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Andorra

General
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This small country is situated between France and Spain. Because of its elevation and proximity to the Pyrenees the climate is generally pleasant throughout the year.
Climate
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During the summer months the temperatures can rise to 30c but there is usually a cooling breeze. Lightening storms can occur during the summer months associated with torrential rain.
Sun Exposure and Dehydration
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Those from Northern Europe can develop significant sun exposure and so remember to use a wide brimmed hat when necessary. The altitude can also lead to significant tiredness and dehydration so take sufficient initial rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Safety & Security
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The level of crime throughout the country directed at tourists is very low. Nevertheless take care of your personal belongings at all times and use hotel safety boxes where possible.
Local Customs
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There are strict laws regarding the use of illegal drugs. Make sure you have sufficient supplies of any medication you required for your trip and that it is clearly marked. The European E111 form is not accepted in Andorra and so it is essential that you have sufficient travel insurance for your trip.
Winter Sports
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Andorra is one of the regions where many travel to partake of their winter sport facilities. Generally this is well controlled and one of the safer regions. Nevertheless, make certain your travel insurance is adequate for the activities you are planning to undertake.
Vaccination
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The only standard vaccine to consider for Andorra would be tetanus in line with many other developed countries of the world.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2018 15:24:06 +0200

Andorra la Vella, Andorra, July 12, 2018 (AFP) - The tax haven of Andorra has long been a favourite destination for smokers looking to stock up on cheap cigarettes, but the enclave said Thursday that it would soon stop advertising the fact.   The government said it had signed up to the World Health Organization's (WHO) anti-tobacco convention, which aims to encourage people to quit smoking and combat contraband sales.   "The goal is to contribute to public health and pursue the fight against trafficking," government spokesman Jordi Cinca said at a press conference.

The tiny principality of Andorra, perched in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain, attracts millions of shoppers each year to duty-free stores, where prices of alcohol, cigarettes, electronics and clothes can be up to 20 percent cheaper than elsewhere in the EU.   High taxes on tobacco imposed by many countries to help people kick smoking make Andorra's cigarettes a particularly good deal.   The average pack costs just three euros ($3.50) compared with eight euros in France, which has said it will gradually raise the price to 10 euros a pack by November 2020.

Tobacco sales bring in some 110 million euros a year for Andorra, whose economy is otherwise based almost entirely on tourism.   It is also an enticing destination for smugglers, with French and Spanish border agents regularly seizing cartons from people trying to sneak them out, either by car or by hiking down the mountain trails which criss-cross the Pyrenees.   No date has been set for the advertising ban, which will come into effect three months after the ratification of the WHO accord is voted by parliament.
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2018 02:41:51 +0100

Andorra la Vella, Andorra, March 16, 2018 (AFP) - The tiny principality of Andorra is witnessing a once in a generation phenomenon -- a widespread strike.   Around a third of civil servants across the mountainous micro-state have walked out to protest proposed reforms to their sector in what has been described as Andorra's first large-scale strike since 1933.

With no negotiation breakthrough in sight, picket lines are expected to be manned again on Friday with customs officers, police, teachers and prison staff among those taking part.   The first major strike in 85 years was sparked by plans from the government of Antoni Marti to reform civil servant contracts.   He has assured officials "will not do an hour more" work under the reforms and that 49 million euros would be allocated for the next 25 years to supplement civil servant salaries.   But government workers are unconvinced with unions warning the reforms could risk their 35 hour working week and pay.

Customs officers involved in the strike interrupted traffic on the Andorran-Spanish border this week, according to unions, while some 80 percent of teachers have walked out of classes.   Strikers have occupied the government's main administrative building and held noisy protests outside parliament calling for Marti's resignation.    "We have started collecting signatures to demand the resignation of the head of government and now nobody will stop us," Gabriel Ubach, spokesman for the public service union, told reporters.
Date: Mon 27 Sep 2017
Source: Contagion Live [edited]

A recent Dispatch article published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, offers insight into a large norovirus outbreak that sprung up in Spain in 2016 that had been linked with bottled spring water. The Public Health Agency of Catalonia (ASPCAT) reported a staggering 4136 cases of gastroenteritis from 11-25 Apr 2016. Of the 4136 cases, 6 individuals required hospitalization. The CDC defines a "case-patient" as an "exposed person who had vomiting or diarrhoea (3 or more loose stools within 24 hours)," as well as 2 or more of the following symptoms: nausea, stomach pain, or fever.

ASPCAT investigators traced back the outbreak to contaminated bottled spring water in office water coolers. The water came from a source in Andorra, a small independent principality located between Spain and France. Norovirus is a "very contagious virus," according to the CDC, and it is common for individuals to become infected by eating contaminated food. Although it is possible to be infected by consuming contaminated drinking water, this mode of transmission is "rare in developed countries," according to the article.

The investigators collected water samples from a total of 4 19-L water coolers in 2 different offices located in Barcelona, "from which affected persons had drunk; samples 1 and 2 came from 2 water coolers in one office, while samples 3 and 4 came from 2 water coolers in another office. Using "positively charged glass wool and polyethylene glycol precipitation for virus concentration," the investigators tested the samples.

"We detected high RNA levels for norovirus genotype I and II, around 103 and 104 genome copies/L, in 2 of the 4 water cooler samples concentrated by glass wool filtration and polyethylene glycol precipitation," according to the article. The investigators noted that a drawback of using molecular methods is that they are not able to differentiate between particles that are infectious and those that are not. Therefore, they "predicted the infectivity of norovirus in the concentrated samples by treating the samples with the nucleic acid intercalating dye PMA propidium monoazide and Triton X surfactant before RT-qPCR," which allowed them to "distinguish between virions with intact and altered capsids."

In those 2 water samples, they found high genome copy values -- 49 and 327 genome copies/L for norovirus genotype I and 33 and 660 genomes copies/L for norovirus genotype II. This was not an unexpected finding, due to the large number of infected individuals associated with the outbreak. Through "PMA/Triton treatment before RT-qPCR assays," the investigators found that the proportion of infected virions accounted for 0.3% to 5.6% of the total number of physical particles in the water samples, "which was enough to cause gastrointestinal illness."

The investigators also analyzed faecal samples collected from infected individuals who worked at the office in which the 1st 2 water samples were collected. They detected the following genotypes in those faecal samples: GI.2 and GII.17. In the faecal samples collected from the other office, they isolated the following genotypes: GII.4/Sydney/2012, GI.2, GII.17, and GII.2.

"We hypothesize that the spring water was contaminated by all 4 strains (GI.2, GII.2, GII.4, and GII.17) but levels of viral contamination for each genotype were not homogeneous in all bottled coolers," the investigators wrote. "We may have detected only the GII.4 genotype in water samples 1 and 2 because of a higher concentration of this specific genotype or because of bias caused by the sampling, concentration, and molecular detection procedures."

The investigators admit one limitation to their study: the small number of water samples collected and analyzed. They attribute this to the fact that on 15 Apr 2016, 4 days after the onset of the outbreak, the company that produced the drinking water recalled over 6150 containers of water "of suspected quality" as a precautionary measure. The recall prevented the investigators from collecting more samples to assess, according to the article.

