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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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Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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Cuba

General:
**********************************
Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
the northern parts of the country. Temperatures of between 20C to 35C are fairly standard throughout the year. Generally the winter effects of the American continent only last for short periods.
Safety & Security:
**********************************
The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Road Safety:
**********************************
Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
**********************************
When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.

Currency:
**********************************
Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Health Facilities:
**********************************
Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
**********************************
The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
***********************************************
Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
************************************
The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
**********************************
This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
**********************************
There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
**********************************
Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 3 Jul 2019
Source: 660 City News [edited]

A Newfoundland woman is warning travellers to do their research before adventurous excursions abroad after she and several other Newfoundlanders became ill from a mysterious disease traced back to a cave she visited in Cuba. The illness was eventually identified as a respiratory infection called histoplasmosis, or "cave disease," caused by spores from bird or bat droppings in damp soil. [She] of Paradise, NL, travelled to Cuba with her husband on 27 Apr [2019], but her fever-like symptoms didn't appear until 21 May [2019], weeks after she returned home. X-rays showed nodules in her lungs and tests showed low blood counts. Her condition baffled local doctors, who initially thought her lung infection could be some form of pneumonia. The clue to her illness came from a chance meeting she'd made on the trip with a family of Newfoundlanders who had a mutual friend. [She] and her husband had travelled with the group on a tour that included cave diving in the Matanzas province of Cuba.

Back in Canada, a number of their new friends had also fallen ill. [She] and the travellers informed their doctors that they knew each other and were experiencing the same symptoms, and their illness was identified as a respiratory infection called histoplasmosis, or "cave disease." [She] said pinpointing the source of her condition offered some relief from what she called a terrible, alarming health issue that she feared might have been cancerous. "You didn't want to be too excited about the fact that somebody else was sick, but at least cancer was off the table," [she] said by phone Wednesday [3 Jul 2019].

Eastern Health, [her] local health authority, has issued an advisory for travellers heading to the Americas, Africa, East Asia and Australia to avoid contracting the disease. Histoplasmosis is a treatable disease, contracted by breathing in airborne spores where bird or bat droppings are disturbed in damp soil. Eastern Health described its symptoms as including "cough and chest pain, shortness of breath, fever and chills, headaches and flu-like illness." The disease is treatable and most people who contract it never show symptoms, but it can be serious for infants or people with compromised immune systems. The health authority said the advisory was issued after a low number of histoplasmosis cases were confirmed in the Eastern Health region. An exact number of cases could not be provided for privacy reasons, but [the patient] said she's heard of at least 5 others.

While the disease is treatable, it is rare in Newfoundland, making treatment more complicated. [The patient] said she's waiting to receive an anti-fungal medication that had to be approved from outside of the province, and she's been told she'll have to take the drug for treatment for the next 3 months to a year. [The patent] said she's still experiencing fatigue and a persistent cough, and her voice is still scratchy and strained from an illness she contracted from what was one of the most breathtaking excursions on her vacation. "It was absolutely amazing," she said of the cave. "It was so pristine and so nice-looking when we went in."

[She] said she'd advise other travellers to do a thorough background check on the regions they're visiting and any planned excursions. "It's without a doubt that you have to go and you have to research the excursion that you're going on," she said. "You have to know the region, the areas, 100%. [She] wrote a Facebook post about her experience that's been shared thousands of times, and she said people as far as France have written to her about experiencing similar, undiagnosed symptoms after travelling abroad.  [Byline: Holly McKenzie-Sutter]
====================
[_Histoplasma capsulatum_, a dimorphic fungus that grows in a mycelial form at ambient temperatures and as yeast at body temperature in mammals, is found worldwide in soil enriched by bird or bat droppings. Contaminated soil can be potentially infectious for years. Fungal spores become airborne during activities that disturb the contaminated soil, such as spelunking, mining, construction, excavation, demolition, roofing, chimney cleaning, farming, or gardening, which can lead to clusters of cases of histoplasmosis that follow inhalation of the aerosolized spores. The spores can travel distances downstream from the source in currents of air. Because of the presence of bats in caves, cave exploration is a known risk factor for histoplasmosis, which is sometimes known as "cave fever" (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10403317>). Physicians should be aware of the association between histoplasmosis and caving when caring for individuals who develop an acute febrile respiratory illness after cave exploration (<http://tinyurl.com/yxjust7x>).

