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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 ...

Lithuania

Lithuania US Consular Information Sheet
May 19, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Lithuania is a stable democracy undergoing rapid economic growth. Tourist facilities in Vilnius, the capital, and to a lesser extent in Kaunas and Klaipeda, are simi
ar to those available in other European cities. In other parts of the country, however, some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries may not be available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Lithuania for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required to enter Lithuania. As there are no direct flights from the U.S. to Lithuania, U.S. citizens should be aware of passport validity requirements in transit countries. American citizens do not need a visa to travel to Lithuania for business or pleasure for up to 90 days. That 90-day period begins with entry to any of the “Schengen Group” countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden. Multiple visits to Schengen countries may not exceed 90 days in any 6 month period. Travelers remaining in Lithuania for more than 90 days within any six-month period must apply for temporary residency.

Lithuanian authorities recommend applying or a residency permit through a Lithuanian embassy or consulate before initial entry into Lithuania, as processing times can run beyond 90 days. All foreigners of non-European Union countries seeking entry into Lithuania must carry proof of a medical insurance policy contracted for payment of all costs of hospitalization and medical treatment in Lithuania. Visitors unable to demonstrate sufficient proof of medical insurance must purchase short-term insurance at the border from a Lithuanian provider for roughly $1.00 per day. The number of days will be calculated from the day of entry until the date on the return ticket. Children residing in Lithuania must have written permission to travel outside the country from at least one parent if their parents are not accompanying them on their trip. This policy is not applicable to temporary visitors. See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Lithuania and other countries. Visit the Embassy of Lithuania web site at www.ltembassyus.org for the most current visa information.
Note: Although European Union regulations require that non-EU visitors obtain a stamp in their passport upon initial entry to a Schengen country, many borders are not staffed with officers carrying out this function. If an American citizen wishes to ensure that his or her entry is properly documented, it may be necessary to request a stamp at an official point of entry. Under local law, travelers without a stamp in their passport may be questioned and asked to document the length of their stay in Schengen countries at the time of departure or at any other point during their visit, and could face possible fines or other repercussions if unable to do so.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information abut customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Civil unrest is not a problem in Lithuania, and there have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including 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., 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: Lithuania is a relatively safe country. Visitors should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Large amounts of cash and expensive jewelry should be secured in a hotel safe or left at home. Crimes against foreigners, while usually non-violent, do occur. Pickpocketing and thefts are problems, so personal belongings should be well protected at all times. Theft from cars and car thefts occur regularly. Drivers should be wary of persons indicating they should pull over or that something is wrong with their car. Often, a second car or person is following, and when the driver of the targeted car gets out to see if there is a problem the person who has been following will either steal the driver’s belongings from the vehicle or get in and drive off with the car. Drivers should never get out of the car to check for damage without first turning off the ignition and taking the keys. Valuables should not be left in plain sight in parked vehicles, as there have been increasing reports of car windows smashed and items stolen. If possible, American citizens should avoid walking alone at night. ATMs should be avoided after dark. In any public area, one should always be alert to being surrounded by two or more people at once. Additionally, criminals have a penchant for taking advantage of drunken pedestrians. Americans have reported being robbed and/or scammed while intoxicated.
Following a trend that has spread across Eastern and Central Europe, racially motivated verbal, and sometimes physical, harassment of foreigners of non-Caucasian ethnicity has been reported in major cities. Incidents of racially motivated attacks against American citizens have been reported in Klaipeda and Vilnius.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on these serious problems is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
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. For more information about assistance for victims of crime in Lithuania, please visit the Embassy’s web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/service/crime-victim-assistance.html.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Lithuania has improved in the last 15 years, but medical facilities do not always meet Western standards. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services that nearly equal Western European or U.S. standards. Most medical supplies are now widely available, including disposable needles, anesthetics, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. However, hospitals and clinics still suffer from a lack of equipment and resources. Lithuania has highly trained medical professionals, some of whom speak English, but their availability is decreasing as they leave for employment opportunities abroad. Depending on his or her condition, a patient may not receive an appointment with a specialist for several weeks. Western-quality dental care can be obtained in major cities. Elderly travelers who require medical care may face difficulties. Most pharmaceuticals sold in Lithuania are from Europe; travelers will not necessarily find the same brands that they use in the United States. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, particularly if immigration status in Lithuania is unclear.

Tick-borne encephalitis and lyme disease are widespread throughout the country. Those intending to visit parks or forested areas in Lithuania are urged to speak with their health care practitioners about immunization. Rabies is also increasingly prevalent in rural areas.
The Lithuanian Government does not require HIV testing for U.S. citizens. However, sexually transmitted diseases are a growing public health problem.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. All foreigners of non-European Union countries seeking entry into Lithuania must carry proof of a medical insurance policy contracted for payment of all costs of hospitalization and medical treatment in Lithuania (please see entry/exit requirements above). 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 Lithuania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The Police allow Americans to drive in Lithuania with an American driver’s license for up to 90 days. Americans who reside in Lithuania for 185 days or more in one calendar year and who wish to continue driving in Lithuania must acquire a Lithuanian driver's license. The foreign license must be given to the Lithuanian Road Police to be processed by the Consular Department of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in turn sends it to the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section, where the owner is expected to claim it.
Roads in Lithuania range from well-maintained two- to four-lane highways connecting major cities to small dirt roads traversing the countryside. Violation of traffic rules is common. It is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles, traveling at high speed, even in crowded urban areas. Driving at night, especially in the countryside, can be particularly hazardous. In summer, older seasonal vehicles and inexperienced drivers are extra hazards. Driving with caution is urged at all times. Driving while intoxicated is a very serious offense and carries heavy penalties. The speed limit is 50 km/hr in town and 90 km/hr out of town unless otherwise indicated. The phone number for roadside assistance is 8-800-01414 from a regular phone and 1414 from a GSM mobile phone.
Seatbelts are mandatory for the driver and all passengers except children under the age of 12. During the winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. Winter or all-season tires are required from November 10th through April 1st. Studded tires are not allowed from April 10th through October 31st. Drivers must have at least their low beam lights on at all times while driving. Public transportation is generally safe.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at www.tourism.lt and at www.lra.lt/index_en.html.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Lithuania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lithuania’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 www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Lithuanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary importation into or export from Lithuania of items such as firearms and antiquities. Please see our Customs Information.
Telephone connections are generally good. American 1-800 numbers can be accessed from Lithuania but not on a toll-free basis; the international long distance rate per minute will be charged. Local Internet cafes offer computer access. ATMs are widely available. Most hotels and other businesses accept major credit cards.
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 Lithuanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lithuania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or possessing or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. For more information about arrest procedures in Lithuania, please visit the Embassy’s web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/arrests.html. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web page.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Lithuania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Lithuania. 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 Akmenu Gatve 6, tel. (370) (5) 266-5500 or 266-5600; fax (370) (5) 266-5590. Consular information can also be found on the Embassy Vilnius web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated November 5, 2007 to update sections on Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2020 16:49:12 +0200 (METDST)

Vilnius, April 15, 2020 (AFP) - The Lithuanian government said Wednesday it would relax some lockdown measures to help the economy as the number of new coronavirus infections slows.    The Baltic EU member has allowed retailers with a separate outdoor entrance to re-open starting Thursday, though non-food stores in shopping malls, sports clubs and restaurants remain closed for now.

Some services, including repair shops, cleaning and key making, will also resume but direct contact with the customer must not exceed 20 minutes.   Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said the shops will have to limit the number of customers at any one time to enforce social distancing rules.    "It is a small step in removing business restrictions. We will follow the situation closely," Skvernelis told reporters.

The eurozone nation of 2.8 million people had moved quickly to enforce lockdown as it closed all shops except for pharmacies and grocery stores on March 16.   As a result the virus has largely been kept under control in Lithuania, which has reported 1,091 confirmed cases, including 29 deaths.    The number of new cases has dropped to below 50 per day over the last 10 days.   Schools and universities are not expected to fully re-open until the next academic year in September.
Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2020 21:57:28 +0200 (METDST)

Vilnius, April 10, 2020 (AFP) - Lithuanian police set up hundreds of checkpoints nationwide on Friday to enforce an Easter travel ban imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.    "Police set up around 300 checkpoints across the country," spokesman Ramunas Matonis told AFP.    The Baltic EU state banned travel between municipalities from Friday evening to Monday to deter people from visiting their relatives and friends to celebrate Easter.   There are exceptions for people returning home, going to work or attending funerals.    Fines for breaking the rules start at 250 euros ($230).

The government also made wearing face masks mandatory in public.   Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said his cabinet could ease the coronavirus lockdown measures for small businesses from next week if the situation remains stable over the weekend.    Lithuania has been in lockdown since March 16, including the closure of all pubs, restaurants, schools, universities, kindergartens and most shops.    The Baltic country of 2.8 million people currently has 999 confirmed COVID-19 infections, with 22 deaths.
Date: Sat, 14 Mar 2020 21:41:50 +0100 (MET)

Vilnius, March 14, 2020 (AFP) - Lithuania said Saturday it would shut its borders to most foreign visitors while fellow Baltic EU members Estonia and Latvia imposed security measures of their own to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.   Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said the country of 2.8 million people has decided to reinstate checks on its borders with Latvia and Poland, becoming the fifth nation to do so within the bloc's zone of free travel.

Foreigners will be banned from entering the country starting 1000 GMT on Sunday, with the exception of individuals with a residence permit, diplomatic workers and NATO troops.   Freight transport will not be affected, he added.   "Our goal is to delay the spread of the virus as long as possible inside the country and to reduce the negative consequences," Skvernelis said.

Lithuania, which has eight confirmed COVID-19 cases, has been on partial lockdown since Friday after the government shut down all schools, kindergartens and universities and banned large public events.   From Monday, the ban will also cover most shops, restaurants and pubs, although food delivery will be allowed. The measure does not concern grocery stores and pharmacies.   Skvernelis said his cabinet will approve an economic stimulus plan on Monday worth "at least one billion euros".

Fellow Baltic states Estonia and Latvia also imposed movement restrictions on Saturday but stopped short of border shutdown.   Latvia, which has a population of 1.9 million people and 26 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, said it will suspend all international flights, ferries, buses and trains from Monday.   "Border crossings by private car will continue, as well as international freight and cargo flow," Latvian Transport Minister Talis Linkaits told reporters.

Estonia, the northernmost Baltic state with 1.3 million people and 115 confirmed cases of COVID-19, banned travel to six of its islands for all but their permanent residents.   The government also decided to close down all leisure centres, sports clubs, spas and swimming pools.    Most of the measures will apply for a couple of weeks but will likely be prolonged according to Baltic authorities.
Date: Wed 7 Aug 2019 01:17:58 EEST
Source: Xinhua News Agency [edited]

The rate of tick-borne encephalitis in Lithuania remains the highest in Europe, announced the country's Center for Communicable Diseases and AIDS (ULAC) on [Tue 6 Aug 2019].

According to ULAC, the rate of tick-borne encephalitis cases was 16.6 cases per 100 000 population in 2017, based on the latest data provided by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in its latest annual epidemiological report.  "In Lithuania the rate of encephalitis remains the highest in Europe," said ULAC.

Lithuania was followed by the Czech Republic and Estonia with the rate of 6.4 cases per 100 000 population, according to ULAC.  ULAC notes the largest proportion of tick-borne encephalitis cases is at the age group of 45-64 years and the lowest among the children of the age of 0-4 years.  "ULAC medics remind vaccination is the most reliable protection from tick-borne encephalitis," said ULAC in the announcement, noting vaccines have a reliability rate of 98 percent.

ULAC's warning comes amid increasing number of tick-borne encephalitis cases this year [2019] in Lithuania, a Baltic country with a population of around 3 million.  More than 90 cases of tick-borne encephalitis were reported during the 1st half of the year [2019] in Lithuania, 1/3 more compared to the same period last year [2018], according to local data by ULAC.

According to the ECDC's report, the highest prevalence of tick-borne encephalitis historically is found in the Baltic countries. Tick-borne encephalitis usually reaches its seasonal peak during the warmest months -- July and August.

Tick-borne encephalitis is a human viral infectious disease of central nervous system caused by infected ticks, usually found in woodland habitats. The disease manifests itself with symptoms similar to fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, and can cause meningitis.
=====================
[Cases of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) have been reported before (see ProMED mail archive Tick-borne encephalitis - EU (Czech Rep., Latvia, Lithuania) http://promedmail.org/post/20040624.1677). Given the high rate of TBE cases in Lithuania reported above, there doubtless have been cases occurring there annually in recent years.

A report in Eurosurveillance Weekly in 2004 stated, "Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is endemic in virtually all countries in Central and Eastern Europe. It is caused by several closely related but distinct flaviviruses. 3 subtypes are recognised at present: a Far-Eastern subtype, a Siberian subtype and a European subtype. The Siberian subtype is associated with Russian spring-summer encephalitis and is transmitted predominantly by the tick _Ixodes persulcatus_, whereas the European subtype causes central European encephalitis and is transmitted by _Ixodes ricinus_.