Although the exact cause of the contamination has not yet been identified, the investigators posit that "the high number of affected persons from 381 offices that received water coolers, and the many different genotypes found in some patients' faecal specimens" suggest that the spring aquifer had been contaminated by "sewage pollution," and the Andorra Ministry of Health and Welfare banned further use of the spring.

The investigators suggest that assessing commercially-produced mineral waters for different harmful pathogens, such as norovirus would be beneficial. They note, however, that creating, enhancing, and managing such "virus surveillance systems" would be costly. Thus, the investigators suggest taking a "balanced approach to keep both the cost and the time required for the analyses within feasibility limits."  [Byline: Kristi Rosa]
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[The interesting article published in the September 2017 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases is:
Blanco A, Guix S, Fuster N, et al: Norovirus in bottled water associated with gastroenteritis outbreak, Spain, 2016. Emerg Infect Dis. 2017; 23(9): 1531-34; https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/23/9/16-1489_article. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[Catalonia and Andorra can be located on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at http://healthmap.org/promed/p/1341. - ProMED Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2013 22:25:05 +0100 (MET)

ANDORRA LA VELLA, Andorra, Dec 26, 2013 (AFP) - A Spanish skier and a French snowboarder have died in avalanches in different mountain ranges in Europe, officials said Thursday.

The 27-year-old skier, a woman from Barcelona, died Wednesday while going off-piste alone in the Soldeu resort in Andorra, in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, a resort manager told AFP.   Although she was rescued within 10 minutes, after her glove was spotted on the surface, she was unable to be revived despite a helicopter dash to hospital.

In the Italian Alps, close to the border with France, a 24-year-old Frenchman who was snowboarding with three friends on a closed run died Thursday when an avalanche swept over him in the resort town of Les Arnauds.   Local officials said he succumbed to multiple injuries, asphyxia and hypothermia.

Avalanches are common in Europe's ski resorts at this time of year, when early snows are heavy with moisture, and several deaths occur each winter.   Last Sunday, a 35-year-old Frenchman died in an avalanche in the Alps near the Italian border while on a three-day trek with a friend.
Date: Fri 7 Feb 2003 From: Jaime R. Torres Source: EFE Salud, Thu 6 Feb 2003 (translated by Maria Jacobs) [edited] -------------------------------------------------- Close to 300 students in one school and 173 tourists staying in 7 hotels in the Principality of Andorra have been affected by outbreaks of gastroenteritis that, according to local authorities, are not related to each other. Monica Codina, Minister of Health, stated that the outbreak that has affected almost 300 children and 8 adults in the San Ermengol school was detected last Monday [3 Feb 2003] but that it may have started Wednesday or Thursday of the previous week. The epidemiological surveys of a group of pre-school and grammar school students that may also be affected have not been performed yet. Also pending are the results of the microbiological tests of the food and water served in the school dining room, but the minister has indicated that the probable cause of the outbreak is the fact that water pitchers were filled with hoses directly from the faucet. The Minister stated that this outbreak of gastroenteritis is not related to the one that affected 173 tourists, most of them young people on holiday, who where staying in 7 hotels of the Principality. The government is also investigating the cause of this outbreak and has indicated that an anomaly in the system that supplies water to the hotels was detected, requiring a process of chlorination, which has not been carried out due to the heavy snowfall of the past few days. * * * * * * * * * * [The suspicion that defective water supplies may be responsible for all of these independent outbreaks suggests that the etiologic agent may be an enterovirus, hepatitis A virus, or non-viral, rather than one of the noroviruses associated with sudden-onset viral gastroenteritis. Information on the outcome of diagnostic tests in progress would be welcomed. - ProMed Mod.CP]
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Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo. However, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the
site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Benin for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-232-6656.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach alone at any time of day. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport (see Crime section). They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.
The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Street robbery is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not bring valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking incidents after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked. Stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.
Travelers should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:

Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your "discretion" or "confidentiality";

Any deal that seems too good to be true;
Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by "a reliable contact";
Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
Any offer of a charitable donation.
These scams, which may appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, International Financial Scams.

Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be "rescued." If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.
With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.benintourisme.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Benin dated August 17th, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 10 May 2019 19:38:30 +0200
By Hazel WARD and Daphne BENOIT

Paris, May 10, 2019 (AFP) - French special forces have freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight raid in which two soldiers died, authorities announced Friday.   The operation was launched to free two French tourists who had disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Benin on May 1.

But during the raid, the French troops were surprised to discover two women also in captivity, with top officials saying they had been held for 28 days.    The French tourists were identified as Patrick Picque, 51, and Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, but the women's identities were not immediately clear.     "No one was aware of (the women's) presence," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters, while French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said.   "We know little about these other two hostages," Parly told reporters, saying that even Seoul and Washington did not appear to be aware the pair were in increasingly unstable Burkina Faso.    The raid was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron in what was seen as the last opportunity to stop the hostages being transferred to lawless territory in Mali to the north.

Parly said it was "too early to say" who had snatched the two French nationals from Benin, which has long been an island of stability in a region where Islamist militants are increasingly active.   "The message to terrorists and criminal gangs is clear: those who attack France and its nationals know that we will not spare any effort to track them down, find them and neutralise them," she said.   Four of the six kidnappers were killed in the raid.    French forces, helped by intelligence provided by the United States, had been tracking the kidnappers for several days as they travelled across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso from Benin to Mali.   They seized the opportunity to prevent "the transfer of the hostages to another terrorist organisation in Mali," Lecointre said, referring to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM).   The FLM is a jihadist group formed in 2015 and headed by a radical Malian preacher, Amadou Koufa. It is aligned with Al-Qaeda in the region.

- US intelligence support -
In a statement, Macron congratulated the special forces on the operation, in which he also expressed sorrow over the death of the two soldiers "who gave their lives to save those of our citizens".   And Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the "complex operation", as well as the United States which provided intelligence and support.

The operation was also made possible by the presence of France's Operation Barkhane, which counts some 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces battle jihadist groups.   American special forces and drones are also known to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as jihadist groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria.   Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

- Relief and sadness -
The French tourists -- Patrick Picque who works in a Paris jewellery shop, and Laurent Lassimouillas a piano teacher, -- went missing with their guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin.   The Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is famed for its elephants and lions, lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso.   The badly disfigured body of their guide was found shortly after they disappeared, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck.   The two freed men will be flown back to France on Saturday, alongside the South Korean woman, where they will be met on arrival by Macron and other top French officials.   Washington thanked the French forces for freeing the American hostage, with France saying she would likely be "repatriated independently" from the other three. 

The two dead French soldiers were named as Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, decorated naval special forces members born in 1986 and 1991 respectively.   They were part of the prestigious Hubert commando unit of the French naval special forces which was deployed to the Sahel at the end of March.   A total of 24 French soldiers have died in the region since 2013 when France intervened to drive back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali. The last death was on April 2.
Date: Tue 15 Jan 2019
Source: Punch [edited]

The Kwara state government has confirmed 2 cases of Lassa fever infecting a husband and wife in the state.

