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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]
=====================
[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]
More ...

Gambia

General
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The Gambia is situated on the coast of West Africa and is a common tourist destination. It enjoys a tropical climate with a rainy season between May to October each year. Harmattan winds can be experienced
during the dry season.
Stability throughout the country has been in question since a coup in 1994 but generally tourists remain unaware of any particular difficulty in this regard. Civilian rule has been in place since 1996. There is a successful tourist industry and the majority of travellers will remain in the resort regions along the coast.
Safety & Security
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It is uncommon to hear of attacks against tourists but it is considered unwise to flaunt personal wealth. Thus wearing valuable jewellery or watches should be avoided. Use the hotel safety deposit boxes for storing items of value and keep an eye on personal belongings while on the beach, on ferries or walking through market places. Many of the main tourist beaches have police or hotel security but there would be a risk if visiting some of the more isolated areas along the coast.

Road Transport
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In the main tourist regions road transport is perfectly reasonable but travelling throughout the country, particularly during the rainy season, is much more difficult. Paved roads exist in the capital, Banjul, but pedestrians still need to take care while out walking. If leaving the main tourists resorts it is essential to travel with a recognised guide. If driving, take care to stop at all check points and never reverse to avoid a road checkpoint. It is safer to use a taxi where possible (green ones for tourists). Avoid travelling to the Casamance region in Senegal (close to Gambia border), as this area is quite unstable at present. The region around Ziguinchor has also unexploded mines and armed bandits and so it would be wise to avoid.
Ferry Risks
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Taking the Banjul to Barra ferry may involve safety risks as the boat is frequently overcrowded and does not carry enough life belts etc for the number of passengers. All the engines for the ferry do not always work and it may be wiser to consider travelling 150km upriver and use the Yelitenda to Bambatenda ferry.
Health Facilities
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The level of medical facilities varies greatly throughout the country. The Medical Research Council facility in Banjul offers excellent healthcare but travellers are advised to carry sufficient supplies of any personal medication they may require while abroad.
Food & Water Facilities
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The main tourist resorts offer a good standard of food for tourists. However, it is wise to ensure that all food is fresh and well cooked. Avoiding bivalve shell fish (oysters, mussels, clams etc) is essential as these foods are frequently associated with illness among those who partake. The tap water supply may not always be regularly maintained and so it is safer to use sealed mineral water for both drinking and brushing your teeth while in The Gambia. Ice in drinks will be made from tap water and so best avoided. Food and fluids should not be purchased from street vendors except in the case of fruit, which you will then peel yourself. Tinned drinks may be safe but be careful to clean the lip before drinking straight from the can.
Malaria & Mosquitoes
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The risk of malaria in The Gambia is generally between June to December each year. Tourists have seldom been at significant risk up until recently when there has been a significant increase in the numbers of cases returning to Europe with the disease. Malaria prophylaxis should be used throughout the year. Mosquitoes mainly bite between dusk and dawn but other species can bite at any time of the day.
Rabies Risk
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There is an ever-present risk of Rabies in Africa and The Gambia is no exception. The disease is mainly transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected dog but other animals also pose a risk including cats and monkeys. The disease can also be transmitted through licks and scratches’ so avoiding all contact with animals is a wise precaution.
Sun Exposure & Dehydration
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The heat and radiation from sunlight in The Gambia can be very significant especially for fair skinned Irish travellers. Make sure you use a wide brimmed hat and keep covered from the suns rays. Dehydration and salt depletion are also common and you will need to increase the amount of fluid (and salt, unless there is a contraindication) while in this climate.
Local Laws & Customs
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The Gambian authorities take strong action against those involved in any drug trade and so take care not to carry any item for another person at any time. It is a predominantly Muslim country and so care should be taken to respect their customs for example by dressing modestly particularly when away from the main tourist regions. Never take photographs or videos of any police or military installations.
Vaccinations
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If travelling to The Gambia you are advised to consider vaccination cover against the following;
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Yellow Fever (mosquito borne viral disease)
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Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
Occasionally travellers are advised to also consider protection against diseases like Hepatitis B, Rabies and Meningitis.
Malaria prophylaxis is essential at all times of the year for your personal protection.
Summary
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Tourist holidays to The Gambia are increasing after a lull following the unrest of the mid 90’s. However, the recent increase in malaria during December 2000 among European tourists shows how travel to tropical Africa must be treated with the respect it deserves. The majority of travellers who follow sensible guidelines will travel healthy and well.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 22 Nov 2018
From: Vanessa Field vanessa.field@nhs.net

Dr. Bram Goorhuis and Dr Martin Grobusch of the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network site, Center for Tropical & Travel Medicine, AMC, Amsterdam, have reported a patient with confirmed yellow fever (YF) after travel to the Gambia and Senegal. The patient is a 26-year-old male, with no significant medical history, and previously unvaccinated against YF, who had travelled, together with his girlfriend, to the Gambian coastal region, Mansa Konko (14 days) and the Niokolo Park game reserve, Senegal (3 days). He had exposure to insect bites, but not tick bites, and did not have contact with fresh water or animals. He did not take malaria chemoprophylaxis.

