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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".
More ...

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone - US Consular Information Sheet
June 11, 2007
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Sierra Leone is a developing country in western Africa still recovering from a ten-year civil war that ended in 2002.
English is the official language, but Kri
, an English-based language, is widely used.
Tourist facilities in the capital, Freetown, are limited; elsewhere, they are rudimentary or nonexistent.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Sierra Leone for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Visitors are strongly encouraged to obtain visas in advance of travel to Sierra Leone.
Visitors to Sierra Leone are required to show International Certificates of Vaccination (yellow card) upon arrival at the airport with a record of vaccination against yellow fever. See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Sierra Leone and other countries.
The Embassy of Sierra Leone is located at 1701 19th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009; telephone (202) 939-9261.
The Embassy also maintains a website at www.embassyofsierraleone.org.
Information may also be obtained from the Sierra Leonean Mission to the United Nations, 245 East 49th St., New York, NY 10017; telephone (212) 688-1656 and from the website of the Sierra Leonean High Commission in London at http://www.slhc-uk.org.uk/.
Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Sierra Leonean embassy or consulate.

See Entry and Exit Requirements for more information pertaining to dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction.
Please refer to our Customs Information to learn more about customs regulations.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Security in Sierra Leone has improved significantly since the end of the civil war in 2002.
The United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) withdrew in December 2005 and Sierra Leone resumed responsibilities for its own security. The Sierra Leonean police are working to improve their professionalism and capabilities, but fall short of American standards in response time, communications, and specialty skills.

Areas outside Freetown lack most basic services. Embassy employees are free to travel throughout Sierra Leone.
Travelers are urged to exercise caution, however, especially when traveling beyond the capital.
Road conditions are hazardous and serious vehicle accidents are common.
Emergency response to vehicular and other accidents ranges from slow to nonexistent.

There are occasional unauthorized, possibly armed, roadblocks outside Freetown, where travelers might be asked to pay a small amount of money to the personnel manning the roadblock.
Because many Sierra Leoneans do not speak English, especially outside of Freetown, it can be difficult for foreigners to communicate their identity.
Public demonstrations are rare but can turn violent.
U.S. citizens should are advised to avoid large crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations, and maintain security awareness at all times.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements 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:
Entrenched poverty in Sierra Leone has led to criminality.
There has been an increase in homicide, armed robbery, and residential burglary.
Petty crime and pick pocketing of wallets, cell phones, and passports are very common.
Law enforcement authorities usually respond to crimes slowly, if at all.
Police investigative response are often incomplete and don’t provide support to victims.
Inefficiency is a serious problem at all levels within the government of Sierra Leone.
Americans traveling to or residing in Sierra Leone should maintain a heightened sense of awareness of their surroundings to help avoid becoming the victims of crime.

Business fraud is rampant and the perpetrators often target foreigners, including Americans.
Schemes previously associated with Nigeria are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Sierra Leone, and pose a danger of grave financial loss.
Typically these scams begin with unsolicited communication (usually e-mails) from strangers who promise quick financial gain, often by transferring large sums of money or valuables out of the country, but then require a series of "advance fees" to be paid, such as fees for legal documents or taxes.
Of course, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees.
A common variation is the scammer’s claim to be a refugee or émigré of a prominent West African family, or a relative of a present or former political leader who needs assistance in transferring large sums of cash.
Still other variations appear to be legitimate business deals that require advance payments on contracts.
Sometimes victims are convinced to provide bank account and credit card information and financial authorization that drains their accounts, incurs large debts against their credit, and takes their life savings.

The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if a proposition looks too good to be true, it probably is.
You should carefully check and research any unsolicited business proposal before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel.
It is virtually impossible to recover money lost through these scams. Please see the Department of State’s brochures on Advance Fee Business Scams and on International Financial Scams for more information.

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:
Quality and comprehensive medical services are very limited in Freetown, and are almost nonexistent for all but most minor treatment outside of the capital.
Persons with unstable chronic medical conditions that require on-going medical treatment or medications are discouraged from traveling to Sierra Leone.
Medicines are in short supply and due to inadequate diagnostic equipment, lack of medical resources and limited medical specialty personnel, complex diagnosis and treatment are unavailable.
The quality of medications in Sierra Leone is inconsistent and counterfeit drugs remain a problem.
Local pharmacies are generally unreliable. In the event medications are needed, such as over-the-counter medication, antibiotics, allergy remedies, or malaria prophylaxis, travelers may contact U.S. Embassy Health Unit personnel to receive general information about reliable pharmacies.

Medical facilities in Sierra Leone are scarce and for the most part sub-standard; outside the capital, standards are even lower.
There is no ambulance service in Sierra Leone, trauma care is extremely limited, and local hospitals should only be used in the event of an extreme medical emergency.
Many primary health care workers, especially in rural areas, lack adequate professional training.
Instances of misdiagnosis, improper treatment, and the administration of improper drugs have been reported.
Life-threatening emergencies often require evacuation by air ambulance at the patient's expense.
For a list of hospitals, visit our website at http://freetown.usembassy.gov/ .