Speaking with newsmen on Tuesday [15 Jan 2019] at a news briefing, the Kwara commissioner for health, Alhaji Usman Rifun-Kolo, said the outbreak of Lassa fever was identified in a farm settlement in Taberu, Baruten local government area.

He explained that the 2 cases of the disease affected a husband and wife, natives of Benin republic, which shares a border with the state. He added that the husband and wife are farming in Baruten. "These cases of Lassa fever originated from Benin republic, whose citizen have interrelations with people in the Baruten area," he said.

According to him, the husband and wife were diagnosed in a health facility, and the state government had already deployed a disease-surveillance team to identify those who have been in contact with the patients.

Rifun-Kolo further explained that the surveillance team identified 4 people with a history of fever in the area. He said that the 4 cases raised suspicion of Lassa fever, which prompted them to take samples from the individuals for further investigation. He noted that the 4 individuals have commenced treatment in Taberu, Baruten LGA.
=====================
[The above report states that the couple was infected in Benin, although the timeline when that may have occurred is not given. The report also mentions 4 individuals in the Kwara state who had a history of Lassa fever, implying that the virus is present in that state in Nigeria as well. In December [2018], there were Lassa fever cases in Benin that were imported from Nigeria as well as infections that were locally acquired in Benin, so the Lassa fever cases cross the border in both directions. The source of the infecting virus for any of these cases is not mentioned. - ProMED Mod.TY

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Kwara state, Nigeria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/19690>]
Date: Wed 26 Dec 2018
Source: Quotidein Le Matinal [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]

Minister of health Benjamin Hounkpatin confirmed on Wednesday [26 Dec 2018] 4 new cases of Lassa haemorrhagic fever in Benin, including one in Cotonou. This occurred in the period from 15-26 Dec 2018.

In the case of Cotonou, a 28-year-old (has been infected). His case was detected on 24 Dec [2018], but his illness commenced the previous week. He had a fever, a cough, a cold, and fatigue. Due to the persistence of the cough and cold, and with the appearance of traces of blood in nasal discharge on 24 Dec 2018, the alert was given.

The patient was placed in isolation on [Tue 25 Dec 2018], and on the morning of Wed 26 Dec 2018, his result from the laboratory came back positive [for Lassa fever]. Subsequently, the patient was isolated and put on treatment.

According to the details provided by Hounkpatin, there is no indication of travel [by the patient] to an epidemic locality of Lassa fever. According to the patient's statements, there is no known contact with rodents.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, the minister reassured the public that public health measures are underway. He also reminded people of the behaviours that will help avoid becoming infected. This involves washing hands regularly with soap and water; avoiding contact with stool, sperm, urine, saliva, vomit, and contaminated objects from a person suspected to be ill or dead from Lassa; and protecting food and keeping it in a safe place, out of reach of rodents.

It should be recalled that 7 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the epidemic to date, including 5 positive cases.
=======================
[One case is located in Cotonou on the Benin coast and apparently was locally acquired, perhaps from contact with the rodent host or its excrement. The location of the other 3 cases is not mentioned, but a 13 Dec 2018 report indicated that there were 3 cases in the municipality of Parakou in Borgou Department, in the northern part of Benin. Perhaps these 3 cases, which came from the village Taberou (in Nigeria), located 5 km [3.1 mi] from Tandou in the commune of Tchaourou, are the ones mentioned in this report.

The previous Lassa fever cases in Benin this year [2018] occurred in January and also involved case importation from Nigeria. A previous WHO report stated that Lassa fever is endemic in bordering Nigeria, and, given the frequent population movements between Nigeria and Benin, the occurrence of additional cases is not unexpected. Strengthening of cross-border collaboration and information exchange between the 2 countries is, therefore, needed. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
For _Mastomys natalensis_, see
For _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_, see

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2018 13:37:32 +0200

Cotonou, June 29, 2018 (AFP) - Benin's Constitutional Court has banned the right to strike by workers in the country's defence, security, justice and health sectors, sparking concern among union officials and legal observers.   The ruling, issued late on Thursday, came after months of wrangling between the government and the court, which had previously said the measure was unconstitutional.

"Civil servants, public security forces and equivalents should fulfil their duties in all circumstances and not exercise their right to strike," the court said in its new ruling.   "There should be no disruption to the duties of public sector defence, security, justice and health workers."   The decision was taken "in the public interest" and for "the protection of citizens", it said.

Speaking on Friday, one senior union leader, who asked to remain anonymous, described the ruling as shocking and a "hammer blow".   And Benin legal affairs expert Albert Medagbe told AFP the decision was a "worrying sudden legal U-turn".   Earlier this month, a close ally of President Patrice Talon, Joseph Djogbenou, was elected to lead the Constitutional Court during a vote held behind closed doors.   Djogbenou is Talon's former personal lawyer and was previously  Benin's attorney general.

Until his arrival, the court had strained relations with Talon, and had criticised the government for misunderstanding and failing to respect the constitution.   The small West African nation was last year hit by a wave of public sector strikes, which brought the education, health and justice system to a near halt.   The industrial action was sparked by Talon's attempts to introduce free-market reforms.
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:31:52 +0100

Cotonou, Feb 21, 2018 (AFP) - Nine people appeared in a Benin court Wednesday on charges of selling fake drugs at the start of a landmark trial in a regional campaign against illicit medicines.   The suspects, who include executives from major pharmaceutical companies operating in the West African nation, were remanded in custody until March 6 on technical grounds.   They are accused of "the sale of falsified medicines, (and) display, possession with a view to selling, commercialisation or sale of falsified medical substances."   A tenth defendant, the head of the Directorate for Pharmacies, Medications and Diagnostic Evaluation (DPMED) under the control of the ministry of health, was not in court on the trial's opening day.   He is accused of failing to prevent the offences.

Benin launched the crackdown last year after mounting alarm about the scale of the trafficking of expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa.   Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product.   Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or -- in the case of antibiotics -- worsen the problem of microbial resistance.   According to an investigation by the Paris-based International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), West African markets are awash with fake drugs made in China and India.

In 2015, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor-quality antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   A 15-nation regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), last April announced an investigation into the fake drugs business.   A lawyer for the civilian plaintiffs told AFP that the trial in Benin was adjourned until March 6 at their request "in order to incorporate another case, of illegal pharmaceutical practice".
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Aruba

Aruba US Consular Information Sheet
April 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Aruba is an autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Tourist facilities are widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Aruba for addi
ional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All Americans traveling by air outside the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.
This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009.
Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other WHTI compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S.
Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.

Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted.
We expect cards will be available and mailed to applicants in spring 2008.
The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the Passport Card is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.
We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel.
American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.