On 17 Nov [2018], whilst on his flight home to Amsterdam, Netherlands, he developed a fever, chills, photophobia, and some transient gastrointestinal complaints (frequent liquid stools and abdominal discomfort). On 20 Nov [2018], he was transferred to the Center for Tropical and Travel Medicine, Amsterdam, from a peripheral hospital, with fulminant hepatitis (AST 22,000 U/L; ALT 12,500 U/L) and signs of liver failure. He tested negative for malaria and dengue; yellow fever PCR showed a very high viral load of 3.82 x 109/L. Due to an evolving encephalopathy, and a potential need for liver transplantation, the patient has now been transferred to the Erasmus Medical Center, a GeoSentinel site (Dr. Jan Nouwen and Dr. Perry van Genderen), Rotterdam, Netherlands. More follow-up is pending.

The last reported case of yellow fever in a traveller from the Gambia was in 2001 in a 47-year-old unvaccinated Belgian woman, who acquired yellow fever during a one-week vacation and subsequently died. Ref. Colebunders R et al.: A Belgian Traveler Who Acquired Yellow Fever in the Gambia. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2002. 35(10): e113-e116. doi: <https://doi.org/10.1086/344180>.

The Ministry of Health in Senegal last notified the WHO in 2001 of 3 cases of yellow fever in K'dougou and Saraya Health districts, near the border with Mali and Guinea Conakry. A mass vaccination campaign followed. There have been no official reports to the WHO from the Gambia.

Ref: WHO Disease Outbreak News

In 2017, there were major yellow fever (YF) outbreaks in Brazil and Nigeria. These outbreaks were not marked by the rapid urban spread seen in 2016 in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), yet they illustrate the increased risk of YF and urban outbreaks with international spread. The "Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics" (EYE1) strategy was developed with the goal to reduce the risk of YF through a continuum ranging from outbreak detection and response to prevention. The YF surveillance network also identified suspected cases in several other high-risk countries including Congo, DRC, and Liberia.
Ref: World Health Organization (WHO) Weekly epidemiological record, 10 Aug 2018, No. 32, 2018, 93, 409-416; Yellow fever in Africa and the Americas, 2017.
<http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/273782/WER9332.pdf?ua=1>.

World Health Organization (WHO) data suggest that the rate of yellow fever transmission is increasing, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The WHO estimates that, after adjustment for underreporting, about 200 000 cases of yellow fever occur each year. In most of west Africa, with the exception of the Gambia, yellow fever vaccination coverage is low, and there are regular epidemics of yellow fever that fluctuate according to the sylvatic cycle. Since the mid-1990s, epidemics have been reported from Ghana, Gabon, Liberia, Senegal, Benin, and Ivory Coast.

Yellow fever remains endemic in west Africa. Even urban yellow fever has recently been detected in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Many countries in areas of endemicity in Africa (such as the Gambia) and South America (such as Venezuela) do not require travelers to undergo yellow fever vaccination. International guidelines for travellers recommend vaccination against yellow fever for persons traveling to these countries, but vaccination is not required by the countries themselves.
-----------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Davidson Hamer, MD (GeoSentinel PI)
Professor of Global Health and Medicine
Boston University School of Public Health and School of Medicine
Boston, MA USA
and
Vanessa Field, MD
Chair, GeoSentinel Tracking and Communication Working Group
International Society of Travel Medicine
=======================
[Drs. Hamer and Field are thanked for this report of the Netherlands case and the overview of the YF situation in endemic countries. The Netherlands case is another example of failure of travellers to receive YF vaccination at least 10 days prior to arrival in an endemic country. Although the Netherlands case presents no risk of initiation of ongoing YF virus transmission, it does illustrate the fact that viremic individuals can travel long distances and, should their destination be an area that could support transmission, such as Central America or south/southeast Asia, can initiate an outbreak in a population that is overwhelmingly unvaccinated. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Map of the Netherlands:

Maps of Senegal and the Gambia:
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 17:50:39 +0100

Banjul, Gambia, Jan 18, 2017 (AFP) - Gambian President Yahya Jammeh looked determined to cling to power on Wednesday as his mandate came to an end, prompting neighbouring Senegal asking the UN to back regional actions against him.   Jammeh has announced a state of emergency which he said was necessary due to interference of foreign powers in the West African country's December 1 election, which the president of 22 years lost to opponent Adama Barrow.

Barrow, who is currently sheltering in Senegal, maintains his inauguration will go ahead on Thursday on Gambian soil, putting the country on a collision course.   Senegal on Wednesday presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council seeking support for west African efforts to press Jammeh to step down, diplomats said in New York.   But the text does not explicitly seek council authorisation to deploy troops to The Gambia, they added.   Jammeh's declaration immediately triggered travel advisory warnings by Britain and the Netherlands, with around 1,000 British tourists expected to leave on special flights on Wednesday alone.   The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has repeatedly urged Jammeh to respect the outcome of the vote and step aside, a call backed unanimously by the international community.

The exact location of the inauguration was "in the hands of ECOWAS," said James Gomez, the inauguration's head organiser who said he had spoken with Barrow twice on Tuesday.   Gomez said that plans for the transfer of power in a huge stadium outside the capital Banjul were now cancelled, but added "there will be a big celebration" despite the state of emergency.   A source at Nigeria's military HQ told AFP a deployment to Senegal, whose territory surrounds The Gambia, would happen "very soon", ramping up expectations of a possible military intervention.   Under the Gambian constitution a state of emergency lasts up to 90 days if the national assembly confirms it -- which the legislature did late Tuesday.   The country's vice-president Isatou Njie-Saidy resigned Wednesday, family sources said, along with environment minister Pa Ousman Jarju, the latest in a mass string of cabinet members deserting Jammeh's government.