The clinical spectrum of acute TBE ranges from symptoms of mild meningitis to severe meningoencephalitis with or without myelitis. The incubation period of central European TBE is 7-14 days. Onset is generally biphasic. The 1st phase involves a non-specific influenza-like illness with fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting, lasting about a week. After a period of remission lasting a few days, the fever returns with aseptic meningitis or encephalomyelitis. The case fatality rate is 1-5 percent and about 20 percent of survivors have neurological sequelae. Residual motor defects are rare." - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Lithuania:
Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2019 15:49:43 +0200

Vilnius, July 3, 2019 (AFP) - Lithuania declared an emergency on Wednesday as a severe drought hit the Baltic EU state, threatening to slash this year's harvest by up to half.   Apart from jeopardising crops, scant rainfall has also drastically reduced water levels in some rivers, threatening fish stocks and shipping activities.

The formal declaration of an "emergency situation" will allow the government to compensate farmers for some losses as well as help them to avoid EU financial sanctions should they fail to reach production goals.   "Farmers believe their harvest can be slashed by 40 percent or 50 percent, while fish stocks are also endangered," environment minister Kestutis Mazeika told AFP.

Mazeika said "nobody has any doubt" that global climate change is behind the prolonged and more intensive dry spells and heatwaves in recent years.   He also appealed to neighbouring Belarus to increase the water level in the Neris river by allowing more water to flow from its reservoirs.   Last month was the hottest June ever recorded with soaring temperatures worldwide capped off by a record-breaking heatwave across Western Europe, satellite data showed Tuesday.   Lithuania also registered its hottest-ever June, with a peak of 35.7 degrees Celsius (96.2 degrees Fahrenheit) recorded on June 12.

Over the last week, firefighters have fought wildfires triggered by the heat in peat bogs in western Lithuania and neighbouring Latvia.   Elsewhere in Central Europe, Polish authorities said this week that varying degrees of drought have put grain crops at risk in 14 of the EU country's 16 regional districts.   The Czech Academy of Sciences said it expects drought to affect the entire country, with 80 percent of the territory facing "exceptional to extreme drought".
More ...

Barbados

General
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Barbados is an island country in the West Indies. This Caribbean Island gained its independence from Britain in 1966 and enjoys a pleasant climate throughout much of the year. The main rainfall occurs betwe
n May to October and it may be affected by hurricanes along with many other Caribbean countries during September or October. The tourism facilities are well developed and Barbadian English is the main spoken language.
Safety & Security
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The level of street crime is low but tourists are encouraged to maintain a close eye on personal processions and to use the hotel safety boxes for any particular valuables. Take care when walking through crowded market places, using a body pouch for your belongings. Ask advice before walking along deserted beaches at nighttime. If necessary, use an authorised taxi at all times to and from nightclubs.
Medical Facilities
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Health care facilities throughout the main tourist regions are good but if travelling around the island you should be aware that these facilities are less developed. It is wise to ensure that you carry sufficient personal medication for the duration of your trip though medical supplies within Barbados are usually excellent.
Road Travel
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The traffic in Barbados travels on the left side of the road and generally the infrastructure is well maintained along the tourist routes. Nevertheless, hiring cars or mopeds is usually not recommended due to the high risk of accidents. Hiring a taxi is usually a safer option.
Local Customs
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Many countries (including Barbados) have strict rules regarding the possession of illegal drugs. Never carry any item for another individual and always make sure your own personal medications are well marked at all times. Sometimes it is wise to have an official letter from your prescribing doctor outlining the reason for your medication.
Swimming
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As always when abroad, make sure you take heed of local advice before swimming in the Caribbean. Strong currents can occur and occasionally passing cruise ships or tankers may pollute the sea. Never swim alone, away from the main tourist resorts or soon after a meal. Take care to watch children at all times even around the hotel swimming pools. If planning to undertake water sports while abroad make sure your travel insurance is sufficient and always check that the company you use has well maintained equipment and that good safety procedures are in place. Talking to other tourists or the hotel representative before booking will help give you a clearer picture of the facilities on offer.
Sun Exposure & Dehydration
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The temperature in Barbados is generally similar throughout the year with levels between 20 to 30C at most times. Sun exposure most commonly occurs in those who do not cover up sufficiently and particularly if asleep beside the pool, exhausted due to jet lag, soon after arrival. Take care that children are kept cool, drink plenty of fluids and take extra salt in their diet (crisps, salted biscuits etc) to help overcome these effects.
Food & Water
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The level of food hygiene in the main tourist resorts is high but care should be taken with regard to the consumption of seafood. Contamination of fish and shellfish has been reported in the past. Ciguatera poisoning associated with consumption of snappers, parrot fish, mackerel, moray eels and barracudas has been reported. Water hygiene is usually excellent though drinking bottled water is usually a wise precaution while abroad.
Rabies risks
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Barbados has been rabies free for over 150 years. Nevertheless, avoiding animal bites is still a wise option and particularly take care that young children do not befriend any animals including birds, monkeys, cats and dogs.
Malaria & Mosquito Bites
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Malaria transmission does not occur within the West Indies including Barbados. However other mosquito borne diseases such as Dengue Fever can be a significant problem. Mosquitoes that tend to bite in urban areas during the daylight hours transmit this disease and so care against insect bites is encouraged throughout the whole day.
Vaccinations for Barbados
******************************
There are no vaccines required for entry to Barbados from Ireland. However, most tourists would be encouraged to consider cover against the following:
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water borne)
Those planning a more extensive trip or undertaking adventure sports should also consider cover against Hepatitis B.
Summary
******************************
The majority of tourists to Barbados will enjoy a healthy time on the island with little reason for concern providing they follow some simple commonsense rules regarding seafood consumption, sun exposure and dehydration. Further information, including any recent news reports, is available through the Tropical Medical Bureau at the numbers below.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 17 Aug 2018
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Barbados health officials are reporting an increase in syphilis in pregnant women in recent years. The health ministry is now seeing an abnormally high rate of syphilis in pregnant women and, by extension, an increase in the number of babies born at risk for congenital syphilis.

Statistics show a rise from the average one or 2 cases a year of syphilis in pregnant women to 17 in 2016. According to the Ministry official, preliminary analyses from 2017 show a similarly high rate.

Dr. Anton Best, senior medical officer of health with responsibility for the HIV/STI programme, said that effective prevention and detection of congenital syphilis depends on the identification of the sexually transmitted infection (STI) in pregnant women. He noted that the Ministry of Health and Wellness' guidelines make it clear that all pregnant women should be offered a screening test for syphilis at booking and at 28 weeks gestation.
===================
[The number of syphilis cases in Barbados was reported to have started to increase in 2012, from 24 in 2011 to 41 in 2012 and to 112 in 2013, and then to have stabilized in 2014 (100 cases), 2015, and 2016 (<http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/98007/stis-major-concern-ministry-health>).  72 percent of new syphilis cases reportedly occurred in men between the ages of 15 and 49 years old, with the average age being 34; more than 95 percent of pregnant women were screened for syphilis during pregnancy, and no increase in syphilis cases in pregnant women occurred during a 4-year study (2011-2014), with only one case of syphilis being transmitted through birth in 2014  (<https://caribbeannewsservice.com/now/syphilis-outbreak-in-barbados/>).

However, the news report above says that, although only one or 2 cases a year of syphilis occurred in pregnant women previously, 17 cases occurred in 2016, and a similar number occurred in 2017, but we are not given the number treated or outcome of these pregnancies.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection caused by the spirochete _Treponema pallidum_. Transmission from mother to fetus occurs via the bloodstream during maternal spirochetal infection. Transmission may also occur during delivery if maternal genital lesions are present. Late abortion, stillbirth, and neonatal death may result from congenital infection in untreated pregnancies. Among survivors, manifestations that develop in the 1st 2 years of life are called "early" and are similar to adult secondary syphilis; manifestations that develop after age 2 years are called "late" and include tooth abnormalities (Hutchinson teeth), bone changes (saber shins), "Clutton's joints" (bilateral painless swelling of the knee joints), neurological involvement, blindness, and deafness.

Control of congenital syphilis is achieved by antenatal screening and treatment of mothers who are infected. Routine serologic screening should be done at the 1st prenatal visit in all pregnant women, and, in communities and populations in which the risk for congenital syphilis is high, serologic testing and a sexual history also should be obtained at 28 weeks gestation and at delivery. Groups at high risk include uninsured women, women living in poverty, sex workers, illicit drug users, women diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases, and those living in communities with high syphilis morbidity (<http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uspstf09/syphilis/syphpgsum.htm>). No mother or neonate should leave the hospital without maternal serologic status having been documented at least once during pregnancy and, if the mother is considered high risk, also at delivery.

Barbados, with a population of 277 821 residents, is a sovereign country and the easternmost island in the Caribbean region of North America; its capital and largest city is Bridgetown  (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbados>).

A map showing the location of Barbados can be found at
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Indies#/media/File:Caribbean_general_map.png>. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Tue, 9 Feb 2016 20:01:58 +0100

Miami, Feb 9, 2016 (AFP) - Barbados on Tuesday confirmed three cases of Zika in pregnant women, bringing to seven the number of people on the Caribbean island with the virus, which is believed to be linked to birth defects.   The women will be given specialized obstetric care, the Ministry of Health said in a statement. The new cases were announced on the Barbados government information services Facebook page.

Zika, a primarily mosquito-borne illness, has spread rapidly through Latin America and the Caribbean. It generally causes mild symptoms but has been blamed for a rapid rise in the number of children born with microcephaly -- abnormally small heads and brains.   Barbados said that link has not been confirmed.    "The situation is still evolving and information is being updated regularly," the Ministry of Health said.   The World Health Organization has declared a global medical emergency to combat Zika and individual countries and regions are beginning to mobilize. With no cure or vaccine for the virus, some countries have taken the extraordinary step of urging women to delay getting pregnant.

According to the Pan-American Health Organization, 26 countries have confirmed cases, spanning 7,000 kilometres (4,400 miles) from Mexico to Paraguay.   The hardest hit country is Brazil, which hosts the Summer Olympics starting in August.   Brazil has warned pregnant women not to travel there but Games organizers have said by the time the Olympics start, the main mosquito season will be over and they don't expect the illness to affect the sporting extravaganza.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2014 11:17:11 +0100 (MET)

WASHINGTON, Feb 18, 2014 (AFP) - An earthquake measuring 6.7 struck Tuesday in the Caribbean near the island of Barbados, the US Geological Survey said.   The quake hit at 0927 GMT about 170 kilometers (110 miles) northeast of the town of Bathsheba on Barbados, the USGS said.   It struck at a depth of 172 kilometers (11 miles).   There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in Barbados media outlets.   The Daily Nation newspaper said people called radio stations to report the quake.
Date: Mon, 8 Jul 2013 11:53:25 +0200 (METDST)

MIAMI, United States, July 08, 2013 (AFP) - Tropical Storm Chantal, which formed in the Atlantic overnight, headed towards the Caribbean Sea on Monday, the US National Hurricane Center reported.   At 0900 GMT Chantal was located about 1,130 kilometers (705 miles) east of Barbados packing maximum sustained winds of 65 kilometers (40 miles) per hour, the NHC said.

The storm is moving in a northwesterly direction at 43 kilometers per hour.   If it continues on its current path it will reach southern Puerto Rico and the island of Hispaniola -- shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti -- on Wednesday or Thursday, according to the NHC forecast.   Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as for Barbados, Dominica and Santa Lucia, the NHC said.

Chantal is expected to strengthen during the next 48 hours and "produce rain accumulations of two to four inches over the Leeward and Windward Islands, with maximum amounts of six inches possible," the NHC said.   Poverty-stricken Haiti, which is still recovering from a devastating earthquake in January 2010, is especially prone to landslides triggered by heavy rain.
Date: Fri, 3 Aug 2012 06:28:26 +0200 (METDST)

MIAMI, Aug 3, 2012 (AFP) - Tropical storm Ernesto, the fifth of the Atlantic hurricane season, threatened Barbados and the Windward Islands Friday as it advanced across the Atlantic with winds of 85 kilometers per hour.

At 0300 GMT, the storm's center was 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of Barbados and 295 kilometers (185 miles) east of St Lucia, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. "The center of Ernesto should pass near Barbados later tonight, be near the northern Windward Islands by early Friday and emerge over the eastern Caribbean sea by Friday afternoon," the center said. It said tropical storm warnings were up in Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, St Lucia, Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Ernesto formed on Thursday from a tropical depression, becoming the fifth tropical storm of the current hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30. The storm was expected to strengthen somewhat over the next two days, the center said. US weather forecasters have said they expect this to be a relatively mild hurricane season, with nine to 15 topical storms and between four and eight hurricanes.
More ...