Gastrointestinal diseases and malaria pose serious risk to travelers in Sierra Leone.
For additional information on malaria, including protective measures, see 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 internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website 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 Sierra Leone is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Most main roads in Freetown are narrow and paved but have potholes; extremely narrow unpaved side streets are generally navigable.
Most roads outside Freetown are unpaved and are generally passable with a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
However, certain stretches of mapped road are often impassable during the rainy season, which usually lasts from May to September.
During the rainy season, add several hours to travel time between Freetown and outlying areas.
There is a major road repair and resurfacing program going on throughout the country that is slowly improving the quality of roads.
Public transport (bus or group taxi) is erratic, unsafe, and not recommended.
U.S. government employees are prohibited from using public transportation except for taxis that operate in conjunction with an approved hotel and that are rented on a daily basis.

Many vehicles on the road in Sierra Leone are unsafe and accidents resulting from the poor condition of these vehicles, including multi-vehicle accidents, are common.
Many drivers on the road in Sierra Leone are inexperienced and often drive without proper license or training.
Serious accidents are common, especially outside of Freetown, where the relative lack of traffic allows for greater speeds.
The chance of being involved in an accident increases greatly when traveling at night, and Embassy officials are not authorized to travel outside of major cities after dark.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

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

Passengers departing Freetown on certain airlines should expect to pay an airport tax of $40.00 (payable in U.S. Dollars).
Several regional airlines service Freetown’s Lungi International Airport; however, it is not uncommon for them to alter scheduled stops, cancel or postpone flights on short notice, and overbook flights.
Travelers may experience unexpected delays even after checking in and must be prepared to handle alternate ticketing and/or increased food and lodging expenses.
European carriers are typically more reliable.
American citizens departing Lungi Airport have reported incidents of attempted extortion by officials claiming that travel documents were not in order.
Luggage can often be lost or pilfered.

Lungi Airport is located across a large body of water from Freetown.
There are helicopter and ferry services in connection with most major flights to transport passengers to the capital; however, the ferry service has frequent delays.
It should be noted that the ferry terminal is located in East Freetown, which has a higher crime rate than other parts of the capital.
Embassy personnel use available helicopter services, which usually cost $50 each way, to transit from Freetown to the airport.


SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Sierra Leone is a cash economy; however, an anti-money laundering law passed in July 2005 prohibits importing more than $10,000 in cash except through a financial institution.
Travelers are advised not to use credit cards in Sierra Leone because very few facilities accept them and there is a serious risk that using a card will lead to the number being stolen for use in fraudulent transactions.
There are no ATMs connected to international networks.
Travelers' checks are not usually accepted as payment; however, travelers’ checks can be cashed at some banks including Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and Rokel Commercial Bank.
The traveler must, however, have proof of identification and a signed receipt by the institution where the travelers’ checks were purchased.
Currency exchanges should be handled through a bank or established foreign exchange bureau.
Exchanging money with street vendors is dangerous because criminals may "mark" such people for future attack and there is the risk of receiving counterfeit currency.

Sierra Leone's customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning the export of gems and precious minerals, such as diamonds and gold.
All mineral resources, including gold and diamonds, belong to the State and only the government of Sierra Leone can issue mining and export licenses.
The legal authority for the issuance of licenses is vested in the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources.
Failure to comply with relevant legislation can lead to serious criminal penalties.
For further information on mining activities in Sierra Leone, contact the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources:
The Director of Mines, Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources, Fifth Floor, Youyi Building, Brookfields, Freetown, Sierra Leone; tel. (232-22) 240-420 or 240-176; fax (232-22) 240-574.

Corruption is a problem in Sierra Leone.
Travelers requesting service from government officials at any level may be asked for bribes.
You should report corrupt government officials to the Anti-Corruption Commission at one of the following locations:
The Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission, 3 Gloucester Street, Freetown; 14a Lightfoot Boston Street, Freetown; 37 Kissy Town Road, Bo, Southern Province; Independence Square, Rogbaneh Road, Makeni; tel. (232- 22) 229-984 or 227-100 or 221-701; fax (232-22) 221-900; email: acc@sierratel.sl or info@anticorruption.sl;
and websites www.anticorruptionsl.org/anonymous.html and www.anticorruptionsl.org.

You must obtain official permission to photograph government buildings, airports, bridges, or official facilities including the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the American Embassy.
Areas where photography is prohibited may not be clearly marked or defined.
People sometimes do not want to be photographed for religious reasons or may want to be paid for posing.
Photographers should ask permission before taking someone’s picture.

U.S. citizens who are also Sierra Leonean nationals must provide proof of payment of taxes on revenues earned in Sierra Leone before being granted clearance to depart the country.
The Government of Sierra Leone now recognizes dual U.S.-Sierra Leonean citizenship; however; the U.S. Embassy may have difficulty assisting American citizens involved in legal or criminal proceedings if they entered the country on a Sierra Leonean passport.


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.
Sierra Leone’s judiciary is under-funded and overburdened, and offenders often must endure lengthy pre-trial or pre-hearing delays and detention.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Sierra Leone laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Sierra Leone 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.

Travelers should carefully check their passport to see the length of time they are permitted to remain in the country and the validity of their visa.
Travelers leaving the country with an expired visa may incur additional charges.
Any Sierra Leonean visa issues can be regulated at the immigration office at Rawdon Street in Freetown.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website.

