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Andorra

General
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This small country is situated between France and Spain. Because of its elevation and proximity to the Pyrenees the climate is generally pleasant throughout the year.
Climate
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During the summer months the temperatures can rise to 30c but there is usually a cooling breeze. Lightening storms can occur during the summer months associated with torrential rain.
Sun Exposure and Dehydration
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Those from Northern Europe can develop significant sun exposure and so remember to use a wide brimmed hat when necessary. The altitude can also lead to significant tiredness and dehydration so take sufficient initial rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Safety & Security
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The level of crime throughout the country directed at tourists is very low. Nevertheless take care of your personal belongings at all times and use hotel safety boxes where possible.
Local Customs
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There are strict laws regarding the use of illegal drugs. Make sure you have sufficient supplies of any medication you required for your trip and that it is clearly marked. The European E111 form is not accepted in Andorra and so it is essential that you have sufficient travel insurance for your trip.
Winter Sports
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Andorra is one of the regions where many travel to partake of their winter sport facilities. Generally this is well controlled and one of the safer regions. Nevertheless, make certain your travel insurance is adequate for the activities you are planning to undertake.
Vaccination
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The only standard vaccine to consider for Andorra would be tetanus in line with many other developed countries of the world.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2018 15:24:06 +0200

Andorra la Vella, Andorra, July 12, 2018 (AFP) - The tax haven of Andorra has long been a favourite destination for smokers looking to stock up on cheap cigarettes, but the enclave said Thursday that it would soon stop advertising the fact.   The government said it had signed up to the World Health Organization's (WHO) anti-tobacco convention, which aims to encourage people to quit smoking and combat contraband sales.   "The goal is to contribute to public health and pursue the fight against trafficking," government spokesman Jordi Cinca said at a press conference.

The tiny principality of Andorra, perched in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain, attracts millions of shoppers each year to duty-free stores, where prices of alcohol, cigarettes, electronics and clothes can be up to 20 percent cheaper than elsewhere in the EU.   High taxes on tobacco imposed by many countries to help people kick smoking make Andorra's cigarettes a particularly good deal.   The average pack costs just three euros ($3.50) compared with eight euros in France, which has said it will gradually raise the price to 10 euros a pack by November 2020.

Tobacco sales bring in some 110 million euros a year for Andorra, whose economy is otherwise based almost entirely on tourism.   It is also an enticing destination for smugglers, with French and Spanish border agents regularly seizing cartons from people trying to sneak them out, either by car or by hiking down the mountain trails which criss-cross the Pyrenees.   No date has been set for the advertising ban, which will come into effect three months after the ratification of the WHO accord is voted by parliament.
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2018 02:41:51 +0100

Andorra la Vella, Andorra, March 16, 2018 (AFP) - The tiny principality of Andorra is witnessing a once in a generation phenomenon -- a widespread strike.   Around a third of civil servants across the mountainous micro-state have walked out to protest proposed reforms to their sector in what has been described as Andorra's first large-scale strike since 1933.

With no negotiation breakthrough in sight, picket lines are expected to be manned again on Friday with customs officers, police, teachers and prison staff among those taking part.   The first major strike in 85 years was sparked by plans from the government of Antoni Marti to reform civil servant contracts.   He has assured officials "will not do an hour more" work under the reforms and that 49 million euros would be allocated for the next 25 years to supplement civil servant salaries.   But government workers are unconvinced with unions warning the reforms could risk their 35 hour working week and pay.

Customs officers involved in the strike interrupted traffic on the Andorran-Spanish border this week, according to unions, while some 80 percent of teachers have walked out of classes.   Strikers have occupied the government's main administrative building and held noisy protests outside parliament calling for Marti's resignation.    "We have started collecting signatures to demand the resignation of the head of government and now nobody will stop us," Gabriel Ubach, spokesman for the public service union, told reporters.
Date: Mon 27 Sep 2017
Source: Contagion Live [edited]

A recent Dispatch article published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, offers insight into a large norovirus outbreak that sprung up in Spain in 2016 that had been linked with bottled spring water. The Public Health Agency of Catalonia (ASPCAT) reported a staggering 4136 cases of gastroenteritis from 11-25 Apr 2016. Of the 4136 cases, 6 individuals required hospitalization. The CDC defines a "case-patient" as an "exposed person who had vomiting or diarrhoea (3 or more loose stools within 24 hours)," as well as 2 or more of the following symptoms: nausea, stomach pain, or fever.

ASPCAT investigators traced back the outbreak to contaminated bottled spring water in office water coolers. The water came from a source in Andorra, a small independent principality located between Spain and France. Norovirus is a "very contagious virus," according to the CDC, and it is common for individuals to become infected by eating contaminated food. Although it is possible to be infected by consuming contaminated drinking water, this mode of transmission is "rare in developed countries," according to the article.

The investigators collected water samples from a total of 4 19-L water coolers in 2 different offices located in Barcelona, "from which affected persons had drunk; samples 1 and 2 came from 2 water coolers in one office, while samples 3 and 4 came from 2 water coolers in another office. Using "positively charged glass wool and polyethylene glycol precipitation for virus concentration," the investigators tested the samples.

"We detected high RNA levels for norovirus genotype I and II, around 103 and 104 genome copies/L, in 2 of the 4 water cooler samples concentrated by glass wool filtration and polyethylene glycol precipitation," according to the article. The investigators noted that a drawback of using molecular methods is that they are not able to differentiate between particles that are infectious and those that are not. Therefore, they "predicted the infectivity of norovirus in the concentrated samples by treating the samples with the nucleic acid intercalating dye PMA propidium monoazide and Triton X surfactant before RT-qPCR," which allowed them to "distinguish between virions with intact and altered capsids."

In those 2 water samples, they found high genome copy values -- 49 and 327 genome copies/L for norovirus genotype I and 33 and 660 genomes copies/L for norovirus genotype II. This was not an unexpected finding, due to the large number of infected individuals associated with the outbreak. Through "PMA/Triton treatment before RT-qPCR assays," the investigators found that the proportion of infected virions accounted for 0.3% to 5.6% of the total number of physical particles in the water samples, "which was enough to cause gastrointestinal illness."

The investigators also analyzed faecal samples collected from infected individuals who worked at the office in which the 1st 2 water samples were collected. They detected the following genotypes in those faecal samples: GI.2 and GII.17. In the faecal samples collected from the other office, they isolated the following genotypes: GII.4/Sydney/2012, GI.2, GII.17, and GII.2.

"We hypothesize that the spring water was contaminated by all 4 strains (GI.2, GII.2, GII.4, and GII.17) but levels of viral contamination for each genotype were not homogeneous in all bottled coolers," the investigators wrote. "We may have detected only the GII.4 genotype in water samples 1 and 2 because of a higher concentration of this specific genotype or because of bias caused by the sampling, concentration, and molecular detection procedures."

The investigators admit one limitation to their study: the small number of water samples collected and analyzed. They attribute this to the fact that on 15 Apr 2016, 4 days after the onset of the outbreak, the company that produced the drinking water recalled over 6150 containers of water "of suspected quality" as a precautionary measure. The recall prevented the investigators from collecting more samples to assess, according to the article.

Although the exact cause of the contamination has not yet been identified, the investigators posit that "the high number of affected persons from 381 offices that received water coolers, and the many different genotypes found in some patients' faecal specimens" suggest that the spring aquifer had been contaminated by "sewage pollution," and the Andorra Ministry of Health and Welfare banned further use of the spring.

The investigators suggest that assessing commercially-produced mineral waters for different harmful pathogens, such as norovirus would be beneficial. They note, however, that creating, enhancing, and managing such "virus surveillance systems" would be costly. Thus, the investigators suggest taking a "balanced approach to keep both the cost and the time required for the analyses within feasibility limits."  [Byline: Kristi Rosa]
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[The interesting article published in the September 2017 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases is:
Blanco A, Guix S, Fuster N, et al: Norovirus in bottled water associated with gastroenteritis outbreak, Spain, 2016. Emerg Infect Dis. 2017; 23(9): 1531-34; https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/23/9/16-1489_article. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[Catalonia and Andorra can be located on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at http://healthmap.org/promed/p/1341. - ProMED Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2013 22:25:05 +0100 (MET)

ANDORRA LA VELLA, Andorra, Dec 26, 2013 (AFP) - A Spanish skier and a French snowboarder have died in avalanches in different mountain ranges in Europe, officials said Thursday.

The 27-year-old skier, a woman from Barcelona, died Wednesday while going off-piste alone in the Soldeu resort in Andorra, in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, a resort manager told AFP.   Although she was rescued within 10 minutes, after her glove was spotted on the surface, she was unable to be revived despite a helicopter dash to hospital.

In the Italian Alps, close to the border with France, a 24-year-old Frenchman who was snowboarding with three friends on a closed run died Thursday when an avalanche swept over him in the resort town of Les Arnauds.   Local officials said he succumbed to multiple injuries, asphyxia and hypothermia.

Avalanches are common in Europe's ski resorts at this time of year, when early snows are heavy with moisture, and several deaths occur each winter.   Last Sunday, a 35-year-old Frenchman died in an avalanche in the Alps near the Italian border while on a three-day trek with a friend.
Date: Fri 7 Feb 2003 From: Jaime R. Torres Source: EFE Salud, Thu 6 Feb 2003 (translated by Maria Jacobs) [edited] -------------------------------------------------- Close to 300 students in one school and 173 tourists staying in 7 hotels in the Principality of Andorra have been affected by outbreaks of gastroenteritis that, according to local authorities, are not related to each other. Monica Codina, Minister of Health, stated that the outbreak that has affected almost 300 children and 8 adults in the San Ermengol school was detected last Monday [3 Feb 2003] but that it may have started Wednesday or Thursday of the previous week. The epidemiological surveys of a group of pre-school and grammar school students that may also be affected have not been performed yet. Also pending are the results of the microbiological tests of the food and water served in the school dining room, but the minister has indicated that the probable cause of the outbreak is the fact that water pitchers were filled with hoses directly from the faucet. The Minister stated that this outbreak of gastroenteritis is not related to the one that affected 173 tourists, most of them young people on holiday, who where staying in 7 hotels of the Principality. The government is also investigating the cause of this outbreak and has indicated that an anomaly in the system that supplies water to the hotels was detected, requiring a process of chlorination, which has not been carried out due to the heavy snowfall of the past few days. * * * * * * * * * * [The suspicion that defective water supplies may be responsible for all of these independent outbreaks suggests that the etiologic agent may be an enterovirus, hepatitis A virus, or non-viral, rather than one of the noroviruses associated with sudden-onset viral gastroenteritis. Information on the outcome of diagnostic tests in progress would be welcomed. - ProMed Mod.CP]
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Puerto Rico

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:45:27 +0100 (MET)
By Ivelisse RIVERA, con Leila MACOR en Miami

Yauco, Puerto Rico, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Living out in the open, their nerves on edge after a series of earthquakes that have shaken Puerto Rico, some 5,000 people are hoping that their president, Donald Trump, will heed the island's plea to be designated a disaster zone and free up much-needed aid.   Since December 28, more than 1,000 tremors have rattled the US island territory in the Caribbean, which just two years ago was devastated by two powerful hurricanes in quick succession.

In Yauco, one of the areas worst hit by the earthquakes, dozens of people were sitting on cot beds Wednesday in the parking lot of a municipal stadium, sheltered from the sun by white tents and blue tarps handed out by the federal disaster management agency, known as FEMA.  "The most difficult thing is the psychological aspect," said Wilfredo Rodriguez, 31. His house had been fractured by the seismic movement and he has spent a week living with his kids, aged six and 10, under an awning.    "We are living in constant fear of another powerful tremor," he said.

He only returns to his house to wash, then hurries back to the shelter. "We worry that there'll be a more powerful tremor while we are inside the house," he said.   Throughout the day, volunteers arrive to hand out food and toys for the children who fill the shelters: schools have been suspended because the buildings are not sturdy enough to withstand another quake.    The island's earthquake detection system has registered 1,104 tremors in the past two weeks alone, of which 186 could be felt by the population. By comparison, during the whole of 2019 there were 6,442 tremors, of which just 62 could be felt by people on the island.

Further south, in Guanico, Juan Santiago decided to move into a shelter on Saturday after a tremor of 5.9 on the Richter scale hit the island. "The mountain shook and rocks and earth started to come down," said the 30-year-old.  "My house has a crack in it and is about to fall down," he added. His home had weathered the Category Five winds of Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and of Hurricane Irma which followed it just two weeks later.   "It's different to a hurricane. What is happening now is much nastier," he said.