- Tourist disappointment -
Tourists were streaming out of the country, leaving the small airport near Banjul struggling to handle extra flights.   Brian and Yvonne Souch, a couple from Witney in southern England, told AFP they were unaware of the potential risk of flying to the country 10 days ago and felt tour company Thomas Cook should have kept them better informed.   "We didn't know anything until we came down for breakfast,"  Brian Souch said, sitting in shorts and sleeveless T-shirt in the lobby of a hotel in the Kololi tourist strip as he awaited a bus to the airport.

Thomas Cook said in a statement Wednesday a programme of additional flights into Banjul airport would bring home the 1,000 package holidaymakers it has in The Gambia, followed by up 2,500 more at the "earliest possible flight availability".   Holidaymakers were told that Thomas Cook flights would stop completely in a few days time, leaving them at risk of being stranded.   The Dutch travel firm TUI Nederland told AFP Tuesday it would repatriate "about 800" clients.   Some tourists were unfazed by the news as the state of emergency, however, as their countries have not issued travel alerts.   "We have over two weeks left and we are staying," said Mariann Lundvall, who flew into Banjul to escape Finland's freezing winter.   "If the Finnish government decides we go, then we go," she added, but with a pained face added "the climate in Helsinki... it is so cold now!"   The panic caused by the state of emergency could prove devastating for the country's economy, which experts say relies on tourism for up to 20 percent of the economy.

- Stockpiling -
Gambians were taking precautions and stocking up on food and supplies in the few shops that remained open in districts near the capital, with roads quiet and street hawkers notably absent.   A source told AFP that patients at Banjul's Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, which sits opposite Jammeh's seat of power, were removed for security reasons. Only those in intensive care remained.   Fatou Sarr, a resident of the fishing community of Old Jeshwang, said: "Only a few shops had bread this morning and they ran out of stock very early. If this stalemate drags on for a week or two, the country will run out."   Citizens continue to pack their bags and stream out of Gambia -- a small, narrow enclave of Senegal except for its coast -- by road and ferry heading for Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, taking as many possessions as they could carry.   "My two children and I are staying with my aunt. We don't know what will happen tomorrow," said a 50-year-old woman who recently took shelter in Senegal, adding that she hoped to return home soon.
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 04:45:54 +0100

Banjul, Gambia, Jan 18, 2017 (AFP) - Gambia's Yahya Jammeh declared a state of emergency just days before he was due to step down, with British and Dutch travel agencies scrambling to evacuate thousands of tourists Wednesday.   Jammeh, who has ruled The Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years, initially acknowledged opponent Adama Barrow as the victor in December elections, but later rejected the ballot count as flawed and lodged a complaint with the country's Supreme Court.   He declared a state of emergency on Tuesday due to the "unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign interference in the December 1 presidential elections and also in the internal affairs of The Gambia," Jammeh announced on state TV.

Citizens were henceforth "banned from any acts of disobedience to the laws of The Gambia, incitement to violence and acts intended to disturb public order and peace," Jammeh said, asking security forces to maintain law and order.   Under the Gambian constitution a state of emergency lasts up to 90 days if the national assembly confirms it -- which the legislature did late Tuesday, a parliamentary source told AFP.   In Washington, the US State Department urged Jammeh to "peacefully hand over power" to Barrow -- who is in Senegal, where he plans to remain until his planned inauguration Thursday.   "Doing so would allow him to leave office with his head held high and to protect the Gambian people from potential chaos," spokesman John Kirby said. "Failure to do so will put his legacy, and more importantly The Gambia, in peril."

The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has also repeatedly urged Jammeh to respect the outcome of the vote and step aside, a call backed by the UN Security Council, African Union and others.   Jammeh has rebuffed two high-level delegations by west African leaders pleading with him to go.   "The potential for military intervention and civil disturbance is high," the British foreign ministry said on its website, a warning echoed on social media by its Dutch counterpart, who both urged citizens to avoid all but essential travel.   British travel agency Thomas Cook said it had "implemented our contingency plans to bring all our UK customers home," and was trying to arrange evacuation of up to 3,500 tourists from Banjul airport as soon as possible.    "We will operate a programme of additional flights into Banjul airport over the next 48 hours," the company said in a statement, adding this included four extra flights on Wednesday.   The Dutch travel firm TUI Nederland told AFP it would repatriate "about 800" clients.

- String of resignations -
Four more cabinet ministers in Jammeh's government defected, a source close to the regime told AFP on Tuesday.   Foreign minister Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, finance minister Abdou Kolley, trade minister Abdou Jobe and tourism minister Benjamin Roberts all resigned, the source said, requesting anonymity for safety reasons.   They follow the high-profile defection last week of information minister Sheriff Bojang, who is now in neighbouring Senegal.   Citizens continued to pack their bags and stream out of Gambia -- a small, narrow enclave of Senegal except for its coast -- by road and ferry heading for Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, taking as many possessions as they could carry.   One traveller told AFP that those arriving at 10:00 am would have to wait until the following day to board a ferry at Banjul port to cross the river headed for Senegal, unless they bribed officials, due to huge numbers exiting the city.