A significant number of American prospective adoptive parents have found that Sierra Leonean children offered for adoption are not orphans under U.S. immigration law, which has ultimately resulted in denials of U.S. immigrant visas for children they adopt in Sierra Leonean courts.
Please refer to the Sierra Leone adoption flyer for more information.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Sierra Leone are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Sierra Leone.
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. Embassy is located at Leicester Square, Regent; tel. (232) (22) 515 000 or (232) (76) 515 000; fax (232) (22) 515 355.
The Embassy maintains a home page on the Internet at http://freetown.usembassy.gov/.
*

*

*
This replaces the consular information sheet dated October 31, 2006, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirement; Crime; Medical Facilities and Health Information; Aviation Safety Oversight; Special Circumstances; Criminal Penalties; and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 7 Aug 2019 21:56:59 +0200 (METDST)

Freetown, Aug 7, 2019 (AFP) - Seven people have died and more than 8,000 have been made homeless after torrential rain in Sierra Leone caused massive floods, officials said.   "We can confirm the death of seven people, with 8,000 people severely affected by the flooding in Freetown and other parts of the country since last Friday," John Vandy, director of the Disaster Management Office in the National Security Office told AFP on Wednesday.   "The majority of the flood victims are from slum communities and swampy areas," Vandy said.   The government is working with development partners to assess the damage and offer relief, with more heavy rain forecast.   The authorities have urged people to leave flood-prone areas in Freetown after reports of a minor mudslide in an area where more than 1,100 people died in a landslip in 2017.
Date: Sat 11 May 2019
Source: Today [edited]

A 5-year-old girl was brought to the emergency room at Evelina London Children's Hospital [UK] with itchy, rather unsightly sores on both legs. She had recently returned from a weeks-long trip to Sierra Leone, and the lesions, which 1st appeared 3 weeks into her stay there, had become larger and ulcerated.

Diagnosis: cutaneous diphtheria, a disease rarely seen in many industrialised countries, including Britain and the United States, where most children are protected by the diphtheria toxoid vaccine, DTaP, and a booster shot of the tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine, Tdap.

Still, as more and more Americans of all ages travel abroad, often to less developed areas, travellers and doctors in this country need to be alert to unusual and often perplexing skin infections.

Even though cutaneous diphtheria is not a notifiable disease here [the U.S.], from September 2015 to March 2018, 4 cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [1]. The patients, 2 from Minnesota and 1 each from Washington and New Mexico, had recently returned from Somalia, Ethiopia and the Philippines. The CDC noted in a weekly report in March [2019] [1] that reported cases of this highly contagious infection had recently increased 10-fold, from an average of only 3 a year during the period 1998 to 2011, to 33 a year during 2012 to 2017.

Still, the agency said, these numbers underestimate the true incidence of such infections. Although the 4 new cases were confined to the skin, the lesions can be a source of a life-threatening respiratory infection in people not adequately immunised against diphtheria. Thus, people who might have had close contact with the patients needed to be checked, perhaps treated with antibiotics, and if they lacked immunity to diphtheria, immunised with diphtheria toxoid-containing vaccine.

Before travelling to developing countries, people often check with the CDC or a travel health clinic to determine what immunisations they may need to update and which health precautions -- like drinking only bottled water -- are recommended. But having visited some pretty wild areas in the last 5 decades, I know that many people neglect to consult travel health experts in advance of their trips and are lax about updating needed vaccines.

Upon returning home with a health complaint, they often consult physicians who may have never seen the condition before or even heard of it since medical school, if then.

While emerging diseases like SARS and Ebola rightly garner widespread attention, Dr Jay S. Keystone of the Toronto Medisys Travel Health Clinic has noted that "skin problems are among the most frequent medical problems in returned travellers."

In a large series of traveller-related skin problems analysed by the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network, Dr Keystone reported that among ill travellers who sought medical care, cutaneous larva migrans, insect bites and bacterial infections were the most common disorders, making up 30 per cent of 4742 cases [<https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/post-travel-evaluation/skin-soft-tissue-infections-in-returned-travelers#5024>]. He added that the reported cases did not include those that were easily treated during travel or that cleared up on their own, probably many more.

=====================
[The rest of the news article mostly concerns infections acquired by travellers, such as cutaneous larva migrans (a parasitic skin disease) and infections transmitted by the bites of insects, like malaria, dengue fever, filariasis, and leishmaniasis. The full article can be found at the source URL. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[1. Griffith J, Bozio CH, Poel AJ, et al. Imported Toxin-Producing Cutaneous Diphtheria -- Minnesota, Washington, and New Mexico, 2015-2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:281-284. DOI: <http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6812a2External>.]
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[The following has been extracted from my moderator comments in a prior ProMED-mail post, Diphtheria - Norway ex Mozambique: cutaneous, traveler; archive number:  http://promedmail.org/post/20140621.2556752.

"Either toxigenic or nontoxigenic strains of _C. diphtheriae_ can cause cutaneous diphtheria. Cutaneous diphtheria due to toxigenic strains is endemic in tropical countries and has been responsible for infections in travelers to these countries, even in those who are vaccinated. In the United States, cutaneous diphtheria has been most often associated with homeless persons [poor sanitation, poverty, and crowded living conditions] and the organisms isolated from recent cases were nontoxigenic (<http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/dip.pdf>). Cutaneous diphtheria is characterized by skin ulcers, which are usually chronic and may become coinfected with other pathogens such as _Staphylococcus aureus_ and _Streptococcus pyogenes_. Cutaneous diphtheria is uncommonly complicated by toxic cardiac or neurologic manifestations.