As he was talking the earth shook again, a tremor of 5.2 magnitude. Vehicles rocked like hammocks in the wind, but the quake-hardened victims barely reacted.   The houses in this part of the island are mostly rudimentary constructions built by the people who live in them with scant resources available in the mountains, where no regulations stipulate that buildings should be earthquake resistant.    The government of Puerto Rico said that as of Monday, there were 4,924 people living in 28 shelters in 14 municipalities. There were no figures on how many buildings had been damaged or destroyed.

- Seeking disaster designation -
Puerto Rico's governor Wanda Vazquez Garced called on Trump to declare the earthquake a disaster and clear the way for desperately needed aid. Trump had declared an emergency days before, but the governor wanted more.   The declaration of an emergency frees up to $5 million dollars in aid for the island, although Congress can bump that figure up. But if the situation is designated a disaster, there is no ceiling on funding, a FEMA spokesman said.   On Wednesday, the government said it would release $8.2 billion in delayed hurricane relief that had been stalled after the president threatened to divert Puerto Rico's emergency funds to help pay for his wall on the US-Mexico border.

In the past few days there have been growing calls among Democratic lawmakers for Trump to declare the situation in Puerto Rico a disaster.   It is a delicate subject, as Trump has accused the government of Puerto Rico of incompetence and of siphoning off hurricane relief money, triggering a public spat between the president and the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, as well as the former governor Ricardo Rossello, who was forced to step down last summer amid massive protests.   The Puerto Rican leaders accused Trump of treating the population of the island like second class citizens.
Date: Sat, 11 Jan 2020 15:43:12 +0100 (MET)

Washington, Jan 11, 2020 (AFP) - A 5.9 magnitude earthquake rocked Puerto Rico Saturday, the latest in a series of powerful tremors that have shaken the US territory in recent days, the US Geological Survey reported.

The latest quake occurred at 8:54 am local time (1254 GMT) around 13 kilometres (eight miles) southeast of Guanica, a town on the island's southern Caribbean coastline that was hard hit by earlier quakes.   The USGS revised its initial report of a 6.0 magnitude quake to 5.9.   It follows a 6.4 magnitude quake Tuesday that killed one person, knocked
out electric power and caused widespread damage.

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez declared a state of emergency after Tuesday's quake, which forced an automatic shutdown of the power grid.    Puerto Rico's electric power authority reported outages in the towns of Ponce, Lares, Adjuntas and San German after the latest quake.   The Pacific Tsunami Information Center in Hawaii issued a statement saying there was "no significant tsunami threat" but a small possibility of tsunami waves along coasts nearest the epicentre.

The island is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which came ashore more than two years ago as a devastating Category 4 storm.   Starting December 28, a wave of tremors have swept the island, putting residents on edge.   The 6.4 quake on January 7 came a day after a 5.8 magnitude quake; it was followed by major aftershocks.   Saturday's quakes were also preceded by a string of smaller tremors.
Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2020 23:44:45 +0100 (MET)
By Ricardo Arduengo

Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, Jan 7, 2020 (AFP) - Puerto Rico's governor declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after a powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake killed at least one person in the south of the island and caused widespread damage.   Governor Wanda Vazquez said the declaration would allow for the activation of National Guard troops in the US territory still recovering from a devastating 2017 hurricane.   The US Geological Survey said the quake struck at 4:24 am (0824 GMT) with the epicenter off the coast of the southern city of Ponce, and was followed by more than a dozen aftershocks.

Tuesday's quake was the most powerful in a series of tremors that have shaken the island since December 28.   Scientists initially sent out an alert about a potential tsunami but it was later canceled.   The island's electricity authority said the quake had forced an automatic shutdown of the power grid, already severely damaged by Hurricane Maria more than two years ago.   The worst damage appeared to be in towns on the southwest coast, including Ponce, Guayanilla and Guanica.   El Nuevo Dia newspaper said a 73-year-old man died after a wall fell in his home in Ponce. Eight others there were reported injured.

Two power plants in Guayanilla sustained major damage, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said. The city could be without power for two weeks, its mayor Nelson Torres Yordan said.   Celebrity chef Jose Andres announced that a charity he runs, World Central Kitchen, had started serving meals and distributing solar-powered lamps in quake-hit areas.   Vazquez announced that $130 million in emergency aid funding will be disbursed.   On social media, people wrote of being shaken awake by the force of the quake.   One woman on Twitter said she had been "wrenched from sleep."   "Everybody is awake & scared all over," she posted.   In Guayanilla, the Inmaculada Concepcion church, built in 1841, was heavily damaged.   Volunteers salvaged statues and other valuable items from the ruins as a priest consoled distraught parishioners.

- 'Be safe' -
A 5.8 magnitude quake on Monday toppled some structures, caused power outages and small landslides, but did not result in any casualties.   It also destroyed a popular tourist landmark, Punta Ventana, a natural stone arch that crumbled on the island's southern coast.   Vazquez, the governor, said government employees were being given the day off on Tuesday to take care of their families.   "We want everyone to be safe," she said.   She said ports were undamaged and there are several weeks' supply of gasoline, diesel and natural gas stored so people need not worry about shortages.

The White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed and Pete Gaynor, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), had been in touch with the governor.   Trump's administration came under severe criticism for its response to Hurricane Maria.   The Category 4 storm destroyed the island's already shaky power grid, overwhelmed public services, left many residents homeless and claimed several thousand lives, according to government estimates.
Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2020 12:52:34 +0100 (MET)

Washington, Jan 7, 2020 (AFP) - A strong earthquake struck south of Puerto Rico early Tuesday, the US Geological Survey said, the latest in a series of tremors that have shaken the island since December 28.   The shallow 6.5 magnitude quake struck 13.6 kilometres (8.5 miles) south of the city of Ponce, the USGS said, revising down its initial reading of 6.6.   The quake struck just off the US territory's southern Caribbean coastline at 4:24 am local time (0824 GMT).   "The whole island is without power," the director of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Jose Ortiz, told local media.

Puerto Rico's governor Wanda Vazquez Garced posted on Twitter that the government's security protocols had been activated.   She said government employees were not expected at work, adding: "We want everyone to be safe."   On social media, people wrote of being shaken awake by the force of the quake.   One woman on Twitter said she had been "wrenched from sleep", adding "Everybody is awake & scared all over."

Dramatic images also shared on social media appeared to show widespread damage in the town of Guayanilla, home to around 20,000 people, as well as nearby Guanica.   The mayor of Guayanilla told local news channel NotiUno that the town's church had collapsed in the incident.

An alert issued by the Tsunami Warning Center immediately following the earthquake was later cancelled.   Tuesday's quake was the strongest of a series of tremors that have shaken the island since December 28, topping Monday's 5.8 quake.   That earthquake toppled houses and caused power outages, but there were no reports of casualties.
Date: Mon, 6 Jan 2020 18:04:21 +0100 (MET)

Miami, Jan 6, 2020 (AFP) - A 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook Puerto Rico Monday, toppling houses and causing power outages and small landslides but there were no reports of casualties, the US Geological Survey said.   The quake, just off the US territory's southern Caribbean coastline, was felt throughout much of the island, including the capital San Juan.

Some 250,000 customers were hit by electric power outages after the quake, which struck at 6:32 am local time (1032GMT).   Images posted on social media showed houses tumbled from their supporting pillars, cracks in walls, cars crushed under collapsed houses and small scale landslides.   The quake was the strongest of a series that have rippled through the island since December 28, and it was followed by at least eight aftershocks, officials said.   No tsunami alerts were issued.
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Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo. However, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the
site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Benin for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-232-6656.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach alone at any time of day. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport (see Crime section). They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.
The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Street robbery is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not bring valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking incidents after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked. Stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.
Travelers should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:

Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your "discretion" or "confidentiality";

Any deal that seems too good to be true;
Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by "a reliable contact";
Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
Any offer of a charitable donation.
These scams, which may appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, International Financial Scams.

Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be "rescued." If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

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

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.
With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.benintourisme.com.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Benin dated August 17th, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 10 May 2019 19:38:30 +0200
By Hazel WARD and Daphne BENOIT

Paris, May 10, 2019 (AFP) - French special forces have freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight raid in which two soldiers died, authorities announced Friday.   The operation was launched to free two French tourists who had disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Benin on May 1.

But during the raid, the French troops were surprised to discover two women also in captivity, with top officials saying they had been held for 28 days.    The French tourists were identified as Patrick Picque, 51, and Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, but the women's identities were not immediately clear.     "No one was aware of (the women's) presence," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters, while French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said.   "We know little about these other two hostages," Parly told reporters, saying that even Seoul and Washington did not appear to be aware the pair were in increasingly unstable Burkina Faso.    The raid was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron in what was seen as the last opportunity to stop the hostages being transferred to lawless territory in Mali to the north.

Parly said it was "too early to say" who had snatched the two French nationals from Benin, which has long been an island of stability in a region where Islamist militants are increasingly active.   "The message to terrorists and criminal gangs is clear: those who attack France and its nationals know that we will not spare any effort to track them down, find them and neutralise them," she said.   Four of the six kidnappers were killed in the raid.    French forces, helped by intelligence provided by the United States, had been tracking the kidnappers for several days as they travelled across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso from Benin to Mali.   They seized the opportunity to prevent "the transfer of the hostages to another terrorist organisation in Mali," Lecointre said, referring to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM).   The FLM is a jihadist group formed in 2015 and headed by a radical Malian preacher, Amadou Koufa. It is aligned with Al-Qaeda in the region.

- US intelligence support -
In a statement, Macron congratulated the special forces on the operation, in which he also expressed sorrow over the death of the two soldiers "who gave their lives to save those of our citizens".   And Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the "complex operation", as well as the United States which provided intelligence and support.

The operation was also made possible by the presence of France's Operation Barkhane, which counts some 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces battle jihadist groups.   American special forces and drones are also known to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as jihadist groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria.   Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

- Relief and sadness -
The French tourists -- Patrick Picque who works in a Paris jewellery shop, and Laurent Lassimouillas a piano teacher, -- went missing with their guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin.   The Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is famed for its elephants and lions, lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso.   The badly disfigured body of their guide was found shortly after they disappeared, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck.   The two freed men will be flown back to France on Saturday, alongside the South Korean woman, where they will be met on arrival by Macron and other top French officials.   Washington thanked the French forces for freeing the American hostage, with France saying she would likely be "repatriated independently" from the other three. 

The two dead French soldiers were named as Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, decorated naval special forces members born in 1986 and 1991 respectively.   They were part of the prestigious Hubert commando unit of the French naval special forces which was deployed to the Sahel at the end of March.   A total of 24 French soldiers have died in the region since 2013 when France intervened to drive back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali. The last death was on April 2.
Date: Tue 15 Jan 2019
Source: Punch [edited]

The Kwara state government has confirmed 2 cases of Lassa fever infecting a husband and wife in the state.

Speaking with newsmen on Tuesday [15 Jan 2019] at a news briefing, the Kwara commissioner for health, Alhaji Usman Rifun-Kolo, said the outbreak of Lassa fever was identified in a farm settlement in Taberu, Baruten local government area.

He explained that the 2 cases of the disease affected a husband and wife, natives of Benin republic, which shares a border with the state. He added that the husband and wife are farming in Baruten. "These cases of Lassa fever originated from Benin republic, whose citizen have interrelations with people in the Baruten area," he said.

According to him, the husband and wife were diagnosed in a health facility, and the state government had already deployed a disease-surveillance team to identify those who have been in contact with the patients.

Rifun-Kolo further explained that the surveillance team identified 4 people with a history of fever in the area. He said that the 4 cases raised suspicion of Lassa fever, which prompted them to take samples from the individuals for further investigation. He noted that the 4 individuals have commenced treatment in Taberu, Baruten LGA.
=====================
[The above report states that the couple was infected in Benin, although the timeline when that may have occurred is not given. The report also mentions 4 individuals in the Kwara state who had a history of Lassa fever, implying that the virus is present in that state in Nigeria as well. In December [2018], there were Lassa fever cases in Benin that were imported from Nigeria as well as infections that were locally acquired in Benin, so the Lassa fever cases cross the border in both directions. The source of the infecting virus for any of these cases is not mentioned. - ProMED Mod.TY

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Kwara state, Nigeria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/19690>]
Date: Wed 26 Dec 2018
Source: Quotidein Le Matinal [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]

Minister of health Benjamin Hounkpatin confirmed on Wednesday [26 Dec 2018] 4 new cases of Lassa haemorrhagic fever in Benin, including one in Cotonou. This occurred in the period from 15-26 Dec 2018.