Another disease that has also acquired the name "cave fever" is tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF). See ProMED-mail posts Tick-borne relapsing fever - Israel: spelunkers, tourists http://promedmail.org/post/20180422.5761531 and Tick-borne relapsing fever - USA: (TX) cave workers, 2017 http://promedmail.org/post/20180420.5759542.

Although birds cannot be infected by the _H. capsulatum_ and do not transmit the disease, bats can become infected by _H. capsulatum_ and may harbor the fungus in their gut (<https://academic.oup.com/jtm/article/15/2/133/1801173>).

In the US, histoplasmosis is endemic in the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi River valleys, where it is caused by _H. capsulatum_ var. _capsulatum_. Histoplasmosis has also been reported in Mexico, Central and South America, Oceania, Asia, Africa, and Europe (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4535725/>). In Africa, histoplasmosis occurs most commonly in west and central Africa, where it is caused by the _duboisii_ variety, which has yeast cells that average about twice the size of _H. capsulatum_ var. _capsulatum_  (<http://www.reviberoammicol.com/1997-14/155159.pdf>).

Most individuals with histoplasmosis are asymptomatic. Those who develop clinical manifestations are usually immunocompromised or are exposed to a large number of spores. Disseminated disease is especially more common in HIV/AIDS co-infected cases. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Newfoundland, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada:
Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2019 03:22:19 +0200
By Paul HANDLEY

Washington, June 5, 2019 (AFP) - The Trump administration clamped down on US tourist visits to Cuba Tuesday, aiming to cut the flow of dollars to a country that Washington accuses of helping prop up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The Treasury Department banned group educational travel, cruise ship and private yacht visits by Americans, taking aim at the most common ways US tourists and Cuban-Americans visit the Caribbean island.   The move could constitute a heavy hit on Cuba, which saw more than a quarter-million US visitors in the first four months of 2019, almost double the figure from a year earlier.   "The United States holds the Cuban regime accountable for its repression of the Cuban people, its interference in Venezuela, and its direct role in the man-made crisis led by Nicolas Maduro," the State Department said in a news release.   "Empowered by Cuba, he has created a humanitarian disaster that destabilizes the region."

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said the aim was to end what the administration considers "veiled tourism" to Cuba.   "We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime's access to US dollars," Bolton said on Twitter.   The Cuban government condemned the move, which could cost the country's economy tens of millions of dollars a year in lost income.   "They seek to stifle the economy and damage the standard of living of Cubans to wrest political concessions," said Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez in a tweeted statement. "They'll fail again."

- Reverses Obama's historic opening -
American tourism in Cuba took off after then-president Barack Obama moved to ease the half-century trade embargo against the communist government in 2014 -- even though continuing restrictions kept visits nominally in the realm of cultural and artistic exchanges and business dealings.   Cuba and the US restored ties in 2015 and Obama himself visited Havana in a historic presidential trip in March 2016, meeting with then-president Raul Castro. Weeks later, the ban was lifted on US commercial ship visits, opening the door for the Caribbean cruise ship industry to expand stops in Cuba.

But President Donald Trump came into office attacking the Obama opening, and within months began tightening relations, first by banning individual visits and limiting commercial interactions.   The State Department tied the new ban directly to Havana's support for Maduro -- whose embattled regime faces a direct challenge from US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, the self-declared acting president of Venezuela.  "Veiled tourism has served to line the pockets of the Cuban military, the very same people supporting Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and repressing the Cuban people on the island," the State Department said.

- 'Political grandstanding' -
Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the US agencies which arranges visits to Cuba, accused the Trump administration of playing politics by trying to appease conservative anti-Havana Cuban immigrants in Florida, an important election swing state where they carry significant political weight.   "This political grandstanding aimed at Florida in the run up to the 2020 elections is so unfortunate for the millions of Cubans that will feel the crunch from less US visitors," said Laverty.   "This has nothing to do with empowering the Cuban people and has everything to do with empowering a handful of people in Florida that have never even been to Cuba."   Travel industry officials said that people who are booked on tours now will be able to go, ensuring that advanced-booked cruise ships will likely be operating from Florida to Havana throughout this year.   But Royal Caribbean Cruises said ships leaving Wednesday and Thursday of this week will skip previously scheduled stops in Cuba as the company examines the new US policy.