Humans are the only reservoir of _C. diphtheriae_. Transmission of _C. diphtheriae_ can occur through respiratory droplets, direct contact with cutaneous infections, and articles soiled with discharges from the respiratory tract or skin lesions. Organisms can be shed for up to 4 weeks without antibiotics, but chronic carriers may shed organisms for 6 months or more. Effective antibiotic therapy promptly terminates shedding. The organisms can survive in dust and clothing for up to 6 months (<http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/dip.pdf>). Shedding from cutaneous lesions can cause respiratory and cutaneous infections in contacts.

Cutaneous diphtheria is treated with erythromycin or penicillin for 14 days. The disease is usually not contagious 48 hours after starting antibiotics. Elimination of the organism should be documented by 2 consecutive negative cultures after therapy is completed. Management of contacts of cutaneous diphtheria should include screening for possible respiratory or cutaneous diphtheria and obtaining nasopharyngeal cultures for _C. diphtheriae_. For close contacts, especially household contacts, a diphtheria booster, appropriate for age, is given. Contacts should also receive antibiotics -- benzathine penicillin G or a 7- to 10-day course of oral erythromycin. Identified carriers in the community should also receive antibiotics. However, if the strain is shown to be nontoxigenic, the CDC recommends that investigation of contacts can be discontinued (<http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/dip.pdf>). Since 1980, cutaneous diphtheria is not a nationally reportable disease in the U.S.  (<http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/surv-manual/chpt01-dip.html>)." - ProMED Mod.ML]
Date: Thu 20 Dec 2018
Source: NBC News [edited]

Marburg virus, a deadly cousin of Ebola virus, has been found for the 1st time in bats in west Africa, US researchers said on Thursday [20 Dec 2018]. The discovery means Marburg is a threat in west Africa -- where a giant epidemic of Ebola infected 28 000 people and killed 11 000 of them in 2014-2016. The region is crisscrossed by roads and paths and people travel across borders to towns and cities, making it easier to spread outbreaks of infectious disease. Usually outbreaks of Ebola and Marburg are in isolated regions and have been less likely to spread.

The knowledge that Marburg lives in bats in Sierra Leone can help officials prepare for potential outbreaks, the researchers said. "[A total of 5] Egyptian rousette fruit bats [_Rousettus aegyptiacus_] tested positive for active Marburg virus infection. Scientists caught the bats separately at locations in 3 health districts: Moyamba, Koinadugu and Kono," the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which led one of the expeditions that found the infected bats, said in a statement. "There have been no reported cases of people sick with Marburg in Sierra Leone, but the virus's presence in bats means people nearby could be at risk for contracting Marburg virus. Marburg virus is a cousin to Ebola virus that causes a similar, often fatal disease in people."

Both Marburg and Ebola are terrifying because, depending on the strain and availability of medical help, they kill as many as 90% of victims. They can cause a hemorrhagic fever that causes internal and external bleeding, as well as severe diarrhea and vomiting that lead to shock.

The Egyptian fruit bat has been known to carry Marburg. It's a reservoir, meaning the animals can carry and spread a virus, but it doesn't make them sick. Bats are reservoirs for many viruses, including Marburg, rabies and Middle East respiratory syndrome virus (MERS).

"We have known for a long time that rousette bats, which carry Marburg virus in other parts of Africa, also live in West Africa. So it's not surprising that we'd find the virus in bats there," said ecologist Jonathan Towner, who led the CDC team. "This discovery is an excellent example of how our work can identify a threat and help us warn people of the risk before they get sick."

In Uganda a year ago 3 people died in an outbreak of Marburg. in 2005, a large outbreak of Marburg in Angola killed 90% of the 252 people infected.

There's a large cave full of fruit bats in Uganda where people, including tourists, have caught Marburg [virus]. "In eastern and central Africa, these bats can roost in colonies of more than 100 000 animals. However, the colonies of Egyptian fruit bats identified in Sierra Leone so far have been much smaller, which may explain why there have not been any known Marburg virus disease outbreaks in this country," CDC said in a statement.

Bats can spread viruses by biting people, but their saliva and guano can also spread the viruses -- for instance, when they forage on fruit that people also gather and eat. People can catch viruses when they hunt and eat bats, as well.

Marburg's relative, Ebola, is more common and may also be spread by bats. The Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa is now fighting a large outbreak of Ebola. At least 549 people have been infected in the outbreak and 326 have died, the World Health Organization said on Thursday [20 Dec 2018]. At least 50,000 people have been vaccinated against the virus, but civil war has made it difficult for health workers to do their jobs. The virus has also spread in towns, making it hard to contain.  [byline: Maggie Fox]
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[The occurrence of Marburg virus in other countries where the Egyptian rousette fruit bat occurs is not surprising. Detection of the virus in these bats in Sierra Leone, west Africa, serves as a warning not only in that country and in Uganda, but in other countries where this bat is found. Health care providers need to be aware of this when attending patients with hemorrhagic fevers.

Uganda has reported the majority of Marburg virus infections in bats and in humans. There have been sporadic cases of Marburg virus disease in Uganda in the past:

- 2007: 4 cases, including 2 deaths in Ibanda district, western Uganda;
- 2008: 2 unrelated cases in travellers returning to the Netherlands and USA, respectively, after visiting caves in western Uganda;
- 2012: 15 cases, including 4 deaths in Ibanda and Kabale districts, western Uganda; and
- 2014: 1 case in a healthcare professional from Mpigi district, central Uganda.