In addition visitors to Aruba may be asked to show onward/return tickets, proof of sufficient funds and proof of lodging accommodations for their stay. Length of stay for U.S. citizens is granted for thirty days and may be extended to 180 days by the office of immigration.
For further information, travelers may contact the Royal Netherlands Embassy, 4200 Linnean Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone (202) 244-5300, or the Dutch Consulate in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Houston or Miami.
Visit the web site for the Embassy of the Netherlands at http://www.netherlands-embassy.org and the Aruban Department of Immigration at http://www.aruba.com/about/entryrequirements.php for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: There are no known extremist groups, areas of instability or organized crime on Aruba, although drug trafficking rings do operate on the island.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: The crime threat in Aruba is generally considered low although travelers should always take normal precautions when in unfamiliar surroundings.
There have been incidents of theft from hotel rooms and armed robberies have been known to occur. Valuables left unattended on beaches, in cars and in hotel lobbies are easy targets for theft.
Car theft, especially that of rental vehicles for joy riding and stripping, can occur. Vehicle leases or rentals may not be fully covered by local insurance when a vehicle is stolen or damaged.
Be sure you are sufficiently insured when renting vehicles and jet skis.

Parents of young travelers should be aware that the legal drinking age of 18 is not always rigorously enforced in Aruba, so extra parental supervision may be appropriate. Young female travelers in particular are urged to take the same precautions they would when going out in the United States, e.g. to travel in pairs or in groups if they choose frequenting Aruba’s nightclubs and bars, and if they opt to consume alcohol, to do so responsibly.

Anyone who is a victim of a crime should make a report to Aruban police as well as report it immediately to the nearest U.S. consular office.
Do not rely on hotel/restaurant/tour company management to make the report for you.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Please see our information for American Victims of Crime Overseas.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care is good in Aruba. There is one hospital, Dr. H.E. Oduber Hospital, whose medical standards can be compared with an average small hospital in the U.S. The hospital has three classes of services and patients are accommodated according to the level of their insurance (i.e. first class: one patient to a room, TV, better food; second class: two to three patients to a room, shared bathroom, etc; third class: 15 to 20 people in one hall). There is a small medical center in San Nicolas. The many drug stores, or “boticas” provide prescription and over the counter medicine. Emergency services are usually quick to respond.
There are no country-specific health concerns.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Aruba is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate for a particular location or circumstance.

Driving in Aruba is on the right-hand side of the road. Local laws require drivers and passengers to wear seat belts and motorcyclists to wear helmets. Children under 5 years of age should be in a child safety seat; older children should ride in the back seat. Right turns on red are prohibited in Aruba.

Aruba's main thoroughfare, L.G. Smith Boulevard, is well lit and most hotels and tourist attractions can be easily located.
There is a speed limit in Aruba and driving while intoxicated may result in the loss of a driver’s license and/or a fine.
However, these are not consistently enforced.
Drivers should be alert at all times for speeding cars, which have caused fatal accidents.
In the interior areas of the island, drivers should be alert for herds of goats or donkeys that may cross the roads unexpectedly.
Buses provide convenient and inexpensive service to and from many hotels and downtown shopping areas.
Taxis, while expensive, are safe and well regulated.
As there are no meters, passengers should verify the price before entering the taxi.
The emergency service telephone number is 911. Police and ambulance tend to respond quickly to emergency situations.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Also, travelers may wish to visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety in Aruba for information: http://www.aruba.com/pages/traffictips.htm.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Aruba’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Aruba’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: The time-share industry and other real estate investments are two of the fastest-growing tourist industries in Aruba. Time-share buyers are cautioned about contracts that do not have a "non-disturbance or perpetuity protective clause" incorporated in the purchase agreement.
Such a clause gives the time-share owner perpetuity of ownership should the facility be sold.
Americans have also sometimes complained that the time-share units are not adequately maintained, despite generally high annual maintenance fees.

Potential investors should be aware that failed land development schemes involving time-share investments could result in financial losses. Interested investors may wish to seek professional advice regarding investments involving land development projects. Real estate investment problems that reach local courts are rarely settled in favor of foreign investors.

An unusually competitive fee to rent jet skis or other water sports equipment could indicate that the dealer is unlicensed or uninsured. Visitors planning to rent jet skis or other water sports equipment should carefully review all liability and insurance forms presented to them before signing any contracts or agreements. The renter is often fully responsible for replacement costs and fees associated with any damages that occur during the rental period. Visitors may be required to pay these fees in full before being allowed to leave Aruba, and may be subject to civil or criminal penalties if they cannot or will not make payment.

Dutch law in principle does not permit dual nationality. However, there are several exceptions to the rule. For example, American citizens who are married to Dutch citizens are exempt from the requirement to abandon their American nationality when they apply to become a Dutch citizen by naturalization. For detailed information, contact the Embassy of the Netherlands in Washington, DC, or one of the Dutch consulates in the U.S.
Please see our information on customs regulations.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Aruba’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Aruba are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web pages.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Aruba are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Aruba. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Consulate General is located at J.B. Gorsiraweg 1, Willemstad, Curaçao, telephone number (599-9) 461-3066; fax (599-9) 461-6489; e-mail address: acscuracao@state.gov
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated January 3, 2008, to update Entry/Exit Requirements and Crime sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 20 Jun 2009 10:52:09 +0200 (METDST)

MADRID, June 20, 2009 (AFP) - A Spanish cruise ship was turned away from three Caribbean islands after swine flu cases emerged among the crew and the 800-odd passengers finally got off in Aruba, the tour operator said Saturday.   The "Ocean Dream" docked in Aruba late Friday after being denied entry in Grenada, Saint Lucia and Barbados, Pullmantur said. Three swine flu cases were reported among the crew but the passengers were unaffected.

On Thursday, 376 Venezuelan passengers were allowed to disembark on the island of Margarita, which belongs to Venezuela.   The ship's nine-day cruise through the Caribbean was hampered by the flu outbreak and the ship could not dock at three destinations on the itinerary.   The A(H1N1) virus has infected more than 44,000 people around the world, resulting in 180 deaths since late March, WHO figures show.
Date: Wed 14 Jan 2009
Source: Amigoe.com [Dutch, machine trans., edited]

Department of Health has called an urgent press conference on Tuesday [13 Jan 2009] to issue a dengue update. The department has done this following the hundreds of calls that have come into Health, after media reports of a 53-year-old woman who died of dengue [virus infection].

According to Trevor Gellecum, Director of Health, it is still not clear that this woman indeed died of dengue. "First, certain tests can be carried out, and it will be 3 weeks before the results could be known," says Van Gellecum. "These tests should be carried out in a laboratory abroad."

According to Wilmer Salazar, microbiologist at Health, the woman had a fever at the weekend, but on Monday [12 Jan 2009] she felt better and she went to work. "Later that day, she was admitted to the hospital in shock. At night she died, "said Salazar. "Until now, there is no confirmed diagnosis of the cause of death, but dengue is suspected. Today [14 Jan 2009], an autopsy was performed so that the tests to be done abroad can take place."

Maribel Tromp, manager at the department of epidemiology and research of the Infectious Disease Service, has indicated that so far 612 suspected cases of dengue have been registered. "Of these, 218 cases [have been] confirmed as positive by the laboratory, and 394 are still under investigation, reports Tromp. "This does not mean that they are negative" [The dates over which these cases occurred are not specified. - ProMed Mod.TY].