Congo, Democratic Republic

Democratic Republic of the Congo US Consular Information Sheet
23rd September 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) located in central Africa, is the third largest country on the continent. The capital
s Kinshasa. French is the official language. Years of civil war and corruption have badly damaged the country's infrastructure. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport, visa and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required for entry. Some travelers arriving in the DRC without proper proof of yellow fever vaccination have been temporarily detained, had their passports confiscated, or been required to pay a fine. Information about yellow fever vaccination clinics in the U.S. may be found at http://www2.ncid.cdc.gov/travel/yellowfever/.
Visas must be obtained from an embassy of the DRC prior to arrival.
Travelers to the DRC frequently experience difficulties at the airport and other ports of entry, such as temporary detention, passport confiscation and demands by immigration and security personnel for unofficial “special fees.”
All resident foreigners, including Americans, are required to register at the office of the Direction General de Migration (DGM) in the commune of their place of residence.
Visitors who wish to travel in any mining areas must first obtain government approval from various government agencies or ministries, an often cumbersome and time consuming process.
Dual nationals arriving in the DRC should carefully consider which passport they use to enter the DRC. For departure from the DRC, airlines will require a valid visa for all destination countries before they will issue a ticket or allow a passenger to board. Airlines also require that the passenger have the correct entry stamp in the passport they wish to use to exit the country. Passengers who are unable to leave the country on the passport they used to enter the DRC may not be able to continue on their travel itinerary.
Additional information about visas may be obtained from the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1726 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, tel. (202) 234-7690, or the DRC's Permanent Mission to the UN, 866 United Nations Plaza, Room 511, New York, NY 10017, tel. 212-319-8061, fax: 212-319-8232, web site http://www.un.int/drcongo. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Congolese embassy or consulate. 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:
See the Department of State’s Travel Warning for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Though the DRC is now significantly more stable than it has been over the past decade, security remains problematic. The first democratic elections in more than forty years were held in 2006, and a new government is now in place. Post-election disturbances occurred as recently as March 2007 in Kinshasa, resulting in deaths of civilians and military personnel. During civil disturbances in 2007 there were incidents of hostility towards U.S. citizens and other expatriates.

Both inside and outside Kinshasa, there can be roadblocks, especially after dark. Vehicles are often searched for weapons and valuables, and travelers are checked for identity papers. Security forces regularly seek bribes. If confronted with such a situation, it is suggested that U.S. citizens remain courteous and calm. If detained, report the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa as soon as possible.

The United Nations has its largest peacekeeping operation in the world in the DRC. Known by its French acronym of MONUC, it has close to 17,000 peacekeepers deployed in the country – primarily in the east. Violence nevertheless persists in the eastern DRC due to the presence of several militias and foreign armed groups, with sporadic outbreaks occurring in North Kivu, South Kivu, and northern Katanga provinces, as well as in the Ituri District of Orientale province. Members of the Lord’s Resistance Army entered into northeastern DRC from Sudan in 2005, and have camps in an isolated region of the DRC, Garamba National Park, where they killed eight MONUC peacekeepers in January 2006.

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 overseas callers, 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:
In the DRC, poor economic conditions continue to foster crime, especially in urban areas. Travel in many sections of Kinshasa, Kisangani, Lubumbashi and most other major cities, is generally safe during daylight hours, but travelers are urged to be vigilant against criminal activity which targets non-Congolese, particularly in highly congested traffic and areas surrounding hotels and stores. Outlying, remote areas are less secure due to high levels of criminal activity and the lack of adequate training, supervision, and salary payments to the security forces present.

Vehicle thefts, burglaries, and armed robbery occur throughout the country; there have been recent reports of after-dark carjackings, resulting in deaths in the North Kivu area. It is recommended to drive with doors locked and windows closed at all times. If confronted by members of the military or security forces, visitors should not permit soldiers or police officers to enter their vehicles nor get into the vehicle of anyone purporting to be a security official. It is recommended that in such instances U.S. citizens remain courteous and calm and, if threatened, not resist. All incidents should be reported to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa.

Consistency in administering laws and regulations is notably absent. Travelers should note that in cases of theft and robbery, legal recourse is limited. Therefore, valuable items may be safer if kept at home or another secure location.

Security officials and/or individuals purporting to be security officials have detained and later robbed American citizens and other foreigners in the city of Kinshasa. This type of crime has increased in recent months, but generally occurs more frequently during the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Travelers using public transportation or visiting high pedestrian traffic areas of any type are advised to be vigilant against robbery and pick-pocketing which is a persistent problem in all major cities in the DRC. The presence of “street children”, who can be persistent and sometimes aggressive, remains a problem particularly in Kinshasa.
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:
In the DRC, medical facilities are severely limited, and medical materials are in short supply. Travelers should carry properly labeled prescription drugs and other medications with them and should not expect to find an adequate supply of prescription or over-the-counter drugs in local stores or pharmacies. Payment for any medical services required is expected in cash, in advance of treatment.

Malaria is common throughout the DRC and outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, the Ebola virus, and hemorrhagic fever occur.
Travelers should take appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in the DRC.
For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB at: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of the DRC.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
For planning purposes, the minimum estimated cost of medical air evacuation to the nearest suitable health care facility (in South Africa) is $35,000.

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 the DRC is provided for general reference only, and may vary according to location or circumstance.

Inter-city roads are scarce, and throughout the DRC roads are generally in poor condition, and often impassable in the rainy season. When driving in cities, keep windows up and doors locked. At roadblocks or checkpoints, documents should be shown through closed windows. In the event of a traffic incident involving bodily injury to a third party or pedestrian, do not stop to offer assistance under any circumstances. Proceed directly to the nearest police station or gendarmerie to report the incident and request official government intervention. Attempting to provide assistance may further aggravate the incident, resulting in a hostile mob reaction such as stoning or beating.

Presidential and other official motorcades pose serious risks to drivers and pedestrians in Kinshasa. When hearing sirens or seeing security forces announcing the motorcade's approach, drivers should pull off the road as far as possible, stop their vehicles, and extinguish headlights. Vehicles should not attempt to move until the entire motorcade has passed by; the security forces will physically indicate when this has occurred. Failure to comply may result in arrest, and/or vehicle damage with possible personal injury.

Public transportation of all forms is unregulated and is generally unsafe and unreliable. Taxis, mini-buses, and trains are in poor mechanical condition and are invariably filled beyond capacity.

Visitors who wish to travel in any mining areas must first obtain government approval from various government agencies or ministries, an often cumbersome and time consuming process.

Drivers should stop their cars and pedestrians should stand still when passing a government installation during the raising and lowering of the Congolese flag. This ceremony occurs at roughly 7:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the DRC’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of the DRC’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
Civil aviation in the DRC continues to experience air incidents and accidents; more than a dozen crashes and in-flight accidents resulted in more than 300 fatalities between 2000 and August 2008. Incidents included hard landings, engine failures, collapsed landing gear, and planes veering off the runway.
In-country air travel schedules are unreliable and planes are frequently overloaded with passengers and/or cargo.
The U.S. Embassy in the DRC has prohibited official travel by U.S. government employees and contractors on all DRC-owned and -operated commercial air transportation services due to concerns regarding safety and maintenance.
International flights on foreign-owned and -operated carriers are not affected by this notice.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Photography: Travelers should note that photography in public places in Kinshasa and around any public or government building or monument in the DRC is strictly forbidden. Persons caught photographing such sites will likely have their photographic equipment confiscated and risk detention and possible arrest.

Travel to and from Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of Congo): Ferry service to and from Kinshasa and Brazzaville stops running in the late afternoon, does not operate on Sundays, and may close completely with minimal notice. If ferry service is functioning, a special exit permit from the DRC's Immigration Service and a visa from the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) are required for U.S. citizens to cross the Congo River from Kinshasa to Brazzaville.

Ferry and riverboat service to the Central African Republic is suspended due to rebel control of the Ubangui River.
Phone Service: In the DRC, cellular phones are the norm, as other telephone service is unreliable. Depending on the type of phone, it may be possible to locally purchase a SIM card to use an American-compatible cell phone in the DRC.

Currency: U.S. currency is widely accepted in the urban areas, but most vendors and banking institutions will accept only Series 1996 bills or newer, with the large, off-center portraits, that provide stronger protection against counterfeiting. In addition, bills must be in near perfect condition; even those with minor stains or small tears will be rejected. One dollar bills are rarely accepted, even if in mint condition. U.S. bills should be examined before they are accepted to ensure that they are legitimate, as counterfeit currency is widely circulated. It is recommended that currency exchange be conducted at reputable banks and not on the street where several schemes exist to either short-change the unwitting customer or to pass counterfeit bills.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in any 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. 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.

Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe in the DRC than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Congolese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the DRC are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Accusations of engaging in crimes against the security of the State, which are loosely defined, often result in detention for prolonged periods without being formally arrested. The DRC’s justice system remains plagued by corruption and uneven application of the law. Attorney fees can be expensive and are expected to be paid in advance of services rendered.

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 the DRC 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 the Congo. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs; tel. 243-081-225-5872 (do not dial the zero when calling from abroad). Entrance to the Consular Section of the Embassy is on Avenue Dumi, opposite the Ste. Anne residence. The Consular Section of the Embassy may be reached at tel. 243-081-884-6859 or 243-081-884-4609; fax 243-081-301-0560 (do not dial the first zero when calling from abroad).
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, dated April 29, 2008, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 5 May 2020 16:05:52 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, May 5, 2020 (AFP) - The DR Congo government warned Tuesday of a "large-scale" spread of the COVID-19 pandemic after around 100 inmates of a military prison tested positive for the virus.   "Contamination at the prisons could be a vector of large-scale propagation in our society, especially if it involves the Makala prison because of its overcrowding," according to the minutes of a cabinet meeting.    With the emergence of COVID-19 cases at the Ndolo military prison north of Kinshasa -- where cases doubled to nearly 100 in two days -- "the risk of a lightning-fast spread... cannot be ruled out," said the minutes obtained by AFP.

According to the latest bulletin issued Tuesday by a health ministry team tackling the pandemic, 101 cases have now been discovered at Ndolo, of which 92 were described as "benign or light".   Of the other nine, three patients have been hospitalised, the statement said.   So far no cases of COVID-19 have turned up at Makala, Kinshasa's largest prison, which houses   8,484 detainees for a capacity estimated at 1,500.   The first case of the coronavirus infection in the central African country was registered on March 10.   Since then, 705 cases have been confirmed, with 34 deaths.

Infections arriving in the country from abroad have been halted, the bulletin said, adding: "The contaminations seen (since) have been local. The exponential increase that was so feared has not happened."   It added that the country's pandemic point man Jacques Muyembe had said that the isolation of Gombe, a section of the sprawling capital, had "given good results".   Seven of the DRC's 26 provinces have recorded cases of COVID-19, but the vast majority of infections (652) have occurred in Kinshasa, a city of 12 million people that also accounts for all the fatalities.
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 2020 16:10:18 +0200 (METDST)
By Susan NJANJI with African bureaus

Johannesburg, April 22, 2020 (AFP) - So you've tested positive for coronavirus and are desperate for a cure.    No problem: just drink your own urine.    This quack remedy from Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the myriad therapies being touted today in Africa as poor people hunt for a virus fix.   Their desperation is combining with faith in traditional medicine, spurring a rush for almost anything claimed to prevent or cure coronavirus, despite stern scientific warnings.   Bogus or dubious concoctions are often the result -- and widely respected traditional healing has been placed on a collision course with Western medicine.

Around the continent, the lengthening list of supposed cures ranges from ginger and lemons to tree bark, secret herbs and -- as suggested by the self-described herbalist in the DRC -- drinking one's urine.   Even presidents have joined the bandwagon.   Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina this week unveiled a concoction prepared with artemisia, a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment.   "This herbal tea gives results in seven days," he said as he sipped a dose.   "I will be the first to drink this today, in front of you, to show you that this product cures and does not kill."

Such claims fly in the face of warnings from mainstream scientists, who say there is no known cure for coronavirus and urge rigorous testing to prove the effectiveness -- and safety -- of the proposed traditional cures.   Those urging vigilance include the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) and US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which says: "There is no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent or cure the illness caused by COVID-19. In fact, some of them may not be safe to consume."

But with a conventional cure still elusive, and fears pervasive, African herbalists are keen to fill the void.   One traditional practitioner in the DRC, Gabriel Nsombila, is running adverts on a local radio station.   "Inhaling the vapour of a mixture of mango tree bark, papaya leaves, ginger and a plant whose name I will keep secret is a certain cure for people suffering from coronavirus," Nsombila told AFP.     "All those who come to my house leave cured," he said, without stating how many he has treated.

In Cameroon, naturopathic doctor Anselme Kouam said a simple infusion of garlic or ginger, with some mint extract boiled in water, then poured into a bowl, would do the trick.   "Lower your head closer to the bowl, cover it with a blanket and inhale. It clears the airways and it's effective against this virus," he said, but admitted that he had yet to administer this to a coronavirus patient.   Some of the touted remedies have proven fatal.   The UN Radio Okapi reported last month that three children in DRC died after their mother administered a medicinal plant believed to prevent contamination by the virus.

- Seeking a role -
Despite such headline-making incidents, traditional practitioners say they have something useful to offer in the fight against coronavirus.   But, some complain, they are being marginalised by health officials trained in Western medicine.