In the case of Cotonou, a 28-year-old (has been infected). His case was detected on 24 Dec [2018], but his illness commenced the previous week. He had a fever, a cough, a cold, and fatigue. Due to the persistence of the cough and cold, and with the appearance of traces of blood in nasal discharge on 24 Dec 2018, the alert was given.

The patient was placed in isolation on [Tue 25 Dec 2018], and on the morning of Wed 26 Dec 2018, his result from the laboratory came back positive [for Lassa fever]. Subsequently, the patient was isolated and put on treatment.

According to the details provided by Hounkpatin, there is no indication of travel [by the patient] to an epidemic locality of Lassa fever. According to the patient's statements, there is no known contact with rodents.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, the minister reassured the public that public health measures are underway. He also reminded people of the behaviours that will help avoid becoming infected. This involves washing hands regularly with soap and water; avoiding contact with stool, sperm, urine, saliva, vomit, and contaminated objects from a person suspected to be ill or dead from Lassa; and protecting food and keeping it in a safe place, out of reach of rodents.

It should be recalled that 7 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the epidemic to date, including 5 positive cases.
=======================
[One case is located in Cotonou on the Benin coast and apparently was locally acquired, perhaps from contact with the rodent host or its excrement. The location of the other 3 cases is not mentioned, but a 13 Dec 2018 report indicated that there were 3 cases in the municipality of Parakou in Borgou Department, in the northern part of Benin. Perhaps these 3 cases, which came from the village Taberou (in Nigeria), located 5 km [3.1 mi] from Tandou in the commune of Tchaourou, are the ones mentioned in this report.

The previous Lassa fever cases in Benin this year [2018] occurred in January and also involved case importation from Nigeria. A previous WHO report stated that Lassa fever is endemic in bordering Nigeria, and, given the frequent population movements between Nigeria and Benin, the occurrence of additional cases is not unexpected. Strengthening of cross-border collaboration and information exchange between the 2 countries is, therefore, needed. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
For _Mastomys natalensis_, see
For _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_, see

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2018 13:37:32 +0200

Cotonou, June 29, 2018 (AFP) - Benin's Constitutional Court has banned the right to strike by workers in the country's defence, security, justice and health sectors, sparking concern among union officials and legal observers.   The ruling, issued late on Thursday, came after months of wrangling between the government and the court, which had previously said the measure was unconstitutional.

"Civil servants, public security forces and equivalents should fulfil their duties in all circumstances and not exercise their right to strike," the court said in its new ruling.   "There should be no disruption to the duties of public sector defence, security, justice and health workers."   The decision was taken "in the public interest" and for "the protection of citizens", it said.

Speaking on Friday, one senior union leader, who asked to remain anonymous, described the ruling as shocking and a "hammer blow".   And Benin legal affairs expert Albert Medagbe told AFP the decision was a "worrying sudden legal U-turn".   Earlier this month, a close ally of President Patrice Talon, Joseph Djogbenou, was elected to lead the Constitutional Court during a vote held behind closed doors.   Djogbenou is Talon's former personal lawyer and was previously  Benin's attorney general.

Until his arrival, the court had strained relations with Talon, and had criticised the government for misunderstanding and failing to respect the constitution.   The small West African nation was last year hit by a wave of public sector strikes, which brought the education, health and justice system to a near halt.   The industrial action was sparked by Talon's attempts to introduce free-market reforms.
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:31:52 +0100

Cotonou, Feb 21, 2018 (AFP) - Nine people appeared in a Benin court Wednesday on charges of selling fake drugs at the start of a landmark trial in a regional campaign against illicit medicines.   The suspects, who include executives from major pharmaceutical companies operating in the West African nation, were remanded in custody until March 6 on technical grounds.   They are accused of "the sale of falsified medicines, (and) display, possession with a view to selling, commercialisation or sale of falsified medical substances."   A tenth defendant, the head of the Directorate for Pharmacies, Medications and Diagnostic Evaluation (DPMED) under the control of the ministry of health, was not in court on the trial's opening day.   He is accused of failing to prevent the offences.

Benin launched the crackdown last year after mounting alarm about the scale of the trafficking of expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa.   Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product.   Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or -- in the case of antibiotics -- worsen the problem of microbial resistance.   According to an investigation by the Paris-based International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), West African markets are awash with fake drugs made in China and India.

In 2015, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor-quality antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   A 15-nation regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), last April announced an investigation into the fake drugs business.   A lawyer for the civilian plaintiffs told AFP that the trial in Benin was adjourned until March 6 at their request "in order to incorporate another case, of illegal pharmaceutical practice".
More ...

Saint Lucia

St. Lucia US Consular Information Sheet
April 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
St. Lucia is an English-speaking, developing Caribbean island nation.
Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background No
es on St. Lucia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
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.
It is expected that the 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.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on the State Department 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.

CRIME:
In 2006, there were five reported incidents of U.S. citizen visitors to St. Lucia staying in boutique hotels in rural areas being robbed at gunpoint in their rooms; some of the victims were assaulted and one was raped.
In September 2007, a U.S. citizen was robbed in her room at a resort hotel near Castries by armed men.
While authorities detained suspects in some of the cases, no one has been prosecuted.
Efforts by the Saint Lucian authorities to improve public safety on the island are ongoing.
Visitors should inquire about their hotel’s security arrangements before making reservations.
Valuables left unattended on beaches and in rental cars are vulnerable to theft.
Visitors should use caution, especially at night and in lightly frequented areas.

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.
There are two public hospitals and one private hospital in St. Lucia, neither of which provide the same level of care found in an American hospital.
The main hospital is Victoria Hospital (Telephone (758) 452-2421).
There is no hyperbaric chamber; divers requiring treatment for decompression illness must be evacuated from the island.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

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

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

Vehicles travel on the left side of the road in St. Lucia.
Roads are reasonably well paved but poorly marked, narrow and winding, with steep inclines/declines throughout the island.
There are few guardrails in areas that have precipitous drop-offs from the road.
In spite of these conditions, drivers often travel at excessive speed, and accidents are common.
St. Lucia is served by privately owned and operated mini-buses, plying licensed designated routes.
While most of these services operate only on weekdays during daylight hours, some may operate at night and on weekends and holidays.
Taxis are available at generally reasonable rates, but tourists are vulnerable to being overcharged.
When using minibus or taxi services, travelers should agree to a fare ahead of time. When hiring a service at night, travelers should take precautions such as having their hotel call a reputable company for service.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.stlucia.org/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of St. Lucia’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of St. Lucia’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.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate on St. Lucia.
The U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados is responsible for consular issues on St. Lucia, including American citizen services.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available.
Please see 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 St. Lucia laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in St. Lucia 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.

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 St. Lucia 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. Lucia.
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 telephone number for the Consular Section 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.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for St. Lucia dated June 6, 2007, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 10 Aug 2019
Source: Coherent Magazine [abridged, edited]

Off the Caribbean islands, the measles-stricken cruise ship, reportedly owned by the Church of Scientology, has been quarantined. A female crew member has been confirmed as a measles case, causing the ship to quarantine since 29 Apr 2019. According to reports, over 300 passengers are on board. According to Church of Scientology's website, the vessel is 440 ft [134 m] long and named Freewinds; [the vessel] hosts religious retreats ministering the most advanced level of spiritual counselling in the Scientology religion. The ship has been quarantined in a port in the Caribbean Island's capital since the officials discovered infected patients.

St. Lucia's chief medical officer Dr. Merlene Fredicks-James said, "Because of the risk of potential infection, not just from the confirmed measles case but from other persons who may be on the boat at the time, we thought it prudent to make a decision not to allow anyone to disembark." St. Lucia was declared measles free since 2016, which means it has been free from local measles transmission as it was last reported in 1991. However, health officials, there is extremely [caution] over travellers importing highly infectious reporters.

"Due to the high intensity of international travel related to the large tourism sector, the Caribbean region remains at high risk for the importation of measles and rubella cases," said Dr. C. James Hospedales, executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency.

The measles outbreak is not restricted to St. Lucia; the World Health Organization, [in] April 2019, reported a 300% increase in global measles cases. Moreover, the US has currently 700 confirmed cases of measles in 2019, the highest number of cases since 1994. A lot of health officials around the world are blaming the hesitance toward the vaccination for this outbreak.

The major cause behind the measles outbreak is hesitance toward vaccination and misinformation spread about its efficacy.  [Byline: Sagar Jagtap]
Date: Fri, 3 May 2019 17:56:40 +0200

Castries, Saint Lucia, May 3, 2019 (AFP) - A cruise ship owned by the Church of Scientology that was quarantined in St Lucia for two days because of a measles case has left the Caribbean island and was headed toward Curacao on Friday, maritime tracking services said.   The Freewinds left the port capital Castries on Thursday at 11:15pm (0315 GMT Friday) and was cruising toward Willemstad in Curacao, a distance it previously covered in two days, according to myshiptracking.com and cruisin.me.

A spokeswoman for St Lucia's health ministry confirmed that the ship had left the island. The Church of Scientology says the 440-foot (134-meter) vessel is used for religious retreats and is normally based in Curacao.   The vessel had arrived in St Lucia from Curacao on Tuesday, when it was placed under quarantine by health authorities because of a measles patient -- a female crew member, according to Merlene Fredericks-James, St Lucia's chief medical officer.

Resurgence of the once-eradicated, highly-contagious disease is linked to the growing anti-vaccine movement in richer nations, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified as a major global health threat.   There were about 300 people aboard the ship, according to Saint Lucia authorities, which said they provided 100 doses of measles vaccine at no cost.   The church, founded by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard in 1953, did not respond to requests for comment.   Its teachings do not directly oppose vaccination, but followers consider illness a sign of personal failing and generally eschew medical interventions.
Date: Thu 2 May 2019
Source: Reuters [abridged, edited]

A cruise ship quarantined for a reported case of measles left the Caribbean island of St. Lucia late on Thu [2 May 2019] after health officials provided 100 doses of vaccine to the ship, media reports said.

The Church of Scientology cruise ship was confined in port this week by island health officials after the highly contagious disease was detected on board.

CNN reported the ship had left St. Lucia, and online ship traffic data showed that the vessel was underway and headed for the island of Curacao.

One case of measles had been confirmed on the ship docked in port near the capital of Castries since Tuesday [30 Apr 2019], Dr. Merlene Frederick-James, St. Lucia's chief medical officer, said in a video statement.

"The confirmed case as well as other crew members are presently stable, but remain under surveillance by the ship's doctor," she said, noting that the incubation period of measles is 10-12 days before symptoms appear.

NBC News reported that nearly 300 passengers and crew were aboard the vessel, with one female crew member diagnosed with measles.
========================
[Also see
- Rapp. Mary Marshall.

According to the church's website, Scientologists use prescription drugs and are treated by medical doctors, but the church has not expressed a specific position on vaccinations. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, the church said it "takes no position one way or the other on this issue," despite several high-profile celebrities in the church speaking out against vaccines. - Mod.LK]

Update on cruise ship:
Date: 4 May 2019
Source: USA Today [2019]

Authorities worry that people aboard the ship might have been exposed after a female crew member was diagnosed with measles after coming back from Europe.

Authorities in Curacao boarded a ship that arrived in the Dutch Caribbean island under quarantine, to start vaccinating people to prevent a measles outbreak.

Health officials said only those who already have been vaccinated or have previously had measles will be free to leave the 440-foot (134-meter) ship, Freewinds, which reportedly belongs to the Church of Scientology.

Curacao epidemiologist Dr. Izzy Gerstenbluth told The Associated Press that a small team is assessing more than 300 people aboard the ship, and that the process might take more than a day.
Date: Wed 1 Nov 2017
Source: St Lucia Times [edited]

The Ministry of Health and Wellness has noted a reported increase in the cases of leptospirosis. Though increases in the number cases of leptospirosis is not unusual after periods of heavy rains or flooding it, remains an issue of concern to health authorities.  Leptospirosis is a disease caused by a bacterium, which can be found in some animals, which include rats, cattle, pigs, horses, and dogs. Persons can become ill if they are in contact with urine, water, food, or soil through breaks in the skin, mouth, eyes, or nose.

