Thousands of Russians scramble to leave Thailand as sanctions hit
More than 5,000 Russian tourists have found themselves stranded in Thailand, as international sanctions following the war in Ukraine hit worried holidaymakers.
Thousands of Russian tourists in Thailand are struggling to find a route home, officials said Sunday, as international sanctions imposed over the war in Ukraine hit holidaymakers.
Russia’s invasion in February provoked a host of international measures targeting businesses and banks, with some Russian carriers cancelling flights and global payment firms suspending services.
Russians tourists have been among the largest group of visitors to return to Thailand’s beachside resorts since pandemic restrictions eased, but many now find themselves without a return ticket.
Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, the deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), said 3,100 Russians were stuck in Phuket, while just over 2,000 were in Samui, and smaller numbers were in Krabi, Phangnga and Bangkok.
The agency was working on helping those who wanted to return home, he said, including “discussion on return flights which could be regular or special flights”.
Russian tourist and mother-of-three Evgenia Gozorskaia said her family discovered their return Aeroflot tickets had been cancelled.
“We are very nervous because the children are very small, we don’t have enough money to live here,” said the 41-year-old psychologist who arrived from Moscow with her husband and children — aged seven, four and two — on Feb 27.
“We want to go tomorrow to the airport, but I don’t know what the situation will be,” she said from Phuket, adding that they were supposed to fly home March 28.
She said while some people had their tickets replaced others — including her family — had not been so lucky.
“They say that they cannot do it and put the phone off,” she said.
While Thailand has not banned Russian flights, international airspace restrictions have seen some firms — such as Russia’s flagship Aeroflot — cancelling services, leaving tourists to seek alternative routes, such as through the Middle East with different carriers.
Many tourists have also been hit by Visa and Mastercard suspending operations.
“We have seen instances of difficulty in card payments by Russians in Phuket due to how Mastercard and Visa have suspended services in Russia,” said Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association.
He said officials were considering adopting the Mir system — a Russian electronic fund transfer structure — as well as digital currencies.
Local communities across Thailand were also stepping in.
“We will pay for water, electric, everything for them,” said Archimandrite Oleg, representative of the Orthodox Church in Thailand, who said they were helping at least one family with four children stranded in Koh Samui.
Pandemic travel curbs have hammered the kingdom’s tourism-dominated economy, but 2022 saw a surge of visitors as restrictions eased.
Around 23,000 Russians travelled to Thailand in January this year, according to the TAT.
Tourists from Russia previously accounted for the seventh-largest share of visitors to the kingdom, with around 1.5 million travelling to Thailand in 2019.
While Bangkok has backed a United Nations resolution calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, it has stopped short of imposing sanctions.
The conference, held over three days from Jan 20, was organised by British firm Servomex, Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported.
Singapore’s Ministry of Health had previously said that 109 company employees – 94 from overseas and 15 local – attended the conference.
A 27-year-old Singaporean man who was at the meeting is among those confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus, which originated from the central Chinese city of Wuhan. One foreign employee at the meeting was from Wuhan.
The company did not reply to queries from The Straits Times.
Two South Koreans, aged 36 and 38, and a 41-year-old Malaysian who were at the meeting also tested positive after returning home, sparking an investigation by the World Health Organisation.
On Friday (Feb 7), a middle-aged British man who attended the meeting was also confirmed to have the virus. He is the first British national to contract the virus.
He was taken to St Thomas’s Hospital in London and is currently being treated at a specialist infectious diseases unit.
A member of a lion dance troupe that had performed at the Servomex Sales Conference at the Grand Hyatt on Jan 20 said eight other troupe members performed onstage during the event.
The group learnt through news reports that it was the same business event where several attendees were later found to have contracted the coronavirus.
“We were a bit shocked. But the performance was only five to 10 minutes long and they left straight after,” said the troupe member, who did not take part in the performance.
He added that his colleagues neither had direct contact with the conference members nor ate any food there. None of those in the lion dance troupe has shown any symptoms of the virus or been asked to take a leave of absence, he said, adding that members are taking precautions, such as daily temperature monitoring.
Grand Hyatt Singapore’s general manager, Mr Willi Martin, said on Thursday that details about the three infections in the hotel were still sketchy.
“The Singapore Ministry of Health is still investigating the cases with the relevant authorities and has not advised details on how, where or when these individuals were infected with the virus,” he said.
