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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Miami, Sept 24, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.0 magnitude struck off the northwest coast of Puerto Rico late Monday, the United States Geological Survey said, although no casualties or damage were reported. The quake struck 62km northwest of San Antonio at 11:23 pm local time (03:20 GMT) at a depth of 10km, the agency said. San Antonio is home to Rafael Hernandez Airport, a key air link to the mainland US. In 2010 nearby Haiti was struck by a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people and crippled the nation's infrastructure.
San Juan, Feb 12, 2018 (AFP) - Most of San Juan and a strip of northern Puerto Rico municipalities were plunged into darkness Sunday night after an explosion at a power station, five months after two hurricanes destroyed the island's electricity network.
The state electric power authority (AEE) said the blast was caused by a broken-down switch in Rio Piedras, resulting in a blackout in central San Juan and Palo Seco in the north. "We have personnel working to restore the system as soon as possible," the AEE said. San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said on Twitter that emergency services and local officials attended the scene in the neighbourhood of Monacillos, but no injuries were reported.
Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican capital's airport said it was maintaining its schedule using emergency generators. The blackout comes as nearly 500,000 of AEE's 1.6 million customers remain without power since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the US territory in September 2017. AEE engineer Jorge Bracero warned on Twitter that the outage was "serious," and advised those affected that power would not be restored until Monday.
By Leila MACOR
Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Dec 13, 2017 (AFP) - Until Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Jose Figueroa did brisk business renting kayaks to tourists itching to see a lagoon that lights up by night thanks to millions of microorganisms. Today, things are so dire he's considering selling water to motorists stopped at red lights. "Now we are trying to survive," the 46-year-old tour guide said.
It used to be that visitors had to reserve a month in advance to get one of his kayaks and paddle around in the dark on the enchanting, bioluminescent body of water called Laguna Grande. But tourists are scarce these days as the Caribbean island tries to recover from the ravages of the storm back in September. "We do not know if we will have any work tonight," Figueroa said. "Last week, we worked only one day." He and another employee of a company called Glass Bottom PR are cleaning kayaks on the seaside promenade of Fajardo, a tourist town in eastern Puerto Rico whose main attraction is the so-called Bio Bay.
The year started off well for Puerto Rico, with the global success of the song "Despacito" by local musicians Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. The catchy tune helped promote the US commonwealth island of 3.4 million people, which is saddled with huge debts and declared bankruptcy in May. But the hurricane turned what should be an island bustling with tourists into one with deserted beaches, shuttered restaurants and hotels full of mainland US officials working on the rebuilding of the island. "What few tourists we have are the federal officials themselves," said Figueroa.
- Locals only -
The grim outlook spreads up and down the seaside promenade of Fajardo, where many restaurants are closed because there is no electricity. On this particular day around noon, the only restaurant open is one called Racar Seafood. It has its own emergency generator. "We get by on local tourists," said its 61-year-old owner, Justino Cruz. "Our clients are local -- those who have no electricity, no generator, cold food or no food."
Puerto Rico's once-devastated power grid is now back up to 70 percent capacity, but this is mainly concentrated in the capital San Juan. So while inland towns that depend on tourism are struggling mightily, things are getting better in San Juan as cruise ships are once again docking. On November 30, the first cruise ship since the storm arrived with thousands of vacationers on board. They were received with great fanfare -- quite literally, with trumpet blaring and cymbals crashing.
- Pitching in to help -
The World Travel & Tourism Council, based in London, says tourism accounted for about eight percent of Puerto Rico's GDP in 2016, or $8.1 billion. Hurricane Maria's damage has been uneven. Although some tour guides now have no work and many eateries are shut down, hotels that have their own generators are doing just fine. Thanks to the thousands of US government officials and reconstruction crew members that came in after the storm, the hotels that are open -- about 80 percent of the total -- are pretty much full.
These people are starting to leave the island this month but hotels may receive tourists around Christmas, at least in San Juan, where power has for the most part been restored. The hurricane "undoubtedly cost billions in lost revenue," said Jose Izquierdo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. But Izquierdo nevertheless says he is "optimistic" and suggests an alternative: put tourists to work as volunteers in the gargantuan reconstruction effort that the island needs. "We want to look for travellers who want to travel with a purpose, who might have the commitment to help rebuild," said Izquierdo.
The program, called "Meaningful Travel" and launched in mid-November, organizes trips on which residents, Puerto Ricans living abroad and tourists are invited to help the island get back on its feet. "The plan aims to create empathy with this tourist destination," said Izquierdo. "We want to be like New Orleans after Katrina, where 10 years after the hurricane, tourism is the driving force of its economy. We want to build that narrative of recovery," he added. "There are different ways in which the world wants to help Puerto Rico. The best way is to visit us."
By Marcos PÉREZ RAMÍREZ
San Juan, Nov 9, 2017 (AFP) - Andrea Olivero, 11, consults her classmate Ada about an exercise during their daily English class at San Juan's Sotero Figueroa Elementary School. The task: list the positive and negative aspects of Hurricane Maria's passing almost two months ago.
The girls only have to look around. There is no electricity and they "roast" in the heat, Andrea says. At the back of the room, computers and televisions collect dust. "We would like to move past the topic of the hurricane a bit. It is already getting repetitive," Andrea told AFP. She is one of more than 300,000 pupils in the public education system, although only half of schools are functioning. Barely 42 per cent of Puerto Ricans have electricity seven weeks after Maria struck, killing at least 51 in the American territory.