Symptoms can range from a mild flu-like illness with high fever, chills, headache, muscle pains, red eye, sore throat, and occasionally rash, which may worsen with time. In the more severe phase the disease can affect the liver causing jaundice (which is dark urine and the yellowing of the white part of the eye and the skin), and anaemia. If left untreated the disease can affect organs such as the brain, kidneys, lungs, and other internal organs. In some instances this may result in death.

This condition can be treated effectively with antibiotics if diagnosed on time. Seeking medical care early when these symptoms are noticed can prevent the disease from worsening.

Persons at greatest risk of getting leptospirosis are farmers and agricultural workers, sanitation workers, and sewer workers. However, anyone exposed to rat contaminated water and soil is also at risk of contracting the disease. The Ministry of Health has an established Rodent Reduction Programme, which will be further enhanced to respond to the current increase in leptospirosis. The ministry will also be working with a number of agencies including Ministry of Agriculture, farmer organizations and local government in order to heighten awareness of the disease to persons most at risk of contracting the disease.

The Ministry of Health advises all to take the following measures to reduce the risk of becoming ill with leptospirosis: wear protective clothing, shoes, gloves to avoid coming into contact with contaminated surfaces, soil, water source, or food; avoid contact with surfaces and water sources that may be contaminated with rat urine; keep your home and surroundings free of garbage; avoid leaving food where rats can get to it; keep food in covered containers; cover opened wounds properly; and visit your nearest health facility if there is any suspicion you might have been exposed to leptospirosis.

For further information, please contact the acting National Epidemiologist, Dr Gemma Chery, at telephone numbers 468-5325 and 285-4773.
==================
[Saint Lucia, with a population of 165,595 residents in the 2010 census, is a sovereign island country in the Windward Island chain (Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada) that forms the eastern Caribbean Sea boundary with the Atlantic Ocean; the capital of St Lucia is Castries (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Lucia>).

A map of the island can be seen at
<http://www.geographicguide.com/america-maps/images/political-saint-lucia.jpg>.

The Windward Islands are the southern islands of the Lesser Antilles, within the West Indies, between the Leeward Islands to the north and Trinidad & Tobago to the south and west of Barbados.

A map of the Caribbean Islands can be found at
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windward_Islands#/media/File:Caribbean_general_map.png>.

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic spirochetal infection that occurs worldwide and is transmitted to humans by exposure to soil or fresh water contaminated with the urine of wild and domestic animals (including dogs, cattle, swine, and especially rodents) that are chronically infected with pathogenic _Leptospira_. _Leptospira_ may survive in contaminated fresh water or moist soil for weeks to months. Outbreaks of leptospirosis frequently follow heavy rainfall, flooding with fresh water, and increasing rodent numbers.

Hurricane Maria reached Category 5 strength on 18 Sep 2017 upon making landfall on Dominica, 172 km (107 mi) to the north of St Lucia, compounding recovery efforts in the areas of the Leeward Islands already struck by Hurricane Irma just 2 weeks prior (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Maria>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
1 Sep 2014: (SNO )
A ProMED-mail post
<http://www.promedmail.org>

The Ministry of Health has activated an EVD medical team at the Hewanorra International Airport. ...
Reports are that the officials at the airport were planning a protest on Sat [30 Aug 2014] since there was no medical team in place to deal with an international flight that had African nationals who could be possible EVD victims. ...
<http://www.stlucianewsonline.com/ebola-medical-team-activated-at-hewanorra-international/#sthash.DvfoxQER.dpuf>
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Christmas Island

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2006 17:41:31 +0200 (METDST) SYDNEY, Sept 19, 2006 (AFP) - A large earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 6.1 struck Tuesday near the Australian territory of Christmas Island, the US Geological Survey said. The quake struck at 20:58 local time (1358 GMT) and its epicentre was located 191 kilometres (119 miles) east-northeast of Christmas Island, the USGS report said. The reading was based on the open-ended Moment Magnitude scale, now used by US seismologists, which measures the area of the fault that ruptured and the total energy released.
27 Aug 2001 A NORWEGIAN ship carrying 438 sick and starving refugees was moored in limbo off Christmas Island last night, with John Howard refusing to allow them to disembark and Indonesia reluctant to let them berth anywhere in its territory. http://email.ni.com.au/Click?q=96-pjPWQtdfI9qzkLcbUQgkSoeR
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Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea US Consular Information Sheet
March 02, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Equatorial Guinea is an oil-rich, developing country on the western coast of central Africa.
Its capital and main port, Malabo, is located on the isla
d of Bioko, off the coast of Cameroon.
A secondary port, Luba, is also on Bioko.
The mainland territory of Equatorial Guinea is bordered by Cameroon and Gabon.
The principal city on the mainland is Bata.
Facilities for tourism are limited but growing.
Official languages are Spanish, which is widely spoken, and French, which is not widely understood, but sometimes used in business dealings.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Equatorial Guinea for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and evidence of a yellow fever vaccination are required to enter Equatorial Guinea.
Visas are not required for U.S. citizens unless the traveler will be there for an extended stay or is intending to work there.
U.S. citizens entering without a visa but staying longer than 90 days should register with the local police station.

Private vessels landing in an Equato-Guinean port must get clearance prior to approaching the shore.
Travelers should obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, 2020 16th Street NW, Washington, DC
20009, telephone (202) 518-5700, fax (202) 518-5252.

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:
Although large public demonstrations are uncommon, U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations.

In February 2009, approximately 50 gunmen arriving by speedboats attacked government buildings in Malabo but were repelled by Equato Guinean military and police.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Violent crime is rare and the overall level of criminal activity is low in comparison to other countries in the region.
However, there has been a rise in non-violent street crime and residential burglaries.
Travelers should exercise prudence and normal caution, including avoiding dark alleys, remote locations, and traveling alone.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the U.S. Embassy in Malabo at (240) 098895; Embassy personnel will assist in contacting the local police.
If you are the victim of a crime while in Equatorial Guinea, please remember to report the incident to local police, and contact the U.S. Embassy in Malabo for assistance.
The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you in finding 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, the consular officer can help you understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

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 Equato-Guinean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Equatorial Guinea are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
It is not uncommon for a uniformed member of the security forces to stop motorists on the pretext of minor or nonexistent violations of the local motor vehicle regulations in order to extort small bribes.
Visitors are advised not to pay bribes, and to request that the officer provide a citation to be paid at the local court.
If visitors encounter any of these problems they should contact the Embassy Consular Officer at 516008 and inform him/her of the situation.

Equatorial Guinea has a strictly cash economy.
Credit cards and checks are not accepted; credit card cash advances are not available and there are no ATMs.
In addition, most local businesses do not accept travelers' checks, dollars or euros.
However, dollars can be changed at local banks for CFA.
Cash in CFA is usually the only form of payment accepted throughout the country.

Special permits from the Ministry of Information and Tourism (or from the local delegation if outside Malabo) are required for virtually all types of photography.
Police or security officials may charge a fine, attempt to take a violator into custody, or seize the camera and film of persons photographing the Presidential Palace and its environs, military installations, airports, harbors, government buildings, and other areas.

Travelers are advised that the possession of camouflage-patterned clothing, large knives, binoculars, firearms, or a variety of other items may be deemed suspicious by the security forces and grounds for confiscation of the item and detention of the carrier.
Please see our Customs Information sheet.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are extremely limited. Pharmacies in Malabo and Bata stock basic medicines including antibiotics, but cannot be counted on to supply advanced medications. Outside of these cities, many medicines are unavailable. Travelers are advised to carry any special medication that they require. The sanitation levels in even the best hospitals are very low though the new Israeli-built and staffed La Paz Hospital in Bata approaches European standards of sanitation and is reported by Red Cross officials to be the best in the region. Doctors and hospitals often require immediate payment for health services, and patients are often expected to supply their own bandages, linen and toiletries.
The Malabo hospital is likewise undergoing a complete update, with expected completion in late 2009.

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. The national government, along with U.S. oil companies in the country, has taken aggressive steps to control the mosquito population and limit the impact of malaria on the population centers in Malabo and Bata.
Plasmodium falciparum malaria, the type that predominates in Equatorial Guinea, is resistant to the anti-malarial drug chloroquine. Because travelers to the country are at high risk for contracting malaria, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that travelers should take one of the following anti-malarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam™), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™). Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what anti-malarials they have been taking.
Visit the CDC travelers’ health page for additional information on malaria, including protective measures.

There are periodic outbreaks of cholera in Equatorial Guinea. Yellow fever can cause serious medical problems, but the vaccine, required for entry, is very effective in preventing the disease.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Equatorial Guinea.

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.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site.
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.

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.
Hospitals, clinics, and other businesses and hotels do not accept credit cards.
If there are any concerns that travelers may need medical care or assistance while in Equatorial Guinea, they should make arrangements to have access to enough cash to cover possible expenses.
There are companies such as Western Union where international money orders can be arranged and cash obtained.
There are no ATM machines in the country (See SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES Section above).
You can see more 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 Equatorial Guinea is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Generally, Equatorial Guinea's road networks are underdeveloped.
There are few road and traffic signs, though more signs are becoming evident.
Livestock and pedestrians create constant road hazards.
During the rainy season, many roads are passable only with four-wheel-drive vehicles.
However, new road construction and repair is taking place all over the country and road conditions have improved markedly over the course of the past year.
If you plan on staying and driving around the country for any length of time you should attempt to purchase a cell phone for assistance in case of an emergency.

Travelers outside the limits of Malabo and Bata may expect to encounter occasional military roadblocks.
Travelers should be prepared to show proper identification (for example, a U.S. passport) and to explain their reason for being at that particular location.
The personnel staffing these checkpoints normally do not speak or understand English or French; travelers who do not speak Spanish would do well to have their reason for being in the country and their itinerary written down in Spanish before venturing into the countryside.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Equatorial Guinea, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Equatorial Guinea’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site.

Commercial air travel to and from Equatorial Guinea can be difficult.
Malabo is served by European airlines a few times per week.
The island of Bioko and the African mainland are connected by several small local airlines offering daily service.
Schedules are subject to change or cancellation without notice; flights are often overbooked and reservations may not guarantee seats.

Malabo Airport has navigational aids and can accommodate night landings.
There are no navigational aids at Bata Airport.
Special clearances are required to land in or overfly Equatorial Guinea territory.

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 Equatorial Guinea are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Malabo through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Equatorial Guinea.
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 in Malabo to contact them in case of emergency.

The United States reopened its Embassy in Malabo in October 2003.
However, due to reduced staffing, it can offer only limited services to U.S. citizens in distress.
The U.S. Embassy in Malabo can be contacted at (240) 098-895.
Additional services are provided through the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon, located on Avenue Rosa Parks in the Mbankolo Quartier, adjacent to the Mount Febe Golf Club; mailing address P.O. Box 817; embassy tel. (237) 2220-1500, fax: (237) 2220-1572.
The Embassy Branch Office in Douala, Cameroon, is located on Rue Flatters, in the Citibank Building, tel.: (237) 3342-53-31, fax: (237) 3342-77-90.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Equatorial Guinea, dated November 15, 2007, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Special Circumstances, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Medical Insurance, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 23:16:11 +0100 (MET)

Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Firefighters battled to bring a blaze at Malabo's cathedral under control on Wednesday, as flames engulfed parts of the historic building, considered the most important Christian church in Equatorial Guinea.     Dozens of people gathered in silence near the cathedral in the early evening as the fire service sprayed water jets onto the century-old structure.

It was not immediately known whether anyone was hurt in the fire, in which huge flames consumed part of the facade of the building.       "We have just extinguished the fire, it's finished. The roof is gone, it is a catastrophe," firefighter Alfredo Abeso told AFP.   Another firefighter at the scene said: "The whole roof is gone, the interior is burned."   The cause of the fire is not known but the cathedral has been closed to the public since January 7 for restoration work.    Built in a neo-gothic style between 1897 and 1916, the cathedral is one of the central African country's main tourist attractions.