Norwegian Cruise Lines said they are seeking additional information on the new policy to see how it will affect future travel.   Tessia Aral, the owner of ABC Charters in Miami, said it could have a huge impact on her business, which arranged trips to Cuba for about 10,000 people last year.   She said it will hurt not only companies like hers but also those of the many entrepreneurs in Cuba who have built businesses to serve tourists.   "The people making the rules have never been to Cuba. They don't know how things have changed" in recent years, she said.   "What they are doing is counter-productive. I believe it's really going to hurt the private entrepreneurs in Cuba -- all the private restaurants, all the private homes" who serve tourists.
Date: Sun, 10 Mar 2019 04:13:11 +0100
By Katell ABIVEN

Havana, March 10, 2019 (AFP) - In Havana, there's a shop selling a camera for more than $25,000 -- roughly 850 times the average monthly wage in Cuba.   The eye-popping sum earned predictable scorn on social media, but it begins to make sense when seen through the lens of the island's fledgling bid to tap into the luxury tourism market.

The exclusive camera store and other boutiques featuring A-list brands like Versace and Armani are located in a shopping gallery on the ground floor of the swanky Gran Hotel Manzana.   The mere existence of the shops certainly seems incongruous in a country that has been governed as a one-party communist state since 1959, and where the average wage is $30 a month.   But the hotel isn't exactly looking for locals to buy in -- it attracts "a clientele of private airplanes... princes and celebrities," according to general manager Xavier Destribats.

The Gran Hotel Manzana, the first ever five-star establishment in Havana, opened in 2017 in a sumptuous historic building that was, at the beginning of the 20th century, the island's first shopping mall.   The property run by Swiss group Kempinski is "the first genuine luxury hotel in Havana," said Destribats.   "It's the first hotel with a 1,000-square-meter spa," he said. All the rooms are at least 40 square meters (430 square feet), with prices ranging from $370 for a basic room in low season to $5,000 for the presidential suite.   "There was a certain type of clientele that didn't travel to Havana, or Cuba, because there wasn't the standard of luxury five-star hotel like in cities such as Paris or London," Destribats added.

- 'Feels like Miami' -
The hotel terrace offers stunning views over Havana's colorful historic neighbourhood, where many Cubans live in dilapidated buildings that have fallen into disrepair or have vegetation sprouting from them.   "It really doesn't feel like Cuba, clearly not -- it feels like being in the United States, Miami or Puerto Rico," said Celia Liegeois, a 26-year-old tourist from Paris.   Having traveled around the island nation for three weeks, she and a friend had decided to spend their last few days relaxing by the hotel's rooftop pool.

Nearby, Suki Lu, a recently arrived 28-year-old Chinese television presenter, is impressed at what she sees.   "It's beautiful. Look at the sunset! It's truly addictive," she said.   "I live in Dubai so when you talk about luxury hotels, the level there is really high, but I think I'll like this hotel," she said, while her friend used a drone to get an aerial view of the building.   The largest single group of visitors to the Gran Hotel Manzana -- one-fifth of the total -- are tourists from the United States, although there are plenty of visitors from Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The Kempinski group, which hopes to open two or three more hotels in Cuba, is of course not the only chain to show an interest in the ultra-luxury market.   In September 2018, Spain's Iberostar opened its second five-star hotel, the Grand Packard.   French hotel giant Accor is planning on opening its own luxury establishment on the Malecon, Havana's famous seaside boulevard, in September.   It will include a chocolate shop on its ground floor and a restaurant and concert space on its roof.   The employees' outfits will be designed by Spanish fashion designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

- US blacklist -
However, there is a slight catch: in every case, the hotels are owned by Gaviota, the Cuban army's branch dedicated to tourism.   The foreign hotel groups are only allowed to run the establishments, all built by French group Bouygues, which has a long-standing local presence.   Authorities don't publish the army's revenues, but this alliance between hoteliers and the military landed the luxury hotels on Washington's blacklist.