The lack of power has prompted disorienting timetable changes on the tropical island, to avoid both the hottest hours of the day and the use of dining facilities. "The children are very anxious. We manage to make progress in lessons and they change the hours again. Everything is messed up and we fall behind," English teacher Joan Rodriguez explained. "We can't use the computers to illustrate classes," she said. "They are reading the novel "Charlotte's Web," and we wanted to do exercises comparing it to the film version. But we cannot use the television.
- Suspicions -
From October 23, some directors reopened their schools in the western region of Mayaguez and San Juan. But last Thursday, the Department of Education ordered their closure, insisting they must be evaluated by engineering and architectural firms, then certified by the US Army Corps of Engineers. One of those schools was Vila Mayo, also in San Juan. The community presumed it would open, as it had been used as a shelter, its electrical infrastructure had been inspected and it had not suffered structural damage.
But Luis Orengo, the education department's director in San Juan, told protesters outside the school it was closed as inspectors' findings had not reached the central government. "This is unacceptable! The school is ready to give classes but they don't want to open it. Our children cannot lose a year," fumed Enid Guzman, who protested with her 11-year-old son, Reanny De la Cruz. There are suspicions the stalled reopening of schools is, in part, related to the prior closure of 240 schools over the past year during Puerto Rico's long-running financial crisis. The fiscal difficulties have seen the island's population drop over the past decade by 14 percent, leading in turn to a fall in school enrolment.
Before the storms, 300 schools were at risk of closure -- and for the president of Puerto Rico's federation of teachers, Mercedes Martinez, the government's aim is clear. "Secretary (Julia) Keleher seems to have an orchestrated plan to close schools," she said, referring to the education secretary. "Why do you have to wait 30 days to get a certification so a school can open?" Keleher has announced she expects most schools to be open by the middle of November.
April 28, 2008
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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".
Saint Kitts and Nevis
April 02, 2008
St. Kitts and Nevis is a developing Caribbean nation consisting of two islands.
Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department
All Americans traveling by air outside the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.
This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009.
Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other WHTI compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S.
Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.
Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted.
We expect cards will be available and mailed to applicants in spring 2008.
The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the Passport Card is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.
We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel.
American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.
Visitors may be asked to present an onward/return ticket and proof of sufficient funds to cover the cost of their visit.
Stays of up to three months are granted at immigration.
Anyone requiring an extension must apply to the Ministry of National Security.
There is an airport departure tax and environmental levy charged when leaving the country.
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:
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. 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.
Petty street crime occurs in St. Kitts and Nevis, as well as the occasional burglary; visitors and residents should take common-sense precautions.
Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and use hotel safety deposit facilities to safeguard valuables and travel documents.
Do not leave valuables unattended on the beach or in cars.
Exercise caution when walking alone at night.
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 care is limited.
The main hospitals are Joseph N. France General Hospital (telephone (869) 465-2551) on St. Kitts and Alexandria Hospital (telephone (869) 469-5473) on Nevis.
St. Kitts has two additional hospitals and both islands have several health clinics.
Neither island has a hyperbaric chamber.
Divers suffering from decompression illness are transported to the island of Saba, in the Netherlands Antilles.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the U.S. can cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals 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 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 St. Kitts and Nevis is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic in St. Kitts and Nevis moves on the left-hand side of the road.
Roads are reasonably well paved but narrow and sometimes poorly marked.
Drivers often stop on the side of or in the middle of the road to visit with other drivers, blocking one lane of traffic.
Honking one's horn is a common form of greeting, not a warning.
Travelers are required to obtain a visitor's drivers license, which may be obtained from the Traffic Department or the Fire Station for a small fee on presentation of a valid home or international license.
Public Transportation consists of mini-buses and taxis.
Established fares are available from airport dispatchers and local hotels.
Complaints regarding taxi or minibus services may be lodged with The Department of Tourism or with your hotel.
More detailed information on roads and traffic safety can be obtained from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Environment, Bay Road, Pelican Mall, P.O. Box 132, Basseterre, St. Kitts, telephone (869) 465-4040.
For specific information concerning St. Kitts and Nevis driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the St. Kitts and Nevis national tourist organization via the Internet at http://www.stkitts-tourism.com/index.asp.
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 St. Kitts and Nevis’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of St. Kitts and Nevis’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.
There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in St. Kitts and Nevis.
The U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados, is responsible for American citizen services in these islands.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports or other proof of citizenship with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available.
All Caribbean countries can be affected by hurricanes.
The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
Please see Customs Information.
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 St. Kitts and Nevis laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in St. Kitts and Nevis 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 information on Criminal Penalties.
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 St. Kitts and Nevis 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 St. Kitts and Nevis.
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 in Barbados in the Wildey Business Park, Wildey, St. Michael, telephone 1-246-436-4950, web site http://barbados.usembassy.gov/.
The Consular Section telephone number is 1-246-431-0225. The Consular Section fax number is 1-246-431-0179. Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday-Friday, except Barbados and U.S. holidays.
In certain circumstances, the U.S. Consular Agency in Antigua can be of assistance.
Persons seeking assistance should call the Consular Agent, Rebecca Simon, at 1-268-463-6531 to schedule an appointment.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for St. Kitts and Nevis dated June 6, 2006, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
[Fogging will provide only temporary vector mosquito control. Elimination or treatment of breeding sites is necessary for significant vector mosquito population reduction. This same report was also sent in by Roland Hubner.