The blaze brought comparisons to the devastating fire that ravaged the 13th century Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris in April 2019.     The French Embassy in Malabo said the fire was a "cruel reminder" of the fire at Notre Dame.    "We share the emotion of our friends in Malabo and Equatorial Guinea and hope that the fire can be brought under control quickly," it said on Twitter.      Paris engineers are still working to stabilise the 13th century cathedral in the French capital after fire tore through its roof and dramatically toppled its spire last year.
Date: Sun, 26 May 2019 06:31:33 +0200
By Camille MALPLAT

Sipopo, Equatorial Guinea, May 26, 2019 (AFP) - Gleaming but eerily empty, the luxurious Sipopo resort with its five-star hotel and exclusive facilities rises from a tropical beach, symbolising the dilemma of Equatorial Guinea -- a notoriously closed country that has turned to tourism to help fill its coffers.  The purpose-built town was carved out of an ancient forest in 2011 at a cost of 600 million euros ($670 million), initially to host a week-long African Union summit and showcase the rise of the tiny oil-rich state.   A 16-kilometre (10-mile) drive from Equatorial Guinea's capital Malabo, the resort boasts a vast conference centre, the Sofitel Malabo Sipopo Le Golf hotel, as well as 52 luxury villas -- one for every head of state to attend the summit -- each with its own swimming pool.    There is also an 18-hole golf course, several restaurants and exclusive beaches guarded by police.

For almost a decade, Sipopo has been the crown jewel in a strategy to lure high-end visitors to Equatorial Guinea to diversify an economy badly hit by a slump in oil revenue.   But the town, visited by an AFP reporter two months ago, seemed quite empty -- an impression strengthened by conversations with people who live or who work there.   "It's depressing, there's no-one," said a visiting Gabonese consultant.   A worker, who asked not to be named, said the complex was quiet year-round: "You can hear the sound of your own footsteps."   The occasional visitors tend to be well connected, rich and in search of privacy, the sources said.    Many are guests of a government described by Human Rights Watch as corrupt and repressive.    One of the villas, according to the sources, was occupied by former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh after he fled his country in 2017.

- Empty lobby -
At Easter, the 200-room hotel's guests included a Spanish couple on honeymoon, a few families and some businessmen, who were all foreigners.   In the echoing lobby, a huge black and white portrait of the country's 76-year-old authoritarian president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema -- Africa's longest-serving ruler -- hung on the wall, watching over the vacant reception area.   A 1.5-kilometre (nearly mile-long) beach -- an artificial shore secluded from curious eyes -- was virtually deserted, in contrast to a public beach near the capital. The three-lane highway leading from Malabo to Sipopo was mostly empty of traffic.   A hospital was added after the villas were built, but is unused, the sources said.   In 2014, a mall was built at the resort to house 50 shops, a bowling alley, two cinemas and a children's play area.   But a hotel receptionist said the complex was not open yet, adding: "If you want to buy a souvenir, you will have to go to Malabo." At night-time, shiny limousines arrived at a luxury restaurant to drop off diners.

- Tourism hopes -
Located on the mid-Atlantic coast of central Africa, Equatorial Guinea has flooded social media with messages of its allure as a holiday destination.   Plans to build a new passenger terminal at the airport in Bata city have also just received a 120-million-euro ($133-million) injection from the Development Bank of Central African States.   Figures for visitors are unavailable, and the tourism ministry in Malabo did not respond to AFP's requests for information. In the latest global compilation of figures posted by the World Bank, the number of tourists for Equatorial Guinea has been left blank.   But much of the tourism in evidence are business people, such as oil company workers, relaxing for a few days, or attending energy or economic conferences. 

A few travel firms offer trips tailor-made for both luxury and adventure, but they also allude to the difficulties, notably of being allowed to enter the country.   "The country has been a mystery to outsiders, who were discouraged from entering by a difficult visa process and a lack of tourism infrastructure," says the website of British tour operator Undiscovered Destinations.   The firm claimed, however, that "things are changing fast... with an excellent road network and numerous hotels springing up seemingly overnight."   Few Equatoguineans have the chance of staying in such places. At Sipopo's hotel, a basic room costs the equivalent of more than 200 euros ($224) a night, while exclusive accommodation tops 850 euros.   The discovery of vast oil reserves off the coast in the mid-1990s has boosted the country's gross national income to a theoretical annual $19,500 per person per year, according to the UN Development Programme.   But that wealth benefits a small elite among the country's 1.2 million inhabitants. More than two-thirds of Equatoguineans live below the poverty line, and 55 percent of the population aged over 15 are unemployed.
Date: Wed 14 Jan 2015
Source: Eye Witness News [edited]

The Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finally gets underway on Sat [17 Jan 2015] after a controversial build-up to the 30th edition, which included a hasty late switch of hosts to Equatorial Guinea in the wake of concerns over the Ebola virus.

16 nations again line up for the biennial continental championship, seeking Africa's top sporting prize at the tournament, which starts on Sat [17 Jan 2015] and finishes on 8 Feb [2015].

Few previous editions have had such a dramatic backdrop, with the hosting of the 2015 finals being switched 2 months ago after Morocco asked for a postponement in the wake of the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa. That request precipitated a crisis that left the tournament having to be organised almost from scratch in a few weeks.

Fears that travelling fans could spread Ebola and damage Morocco's tourist industry were seen as alarmist by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), who rejected the request and then stripped Morocco of their hosting rights.

>From a country with plentiful resources, who have previously bid to host the World Cup, Afcon is now being played in one of Africa's smallest and most enigmatic countries.

Equatorial Guinea is a family-ruled former Spanish colony which has newfound oil wealth and is reveling in rescuing the continent's most eagerly anticipated sporting event. ... - more
Date: Thu 17 Apr 2014
Source: WHO Global Alert and Response [edited]

Update on polio in central Africa -- polio confirmed in Equatorial Guinea, linked to outbreak in Cameroon
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In Equatorial Guinea, 3 new wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) cases have been reported, the 1st polio in the country since 1999. Genetic sequencing indicates these cases are linked to an on-going WPV1 outbreak in Cameroon which has subsequently been detected in Equatorial Guinea. The cases had onset of paralysis on [28 Jan 2014], [19 Jan 2014] and [24 Mar 2014], from Centro Sur, Bioko Norte and Litoral. Outbreak response in Equatorial Guinea is currently being planned, including National Immunization Days (NIDs) with bivalent oral polio vaccine (OPV) on [21-24 Apr 2014]. An estimated 40 percent of children are fully immunized against polio in the country.

On [17 Mar 2014], the World Health Organization (WHO) had elevated the risk assessment of international spread of polio from Cameroon to 'very high' (http://www.who.int/csr/don/2014_03_17_polio/en/). The risk assessment was elevated due to: confirmation of 3 additional WPV1 cases (with onset of paralysis on [6, 25 and 31 Jan 2014]) from 3 new regions of Cameroon, confirming continued WPV transmission and geographic expansion of infected areas following detection of 4 cases in October 2013; gaps in surveillance; and, influx of vulnerable refugee populations from Central African Republic. The confirmation of new cases in Cameroon resulted in planning additional emergency outbreak response activities, including converting a subnational immunization campaign to a full nationwide activity on [11-13 Apr 2014], and implementing nationwide campaigns in May and June 2014. Critical to success will be to ensure substantial improvement in the quality of immunization campaigns that reach all children multiple times with OPV. Equally important will be efforts to rapidly improve the quality of surveillance so that the full extent of the outbreak can be determined and tracked.

Immunity levels and surveillance sensitivity are also being assessed in neighbouring countries, in particular in Gabon and the Republic of Congo. In Gabon, a nationwide immunization campaign is planned for [22-26 Apr 2014] (targeting all children aged less than 15 years), and in the Republic of Congo, a nationwide activity will be conducted on 1 May 2014.

It is important that all countries, in particular those with frequent travel and contacts with polio-affected countries and areas, strengthen surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) cases in order to rapidly detect any new virus importations and to facilitate a rapid response. Countries, territories and areas should also maintain uniformly high routine immunization coverage at the district level to minimize the consequences of any new virus introduction.

WHO's International Travel and Health (http://www.who.int/ith/chapters/en/) recommends that all travellers to and from polio-affected areas be fully vaccinated against polio.
Date: Sat 23 June 2012
Source: Guinea Equatorial [in Spanish, trans. ProMed Mod.JG, edited]

After the last measles vaccination campaign that took place last April 2012, a new outbreak of the disease has been reported in some communities in Malabo district, and for this reason, the Ministry of Health initiated a new vaccination campaign [Malabo is the capital of Equatorial Guinea, located on the northern coast of Bioko Island. - ProMed Mod.CP].

Activities started last Thursday, with the cooperation of the National Vaccination Programme (PAV, according to its Spanish initials). The campaign will concentrate its activities in the most severely affected communities, such as Santa Maria III, Lampert and Sunco.

Some medical officers gathered in Madre Bisila Health Centre in order to organise local vaccination units and to deal with mothers who brought their children to the Health Centre in order to have them vaccinated. Vaccine will be dispensed throughout the next 10 days, and subsequently, the vaccination campaign will continue in the Continental region of Equatorial Guinea.

Local officials from the Ministry of Health are inviting the population, particularly mothers, to bring their children to local health centres or to bring their children to mobile vaccination units when these teams arrive to their communities.
=====================
[According to La Voz de Rusia (<http://spanish.ruvr.ru/2012_06_22/Guinea-epidemia-sarampion/>), the last major measles epidemic in the country occurred in November 2008, when more than a dozen children died in various hospitals in Equatorial Guinea. No fatalities have been reported in the current outbreak so far.

Equatorial Guinea, officially the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, is a country located in central Africa. It has 2 parts: a Continental Region (Rio Muni), including several small offshore islands including Corisco, Elobey Grande and Elobey Chico; and an insular region containing Annobon island and Bioko island (formerly Fernando Po), where the capital Malabo is situated. A map of Equatorial Guinea can be accessed at: <http://www.africa.upenn.edu/CIA_Maps/Equatorial_Guinea_19871.gif>. - ProMed Mod.CP]

[The ProMED HealthMap for Equatorial Guinea can be found at
<http://healthmap.org/r/1KlO>.]
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France

France and Monaco US Consular Information Sheet
December 22, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
France is a developed and stable democracy with a modern economy.
Monaco is a developed constitutional monarchy.
Tourist facilities are widely
available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on France and Monaco for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
France is party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter France for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
A passport is required and should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
Anyone intending to stay more than 90 days must obtain the appropriate visa issued by one of the French Consulates in the U.S., prior to departure for France.
This also applies to anyone considering marriage in France.
For further information about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet.
A passport is required to enter Monaco. A visa is not required for tourist/business stays up to 90 days in Monaco.
For further information concerning entry requirements for France, travelers may contact the Embassy of France at 4101 Reservoir Road NW, Washington, DC
20007, tel. (202) 944-6000, email: info@ambafrance-us.org, or the French Consulates General in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, or San Francisco.

For further information on entry requirements to Monaco, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Principality of Monaco. 2314 Wyoming Avenue, NW Washington, DC
20008, Tel: 202-234-1530, email: embassy@monaco-usa.org, or the Consulate General of Monaco, 565 Fifth Avenue – 23rd floor, New York, NY 10017, tel.: 212-286-0500, email: info@monaco-consulate.com.
For more information, visit the Embassy of France web site at www.consulfrance-washington.org or the Embassy of the Principality of Monaco web site at http://www.monaco-usa.org for the most current visa information.

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:
The Government of France maintains a threat rating system, known locally as “Vigipirate,” similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory System.
Under this plan, in times of heightened security concerns, the government augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations.
Over the last few years, there have been numerous arrests of suspected Islamic militants involved in various terrorist plots.
As with other countries in the Schengen area, France maintains open borders with its European neighbors, allowing the possibility of terrorist operatives entering/exiting the country with anonymity.

Political assassinations and bombings have occurred in France.
The National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC), as part of its decades-long bombing campaign on the island of Corsica, continues to conduct limited operations in the south of France and on Corsica.
In the 1990s there was a wave of bombings and attacks in Paris carried out by Algerian terrorists.
Today, numerous radical Islamic groups claim sympathizers within France’s large immigrant community, as evidenced by arrests over the last few years.

Although Americans have not been specifically targeted in terrorist attacks in France within the past few years, travelers should maintain vigilance.
Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places or any other suspicious activities. French law enforcement authorities are proactive and will respond immediately.
If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.

Although violent civil disorder is rare in France, in the past, student demonstrations, labor protests, and other types of demonstrations have developed into violent confrontations between demonstrators and police.
This was the case in March/April 2006, when a series of large demonstrations took place in central Paris. Several weeks of unrest occurred in the suburbs of Paris, as well as in other French cities and towns, in November 2005.
Neither of these periods of disorder exhibited any anti-U.S. sentiment, but it is important to remember that even a passer-by can be harmed should demonstrations devolve into violence.
Americans are advised to avoid street demonstrations, particularly if riot police are on the scene.