The virus undoubtedly remains endemic in bats in the country, and one hopes that public education will result in less human contact with bats there. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sierra Leone:
Date: Thu 13 Dec 2018
Source: Journal du Cameroun [abridged, edited]

The Sierra Leone government says it has mounted a search for active cases of measles nationwide as it declared an outbreak of the disease in 2 of its 16 districts. The Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) said on Thu [13 Dec 2018] that a total of 7 cases have been confirmed out of about 2 dozen suspected cases reported in Kambia District in the north and Pujehun District in the south. Both districts are home to the 2 largest land entry border points between Sierra Leone and its 2 neighbors, Guinea and Liberia.

Officials say preliminary investigations revealed that the index case of the outbreak in Kambia, which accounts for 4 of the confirmed cases, came from neighboring Guinea, which has been battling a large measles epidemic since 2017. The cases in Pujehun are believed to have come from Liberia, which is also said to be dealing with a large measles epidemic.

MoHS officials said the 1st suspected cases were reported on 6 Dec 2018, after which efforts were made to transport and test the samples. The 7 cases were confirmed positive on Wed [12 Dec 2018], said Dr Thomas T Samba, the head of the Public Health Emergency Operations Center (PHEOC) and acting chief medical officer at the Ministry of Health. Dr Samba told journalists at an emergency press conference that a team from the rapid response unit of the Ministry of Health had been dispatched to the affected areas. "We are doing everything in our power and capacity to bring this outbreak under control," he said. But while the MoHS says it needs 350 000 doses of the vaccine to contain the current outbreak, it currently has in stock only about 165 000 doses.

Over 80 per cent of vaccines targeting child diseases in Sierra Leone are provided by donors. Vaccination, which is free, is said to be the only reliable way to ensure children are protected against this life-threatening illness, which can be devastating in its effects.

This is the 2nd time Sierra Leone is declaring a measles outbreak this year [2018] alone. In June 2018, the 1st outbreak was recorded in the northern Falaba district, which also shares a border with Guinea. About 25 cases were recorded back then at the start of that epidemic.
Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2018 19:44:03 +0200

Freetown, July 26, 2018 (AFP) - A new Ebola virus has been found in bats in Sierra Leone, two years after the end of an outbreak that killed over 11,000 across West Africa, the government said on Thursday.   It is not yet known whether the new Bombali species of the virus -- which researchers say could be transmitted to humans -- can develop into the deadly Ebola disease.   "At this time, it is not yet known if the Bombali Ebola virus has been transmitted to people or if it causes disease in people but it has the potential to infect human cells," Amara Jambai, a senior ministry of health official, told AFP.   "This is early stages of the findings," Jambai added, calling on the public to remain calm while awaiting further research.

A health ministry spokesman and a researcher who worked on the discovery confirmed the findings to AFP.   Researchers who found the new virus in the northern Bombali region are now working with the Sierra Leone government to determine whether any humans were infected.   "As precautionary measures, people should refrain from eating bats," Harold Thomas, health ministry spokesman told AFP.   The worst-ever Ebola outbreak started in December 2013 in southern Guinea before spreading to two neighbouring west African countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The West African outbreak was caused by the Zaire species, which has historically been the most deadly in humans since it was first identified in 1976.   That outbreak killed more than 11,300 people out of nearly 29,000 registered cases, according to World Health Organization estimates.    The WHO declared the epidemic over in January this year, but this was followed by flare-ups in all three countries.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 8 Nov 2019 12:35:08 +0100 (MET)

Tehran, Nov 8, 2019 (AFP) - An earthquake rocked northwestern Iran before dawn on Friday, killing at least five people and injuring more than 300 in crumbling and collapsed buildings.   The 5.9-magnitude quake struck at 1:17 am (2247 GMT Thursday) about 120 kilometres (75 miles) southeast of the city of Tabriz, in East Azerbaijan province, the Iranian Seismological Centre said.

Described as "moderate", the quake was eight kilometres (five miles) deep and was followed by five aftershocks.    The provincial governor, Mohammad-Reza Pourmohammadi, told Iranian media that rescue operations were underway in 41 villages, but the damage was largely concentrated in two, Varnakesh and Varzaghan.   According to the emergency services, nearly 340 people were admitted to hospital for treatment, but all but 17 were discharged by Friday noon.   Some 40 homes were levelled by the quake and over 200 head of cattle killed.

Around 100 injured residents were pulled out of the rubble of their damaged or flattened homes.   Around noon, emergency teams distributed survival kits, stoves, blankets and tents in 78 villages.   In Varnakesh, an emergency shelter was set up.   State television broadcast images of people who had fled their homes warming themselves around a fire lit on a public highway.   But the damage appeared to be less widespread than initially feared.   The United States Geological Survey (USGS) had issued an alert warning that "significant casualties are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread".

In many areas people had returned to their homes by daybreak after the initial panic subsided and the aftershocks petered out.   The gas supply was restored to all but one of the affected villages.   The quake was felt in the provincial capital Tabriz and as far away as the city of Rasht, near the Black Sea coast 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the epicentre.   Tabriz, which has a population of more than a million, is a historic city which served as Iran's capital several times between the 13th and 16th centuries. Its bazaar is a UNESCO world heritage site.   Iran sits where two major tectonic plates meet and experiences frequent seismic activity.