<http://healthmap.org/r/1E3K>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
WASHINGTON, Feb 14, 2012 (AFP) - US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was robbed at his Caribbean island vacation home last week by a masked, machete-wielding bandit, a court spokeswoman said Tuesday. The incident took place February 9 at the justice's home in Nevis, with about $1,000 cash taken, the spokeswoman said. "No one was hurt," said the official, noting that the 73-year-old Breyer was "robbed by an armed intruder" and that "the individual was armed with a machete." Breyer was on vacation during a break from the schedule of the top US court, which resumes hearings Friday.
St Kitts and Nevis
|Still current at: 30 November 2011|
Updated: 29 November 2011
This advice has been reviewed and reissued, with an amendment to the Entry Requirements - Passport Validity section (updated). The overall level of the advice has not changed; there are no travel restrictions in place in this travel advice for St Kitts and Nevis.
(see travel advice legal disclaimer)
- There is no British High Commission in St Kitts and Nevis. British nationals requiring emergency consular assistance may contact the British Honorary Consul, Sarah Percival, on +1 (869) 764 4677 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +1 (869) 764 4677 end_of_the_skype_highlighting. If the Honorary Consul is not available and for all other non-consular related matters please contact the British HighCommission in Bridgetown, Barbados.
- Around 4,700 British nationals visited St Kitts and Nevis in 2008 (Source: Ministry of Tourism). Most visits to St Kitts and Nevis are trouble-free. The main type of incidents for which British nationals required consular assistance in St Kitts and Nevis in 2008 were replacing lost and stolen passports and dealing with hospitalisations. Over the past year, there has been an overall increase in crime in St Kitts, including gun crimes although these tend to occur within the local community.
- There is a low threat from terrorism. But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
- The hurricane season in St Kitts and Nevis normally runs from June to November. See the Natural Disasters section of this Travel Advice.
- You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling. See General - Insurance.
Safety and Security - Terrorism
There is a low threat from terrorism. But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. For more general information see our Terrorism Abroad page.
Safety and Security - Crime
Around 5,000 British nationals visit St Kitts and Nevis each year (Source: Ministry of Tourism) and the vast majority of visits are trouble-free. St Kitts and Nevis is a friendly and welcoming country but incidents of violent crime including murder do occur. Gun crime is increasingly problematic; there have been more than 25 murders in 2011, the majority as a result of shootings. Although these tend to occur within the local community, there have been a number of recent incidents involving British nationals in the Half Moon Court area, including a double murder and violent attack.
You should maintain vigilance at all times even when staying with family or friends. Avoid walking alone in isolated areas, including beaches, after dark. Do not carry large amounts of cash or jewellery. Valuables and travel documents should be left, where possible, in safety deposit boxes and hotel safes.
For more general information see our Victims of Crime Abroad page.
Safety and Security - Local Travel
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Road Travel
In order to be able to drive a car in St Kitts and Nevis you must purchase a local driving licence, usually from the car hire company, at a cost of EC$ 100. You must show your current driving licence to obtain this. Motorists drive on the left in St Kitts and Nevis. Main roads are generally well maintained but many follow winding routes so careful driving is necessary. Roads are not well lit at night. You must be alert for stray livestock and speed bumps in some areas that are not well marked. Hiring of scooters is popular amongst visitors but safety equipment is not included in the hire price; despite the additional cost this is highly recommended for your own protection. You should be cautious when driving a scooter, as other road users do not always give them due consideration.
For more general information see our Driving Abroad page.
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Air Travel
You will have to pay a departure tax when leaving St Kitts and Nevis. Departure tax is EC$58 (per adult) and EC$25 (child under 12).
Safety and Security - Political Situation
St Kitts and Nevis Country Profile
You should note that there are severe penalties for all drug offences. Pack all luggage yourself and do not carry anything through customs for anyone else. You should be aware that it is an offence for anyone, including children, to dress in camouflage clothing. Certain homosexual acts are illegal under the laws of St Kitts and Nevis. For more general information for different types of travellers see our Your Trip page.
Entry requirements - Visas
British Passport holders do not require visas to visit St Kitts and Nevis. On entry you are granted a one month stay. If you wish to stay longer you must apply and pay for an extension of stay through the St Kitts and Nevis Immigration Department. It is an offence to overstay the entry period granted or to work without a work permit.
Entry requirements may change from time to time and should be checked with the High Commission of St Kitts and Nevis in London.
Entry requirements - Passport validity
You must hold a valid passport to enter St Kitts & Nevis. Your passport must be valid for a minimum period of six months from the date of entry into St Kitts & Nevis.
The medical facilities on the islands are limited to one hospital, which can deal only with routine medical cases. More serious cases will need to be dealt with in Puerto Rico, USA once the patient is in a stable condition.
Dengue fever is common across the Caribbean and can occur throughout the year. Dengue is a mosquito-borne infection that can cause a feverish illness associated with headache, muscle aches and pains, and rash. Some cases of dengue are severe. Dengue can be prevented by avoiding being bitten by the disease-carrying mosquitoes that feed predominately during daylight hours. For more information on prevention, see the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. For more general information on how to do this see our HIV and AIDS page.
You should seek medical advice before travelling to St Kitts & Nevis and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit the websites of the National Travel Heath Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) and NHS Scotland's Fit For Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
For more general health information see our Travel Health and Swine Flu page.