- Military deployment? -
Military intervention in The Gambia seems closer than ever, following declarations by the UN and African Union that boots on the ground could get the green light without a rapid resolution to the crisis.   In Nigeria -- the regional power of west Africa -- a source at the country's military HQ said, "We are deploying to Dakar, Senegal, very soon."   "We are deploying platforms, a few personnel, pilots, technicians and the maintenance crew," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.   "You already know that this deployment is in connection with the unfolding development in The Gambia."   In Rabat, it was reported that Morocco had offered Jammeh asylum for accepting the election defeat and stepping down "in return for a golden retirement", but Banjul sources were reluctant to confirm the claim.   Seven journalists -- from Sweden and Senegal, plus four from Kenya and South Africa who were working for a Chinese TV channel -- were expelled late Monday soon after they arrived at Banjul airport to cover the ongoing crisis.
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2016 05:39:37 +0100
By Jennifer O'MAHONY

Banjul, Gambia, Dec 13, 2016 (AFP) - The cocktails keep flowing by the pool on the tourist strip, but in The Gambia's markets many African migrant traders are packing up their businesses and heading home.   The international community is piling pressure on President Yahya Jammeh to leave power after 22 years and hand over to opposition leader Adama Barrow, who won an election two weeks ago only for Jammeh to later reverse his original concession of defeat.

Of the economy's two main sources of investment from abroad, tourism appears to be weathering the country's political storm far better than the thousands of petty traders who move to The Gambia from the rest of west Africa.   President-elect Barrow told AFP on Monday claims that tourist numbers could be hit were "exaggerated", and with hotels and restaurants full, for the moment he appears to be right.   Flights from Brussels and London are still arriving like clockwork for the peak winter sun season, with many holidaymakers telling AFP they return to the country year after year -- and aren't changing their minds.

"I did think there were more checkpoints," said Elly Preston, a returning retired schoolteacher spending three and a half months in Kololi, the Gambian heartland of full English breakfasts and karaoke bars stuffed with crooning pensioners.   Preston had seen alarming posts on the Tripadvisor tourism website, but with hotel prices as low as £40 a night (48 euros) she stuck with her instinct and left behind the cold and rain of Cleckheaton in northern England.   "I feel safe here. I know everybody and we come together," she said from her sunlounger, waving at a friend she met while on holiday here a few years ago.

Reading a thriller while taking in some rays in the late afternoon, Joseph Fowlis from Liverpool is well aware that Jammeh has refused to stand down, and supports Barrow's fight for change.   "Taxi drivers told me they want a democracy," he told AFP. "And why shouldn't they have one?"   But that hasn't affected his budget break. Apart from a higher than usual level of political conversation in the back of cabs, he said, little had changed from the previous years he has been here.   "If you didn't know about it you wouldn't think anything of it," he said.   Hotel owners are slightly more nervous, but as long as the tour operators keep the flights up, business will boom, they told AFP.

- Trader panic -
The tiny west African state relies on largely British and Scandinavian tourists for 20 percent of its GDP.   Meanwhile Guineans, Mauritanians and Senegalese are well known for importing goods and selling them to the local population.   In a recent speech, Jammeh said 100,000 foreigners were working in The Gambia's markets, but did not specify a source for that figure.   Fifteen minutes down the road from Kololi, the hawkers and fruit sellers of Serekunda market have a very different interpretation of the events unfolding.

Amadou Wurri Jallow, a Guinean shopkeeper, spoke of his fear of soldiers being stationed on the streets of his neighbourhood.   "I do not understand why soldiers armed with machine guns would be deployed every night in built-up areas of Serekunda," Jallow said.   "This is really frightening and disturbing. I am leaving for my country until this political stalemate is resolved peacefully."   Fallou Diop, a Senegalese hawker who has lived and worked in The Gambia for the past few years, told AFP shortly before his departure to the city of Touba in central Senegal that the uncertainty was too much.   "Since no one can tell how this problem would come to an end, I am going back to Touba until the dust settles," he said.
Date: Fri 14 Nov 2014
Source: StarAfrica, APA (Agence Africaine de Presse) report [edited]

The head of disease control in the Gambia, Sanna Sambou, has confirmed the reopening of the country's border to countries affected by the deadly Ebola virus, APA reported on Friday [14 Nov 2014]. Mr Sambou noted that border closure was not the best solution to contain the virus, hence the need to reopen borders to allow in and out movement of people between the Gambia and countries affected by Ebola. According to media reports, the issue of border closure, as a result of the outbreak of the disease, was deemed discriminatory and unworthy by the World Health Organisation (WHO), adding that it should be considered a global pandemic.

Despite the restoration of the border crossing, however, Sambou said the health authorities are poised to continue on the thorough screening of people moving into the country from Ebola hit nations. It could be recalled the Gambia in September [2014] announced that it would no longer be granting entrance to Guineans, Liberians, Nigerians or Sierra Leoneans, due to fear of the disease getting into the country.
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Cuba

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2019 03:22:19 +0200
By Paul HANDLEY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tornado "caught me in the street, in the car with my wife and children," actor Luis "Panfilo" Silva wrote on his social media account.   "I had to dodge fallen trees, flooded areas and strong winds until I managed to get home. We experienced great fear," he wrote.   Francisco Sotolongo said it was a good thing the tornado's impact only lasted seconds. "Because if it lasted a minute there would be nothing left here."   High winds sent sea water surging over the city's famed Malecon esplanade and several meters into the city. The western provinces of Pinar del Rio, Artemisa and Mayabeque also were affected by the storm.
Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2019 17:58:42 +0100

Havana, Jan 11, 2019 (AFP) - Seven people, including four foreign tourists, were killed and 33 injured in an accident involving a coach in eastern Cuba, local media reported on Friday.   A Frenchman, a German woman and two Argentine women were among the dead, along with three Cubans, Venceremos newspaper said.   It named the dead as 67-year-old Patrick Demer Tesseran, 59-year-old Annegret Frieda Gohike, as well as Roxana Lauseda Gomez and Nadis Carolina Flores, both 35.