The country has suffered a number of major disasters in recent decades, including at the ancient city of Bam, which was decimated by a catastrophic earthquake in 2003 that killed at least 31,000 people.     In 1990, a 7.4-magnitude quake in northern Iran killed 40,000 people, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless, reducing dozens of towns and nearly 2,000 villages to rubble.   Iran has experienced at least two other significant quakes in recent years -- one in 2005 that killed more than 600 people and another in 2012 that left some 300 dead.
Date: Fri, 8 Nov 2019 11:03:11 +0100 (MET)

London, Nov 8, 2019 (AFP) - Royal Mail on Friday made a High Court bid to block a postal strike by workers due next month ahead of Christmas and around the time of Britain's general election.   Members of the Communication Workers Union recently voted to strike amid a dispute with management over pay and other employment conditions.   In a statement, Royal Mail pointed to "potential irregularities in the ballot".   It added: "The company is making this High Court application because the integrity and legal soundness of any electoral process is vital," Royal Mail said in relation to the strike ballot.   "This is particularly the case in relation to potential industrial action around the general election on 12 December 2019.    "Royal Mail is also making this application because of the damage industrial action would do to the company and its customers in the run-up to Christmas," the group added.   It expects the hearing to take place next week.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 17:15:09 +0100 (MET)

Paris, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Top European medical bodies demanded Thursday that Chinese traditional medicines be subject to the same regulatory oversight as conventional Western methods, despite recent WHO recognition of their use.   "Just because the World Health Organisation includes a chapter on Traditional Chinese Medicine in its new International Classification of Diseases, it is not automatically safe to use without robust evidence," Professor Dan Marhala, President of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said in a statement issued by top European medical and scientific bodies.   The European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EA SAC) and the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (EAM) said European lawmakers must protect the health of European citizens.

Accordingly, the existing European regulatory framework should be revised to make sure Traditional Chinese Medicine (TC) is held to the same standards of proof and evidence as conventional medicine.   "There have been examples where some Traditional Chinese Medicine has undergone thorough pre-clinical investigation and proven in rigorous clinical trials to contribute significant health benefit -- artemisinin therapy for malaria, for example," Marhala said.   "There may be more leads to diagnosis and therapeutic benefit yet to be discovered but this can in no way mean that other claims can be accepted uncritically."   It was not necessarily the Who's intention to promote the use of TC, but its stamp of approval could lead supporters to promote wider application, the statement cautioned.   As a result, patients could be confused over which diagnosis was appropriate and which therapy was effective.   More serious still, said former EASAC president Jos van der Meer, is that some TCMs "can have serious side effects and interactions with other treatments."   "Moreover, patients may be at risk that severe diseases are treated ineffectively and conventional medical procedures delayed," he added.

The WHO included TCMs in an official classification of diseases coming into effect in January 2022.   In 2015, China's Tu Youyou won the Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering artemisinin, giving a huge boost to the credibility of TCM which many in the west deride as lacking scientific foundation and verging on quackery.   In China, traditional medicine has a long, distinguished history and its practitioners are treated with great respect.   EASAC comprises the national science academies of EU Member states, plus Norway and Switzerland.   FEAM groups medical academies which provide advice to the European authorities.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 17:11:10 +0100 (MET)

Riga, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of doctors and nurses rallied Thursday in front of the Latvian parliament in Riga calling for better pay in what was the Baltic state's largest protest in over a decade.   Police said more than 5,000 people, including patients, turned out for the protest, which featured coffins and signs with slogans such as "United for health", "I only want to work one job" and "Patients supporting doctors and nurses".   The LVSADA medical labour union organised the rally to condemn lawmakers for planning to increase their own salaries next year while reneging on a promise to boost wages in the chronically underfunded medical profession.   "We won't allow the healthcare system to be starved again," LVSADA chief Valdis Keris said at the rally, which state hospital employees attended by taking a day of unpaid leave.

Some doctors also participated in the protest by only performing emergency surgery and tending to emergency patients on Thursday while rescheduling everything else.    "The average monthly wage for a doctor at a Latvian public hospital is only between 1,000-3,000 euros ($1,100-$3,300)," protester and doctor Roberts Furmanis said in a statement sent to media.    "I work my daily shift at one hospital, at night I also work overtime driving around in an ambulance, plus sometimes I lecture at medical schools on my rare days off," he added.   "I get less than 3,000 euros a month for those jobs combined. How am I supposed to support my family?"   Last year, lawmakers voted to raise wages for almost all employees of the government-run healthcare system, but now say that they are unable to find the necessary funds in the 2020 state budget.    "I express deep regret for last year's promise, which we cannot carry out," speaker of parliament Inara Murniece told the rally.

Those protesting, however, point out that the 2020 state budget exceeds 10 billion euros for the first time ever in the country of just 1.9 million people -- or 700 million more euros than this year.    Medical workers are upset that while there is no room for better healthcare wages in the new budget, the country's lawmakers and ministers plan to increase their own salaries next year and have also earmarked taxpayer money for their respective political parties.    Thursday's rally was Latvia's largest since some 10,000 people attended a January 2009 protest against government cuts, which grew violent and resulted in dozens of arrests.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 15:13:02 +0100 (MET)
By Michelle FITZPATRICK

Frankfurt am Main, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of Lufthansa passengers faced disruptions Thursday as cabin crew in Germany staged a "massive" 48-hour walkout in the biggest escalation yet of a bitter row over pay and conditions.   The strike called by Germany's UFO flight attendants' union started at 2300 GMT on Wednesday and was to last until 2300 GMT on Friday.

