, travel may become increasingly restricted amid the Covid-19 outbreak which has already hit most countries in the region.
This time of year normally sees the end of the worst of the Harmattan winds in parts of West Africa. These winds bring dry, dusty conditions which have an impact on visibility and respiratory conditions among other things. They are normally felt most keenly in Niger, Burkina Faso, western Chad, northern Ghana, northern Nigeria, northern Benin, northern Togo and eastern Cote D’Ivoire.
Australia has seen a sharp shift from extensive fires to flooding in several parts of the country, and even snowfall in Tanzania. The human, economic and environmental toll of the recent disasters is unprecedented. Many are increasingly critical of politicians’ stances on climate change amid increasing evidence that it is to blame.
Where to go
As frequently mentioned already in our March travel safety forecast, the Covid-19 outbreak is affecting journeys to numerous parts of the world. As such, the following information may change at short notice.
The Alps are normally a popular destination at this time of year. However, Covid-19 has already infected several people at a French ski resort. The latest outbreak in northern Italy has also affected Alpine destinations. Austria has blocked trains arriving from the Italian Alps but cases have still spread further around Europe. Further disruption is highly likely.
The Canary Islands are also a popular beach destination at this time of year. However, at least one resort on Tenerife has been hit by the disease. Further restrictions could be put in place at short notice, affecting many people’s plans.
Standard Weather Changes
The following countries and territories are worthy of mention in our March travel safety forecast because of notable weather changes they normally experience at this time of year:
Bangladesh: the humid ‘summer’ begins in March and normally lasts until the monsoon season in June.
Bolivia: the rainy season begins in the northeast of the country, normally lasting until April.
Congo: the rainy season normally begins, lasting until June.
DRC: the rainy season in areas south of the equator normally ends this month.
Mauritania: Sirocco winds last from now until April, bringing dry, dusty conditions affecting visibility and respiratory conditions.
Mauritius: the highest-risk part of the cyclone season normally comes to an end. The risk will persist until May but they are relatively infrequent overall.
Pitcairn Islands: the cyclone season comes to an end this month.
Sri Lanka: the monsoon season comes to an end in the north-east of the country, ushering in hot dry weather.
Tanzania: the rainy season normally begins, lasting until May.
Thailand: the monsoon season normally comes to an end in the northeast around the middle of March.
Tuvalu: the rainy season normally ends this month.
United States: tornado season normally begins, lasting until June (although they can occur all year round).
Zimbabwe: the rainy season normally ends this month.
Key Dates for the March travel safety forecast
Guinea: National Assembly elections and constitutional reform referendum
Paraguay: Hero’s Day
South Korea: Independence Movement Day
Tajikistan: Assembly of Representatives elections
Ethiopia: Victory of Adowa
Guyana: general elections
Israel: general elections
Myanmar: Peasants Day
Bulgaria: Liberation Day
Georgia: Mother’s Day
Malawi: Martyr’s Day
Ghana: Independence Day
Women of the world
Worldwide: International Women’s Day
Sri Lanka: Full Moon Poya
Lithuania: Restoration of Independence Day
Mauritius: National Day
Zambia: Youth Day
Belarus: Constitution Day
Hungary: National Day
Uncertainty for Bibi
Ireland: St. Patrick’s Day
Israel: corruption case against Benjamin Netanyahu
Malta: St. Joseph’s Day
Tunisia: Independence Day
Kazakhstan: Nauryz Meyrami
Namibia: Independence Day
South Africa: Human Rights Day
Puerto Rico: Emancipation Day
Pakistan: Pakistan Day
Argentina: Truth and Justice Memorial Day
Cyprus: Greek Independence Day
Greece: Independence Day
Bangladesh: Independence Day
Ascension of Muhammad
Islam: Isra wal Miraj
Myanmar: Armed Forces Day
Mali: National Assembly elections
Palestinian Territories: Land Day (demonstrations commonly occur)
Malta: Freedom Day
Thank you for staying up to date with our March travel safety forecast.
We hope you have safe travels ahead!