 From the moment the news of a potentially fatal dengue victim arose lately, Charline Koolma, director of the Yellow Fever Fight Unit (GKMB), indicated that they have been overwhelmed with calls from people reporting family members possibly with dengue-like symptoms or who want information about the disease. "It is good that we now receive phone calls, although it also had previously been possible. These kinds of extreme cases can be avoided," according Koolman.

"From November last year [2008], the GKMB made several visits to monitor presence of [the dengue virus vector mosquito _Aedes_] breeding sites and adult mosquitoes. Often, the residents are not home, and then a letter was left with an invitation to make contact with the GKMB for the transmission of important information. But there is never a return call until something bad happens, and then it is often too late."

The more information and reports the GKMB gets, the better the service and their work, said Tromp. Finally, all speakers [at the press conference] called on the population and general practitioners to join forces against breeding of the _Aedes_ dengue vector mosquito. Health officials indicated that is the only way to avoid [virus] infection and prevent dengue.
------------------------
[A map showing the location of Aruba in the Caribbean can be accessed at <http://www.aruba-travelguide.com/map/index.html>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Sun, 2 Sep 2007 19:04:55 +0200 (METDST) MIAMI, Sept 2, 2007 (AFP) - Hurricane Felix barreled through the Caribban Sunday, with forecasters predicting a brush with Aruba and warning of its potential to strengthen into a devastating storm. Forecasters issued a tropical storm warning and hurricane watch for the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao -- popular tourist destinations in the Netherlands Antilles. A tropical storm watch also has been issued for Jamaica, which was gearing up for violence-marred elections Monday, after Felix was upgraded overnight to Category Two strength on the Saffir-Sampson scale, which peaks at five. At around 1500 GMT Felix's maximum sustained winds were 105 miles (165 kilometers) per hour, and its trek across the open waters of the Caribbean could allow it to attain "major hurricane" status, US forecasters said. "I see no reason why Felix will not become a major hurricane within 12 hours or so," said Richard Pasch, a hurricane specialist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. On Saturday, a weaker Felix passed close to Grenada, reportedly ripping roofs, downing power lines and knocking radio and TV stations off the air. No injuries were reported. The center of the hurricane around 1600 GMT Sunday was about 50 miles (75 kilometers) north of Aruba and about 550 miles (900 kilometers) southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. Felix was moving in a west-northwesterly direction at around 18 miles (30 kilometers) per hour, and was expected to follow the same course throughout Sunday. The storm was not expected to hit Jamaica directly, but its strong outer squalls could rock the island ahead of the elections on Monday. Jamaican officials had already postponed the general election from August 27, after the island was struck last month by Hurricane Dean. Last week, Dean swept through the southern Caribbean with severe winds and rains, leaving a wide swathe of damage and a death toll of 30 from Martinique to Mexico. Felix's track was expected to take it toward Belize or the Yucatan in Mexico, possibly making landfall as a major Category Three hurricane Wednesday. The storm could dump two to four inches (five to 10 centimeters) of rain over islands off the Venezuela coast and the Netherlands Antilles, US forecasters said. On its current path Felix is expected to graze the coastlines of Nicaragua and Honduras late Tuesday and make landfall in Belize on Wednesday. Felix is the second hurricane of the three-month-old Atlantic season, and the first in September, historically the busiest month for hurricanes.
Date: Thu, 9 Sep 2004 10:12:08 +0200 (METDST) CARACAS, Sept 9 (AFP) - Hurricane Ivan has killed at least 11 people in Tobago, Grenada and Venezuela as the it churned off Venezuela's coast Thursday, strengthening to the top Category 5 storm, officials and local media said. Ivan was 135 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of Aruba and 915 kilometers (570 miles) from Jamaica, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said at 0600 GMT. Its category was raised to a Category 5 hurricane -the top level on the Saffir Simpson hurricane scale, with maximum sustained winds near 255 kilometers (160 miles) per hour. "Some fluctuations in strength are likely," the center said. The "extremely dangerous" hurricane was moving west-northwest at 28 kilometers (17 miles) per hour with urricane force winds extend outward from Ivan's eye up to 95 kilometers (60 miles). Storm surges of 1.0-1.5 meters (three to five feet) as well as rains of 13-18 centimeters (seven five to seven inches) are to be expected. The center issued hurricane warnings for Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. A television station in Trinidad and Tobago said nine people had died in Grenada, a tiny island nation of 90,000 inhabitants, which Prime Minister Keith Mitchell said was 85 percent destroyed. Power lines were down and hundreds of persons have taken refuge in shelters. Mitchell, whose own house was destroyed, told a Trinidad radio station that the island is without electricity. Another woman was killed by a falling tree in Tobago, according to local media. Prime Minister Patrick Manning headed to Tobago to view the destruction. His government has promised 1.6 million dollars to St. Vincent to help with the construction. Hundreds were evacuated to shelters. Cuba has also begun preparing for the storm in 11 of its 14 provinces, although the island has not fully recovered from Hurricane Charley, which struck August 13. Children in the Netherlands Antilles were sent home from school, as were many workers. Several Venezuelan airports, including the oil-exporting country's main international airport, Maiquetia, which serves Caracas, suspended operations until conditions improve, Air Force colonel Francisco Paz Freitas told Union Radio. In Venezuela, a man was crushed to death when hurricane-force winds toppled a wall in a coastal town near Caracas, emergency service officials said, adding that another person was hurt and 150 people were affected by flooding. Along the low-lying Caribbean coast, authorities reported mudslides and road closings just as early rain bands from the storm unleashed the first downpours. The storm was expected to be off the central coast later in the day, triggering heavy rains and rough surf. The capital, Caracas, lies just a bit inland from there, protected somewhat by the El Avila mountain range. Though the storm is not expected to make landfall in Venezuela, Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon was urging calm and said heavy winds and rain associated with the storm could last for 72 hours. Ivan was expected to pass just north of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao on Friday as the Caribbean islands were under a hurricane warning, which means hurricane winds could hit them within 24 hours or less, the US hurricane center said. A hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning remain in effect for the Guajira peninsula of Colombia and for the entire northern coast of Venezuela, it noted. Haiti also issued a hurricane watch, meaning it could experience hurricane conditions within 36 hours.
Date: Wed, 8 Sep 2004 05:03:07 +0200 (METDST) PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad Sept 7 (AFP) - Ivan, an "extremely dangerous" hurricane Tuesday knocked out power in Barbados and threatened eastern Caribbean islands, forecasters and emergency officials said. The eye of the powerful storm moved over Barbados Tuesday afternoon, and headed for the eastern Caribbean, where officials issued a hurricane warning for St Vincent, the Grenadines, Grenada and the Netherlands Antilles islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Ivan packed sustained winds of 215 kilometers (135 miles) per hour, which made it "an extremely dangerous category four hurricane," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. In Barbados, "there is an island-wide power outage, expect for the major health care facility, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital," the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) said. "There are also reports of roof loss, downed utility poles and trees," the agency said, adding that there were also reports of coastal damage from storm surge. Late Tuesday night, the center of the powerful hurricane, the second in just days, was located 175 kilometers (110 miles) west of Grenada. The Netherlands Antilles Tuesday morning put the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao under a hurricane watch, which means the storm could hit them within 36 hours. In central and eastern Venezuela, officials suspended all air and maritime traffic. Long-term forecasts, which have a wide margin of error, have the hurricane slamming into Jamaica on Friday and then into Cuba on Sunday. This would bring the storm dangerously close to Florida, which has just been pounded by Frances, the second hurricane to hit the southeastern US state in three weeks. The Bahamas islands also were severely impacted by the passage of Frances last week.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2020 11:20:59 +0100 (MET)