The triatomine bug mainly sucks blood from victims’ faces and often defecates in the wound, especially around the eyes and lips where the skin is thinner
‘Disease like AIDS’ can follow bug bites
By Zheng Caixiong in Guangzhou
A forest bug clambers on a fern in a garden outside Moscow on June 27, 2017. (YURI KADOBNOV / AFP)
The Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention has posted a reward for the capture of triatomine bugs as it works to prevent an outbreak of Chagas’ disease by identifying cases early.
Chagas’ disease, which has an incubation period of between 20 and 30 years, is “a new disease like AIDS”, the center said.
Chagas’ disease, which has an incubation period of between 20 and 30 years, is “a new disease like AIDS”
“The campaign is expected to offer early diagnosis and better treatment to patients in the coming months,” the center said in a statement published on its WeChat account on Thursday.
Those who provide the center with triatomine bugs – dead or alive – will receive a reward of 8 yuan (US$1.20) per specimen, it said.
Chagas’ disease most often causes flu-like symptoms like fever, facial swelling, body aches and vomiting. However, 20-30 percent of those infected with the disease can contract chronic conditions, including inflammation of the heart, enlargement of the esophagus and colon, blood clotting and even sudden death. It can lie dormant in a human body for decades.
An official from the center said no Chagas’ disease cases have been reported in Guangzhou so far, but the city is a place for investigating the Chagas’ disease in Guangdong province.
The triatomine bug mainly sucks blood from victims’ faces and often defecates in the wound, especially around the eyes and lips where the skin is thinner, the center said in its statement. An adult bug is usually about 2.5 centimeters long.
The bug is a carrier of the disease, which claims thousands of lives each year in Central and South America. With increasing globalization, cases of the disease have been reported in North America, Europe, Oceania and Japan in recent years, the statement said.
“Chagas’ disease might break out in the city if many bugs are present, so it is important to find the bugs and identify victims early to help control infection rates,” it said.
“Currently there is no vaccine to prevent Chagas’ disease, and there are no specific medicines effective to cure the disease when it reaches a late stage,” the statement said.
Triatomine bugs mainly live in cracks in walls and stones, but have also been found in forests, fields, animal pens and chicken coops. The bugs usually emerge at night to feed.
People who capture the bugs are urged to put them in sealed bottles before taking them to a CDC office in the city.
Asbestos exposure, a hidden risk for budget tourists in Asia
We are just beginning to realise that exposure to asbestos is a hidden travel risk in Asia, particularly for those on a low budget who stay in cheap deteriorating buildings or next to demolition sites.
It’s a small but real risk.
Asbestos is a popular building material in many parts of Asia and given that it only takes a few fibres to cause a fatal cancer, tourists may unknowingly be facing a health risk.
The longer and higher the level of exposure, the greater the dose. This explains why asbestos workers are at higher risk of developing disease. But others get it too and some are totally disbelieving when they get the diagnosis because they can’t recall ever being exposed.
Although asbestos may be locked into insulation, floor tiles and coating, walls and roofing material, as buildings decay fibres can be freed.
These fibres can be 1000 times thinner than a human hair and can be inhaled without detection.
Some travel blogs suggest opting for new hotels and avoiding construction or renovation sites where fibres may be in the air, the soil or on nearby surfaces.
Professor Ken Takahashi, director of the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI) says the travel risks have not previously been considered by researchers.
“But in the case of travel, one can assume that the exposure level is low and the duration of exposure is short. Therefore, the risk would be small,” he says.
“A practical recommendation would thus be to avoid going near places where asbestos may be obviously present, the most typical of which is asbestos factories or mines.
“Of course, presence of asbestos is not always obvious, such as in the case of exposure to buildings containing asbestos or exposure to asbestos-containing products.
“It then becomes a matter of practicality whether one should avoid travel in view of the small risk.
He strongly believes Australia has a responsibility to raise awareness of asbestos in Asia, provide education on protection against it and hopefully, help to get rid of it completely “for the sake of workers and residents of the country itself, much more than for the sake of travellers”.
He says more than 60 per cent of the world consumption of asbestos occurs in parts of Asia where commercial convenience and the need for development and housing outweigh public health concerns.
Causing persistent damage
While Japan and South Korea have banned it, China, India, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are among the top 10 consumers in the world.
The small country of Laos has the highest per capita consumption of asbestos on the planet.
For almost 50 years, it has been known that inhaled asbestos fibres can cause cancer of the lungs or can pass through the lungs into a cell layer that surrounds all internal organs.
This layer is called the called the mesothelium and where malignant mesothelioma forms.
While the asbestos itself is chemically harmless, its long-pointed fibres lodge in the body and cause a series of micro-injuries.
As the body is unable to clear these fibres, they remain stuck and cause persistent damage to the tissue.