In addition to the dead, three Cubans and two foreigners -- 42-year-old Spaniard Felicita Hurtado and French woman Marline Alphonse, 63 -- were said to be in a serious condition.   "Of the 40 passengers, 22 were foreigners from countries like Holland, England, France, Mexico and Canada," said Venceremos.

The coach overturned while driving on the road linking the city of Baracoa, near Cuba's eastern tip, to the capital Havana.   The driver said he lost control of the coach due to a wet road, claiming to have been driving slowly, the newspaper reported.   However, it said witnesses said the driver had been attempting to overtake another vehicle when he found himself face to face with oncoming traffic, causing him to swerve off the road.   According to official statistics, there were 11,187 road accidents in 2017 that left 750 people dead and 7,999 injured from a population of 11.1 million.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 12:02:50 +0200

Patna, India, June 16, 2019 (AFP) - Severe heat has left dozens dead over a 24-hour period in India's Bihar state, as the country enters a third week of searing temperatures, officials said Sunday.   The deaths occurred in three districts of the poor northern state, where temperatures have hovered around 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in recent days, senior health official Vijay Kumar told AFP.

Forty-nine people died in three districts of the Magadh region that has been hit by drought, he said.   "It was a sudden development on Saturday afternoon. People affected by heatstroke were rushed to different hospitals," Kumar added.   "Most of them died on Saturday night and some on Sunday morning during treatment."   Kumar said about 40 more people were being treated at a government-run hospital in Aurangabad.   "Patients affected by heat stroke are still being brought, the death toll is likely to increase if the heatwave continues."

Most of the victims were aged above 50 and were rushed to hospitals in semi-conscious state with symptoms of high fever, diarrhoea and vomiting.   Twenty-seven people died in Aurangabad district, 15 in Gaya and seven in Nawada district, officials said.    State Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has announced a compensation of 400,000 rupees ($5,700) for the family of each victim.   Harsh Vardhan, India's health minister, said people should not leave their homes until temperatures fall.    "Intense heat affects brain and leads to various health issues," he said.

Large parts of northern India have endured more than two weeks of sweltering heat. Temperatures have risen above 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in the desert state of Rajasthan.   A heatwave in 2015 left more than 3,500 dead in India and Pakistan.   In 2017, researchers said South Asia, which is home to one fifth of the world's population, could see heat levels rise to unsurvivable levels by the end of the century if no action is taken on global warming.
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 01:30:52 +0200

Wellington, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - A powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake stuck near the uninhabited Kermadec islands northeast of New Zealand Sunday, the US Geological Survey said as authorities monitored for signs of a tsunami.   New Zealand's civil defence organisation said it was monitoring the situation and if a tsunami was generated it would take at least two hours to reach the country.   The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said "hazardous tsunami waves from this earthquake are possible within 300 km of the epicentre along the coasts of the Kermadec islands."   The earthquake struck at 10:55am (2255 GMT Saturday) some 928 kilometres (575 miles) north-northeast of the New Zealand city of Tauranga in North Island at a depth of 34 km.
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 00:59:42 +0200

Wellington, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - A magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck Sunday centred 97 kilometres (60 miles) north-east of Ohonua, on the Pacific island of Tonga, the US Geological Survey reported.   The quake hit at 2156 GMT Saturday with an epicentre depth of 10 kilometres, the US global quake monitor said.   The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued no alerts, and there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.   The reported epicentre lies within the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of regular seismic activity.   In February 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Papua New Guinea killed 150 people and destroyed hundreds of buildings.
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 00:19:43 +0200

Geneva, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - A woman has drowned in Lake Geneva when her sightseeing boat sank as a violent storm battered parts of Switzerland on Saturday, police said.   A man who was in the same boat was able to swim to another vessel from where he fired "two flares", Joanna Matta, police spokeswoman for the canton (region) of Geneva, told AFP.   The man told officers that the woman had been "passing through Geneva" and that the storm had taken them "by surprise", Matta said.   Three police boats and emergency services rushed to the scene. Police divers later retrieved the woman's body from the lake.

The victim, whose nationality remains unknown, was then taken to a hospital in Geneva where she was declared dead.   In a separate incident, the storm also damaged some of the 465 boats taking part in the 81st edition of the Bol d'Or, an annual regatta on Lake Geneva, the event's press service said.   Heavy rain and strong winds lashed the participants on Saturday afternoon, causing boats to capsize although nobody was injured.