The hurricane season in St Kitts and Nevis normally runs from June to November. You can also access the World Meteorological Organisation for updates and the US National Hurricane Centre. For more general information see our Tropical cyclones page.
General - Insurance
You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance, which includes medical evacuation, before travelling. Check for any exclusions and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake. Be especially careful about cover for recurring illnesses as they may not be include in all insurance policies. For more general information see our Travel Insurance page.
If things do go wrong when you are oversees see our When Things Go Wrong page.
General - Registration
Register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling abroad or where you live abroad so our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency. More information about registering with LOCATE can be found here.
General - Package Holidays
If you are on a package holiday, you must travel on the specified return date. If you fail to do so it is likely that you will have to pay for a return ticket yourself.
General - Passports
Keep a copy of the photo page of your passport and relevant entry stamp in case your documents are stolen.
The passport service for British nationals in St Kitts and Nevis has now moved from Barbados to the UK Passport Service Centre for the Americas and Caribbean in Washington D.C. (http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk/passports).
If you are applying for a renewal of your UK passport and you are in St Kitts and Nevis your application, with the appropriate passport fee plus a return courier fee of US $21, should be sent direct to:
The UK Passport Service for the Americas and Caribbean
19 Observatory Circle, NW
Washington, DC 20008
The British High Commission in Bridgetown will continue to issue Emergency Passports for people who have lost their passports and who have an urgent need to travel to the UK.
Surveillance of cases clinically suggestive of dengue
After reaching very high values between mid-Nov and mid-Dec , the number of cases clinically suggestive of dengue fever has abruptly decreased in week 2009-52 without, however, running below the epidemic threshold. Since then, there has been a gradual increase in new cases, with an estimated 40 cases in the 1st week of Jan . The number of suggestive [dengue] cases has been well above the epidemic threshold for the past 2 months. It is estimated that during this period, 340 cases suggestive of dengue were seen by general practitioners on the island, averaging over 40 per week. The number of cases clinically suggestive of dengue fever is an estimate for the entire population of the island, based on the number of people who consulted a general practitioner for a clinical syndrome suggestive of dengue. This estimation is performed using data collected from the network of sentinel physicians.
Monitoring of laboratory confirmed cases
The number of laboratory confirmed cases of dengue fever follows a dynamic similar to that of suggestive cases. After a sharp decline in week 2009-52, there was a further increase in the number of confirmed cases during the last week of Dec (2009-53), then an equally high number of laboratory confirmations during the past week (2010-01). Since the 3rd week of Nov (2009-47), 239 laboratory confirmed cases were recorded, and the number of weekly cases has far exceeded the epidemic threshold.
Positivity rate of requests for laboratory confirmation and circulating [dengue virus, DENV] serotypes
As in the previous week, the positivity rate has been very high in the week 2010-01, since 26 of the 41 samples analyzed have been positive (66 per cent). This is the 2nd consecutive week for this rate, so it is increasing during the upswing of the epidemic. Since mid-Nov 2009 (week 2009-47), DENV-1 has constituted the vast majority [of isolates], accounting for 95 per cent of viruses isolated (73 of 77 samples analyzed). DENV-2 has also been identified but only 4 times.
Since early Dec , no new confirmed cases of dengue have been hospitalized for more than 24 hours. The number of laboratory confirmed hospitalized cases has been constant since October 2009, with 2 hospitalizations occurring each month.
The geographical distribution of laboratory confirmed cases indicates their presence on all sectors of the island, indicating that there still is widespread circulation of the virus.
At Saint Barthelemy, the epidemic continues. Virus circulation is still important and widespread on the island. The number of hospitalized cases remains very low. The epidemiological situation is still in Phase 3 of PSAG of the Northern Islands as an epidemic phase.
[A map of Saint Barthelemy (St. Barts) in the Caribbean can be accessed at
<http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/namerica/caribb/stbarts.htm>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
A HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map of Reunion Island can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/45149>. - ProMED Mod.LL]
From 800 confirmed cases the previous week, the dengue epidemic increased to 904 cases in the week.
- La Reunion. 12 Apr 2019. Dengue La Reunion (French overseas territory): dengue cases near 5000 in Q1 2019. New transmission zones have been identified in Saint-Andre, Saint-Denis, Sainte-Marie, and Sainte-Suzanne. In addition, the number of hospitalizations is increasing with 25-30 recorded weekly.
- La Reunion. 27 Mar 2019. The circulation of the dengue virus continues at a sustained level, say the prefecture and the ARS. From 11-17 Mar 2019, 682 cases of dengue fever were confirmed. Since the beginning of the year , 153 emergency room visits have been recorded and 80 patients have been hospitalized. In addition, 5 deaths have been reported since the beginning of 2019, of which 2 have been considered, after investigation, as directly related to dengue fever. The most active households are located at: the Saint-Louis River, Saint Louis, Saint Pierre, the Etang-Sale Cabris Ravine.
6476 dengue cases gave been confirmed since January 2018; 138 hospitalized, 20 cases of severe dengue, including 3 deaths.
In the Indian Ocean, it is also serotype 2 that predominates during the dengue epidemic affecting western and southern Reunion. According to the last assessment of [22 May 2018], 3416 biologically confirmed or probable cases have been reported since [1 Jan 2018, including 387 in a single week. Among them, 75 cases were hospitalized, including 9 severe cases.
Source: Linfo [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]
Since the beginning of the year, 89 cases of leptospirosis have been reported in Reunion (against 50 in 2017). This disease can be contracted through contact with contaminated wetland (stagnant water, mud, etc). The West and South are the most affected regions with 21 confirmed cases in Saint-Paul.