Dhaka, Feb 19, 2020 (AFP) - Bangladesh on Wednesday kicked off a drive to vaccinate more than a million people against cholera, which infects tens of thousands a year, as part of an international campaign to eliminate transmission by 2030.   The delta nation has sought to reduce the impact of the disease -- which causes acute diarrhoea and spreads through contaminated food and water -- through vaccines and by setting up a dedicated treatment hospital.   "We have brought down the mortality rate in cholera to almost zero in Bangladesh," said senior scientist Firdausi Qadri at the Dhaka-based International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research.   But she admitted that the number of infections was still very high.   According to the World Health Organisation, cholera infects about 1.3 to five million people every year, and kills an estimated 21,000 to 143,000.

Bangladesh has an estimated 100,000 cases a year, according to authorities, but plans to immunise half its 168 million people in the next decade.   Daisy Akter, who lost two sisters and a brother to cholera in the 1970s, was one of the first recipients of the oral vaccine at a Dhaka neighbourhood on Wednesday.   "No villager came to offer funeral prayers for them fearing they might get the disease," she told AFP.   "We had to bury them in the front yard of our home."   UN agencies and Bangladesh authorities have already carried out a massive cholera vaccination drive in the country's southeast, where nearly one million Rohingya refugees have lived in overcrowded camps since 2017.   Some 800,000 Rohingya and 600,000 locals were vaccinated in that campaign.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 17:16:35 +0100 (MET)

Juba, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - Swarms of locusts which are wreaking havoc across East Africa have now arrived in South Sudan, the government said Tuesday, threatening more misery in one of the world's most vulnerable nations.   Billions of desert locusts, some in swarms the size of Moscow, have already chomped their way through Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan and Uganda.   Their breeding has been spurred by one of the wettest rainy seasons in the region in four decades.

Experts have warned the main March-to-May cropping season is at risk. Eggs laid along the locusts' path are due to hatch and create a second wave of the insects in key agricultural areas.    The arrival of the locusts could be catastrophic in South Sudan, where war  followed by drought and floods has already left six million people -- 60 percent of the population -- facing severe hunger.   Agriculture Minister Onyoti Adigo Nyikiwec said the locusts had crossed the eastern border with Uganda on Monday.   "The report came that these are matured. As you know locusts are like human beings, they send their reconnaissance ahead of time to make sure that whether there is food or not and if the area is good for breeding."

Meshack Malo, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in South Sudan, said about 2,000 locusts had been spotted so far, and if not controlled quickly, could have a devastating impact.   "These are deep yellow which means that they will be here mostly looking at areas in which they will lay eggs."    He said the FAO was training locals and acquiring sprayers and chemicals to try and combat the locusts. It is the first locust invasion in 70 years in the country.   Other countries have employed aircraft to spray the swarms, while desperate locals have employed tactics like banging pots and pans or shooting at them.    Nyikiwec said the government had prepared a contingency plan.   "We are training people who will be involved in spraying and also we need chemicals for spraying and also sprayers. You will also need cars to move while spraying and then later if it becomes worse, we will need aircraft."

Earlier this month Somalia declared a national emergency over the invasion.   The FAO says the current invasion is known as an "upsurge," the term for when an entire region is affected.   However, if the invasion cannot be rolled back and spreads, it becomes known as a "plague" of locusts.   There have been six major desert locust plagues in the 1900s, the last of which was in 1987-89. The last major upsurge was in 2003-05.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 15:26:41 +0100 (MET)
By Ismail BELLAOUALI

AIT-BEN-HADDOU, Morocco, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - Millions worldwide may have seen the desert fortress in the hit fantasy series "Game of Thrones", but fewer know they can visit the Moroccan village of Ait-Ben-Haddou.   The fortified old settlement at the foot of the majestic Atlas mountains enchanted audiences in the HBO series and also served as a dusty backdrop in Ridley Scott's epic swords-and-sandals film "Gladiator".

But unlike other famous locations from movie and television history, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has so far missed out on a mass influx of tourism -- something some of its inhabitants are eager to change.    "Several people have told me that they came here to see the filming location of 'Game of Thrones'," said Ahmed Baabouz, a local tour guide. "There is tourism linked to cinema here but frankly we have not developed it to the extent it could be."   Ait-Ben-Haddou is southern Morocco's most famous fortress. Time seems to have stopped at the site overlooking a valley some 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) from the town of Ouarzazate.

After passing through the imposing entrance way, visitors navigate a labyrinth of winding alleys that eventually lead onto a public square where the settlement's inhabitants once gathered.    There is a mosque and two cemeteries -- one for Muslims and one for Jews. Most inhabitants have long since departed though, with a few homes converted into stalls selling handicrafts.    The fortress is an ideal film setting, located a short distance from the studios of Ouarzazate, the "Mecca" of Moroccan cinema. Productions ranging from "Lawrence of Arabia" to "The Mummy" have been filmed here.

More recently, scenes from the cult series "Game of Thrones" were shot at Ait-Ben-Haddou, with the site standing in for the fictional Yellow City of Yunkai which is conquered by Daenerys Targaryen, a key character in the "GOT" universe.   Hammadi, 61, is a privileged witness to the location's cinematic history.   "All of these productions have contributed to the reputation of the region," he said, grinning widely.    Hammadi himself has appeared as an extra in a number of films. And while like most people he lives in a more modern home in a village on the other side of the valley, he continues to return to Ait-Ben-Haddou to welcome tourists.

-'House of the Dragon' -
On a wall at the entrance to Hammadi's former home, photos bear witness to the projects he has worked on.    One shows him dressed as an ancient Roman with director Ridley Scott on the set of "Gladiator".    "We have a very rich cinematic heritage that we hope to use to attract tourists," said tour guide Baabouz, who is 29.   But "nothing indicates that 'Game of Thrones' was shot here," he added.    On Morocco's Atlantic coast, the city of Essaouira also formed the backdrop to scenes from the series.    But there too, Moroccan tourism promoters are yet to capitalise on the connection.