Lufthansa said it had scrapped 700 flights on Thursday and some 600 the following day, warning that "around 180,000 passengers will be affected" across Germany.   The UFO union argued that the stoppage was necessary because negotiations with Lufthansa bosses were deadlocked.   But it accepted a surprise olive branch offered by Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr on Thursday, and agreed to preliminary talks over the weekend.    The current strike would carry on as planned "but would not for now be expanded", UFO said on its website.   Lufthansa said it regretted the inconvenience to passengers and stressed that it was working "to minimise the impact of this massive strike on our customers".

The carrier was running an alternative flight schedule where possible, and said passengers could rebook their journeys for free or swap their flights for train tickets.  Knut Kress, a passenger at a quieter than usual Munich airport, voiced support for the flight attendants.   "It's good that there are still unions defending something," he told AFP. But 48 hours "is a long time", he added.   Fellow traveller Birgit Kellner complained about the lack of notice for passengers.   "They should inform passengers a little earlier, not just two days before."   The walkout is UFO's biggest call to action since a week-long strike in 2015 hit Lufthansa with mass cancellations.   It is also seen as a test of strength for the union, weakened by months of infighting that have left Lufthansa questioning its right to speak for cabin crew.

- Internal disputes -
Lufthansa's finance chief Ulrik Svensson declined to put a price tag on the strike but said such stoppages typically cost "between 10 and 20 million" euros per day.   The union already staged a day-long warning strike last month at four Lufthansa subsidiary airlines, causing several dozen flights to be axed at Eurowings, Germanwings, SunExpress and Lufthansa CityLine.

But the flagship Lufthansa brand was spared the upheaval after management offered an unexpected two-percent pay rise to avert the strike.   Since then, however, UFO vice-president Daniel Flohr said no progress had been made in talks.   As well as higher pay for cabin crew across the Lufthansa group, UFO is demanding more benefits and easier routes into long-term contracts for temporary workers.

Lufthansa, however, has long argued that UFO no longer has the right to represent its staff following an internal leadership tussle, and has challenged the union's legal status in court.   But CEO Spohr hinted at a shift in position when he told reporters Thursday Lufthansa wanted to try to resolve the existing legal issues with UFO in the weekend meeting, hoping to then start formal arbitration talks.

UFO's internal disputes have cost it support among the Lufthansa group's 21,000 flight attendants, with some members switching to rival unions.   Separately on Thursday, Lufthansa reported a jump in third-quarter net profits but said it was slashing over 700 jobs at its Austrian Airlines subsidiary as the group seeks to trim costs in the face of fierce competition.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 09:57:41 +0100 (MET)

Singapore, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Tourists visiting Singapore can now check in at some hotels using facial recognition technology under a pilot programme that could cut waiting times and help tackle a labour crunch.  The tech-savvy country of 5.7 million people is increasingly turning to automation to speed up services and deal with workforce shortages, with robots deployed for tasks ranging from cleaning to making noodles.

Under the pilot launched Wednesday, visitors will not need to wait to be checked in by hotel staff but can instead use a phone app fitted with facial recognition technology or machines which scan their passports.   The data from the scan is sent to immigration authorities for checks after which the visitor is issued a room key, said the Singapore Tourism Board and Hotel Association, which announced the initiative this week.

The technology, reportedly being trialled at three hotels and is similar to that used in some airports including Singapore's Changi, could reduce check-in times by up to 70 percent, they said.   Singapore welcomed a record high 18.5 million visitors last year, up 6.2 percent from the year before. The city has more than 400 hotels with 67,000 rooms.
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 2019 15:31:58 +0100 (MET)

Amman, Nov 6, 2019 (AFP) - Eight people, including four tourists, were wounded in a knife attack on Wednesday at the famed archeological site of Jerash in northern Jordan, a security spokesman told AFP.   Four tourists -- three Mexicans and a Swiss woman -- were wounded, along with a Jordanian tour guide and a security officer who tried to stop the assailant, public security directorate spokesman Amer Sartawi said.   The attack took place around noon (1000 GMT) at the Roman ruins of Jerash, a popular attraction 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the capital Amman.   The health ministry confirmed that eight people had been wounded, with Sartawi saying earlier that they had "been transported to hospital for treatment".    He said the assailant had been arrested but did not specify his nationality, noting that the motive was as yet unknown.

Jordanian tour guide Zouheir Zreiqat was at the scene and told AFP that the attack happened "just before midday when around 100 foreign tourists" were at the site.    "A bearded man in his twenties wearing black and brandishing a knife started to stab tourists," according to Zreiqat.   He said others started to shout for help and he, along with three other tour guides and three tourists managed to stop the assailant.   "We chased him until we could grab him and get him on the ground," Zreiqat said.    "We took the knife from him. He stayed silent, without saying a word until the police arrived and arrested him."

- Violent attacks -
It was not the first time tourist sites have been targeted by attacks in Jordan.    In December 2016, in Karak, home to one of the region's biggest Crusader castles, 10 people were killed in an attack that also left 30 wounded.    Seven police officers, two Jordanian civilians and a Canadian tourist were killed in the attack.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group (IS) and sparked concern over its impact on tourism, a mainstay of the Jordanian economy.    Ten people were convicted of carrying out the attack, with two sentenced to death.   Several violent incidents struck the country the same year, including a suicide attack in June claimed by IS that killed seven Jordanian border guards near the frontier with Syria.    Amman has played a significant role in the United States-led coalition fight against IS in Syria and Iraq, both neighbouring Jordan.