Once again, the cleaning of courtyards and gardens or bathing in fresh water [flood water that is contaminated with urine from infected animals, e.g., rats, dogs?] after heavy rains is particularly at risk. The ARS Indian Ocean [the French Regional Health Agency in charge of health administration for Mayotte and La Reunion islands] wants to sensitize the population: it is essential to apply protective measures and fight against rats.
In addition, in the context of a proven epidemic of dengue fever, it is recommended to consult your doctor in case of high fever, in order to be tested and treated appropriately if necessary. [Byline: Lucie Touza]
[Leptospirosis is a zoonotic bacterial infection that is distributed widely throughout the world in warm climates and is transmitted to humans by direct contact of abraded skin or mucous membranes with the urine of infected animals or by contact with wet soil, vegetation, or water that has been contaminated with infected animal urine. _Leptospira_ bacteria shed in urine may survive in fresh water or moist soil for weeks to months.
Many species of wild and domestic animals (including dogs, cattle, swine, and especially rats) are susceptible to chronic kidney infection with pathogenic _Leptospira_. Different leptospiral serovars are prevalent in particular geographical regions. Inadequate disposal of trash and debris provides a suitable habitat for rat infestation in urban settings.
Outbreaks of leptospirosis frequently follow heavy rainfall, flooding with fresh water, and increasing rodent numbers. Reunion experiences seasonal outbreaks of leptospirosis probably related to the rainfall. Reunion, one of the overseas departments of France, is an island with a population of about 800,000 located in the Indian Ocean, about 943 km (586 mi) east of Madagascar and about 200 km (120 mi) south west of Mauritius, the nearest island.
A map showing the location of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and its main cities can be accessed at
A HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map of Reunion Island can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/45149>. - ProMED Mod.ML]
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
If travelling to The Gambia you are advised to consider vaccination cover against the following;
Yellow Fever (mosquito borne viral disease)
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
Tetanus (childhood booster)
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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.
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
Ref: WHO Disease Outbreak News
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.
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.
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.
World Travel News Headlines
Moscow, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - More than 50 polar bears have gathered on the edge of a village in Russia's far north, environmentalists and residents said, as weak Arctic ice leaves them unable to roam. The Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund said climate change was to blame, as unusually warm temperatures prevented coastal ice from forming. The WWF said 56 polar bears had gathered in a one-square-kilometre (0.4-square-mile) area near the village of Ryrkaipy in Chukotka on the north-eastern tip of Russia.
There were concerns they could enter the village, home to fewer than 1,000 people, and patrols had been set up to monitor their movements. "The number of human and predator encounters in the Arctic is increasing," the WWF said in statement. "The main reason is the decline of sea ice area due to the changing climate. In the absence of ice cover, animals are forced to go ashore in search of food."
Residents had gathered walrus carcasses in the area to try to keep the bears from wandering into the village. "We have created a feeding point with walrus carcasses that we gathered along the coast," Tatyana Minenko of the local "Bear Patrol" told news agency RIA Novosti. "As long as there is no big freeze, the sea ice will not form and the bears will stay on the coast," she said.
Russia's weather service said temperatures in the region should fall from Saturday and that coastal ice should freeze by December 11. Polar bears regularly visit areas inhabited by humans in Arctic Russia to search for food, often in rubbish tips. But the number of visits has been growing as the melting of Arctic ice from climate change forces the bears to spend more time on land where they compete for food.
By Joseph Schmid
Paris, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - Travellers across France endured a second day of chaos on Friday as unions vowed to keep up their strike until President Emmanuel Macron backs down on controversial pension overhauls. Rail operator SNCF said 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains were again cancelled, and several airlines dropped flights including Air France, EasyJet and Ryanair.
Nine of the capital's 16 metro lines were shut and most others severely disrupted, sparking some 350 kilometres (220 miles) of traffic jams in the Paris region, well above the usual 200 km, the traffic website Sytadin reported. Many employees were unable to get to work and several schools again provided only daycare, though fewer teachers were on strike compared with Thursday when some 800,000 people demonstrated across the country according to the interior ministry. Bike paths were crowded with bikes and electric scooters, with metro operator RATP sponsoring special deals for commuters with a range of ride-hailing companies and other transportation alternatives.
The walkout is the latest test for Macron after months of protests from teachers, hospital workers, police and firefighters as well as the "yellow vest" movement demanding improved living standards. Unions say his "universal" pension system, which would eliminate dozens of separate plans for public workers, forces millions of people in both public and private sectors to work well beyond the legal retirement age of 62. Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said Friday that the government had "heard" the protesters' anger and would meet with union leaders to discuss the reform on Monday. The government has yet to lay out the details of its plan, and Buzyn told Europe 1 radio that "there is indeed a discussion going on about who will be affected, what age it kicks in, which generations will be concerned -- all that is still on the table".
- Macron 'determined' -
Yves Veyrier, head of the hardline FO union, warned Thursday the strike could last at least until Monday if the government did not take the right action. But it remains to be seen if the protests will match the magnitude of the 1995 strikes against pension overhauls, when France was paralysed for three weeks from November to December in an action that forced the government to back down.
Macron, a former investment banker, has largely succeeded in pushing through a series of controversial reforms, including loosening labour laws and tightening access to unemployment benefits. But this is the first time the various disgruntled groups have come together in protest. So far Macron has not spoken publicly on the stoppages though a presidential official, who asked not to be named, said Thursday that the president was "calm" and "determined to carry out this reform" in a mood of "listening and consultation".