In South Africa, herbalist Makelani Bantu claims he makes a cure-it-all fruit-and-vegetable juice.   But, he says, the authorities have yet to respond to his offer to validate it by giving it to patients.   "We are not even given a chance to say something," he told AFP by phone from his home in Pretoria.    "We are raising hands to say, 'guys we have something better,'... (but) there is no one who is listening to us.    "There is no solution for COVID-19. Our own natural way of healing should be tried."

Sorel Eta, a Congolese ethnologist, said the knowledge of indigenous Pygmies could be precious.   "They have always treated diseases with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19. It's time to go and consider indigenous pharmacopoeia, because it is very rich. Let's not overlook them," Eta said.   In Benin, traditional healer and voodoo high priest Bokonon Azonyihoues and his colleagues are hard at work -- researching.   "We don't make any noise about it, but given the powerlessness of modern medicine, the solution could come from traditional therapists. We are working on it," he told AFP.    "Chloroquine has been mentioned" as a potential medicine for coronavirus, he said, referring to a veteran anti-malaria drug.   "But... we have plants that are 10 times more effective than chloroquine in treating malaria."

- 'Nothing excluded' -
Phephsile Maseko, coordinator of South Africa's 78,000-member Traditional Healers' Organization (THO), said "we're pushing" the government for a role in the campaign against the pandemic.   But, Maseko said, "It's a struggle."   The health authorities, for their part, insist they have not slammed the door on traditional medicine.   "We are open. Nothing is excluded. All those who can provide a scientific response, including traditional treaters, are welcome," said Georges Etoundi Mballa, director of disease control at Cameroon's health ministry.   "We have set up a scientific committee where everyone can express themselves."

South African health ministry spokesman Pop Maja said the department receives around a dozen calls a day from people claiming to have a COVID-19 cure.   The government recognises the role of traditional healers, he said.   But at the moment it is asking them to get the message across about prevention rather than promising treatments.   "We truly respect their role, (there is) a signficant amount of people who consult them, we cannot overlook that," he told AFP.   "But right now there is no cure, we know there is no cure for coronavirus."
Date: Tue, 21 Apr 2020 18:04:23 +0200 (METDST)

Bukavu, DR Congo, April 21, 2020 (AFP) - Forty-six people have died in heavy flooding that struck the town of Uvira in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, destroying thousands of homes, local officials said on Tuesday, warning the tally could be much higher.   "The updated toll is 30 dead, but it's still very provisional as there are still people trapped in the rubble" of their homes, deputy mayor Kapenda Kyky Kifara told AFP.   "It will take weeks to find people who are unaccounted for," he said.   The territory's administrator, Alexis Rashidi Kasangala, said 16 deaths were recorded while 3,600 homes were destroyed on the outskirts of the town.

The UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, in a press conference from Geneva conducted over the internet, said 15,000 homes had been damaged and around 80,000 people had been affected.   Uvira is located in South Kivu province, bordering Lake Tanganyika, connected by road to the provincial capital Bukavu.    The region has been pounded by heavy rain in recent weeks, causing the three rivers running through Uvira to burst their banks. The toll last Friday stood at 24.

The UNHCR is working with local authorities and its partners to help victims, its spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, said, noting that the region has been struggling for years with conflict and poor security.   Pakistani troops with the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC have been taking part in rescue operations, the mission said in a tweet.   The bishop of Uvira, Sebastien Muyengo, said: "All the bridges connecting us with Bukavu have been swept away. We are worried about hunger and thirst."   He said the town had been hit by a double blow -- rainwater that had swept down from the flanks of the Ruzizi plain, carrying with it mud and rocks, and Lake Tanganyika's rising waters.   Deforestation has increased the risk to the town and unauthorised housing has worsened the toll, he said.   Around 15 people have died since the start of the year in Bukavu from flooding and mudslides.
- Fri 17 Apr 2020
Declaration of end of Ebola outbreak shelved [Reuters, abridged, edited]

The World Health Organization said on Friday [17 Apr 202] that [6] new Ebola infections have been recorded in eastern Congo since last week [week of 6 Apr 2020] in a new flare-up just as the government was about to declare an end to the deadly epidemic.]

Small outbreaks or one-off transmissions are common towards the end of an epidemic. Health workers are often able to prevent the virus spreading out of control by quarantining and vaccinating contacts of new cases.

On 9 Apr 2020, a 26-year-old electrician died of the haemorrhagic fever in the eastern town of Beni 2 days before the Democratic Republic of Congo planned to declare an end to the Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 2200 people since its onset in August 2018.

The 2 newest cases were a 43-year-old woman and a 28-year-old motorbike-taxi driver who had brought the electrician to the hospital, according to Boubacar Diallo, deputy incident manager for the WHO's Ebola response operation.

It was unclear if the woman was linked to the other cases in a new chain of transmission, he said, but the new cases forced Congo's national government to shelve its declaration of an end to the epidemic.

Two new vaccines have had a major impact in containing Ebola, but public mistrust and militia attacks have prevented health workers from reaching some areas hit by the virus.

Demonstrators blocked roads in Beni with rocks on Thursday morning [16 Apr 2020], protesting over the authorities' handling of the latest Ebola flare-up and demanding all Ebola test results be verified by laboratories in eastern Congo's main city Goma and in the capital Kinshasa in the west of the vast Central African nation.

Health teams were delayed by the protesters but eventually able to resume their work tracing those who came into contact with those newly infected by Ebola, Diallo said. Police said they arrested 4 people.

Late last year [2019] deadly attacks on health centres in and around Beni forced aid groups to suspend operations and withdraw staff from the last strongholds of the epidemic.

Congo, one of the world's poorest countries where most people have scant access to modern health care, has also reported 287 cases of the new coronavirus and 23 deaths from the global pandemic.  [Byline: Hereward Holland]
====================
[Note that the WHO dashboard states 6 total cases rather than the 5 originally stated in this report. - ProMed Mod.LK]
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2020 15:49:01 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, April 15, 2020 (AFP) - DR Congo's health authorities have appealed for maximum effort to avoid "the worst" impact of an expected peak in coronavirus cases in the capital Kinshasa next month.   The pandemic in the capital city and province "is entering an exponential phase," the country's COVID-19 watchdog said in a report seen by AFP on Wednesday.   "The peak of this growth will occur between the first and second week of May," it said.   "During this period, we must expect a major influx of patients to health facilities, which will probably be overwhelmed. If current preparatory efforts are not completed in time, we must fear the worst."   The largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo suffers from chronically weak healthcare infrastructure, entrenched poverty and, in Kinshasa, crowded slums.

The DRC has so far recorded 21 dead out of 254 cases since March 10, almost all in Kinshasa.   The report was of a meeting of the multi-sector committee for response to COVID-19.   It was signed by the committee's technical secretary, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, a world-renowned virologist who is also the co-discoverer of the Ebola virus.   The document warned bluntly that in Kinshasa "social distancing measures have completely lapsed" and there were fears of an "intense" spread of coronavirus disease "in the coming weeks".

It recommended obligatory wearing of masks in public areas, especially in buses and markets, and urged that a lockdown imposed on the central business district of Gombe since April 6 be extended to neighbouring areas.   In the neighbouring Republic of Congo, also called Congo-Brazzaville, 43 new cases of coronavirus have been detected, bringing the total since March 14 to 117 cases, five of which have been fatal, Health Minister Jacqueline Lydia Mikolo said on Wednesday.
More ...

Seychelles

General:
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This group of islands are situated off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. The main Island is Mahe and it has a population of under 100,000. The other two islands with significant popula
ions are Praslin and La Digue. Generally, tourist facilities are well developed throughout these main islands. Elsewhere facilities are poor. The islands enjoy an oceanic tropical climate with only mild variations throughout the year. Rainfall fluctuations do occur with more rainfall occurring between October to April each year.
Safety and Security:
***********************************
The majority of tourists visiting the Seychelles will have a very peaceful time and the rate of crime throughout the country is small. However, like many other destinations this situation is changing and there are increasing numbers of reports of petty crime - even on the more popular beaches. Generally it is unwise to leave valuables unattended while you bathe and walking around the main streets in Victoria after dark is not recommended especially for women. All money exchanges must be transacted with official designated dealers and a receipt obtained. Otherwise strict penalties may be enforced.
Health Facilities:
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The level of healthcare in the main tourists resorts is perfectly adequate for most situations but outside these regions the level of care is significantly less. On isolated islands doctors are often unavailable and it may take many hours before you could move to a better equipped location. Always make sure your travel and health insurance is up to date before you leave home.
Food & Water Facilities:
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The level of food and water preparation in the main tourist resorts is excellent but when travelling to isolated regions the standards drop considerably. Consuming foods cooked in local homes will be a significant risk in many circumstances and usually best avoided. However, well cooked fresh fish and other well prepared local delicacies should not present any particular difficulty. As always it is wise to avoid all under cooked bivalve shellfish such as oysters, mussels and clams. Unprepared cold foods like lettuce are also better left untasted and fruit which has been previously peeled will be potentially contaminated. If you peel it yourself it should be fine. Check the tap water smells of chlorine and if not, do not use it for drinking or even brushing your teeth.
Insect Bites and Malaria:
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No malaria risk occurs throughout the Seychelles so prophylaxis will not be required. This is excellent news but you should be aware that mosquitoes can still be a problem and so careful avoidance techniques are required - particularly between dusk and dawn. Dengue Fever has been found on the Islands through there has been no epidemic of the disease for some years.
The risk of Rabies:
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The Seychelles are rabies free but obviously care should still be taken to avoid any contact with warm-blooded animals such as dogs, cats and monkeys. With the difficulties in patrolling the extensive coastline of the Seychelles it is always possible that the disease will be introduced at some stage in the future.
Swimming:
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Take care to listen to local advice before swimming in the sea. Strong currents and various marine life may lead to a severely spoiled holiday. Never swim after a heavy meal or significant intake of alcohol and always swim in the company of others.
Sun Exposure:
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The strength of the sun in the Seychelles throughout the year is significant and this can cause both sunburn and serious dehydration. After a long haul flight it may be tempting to fall asleep beside the hotel pool but this may cause dreadful sunburn and can easily ruin a holiday. Children need to be watched carefully as they are more liable to the effects of the sun, particularly on any fair skinned child. Wearing a light good fitting t-shirt and Increasing their salt intake may be very beneficial.
Road Safety:
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In the Seychelles they drive on the left side of the road but outside the main tourist resorts the roads tend to be very narrow with often shear drops. Barriers are rare and accidents can easily occur. The speed limits are between 25 to 50 mph and both drivers and front seat passengers are required to wear safety belts at all times. There is an ambulance service on the islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue which is summonsed by ringing 999.
Local Laws and Customs:
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There are strict regulations regarding import and export of firearms, spear-fishing equipment, fruit and vegetables. When paying for your hotel expenses a credit card must be used in most circumstances. If you have cash you must provide a receipt showing how it was obtained. A casino receipt would be adequate if you have been lucky enough!
Vaccinations for the Seychelles:
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Unless you are entering the islands from tropical Africa there are no essential vaccines for entry or exit. However for your own personal health it is recommended that travellers are covered against the following diseases;
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Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food and water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food and water borne disease)
For those undertaking a longer more rural trip other vaccines may need to be considered including Hepatitis B.
Summary:
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Generally most tourists who maintain the usual commonsense rules stay perfectly healthy while in the Seychelles. Just remember the different climate conditions to your home situation and take care with food and water consumption. Further information is available from the Tropical Medical Bureau.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 4 May 2020 17:53:05 +0200 (METDST)

Victoria, Seychelles, May 4, 2020 (AFP) - Life in the Seychelles began returning to normal on Monday as authorities relaxed confinement measures, with no new coronavirus cases recorded in almost a month and only 11 people infected in the island nation.

The archipelago went into lockdown on April 8, two days after the last case of the virus was recorded, shutting non-essential services and banning all movement aside from grocery shopping.   A few days later a nighttime curfew was added to the measures.   The restrictions were applied to Mahe, the main island as well as the second and third most-populated islands Praslin and La Digue.   On Monday most businesses were allowed to re-open and people were once again moving freely and going to work -- few of whom wore a mask.

Authorities have called on citizens to nevertheless maintain social distancing measures and remain vigilant.   "We have won the battle but we have not won the war. We must remain vigilant and prevent the spread of the virus in the Seychelles at all cost," said Public Health Commissioner Jude Gedeon.   Only three of the original patients remain ill.    Some restrictions will remain in place. Schools will not open until mid-May and bars and restaurants in June. Gatherings of more than four people are still banned.

The Indian Ocean archipelago of 115 islands is a paradise for luxury tourism, and welcomed more than 360,000 visitors in 2018 -- a figure four times its population.   The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global tourism has hit the islands hard. The government banned cruise ships and shut its international airport when the first cases were announced on March 14.