In comparison, Northern Ireland, Malta and Dubrovnik in Croatia have attracted hordes of fans from around the world, drawn by their links to the franchise.    To remedy this, Baabouz and other young people in the village are pooling their limited resources towards an ambitious project: a museum in the fortress, gathering photography from the productions that have been filmed here.    US channel HBO has commissioned a prequel to "GOT", called "House of the Dragon". George R.R. Martin, the author of the books on which the series is based, wrote on his blog that shooting would also take place in Morocco.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 09:44:12 +0100 (MET)

Macau, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - Macau's casinos will reopen Thursday after authorities lifted a city-wide two-week closure aimed at stopping the spread of the deadly new coronavirus.    The resumption of the lynchpin industry comes after the city reported no new infections in the last two weeks, with the number confirmed cases at just ten people.

The former Portuguese colony took the unprecedented step of shutting down almost all of its lucrative entertainment sector earlier in the month, including casinos, nightclubs and many bars.   The vast majority of Macau's tourists are mainland Chinese travellers, drawn to the city's casinos.

As the only place in China where casinos are allowed, Macau's gambling houses account for about 80 percent of government revenue.   But arrivals tanked as the epidemic spread.   Authorities said casinos that don't want to reopen because of low tourist numbers could apply to extend the closure, but they must be up and running within 30 days.

Macau's government has been keen to ensure the casinos keep employing staff through the downturn and are trying to avoid lay-offs.   Officials said all gamblers and casino staff must wear face masks.   First found in the city of Wuhan in central China, the new coronavirus has infected over 72,000 people on the mainland and 60 in Hong Kong.    It has also taken over 1,800 lives on the mainland and one in Hong Kong.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 09:07:42 +0100 (MET)

Athens, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - Greece was hit with a 24-hour strike Tuesday over a pension reform encouraging people to stay longer in the workforce.   The labour action paralysed public transport in Athens, intercity trains and ferry ship services.   Civil servants are also walking off the job and journalists will stage a three-hour work stoppage against the pension reform.   "This bill is practically the continuation of (austerity) laws introduced in 2010-2019," civil servants' union ADEDY said.

Unions will hold street protests in Athens, Thessaloniki and other major cities later in the day.   The new conservative government says the reform, to be voted by Friday, will make the troubled Greek pension system viable to 2070.   The labour ministry says the overhaul -- the third major revamp in a decade -- will contain pension increases and reduce penalties for pensioners still working.

Successive governments have attempted to reform the pension system, whose previously generous handouts are seen as one of the causes of the decade-long Greek debt crisis.   Chronic overspending and the inaccurate reporting of the budget deficit spooked creditors in 2010, and required three successive bailouts by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to avert a Greek bankruptcy.   In return for billions of euros in rescue funds, Greece had to adopt unpopular austerity reforms and pension cuts.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 08:50:55 +0100 (MET)

Peshawar, Pakistan, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - A policeman was killed and two others wounded Tuesday by a roadside bomb aimed at polio vaccination workers in Pakistan's restive northwest, officials said.    The attack came a day after Islamabad launched a nationwide anti-polio drive, aiming to immunise tens of millions of children in Pakistan -- one of only three countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, where the crippling disease remains endemic.

Opposition to inoculations grew after the CIA organised a fake vaccination drive to help track down Al-Qaeda's former leader Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.   According to Captain Wahid Mehmood, a district police chief, a police van monitoring the polio team was hit on the outskirts of the north-western city of Dera Ismail Khan.   "It was an IED (improvised explosive device) explosion in which one of our policemen got martyred while two others were wounded", Mehmood told AFP.   Sadaqat Khan, a local police official, confirmed the toll.   There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Pakistani Taliban and other militants have targeted polio vaccinators in the past.

The nationwide polio vaccination campaign aims to vaccinate some 39 million children.  Tuesday's attack follows a devastating year in Pakistan's long fight against polio, with at least 17 cases reported in 2020 so far.   In 2019, the number of polio cases jumped to 144 from just 12 in 2018.

Even as Pakistan has tried to eliminate polio, a new challenge has emerged in the form of a growing global movement against vaccinations.   The phenomenon has attracted adherents worldwide, fuelled by medically baseless claims and proliferated on social media resulting in a resurgence of once-eradicated, highly contagious diseases.
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 21:19:05 +0100 (MET)
By Joe JACKSON

London, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - Britain on Monday battled the fallout from Storm Dennis after the second severe storm in seven days left one woman dead over the weekend.   Winds of more than 90 miles (140 kilometres) an hour, along with more than a month's worth of rain in 48 hours in some places, led officials to issue rare "danger to life" warnings.   A 55-year-old woman was found dead after being swept away by near the flood-prone town of Tenbury Wells in western England.   "We are all devastated," her family said in a statement after a body was discovered.

James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, which is responsible for flood protection, said more than 400 homes in England had been flooded while at least 1,000 agency staff were working "to protect and support those communities which have been hit".   "This is not yet over," he told BBC radio.   "We still have many flood warnings in force and we may still see significant flooding in the middle of this week from larger rivers."   The storm also pummelled much of France, with some 20,000 people without electricity on Monday after suffering power cuts in the northwest.

- 'More extreme' -
In Britain, more than 600 warnings and alerts -- a record number -- were issued on Sunday, extending from the River Tweed on the border of England and Scotland to Cornwall in the southwest.   After a day of torrential rain, major flooding incidents were declared in south Wales and parts of west central England.  In northern England, the defence ministry deployed troops in West Yorkshire, which had also been hit by flooding from last weekend's Storm Ciara.   There were fears that rivers there could burst their banks.

Newly appointed environment secretary George Eustice said the government had done "everything that we can do with a significant sum of money" to combat increased flooding.    "We'll never be able to protect every single household just because of the nature of climate change and the fact that these weather events are becoming more extreme," he said.   Youth climate activists gathering for a national conference in Staffordshire, west central England, were forced to cancel the event because of the storm.   "There's a bleak irony in our being beaten back by climate change," 15-year-old attendee Sophia said in a statement released by organisers.

- 'Supercomputer' announced -
Two rivers in south Wales burst their banks on Sunday, prompting rescue workers to launch operations to evacuate hundreds of people and their pets trapped in their homes.   Police said a man in his 60s died after entering the River Tawe, north of the Welsh city of Swansea, but later clarified that the death was not "linked to the adverse weather".

Meanwhile the bodies of two men were pulled from rough seas off the south coast of England on Saturday as the storm barrelled in.   Britain's Coastguard said it had sent a helicopter and rescue team to join navy and other search vessels after receiving reports of a man overboard in the sea near Margate, Kent.   "After many hours of searching, a body was sadly found in the water... and was brought to shore," it added.

Around the same time in nearby Herne Bay, emergency responders discovered another dead man following reports a person had been pulled from the sea, according to Kent police.   In a timely announcement the Met Office, Britain's national weather service, said Monday it would invest £1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) in a state-of-the-art supercomputer to improve forecasting.   The government claims it is the world's "most powerful weather and climate supercomputer".
Date: Sun 16 Feb 2020, 5:00 PM
Source: WHO, Weekly Bulletin on Outbreaks and Other Emergencies, page 9 [abridged, edited]

During week 4 [week ending 26 Jan 2020], a total of 73 suspected cases including one death were reported across the country, compared to 46 suspected cases and no deaths in the previous week. The majority of cases in week 4 were reported from Sankuru province (78%).