While most of Thursday's rallies were peaceful, police fired tear gas to disperse dozens of black-clad protesters smashing windows and throwing stones during the Paris march, with one construction trailer set on fire. Sporadic clashes were also reported in some other cities. Many people were bracing for further disruptions over the weekend, including the prospect of fuel shortages as unions blocked most of the country's eight oil refineries.
The minimum pension age in France is 62, one of the lowest among developed countries, but there are 42 "special regimes" for railway workers, lawyers, opera employees and others offering earlier retirements and other benefits. The government says a single system will be fairer for everyone while ensuring its financial viability while acknowledging that people will gradually have to work longer.
Sydney, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - Three hundred animals have been evacuated from a wildlife park north of Sydney as massive bushfires encircled Australia's largest city and foreign firefighters arrived to relieve beleaguered local forces. Walkabout Wildlife Park said it had shipped out lizards, dingoes, peacocks and marsupials, as firefighters battled more than 100 fires up and down the eastern seaboard. "This fire has been doing some crazy things, so we have to be prepared," general manager Tassin Barnard told AFP.
Prolonged drought has left much of eastern Australia tinder dry and spot fires have raged every day for the past three months, leaving firefighters struggling to cope. New South Wales rural fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons said Friday that some US and Canadian firefighters had arrived to help out, easing the strain on the exhausted largely volunteer Australian force.
The incident-management and aviation specialists will help ease "fatigue and crew rotations" he said. "We are not only appreciative of their presence here today, but of their sacrifice," said Fitzsimmons -- who has become a fixture on Australian television screens for weeks, updating the public on blazes in towns, national parks and backwaters. "They are volunteering to sacrifice time from loved ones, from families, to give up that special time of the year around Christmas and New Year to come down here and lend us a hand," he said.
More than 600 homes have been destroyed and six people have died since the crisis began in September. That is many fewer than Australia's deadliest recent fire season in 2009 when almost 200 people died, but 2019's toll belies the scale of devastation. Millions of hectares have burned -- the size of some small countries -- across a region spanning hundreds of kilometres (miles). Bushfires are common in Australia but scientists say this year's season has come earlier and with more intensity due to a prolonged drought and climatic conditions fuelled by global warming.
The fires have taken a toll in Sydney and other major cities, which have been blanketed in toxic smoke for weeks and occasionally sprinkled with snow-like embers. Fitzsimmons said he could not "overstate the effect that this profound drought is having" as he warned of a long, painful summer ahead. "There is an absolute lack of moisture in the soil, a lack of moisture in the vegetation... you are seeing fires started very easily and they are spreading extremely quickly, and they are burning ridiculously intensely."
By Pierre-Henry DESHAYES
Half Moon Island, Antarctica, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - The swimsuit-clad tourists leap into the icy water, gasping at the shock, and startling a gaggle of penguins. They are spectators at the end of the world, luxury visitors experiencing a vulnerable ecosystem close-up. And their very presence might accelerate its demise. Antarctica, a vast territory belonging to no one nation, is a continent of extremes: the coldest place on Earth, the windiest, the driest, the most desolate and the most inhospitable. Now, it's also a choice destination for tourists.
All around Half Moon Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, blocks of ice of all sizes float by on a calm sea, their varying forms resembling weightless origami shapes. On this strip of land, that juts out of the Antarctic Polar and towards South America, visitors can see wildlife normally only viewed in zoos or nature documentaries along with spectacular icy landscapes. The ethereal shades of white that play across the pillowy peaks change with the light, acquiring pastel hues at dawn and dusk. "Purity, grandeur, a scale that's out of this world," says Helene Brunet, an awestruck 63-year-old French pensioner, enjoying the scene. "It's unbelievable, totally unbelievable. It's amazing just to be here, like a small speck of dust."
AFP joined the 430 passengers on board the Roald Amundsen, the world's first hybrid electric cruise ship, on its maiden voyage in the Southern Ocean. "It's not your typical beach, but it's awesome to do it," says a numb Even Carlsen, 58, from Norway, emerging from his polar plunge in the three-degree C (37.4 F) water. When tourists go ashore, bundled up in neon-coloured windbreakers and slathered in SPF50 sunscreen, they have to follow strict rules: clean your personal effects so you don't introduce invasive species, keep a respectful distance from wildlife to avoid distressing them, don't stray from the marked paths and don't pick up anything. "We mucked up the rest of the world. We don't want to muck up Antarctica too," says an English tourist, as she vacuums cat hair off her clothes before going ashore.
- 'Heart of the Earth' -
The Antarctic peninsula is one of the regions on Earth that is warming the fastest, by almost three degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization -- three times faster than the global average. In March 2015, an Argentinian research station registered a balmy 17.5 degrees Celsius, a record. "Every year you can observe and record the melting of glaciers, the disappearance of sea ice... (and) in areas without ice, the recolonisation of plants and other organisms that were not present in Antarctica before," said Marcelo Leppe, director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.
Antarctica is "like the heart of the Earth," he added, saying that it expands and contracts like a heart beating, while the mighty current which revolves around the continent is like a circulatory system as it absorbs warm currents from other oceans and redistributes cold water. The Antarctic Treaty, signed 60 years ago by 12 countries -- it now has 54 signatories -- declared the area a continent dedicated to peace and science, but tourism has gradually increased, with a sharp rise in the past few years. Tourism is the only commercial activity allowed, apart from fishing -- the subject of international disputes over marine sanctuaries -- and is concentrated mainly around the peninsula, which has a milder climate than the rest of the continent and is easier to access.