The airport is due to re-open on June 1, although borders will remain closed to countries which still count active cases of the virus.    Authorities do not expect tourists to return until September.   The absence of tourists has led the Seychellois rupee to drop 30 percent to the US dollar and the euro in recent weeks.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 09:58:17 +0100 (MET)
By Nicolas DELAUNAY

Les Mamelles, Seychelles, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - On a plain suburban street in Seychelles, far from the idyllic coastline and luxury resorts pampering honeymooners and paradise-seekers, heroin addicts queue anxiously for their daily dose of methadone.   It is a scene few outsiders would associate with the tropical nirvana adrift in the Indian Ocean, and one rarely, if ever, glimpsed by tourists as they shuttle from the airport to five-star luxury on white-sand beaches.

But life for many Seychellois is far from picture perfect: the tiny archipelago nation is battling what officials say are the world's highest rates of heroin addiction.   Nearly 5,000 people are hooked, government figures show, equivalent to nearly 0 percent of the national workforce -- a statistic that has startled the government into action.

In comparison, 0.4 percent of the global population consumed opioids in 2016, half of them in Asia, according to a United Nations report that puts Seychelles among the top consumers alongside producing countries such as Afghanistan.   The Seychelles' heroin boom, which took off over the past decade, gripped young and old alike and cut across class lines.   Among those queueing in the town of Les Mamelles for methadone -- a substitute narcotic used to wean users off heroin -- are parents with young children, an old man leaning on a cane and a taxi driver between shifts.

Graham Moustache, a 29-year-old father of two, described how the arrival of affordable and high-quality heroin in Seychelles swept up his entire family.   "I have four brothers and two sisters, and we have all been heroin addicts at one point," he told AFP, tracing his fingers over the needle scars on his arms.   "I've been to prison twice," he said, adding his mother had turned him in as "she didn't know what to do any more".   "Sometimes, I didn't have enough to eat and I had to choose between eating and buying heroin. I chose heroin."

- Soaring addiction -
The rise of new trafficking routes through East Africa in the late 2000s, coupled with porous borders and relatively high purchasing power among Seychellois, flooded the paradisal islands with heroin.   The average salary in the archipelago is $420 (390) -- high compared to other African nations.   The World Bank considers the Seychelles the only high-income country on the continent, thanks to the growing tourism industry.    But around 40 percent of the population still lives in poverty.

By 2011, around 1,200 people were addicted, prompting a punitive crackdown.   "We did not make a difference between the victim and the trafficker," said Patrick Herminie, director of the state-run Agency for Drug Abuse Prevention and Rehabilitation (APDAR).   By 2017, addiction had risen four-fold, placing Seychelles among the world's most drug-dependent nations.   The government, realising its war on drugs had failed, changed tack and declared a public health emergency.   "The magnitude of the problem is simply because we reacted a bit late," Herminie said.

Money has poured into combating the scourge, with state funds for drug prevention and rehabilitation programmes soaring to 75 million Seychelles rupees ($5.5 million) in 2020 -- almost 10 times the 2016 budget.    APDAR, a specialist drug agency created in 2017 to tackle the problem, employs four times as many staff as the body that preceded it.   A state-run methadone programme has reached 2,500 people, with medical follow-ups helping to track their progress.    But the free availability of methadone has also prompted drug dealers to lower their prices.

Mobile clinics drive around offering methadone to addicts and providing free health checks and advice.    "I've been clean for more than a year. I found a job as a fisherman, and I can see my two kids," said Moustache proudly, as he queued at the white methadone van staffed with healthcare workers.   Others have struggled to stay the course.   "Methadone helps me a lot, but it's difficult not to take heroin at all," said Gisele Moumou, an emaciated 32-year-old addict, drawing ragged breaths and sweating as she waits for her small cup of methadone.

- Stopping the scourge  -
Schoolchildren are being taught about the damage done by drugs through awareness campaigns and billboards in classrooms.    But there is much work to be done, especially among children from families affected by drug use, says Noellie Gonthier from CARE, a local harm-reduction charity.   "Sometimes, four- or five-year-olds at school mimic injecting heroin," she said.   "Our challenge is to make them understand that what they consider normal -- because of their family context -- actually isn't at all."   On Mahe, a small, mountainous island with lush vegetation, most of the population lives near the water. Life is quiet here, without traffic, and the streets are mostly clean.

Poverty is largely hidden, concentrated in a few neighbourhoods behind faded walls or in the hills.   So why do so many Seychellois take drugs? The authorities admit they haven't quite figured it out, but say it appears that while poverty does not quite allow people to live well, it allows them enough money to buy drugs to forget their woes.   "The root of the cause, we're still working on it," said Herminie.   Early studies show that health and social problems associated with heroin use have declined since the government switched its response from punishment to prevention, officials say.

Crime has nearly halved and annual cases of new hepatitis C infections have fallen 60 percent.    Youth unemployment, meanwhile, has shrunk from 6.5 percent to 2.1 percent in recent years.   One recovering addict, a taxi driver who did not want to be named, offered a bleak assessment as he waited for his daily methadone in an empty car park in Les Mamelles.    "We're a small island in the middle of the ocean. What else is there to do here?" he said.
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:59:31 +0100 (MET)
By Nicolas DELAUNAY

Cousin Island, Seychelles, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Giant tortoises amble across Cousin Island as rare birds flit above.   The scene attests to a stunning success for BirdLife International, a conservation group that bought the tiny Seychelles isle in 1968 to save a songbird from extinction.   Thick vegetation smothers ruins that are the only reminder of the coconut and cinnamon plantations that covered the island when the group stepped in to protect the Seychelles Warbler.

Now teeming with flora and fauna and boasting white beaches, Cousin Island is firmly on the tourist map, with managers scrambling to contain visitor numbers and soften their negative environmental impact.    More than 16,000 people visited the island in 2018, compared with 12,000 a decade earlier.   "Tourism is important for Cousin. That's what allows us to finance the conservation projects we run here.    "But 16,000 tourists... that was too much," said Nirmal Shah, director of Nature Seychelles, which is charged with running the special reserve.

Before the island was in private hands, the population of Seychelles Warblers was thought to have shrunk to just 26, barely hanging on in a mangrove swamp after much of their native habitat had been destroyed.    Now, they number more than 3,000 and the greenish-brown bird has been reintroduced to four other islands in the archipelago.   The former plantations have transformed into native forests, teeming with lizards, hermit crabs and seabirds, and the island is the most important nesting site for hawksbill turtles in the western Indian Ocean.   The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) waxes lyrical about the "unique biodiversity and conservation achievements" of Cousin, "the first island purchased for species conservation", a model since replicated around the world.

- Nature first -
Tourists have been allowed onto the island since 1972, but the message is clear: nature comes first.   In a well-oiled routine, every morning a handful of luxury sailboats and small motorboats anchor off the island, where their occupants wait for Nature Seychelles to skipper them ashore on their boats.   "Tourist boats cannot land directly on the island, the biohazard risk is too big," Shah said.   "Non-indigenous animals who may accidently be on board could come to the island and threaten its (ecological) balance."   Too many tourists can also upset this balance.

Nature Seychelles in July increased the price of visits from 33 to 40 euros ($36 to $44) and removed a free pass for children under 15, resulting in a welcome 10-percent reduction in visitor numbers.   "Something had to be done, there was too much pressure on the environment," said Dailus Laurence, the chief warden of the island.   "When there are too many tourists it can bother nesting birds and turtles who want to come and lay their eggs on the island."

One guide said that some tourists, bothered by the island's ubiquitous mosquitos, would "leave the paths, move away from the group and walk where they are not supposed to", putting fragile habitats at risk.   Shah said that if they wanted to increase the number of tourists, it would require hiring more wardens and guides who live on the island, which would also have a negative impact on nature.   "Our absolute priority is nature, and it comes before tourists. If we have to take more steps to protect it and reduce the number of tourists, we will," he said.
Date: Mon, 30 Dec 2019 08:31:15 +0100 (MET)

Victoria, Seychelles, Dec 30, 2019 (AFP) - A French tourist was seriously injured after being attacked by a shark while swimming in the Seychelles, a popular tourist destination, the French ambassador said Monday.   The attack on the 45-year-old woman took place Sunday night off the island of Praslin, the second-largest in the picturesque archipelago famed for its pristine beaches.    The victim was injured in one arm and was transported to a hospital.    "She underwent an operation last night and her life is not in danger," Ambassador Dominique Mas told AFP.    The attack comes during the high tourist season for the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands located off the coast of East Africa in the Indian Ocean.

Such incidents are rare in the Seychelles, though two tourists -- one French and one British -- were killed in shark attacks off Praslin in August 2011.    Officials said Praslin's relatively cool waters could attract sharks during breeding.     The Seychelles Maritime Safety Administration (SMSA) cordoned off the area where Sunday's attack occurred to search for the shark.    The SMSA also imposed a temporary ban on swimming in the area.
18th Oct 2017
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/seychelles-plague-negative/en/ 

Samples from patients in Seychelles suspected to be ill with pneumonic plague tested negative at a World Health Organization (WHO) partner laboratory in Paris, France on Tuesday (17 October).
 
The ten samples were shipped by the Seychelles Ministry of Health and WHO to the collaborating centre for Yersinia at the Institut Pasteur to confirm the status of several suspected and one probable case – a 34-year-old Seychelles national who had returned from Madagascar with plague-like symptoms.

WHO is working with the Seychelles health authorities to reduce the risk of plague spreading from neighbouring Madagascar, which faces an unprecedented outbreak that has killed more than 70 people since August. No plague cases have been confirmed in the Seychelles.
Alongside support for laboratory testing, WHO has deployed experts and medical supplies to the 115-island country. The Organization is also providing guidance for the tracing and treatment of contacts of people who are suspected to have been infected.

“We are working with health authorities to reduce the risk of the spread of plague in the Seychelles by improving surveillance and preparedness,” said Dr. Ibrahima Soce Fall, WHO Regional Emergencies Director for the Africa region.

WHO is advising the Government of Seychelles on the implementation of public health measures that are in line with the WHO International Health Regulations, such as enhanced surveillance, isolation and treatment of suspect cases, contact tracing and prophylactic treatment of potential contacts.

WHO currently assesses the risk of spread of plague in the Seychelles to be low.
More ...

Tonga

Tonga US Consular Information Sheet
January 27, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Tonga is a South Pacific island nation consisting of 171 islands, of which 45 are inhabited.
Tonga is a constitutional monarchy and a member of the British Comm
nwealth.
Its agrarian economy is developing and its tourist industry, although limited, is growing.
Tourist facilities are concentrated in and around the main island of Tongatapu where the capital, Nuku’alofa, is located. The Tongan Tourist Bureau has a wide range of information of interest to travelers.
The web site is http://www.tongaholiday.com/.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Tonga for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and an onward/return ticket are required.
Visas are not required for stays of up to 30 days.
Tonga collects a departure tax.
For further information about entry requirements, travelers, particularly those planning to enter by sea, may wish to contact the Consulate General of Tonga at 360 Post Street, Suite 604, San Francisco, California 94108; telephone 415-781-0365.

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:
An organized movement for political reform exists in Tonga.
Protests in November 2006 became violent, resulting in fires that destroyed much of the downtown area of Nuku’alofa.
American citizens are advised to avoid large public gatherings and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations, as they could turn violent at any time.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, 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:
Although the crime rate in Tonga is low compared to crime rates in the U.S. and most European countries, petty crime and theft do take place.
Though rare, crimes against persons occur as well.
Visitors should not be complacent regarding personal safety or the protection of valuables.

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 U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji at (679) 331 4466 (ask for American Citizen Services).
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance.
The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds can
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.

The local equivalents to the “911” emergency line in Tonga are 911, which connects to the Tonga Telecommunications emergency operators; 922, which connects directly to the police; and 933, which connects directly to the hospital.
Americans requiring immediate emergency services in Tonga should call one of these emergency contact numbers.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

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 Tongan law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in, illegal drugs in Tonga 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.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Tonga’s customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Tonga of items such as firearms, explosives, motor vehicles, eggs and certain types of alcohol.
It is advisable to contact the Consulate General of Tonga in San Francisco for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Tonga are extremely limited.
The cities of Nuku'alofa and Neiafu have hospitals with limited emergency and outpatient facilities.
Local residents and visitors with serious medical problems are often referred to New Zealand for treatment.
For additional information on medical visas for New Zealand, contact the Embassy of New Zealand, 37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC 20008, (202) 328-4800 or the Consulate General in Los Angeles (310) 207-1605.
Serious medical conditions requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

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

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 Tonga is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

No roadside assistance is available.
Traffic moves on the left in Tonga.
While roads in Nuku’alofa are paved, most other roads are not.
Animals and unwary pedestrians walking in the road make night driving on unlit secondary roads hazardous.
For specific information concerning Tonga driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Consulate General of Tonga in San Francisco.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.tongaholiday.com/
AVIATION OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Tonga’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Tonga’s air carrier operations.
For further information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa/.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and proof of U.S. citizenship are readily available.
U.S. citizens who are detained are encouraged to request that a consular officer from the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji, be notified.

The cyclone season is November through April.
The Fiji Meteorological Service maintains a Tropical Cyclone Warning Center (TCWC) in Nadi serving the Southwest Pacific Region. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available online at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/emergencies/emergencies_1207.html and from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/
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:
There is no U.S. embassy or other U.S. diplomatic or consular post in Tonga.
The U.S. Embassy in Fiji provides assistance for U.S. citizens in Tonga. Americans living or traveling in Tonga are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Suva through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Tonga.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
The U.S. Embassy in Fiji is located at 31 Loftus Street in Fiji’s capital city of Suva.
The telephone number is (679) 331-4466; the fax number is (679) 330-2267.
Information may also be obtained by visiting the Embassy’s home page at http://samoa.usembassy.gov/.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
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*
*
*
*
*
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Tonga dated June 16, 2008, to update the section on Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 9 Apr 2020 07:30:18 +0200 (METDST)
By Mary Lyn Fonua

Nuku'alofa, Tonga, April 9, 2020 (AFP) - A resurgent Tropical Cyclone Harold flattened tourist resorts in Tonga Thursday, extending a week-long trail of destruction across four South Pacific island nations that has claimed more than two dozen lives.   The cyclone gathered pace as it bore down on the tiny island kingdom, which declared a state of emergency, warning residents to seek shelter from destructive winds and massive sea surges.

By early Thursday it had again become a scale-topping Category Five superstorm -- surprising meteorologists after signs earlier in the week that its intensity was dropping.   Packing winds of up to 260 kilometres per hour (160 miles per hour), it cut power in parts of the country and police said at least three tourist resorts north of the capital Nuku'alofa had been reduced to rubble.

The cyclone killed 27 people in the Solomons late last week before barrelling southeast to directly hit Vanuatu as a Category Five, obliterating entire towns in the northern provinces.   There have been no reports of deaths in Vanuatu, Fiji or Tonga, with emergency workers saying residents in the hardest hit areas took shelter early.   "It appears that many buildings and crops have been destroyed and some people in the most affected areas have lost everything," Red Cross Vanuatu secretary general Jacqueline de Gaillande said.

Harold weakened slightly to a still-formidable Category Four as it lashed Fiji on Wednesday but hopes the storm was dissipating were dashed as it regathered momentum heading towards Tonga.   "It's been a tricky one to predict," meteorologist Bill Singh from New Zealand's Metservice told AFP.   "We knew the track it was going to take but initially everyone thought it was just going to be Cat 3 or 4, but as it progressed over open warm waters it deepened."

- Closed borders -
The storm is expected to head away from Tonga onto the open ocean late Thursday but WeatherWatch.co.nz head forecaster Philip Duncan said there were no certainties.   "It's almost unheard of to see a cyclone tracking south away from the equator, weakening, then suddenly returning back to Cat 5 so far south," he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated disaster relief efforts, with Vanuatu reluctant to open its international borders as it seeks to remain one of the few countries without any confirmed virus cases.   "No foreign personnel are being brought to Vanuatu for response efforts at the present time, this will be an internally run operation," Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office said.

Fiji has 15 virus cases and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the virus and cyclone meant "our economy and our people have been dealt two body blows to start the year".   "This storm must not compromise our coronavirus containment efforts, lest we risk damage far more painful than the aftermath of any cyclone," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said an air force plane carrying essential supplies such as tents and water containers was on its way to Vanuatu, while assistance had also been offered to other impacted nations.   "We are acutely conscious that this comes on top of the impact and difficulties created by COVID-19 for those countries," she said.   Vanuatu said any supplies that came into the country would be handled with protective equipment and the air crews delivering them would be isolated in transit areas.
Date: Fri 17 Jan 2020
Source: WHO [abridged, edited]

Tonga measles outbreak situation report from government of Tonga as at 17 Jan 2020

1. Summary of Situation
Background

The outbreak of measles in Tonga began in early October 2019, following the return of a national youth team of Tongan rugby players from New Zealand. The index case developed measles while in New Zealand. Subsequently, a further 12 teammates developed laboratory-confirmed measles. The early outbreak involved mainly teenagers from associated schools on Tongatapu and Vava'u Islands. Since the initial 2 waves of the outbreak, cases were widely reported in all age groups but are now waning.

An interdisciplinary Ministry of Health epidemic task force (ETF) meets weekly to advise on management of the outbreak. In addition to routine outbreak response activities, a time-limited vaccination program targeting secondary school students and 6-11-month infants has been completed.

Note: Refer to earlier sit reps for further detail of the initial cases and response.

2. Current Situation
There is ongoing transmission on the Islands of Tongatapu and Vava'u; the last case onsets on Ha'apai, 'Eua, and Niuatoputapu islands were 14 Dec 2019, 8 Dec 2019, 14 Nov 2019, respectively [Table 1]. Since the last situation report, 6 new measles case-patients were reported in Tongatapu, and 3 cases were added retrospectively to the cumulative number of cases. They were 7 males and 2 females between the ages of 6 months and 19 years old.

As of 16 Jan 2020, 639 confirmed or suspected cases of measles have been identified in Tonga including 52 lab-confirmed cases. The majority, 561 (87.8%) cases, have occurred on Tongatapu, and 66 (10.3 %) have occurred on Vava'u Island. Case presentations have been reported to be mild with 20 hospitalisations and no death. The majority of the cases have been managed by home isolation, and all patients have been discharged. Given the duration of illness is typically less than 2 weeks, it is estimated that at least 99% of the 639 reported measles cases will have already recovered from their illnesses.

Figure 1 (see URL) shows the epidemic curve for the current outbreak in Tonga. Most of the cases (blue) were reported from the Island of Tongatapu.

Figure 2 demonstrates the breakdown of cases by gender. Consistent with early transmission through male boarding schools, most cases have been among males, with the proportion of cases among females increasing as the outbreak progressed. A total of 105 cases have occurred in children aged less than 5 years, while cases among adolescents and young people continue to form the majority of the cases in this outbreak (500 cases, 78%, occurring in people aged 10-24 years) (Table 2 and Figure 3).
=======================
[See PDF of document with figures and tables at
Date: Thu, 14 Nov 2019 05:10:45 +0100 (MET)

Nuku'alofa, Tonga, Nov 14, 2019 (AFP) - All government primary schools and kindergartens in Tonga have been shut in an effort to limit the spread of measles sweeping through the South Pacific, the government announced Thursday.   With the number of confirmed and suspected measles infections in the Pacific kingdom nearing 200, Education Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said schools would be closed until at least November 25.   "Children who happen to have measles during the closure will be able to be treated and stay isolated from others," he said.

A victory parade to celebrate Tonga's recent historic rugby league wins over Australia and Great Britain would go ahead Friday, but spectators have been advised to wear masks, and an opportunity for school children to meet the players has been cancelled.    In Samoa, where seven suspected measles-related deaths have been recorded, a measles epidemic has been declared and the government has taken steps to close all schools.

Neighbouring American Samoa announced a public health emergency Thursday and Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga said everyone travelling from Tonga and Samoa to the US territory must provide proof of measles immunisation, as a condition of entry.    In the tourism-reliant Cook Islands, authorities said there were too many visitors to screen them all and preparations were under way to deal with a potential outbreak.   "We are hoping we can hold," Health Secretary Josephine Aumea Herman told Radio New Zealand.    Measles is a highly infectious airborne disease that spreads easily through breathing, coughing, and sneezing. It typically causes a rash, fever and white spots in the mouth.   More serious complications include blindness, pneumonia, brain damage and severe dehydration.
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: Tue 22 Oct 2019
Source: Matangi [abridged, edited]

Tonga's Ministry of Health today [Tue 22 Oct 2019] issued a measles alert after 13 members of a Tongan school rugby team developed measles after returning from New Zealand this month [October 2019]. Measles is a highly infectious disease, and the public is urged to be vigilant for signs and symptoms and to get immunized, especially if they are traveling overseas.

The high school rugby group were playing rugby in New Zealand in September [2019]. There were 60 boys and 8 officials in the group. One of the boys became unwell while in New Zealand and was laboratory confirmed as having measles.

Since their return to Tonga on 1 Oct [2019], 13 other members of the group developed symptoms of measles. Six of those cases had been confirmed by a laboratory test.

Another person who was in contact with one of the players was a suspected case, bringing the total number to 15 cases.

None of the cases are seriously ill.

The Ministry reported that it had taken rapid steps to prevent further spread of the virus, including isolating the current cases at home, vaccinating contacts of the cases, and quarantining the remaining squad members, staff, and other contacts.

Ministry of Health CEO, Dr Siale 'Akau'ola said that parents of players have been contacted and provided with information about measles, and the boys were instructed to remain at home until they were sure that they would not develop measles.

"The Ministry is confident that steps have been taken to contain the spread of the virus. However, measles is a highly infectious disease, and it is possible that further cases may occur."

New Zealand has a major outbreak of measles with more than 1800 cases since the beginning of the year [2019].

People travelling to New Zealand and other countries experiencing measles outbreaks are strongly recommended to check their immunization status.
More ...

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: Fri, 1 May 2020 13:50:24 +0200 (METDST)

Freetown, May 1, 2020 (AFP) - Sierra Leone's President Julius Maada Bio has extended a coronavirus lockdown for three days from Sunday due to the spread of the virus in the poor West African nation.   There are fears that the nation of 7.5 million people is particularly exposed to an outbreak due to poverty and a fragile health care system. There have been 124 recorded cases and seven deaths so far.

The former British colony was badly hit by the 2014-2016 West African Ebola crisis, which killed almost 4,000 people in the country.    "Epidemiological data and other evidence indicate that there is community transmission of #COVID-19 in #SierraLeone," Bio said in a tweet posted late Thursday.    "I therefore declare a three-day nationwide lockdown covering the period Sunday, 3rd May to Tuesday, 5th of May, 2020."   Sierra Leone has banned travel between regions, imposed a night curfew, closed its borders and schools and banned international flights.   The first COVID-19 case in the country was declared on March 30, long after many African nations.
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 14:14:37 +0200 (METDST)

Freetown, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - Sierra Leone has recorded its first case of the new coronavirus, the government said on Tuesday, making it the latest African country to register an infection.   In a televised press conference, President Julius Maada Bio said that a 37-year-old man who arrived in the country from France on March 16 had tested positive.     The man had been quarantined on arrival in the West African state, Bio said.     "It was not a matter of whether, but when. Ladies and gentlemen, the when is here," the president said.

Sierra Leone had been one of the few countries in Africa to have reported zero cases, despite neighbouring Guinea and Liberia having detected infections.   There are fears that, like its neighbours, the poor nation of 7.5 million people is particularly exposed to an outbreak.     The former British colony was badly hit by the 2014-2016 West African Ebola crisis, which killed almost 4,000 people in Sierra Leone.    On Tuesday, Bio said authorities were aggressively tracing people who may have come into contact with the infected patient, and urged people to report anyone with coronavirus symptoms to the authorities.

The government had already announcement anti-virus measures. Land borders are closed, international flights banned, and schools were shut from Tuesday until further notice, among other measures.    "The government will respond rapidly to changes in the situation by announcing additional enhanced measures," Bio said.    Six of Africa's 54 nations have been spared the coronavirus to date: South Sudan, Burundi, Sao Tome and Principe, Malawi, Lesotho and Comoros.
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2020 15:40:00 +0100 (MET)

Freetown, March 19, 2020 (AFP) - Sierra Leone on Thursday said it would suspend all international flights in and out of the impoverished West African state in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus.   The transport ministry said in a statement that the measure will take effect on Saturday and remain in place until further notice.    Emergency flights will be the "only exception," it said.    Sierra Leone has yet to record a coronavirus case, however, its neighbouring countries Guinea and Liberia have both done so.    The former British colony was badly hit by the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak, which killed almost 4,000 people in the country.  
Date: Fri 24 Jan 2020
Source: SciTechDaily [abridged, edited]

Citation: Amman BR, Bird BH, Bakarr IA, et al. Isolation of Angola-like Marburg virus from Egyptian rousette bats from West Africa. Nat Commun. 2020; 11:510.  <https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-14327-8>

Scientists have detected Marburg virus in fruit bats in Sierra Leone, marking the 1st time the deadly virus has been found in West Africa. A total of 11 Egyptian rousette fruit bats tested positive for active Marburg virus infection. Research teams caught the bats separately in 3 health districts.

The presence of Marburg virus, a close relative to Ebola virus that also causes hemorrhagic disease in people, was detected in advance of any reported cases of human illness in Sierra Leone. However, the virus's presence in bats means people who live nearby could be at risk for becoming infected. No outbreaks have been reported to date.

The findings, based on PCR, antibody, and virus isolation data, were officially published today [24 Jan 2020] in the journal Nature Communications. Preliminary findings were announced earlier in December 2018 to ensure rapid notification to the citizens of Sierra Leone and the international health community.

The paper highlights the value of collaborating with government and key stakeholders across human, animal, and environmental sectors to engage at-risk communities about the discovery, address health concerns, and communicate risk-reduction strategies before recognized spillovers occur.

Marburg virus was detected by projects led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the USAID-funded PREDICT project led by the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Njala University, Sierra Leone; and the University of Makeni, Sierra Leone.