However, the storm broke the mast of the ultra-fast "Real Team" catamaran, which had been in the lead and was forced to pull out of the race.   The bad weather struck western Switzerland on Saturday afternoon, bringing hail and winds reaching up to 110 kilometres (70 miles) per hour, according to the national forecaster MeteoSwiss.   In the neighbouring French region of Haute-Savoie the storm also caused damage and left a 51-year-old German tourist dead after a tree came down at a campsite.
Date: Sat, 15 Jun 2019 16:27:09 +0200

Windhoek, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - Drought-hit Namibia has authorised the sale of at least 1,000 wild animals -- including elephants and giraffes -- to limit loss of life and generate $1.1 million for conservation, the authorities confirmed Saturday.   "Given that this year is a drought year, the [environment] ministry would like to sell various type of game species from various protected areas to protect grazing and at the same time to also generate much needed funding for parks and wildlife management," environment ministry spokesman Romeo Muyunda told AFP.

The authorities declared a national disaster last month, and the meteorological services in the southern African nation estimate that some parts of the country faced the deadliest drought in as many as 90 years.    "The grazing condition in most of our parks is extremely poor and if we do not reduce the number of animals, this will lead to loss of an animals due to starvation," Muyunda said.

In April, an agriculture ministry report said 63,700 animals died in 2018 because of deteriorating grazing conditions brought on by dry weather.   Namibia's cabinet announced this week that the government would sell about 1,000 wild animals.   They include 600 disease-free buffalos, 150 springbok, 65 oryx, 60 giraffes, 35 eland, 28 elephants 20 impala and 16 kudus -- all from national parks.   The aim is to raise $1.1 million that will go towards a state-owned Game Products Trust Fund for wildlife conservation and parks management.

The government said there were currently about 960 buffalos in its national parks, 2,000 springbok, 780 oryx and 6,400 elephants.   The auction was advertised in local newspapers from Friday.   Namibia, a country of 2.4 million people, has previously made calls for aid to assist in the drought emergency that has already affected over 500,000 people.   In April the government announced that it will spend about $39,400 (35,200 euros) on drought relief this year to buy food, provide water tankers and provide subsidies to farmers.
Date: Fri, 14 Jun 2019 18:27:56 +0200
By Rosa SULLEIRO

Sao Paulo, June 14, 2019 (AFP) - A nationwide strike called by Brazil's trade unions disrupted public transport and triggered road blocks in parts of the country Friday, ahead of protests against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's pension reform.   Hours before the opening match of the Copa America in Sao Paulo, some metro lines in the country's biggest city were paralyzed as professors and students also prepared to take to the streets over the government's planned education spending cuts.    It will be the latest mass demonstration against Bolsonaro since he took office in January, but the timing could not be worse for the embattled president as Brazil prepares to play Bolivia in South America's showcase football tournament.

Bolsonaro was expected to attend the opener at Morumbi stadium where police sharpshooters will be deployed as part of increased security for the competition.    One of Brazil's main trade unions estimated 45 million workers had taken part in the strike.   Some 63 cities had been affected by the stoppage, with more than 80 cities recording demonstrations, G1 news site said.   The number of protesters is expected to balloon in the afternoon with demonstrations planned in Brazil's major cities.   Protesters have already blocked some roads in several cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where G1 said police had used tear gas to disperse demonstrators and clear the streets.   Brazilians were divided over the partial strike.   "This current government wants to destroy everything that we built decades ago so that's why I'm in favor (of the strike) and I am fighting against social inequality," Vania Santos, 49, told AFP in Rio.    In Sao Paulo, Flavio Moreira opposed the stoppage, however, saying it "hurts the commercial part" of the city.

- Pension savings cut -
Bolsonaro's proposed overhaul of Brazil's pension system -- which he has warned will bankrupt the country if his plan is not approved -- is seen as key to getting a series of economic reforms through Congress.    But the changes, including an increase in the retirement age and workers' contributions, have faced resistance from trade unions and in the lower house of Congress, where Bolsonaro's ultraconservative Social Liberal Party has only around 10 percent of the seats.    A pared-back draft of the reform presented to Congress on Thursday -- which reduces expected savings from 1.2 trillion reais ($300 billion) in 10 years to around 900 billion reais -- did little to appease union leaders, who vowed to go ahead with the shutdown.   Such savings are seen as vital to repairing Brazil's finances and economy, which were devastated by a 2015-2016 crisis.

Economy minister Paulo Guedes, who is spearheading the government's reform agenda, has threatened to resign if the bill is not passed or is watered down significantly.   It caps a tumultuous six months for Bolsonaro, who has seen his popularity nosedive as he struggles to push his signature reform through a hostile Congress and keep Latin America's biggest economy from sliding back into recession.   More than 13 million people are unemployed, the latest data shows, with a record number giving up looking for a job.     Fighting between military and far-right factions of Bolsonaro's government has fueled chaos in his administration where his sons and right-wing writer and polemicist Olavo de Carvalho wield enormous influence.   Bolsonaro sacked his third minister on Thursday -- retired general Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, who had been the government secretary and seen as a moderate voice.   That came on the same day Bolsonaro broke his silence to defend Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who has been accused of wrongdoing while serving as a judge in the sprawling Car Wash anticorruption investigation.
Date: Fri, 14 Jun 2019 06:02:40 +0200
By Clotilde RAVEL

Abidjan, June 14, 2019 (AFP) - "Cover your goods," Diakaria Fofana, a doctor of public health, warns food vendors as a thick cloud of insecticide spray wafts down a street in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's economic capital.   Men in protective clothes, goggles and masks are disgorging plumes of mosquito-killing chemicals in a bid to roll back an outbreak of dengue.   Two people have died and 130 have fallen ill since the fever returned to the West African state last month.

