The U.S. Department of State and the Government of Canada have issued travel alerts warning their citizens to “exercise a high degree of caution” when attending the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, from February 7 to March 16, 2014.
The official alerts also urge visitors to “remain attentive regarding their personal security at all times,” and strongly recommend that all citizens consider purchasing private travel health and/or trip cancellation/interruption insurance.
Travel alerts issued by Canadian and US government agencies are defined at four levels: exercise normal security precautions (for countries and regions at lowest risk); exercise a high degree of caution; avoid non-essential travel; avoid all travel (for countries or regions at highest risk). In addition, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD, formerly known as DFAIT—the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) advises against all travel to the republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan; as well as the republics of Karachai-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria (including the Mount Elbrus region), and North Ossetia Budyonnosky, Levokumsky, Neftekumsky, Stepnovsky, and Kurski districts, in the region of Stavropol Krai.
“If you are currently in one of these areas, you should leave,” says DFATD. “The ability of the embassy of Canada in Moscow to provide assistance is severely limited or non-existent.
“In the event of a crisis situation that requires evacuation, the Government of Canada’s policy is to provide safe transportation to the closest safe location. The Government of Canada will assist you in leaving a country or a region as a last resort, when all means of commercial or personal transportation have been exhausted. This service is provided on a cost-recovery basis.”
DFATD also emphasizes that terrorist incidents have occurred most frequently in the North Caucasus and in Moscow, but may happen throughout Russia. “Exercise caution in public places, particularly on public transport (including subways, railways, airports and buses), and during large gatherings and events.”
US and Canadian authorities also warn their citizens to stay clear of any demonstrations, rallies, and protests that may occur in Russia during the Olympics. Such events can lead to significant disruptions in traffic and public transportation.
DFATD warns that, “Since January 7, 2014, demonstrations, assemblies, rallies, marches and picketing not associated with the Olympic and Paralympic Games in and around Sochi must be held in places or along routes approved by the Interior Ministry. This order will be in effect until March 21, 2014. This includes the nearby venues of Adler and Krasnaya Polyana.”
The U.S. Department of State has also warned that “large-scale public events such as the Olympics present an attractive target for terrorists and Russian authorities have indicated that they are taking appropriate security measures in Sochi in light of this.”
US and Canadian government warnings have also extended to potential demonstrations by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender groups. DFATD warns that, “Although homosexual activity is not illegal in Russia, a federal law has been passed that prohibits public actions that are described as promoting homosexuality and ‘non-traditional sexual relations’. This law could render any homosexual and pro-homosexual statements punishable. Public actions (including dissemination of information, statements, displays or conspicuous behaviour) that contravene or appear to contravene this law may lead to arrest, the imposition of a fine and deportation.”
Official government warnings about travel in high-risk areas are a serious issue and should be discussed with insurers as not all conform to the same rules. Generally, if your government has issued a formal warning to avoid non-essential travel or avoid all travel to certain destination countries or regions within those countries prior to either the effective date or the purchase date of your coverage, they may not cover any losses incurred in that area. However, if the government advisory is issued after you have purchased your trip or the effective date of your coverage, you may be warned by your insurer to leave the area as quickly as possible.