About 30 years ago, scientists observed that a single dose of asbestos fibres damages the mesothelium tissue.
Asbestos can also cause asbestosis, a non-malignant disease that results in irreversible lung damage, difficulty breathing, a cough and, in severe cases, an enlarged heart.
Australia should ‘share knowledge’
Professor Takahashi says Australia is the only country in the world that has a dedicated federal agency to deal with the legacy of the asbestos industry.
In other countries, if it is managed at all, it is done so within health, labour or environmental ministries.
“Australia should be taking a lead in the global effort to ban asbestos in developing countries that continue to use it at a very high level because it is cheap, widely available and has many advantageous characteristics.”
He says Australia should share its knowledge and technology about substitutes for asbestos within the Asian neighbourhood.
“These countries are hesitant to make the transition because they prioritise economy over health and added to that is the fact that there are many pro-asbestos lobbies trying to maintain the global trade.
“And there is corruption among officials of ministries of developing countries, so they are not fully motivated to make the transition.
“I believe Australia should assist these counties in developing their own expertise to detect the disease and also develop systems so that workers and consumers are not exposed to asbestos while they are using it.
“Until these countries stop the manufacture and export of products containing asbestos, Australia will have to deal with illegal imports for a long time.”
Professor Takahashi says this as the epidemic of asbestos-related disease in Australia has begun peaking.
Although Australia implemented a complete asbestos ban in 2003, classic asbestos cancer – mesothelioma – can take up to 40 years to develop, which means new cases will continue to occur and people will be dying from it for many years to come.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Australia had the world’s highest per capita rate of asbestos consumption. Today it has among the highest rates of mesothelioma.
In 2016, about 700 people – the great majority male – were newly diagnosed with this fatal disease.
Apart from those involved in mining or manufacturing asbestos, many more people have been affected because vast numbers of houses built before 1990 had materials containing asbestos.
Tradesmen, such as plumbers and electricians, working in such residential properties had a high degree of occupational exposure.
Mesothelioma has been characterised by nihilism in the past but an international research effort is making some inroads into the disease.
Severe Tropical Storm Pakhar casus flight chaos at Hong Kong International Airport
The 2nd major storm to hit Hong Kong within a week leads to 206 flight cancellations and 471 delays
Forty-two landing attempts were aborted at Hong Kong International Airport between 7am and 7.30pm on Sunday as winds whipped up by Severe Tropical Storm Pakhar made conditions unsafe.
A review by the Post of data from Flightradar24, which tracks commercial flight movements, found some aircraft tried two or even three times to make a safe touchdown, as crosswinds and wind shear, which exerts a turning force on aircraft, wreaked havoc on operations.
Some pilots eventually opted to divert to other airports, with Xiamen, Kaoshiung, Haikou, Manila and Bangkok taking a large chunk of flights.
Diverted aircraft included Cathay Pacific flight 238 from London, which made no fewer than three failed attempts at landing before being diverted to Kaoshiung. Another flight, CX616 from Bangkok, made one failed attempt to touch down before flying back to the Thai capital.
A Hong Kong finance worker who asked not to be named said his flight to Singapore was supposed to depart at 11.15am on Sunday, but had been delayed twice.
On Twitter, affected fliers complained of delays, with one hitting out at Hong Kong’s flagship airline Cathay for bumping him to a flight on Tuesday.
Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said 44 flights had been diverted to other destinations.
A total of 206 flights were cancelled and 471 delayed due to the storm, with 50 planes left stuck on the tarmac at one point in the day as the city was pummelled by its second severe storm in a week.
The Hong Kong Observatory issued a T8 warning on Sunday morning as Pakhar lashed the city with heavy rain, but downgraded that signal to T3 at 1.40pm and T1 at 5.40pm.
Both of the airport’s runways were set to operate overnight instead of the usual one, to cope with a backlog of flights.
At noon on Sunday, all airlines closed their check-in services until 2pm.
Earlier in the week, more than 450 flights were cancelled due to Typhoon Hato, which hit the city on Wednesday and caused major damage.
The typhoon left 10 people dead in nearby Macau and at least 244 people injured.
On Sunday, as Pakhar lashed the city, an authority spokesman advised travellers to check the status of their flight before coming to the airport.
“Operations are quite severely affected,” he said.
The spokesman said flights were still coming and going from the airport on Sunday afternoon, but a flight attendant on a Delta plane waiting to take off said no planes were taking off or landing, according to a Post reporter on board an affected flight.