- Economic troubles -
Lacking in natural resources, the country of nearly 10 million depends on tourism and the kingdom has been working to pull the key sector out of a crisis caused by regional unrest in recent years.   Jordan's economy as a whole was hit hard by the combined impact of the international financial crisis, the Arab Spring uprisings that convulsed the Middle East in 2011 and the conflict in Syria.

Tourism accounts for 10 to 12 percent of gross domestic product and the government aims to double this by 2022, former tourism minister Lina Annab told AFP in an interview last year.  The country boasts 21,000 archaeological and historical sites that span millennia, according to the tourism board.   They include the Roman ruins of Jerash, the ancient city of Petra, the Dead Sea and Wadi al-Kharrar, or Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where some believe Jesus was baptised.   Jordan welcomed seven million tourists in 2010, but arrivals plunged to around three million in each of the following two years, tourism board head Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat said in April.    Numbers have rebounded as spillover from the war in neighbouring Syria has abated, officials have said, with the government working to bring annual tourist arrivals back up to 7 million by 2020.
Date: Tue, 5 Nov 2019 00:54:14 +0100 (MET)

Nuku'alofa, Tonga, Nov 4, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.6 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of the Pacific island nation of Tonga on Tuesday, but there was no threat of a tsunami, officials said.    The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the shallow undersea quake hit about 134 kilometres (83 miles) west of Neiafu, the country's second-largest town.    It said the temblor was not expected to have caused significant damage. The quake was not felt in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa, according to an AFP reporter.    There was also no threat of a tsunami, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.    A second quake of 5.5 magnitude was recorded a few minutes later, the USGS said.
Date: Mon, 4 Nov 2019 23:47:26 +0100 (MET)

Santiago, Nov 4, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.0-magnitude earthquake shook Chile on Monday, rattling buildings in the capital while a big anti-government demonstration was under way.   The quake struck at 6:53 pm (2153 GMT) with its epicentre near the northern town of Illapel, the US Geological Survey said.   A strong and prolonged shaking was felt in the capital.   Chile's National Seismological Center measured the quake at magnitude 6.1, revising down an earlier estimate of 6.3.   There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.   "There have been no reports of damage to people, disruption of basic services or infrastructure," the National Emergency Office said.   The Army Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service said the quake was unlikely to cause a tsunami on Chile's Pacific coast.

When the quake hit, police in Santiago were dispersing protesters at the start of the third week of anti-austerity protests targeting the conservative government.   Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries.   The 9.5-magnitude 1960 Valdivia earthquake was the strongest ever recorded on the magnitude scale, according to the USGS.   In 2010 an 8.8-magnitude followed by a tsunami killed more than 500 people.   Chile lies on the Ring of Fire -- an arc of fault lines that circles the Pacific Basin and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Date: Mon, 4 Nov 2019 20:37:19 +0100 (MET)
By Eugenia LOGIURATTO

Recife, Brazil, Nov 4, 2019 (AFP) - Months after thick oil began turning idyllic beaches in Brazil into "black carpets," workers and volunteers wearing rubber gloves race against time to scrape off the remaining fragments ahead of the country's peak tourism season.   Paiva, Itapuama and Enseada dos Corais in the northeastern state of Pernambuco are among hundreds of beaches fouled by an oil spill that began to appear in early September and has affected more than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) of Atlantic coastline.

As ocean currents brought large globs of crude to shore near the capital Recife in recent weeks, locals rushed to the normally picturesque beaches and used their bare hands to remove the toxic material coating sand, rocks and wildlife.    "I was shocked, there were people entering the water without gloves, without safety equipment, in the middle of the oil," coconut seller Glaucia Dias de Lima, 35, told AFP as she picked up chunks of crude from Itapuama beach.

Thousands of military personnel have been dispatched to help clean up the oil that has killed dozens of animals, including turtles, and reached a humpback whale sanctuary off Bahia state that has some of the country's richest biodiversity.   It is the third major environmental disaster to strike Brazil this year. In recent months fires ravaged the Amazon rainforest and in January a mine dam collapsed in the southeast, spewing millions of tons of toxic waste across the countryside.    Wildfires are still raging across the Pantanal tropical wetlands.

While thousands of tons of crude waste have been recovered so far, the space agency INPE said Friday there might still be oil at sea being pushed by currents. It could reach as far south as Rio de Janeiro state, the agency said.   President Jair Bolsonaro warned Sunday that "the worst is yet to come," saying only a fraction of the spilled crude had been collected so far.    The government on Friday named a Greek-flagged tanker as the prime suspect for being the source of the oil slicks.   The ship Bouboulina took on oil in Venezuela and was headed for Singapore, it said. The tanker's operators have denied the vessel was to blame.

- Fishing paralyzed -
As the southern hemisphere's summer approaches, people dependent on the fishing and tourism industries are nervously waiting for test results to show if the water is safe to swim in and eat from.   Northeastern Brazil is a popular tourist destination all year round, but visitor numbers usually explode in the hotter months. 

Eco-tourism guide Giovana Eulina said the disaster would affect the sector and she called for a campaign to "encourage people to come here."   Fishing in the region also has been largely paralyzed by the oil spill, even in areas where crude has not been detected.   "We still don't have a concrete answer from a scientist who says that (the water) is really contaminated," said Sandra Lima, head of a local fishing association.    Edileuza Nascimento, 63, stands in muddy water near Recife and extracts shellfish that she will sanitize at home, freeze and then sell.   It was already a struggle for fishermen to make a living, she said. But the oil slick has been "too much."    "It has come to finish off the fishing families."