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, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, please see A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
While both France and Monaco have relatively low rates of violent crime, a limited number of neighborhoods in the larger French cities merit extra caution.
Additionally, although the overall crime rate has fallen slightly in recent years, the violent crime rate has increased.
Thieves commonly target vehicles with non-local license plates, and work in or near tourist attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, hotels, beaches, trains, train stations, airports, and subways.
Americans in France and Monaco should be particularly alert to pickpockets in train stations and subways.
Travelers should keep photocopies of travel documents and credit cards separate from the originals, along with key telephone numbers to contact banks for credit card replacement.

Although thieves may operate anywhere, the U.S. Embassy in Paris receives frequent reports of theft from several areas in particular:
Paris: The Paris Police Prefecture published a pamphlet entitled “Paris in Complete Safety,” which provides practical advice and useful telephone numbers for visitors and can be accessed at http://www.prefecture-police-paris.interieur.gouv.fr/prevention/article/paris_securite_anglais.htm. Thieves operate on the rail link (RER) from Charles de Gaulle Airport to downtown Paris, where they prey on jet-lagged, luggage-burdened tourists.
In one common ruse, a thief distracts a tourist with a question about directions while an accomplice steals a momentarily unguarded backpack, briefcase, or purse.
Thieves also time their thefts to coincide with train stops so they may quickly exit the car just before the automatic doors close.
Travelers should consider taking an airport shuttle bus or taxi from the airport into the city.
Reports of stolen purses, briefcases, and carry-on bags at Charles de Gaulle Airport are not uncommon.
Travelers should monitor their bags at all times and never leave them unattended.
As thieves commonly target laptop bags, travelers should avoid carrying passports and other valuables in computer bags.
Another common method involves picking up a traveler’s shoulder bag that has been placed on the floor while the traveler is busy at the ticket counter. Also be aware that unattended bags are subject to destruction by airport security.

There are reports of robberies in which thieves on motorcycles reach into a moving car by opening the car door or accessing an open window or even breaking the window to steal purses and other bags visible inside.
The same technique is used against pedestrians walking with purses/bags/cameras slung over their street-side shoulder.
Those traveling by car should remember to keep the windows up and the doors locked and items that may be attractive to thieves out of sight.
Pedestrians are encouraged to remain aware of their surroundings at all times, and to keep bags slung across the body, with the bag hanging away from the street.

Many thefts occur on the Number One Subway Line, which runs through the center of Paris by many major tourist attractions (including the Grand Arch at La Défense, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysées, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, and the Bastille).
Pickpockets are especially active on this metro line during the summer months and use a number of techniques.
The most common, and unfortunately the most successful, is the simple “bump and snatch,” where an individual bumps into the tourist while at the same time reaching into the pockets/purse/bag.
Visitors should be particularly careful when metro doors are closing, as this is a favored moment for the less-sophisticated pickpockets to simply grab valuables and jump through the closing doors, leaving the victim helplessly watching as the thief flees.
Visitors are encouraged NOT to confront thieves aggressively; they often operate in groups and may become violent if cornered.
Simply drawing attention to an attempted theft will most likely stop the operation, and result in a tactical withdrawal by the thief.

Gare du Nord train station, where the express trains from the airport arrive in Paris, is also a high-risk area for pocket-picking and theft.
Travelers should also beware of thefts that occur on both overnight and day trains, especially on trains originating in Spain, Italy, and Belgium.
These involve the theft of valuables while passengers are sleeping, or when the bags are left unattended.

In hotels, thieves target lobbies and breakfast rooms, and take advantage of a minute of inattention to snatch jackets, purses, and backpacks.
While many hotels do have safety latches that allow guests to secure their rooms from inside, this feature is not as universal as it is in the United States.
If no chain or latch is present, a chair placed up against the door and wedged under the handle is usually an effective obstacle to surreptitious entry during the night.
There are, however, reports of thieves breaking into hotel rooms on lower floors through open windows while the occupants are sleeping.
To guard against this, hotel room windows should be kept locked at all times. Whenever possible, valuables should be kept in the hotel safe.

Many Americans report thefts occurring in restaurants and nightclubs/bars, where purses are stolen from the back of a chair or from under the table.
Again, keep valuables on your person and do not leave them unattended or out of sight.
Thefts also occur at the major department stores such as Galeries Lafayette and Printemps where tourists often place wallets, passports, and credit cards on cashier counters during transactions.

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are very common in France and provide ready access to cash, allowing travelers to carry as much money as they need for each day.
The rates are competitive with local exchange bureaus, and an ATM transaction is easier than cashing a traveler’s check.
However, crime involving ATMs is increasing.
Travelers should not use ATMs in isolated, unlit areas or where loiterers are present.
Travelers should be especially aware of persons standing close enough to see the Personal Identification Number (PIN) being entered into the machine.
Thieves often conduct successful scams by simply observing the PIN as it is entered and then stealing the card from the user in some other location.
If the card becomes stuck, travelers should immediately report it to the bank where the machine is located.

Large criminal operations in Paris involving the use of ATMs that “eat” the user’s ATM card have been reported.
This most often happens during a weekend or at night when the bank is closed.
The frustrated traveler often walks away after unsuccessfully trying to retrieve the card, with plans to return the first day the bank is open.
In such cases, a criminal gang has modified the machine using an add-on device equipped with a microchip that records the user’s PIN when it is typed in, and also prevents the card from being ejected.
The criminal retrieves the card from the device once the visitor departs, downloads the recorded PIN and then goes to other ATMs and withdraws as much cash as possible.
ATM users are strongly encouraged to carry a 24-hour emergency number for their ATM card and bank account that will enable the immediate prevention of withdrawals from the account if difficulties occur.

Pigalle is the “adult entertainment district” of Paris.
Many entertainment establishments in this area engage in aggressive marketing and charge well beyond the normal rate for drinks.
Reports of threats of violence to coerce patrons into paying exorbitant beverage tabs are not uncommon.
There have also been several violent confrontations between rival gangs in the district, including one in August 2007 one block from the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret.
Visitors are encouraged to avoid this area unless touring with a well-organized and reputable tour company.

Normandy:
There has been an increase in break-ins and thefts from vehicles in the parking lots at the Normandy beaches and American cemeteries common.
Valuables should not be left unattended in a car, and locking valuables in the trunk should not be considered a safeguard.
Thieves often pry open car trunks to steal bags inside.

Southern France: Thefts from cars with unlocked doors or open windows stopped at red lights or caught in slow traffic are very common, particularly along the Riviera of the Nice-Antibes-Cannes area, and in Marseille.
Car doors should be kept locked and windows raised at all times to prevent incidents of "snatch-and-grab" thefts.
In this type of scenario, the thief is usually a passenger on a motorcycle. Break-ins of parked cars are also fairly common.
Valuables should not be left in the car, not even in the trunk, when the vehicle is unattended.

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, to 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.
Under French law, compensation is available to victims of crime committed on French soil under certain circumstances. To learn about resources in the U.S., including possible compensation, see our information on Victims of Crime
The local equivalents to the “911” emergency line in France are as follows: 17 (police emergency), 18 (fire department) and 15 (emergency medical/paramedic team/ambulance).
In Monaco, the numbers are 17 (police emergency), 18 (fire department) and 9375-2525 (medical/paramedic team/ambulance).

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care comparable to that found in the United States is widely available. In France, the phone number for emergency medical services is 15.
In Monaco, the phone number for emergency medical services is 9375-2525.

The U.S. State Department is unaware of any HIV/AIDS related entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of France.
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 (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
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 France and Monaco is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Roads in France are generally comparable to those in the United States, but traffic engineering and driving habits pose special dangers.
Usually, lane markings and sign placements are not as clear as in the United States.
Drivers should be prepared to make last-minute maneuvers, as most French drivers do.
The French typically drive more aggressively and faster than Americans, and tend to exceed posted speed limits.
Right-of-way rules in France may differ from those in the United States.
Drivers entering intersections from the right have priority over those on the left (unless specifically indicated otherwise), even when entering relatively large boulevards from small side streets.
Many intersections in France are being replaced by traffic circles, where the right-of-way belongs to drivers in the circle.

On major highways, service stations are situated at least every 25 miles.
Service stations are not as plentiful on secondary roads in France as they are in the United States.
Paris, the capital and largest city in France, has an extensive and efficient public transportation system.
The interconnecting system of buses, subways, and commuter rails serves more than 4 million people a day with a safety record comparable to or better than the systems of major American cities.
Similar transportation systems are found in all major French cities. Between cities, France is served by an equally extensive rail service, which is reliable.
High-speed rail links connect the major cities in France. Many cities are also served by frequent air service.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the French and Monegasque National Tourist Office at http://us.franceguide.com/.
The website contains specific information concerning French and Monegasque driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of France's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of France'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
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
French and Monegasque customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from France of items such as firearms, antiquities, medications, business equipment, sales samples, and other items.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of France in Washington, DC, one of France's consulates in the United States, or the Consulate General of Monaco in New York for specific information regarding customs requirements.
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 French or Monegasque laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in France or Monaco 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 AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS:
Americans living or traveling in France or Monaco are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so they can obtain updated information on travel and security within France and Monaco.
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 cases of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy/Consular Section in Paris is located at 4 avenue Gabriel, 75008 Paris (Place de La Concorde, métro stop Concorde), telephone: in country 01-43-12-22-22; from the U.S. 011-33-1-43-12-22-22 (24 hours); fax for Passport Services in country 01-42-96-28-39; from the U.S. 011-33-1-42-96-28-39; for Special Consular Services (emergencies) fax: in country 01-42-61-61-40; from the U.S. 011-33-1-42-61-61-40. Further information can be obtained at the U.S. Embassy's web site at http://france.usembassy.gov/
The Consulate General in Marseille is located at Place Varian Fry, 13006 Marseille, telephone: in country 04-91-54-92-00; from the U.S. 011-33-4-91-54-92-00 (24 hours); Consular Section fax: in country 04-91-55-56-95 and main fax 04-91-55-09-47; Consular Section fax from the U.S. 011-33-4-91-55-56-95, and main fax from the U.S. 011-33-4-91-55-09-47.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/marseille.html.

The Consulate General in Strasbourg is located at 15 Avenue d'Alsace, 67082 Strasbourg, telephone: in country 03-88-35-31-04; from the U.S. 011-33-3-88-35-31-04; fax: in country 03-88-24-06-95; from the U.S. 011-33-3-88-24-06-95.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/strasbourg.html.

The Consulate General in Strasbourg does not produce passports on the premises.
American citizens in this area whose passports are lost or stolen and have urgent travel needs should contact the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

The U.S. Government also has consular representation in Bordeaux, Lyon, Rennes, Nice and Toulouse that provide limited services to Americans, by appointment only.

The American Presence Posts in Bordeaux, Lyon and Rennes do not produce passports on the premises.
American citizens in this area whose passports are lost or stolen and have urgent travel needs should contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

The American Presence Post in Toulouse and the Consular Agency in Nice do not produce passports on the premises.
American citizens in this area whose passports are lost or stolen and have urgent travel needs should contact the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille.

The American Presence Post in Bordeaux is located at 10 place de la Bourse, 33076 Bordeaux (entry on 1 rue Fernand Philippart); telephone: in country 05-56-48-63-80; from the U.S. 011-33-5-56-48-63-80; fax: in country 05-56-51-61-97; from the U.S. 011-33-5-56-51-61-97.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/bordeaux.html
The American Presence Post in Lyon is located at 1, quai Jules Courmont, 69002 Lyon; telephone: in country 04-78-38-33-03; from the U.S. 011-33-4-78-38-33-03; fax: in country 04-72-41-71-81; from the U.S. 011-33-4-72-41-71-81.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/lyon.html
The American Presence Post in Rennes is located at 30, quai Duguay Trouin, 35000 Rennes; telephone: in country 02-23-44-09-60; from the U.S. 011-33-2-23-44-09-60; fax: in country 02-99-35-00-92; from the U.S. 011-33-2-99-35-00-92.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/rennes.html
The American Presence Post in Toulouse is located at 25, Allée Jean Jaures, 31000 Toulouse; telephone: in country 05-34-41-36-50; from the U.S. 011-33-5-34-41-36-50; fax: in country 05-34-41-16-19; from the U.S. 011-33-5-34-41-16-19. Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/toulouse.html
The Consular Agency in Nice is located at 7, Avenue Gustave V, 3rd floor, 06000 Nice, telephone: in country 04-93-88-89-55; from the U.S.
011-33-4-93-88-89-55; fax: in country 04-93-87-07-38; from the U.S. 011-33-4-93-87-07-38. Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/nice.html
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for France and Monaco dated May 5, 2008, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety & Security, Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Children’s Issues and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 21:01:10 +0100 (MET)

Paris, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - The French government launched a campaign Thursday, complete with emergency number, to combat an influx of unwelcome visitors that have left Parisians in despair: bedbugs that have settled in homes and hotels to feed uninvited on human blood.