The pilot for flight DL38 to Seattle said that at one point 20 planes were stuck on the runway waiting for safer conditions, while another 30 were waiting to push off from the terminal.
He estimated that take-off could be a few hours away at the very least.
Now we are just stuck on the flight like sitting ducks
MARK STRANSON, BUSINESS TRAVELLER
Flights heading southeast of Hong Kong were largely cancelled, while planes to Thailand, Japan and the United States boarded their passengers, the pilot said.
Mark Stranson, aboard DL38 after visiting Hong Kong on business, said he was pleased with the decision not to fly.
“I’d prefer that they delayed us before boarding because now we are just stuck on the flight like sitting ducks, but I’m glad they’re not trying to fly in this weather.”
But Cheri Cheung Wing-lam, a Georgetown University student, expressed concern she would miss her connecting flight.
“I cannot believe we have to sit here for so long, they shouldn’t have boarded us if they were going to keep us waiting. I’m thankful they’re not risking anything and that they provided refreshments, but I cannot imagine sitting here for hours.”
It is worth highlighting a suggestion posted on Facebook by Paul TrueschlerIn know it’s a tourist attraction, but please install a small deflector to at least reduce the blast effects. It can still be exciting while becoming safer.
Hope the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Maarten Airport Authorities instal a small deflector, to reduce the risk of injury and death of future visitors.
PHUKET – An Australian tourist fell to his death when the coupling on the chute apparently failed while he was parasailing at Kata beach.
An Australian man falls to his death when the coupling on the chute apparently failed while he was parasailing at Kata beach, Phuket on Wednesday. (Photo grabbed from a clip by his Thai wife Budsabong Thongsangka)
The tragedy occurred around noon in full view of his Thai wife, Budsabong Thongsangka, who was videoing the flight.
Roger John Hussey, 71, rose high into the air and then fell free, tumbling to the sea, shortly after the tow boat took off from the shore.
One of the beach crew was seen being pulled up into the air with him while still adjusting the coupling, and then climbing up into the shrouds, before Hussey fell free.
Volunteers at the beach rushed to bring him to shore. He developed breathing problems and was later pronounced dead, said Pol Lt Suwisit Khirirak, a duty-officer at Karon police station. The accident was not reported to police until about 3pm.
Police pressed charges against boat operator and driver Monthian Jandaeng of reckless driving causing the death of the tourist. Another member of the crew, identified as Runroj Rakcheep, was being interrogated.
The couple had been holidaying in Chiang Mai before visiting Phuket. They were scheduled to return to Australia on Friday.
University researchers warn that the virus now seems to be able to sustain itself outside marsupials.
Australia’s Ross River virus has the potential to become a global epidemic, similar to the Zika virus, researchers say.
It was previously thought that the mosquito-borne virus could only sustain itself among marsupials, which kept the disease endemic to Australia and Papua New Guinea.
But research fellow at the University of Adelaide Professor Philip Weinstein said he and his partners at the Australian National University (ANU) found the disease silently planting roots in the South Pacific.
“It’s really only in the last few years [it became apparent] when tourists returning to their home countries … were diagnosed with Ross River virus after travelling in the Pacific,” Professor Weinstein said.
“They’d never been to Australia or New Guinea. That’s when the little alarm bells started ringing that this was perhaps circulating outside Australia.”
Professor Weinstein said the new finding meant that even though there were no marsupials in the Pacific Islands, the virus was seemingly able to maintain itself there anyway.
He warned that if the virus could sustain itself in areas where there were no marsupials, “then it could sustain itself anywhere in the world”.
“That certainly means that it could be another global outbreak like Zika or Chikungunya a few years before that, another mosquito-borne virus that suddenly went global,” he said.
Professor Weinstein said all it could take was a “perfect storm” of a tourist carrying the virus, a set of animals who could harbour the virus, and the right conditions for mosquitos to bite those animals for an epidemic to take off.
In fact, he said, it was possible that was already happening.
“This has probably been chugging along quietly on different Pacific islands for a number of years, but because the symptoms are so general it’s not been identified as a Ross River Virus problem,” Professor Weinstein said.
In January alone 1,174 people were infected nationwide in Australia.
New South Wales Health authorities renew warnings for residents and holiday makers in the state’s Riverina region to protect themselves against mosquitoes after a fivefold increase in the number of Ross River virus infections compared to the average in previous years.
NSW Public Health Director Tracey Oakman said there were 34 cases of the virus in the Murrumbidgee Local Health District in December, five times the average for this time of year.
“The highest number of notifications have been in the 45- to 65-year-old age group and then the next age group most commonly notified is the 25- to 44-year-old age group,” she said.