US tourists are technically banned from staying in the hotels -- but the restriction can be easily circumvented by either paying in cash or booking through travel agents.   Beyond hotels, developers have more ideas to entice those with deep pockets.   "There's a plan to build golf courses in partnership with real estate groups," said industry expert Jose Luis Perello.   The opening of a luxury hotel means Cuba has turned a corner, he said.   "Since it opened up to international tourism more than 20 years ago, Cuba has focused all its plans and strategies" on "sun and beach tourism" for the masses, Perello said.   That category currently accounts for 73 percent of the 70,000 hotel rooms on offer in Cuba. And those who rent them usually don't spend much money.

The same goes for cruise ship tourists -- while the number of cruises docking in Cuba has exploded, passengers only spend an average of $15 a day on land.   That isn't great news for Cuba, which welcomed 4.7 million tourists in 2018 -- it needs the cash.   The government, which has been subjected to US sanctions since 1962, used to depend on aid from its oil-rich ally Venezuela.   But with Venezuela in turmoil, Cuba is scrambling for other sources of hard currency and its economic growth has stagnated at around one percent -- not enough to cover the population's basic needs.   Opening luxury hotels is "a new stage," but also "a necessity," Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz says.
Date: Mon, 4 Feb 2019 03:08:04 +0100

Havana, Feb 4, 2019 (AFP) - The number of people killed in the powerful tornado that ripped through part of Havana last week has risen to six, authorities said Sunday.    Public Health Minister Jose Angel Portal Miranda said in state media that "sadly, two people have died among the 13 who were in critical condition." The earlier death toll was four.

The storm which hit Havana area towns including Regla, Guanabacoa, San Miguel de Padron and 10 de octubre late January 27, has been confirmed as a F4 storm, with F5 the strongest.    Its powerful winds overturned trees and homes and cars, and several areas a number of blocks wide were all but wiped off the map.
Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2019 19:01:10 +0100

Havana, Jan 28, 2019 (AFP) - A rare and powerful tornado has devastated sections of Havana, overturning cars, uprooting trees and leaving homes in shambles. Three people were killed and 172 injured, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said Monday.   A shaken resident, recalling a night of terror, said she clutched her daughter and crouched down in her kitchen as the tornado came roaring in Sunday night.   "It was as if rocks were falling -- it was hail -- and I felt things beginning to fall. It lifted my entire roof, and took everything away," Canaima Hernandez, 36, said, sobbing.   Hernandez's Havana neighborhood, Regla, was one of the hardest hit by the tornado, which state media said was comparable in strength to the most powerful hurricanes.

Residents picked their way through overturned vehicles, collapsed walls, overturned lampposts, and uprooted trees on Monday morning.   Diaz-Canel, who toured the city's darkened streets visiting emergency crews, wrote on Twitter that damage was "severe."   In the city's Luyano neighborhood storm debris -- including parts of a balcony ripped off an old building --  blocked the streets, AFP photographers reported.   As emergency sirens blared across the city, firefighters and ambulances rushed about on rescue missions, their flashing lights giving light to blacked out areas.   "As of now we mourn the loss of three human lives and 172 injured people are receiving aid," Diaz-Canel tweeted.    He added that several emergency teams were working hard to restore power to blacked-out areas.

At the Hijas de Galicia maternity hospital staff were forced to evacuate the building due to storm damage.   The tornado, spawned by a powerful storm that originated in the Gulf of Mexico, hit western Cuba with winds of up to 100 kilometers (60 miles) per hour.   "Islanders are used to these warnings, but they did not suspect the magnitude of what was approaching," said Granma, the Communist Party daily.     People described the tornado as having "the sound of a jet engine," and reported feeling changes in the environmental pressure when it arrived, Armando Caymares with the Institute of Meteorology said.

The tornado "caught me in the street, in the car with my wife and children," actor Luis "Panfilo" Silva wrote on his social media account.   "I had to dodge fallen trees, flooded areas and strong winds until I managed to get home. We experienced great fear," he wrote.   Francisco Sotolongo said it was a good thing the tornado's impact only lasted seconds. "Because if it lasted a minute there would be nothing left here."   High winds sent sea water surging over the city's famed Malecon esplanade and several meters into the city. The western provinces of Pinar del Rio, Artemisa and Mayabeque also were affected by the storm.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 16 Jul 2019 10:44:51 +0200

Zagreb, July 16, 2019 (AFP) - Some 10,000 tourists were evacuated from a popular party beach on a Croatian island after a forest fire erupted early Tuesday, police said.

Police ordered visitors to night clubs on Zrce beach on the northern island of Pag to leave after the blaze erupted in a pine forest at around 1:00 am (2300 GMT Monday), a police statement said.   No one was injured in the fire which was brought under control, the mayor of the nearby town of Novalja, Ante Dabo, told national radio.  The cause was not immediately known.   Three firefighting planes were rushed to the scene to help extinguish the blaze which spread to a local road that had to be closed.

The island of Pag and its Zrce beach are popular with young tourists, notably British, who party there.  Tourism is a pillar of Croatia's economy, with visitors flocking to hundreds of islands and islets along its stunning Adriatic coast.   Last year the country of 4.2 million people welcomed more than 19 million tourists.
Date: Mon, 15 Jul 2019 01:09:24 +0200

Kinshasa, July 14, 2019 (AFP) - The first case of Ebola has been confirmed in Goma, now the biggest city to have been affected by the disease since its outbreak in eastern DR Congo last August, the health ministry said on Sunday.  A sick man had arrived in Goma early Sunday by bus with 18 other passengers and the driver from Butembo, one of the main towns touched by Ebola in Nord-Kivu province.

The man was tested  "and the results of the laboratory test confirmed that he was positive for Ebola," the ministry said in a statement.   It added that his trip began on Friday after "the first symptoms appeared on July 9 (Tuesday)".   "Given that the patient was quickly identified, as well as all the passengers on the bus from Butembo, the risk of the disease spreading in the city of Goma is low," the ministry said.    The passengers and the bus driver will begin getting vaccinations on Monday, it added.

The Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has so far killed 1,655 people and 694 have been cured, according to a health ministry bulletin on Saturday.  And 160,239 people have been vaccinated, it added.  But efforts to tackle the crisis have been hampered both by militia attacks on treatment centres, in which some staff have been killed, and by the hostility of some local people to the medical teams.
Date: Sun, 14 Jul 2019 13:37:24 +0200

Pamplona, Spain, July 14, 2019 (AFP) - Three men were gored Sunday during the eighth and final bull run of Spain's San Fermin festival, bringing to eight the total number of daredevils injured during this year's fiesta.   Among those who were hospitalised this year after being injured by a bull's horns was an American who was wounded in the neck while taking a selfie.    In the last run, two Australians aged 27 and 30 as well as well as a 25-year-old Spaniard from Madrid were gored by the half-tonne fighting bull, "Rabonero", regional health authorities said.

The three men suffered injuries to the armpit, arm and leg from the bull's horns. Another two men were taken to hospital with bruises.   During Sunday's run in the northern city of Pamplona, Rabonero, the heaviest of the six bulls used in the event, became separated from the pack moments into the run and began charging people in its way.   Isolated bulls are more likely to get disoriented and start charging at people.

The bulls from the Miura ranch in the southwestern province of Seville completed the 848.6-metre (928-yard) course from a holding pen to the city bull ring in two minutes and 45 seconds.   Each morning from July 7 to 14, hundreds of daredevils, many wearing traditional white shirts with red scarves tied around their necks, tested their bravery by running ahead of a pack of bulls through the course set up in the narrow, winding streets of the medieval city.

- Like getting hit by a truck -
The bulls face almost certain death in afternoon bullfights, and earlier this month animal rights activists staged a "die-in" protest in the streets of the city to protest the tradition.   At the end of the festival's first run, a bull ran over and sunk one of its horns deep in the neck of a 46-year-old  American from San Francisco, Jaime Alvarez, narrowly missing key arteries.    He was injured as he was trying to take a video-selfie with his mobile phone.   "It was like a truck or car just hitting me in the side of the head. I put my hand on my neck and I saw blood," he told US television from a Pamplona hospital.   His wife had asked him not to take part in the bull run, he added.    He was released from hospital two days later.

Another 23-year-old American from Kentucky and 40-year-old Spaniard were also gored that day.   In addition to the eight men who were gored, another 27 people were taken to hospital for broken bones and bruises suffered during the bull runs.   About 500 more people were treated at the scene for more minor injuries, according to the Red Cross.   The festival dates back to medieval times and was immortalised in Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises".   It claims scores of casualties every year although last year just two men were gored.

Although the runs are over, the festival's closing ceremony takes place at midnight Sunday.   People from around the world flock to the city of 200,000 residents to test their bravery and enjoy the festival's mix of round-the-clock parties, religious processions and concerts.   Sixteen people have been killed in the bull runs since records started in 1911.   The last death was in 2009 when a bull gored a 27-year-old Spaniard in the neck, heart and lungs.
Date: Sun, 14 Jul 2019 12:47:38 +0200

Labuha, Indonesia, July 14, 2019 (AFP) - A major 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit the remote Maluku islands in eastern Indonesia Sunday, sending panicked residents running into the streets, but no tsunami warning was issued.   The shallow quake struck about 165 kilometres (100 miles) south-southwest of the town of Ternate in North Maluku province at 6:28 pm (0928 GMT), according to the US Geological Survey.
 
"The earthquake was quite strong, sending residents to flee outside. They are panicking and many are now waiting on the roadside," said local disaster mitigation official Mansur, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.   Officials were assessing the situation but there were no immediate reports of casualties, he told AFP.

In the town of Labuha, one of the closest to the epicentre, panicked residents took to motorcycles in a bid to flee to higher ground, according to an AFP photographer in town when the earthquake hit.   Local disaster official Ihsan Subur told Metro TV that no damage or casualties had been reported there so far, but residents took to the streets and many evacuated to higher ground.   "Electricity went of during the earthquake, but now it's back to normal," ubur said, adding that at least seven big aftershocks were felt after the initial quake.

The province was also hit by a 6.9-magnitude tremor last week.   Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide.   Last year, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island killed more than 2,200 people, with another thousand declared missing.   On December 26, 2004, a devastating 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 across the Indian Ocean region, including around 170,000 in Indonesia.
Date: Sun, 14 Jul 2019 09:02:36 +0200

Sydney, July 14, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck off northwest Australia Sunday, shaking buildings over a wide area but causing no immediate reports of damage or injuries.   The shallow quake hit early Sunday afternoon 10 kilometres under the Indian Ocean 203 kilometres (126 miles) west of the West Australian beach resort of Broome, the US Geological Survey said. No tsunami alert was issued.   Sergeant Neil Gordon of the Broome police department said the quake rattled the city for more than a minute.   "The building here was shaking for about a minute and a half ... a steady shaking for that period of time," he told AFP by telephone.   He added that there had been "no reports of any injuries or any damage throughout the district," following the tremor.   The national broadcaster ABC said there were some reports of minor damage from the quake, and no injuries.   Australian media said the tremor was felt across a long stretch of the northwestern coast of Australia, from the West Australian capital of Perth and the mining centres of Karatha and Port Hedland to the south and as far as Darwin to the north.

Thursday 11th July 2019
https://www.who.int/csr/don/11-july-2019-ebola-drc/en/

The outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, Democratic Republic of the Congo continues this past week with a similar transmission intensity to the previous week. While the number of new cases continues to ease in former hotspots, such as Butembo, Katwa and Mandima health zones, there has been an increase in cases in Beni, and a high incidence of cases continues in parts of Mabalako Health Zone. In addition to these re-emerging hotspots, there are a large number of people with confirmed and probable infections moving to other health zones, with the greatest number coming from Beni Health Zone. The movement of cases causes the outbreak to spread to new health zones and re-emerge in health zones with previously controlled infections. Overall, this underscores the importance of robust mechanisms for listing and following up contacts and understanding the motivations for peoples’ decisions to move.

After the first reported case in the Ariwara Health Zone on 30 June, no new cases have been observed in that health zone. A response team deployed to that zone continues to identify contacts, engage the community, and vaccinate individuals at risk. Response personnel from the bordering countries of Uganda and South Sudan continue to support operational readiness activities. Resources are being dedicated to monitoring the Uganda-Democratic Republic of the Congo border in that area.

In the 21 days from 19 June through 9 July 2019, 72 health areas within 22 health zones reported new cases, representing 11% of the 664 health areas within North Kivu and Ituri provinces (Figure 2). During this period, a total of 247 confirmed cases were reported, the majority of which were from the health zones of Beni (41%, n=101), Mabalako (19%, n=48), Lubero (6%, n=16), and Mandima (5%, n=13). As of 09 July 2019, a total of 2437 EVD cases, including 2343 confirmed and 94 probable cases, were reported (Table 1). A total of 1646 deaths were reported (overall case fatality ratio 68%), including 1552 deaths among confirmed cases. Of the 2437 confirmed and probable cases with known age and sex, 57% (1384) were female, and 29% (704) were children aged less than 18 years.

Cases continue to increase among health workers, with the cumulative number infected rising to 132 (5% of total cases). Of the 128 health workers with information available, the greatest proportion is among health workers at health posts [poste de santé] (20%, n = 26) and private health facilities (35%, n = 45). The majority (68%, n = 87) of health worker infections were among nurses.

No new EVD cases or deaths have been reported in the Republic of Uganda since the previous EVD Disease Outbreak News publication on 13 June 2019. As of 3 July, 108 contacts exposed to those cases were identified, and they all completed the 21-day follow-up period. All contacts were asymptomatic. Arua district, located in the north-western part of Uganda near the Uganda-Democratic Republic of the Congo border, is currently stepping up its response readiness to prevent imported cases of Ebola following the case that died on 30 June 2019 in Ariwara Health Zone in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, located 8 kilometres from the Uganda border. This case is known to have over 200 contacts, some of whom are in the communities bordering the Arua district. As of 9 July 2019, two suspected cases in the Arua district were reported and both tested negative. As of 9 July 2019, the cumulative number of individuals vaccinated in Arua district is 811 out of 1092 targeted front line and healthcare workers.

More information here: https://www.who.int/csr/don/11-july-2019-ebola-drc/en/

Date: Sat, 13 Jul 2019 10:41:55 +0200

Kuala Lumpur, July 13, 2019 (AFP) - Flash floods killed a Dutch tourist in a popular cave located in the rugged Mulu National Park on Malaysia's Borneo island, an official said Saturday, as a search continues for a missing guide.    Local fire and rescue chief Law Poh Kiong identified the dead man as 66-year-old Peter Hans Hovenkamp from Utrecht in the central Netherlands.     "He died due to drowning following flash floods in the caves. His body was found in a river inside the cave and was taken to the Miri public hospital for a post-mortem on Saturday," he told AFP.   Law said a search-and-rescue operation involving 16 officers had been launched to locate 20-year local tour guide Roviezal Robin.   Eight other tourists in the same group "almost become victims" but fled to higher ground and escaped from being washed into the river, Law added.

Hovenkamp was reported missing on Friday while the group was touring the popular "Deer Cave", home to an estimated three million bats which form amazing patterns in the sky when they leave each dusk.   Mulu park, located in the remote Borneo jungle of Sarawak state and famous for its caves, cliffs and gorges, is a UNESCO world heritage site.   It sees thousands of visitors annually, particularly for its cooling rains during the summer months.    Law described the death as "a freak tragedy."
Date: Sat, 13 Jul 2019 09:52:36 +0200

Kathmandu, July 13, 2019 (AFP) - Floods and landslides triggered by torrential monsoon rains have killed at least 40 people across South Asia in the last two days, officials said Saturday.   The monsoon, which lasts from June to September, causes widespread death and destruction across South Asia each year.   In Nepal, 27 people have died in floods and landslides after heavy rains hit the country's eastern region and the southern plains.

Bishwaraj Pokharel, spokesperson for Nepal Police, added that another 11 people were injured and 15 others reported missing.    Three of the victims were killed when a wall collapsed in the capital Kathmandu.   "Our first priority is life saving rescue and all our resources have been deployed," Home Ministry official Umakanta Adhikari told AFP.

Police used boats to bring people to safety as rivers swelled, inundating their settlements, while parents were seen wading across chest-high waters carrying children on their shoulders.    Nepal's weather department issued a high alert for the southern Sapta Koshi river on Saturday and sent SMS warnings to people in the area.

In neighbouring India 11 deaths have been recorded in the north-eastern states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, officials said Friday.  Monsoon floods have inundated 21 districts in Assam, affecting thousands, officials said Friday.

In Bangladesh aid groups were providing rations to Rohingya refugees in the southeast of the country with the UN World Food Programme saying Friday that two people including a child had died.   Last year, more than 1,200 people were been killed across South Asia in monsoon storms with India's Kerala suffering its worst floods in nearly 100 years.
Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2019 16:00:57 +0200

Chennai, India, July 12, 2019 (AFP) - A special 50-wagon train carrying 2.5 million litres of water arrived in the Indian city of Chennai Friday, as the southern hub reels under one of its worst shortages in decades.    The wagons were hauled by a special locomotive, decorated with flowers and with a "Drinking Water for Chennai" banner on its front.   Four special trains a day have been called up to bring water to Chennai -- India's sixth most populous city -- from Vellore, some 80 miles (125 kilometres) away, to help battle the drought.    The first consignment will be taken to a water treatment centre, and then distributed in trucks to different parts of the metropolis on Saturday.   Chennai has seen only a fraction of the rain it usually receives during June and July.   The city of 4.9 million people also needed trains to bring water in when it suffered a similar crisis in 2001.

The bustling capital of Tamil Nadu state normally requires at least 825 million litres of water a day, but authorities are currently only able to supply 60 percent of that.   With temperatures regularly hitting 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), reservoirs have run dry and other water sources are dwindling further each day.   The Chennai metro has turned off its air conditioning, farmers have been forced to stop watering their crops, and offices have asked staff to work from home.   The city's economy has also taken a hit as some hotels and restaurants shut shop temporarily, and there have been reports of fights breaking out as people queue for water. 
Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2019 11:42:26 +0200

Sydney, July 12, 2019 (AFP) - A looming ban on climbing Australia's Uluru rock, intended to protect the sacred site from damage, has instead triggered a damaging influx of visitors, tourism operators said Friday.    Clambering up the giant red monolith, also known as Ayers Rock, will be prohibited from October -- in line with the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   But a rush to beat the ban has led to a sharp increase in tourists and is causing its own problems for the World Heritage Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.   Families arriving in campers vans and RVs are a particular problem, chief executive of Tourism Central Australia Stephen Schwer told AFP.   "We have got so much of one particular market coming, we don't have enough infrastructure to handle the number of drive travellers."

While most visitors are doing the right thing, camping venues in the area are at capacity with advance bookings, leaving many less organised arrivals to set up illegally.   "People don't realise when they go off the road they are actually trespassing on pastoral land, or Aboriginal land, or protected land," Schwer said.   "We are getting people that are leaving their rubbish behind and lighting fires," he added.   "Sadly, people are also emptying their toilet waste out of their vans on what they think is unpopulated land, but is actually private land."   In the 12 months to June 2019, more than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year.   Yet just 13 percent of those who visited also climbed the rock, the government agency said.    Tourism operators say that Australian and Japanese tourists most commonly seek to climb Uluru.

The Aboriginal connection to the site dates back tens of thousands of years and it has great spiritual and cultural significance to them.   "Since the hand back of Uluru and Kata Tjuta to traditional owners in 1985, visitors have been encouraged to develop an understanding and respect for Anangu and their culture," a spokesperson for Parks Australia said.     "This is reflected in the 'please don't climb' message," they added.   Lyndee Severin from Curtin Springs station and roadhouse, one of just a few camping venues within 100 kilometres of Uluru, said "the vast majority of people are doing the right thing" but hundreds were setting up illegally by the side of the road or down a bush track.   "So we have some people that think that the rules don't apply to them," she told AFP.