"Finding Marburg virus in bats in Sierra Leone before any known cases in people is a huge success, as public health officials and doctors can now include Marburg virus among the possible causes when diagnosing hemorrhagic fever cases in the region," said Tracey Goldstein, co-principal investigator and pathogen detection lead for the PREDICT project from the UC Davis One Health Institute.

To date, there have been 12 known outbreaks of Marburg virus, with the most recent in Uganda in 2017. The largest and deadliest outbreak occurred in Angola in 2005 when 227 people died. Five of the new strains identified among the Marburg-positive bats in Sierra Leone were genetically similar to the strain that caused the outbreak in Angola. This is the 1st time scientists have detected these Angolan-like strains in bats.

The virus-positive bats were all Egyptian rousette bats, the known reservoir for Marburg virus, which primarily feed on fruit. Infected bats shed the virus in their saliva, urine, and feces. Egyptian rousette bats are known to test-bite fruits, urinate, and defecate where they eat, potentially contaminating fruit or other food sources consumed by other animals or people, particularly children. These bats sometimes serve as a food source for local populations as well. People may be exposed to Marburg virus through bat bites as they catch the bats.

Following the announcement of the preliminary findings by the government of Sierra Leone, the PREDICT team worked with government partners, universities, and other key stakeholders to develop and implement evidence-based public health messaging across national, district, and local community levels in Sierra Leone.  "Over a year ago, we worked with our Sierra Leone government colleagues to inform people across the country as fast as possible of this new health risk and remind people not to harm or come in contact with bats," said Brian Bird from the UC Davis One Health Institute and global lead for Sierra Leone and Multi-Country Ebola operations for PREDICT-USAID. "I'm very proud of that work and our teams now that this full report is available."
----------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap Alerts
<promed@promedmail.org>
and
Mary Marshall
===========================
[The initial report of this finding, prior to this publication, was posted by ProMED-mail (Marburg virus disease - Sierra Leone (02): bats, additional information http://promedmail.org/post/20181223.6221436) when the virus was detected for the 1st time in fruit bats in Sierra Leone.

According to the CDC (<https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/marburg/index.html>), Marburg virus was 1st recognized in 1967, when outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). A total of 31 people became ill, initially laboratory workers followed by several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them; 7 deaths were reported. The 1st people infected had been exposed to imported African green monkeys or their tissues while conducting research. One additional case was diagnosed retrospectively.

The reservoir host of Marburg virus is the African fruit bat, _Rousettus aegyptiacus_. Fruit bats infected with Marburg virus do not show obvious signs of illness. Primates (including humans) can become infected with Marburg virus, and may develop serious disease with high mortality.

Ebola virus is closely related to Marburg virus. "Ebola viral RNA fragments were found in an oral swab from a greater long-fingered bat (_Miniopterus inflatus_), captured in 2016 in Liberia's Sanniquellie-Mahn district, which borders Guinea. The bat, which lives in many parts of Africa, roosts in caves and feeds on insects. Scientists had previously found 2 other Ebola species in a related insect-eating bat, _M. schreibersii_. However, most other evidence has pointed to fruit bats as the carriers of Ebola Zaire, Epstein says [J Epstein, veterinary epidemiologist at EcoHealth Alliance in New York City and a member of the PREDICT consortium]. "What it really says to me is that this is a virus that has multiple hosts, and it might be regionally dependent as to which species carries it."

Supporting the variety of bat hosts for Ebola, the bat implicated in the initiation of the West African Ebola virus outbreak in December 2013 was _Mops condylurus_, long-tailed insect-eating bats, that were previously suspected in an outbreak of the Sudan strain of Ebola virus, which is related to the Zaire strain. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Thu 28 Nov 2019
Source: World Health Organization Disease Outbreak News [edited]

Sierra Leone health officials, supported by WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other partners, are responding to an outbreak of Lassa fever. On 20 Nov 2019, WHO was informed by the Netherlands' International Health Regulations (IHR) National Focal Point of one imported case of Lassa fever from Sierra Leone. The patient was a male doctor, a Dutch national who worked in a rural Masanga hospital in Tonkolili district, Northern province in Sierra Leone.

The probable route of transmission is believed to be through exposures during a surgical procedure he performed on 2 patients in Masanga hospital on 4 Nov 2019. Both patients died following surgical interventions; one died on 4 Nov [2019] and the 2nd on 19 Nov 2019. Both surgical patients are considered probable cases, and the patient who died on 4 Nov [2019] is believed to be the index case for this outbreak, likely the source of infection of the Dutch doctor.

The doctor's symptoms started on 11 Nov [2019], a week after performing the surgery, and included malaise and headache, followed by fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, and cough. While symptomatic, he attended a surgical training event in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on 11-12 Nov [2019]. This event was also attended by several international participants from the Netherlands and United Kingdom in addition to 35 local participants. On 19 Nov [2019], the symptomatic doctor was medically evacuated to the Netherlands after he did not respond to treatment with antimalarials and antibiotics. The evacuation was managed by a dedicated ambulance plane with 4 staff from a German organization. During the journey, the plane stopped in Morocco (Agadir Airport). As the illness was initially thought to be malaria or typhoid fever, personal protective equipment, other than gloves, were not used, and no specific containment procedures were used during the medical evacuation.

Laboratory specimens from the patient tested positive for Lassa fever by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequencing at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam on 20 Nov 2019.

The patient died on the night of 23 Nov 2019.

On 22 Nov 2019, WHO was informed of a 2nd laboratory-confirmed case of Lassa fever in another Dutch healthcare worker, who also worked in the Masanga hospital. Samples from this 2nd case were sent to the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam and tested positive for Lassa fever by PCR. The 2nd case also participated in one of the surgical procedures performed by the medically evacuated Dutch doctor. The date of onset of symptoms of the 2nd case was 11 Nov [2019]. This case was subsequently medically evacuated in high containment isolation to the Netherlands and is currently under treatment. Isolation precautions have been implemented.

The Masanga hospital in Sierra Leone where the Dutch doctor worked is supported by several non-governmental organizations with international healthcare workers including staff from countries including Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, alongside national healthcare workers.

Contact tracing and monitoring activities have been initiated in these countries as required.

Sierra Leone
An outbreak investigation and response is ongoing under leadership of the Ministry of Health (MoH), supported by CDC and WHO. As of 24 Nov 2019, in addition to the 2 Dutch cases, 2 further cases among national healthcare workers, one confirmed and another suspected, have been reported from Masanga hospital. Both healthcare workers were involved in the management of the 2 surgical patients operated by the Dutch doctor on 4 Nov [2019]. All high-risk contacts in Masanga hospital are being monitored.

The Netherlands
Several high- and low-risk contacts have been identified among personal contacts and healthcare workers. According to Dutch protocols, they will be monitored until 21 days after the last potential exposure. Five high-risk Dutch contacts who were in Sierra Leone have been repatriated through a dedicated flight and are now under monitoring. Dutch low-risk contacts in Sierra Leone have been advised to perform self-monitoring in situ.

Germany
The 4 medical evacuation flight staff (2 pilots and 2 healthcare workers) spent 8 flight hours in a confined space in the ambulance plane without any barrier between the cockpit and cabin. They have been assessed as moderate-risk contacts. According to German recommendations, they are being monitored for 21 days following the last potential exposure on 19 Nov (until 10 Dec 2019).

United Kingdom (UK)
UK authorities have identified 18 UK nationals as contacts of the 1st Dutch case. Of these 18, 8 are high-risk contacts and were exposed in Masanga hospital while working alongside the doctor or may have been exposed to the 2 patients he operated on 4 Nov [2019]. Of these 8 high-risk contacts, 7 returned to the UK and one went to Uganda. In addition, 13 UK nationals attended a surgical training event in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on 11-12 Nov [2019], which was also attended by the 1st Dutch case while already symptomatic. Of these 13 participants, 3 came from Masanga hospital and belong to the above group of 8 high-risk contacts. The remaining 10 participants were possibly exposed during the training and are considered low-risk contacts. Of these 18 contacts identified (8 high-risk and 10 low-risk contacts), 17 have returned to the UK and are under public health follow-up for 21 days; one high-risk contact went to Uganda. There were also several Dutch and 35 local participants who attended this event. UK authorities are in contact with the organizers, and the names of participants from Sierra Leone and the Netherlands have been shared with respective National IHR Focal Points.

Uganda
One contact, a UK national, who may have been exposed in Masanga hospital on 15 Nov [2019] and subsequently travelled to Uganda on 16 Nov [2019], is now being followed up by the Uganda authorities, and the UK authorities are providing support remotely though public health and consular channels.

The National IHR Focal Point of the Netherlands has also informed their counterpart in Morocco about the potential risk of exposure at the Agadir Airport. Morocco National IHR Focal Point confirmed that the investigation is conducted, and control measures have been implemented to ensure there was no transmission in Agadir.

Sierra Leone is endemic for Lassa fever. Previously, sporadic cases have been exported to Europe from endemic countries in Africa, such as Togo, Liberia and Nigeria. In 2018, a total of 23 confirmed Lassa fever cases with 14 deaths (case fatality rate 61%) were reported from 2 districts of Sierra Leone: Bo district (2 cases; 2 deaths) and Kenema district (21 cases; 12 deaths).

From 1 Jan-17 Nov 2019, of the 182 suspected cases, 10 cases with 6 deaths (case fatality ratio 60%) have been confirmed for Lassa virus infection. All confirmed cases during this period were reported from Kenema district, which has been reporting cases of Lassa fever every year.

Public health response
The International Health Regulations Focal Points and Health Authorities in Denmark, Germany, Morocco, the Netherlands, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and the UK have been collaborating to share information about this event, together with the WHO and US CDC. Contact tracing and monitoring activities for 21 days following the last potential exposure have been initiated in Sierra Leone, Germany, the Netherlands, Uganda, and the UK. Investigations are ongoing in Sierra Leone in Masanga hospital and surrounding areas in Tonkolili district with a deployment of a national rapid-response team, supported by US CDC and WHO.

WHO risk assessment
Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic fever illness that is transmitted to humans via contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or faeces. Human-to-human infections and laboratory transmission can also occur through direct contact with the blood, urine, faeces, or other bodily secretions of a person with Lassa fever. The overall case fatality rate is 1%; it is 15% among patients hospitalized with severe illness.

Sierra Leone is endemic for Lassa fever, and sporadic cases have been exported to Europe from endemic countries in Africa, such as Togo, Liberia and Nigeria in recent years. However, in general, the secondary transmission of Lassa fever through human contacts is rare.

Data from recent imported cases show that secondary transmission of Lassa fever is rare when standard infection-control precautions are observed. Further, epidemiological investigations are ongoing: human-to-human transmission occurs in both community and healthcare settings, where the virus may spread by contaminated medical equipment. Healthcare workers are at risk if caring for Lassa fever patients in the absence of appropriate infection prevention and control measures. Considering the seasonal flare-ups of cases in humid zones between December and March, countries in West Africa that are endemic for Lassa fever are encouraged to strengthen their related surveillance systems.

WHO advice
Prevention of Lassa fever relies on community engagement and promoting hygienic conditions to discourage rodents from entering homes.  There is currently no approved vaccine. Early supportive care with rehydration and symptomatic treatment improves survival. Family members and healthcare workers should always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons.

According to WHO guidance for viral haemorrhagic fever, healthcare staff should consistently implement standard precautions when caring for all patients to prevent infections acquired in a healthcare setting and strictly apply contact precautions, including isolation, when caring for suspected or confirmed Lassa fever patients or handling their clinical specimens or body fluids. Standard precautions are meant to reduce the risk of transmission of bloodborne and other pathogens from both recognized and unrecognized sources. Standard precautions are recommended in the care and treatment of all patients regardless of their perceived or confirmed infectious status. They represent the basic fundamental level of infection prevention and control and include hand hygiene, use of personal protective equipment to avoid direct contact with blood and body fluids, prevention of needle stick and injuries from other sharp instruments, and a set of environmental controls. Sterilization and environmental cleaning should also be particularly strengthened and undergo quality control assessments.

In order to avoid any direct contact with blood and body fluids and/or splashes onto facial mucosa (eyes, nose, mouth) when providing direct care for a patient with suspected or confirmed Lassa virus, personal protective equipment should include
1) clean non-sterile gloves,
2) a clean, non-sterile fluid-resistant gown, and
3) protection of facial mucosa against splashes (mask and eye protection, or a face shield).

Given the nonspecific presentation of viral haemorrhagic fevers, isolation of ill travellers and consistent implementation of standard precautions are key to preventing secondary transmission. When consistently applied, these measures can prevent secondary transmission even if travel history information is not obtained, not immediately available, or the diagnosis of a viral haemorrhagic fever is delayed.