The toll, so far, is tiny compared with other tropical countries, especially in Southeast Asia, where the painful and sometimes deadly disease is an entrenched peril.   But tackling the outbreak is a major challenge for Ivory Coast, a poor country that is having to resort to time-honoured, labour-intensive methods of spraying and neighbourhood awareness campaigns to prevent its spread.   Female mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus transfer the pathogen when they tuck into a blood meal from someone. 

A vaccine does exist, but is not available in Ivory Coast because "it has many secondary effects (and) it's expensive"," explained Joseph Vroh Benie Bi, director of the National Institute for Public Hygiene (INHP).    Developed by French pharmaceutical group Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine is recommended for use in people aged nine and older, and only for individuals who have already been infected.    Usually accompanied by flu-like symptoms, dengue makes some people very sick indeed, developing into a haemorrhagic fever that can cause difficulty breathing, heavy bleeding or even organ failure. While a first bout of dengue is rarely fatal, subsequent infections are usually worse.

- 'Fighting the mosquito' -
The UN's World Health Organization (WHO) says there are up to 100 million cases of dengue worldwide every year, and almost half the world's population lives in countries where the disease is endemic.   It kills more than 20,000 people each year. Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific are the worst-hit areas.   There is no cure, and the WHO recommends that patients take paracetamol, rest and drinking plenty of fluids.   Five new vaccines are in development, but in the meantime Fofana says: "The only effective means of fighting (dengue) is fighting the mosquito."   In Ivory Coast, most recorded cases have occurred in Abidjan.

Health workers are striving to enlist the public in tackling the mosquito, targeting its life cycle.   "The larvae multiply in stagnant water, for example inside used tyres," said Fofana, deputy director of the vector control unit at the INHP.   "People should never store water in buckets in the open air and they should regularly throw out the water in plates under houseplants."   But he faces an uphill job in a sprawling port city of 4.4 million people in the middle of the rainy season.   What's more, people who are infected, even without knowing it, and can bring the virus to new areas when they are bitten by local mosquitoes.    The WHO has set a goal to halve the number of dengue deaths by 2020, but incidence of the disease has increased 30-fold in the last 50 years.   "Before 1970, only nine countries had experienced severe dengue epidemics. The disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries," it says.

- 'Malaria's big brother' -
In Ivory Coast, where malaria accounts for a third of all medical consultations, many people self-medicate when they experience symptoms such as high fever, vomiting, nausea or aches and pains.   "This is a real problem, because the symptoms of malaria, dengue, typhus and yellow fever are similar. Doing a blood test is absolutely indispensable," said Fofana.   Treatment with the wrong medicines can worsen the situation, he stressed -- aspirin or ibuprofen can increase the risk of bleeding, for example.   In the meantime, the spraying goes on.    "We know the risks," said Bamba Segbe, an Abidjan resident watching the masked men in action. "It's not for nothing that we call dengue malaria's big brother."
Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2019 17:37:51 +0200
By Grace Matsiko

Mpondwe, Uganda, June 13, 2019 (AFP) - At the bustling Mpondwe border post, a woman crossing from the Democratic Republic of Congo into Uganda is whisked away to an isolation unit after a thermal scanner picks up her high temperature.   Health workers keep Mulefu Kyakimwa, a 32-year-old vegetable oil trader, under observation but later discharge her, once Ebola has been ruled out as the cause of her fever.

The border post is on high alert after a family with suspected Ebola escaped isolation on the Congolese side and entered Uganda, where two of them died this week.   The spread of the deadly virus to Uganda comes after months of efforts in a region of porous borders to contain an outbreak in Congo which has killed 1,400 people, according to the latest official data.    "Since the start of the outbreak, the total number of cases is 2,084, of which 1,990 have been confirmed and another 94 are probable," the Congolese health ministry said in its daily bulletin from Wednesday.   "In all, there have been 1,405 deaths -- 1,311 confirmed and 94 probable -- and 579 people have recovered," the bulletin said, adding that 132,679 people had been vaccinated.

- 'We expected it' -
Few people seem to be surprised that Ebola would eventually make its way to Uganda -- which has experienced outbreaks in the past.   "The outbreak is not a surprise. We expected it. People cross the borders all the time and interact a lot," said Dorcus Kambere, a 29-year-old Ugandan bar attendant who feels her job puts her at risk.

At Mpondwe -- where 25,000 people cross daily -- travellers undergo rigorous health checks to detect the lethal virus, which attacks the organs and leads to internal and external bleeding.   Soldiers carrying automatic rifles guide travellers through the screening process, making sure they wash their hands with disinfectant.   The travellers then pass through a shelter with a thermal scanner that feeds people's body temperatures into a computer.   "This is a situation we go through every day since the Ebola outbreak," said Ambrose Nyakitwe, 34, a Ugandan trader returning from the Congo side.   "It is good. I have a family. I have to see that they don't get affected," he added, after passing through the scan.   Outside the busy border post, business carries on as usual, with children swimming and playing in the muddy Lhubiriha river that draws a natural boundary between the two nations.