Cruise ships have roamed the region for around 50 years, but their numbers only started to increase from 1990, as Soviet ice-breakers found new purposes in the post-Cold War era. Some 78,500 people are expected to visit the region between November and March, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). That's a 40-percent increase from last year, due in part to short visits by a few new cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers, too many to disembark under IAATO regulations. "Some might say 'Well, 80,000 people, that doesn't even fill a national stadium'... (and that it) is nothing like Galapagos which welcomes 275,000 a year," says IAATO spokeswoman Amanda Lynnes. "But Antarctica is a special place and you need to manage it accordingly."
- 'Leave Antarctica to the penguins' -
It is Antarctica's very vulnerability that is attracting more and more visitors. "We want to see this fantastic nature in Antarctica before it's gone," Guido Hofken, a 52-year-old IT sales director travelling with his wife Martina, says. They said they had paid a supplement to climate compensate for their flight from Germany.
But some question whether tourists should be going to the region at all. "The continent probably would be better off being left to penguins and researchers, but the reality is, that is probably never going to happen," said Michael Hall, professor and expert on polar regions at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. "Vicarious appreciation never seems to be enough for humans. So with that being the case, it needs to be made as low risk to the Antarctic environment and as low carbon as possible," said Hall. "However, when the average tourist trip to Antarctica is over five tonnes of CO2 emissions per passenger (including flights), that is a serious ask."
Soot or black carbon in the exhaust gases of the scientific and cruise ships going to the region is also of concern, said Soenke Diesener, transport policy officer at German conservation NGO Nabu. "These particles will deposit on snow and ice surfaces and accelerate the melting of the ice because the ice gets darker and will absorb the heat from the sun and will melt much faster," he told AFP. "So the people who go there to observe or preserve the landscape are bringing danger to the area, and leave it less pristine than it was," he added.
- Responsible tourism -
Antarctic tour operators insist they are promoting responsible tourism. The trend is for more intimate, so-called expedition cruises, in contrast to popular giant cruise liners elsewhere which are criticised for being invasive and polluting. With greener ships -- heavy fuel, the most commonly used for marine vessels, has been banned in Antarctica since 2011 -- cruise companies have sought to make environmental awareness a selling point, occasionally earning them accusations of greenwashing.
Global warming, pollution and microplastics are the result of human activities on other, faraway continents, say tour operators. Here, their motto is "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, keep nothing but memories". But before they've even set foot on the cruise ships departing from South America -- the most common itinerary -- visitors to Antarctica will already have flown across the world, causing emissions that harm the very nature they have come so far to admire.
Most visitors hail from the Northern Hemisphere, and almost half are from the United States and China, IAATO says. "I'm a tourist who feels a little guilty about taking a flight to come here," admits Francoise Lapeyre, a 58-year-old globetrotter om France. "But then again, there are priorities. There are some trips I just won't take, because they leave a big footprint and they're not worth it. "Crisscrossing the planet to go to a beach for example," she says.
- Don't mention climate change -
Like other expedition cruises where accessible science is part of their trademark, the Roald Amundsen, owned by the Hurtigruten company, has no dance floor or casino. Instead, there are microscopes, science events and lectures about whales and explorers like Charles Darwin. But they steer clear of climate change, which is only mentioned indirectly. That's a deliberate decision as the subject has proven "quite controversial", said Verena Meraldi, Hurtigruten's science coordinator. "We held several lectures dedicated specifically to climate change but it leads to conflicts. There are people who accept it as a fact, others who don't," she said. Onboard, "passengers" are referred to as "guests" and "explorers" rather than "cruisers". "Explorers" are typically older, well-heeled, often highly travelled pensioners who are handed walking sticks as they step ashore. "My 107th country," says a Dane, stepping ashore onto Antarctica.
The Roald Amundsen "guests" choose between three restaurants, from street food to fine dining -- a far cry from the conditions endured by the Norwegian adventurer for whom the ship is named, who had to eat his sled dogs to survive his quest to reach the South Pole in 1911. They have paid at least 7,000 euros ($7,700) each for an 18-day cruise in a standard cabin, and up to 25,000 euros ($27,500) for a suite with a balcony and private jacuzzi. Other cruises are banking on ultra-luxury, with James Bond-like ships equipped with helicopters and submarines, suites of more than 200 square metres (2,153 square feet) and butler services. With a seaplane to boot, the mega-yacht SeaDream Innovation will offer 88-day cruises "from Pole to Pole" starting in 2021. The two most expensive suites, with a price tag of 135,000 euros per person, are already booked.
Outside, in the deafening silence, wildlife abounds. All around are penguins, as awkward on land as they are agile in water. Massive and majestic whales slip through the waves, and sea lions and seals laze in the sun. On Half Moon Island, chinstrap penguins -- so called because of a black stripe on their chin -- strut about in this spring breeding season, raising their beaks and screeching from their rocky nests. "This is to tell other males 'This is my space' and also, maybe, 'This is my female'," ornithologist Rebecca Hodgkiss, a member of the Hurtigruten's scientific team, explains, as a group of tourists stroll around ashore. The colony of 2,500 penguins has been gradually declining over the years, but it's not known if that is man's fault or they have just moved away, according to Karin Strand, Hurtigruten's vice president for expeditions. Invisible to the naked eye, traces of humankind are however to be found in the pristine landscape. Not a single piece of rubbish is in sight but microplastics are everywhere, swept in on ocean currents. "We've detected them in the eggs of penguins for example," Leppe told AFP.
- Venice under water -
The Antarctic, which holds the world's largest reserve of freshwater, is a ticking time bomb, warn experts and studies. They say that the future of millions of people and species in coastal areas around the world depends on what is happening here. As a result of global warming, the melting ice sheet -- especially in the western part of the continent -- will increasingly contribute to rising sea levels, radically re-drawing the map of the world, says climate scientist Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. This meltwater will contribute 50 centimetres (almost 20 inches) to the global sea level rise by 2100, and much more after that, he said. "For every degree of warming, we get 2.5 metres of sea level rise. Not in this century, but in the long run," he said.
Even if the international community meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to under two degrees Celsius, sea levels will still rise by at least five metres. "Which means that Venice is under water, Hamburg is under water, New York, Shanghai, Calcutta," he said. It's impossible to predict when, but the scenario appears unavoidable, says Levermann. In the same way that a cruise ship powering ahead at full speed can't immediately stop, sea levels will continue to rise even if all greenhouse gas emissions were to cease immediately, a study has said.
- Changing the world? -
The tourism industry says it hopes to make "ambassadors" out of Antarctica visitors. "It's good for the animal life and for the protection of Antarctica that people see how beautiful this area is, because you cherish what you know and understand," said Hurtigruten chief executive Daniel Skjeldam. Texan tourist Mark Halvorson, 72, says he is convinced. "Having seen it, I am that much more committed to having a very high priority in my politics, in my own inner core convictions to being as environmentally friendly in my life as I can," he said. So, do Guido and Martina Hofken see themselves as future "ambassadors of Antarctica"? "Just a little bit, probably. But I don't think I will change the world," Guido Hofken concedes. "The best thing would be for nobody to travel to Antarctica."
Paris, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - French rail operator SNCF said Thursday that it had cancelled 90 percent of all high-speed TGV trains and 70 percent of regional trains for Friday due to a strike over the government's pension reforms. SNCF said that services would "still be very disrupted" on the second day of the biggest transport strike in the country in years, with the Eurostar service to Britain and the Thalys service to northern Europe set to be "very heavily disrupted". In Paris, where only two of 16 metro lines were operating normally Thursday, public transport workers voted to remain on strike until Monday.
France's civil aviation authority meanwhile told airlines to cut 20 percent of their flights in and out of airports in Paris, Beauvais, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux on Friday, the same proportion as on Thursday. Striking transport workers, air traffic controllers, teachers, fire fighters, lawyers and other groups all fear they will have to work longer or receive reduced pensions under the government's proposal to scrap 42 special pension schemes and replace them with a single plan. Anticipating the worst travel chaos in years, many employees opted to work from home on Thursday. Those who did venture out travelled mainly by car, bicycle, electric scooter or on foot.
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN
Johannesburg, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - South African Airways was placed under a state-approved rescue plan on Thursday to avoid the embattled airline's collapse following a costly week-long strike last month. Thousands of South African Airways (SAA) staff walked out on November 15 after the flag carrier failed to meet a string of demands, including higher wages and job in-sourcing. The strike was called off the following week after SAA management and unions eventually clinched a deal.
But the walkout dealt a severe blow to the debt-ridden airline, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts. "The Board of SAA has adopted a resolution to place the company into business rescue," said a statement by South Africa's Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, adding that the decision was also supported by the government. "It must be clear that this is not a bailout," said Gordhan. "This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline." The business rescue process will be directed by an independent practitioner. It is meant to prevent a "disorderly collapse of the airline", he added. Gordhan said the government would provide 2 billion rand ($136 million) to SAA in "a fiscally neutral manner". Existing lenders will also provide a 2 billion rand loan guaranteed by the government.
- 'Financial challenges' -
South Africa is struggling to get state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma. Its national airline -- which employs more than 5,000 workers and is Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines -- had been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) a day during the strike. SAA's board said the business rescue, scheduled to start immediately, was decided after consultations with shareholders and the public enterprises department "to find a solution to our company's well-documented financial challenges".
"The considered and unanimous conclusion has been to place the company into business rescue in order to create a better return for the company's creditors and shareholders," said the SAA board of directors in a statement. The rescue plan will include a "new provisional timetable" and ensure "selected activities... continue operating successfully". With a fleet of more than 50 aircraft, SAA flies to over 35 domestic and international destinations. "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board. "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time.
- 'Lesser evil' -
Unions told AFP they would comment later on Thursday. They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding. SAA had initially refused any pay rise. The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March. But it was unable to cover all of its staff salaries last month. "Business rescue allows for the airline to continue to operate while it is being restructured, as opposed to liquidation," analyst Daniel Silke told AFP. He said the rescue was a "lesser evil for SAA" and would save more jobs than a "shutdown".
But Silke still expected jobs to be cut as SAA attempted to reduce costs. "Various divisions that make of SAA could be privatised," he said. "There will be a review of SAA aircraft and routes covered by SAA." Unions had already demanded a three-year guarantee of job security following an announcement last month that almost 1,000 SAA employees could lose their jobs as part of another restructuring plan. SAA pledged to defer that process to the end of January as part of the deal that ended the strike.