WHO continues to advise all countries in the Lassa fever belt due to the need to enhance early detection and treatment of cases to reduce the case fatality rate as well as strengthen cross-border collaboration. WHO advises against any restrictions on travel or trade to or from Sierra Leone based on the current available information.
======================
[The above report provides the details and timelines related to the 2 confirmed cases of the Dutch physicians and the many suspected contacts. The 2 confirmed cases illustrate the difficulty in identifying Lassa fever cases when the infected individuals are early in the course of the disease so that barriers to transmission of the virus can be implemented. The 1st Dutch physician initially was thought to have malaria or typhoid fever, diseases more common in the area than Lassa fever. It will be interesting to learn if any of the contact individuals in the UK, Germany, or Uganda become infected. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sierra Leone:
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 09:15:57 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after more than two months of stringent curbs.   Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the ministry said in a series of measures announced on the official Saudi Press Agency.   The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday.   From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added.   The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21.   "Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing," Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday.   Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.

In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities.   That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said.   Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 05:52:24 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chile registered a new high for coronavirus cases on Monday, with nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours, including two ministers in President Sebastian Pinera's government.   Health authorities announced 4,895 new infections in the South American country and 43 deaths.

Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno and Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet said they were among those with the disease.   "I have been informed that the COVID-19 test I had a few days ago was positive," Moreno said on Twitter, adding that he had no symptoms so far.   The 63-year-old minister had placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff tested positive.  Jobet also tested positive after starting to quarantine preventatively on Saturday, "when he experienced mild symptoms, which could be associated with the disease," a statement from the Energy Ministry said.

The 44-year-old minister "has had no direct contact with President Sebastian Pinera or other cabinet members in recent days," the statement said, without specifying how he became infected.   Three other ministers, who had self-quarantined after being in contact with infected people, all tested negative and resumed work.

Chile suffered a surge in infections last week, prompting the government to order the lockdown of Santiago.   The capital is the main focus of the pandemic in Chile, with 90 percent of the country's 74,000 cases.   Last week, the Senate was closed after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus. Sessions were held by video conference.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 01:15:01 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Demonstrators defied coronavirus restrictions to march in cities across Ecuador on Monday in protest against President Lenin Moreno's drastic economic measures to tackle the crisis.   Moreno last week announced public spending cuts including the closure of state companies and embassies around the world, but trade unions Monday said workers were paying a disproportionate price compared to Ecuador's elite.   "This protest is because the government is firing workers to avoid making the rich pay," Mecias Tatamuez, head of the county's largest union, the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), told reporters at a march in Quito.

Around 2,000 people marched in the capital, waving flags and banners and shouting anti-government slogans.   The protesters wore masks and respected distancing measures recommended against the spread of the coronavirus that has caused at least 3,200 deaths in the country, making it South America's worst hit nation per capita. Authorities say more than 2,000 further deaths are likely linked to the virus.

Demonstrations took place in several other cities, including Guayaquil, the epicentre of Ecuador's health crisis, where union leaders said hundreds marched through the city.   Moreno ordered the closure of Ecuadoran embassies, a reduction in diplomatic staff and scrapped seven state companies as part of measures designed to save some $4 billion.    He also announced the liquidation of the TAME airline, which has lost more than $400 million over the last five years.

The government says the pandemic has so far cost the economy at least $8 billion.   Public sector working hours have been cut by 25 percent, with an accompanying 16 percent pay cut.   Moreno said on Sunday that 150,000 people had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.   Ecuador was struggling economically before the pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil.   The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by 6.3 percent this year, the sharpest drop of any country in South America.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 22:20:46 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland recorded no new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 21.   Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it a "significant milestone", adding on Twitter: "This is a day of hope. We will prevail."

The announcement came one week after Ireland, which has suffered 1,606 deaths from 24,698 infections, began to ease lockdown measures that had been in place for nearly two months.   Ireland entered lockdown in late March, recording a peak of 77 deaths on a single day on April 20.   "In the last 24 hours we didn't have any deaths notified to us," chief medical officer Tony Holohan said at a daily press briefing.   He warned that the zero figure could be a result of a lag in reporting of deaths over the weekend, but he added: "It's part of the continued trend that we've seen in (the) reduction in the total number of deaths."

Ireland has announced a five-step plan to reopen the nation by August and took the first steps last Monday -- allowing outdoor employees to return to work, some shops to reopen and the resumption of  activities such as golf and tennis.   While the news of no fresh deaths was greeted as progress, officials remain concerned there will be a "second wave" as the lockdown is loosened.   "The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed COVID-19 as a country," Holohan added in a statement.   "It will take another week to see any effect on disease incidence that might arise from the easing of measures."
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 21:59:40 +0200 (METDST)

Luxembourg, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Luxembourg will ease its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, reopening cafes and restaurants and allowing civil and religious ceremonies under strict conditions, the government announced.   The tiny country has so far registered only 3,993 COVID-19 cases, of which 110 have been fatal. Four people are in intensive care and shops were closed on March 18 to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told a news conference on Monday that eateries could reopen terraces with a maximum of four people at a single table.   Indoor dining in cafes and restaurants will resume on Friday, he said, with social distancing of 1.5 metres (five feet) between groups.   Marriages and funerals will also be allowed if the attendees wore face masks and kept two metres distance from each other.   Bettel however said cafes and restaurants would have to close at midnight.

Francois Koepp, the general secretary of the Horeca federation grouping hotels, restaurants and cafes, welcomed the announcement, saying the sector had "greatly suffered from the confinement".   He said it provided employment to some 21,000 people in this nation of 620,000 inhabitants.   Cinema theatres and gyms will open at the end of the week but children's parks will remain closed.   The government has pledged to give every citizen over 16 a voucher worth 50 euros ( $54) to spend in hotels to provide a boost to the sector.   The vouchers will also be given to some 200,000 cross border workers from Belgium, France and Germany.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 20:36:16 +0200 (METDST)

Prague, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - The Czech Republic and Slovakia will reopen their border this week for those travelling to the other country for up to 48 hours, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Monday.   "This will be possible without tests or quarantine" starting Wednesday, he added in a message posted on Twitter.   The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a single country until 1993. Babis himself was born in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

Both countries have fared well in the current pandemic, with Slovakia posting the lowest death toll per capita in the EU and the Czech Republic keeping its COVID-19 figures down as well.   The Czech government will also open border crossings with Austria and Germany on Tuesday but will still require negative COVID-19 tests from those entering the country.   "We have negotiated similar conditions on the other side of the border with our German and Austrian colleagues," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said.   The interior ministry said blanket border checks would be replaced by random ones and added it would still not allow tourists into the country.

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government was working on other measures to ease the travel restrictions adopted in mid-March.   "We would like to introduce them next week," he added.   Vojtech said EU citizens could now come to the Czech Republic "on business or to visit their family for a maximum of 72 hours if they submit a negative coronavirus test."

The country is also accessible to non-EU citizens who do seasonal jobs there, on condition they have tested negative.   Czech restaurants, bars, hotels, castles, zoos and swimming pools have been open since Monday, when the government lifted many anti-virus measures.   Czechs also no longer have to wear face masks outside their homes, except in shops and on public transport.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 17:45:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shafiqul ALAM

Dhaka, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Some 15,000 Rohingya refugees are now under coronavirus quarantine in Bangladesh's vast camps, officials said Monday, as the number of confirmed infections rose to 29.   Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped settlements, housing almost a million Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar, and officials had restricted movement to the area in April.

Despite this, the first cases in the camps were detected in mid-May.   "None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still we have brought them in isolation centres and quarantined their families," Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the surrounding Cox's Bazar area told AFP.   He said narrow roads to three districts of the camps -- where the majority of the infections were detected -- have been blocked off by authorities.

The 15,000 Rohingya inside these so-called blocks faced further restrictions on their movement, he said.   It comes as charity workers expressed fears over being infected in the camps as they worked without adequate protection.   Two of the areas under isolation are in Kutupalong camp, home to roughly 600,000 Rohingya.   "We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts," Bhuiyan said.

Seven isolation centres with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared, he said.   Officials hope to have just under 2,000 ready by the end of May, he added.   Mahbubur Rahman, the chief health official of Cox's Bazar, said authorities hoped this week they would double the number of tests being performed daily from 188.   He said further entry restrictions have been imposed on the camp, with a 14 day quarantine in place for anyone visiting from Dhaka.   "We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun," Rahman told AFP.

- 'Very little awareness' -
Bangladesh on Monday notched up a record single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 1,975 new infections, taking the toll to 35,585 cases and 501 deaths.   In early April authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox's Bazar district -- home to 3.4 million people including the refugees -- after a number of infections.

But a charity worker with one of the many aid organisations active in the camps said Monday he and many others were "very worried".   "Fear and panic has gripped aid workers because many of us were forced to work without much protection," he told AFP without wishing to be named.   "Social distancing is almost impossible in the camps. There is very little awareness about COVID-19 disease among the refugees, despite efforts by aid agencies."

The lack of information is exacerbated by local authorities having cut off access to the internet in September to combat, they said, drug traffickers and other criminals.   More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar to Cox's Bazar, where around 200,000 refugees were already living.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 15:25:38 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar's government has announced it will dispatch troops and doctors to an eastern town after several bodies were found in the streets and where two people died from the novel coronavirus.   Madagascar's cabinet held a special meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Toamasina, the country's second largest city.   The Indian Ocean island nation has registered 527 infections and two deaths, both in Toamasina.

Since Thursday, more than 120 new cases were confirmed, and several bodies were found in the city's streets though the cause of death was not clear.   "Doctors must carry out thorough examinations to see if these deaths are caused by another illness (...) or if they are really due to severe acute respiratory problems which is the critical form of COVID-19," Professor Hanta Marie Danielle Vololontiana, spokesperson for the government's virus taskforce, said in a national broadcast on Sunday.   The government will send 150 soldiers to reinforce Toamasina, maintain order and enforce measures against the coronavirus such as mask wearing and social distancing.

The cabinet also fired Toamasina's prefect without providing any explanation.    A team was also ordered to distribute a drink based on artemisia, a plant recognised as a treatment against malaria, which the Malagasy authorities claim cures COVID-19.    The potential benefits of this herbal tea, called Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study.    The cabinet has also announced an investigation into the death of a doctor in Toamasina. According to local press, the victim was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 and was found dead hanged in his room on Sunday morning.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 09:20:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Bhuvan Bagga with Indranil Mukherjee in Mumbai

New Delhi, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Domestic flights resumed in India on Monday even as coronavirus cases surge, while confusion about quarantine rules prompted jitters among passengers and the cancellation of dozens of planes.   India had halted all flights within the country, and departing and leaving for abroad, in late March as it sought to stop the spread of coronavirus with the world's largest lockdown.   But desperate to get Asia's third-largest economy moving again, the government announced last week that around 1,050 daily flights -- a third of the usual capacity -- would resume on Monday.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said strict rules would include mandatory mask-wearing and thermal screenings, although middle seats on the aircraft would not be kept empty.   The announcement reportedly caught airlines and state authorities off-guard, with several local governments announcing that passengers would have to go into quarantine for two weeks on arrival.   Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases, capped at 50 the number of departures and arrivals in and out of its capital Mumbai.

Airlines scrapped dozens of flights on Monday while hundreds of passengers cancelled their bookings, reports said.   The NDTV news channel said 82 flights to and from New Delhi had been cancelled and nine at Bangalore airport.   Other flights from cities including infection hotspots Mumbai and Chennai were struck off, many at short notice, reports said.   At Mumbai airport social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were cancelled at the last minute.

- 'Really scary' -
At New Delhi airport, hundreds of people anxious to get home but apprehensive about the risks queued from before dawn -- all wearing masks and standing at least one metre (three feet) apart.   Security personnel behind plastic screens verified check-in documents and that passengers had the government contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, on their phones.

"While I'm looking forward (to flying home), the idea of flying is really scary," student Gladia Laipubam told AFP as she stood in line.   "Anything can happen. It's very risky. I don't really know when I'll be able to come back to Delhi now. There is no clarity from the university too at this time."   One female airline employee wearing gloves, a mask and a protective face shield said she and many other colleagues felt "very nervous" about starting work again.   "Dealing with so many people at this time is so risky. I must have interacted with at least 200 people since this morning," she told AFP, not wishing to be named.

Cabin crew on the planes had to wear full protective suits with masks, plastic visors and blue rubber gloves, and many were also confused about the rules, the Press Trust of India reported.   "There is no clarity on whether I need to go into home quarantine for 14 days after returning to my base or show up for duty on Monday," one pilot told PTI.   New coronavirus cases in India crossed 6,000 for the third consecutive day on Sunday, surging to a record single-day spike of 6,767 infections.   The country has recorded almost 140,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.   Singh has said that international flights could resume in June, although dozens of special flights have in recent weeks brought back some of the hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad.
Date: Fri, 22 May 2020 11:02:28 +0200 (METDST)

Suva, Fiji, May 22, 2020 (AFP) - A huge fire at one of Suva's largest markets blanketed the Fijian capital in thick smoke before it was brought under control Friday, firefighters said.   The blaze engulfed the Suva Flea Market, a major tourist attraction near the waterfront, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the air.   The National Fire Authority said an adjoining shop was also badly damaged but there were no reports of injuries.   "It's been stopped now and no one was injured but that's all we can say at the moment," a spokesman told AFP.   The said the cause of the fire was being investigated.