After disappearing from France in the 1950s, the infuriating insects have made a resurgence, according to the ministry of housing, which cited international travel and growing resistance to insecticide as the main causes.   "We can all be affected," the government warned on a webpage dedicated to the parasitic problem, complete with advice on how to prevent and treat an infestation, and a number to call for expert help.   The common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, is found in temperate climates in
the United States and parts of Europe.

The six-legged pest posed only a minor nuisance after World War II because of the widespread use of insecticides such as DDT. But the banning of such potent poisons, because they were too dangerous, hailed a bed bug revival.   By the late 1990s, the critters were thriving in New York and a 2010 outbreak saw them invade high-end apartment buildings, hotels, even clothing stores like lingerie outlet Victoria's Secret.   There has also been an explosion of bed bugs in Paris.   The tiny invaders cost billions of dollars annually in extermination by businesses and homeowners.

- 400,000 addresses -
In 2016, a study found that the reclusive, flightless creatures had become resistant to pesticides, further aiding their global conquest.   Another study the following year said the insects sought out human scents and snuggled up in worn clothes before tagging along home, explaining their meteoric spread around the world.   They hide in linen by day and come out at night to bite people, often while they are sleeping, leaving red, itchy welts. They do not transmit disease.   In Paris, extermination experts say 400,000 addresses including hotels, apartments and houses were treated in 2018, the latest year for which information is available.   This represented a third more than the previous year.

Illustrating how annoying the issue has become, bed bugs have even featured in the Paris 2020 electoral campaign, with mayoral hopeful Benjamin Griveaux promising to clean up the capital in 100 days.    The plan of the candidate, who has since bowed out over a sex-tape scandal, included specialised anti-pest "brigades" targeting bed bugs, rats and cockroaches, which would intervene free of charge for low-income households, and at the lowest market price for others.
Date: Sat, 15 Feb 2020 15:25:00 +0100 (MET)
By Benoît Pavan à Moûtiers avec Thomas Rossi dans les Pyrénées

Moûtiers, France, Feb 15, 2020 (AFP) - French protests at planned labour reforms hit ski resorts on Saturday, with chairlift operators and other seasonal staff downing tools over fears their livelihoods could be on a slippery slope.   Hundreds of staff at a clutch of resorts in the Alps and Pyrenees walked out in response to calls for action by the CGT and FO unions, forcing some runs to be closed or partially closed.   They are concerned that reforms extending the required period of employment before people are eligible for benefits, set to take effect from April 1, could stop thousands of seasonal workers from claiming.

Some voiced their protest in song at the bottom of pistes at Serre-Chevalier close to the Italian border, chanting: "We're going down the mountain to get rid of Macron," referring to French President Emmanuel Macron.   The French leader's attempts to overhaul pensions and welfare have led to months of bitter protests and strikes.    "Our situation will become even more precarious with these reforms," explained Christophe Dupuis, who works as a ski patroller at La Plagne, one of the world's most popular ski areas.   "We will need six months instead of four before we can apply for unemployment benefit," added Dupuis, who works as a lifeguard during the summer.   "We don't have six-month seasons, not least as the winter seasons are tending to get shorter rather than longer," said Maud Goret, a seasonal worker and CGT member at Font-Romeu in the Pyrenees -- where half the workforce had downed tools.

Many relatively low altitude resorts are suffering from a lack of snow owing to climate change, compounding fears over what the future holds.   As the workers voiced their grievances, further signs of the shortage of snow increasingly hitting resorts came as local authorities at Luchon-Superbagneres in the French southwest told AFP they had decided to have extra snow helicoptered in to three areas running short.

A union official said some 50 tons were being brought in for between 5,000 and 6,000 euros ($5,500-6,500) "in the knowledge that in terms of return on the investment you need to multiply that at least by ten," for an operation lasting around two-and-a-half hours.   He added that it might not be a "particularly ecological" solution but "we had no choice" at the height of the season when many children in French are on half-term holiday.
Date: Wed 5 Feb 2020
Source: The Local [edited]

Coronavirus might be hogging the headlines at present, but in France, normal seasonal flu is proving far more deadly. On Wednesday 5 Feb [2020], the region of Normandy officially declared itself in epidemic, leading to the whole of mainland France now being in a state of influenza epidemic. Across the whole country, 301 out of every 100,000 people have the flu, taking the illness into epidemic phase. Of the nearly 9000 people that went to the hospital emergency room with flu symptoms last week, 810 of were hospitalised.

Since the start of the outbreak in November [2019], 311 people have been admitted to intensive care with flu, and 26 of them have died. These include 3 children under 15 years of age, 12 cases aged 15-64, and 11 cases aged 65 years and older.

The average age of these serious cases is 52 years, and 73% of them had risk factors for complications (over 65 years of age, chronic illnesses, etc). Among the latter, 3/4 were not vaccinated against influenza (among those whose vaccination status was known).

This year [2020], children seem to be particularly affected. Nearly 1/3 of emergency room visits and hospitalisations for influenza were children under 5 years old, compared with 20% for people aged 75 and over. Every year seasonal flu affects between 2-6 million people in France, and last year [2019], 9500 people died from it.

Health officials advise people to practice normal good hygiene: washing hands regularly, using disposable tissues and throwing them away if you have a cough, and coughing into your elbow. Those who are sick are advised to wear a disposable face mask to help avoid spreading the illness.
Date: Wed, 29 Jan 2020 21:16:14 +0100 (MET)

Paris, Jan 29, 2020 (AFP) - The daughter of a Chinese tourist who is seriously ill in a Paris hospital has become the fifth person in France to be confirmed with the coronavirus, officials said Wednesday.   Her 80-year-old father was the fourth confirmed case in France of the new coronavirus that has killed more than 100 people since it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December.  "A fifth case has been detected," Health Minister Agnes Buzyn told a news briefing.   "It's the daughter of the Chinese tourist who was hospitalised recently in intensive care in a serious condition," Buzyn added.   The woman in her thirties, "whose condition has worsened, who needs oxygen," has also been placed in intensive care, Buzyn said.   The minister said a first plane was due to fly Wednesday evening to Wuhan, the epicentre in China, to repatriate 200 French people stranded there.
Date: Fri, 17 Jan 2020 12:55:16 +0100 (MET)

Rennes, France, Jan 17, 2020 (AFP) - Several oyster farmers along France's Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts have been forced to halt sales since December after their sites were contaminated by the highly contagious norovirus, which they blame on overflowing sewage treatment plants.   Authorities ordered the suspensions at 23 of the country's 375 designated fields, and recalls of affected oysters as well as mussels and clams, after tests revealed the virus, which can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea.

The move came just before the year-end holidays, when oysters are a traditional delicacy on millions of French tables.   "The oysters are not sick. They're carrying the virus because it's in the water they are constantly filtering," Philippe Le Gal, president of France's national shellfish council (CNC), told AFP this week.   "They were in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said, adding the ban had prompted many people to stop eating oysters altogether.   Local officials say oyster farmers are paying the price of insufficient spending on wastewater treatment, with facilities strained to the limit even as development of coastal areas has surged in recent years.

Heavy rains before Christmas prompted treatment basins to overflow, they say, spilling tainted water into rivers.   "This was predictable -- they've kept issuing building permits even though treatment sites are already at full capacity," said Joel Labbe, a senator for the Morbihan region in Brittany.   Oyster farmers are demanding compensation, and a delegation met with agriculture ministry officials in Paris last week warning that more than 400 businesses had been impacted by the sales ban.

This week, angry growers dumped trash bins full of oysters and mussels in front of the offices of the regional ARS health authority in Montpellier over the decision to halt sales from a nearby basin on the Mediterranean coast.   "We're the victims, and we shouldn't have to suffer any financial damages," Le Gal said.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: Q Costa Rica News [edited]
<https://qcostarica.com/costa-rica-is-the-first-country-in-america-where-very-resistant-antibiotic-bacteria-for-meningitis-is-isolated/>

A 50-year-old man and a senior became the 1st 2 people in Costa Rica -- and in the Americas -- found to be infected with the bacteria most resistant to antibiotics used in the treatment of meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia that cause serious brain damage and even death. The Centro Nacional de Referencia en Bacteriolog­a (CNRB) -- National Center of Reference in Bacteriology, of the Instituto Costarricense de Investigacian y Enseaanza en Nutricin y Salud (Inciensa) -- Costa Rican Institute for Research and Education in Nutrition and Health (Incense), issued an alert, in early February [2020], after documenting the circulation of _Neisseria meningitidis_ (_N. meningitidis_) serogroup Y, resistant to penicillin and not sensitive to cefotaxime [and ceftriaxone?], two 3rd generation antibiotics, reports La Nation.
====================
[Invasive meningococcal disease (meningococcaemia and meningitis) is a life-threatening infection caused by _Neisseria meningitidis_ that evolves rapidly, often even when appropriate treatment has been started promptly. Because antimicrobial treatment for invasive meningococcal disease with a 3rd-generation cephalosporin (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone) is the widely accepted standard recommendation (<https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/39/9/1267/402080>), resistance of _N. meningitidis_ to cefotaxime and ceftriaxone is very worrisome.

The news report above says that 2 patients in Costa Rica were infected with _N. meningitidis_ serogroup Y resistant to penicillin and 2 3rd generation cephalosporins, one of which was cefotaxime. The other 3rd generation cephalosporin is not specified, but is perhaps ceftriaxone, the other 3rd generation cephalosporin usually used to treat this disease. We are also not told in the news report above if the 2 patients were epidemiologically linked, nor are we told the extent (that is, MICs [minimum inhibitory concentration] of penicillin or cefotaxime), the mechanisms of resistance, or resistance to any of the other antimicrobial drugs used to prevent or treat this disease.

More information would be appreciated from knowledgeable sources. Reduced susceptibility of _N. meningitidis_ to penicillin has been reported in the past in many countries, including the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>), usually due to decreased affinity of target penicillin-binding proteins for penicillin and less commonly to beta-lactamase production (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC89938/>, <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3134848-relative-penicillin-g-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-and-reduced-affinity-of-penicillin-binding-protein-3/>, and <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC162989/pdf/392577.pdf>).

Meningococcal isolates with reduced susceptibility to penicillin G usually were reported susceptible to 3rd-generation cephalosporins (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone). For example, despite the decrease in susceptibility to penicillin G in 33% of 2888 isolates of _N. meningitidis_, all isolates were susceptible to ceftriaxone in Brazil from 2009 to 2016 (<https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29717974-surveillance-of-antimicrobial-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-strains-isolated-from-invasive-cases-in-brazil-from-2009-to-2016/>). Similar data have been reported for the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>).

However, one previous study reported 8 clinical isolates _N. meningitidis_ in Delhi, India in 2006 that were resistant to ceftriaxone and cefotaxime, with most also resistant to penicillin, ciprofloxacin, and chloramphenicol (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1698303/>). All of the isolates were identified as serogroup A _N. meningitidis_, but no further details concerning these isolates were given in this report (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1865813/>).

Resistance to other antimicrobial agents that may be used for therapy of meningococcal infections or for prophylaxis of case contacts has been reported in several countries. This includes resistance to chloramphenicol, fluoroquinolones, and rifampin. Horizontal exchange of genes that encode resistance for penicillin, rifampin, and the fluoroquinolones from other _Neisseria_ species that share a common ecological niche with _N. meningitidis_ in the nasopharynx has been proposed as one possible mechanism of acquisition of meningococcal antibiotic resistance (<http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/49/3/545>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Costa Rica: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/17>]
Date: Tue 25 Feb 2020
From: Anne Laudisoit, PhD [edited]
<laudisoit@ecohealthalliance.org>

A suspect plague outbreak cluster has been noted in the the Godjoka health area as of 19 Feb 2020. The chief medical officer of the Rethy Health zone, the head nurse and the laboratory team from the Rethy General reference hospital investigated the outbreak site. The Godjoka village is located in the Linga health zone, Djugu territory, Ituri province, in the Congo DR (N 02.01'47.9'' and E030.44'56.6'', 1940m) in the plague endemic area.
 
There have been 6 suspected cases of plague, including 5 deaths and 1 recovering patient. The index case is a young boy who died on 19 Feb 2020. His mother, the neighbour and her child all died on 21 Feb 2020 and were buried the night of 24 Feb 2020, under pressure from the villagers. Finally the traditional healer ["tradipraticien"] who took care of the mother (who was the 2nd case) died in turn on 25 Feb 2020, and samples were taken that same day. The rapid diagnostic test was positive for plague.  Because of their rapidly fatal course, pneumonic plague is suspected for one or more of the 5 fatal cases. 

The only survivor has been under treatment at the Godjoka Health center since 22 Feb; he is the 20 year-old brother of the index case. The test on the sputum of this patient was negative.
-------------------------------------
Francoise Ngave Nyisi, Rethy General Reference Hospital, DR Congo
Mandro Michel, Provincial Division of Health, Bunia, DR Congo
Adroba Pascal, Provincial Division of Health, Bunia, DR Congo
Laudisoit Anne, Ecohealth Alliance, New York, USA
=====================
[ProMED thanks Dr Laudisoit and her hardworking Congolese colleagues for this important report.  Thus far the diagnosis of plague rests on the single positive diagnostic test obtained from the traditional healer, as it appears that the first 4 fatal cases were buried before diagnostic tests could be obtained. Following this logic, It is possible that the sole survivor thus far has the bubonic form of the disease, and thus a negative sputum result.  We seek and hope to obtain further information on all of these cases, including age, nature and duration of symptoms, presence or absence of buboes, etc.

This putative plague cluster is in a known historic plague-endemic region, where there were 31 cases and 8 deaths between Jan - Oct 2019, as previously reported by ProMED (Plague - Congo DR (02): (IT) fatal http://promedmail.org/post/20191016.6731137).  The Ituri district, of course, has also been affected by the still smouldering North Kivu-Ituri Ebola outbreak that began in July 2018.  This district has also been, and continues to be, a region of great civil unrest, with multiple armed insurgency groups operating near and across the Ugandan border.

The following background information on plague by Mod.LL is copied from our most recent ProMED post on plague [see below under See Also]:

"The bacterium that causes plague is _Yersinia pestis_. Most cases of plague are due to bubonic plague following the bite of an infected rodent flea causing a swollen and very tender lymph gland. The swollen gland is called a "bubo." Bubonic plague should be suspected when a person develops a swollen gland, fever, chills, headache, and extreme exhaustion, and has a history of possible exposure to infected rodents, rabbits, or fleas. A person usually becomes ill with bubonic plague 2-6 days after being bitten. At this point in the illness, there is no risk of person-to-person spread, so if this was indeed a case of bubonic plague, no isolation or quarantine is necessary.

When bubonic plague is left untreated, plague bacteria invade the bloodstream. As the plague bacteria multiply in the bloodstream, they spread rapidly throughout the body and cause a severe and often fatal condition. Infection of the lungs with the plague bacterium causes the pneumonic form of plague, a severe respiratory illness. The infected person may experience high fever, chills, cough, and breathing difficulty and may expel bloody sputum. If plague patients are not given specific antimicrobial therapy, the disease can progress rapidly to death. At this stage, as appears to have happened in this case, person-to-person spread can occur, causing other cases of "primary" plague pneumonia. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A ProMED/HealthMap of DR Congo is available at: DR Congo:
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:14:05 +0100 (MET)
By Anuj Chopra and Haitham El-Tabei

Riyadh, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for visits to Islam's holiest sites for the "umrah" pilgrimage, an unprecedented move triggered by coronavirus fears that raises questions over the annual hajj.   The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in the cities of Mecca and Medina, also suspended visas for tourists from countries with reported infections as fears of a pandemic deepen.

Saudi Arabia, which so far has reported no cases of the virus but has expressed alarm over its spread in neighbouring countries, said the suspensions were temporary. It provided no timeframe for when they will be lifted.   "The kingdom's government has decided to take the following precautions: suspending entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visit to the Prophet's mosque temporarily," the foreign ministry said in a statement.   "Suspending entry into the kingdom with tourist visas for those coming from countries, in which the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is a danger."

The move comes as Gulf countries implement a raft of measures, including flight suspensions and school closures, to curb the spread of the disease from people returning from pilgrimages to Iran.  Even as the number of fresh coronavirus cases declines at the epicentre of the disease in China, there has been a sudden increase across the Middle East.

Since its outbreak, the United Arab Emirates has reported 13 coronavirus cases, Kuwait has recorded 43, Bahrain has 33 and Oman is at four cases.   Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, with 19 fatalities from 139 infections -- the highest death toll outside China, where COVID-19 originated.   While no cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, one citizen is reported to be infected in Kuwait along with four Saudi women in Bahrain -- all of whom had returned from Iran.

- 'Unprecedented' move -
The umrah, which refers to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year, attracts millions of devout Muslims from all over the globe each year.    There was no clarity over how the move would affect the annual hajj pilgrimage due to start in late July.   Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in last year's hajj -- one of the five pillars of Islam.

The event is a key rite of passage for Muslims and a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites.   "This move by Saudi Arabia is unprecedented," Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based risk consultancy Cornerstone Global Associates, told AFP.   "The concern for Saudi authorities would be Ramadan, which starts at the end of April, and hajj afterwards, should the coronavirus become a pandemic."

The holy fasting month of Ramadan is considered a favourable period by Muslim pilgrims to perform the Umrah.   Saudi Arabia's custodianship of Mecca and Medina -- Islam's two holiest sites -- is seen as the kingdom's most powerful source of political legitimacy.     But a series of deadly disasters over the years has prompted criticism of the Sunni kingdom's management of the pilgrimage.

In September 2015, a stampede killed up to 2,300 worshippers -- including hundreds of Iranians -- in the worst disaster ever to strike the pilgrimage.   The pilgrimage forms a crucial source of revenue for the government, which hopes to welcome 30 million pilgrims annually to the kingdom by 2030.   De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform plan seeks to shift the economy of Saudi Arabia -- the world's top crude exporter -- away from oil dependency towards other sources of revenue, including religious tourism.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 05:04:04 +0100 (MET)

Kuala Lumpur, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Badminton's German Open will not go ahead next week and the Polish Open has been postponed, officials said as two more Olympic qualifying events fell victim to the coronavirus.   It hasn't yet been decided whether the German Open, originally scheduled for March 3-8, will be postponed or cancelled entirely, the Badminton World Federation said late Wednesday.   New dates are being sought for the Polish Open, which was meant to take place on March 26-29, but it will not now fall in the qualifying period for the Tokyo Olympics.

Both events were in the same month as the All England Open, one of the biggest events in the badminton calendar, although that tournament is currently still set to go ahead.   "The BWF is continuing to monitor all official updates on COVID-19 with no change to the intention to stage other HSBC BWF World Tour or BWF-sanctioned tournaments," said a statement.   This week the Vietnam International Challenge, which also carried rankings points for the Olympics, was shifted from late March to early June.

The loss of qualifying tournaments will pose a problem for many players including two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan, who needs a rapid rise up the rankings to win a place on the Chinese team.   Many of China's players are currently in Britain and have been cleared to play during what is a "critical period" of Olympic qualifying, the Chinese Badminton Association said last weekend.   China have been the dominant force in badminton at recent Olympics, sweeping all five titles at London 2012 and winning the men's singles and doubles gold medals four years ago in Rio.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:58:42 +0100 (MET)

Tallinn, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Estonia reported its first coronavirus case on Thursday, a day after the man returned to the Baltic nation of just 1.3 million people from his homeland Iran.    "The person, a permanent resident of Estonia who is not a citizen, arrived in Estonia on Wednesday evening," Social Affairs Minister Tanel Kiik told public broadcaster ERR.   He said the Iranian citizen is currently hospitalised.

Local media said the man arrived in Tallinn by bus from the Latvian capital Riga.   "For now, there are no plans of putting cities in quarantine following this one case," Kiik said.    "The patient is isolated, there is no risk of the disease spreading, now we have to identify all the people the patient was in contact with."   Iran has announced a total of 19 deaths and more than 130 infections, including the country's deputy health minister.   Iran's coronavirus death toll is the highest after that of China, where more than 2,700 people have died from the disease.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 19:27:33 +0100 (MET)

Vynnyky, Ukraine, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Ukrainian authorities began the task of destroying 37,000 bottles of illicit adulterated vodka on Wednesday, a national "record" in a country where consumption of illegal alcohol regularly poisons and even kills.    Minister of Justice Denys Malyuska launched the operation in the city of Vynnyky in the central Lviv region where the bottles, holding 14 tonnes of alcohol, have been stored since their seizure in 2014.   "It is difficult to say what is in there but consumption is strictly not recommended," said the minister.    "This adulterated alcohol poses a huge threat to people's health and their lives."    In front of the media, the contents of several bottles were poured into plastic tanks or blue dye was added, to rule out any illegal re-sale of the beverage.

The procedure should last about a week, after which the liquid will be poured into the sewers at a secret location, according to the minister.   "This is the first time this procedure has been used so that everyone can see that the alcohol that has been seized is really destroyed," said Maliouska.   The minister said that in the past there had been "complaints" from the business community that because of corruption within the police, the illicit alcohol had often turned up in shops after being seized.   Cases of poisoning from adulterated drinks are a regular occurence in Ukraine, where the consumption of alcohol, especially spirits, remains high. And they are often fatal.

In 2016, 73 people died from a total of 150 people who were poisoned by adulterated alcohol.    The following year, six poisoning cases killed three people and, according to Ukrainian media, ten poisonings recorded by the authorities in 2018 led to nine deaths.   The tax department of the Lviv region told AFP on Wednesday that the most adulterated alcohol was vodka, which is then sold in shops in small towns or cafes located along the roads.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 07:21:09 +0100 (MET)

Copenhagen, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Denmark reported its first coronavirus case Thursday, a man who had returned from a skiing holiday in northern Italy which has become a hotspot for the disease.   "The man who came back from a skiing trip with his wife and son on February 24 has been suffering since then from a cough and a temperature," Denmark's public health agency said in a statement.   "The man tested positive, but the results of his wife and son are negative," it said.   The man is relatively well and has returned to his home, where he remains in isolation with his family, it added.   According to public TV station TV2, the man is one of its employees.   Italy has reported 400 coronavirus cases, mostly in the north, and 12 deaths.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 23:18:10 +0100 (MET)

Bucharest, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Romania reported its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday -- a man who was in contact with an Italian who visited the country last week.    "The patient, who is in good health and is showing no symptoms, will be transferred to Bucharest's hospital of infectious diseases," Health Minister Victor Costache told a press conference.

Seven other people who live at the same address as the man in the south-eastern Gorj county have all tested negative but will be quarantined for 14 days as a precaution, emergency department official Raed Arafat said.   The Italian believed to be the source of Romania's first diagnosis tested positive for the deadly virus upon returning to Italy after a four-day visit to Gorj.

New cases have been emerging across Europe, many linked to the continent's coronavirus hotspot in northern Italy.    Several governments have advised against travel to Italy, which has now recorded 400 cases and 12 deaths.   The COVID-19 outbreak has killed over 2,700 people and infected more than 80,000 in 34 countries, although the vast majority of cases remain in China, according to the World Health Organization.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 21:33:56 +0100 (MET)

Oslo, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Norwegian health authorities on Wednesday announced the first case of coronavirus in the Nordic nation in someone who returned from China last week, but said the patient was not "in danger".   "The person is not ill, they are in good health and do not present any symptoms," Line Vold, an official at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, told reporters. "We think it is very unlikely that they have infected" others.   Routine tests had given a "weekly positive result" and detected traces of the new coronavirus, the institute said.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 20:03:47 +0100 (MET)

Tbilisi, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Georgia on Wednesday announced its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in the South Caucasus region.   "A Georgian national has tested positive for the novel coronavirus," Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze told a news conference, adding that the infected man has been placed in isolation in a Tbilisi hospital.   "Three different tests of the 50-year-old man's nasopharyngeal smear gave positive results, but he is doing well, he is clinically healthy," head of Georgia's national centre for disease control, Amiran Gamkrelidze told journalists.

The man had arrived in Georgia from Iran via Azerbaijan, Gamkrelidze said.   Tikaradze said Georgia would introduce a two-week ban on Iranian nationals entering Georgia, but flatly dismissed fears of a coronavirus epidemic in the ex-Soviet country "at this point".   On Sunday, Georgia's neighbour Armenia closed its border with Iran and suspended flights as fears over an outbreak of coronavirus in Iran sent neighbouring countries scrambling to contain the outbreak.