The city of Griffith has been flagged as a hotspot for the virus, with seven cases reported in the region last month.
Ms Oakman also said a number of holiday makers in the Riverina who contracted the disease were unlikely to have been picked up in the latest figures.
“If we’ve got holiday makers that have been bitten and gone home, they’ll be recorded as having the virus from the postcode that they’re living in,” she said.
Ms Oakman said the numbers were concerning and she urged people to be vigilant, use quality mosquito repellents and wear long clothing.
How is the virus spread?
Ross River virus is spread among humans by the bite of certain types of infected female mosquitoes, which generally pick up the virus when feeding on the blood of infected animals.
Outbreaks can occur when local conditions of rainfall, tides and temperature promote mosquito breeding.
Tips to beat bites
Wear long, loose-fitting clothing
Use effective mosquito repellents containing DEET or picaridin
Control mosquitos with sprays or vaporising devices for inside use, including caravans
Install fly screens
Make sure mosquitos can’t breed by removing stagnant water every week
Empty children’s wading pools when not being used
Limit outdoor activity at dusk and dawn
Source: Department of Health
Ms Oakman said mosquito numbers had flourished after months of wet weather.
“That’s really concerning because we don’t normally see such a high level of Ross River virus in December.
“We normally get higher cases in February, March and April, the tail end of summer.
“Seeing them this early is a real concern,” she said.
Ms Oakman warned that wet conditions were likely to lead to even more people contracting the virus across the region in the coming months. She called on people who became infected to visit the doctor.
“The symptoms … joint aches and pains, headaches, fever, a chill and sometimes a rash,” she said.
“Sometimes the symptoms persist for weeks and even months.
“It’s quite a miserable time for someone who contracts it.”
American Travelers are Taking Terror Risk into account in Vacation Planning
Allianz Travel Insurance Vacation Confidence Index Reveals almost a Quarter of Americans Will Cancel, Delay, Relocate, Change or Reconsider Travel Plans Before Taking a Vacation
RICHMOND, VA, 7.25.2016 — The majority of Americans (86 percent) are concerned about terrorist attacks occurring while on vacation in various regions of the world in the future, prompting many to make major changes to their travel plans, according to the annual Vacation Confidence Index released by Allianz Global Assistance.
The region Americans are most concerned will be the site of an attack is the Middle East (75 percent), followed by Europe (66 per cent) and Africa (63 percent).
With recent attacks in Istanbul, Israel, Paris, Brussels, and Nice, almost a quarter of Americans (22 percent) say that the fear of further violence has influenced their vacation planning in some way; whether that be cancelling (6 percent); changing locations (5 percent), travel dates (4 percent), mode of transportation (4 percent), local tours (4 percent) or accommodations (3 percent); or by purchasing travel insurance (3 percent).
As Americans age, the fear of terror attacks happening while traveling to different regions of the world increases significantly. That trend, however, is reversed for travel within the U.S. and Canada, where millennials aged 18 to 34 have the greatest fear of an attack happening on home soil (57 percent) compared to generation X (51 percent) and baby boomers (48 percent).
Those Americans influenced by an act of terrorism are more likely to be traveling within the U.S. or Canada (50 percent), likely due to the higher number of domestic vs. international vacations planned. Internationally, Americans who have changed their plans were most likely to be visiting Europe (42 percent), followed by Asia (29 percent), Latin America (26 percent), Australia and the South Pacific (26 percent), the Middle East (22 percent) or Africa (21 percent).
An analysis of flight bookings showed a 10 percent overall increase in travel to Europe during the summer, despite recent acts of terror in Brussels, Istanbul and France. While these targeted destinations saw a significant decrease or virtually no change in U.S. travelers visiting during the upcoming summer, Europe as a whole recorded an overall increase to 515,676 travelers in 2016 compared to 471,823 in 2015.
“What we’re seeing is that the American traveler is a complex demographic that shares common fears and concerns, but deviate greatly on where they find those fears and how they face them,” said Daniel Durazo, director of communications at Allianz Global Assistance USA. “But we’re pleased to see that whatever those differences are, one thing that remains consistent is that they are finding ways to follow their passion of seeing the world despite the challenges that come with traveling in a time of terror.”
Methodology: These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of Allianz from May 3 to 10, 2016. For the survey, a sample of n=2,007 Americans were interviewed online via Ipsos’s American online panel. The precision of Ipsos online surveys is measured using a Bayesian credibility interval. In this case, with a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate to within ± 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had all Americans been polled. The margin of error will be larger within sub-groupings of the survey population.