- 'Not safe' -
A woman serves pancakes with her bare hands from a bucket as pot-bellied money changers lounging next to her carry out their trade.   However, while some carry on seemingly oblivious to the dangers posed by the virus, others are increasingly suspicious.   "It is not safe. If they say people with Ebola crossed into Uganda, how sure are we there are not many who will infect us and are yet to be got?" asked Bernadette Bwiso, 41, a trader.    "Government must do a house-to-house search," she said.   Meanwhile, Nyakitwe is anxious about how the infected patients managed to cross into Uganda despite heightened surveillance.   A Congolese woman -- who is married to a Ugandan -- her mother, three children and their nanny had travelled to DRC to care for her ill father, who later died of Ebola.

The World Health Organization said 12 members of the family who attended the burial in Congo were placed in isolation in the DRC, but six "escaped and crossed over to Uganda" on June 9.   The next day, a five-year-old was checked into hospital in Bwera vomiting blood. Tests confirmed he had Ebola and the family was placed in an isolation ward.   His three-year-old brother was also confirmed to have Ebola, as was their grandmother who died late Wednesday.   Uganda and the RDC are discussing what can be done to intensify collaboration between the two countries to prevent the spread, the Congolese authorities said.

- No surveillance -
Uganda's health ministry said that the surviving travellers and the Ugandan father -- five people in total -- had agreed to be repatriated to DRC on Thursday for treatment and "family support and comfort" from relatives on the other side of the border.   However, three unrelated patients are still in a Ugandan hospital awaiting the result of Ebola tests.

Uganda's Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng said challenges remained at "unofficial entry points" between Congo and Uganda, which share a porous 875-kilometre (545-mile) border.   These unauthorised border crossings, known as "panyas" in the local Lukonzo language, are often merely planks laid down across a point in the river, or through forests and mountains where there is no surveillance.   In a bid to contain the spread of the disease the Ugandan government has suspended market days and urged people to stop shaking hands and hugging.
Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2019 16:33:58 +0200

Madrid, June 13, 2019 (AFP) - Spain will launch a campaign to urge young people to "always carry a condom on them" as the number of sexually transmitted infections (STI) surges, the government said Thursday.   The news comes a week after the World Health Organization expressed alarm at the lack of progress on curbing STI or diseases (STD), with one expert warning of complacency as dating apps spur sexual activity.   In Spain, videos and ads will be posted from Monday on social networks, music platforms and media that 14- to 29-year-olds most follow, the health ministry said.   "It's normal that you want to do it in your parents' bed. What isn't normal is that you want to complicate your life," reads one ad, going on to show the number of new cases of HIV and other infections.

In a statement, the health ministry urged "everyone -- and particularly the young -- to always have a condom on them and use it."   "The use of condoms has dropped among the 15- to 18-year-olds over the last few years," Health Minister Maria Luisa Carcedo told reporters.   She said there was complacency over STI, including infection by the HIV virus that causes AIDS.   The campaign is a "first shock measure" to challenge the rise of STI among young people, the statement said.   The number of cases of gonorrhoea, for instance, has risen an average of more than 26 percent annually between 2013 and 2017, according to the ministry.

Syphilis "has risen less but in 2017, it reached its highest peak since the start of statistics in Spain: 10.61 infections per 100,000 residents compared to 2.57 in 1995."   The highest rates of chlamydia, meanwhile, are among 20- to 24-year-olds and particularly women, the ministry said.   In 2017, Spain registered close to 24,000 cases of infection by gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia and LGV, a sexually-transmitted disease, according to the statement.
Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2019 15:12:32 +0200

Vilnius, June 13, 2019 (AFP) - Lithuanian temperatures have hit record June highs, meteorologists said Thursday, as a heatwave forced school closures and threatened to reduce harvests in the draught-hit Baltic region.   Kaisiadorys in central Lithuania was the hottest place at 35.7 degrees Celsius (96.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, the highest-ever temperature recorded for June in the country, weather forecaster Paulius Starkus told AFP.   Six people drowned in the Baltic EU state on Wednesday, the deadliest day of the year to date, while some schools put classes on hold or cut lessons short due to the heatwave.

Scientists say the extreme weather is in part a result of climate change.   "Lithuania used to have heatwaves but now they occur more often and are more intense due to climate change," Vilnius University climatologist Donatas Valiukas told AFP.   Starkus said a downpour with thunder and hail could follow in some areas on Thursday afternoon.   Agriculture Minister Giedrius Surplys told lawmakers that some areas were experiencing "a real climatic draught" threatening harvests, while hydrologists warned that river water levels posed a threat to fish.   Demand for air-conditioning has also soared in recent weeks.   Lithuania's hot weather is expected to last through the week, then temperatures may ease below 30 degrees Celsius starting Monday.   Fellow Baltic state Latvia is also experiencing unusual heat for June, with temperatures over 32 degrees Celsius.

In recent days, Latvia's western region of Kurzeme saw thunderstorms with hail damaging buildings, smashing greenhouses and tearing power lines.   Two people have been hospitalised in the northern Latvian town of Cesis after a tree fell on their camper van while they were inside.    Fellow Baltic state Estonia had a heatwave last week and is now experiencing rainy and windy weather.   Poland has also been experiencing high temperatures this month, which has resulted in increased air-conditioner use. The power transmission system operator PSE said that on Wednesday there was record electricity demand for a summer morning at nearly 24.10 gigawatts (GW).   Forty-two people have already drowned in Poland this month, according to the government security centre RCB.