In the past 4 weeks (weeks 1 to 4 of 2020) a total of 222 suspected cases with 4 deaths (CFR: 1.8%) were notified in the country, with the majority of cases being reported from the provinces of Sankuru (31%), Bas-Uele (18%), Equateur (15%) and Mai-Ndombe (9%). There has been an increase in the weekly case incidence since week 2 of 2020.

Between weeks 1 and 52 of 2019 a cumulative total of 5288 monkeypox cases, including 107 deaths (CFR 2%) were reported from 133 health zones in 19 provinces.
======================
[Monkeypox (MPX) virus is endemic and widespread geographically in the DR Congo, with cases occurring sporadically in several provinces. January 2020 is off to a similar start with 222 suspected cases and 4 deaths reported in 4 provinces. The 2% CFR is relatively low for the clade of MPX that occurs in the DRC, which can reach 10% or more. The 222 cases are suspected, and there is the possibility that without laboratory confirmation some of them may be varicella cases misdiagnosed as MPX. There is no additional information about the circumstances under which these cases acquired their infection. Monkeys are not the reservoirs of the virus, despite the name that the virus has received. Studies of prevalence of MPX virus in populations of rodent hosts are not mentioned in this or previous reports. The main reservoirs of MPX virus are suspected to be rodents, including rope squirrels (_Funisciurus_ spp., an arboreal rodent) and terrestrial rodents in the genera _Cricetomys_ and _Graphiurus_. Halting the bushmeat trade and consumption of wild animals to halt MPX virus exposure will be culturally and economically difficult, so continued occurrence of cases can be expected. MPX virus can be transmitted between people but not readily. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Fri 31 Jan 2020
Source: Nigeria CDC Situation report, yellow fever [edited]

Highlights
----------
In this reporting period:
- A total of 139 suspected cases were reported in 90 LGAs across 27 states
- All 139 suspected cases had blood samples collected
- 2 presumptive positive and 1 inconclusive case were reported; the inconclusive case was reported from Katsina State
- No confirmed case was recorded from Institute Pasteur Dakar
- No death was recorded from all the cases reported

Yellow fever response activities are being coordinated by the multi-agency yellow fever Technical Working Group (YF TWG).

Off-site support is being provided to all states.

Yellow fever preventive mass vaccination (PMVC) campaigns are planned for implementation in Oyo, Delta, Benue, Osun, Bauchi and Borno in the 3rd and 4th quarters.

Graphs and a map accessible at the above URL;
Figure 1 [graph]: Epidemic Curve of All Cases of Yellow Fever in Nigeria from Week 1 - Week 5, 31 Jan 2020
Figure 2 [graph]: Trends of Confirmed Cases in Nigeria - 2018, 2019 and January 2020
Figure 3 [graph]: Yellow fever Attack rate by State in Nigeria from Week 1 - Week 5, 31 Jan 2020
Figure 4: Map of Nigeria Showing States with Suspected and Presumptive confirmed Cases from Week 1 - Week 5, 31 Jan 2020
====================
[This report is not clear about the number of confirmed yellow fever (YF) cases that there have been in Nigeria this year (2020). The above report indicates that there are 139 suspected cases and all have had blood samples taken but does not state if all samples have been tested for YF by the Institute Pasteur in Dakar. The report does state that no confirmed case was recorded by the Institute Pasteur Dakar. The report states that 2 cases are presumptive and 1 is inconclusive. The graph in Figure 2 shows no confirmed cases in 2020.

It is curious that a 19 Jan 2020 report indicated that there were 141 suspected yellow fever cases in Jos North, Wase, Bassa, Kanam and Riyom Local Governments of Plateau State, of which 25 cases had been confirmed (see Yellow fever - Africa (02): Nigeria (PL) http://promedmail.org/post/20200121.6903167). A 29 Dec 2019 The World Health Organization (WHO) report confirmed 13 cases of yellow fever (YF), with 3 deaths in 4 local government areas of Plateau State (see Yellow fever - Africa (01): Nigeria (PL) http://promedmail.org/post/20200101.6862783). It is possible that all of these Plateau state cases occurred in 2019 and, hence, are not included in the above 2020 report which does not mention any cases in Plateau state. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Sat 15 Feb 2020 2:34:10 PM AFT
Source: MENAFN, Afghanistan Times News report [edited]

At least 35 people including women and children have died in the past few weeks due to pneumonia outbreak in Badakhshan Province in the north-western mountainous area, the provincial health department confirmed.

Dr Noor Khawari, head of the provincial public health department, said [Sat 15 Feb 2020] that the people had died in the Wakhan district, a remote area surrounded by high and impassable mountains.

He said that 15 of the dead were children, calling malnutrition and cold weather as the main reasons for the fatalities. A medical team had been dispatched to Wakhan to prevent further outbreak of the disease, according to Dr Khawari.

The provincial council had earlier said that at least 10 people had lost their lives since an unknown disease had broken out in the Yomgan district [Badakhshan Province].

The report caused panic and concerns among the residents as coronavirus [infection, COVID-19] in China that borders Badakhshan takes the lives of people every day.

But the ministry of public health denied outbreak of any unknown disease in Badakhshan, saying that the recent deaths happened only due to pneumonia and pertussis (whooping cough) as well as malnutrition. Badakhshan is one of the provinces where seasonal diseases like pneumonia and whooping cough break out during winter. The diseases claim the lives of people in the remote areas behind high mountains as the roads connecting them to the provincial capital are blocked by heavy snowfalls.

The provincial health department has deployed medical teams to the borders with China and Tajikistan to examine those entering from the neighbouring states and to prevent coronavirus [infection, COVID-9].
===========================
[We are told in the news report above that at least 35 people, including 15 children, died in the past few weeks due to a "pneumonia" outbreak in Wakhan district, a remote area surrounded by high and impassable mountains, with a population of about 14 000 residents. Wakhan is a narrow strip about 350 km (220 mi) long and 13-65 km (8-40 mi) wide that extends from Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan in the west to Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China in the east, separating the Pamir Mountains and Tajikistan to the north and the Karakoram Mountains and Pakistan to the south  (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wakhan_Corridor>).

A trade route through this valley has been used by travellers since antiquity
(<https://caravanistan.com/afghanistan/wakhan-corridor/>).

A map of this region can be found at

The local residents are concerned that the novel coronavirus infection, COVID-19, may be the cause of the outbreak of pneumonia in Wakhan district. There are about 70 500 total cases of COVID-19 in China, mainly concentrated in Hubei Province in Central China.

Although Xinjiang in Western China has reportedly 75 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1 death (assessed 16 Feb 2020 at 9:43 PM EST) (<https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6>), spread of COVID-19 to this very remote region in Afghanistan, that is easily cut off from the rest of the world especially in winter, seems unlikely. Also, 43% of deaths (15/35) occurred in children, which would be unusual for COVID-19. However, we are not told the clinical presentation of the illness, nor how a diagnosis of "pneumonia" was made in this undeveloped region. Other diagnoses, such as influenza, are also possible. More information from knowledgeable sources would be appreciated. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[Maps of Afghanistan: