This small country is situated between France and Spain. Because of its elevation and proximity to the Pyrenees the climate is generally pleasant throughout the year.
During the summer months the temperatures can rise to 30c but there is usually a cooling breeze. Lightening storms can occur during the summer months associated with torrential rain.
Sun Exposure and Dehydration
Those from Northern Europe can develop significant sun exposure and so remember to use a wide brimmed hat when necessary. The altitude can also lead to significant tiredness and dehydration so take sufficient initial rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Safety & Security
The level of crime throughout the country directed at tourists is very low. Nevertheless take care of your personal belongings at all times and use hotel safety boxes where possible.
There are strict laws regarding the use of illegal drugs. Make sure you have sufficient supplies of any medication you required for your trip and that it is clearly marked. The European E111 form is not accepted in Andorra and so it is essential that you have sufficient travel insurance for your trip.
Andorra is one of the regions where many travel to partake of their winter sport facilities. Generally this is well controlled and one of the safer regions. Nevertheless, make certain your travel insurance is adequate for the activities you are planning to undertake.
The only standard vaccine to consider for Andorra would be tetanus in line with many other developed countries of the world.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Andorra la Vella, Andorra, July 12, 2018 (AFP) - The tax haven of Andorra has long been a favourite destination for smokers looking to stock up on cheap cigarettes, but the enclave said Thursday that it would soon stop advertising the fact. The government said it had signed up to the World Health Organization's (WHO) anti-tobacco convention, which aims to encourage people to quit smoking and combat contraband sales. "The goal is to contribute to public health and pursue the fight against trafficking," government spokesman Jordi Cinca said at a press conference.
The tiny principality of Andorra, perched in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain, attracts millions of shoppers each year to duty-free stores, where prices of alcohol, cigarettes, electronics and clothes can be up to 20 percent cheaper than elsewhere in the EU. High taxes on tobacco imposed by many countries to help people kick smoking make Andorra's cigarettes a particularly good deal. The average pack costs just three euros ($3.50) compared with eight euros in France, which has said it will gradually raise the price to 10 euros a pack by November 2020.
Tobacco sales bring in some 110 million euros a year for Andorra, whose economy is otherwise based almost entirely on tourism. It is also an enticing destination for smugglers, with French and Spanish border agents regularly seizing cartons from people trying to sneak them out, either by car or by hiking down the mountain trails which criss-cross the Pyrenees. No date has been set for the advertising ban, which will come into effect three months after the ratification of the WHO accord is voted by parliament.
Andorra la Vella, Andorra, March 16, 2018 (AFP) - The tiny principality of Andorra is witnessing a once in a generation phenomenon -- a widespread strike. Around a third of civil servants across the mountainous micro-state have walked out to protest proposed reforms to their sector in what has been described as Andorra's first large-scale strike since 1933.
With no negotiation breakthrough in sight, picket lines are expected to be manned again on Friday with customs officers, police, teachers and prison staff among those taking part. The first major strike in 85 years was sparked by plans from the government of Antoni Marti to reform civil servant contracts. He has assured officials "will not do an hour more" work under the reforms and that 49 million euros would be allocated for the next 25 years to supplement civil servant salaries. But government workers are unconvinced with unions warning the reforms could risk their 35 hour working week and pay.
Customs officers involved in the strike interrupted traffic on the Andorran-Spanish border this week, according to unions, while some 80 percent of teachers have walked out of classes. Strikers have occupied the government's main administrative building and held noisy protests outside parliament calling for Marti's resignation. "We have started collecting signatures to demand the resignation of the head of government and now nobody will stop us," Gabriel Ubach, spokesman for the public service union, told reporters.
ANDORRA LA VELLA, Andorra, Dec 26, 2013 (AFP) - A Spanish skier and a French snowboarder have died in avalanches in different mountain ranges in Europe, officials said Thursday.
The 27-year-old skier, a woman from Barcelona, died Wednesday while going off-piste alone in the Soldeu resort in Andorra, in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, a resort manager told AFP. Although she was rescued within 10 minutes, after her glove was spotted on the surface, she was unable to be revived despite a helicopter dash to hospital.
In the Italian Alps, close to the border with France, a 24-year-old Frenchman who was snowboarding with three friends on a closed run died Thursday when an avalanche swept over him in the resort town of Les Arnauds. Local officials said he succumbed to multiple injuries, asphyxia and hypothermia.
Avalanches are common in Europe's ski resorts at this time of year, when early snows are heavy with moisture, and several deaths occur each winter. Last Sunday, a 35-year-old Frenchman died in an avalanche in the Alps near the Italian border while on a three-day trek with a friend.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
April 28, 2008
Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo. However, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-232-6656.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach alone at any time of day. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport (see Crime section). They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.
The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Street robbery is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not bring valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking incidents after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked. Stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.
Travelers should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:
Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your "discretion" or "confidentiality";
Any deal that seems too good to be true;
Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by "a reliable contact";
Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
Any offer of a charitable donation.
These scams, which may appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, International Financial Scams.
Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be "rescued." If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.
With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.benintourisme.com.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Benin dated August 17th, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
By Hazel WARD and Daphne BENOIT
Paris, May 10, 2019 (AFP) - French special forces have freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight raid in which two soldiers died, authorities announced Friday. The operation was launched to free two French tourists who had disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Benin on May 1.
But during the raid, the French troops were surprised to discover two women also in captivity, with top officials saying they had been held for 28 days. The French tourists were identified as Patrick Picque, 51, and Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, but the women's identities were not immediately clear. "No one was aware of (the women's) presence," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters, while French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said. "We know little about these other two hostages," Parly told reporters, saying that even Seoul and Washington did not appear to be aware the pair were in increasingly unstable Burkina Faso. The raid was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron in what was seen as the last opportunity to stop the hostages being transferred to lawless territory in Mali to the north.
Parly said it was "too early to say" who had snatched the two French nationals from Benin, which has long been an island of stability in a region where Islamist militants are increasingly active. "The message to terrorists and criminal gangs is clear: those who attack France and its nationals know that we will not spare any effort to track them down, find them and neutralise them," she said. Four of the six kidnappers were killed in the raid. French forces, helped by intelligence provided by the United States, had been tracking the kidnappers for several days as they travelled across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso from Benin to Mali. They seized the opportunity to prevent "the transfer of the hostages to another terrorist organisation in Mali," Lecointre said, referring to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM). The FLM is a jihadist group formed in 2015 and headed by a radical Malian preacher, Amadou Koufa. It is aligned with Al-Qaeda in the region.
- US intelligence support -
In a statement, Macron congratulated the special forces on the operation, in which he also expressed sorrow over the death of the two soldiers "who gave their lives to save those of our citizens". And Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the "complex operation", as well as the United States which provided intelligence and support.
The operation was also made possible by the presence of France's Operation Barkhane, which counts some 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces battle jihadist groups. American special forces and drones are also known to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as jihadist groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria. Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
- Relief and sadness -
The French tourists -- Patrick Picque who works in a Paris jewellery shop, and Laurent Lassimouillas a piano teacher, -- went missing with their guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin. The Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is famed for its elephants and lions, lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso. The badly disfigured body of their guide was found shortly after they disappeared, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck. The two freed men will be flown back to France on Saturday, alongside the South Korean woman, where they will be met on arrival by Macron and other top French officials. Washington thanked the French forces for freeing the American hostage, with France saying she would likely be "repatriated independently" from the other three.
The two dead French soldiers were named as Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, decorated naval special forces members born in 1986 and 1991 respectively. They were part of the prestigious Hubert commando unit of the French naval special forces which was deployed to the Sahel at the end of March. A total of 24 French soldiers have died in the region since 2013 when France intervened to drive back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali. The last death was on April 2.
Cotonou, June 29, 2018 (AFP) - Benin's Constitutional Court has banned the right to strike by workers in the country's defence, security, justice and health sectors, sparking concern among union officials and legal observers. The ruling, issued late on Thursday, came after months of wrangling between the government and the court, which had previously said the measure was unconstitutional.
"Civil servants, public security forces and equivalents should fulfil their duties in all circumstances and not exercise their right to strike," the court said in its new ruling. "There should be no disruption to the duties of public sector defence, security, justice and health workers." The decision was taken "in the public interest" and for "the protection of citizens", it said.
Speaking on Friday, one senior union leader, who asked to remain anonymous, described the ruling as shocking and a "hammer blow". And Benin legal affairs expert Albert Medagbe told AFP the decision was a "worrying sudden legal U-turn". Earlier this month, a close ally of President Patrice Talon, Joseph Djogbenou, was elected to lead the Constitutional Court during a vote held behind closed doors. Djogbenou is Talon's former personal lawyer and was previously Benin's attorney general.
Until his arrival, the court had strained relations with Talon, and had criticised the government for misunderstanding and failing to respect the constitution. The small West African nation was last year hit by a wave of public sector strikes, which brought the education, health and justice system to a near halt. The industrial action was sparked by Talon's attempts to introduce free-market reforms.
Cotonou, Feb 21, 2018 (AFP) - Nine people appeared in a Benin court Wednesday on charges of selling fake drugs at the start of a landmark trial in a regional campaign against illicit medicines. The suspects, who include executives from major pharmaceutical companies operating in the West African nation, were remanded in custody until March 6 on technical grounds. They are accused of "the sale of falsified medicines, (and) display, possession with a view to selling, commercialisation or sale of falsified medical substances." A tenth defendant, the head of the Directorate for Pharmacies, Medications and Diagnostic Evaluation (DPMED) under the control of the ministry of health, was not in court on the trial's opening day. He is accused of failing to prevent the offences.
Benin launched the crackdown last year after mounting alarm about the scale of the trafficking of expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa. Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product. Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or -- in the case of antibiotics -- worsen the problem of microbial resistance. According to an investigation by the Paris-based International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), West African markets are awash with fake drugs made in China and India.
In 2015, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor-quality antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa. A 15-nation regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), last April announced an investigation into the fake drugs business. A lawyer for the civilian plaintiffs told AFP that the trial in Benin was adjourned until March 6 at their request "in order to incorporate another case, of illegal pharmaceutical practice".
October 02, 2008
Latvia is a stable democracy with a developing economy. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in the capital city of Riga. However,
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Latvia is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Latvia for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. Travelers remaining in Latvia for more than 90 days, including 180 day periods that cross over two half-calendar years, must apply for temporary residence. All travelers must have a valid insurance policy, covering medical expenses while in Latvia. Repatriation costs, including funeral and disposition of remains costs also have to be covered by the policy. In addition, upon entering or exiting the country, travelers must declare cash in excess of 10,000 euros to Latvian customs. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 2306 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202)328-2840, fax (202) 328-2860. For further information, visit http://www.latvia-usa.org. Within Latvia, contact the Ministry of Interiors Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs at Ciekurkalna 1, linija 1,k,3,Riga, LV 1026. Tel. (371)67219645, (371)67219679, (371)80007657, fax (371)67219654, e-mail: email@example.com, web site http://www.ocma.gov.
Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a visa prior to entry into Latvia. The process of obtaining a visa at the Russian Embassy in Riga can be lengthy, and involve surrender of the passport for an undetermined period of time. Visit the Embassy of Latvia web site at http://www.latvia-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.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga. Nonetheless, in the past, Riga has seen large, peaceful demonstrations related to internal political issues. While demonstrations have been peaceful, American citizens are nevertheless cautioned to avoid any large public demonstrations. There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare. However, instances of racially motivated verbal harassment, and on occasion, physical assaults on non-Caucasian foreigners, have occurred in Riga. There have also been reports of non-Caucasian foreigners being subjected to extra scrutiny by security guards in shops and malls in Riga. Additionally, individuals displaying alternative lifestyles have experienced harassment.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s 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 security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s notice A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Riga is generally non-violent. The majority of non-violent crime tends toward acts of pickpocketing, identity theft, and personal scams. However, there have been instances of serious violent assaults and robberies. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to pickpockets in all public areas, there are numerous scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants. There have been a number of reports recently of foreign tourists being charged xorbitant prices for drinks in bars. Some have then been assaulted or forced to withdraw money from an ATM to pay the bill. You can avoid situations like this by ensuring that you check the price of drinks before ordering, pay for one round at a time and seek recommendations for bars from trustworthy sources. There have also been a few cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert, particularly to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. Gangs of professional pickpockets are specifically targeting foreigners, particularly those carrying backpacks. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.
Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payments be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme, the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.
The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S. – based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular Internet job sites, a Social Security Number and other identifying information needed for the identity theft is required under the guise of conducting a background check.
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 or 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. For more information, see Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, because of the lack of equipment and resources, most major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended. Hospital services have shown good progress but are still not equal to Western standards. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally produced in Europe or Latvia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are present. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. For further information, please consult the CDC’s Travel notice on TB at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, response time is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive and require advance payment before the patient is transported.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. 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 Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit. These may be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee. A U.S. state driver’s license is not sufficient. These requirements apply to those operating rental cars as well, whether or not the rental company chooses to enforce the requirement as a condition of rental. Individuals driving without an International Driving Permit may have their vehicle confiscated by the police. Americans resident in Latvia for more than six months are required to apply for a Latvian driver’s license. Upon receipt of a Latvian driver’s license, American citizens are required to surrender their US driver’s license to the Latvian authorities. The licenses are then returned to their respective states of issuance. For more information, visit the Latvian Road and Traffic Safety Department at http://www.csdd.lv
Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. While recent reports show a decrease in the number of traffic accident fatalities, there are still a number of hazards to watch out for. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common, and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles traveling at high speeds, even in crowed urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serous offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering on the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair but improving (See section on Medical Facilities above); response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for ambulance service.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for information. Visit the website of Latvia’s national tourist office at http://latviatourism.lv/info.php and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.csdd.lv/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen stokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in major towns. For security purposes, it is recommended that visitors use ATMs located inside major hotels or shopping malls, versus those located on the street, in high-volume tourist areas. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafés offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.
Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of the Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements at http://www.latvia-usa.org.
Please see our information on 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 Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit 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 web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 7 Raina Blvd. Riga, LV-1510, and may be reached by dialing +371-703-6200. The fax number for the Consular American Citizen Services section is+371-781-4088. You can find the ACS section online at http://riga.usembassy.gov/
* * * * * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 12, 2008 with updated information on Entry Requirements.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Riga, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of doctors and nurses rallied Thursday in front of the Latvian parliament in Riga calling for better pay in what was the Baltic state's largest protest in over a decade. Police said more than 5,000 people, including patients, turned out for the protest, which featured coffins and signs with slogans such as "United for health", "I only want to work one job" and "Patients supporting doctors and nurses". The LVSADA medical labour union organised the rally to condemn lawmakers for planning to increase their own salaries next year while reneging on a promise to boost wages in the chronically underfunded medical profession. "We won't allow the healthcare system to be starved again," LVSADA chief Valdis Keris said at the rally, which state hospital employees attended by taking a day of unpaid leave.
Some doctors also participated in the protest by only performing emergency surgery and tending to emergency patients on Thursday while rescheduling everything else. "The average monthly wage for a doctor at a Latvian public hospital is only between 1,000-3,000 euros ($1,100-$3,300)," protester and doctor Roberts Furmanis said in a statement sent to media. "I work my daily shift at one hospital, at night I also work overtime driving around in an ambulance, plus sometimes I lecture at medical schools on my rare days off," he added. "I get less than 3,000 euros a month for those jobs combined. How am I supposed to support my family?" Last year, lawmakers voted to raise wages for almost all employees of the government-run healthcare system, but now say that they are unable to find the necessary funds in the 2020 state budget. "I express deep regret for last year's promise, which we cannot carry out," speaker of parliament Inara Murniece told the rally.
Those protesting, however, point out that the 2020 state budget exceeds 10 billion euros for the first time ever in the country of just 1.9 million people -- or 700 million more euros than this year. Medical workers are upset that while there is no room for better healthcare wages in the new budget, the country's lawmakers and ministers plan to increase their own salaries next year and have also earmarked taxpayer money for their respective political parties. Thursday's rally was Latvia's largest since some 10,000 people attended a January 2009 protest against government cuts, which grew violent and resulted in dozens of arrests.
Source: Food Safety News [edited]
Officials in Latvia are investigating 40 _Salmonella_ and Shiga toxin-producing _E. coli_ illnesses with mostly children affected. A total of 36 children and 4 employees of educational institutions are ill, according to the Latvian Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (SPKC). Salmonellosis has been laboratory confirmed in 9 children with symptoms of acute intestinal infection thought to have occurred from [9 to 11 Sep 2019]. Patients have been recorded at Levina and Tornisi kindergartens. Shiga toxin-producing also called enterotoxigenic _E. coli_ (EHEC) infections have been linked to schools identified as Levina, Saulite and Piladzitis in Sigulda, a town in the country.
At least 4 children aged 3 to 6 years old have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) after EHEC infection from early September 2019 in Sigulda. HUS is a type of kidney failure associated with EHEC infection. It can occur in people of any age but is most common in children under 5 years old. The SPKC has surveyed parents of sick children, visited preschools to obtain information on absent children and staff and the cause, analysed food menus and possible risk factors. A total of 19 infections at 3 other pre-school facilities in Ikskile, Garkalne and Ogre are not thought to be related to those ill in Sigulda.
The Latvian Food and Veterinary Service (PVD) has been investigating catering units at the 3 sites linked to _E. coli_ infection where catering comes from one company. Initial suspicions pointed to contaminated watermelons. Inspections at the catering units did not reveal violations of hygiene requirements that could contribute to the spread of infection. The sites also underwent cleaning and disinfection. PVD suspended operations of a vegetable processing firm called "Jelgavas AugÄ¼i" due to violations of hygiene requirements, product traceability and inadequate storage temperature for pre-packed vegetables that were stored at 13 deg. C [approx. 55 deg. F] instead of the required 6 deg. C [approx. 42 deg. F].
The company, through Baltic Restaurants Latvia, supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to Sigulda educational institutions but a connection to the outbreak has not been established. Testing at the firm so far has not found _E. coli_. Other results are pending but the company will be allowed to resume operations if they are negative and when it corrects the deficiencies identified by authorities. Authorities have also found issues with transportation of food by the company "Point to Point" Ltd between educational institutions.
[These are two outbreaks of enteric pathogens that appear to be related to food supplied to schools. The EHEC outbreak has been possibly linked to watermelon. With 9 cases of EHEC and 4 of them developing HUS, it is possible that the strain is a hyperproducer of Shiga toxin but most likely related to use of antimicrobials early in the infection which increases the risk of HUS. - ProMED Mod.LL]
[HealthMap/ProMED map available at: Latvia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/119>]
Riga, May 15, 2019 (AFP) - A second Albanian soldier has died of his injuries from a World War II landmine blast last week during a NATO exercise in Latvia, the Baltic state's defence minister said Wednesday. Klodian Tanushi, who held the rank of major, died following surgery at a Riga hospital over the weekend, days after the landmine explosion that also killed another soldier. "I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the soldiers' relatives and friends, to their fellow service members and to the people of Albania," Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks told AFP. "Latvia is very grateful to our ally Albania for contributing to NATO's expanded presence in Latvia."
In 2016, NATO deployed four multinational battalions to Poland and the Baltic states to guard against possible Russian adventurism. The defence group's rotating battalion in Latvia is led by Canada and also includes soldiers from Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. Tanushi, a father-of-three, was the commanding officer of the Albanian contingent stationed at the NATO base in the central village of Adazi. Both world wars left Latvia littered with many unexploded sea and landmines as well as artillery shells, which continue to be found on a daily basis. Clearing areas of such explosives is a frequent focus of NATO military exercises in the region.
Riga, July 22, 2018 (AFP) - Fires raging for five days have destroyed more than 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of western Latvia, authorities said Sunday, with continuing extreme temperatures hampering firefighters' efforts. Satellite images showed the fires have wiped out 170 acres of forest, 257 hectares of scrubland and nearly 400 hectares of peatland.
A peat fire in the Courland region broke out last Tuesday and spread eastwards, with the smoke noticeable in the resort town of Jurmala, more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) away in the neighbouring Riga region. "Peatland fires burn downward, but when there's wind, which brings oxygen, the fires can erupt into flames," Latvian fire services spokesman Inta Palkavniece told reporters. "The main goal is to prevent the fires from spreading," he added. The fire services said on its website that firefighting efforts would be "long and troublesome". "The weather is unfavourable to firefighting and will remain so over the next days," it said.
The Courland region is sparsely populated, with few roads and many areas inaccessible because of its vast marshes. Residents of Stikli, a village that was evacuated because of the fire, began to return home after the wind changed "of their own accord", the mayor of its municipality Ventspils, Aivars Mucenieks, told reporters. Pupils of a school for disabled children in Stikli will not return until the situation is fully under control, he added.
Meteorologists warned that the high temperatures are persisting and no rain is expected for the next two weeks. Latvia has experienced severe drought over the last few months, prompting authorities to declare a natural catastrophe in the agricultural sector. The Baltic country has not yet asked for help from other European countries and has no proposals to do so for the time being. But other countries in Europe have been in the grip of an unusually long heatwave for recent weeks with little prospect of rain for the time being.
In Sweden, where temperatures are the highest for a century, farmers are even sending their animals to slaughter because there is no hay left to feed them. It has asked for help from other European countries, because of the lack of manpower and capacity to tackle such natural catastrophes. Poland has asked the EU for financial aid after more than 91,000 farms were affected by an unusual spring drought, according to the agriculture ministry. In Germany, which suffered a drought in May and June, agricultural producers warned the harvest this year will be down by between 20 and 50 percent.
March 02, 2009
Romania joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Romania for additional information.
A valid passport is required.
U.S. citizen visitors are granted 90 days of stay without a visa within a given six-month period.
For stays longer than 90 days, an extension of stay may be obtained in Romania from the Romanian Immigration Office in the area of residence.
An exit visa must be obtained in cases of overstay.
The Romanian Government is enforcing visa regulations more vigorously and a record of visa overstay can result in the assessment of large fines and the denial of entry without a visa for a specified time.
Visit the Embassy of Romania web site for the most current visa information or contact the Romanian Embassy at 1607 23rd St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone number (202) 232-4747, or the Romanian Consulates in Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York City.
Foreigners are required to carry identification documents at all times. Americans who obtained a temporary or permanent stay permit must be able to present the document upon the request of any “competent authorities.”
Foreigners who do not have a stay permit should present their passports.
(The Embassy recommends carrying a copy of the relevant document).
U.S. visa information for Romanians and other foreign citizens can be found on the web site of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest
or the Department’s travel website.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about custom regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
American citizens are reminded to exercise caution, remain vigilant with regard to their personal security, and monitor media reports.
Prior police notice is required for public demonstrations and police oversight is routinely provided.
Nonetheless, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.
American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.
Information on specific demonstrations can be found on the Embassy web site on the demonstration notices page.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. 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 overseas, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.
While most crimes in Romania are non-violent and non-confrontational, crimes do occur in which victims suffer personal harm.
Crimes against tourists, including robbery, mugging, pickpocketing and confidence schemes, remain a problem in Romania.
Organized groups of thieves and pickpockets, sometimes including minors, operate in train stations and on trains, subways, and buses in major cities.
A number of thefts and assaults have occurred on overnight trains, including thefts from passengers in closed compartments.
The Embassy recommends using the highest class available for train travel, and suggests traveling with at least one other person. As is always the case, travelers should never leave personal belongings unattended, maintaining control over them at all times.
The Embassy has received reports of bar/night club scams.
These scams involve unsuspecting patrons being charged exorbitant prices when they receive their bar bills.
Another scam involves patrons of “adult” establishments (strip clubs) who are charged for the female worker’s drinks or time while talking to the customers.
Because strip clubs frequently are fronts for organized crime, the Embassy recommends avoiding these establishments.
Patrons may be forced to pay the bills or risk physical confrontation.
If you find yourself in this situation, you should pay the bill and make a police report once the incident is over.
Money exchange schemes targeting travelers are common in Romania.
Some of these ploys have become rather sophisticated, involving individuals posing as plainclothes policemen, who approach the potential victim, flash a badge, and ask for the victim's passport and wallet.
In many of these cases, the thieves succeed in obtaining passports, credit cards, and other personal documents.
Credit card and Internet fraud remain among the most common crimes affecting foreigners in Romania.
Romania is largely a "cash only" economy.
While an increasing number of businesses accept credit cards, travelers are advised to use cash for goods and services rendered due to the prevalence of credit card fraud.
Vendors have been known to misuse credit card information by making illegal purchases on a customer’s account.
To make a credit card purchase, a PIN is usually required.
There are an increasing number of ATMs located throughout major cities, and increasingly sophisticated identity theft rings are targeting them.
Travelers should try to use ATMs located inside banks and check for any evidence of tampering with the machine before use.
Travelers' checks are of limited use but may be used to purchase local currency at some exchange houses.
Americans should exercise caution when traveling to Romania to meet individuals known only through contact over the Internet.
A significant number of confidence scams have been uncovered involving Romanians who contact their prospective American victims through chat rooms or personal advertisements. They generally identify themselves as young Romanian women and develop a “relationship” with their victim over time.
Variations of this scam have emerged but money extortion remains the ultimate goal.
Americans who suspect they may have fallen victim to this kind of scam should contact American Citizens Services at the U.S. Embassy.
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 the 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 understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney if needed.
The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Romania is: 112.
English speaking operators are available.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
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 Romania’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Romania 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.
Under Romanian law, engaging in sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 15 or a minor between the ages of 15 and 18 where the adult has abused the minor’s trust or had influence/authority over the minor is a crime punishable with a 3-10 year prison sentence.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with someone who has a physical or psychological disability is punishable with a 3-12 year prison sentence.
Distribution of obscene materials depicting minors is a crime punishable with a 1-5 year prison sentence.
Prostitution is illegal in Romania, regardless of the age of the participants.
Abandoned dogs are commonplace in Romania and generally tolerated.
Strays are often fed and are seen frequently on a daily basis especially in or near parks.
Some statistics report one dog bite hourly in Bucharest, the capital city. Because the immunization status of stray dogs is unknown, precautions to prevent rabies are recommended.
See the CDC’s web site for more details.
If you encounter dogs that appear aggressive, it is best to change your path to avoid contact with them.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available at the U.S. Department of Justice, Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.
Romania's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Romania of items such as firearms, antiquities, and medications.
Romanian law allows travelers to bring cash into or out of Romania; however, sums larger than 10,000 Euros or the equivalent must be declared.
Travelers are advised to contact the Embassy of Romania in Washington or one of Romania's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Romania is situated in a seismically active region and has a history of devastating and deadly earthquakes.
While responsibility for caring for disaster victims, including foreigners, rests with Romanian authorities, disaster preparedness is also a personal responsibility.
Additional information is available from the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care in Romania is generally not up to Western standards, and basic medical supplies are limited, especially outside major cities.
Some medical providers that meet Western quality standards are available in Bucharest and other cities but can be difficult to identify and locate.
Travelers seeking medical treatment should therefore choose their provider carefully.
A list of hospitals and physicians is available on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.
Information regarding health threats or other medical issues affecting visitors to Romania can also be found at this site. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Romania.
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.
information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
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.
Americans who wish to extend their stay in Romania must present proof of health insurance that applies overseas for the duration of their intended stay in Romania.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided on the Department of State's web page, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad.
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 Romania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic accidents are arguably the single most dangerous threat for American citizens visiting Romania. The World Economic Forum ranks Romania 126 out of 134 states for road quality.
Currently Romania has a total of only 270 kilometers of freeways.
While major streets in larger cities and major inter-city roads are generally in fair to good condition, many other roads are in poor repair, unpaved, badly lighted, or narrow, or lack marked lanes.
Part of the problem is that the infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the dramatic increase in motor vehicles since 1990.
Roads, especially in the mountains, can be particularly dangerous when wet or covered with snow or ice.
Pedestrians, animals, cyclists, and horse-drawn carts share many roads with motor vehicles and can be extremely difficult to see, particularly at night in rural areas.
Vehicles often block sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk in the streets.
Maintain vigilance when driving to avoid hitting those who are walking in the streets.
Cross the street only in crosswalks and always look both ways before crossing.
Crosswalks are generally poorly marked and drivers may ignore crosswalks even if there is a traffic light.
Driving practices in Romania can be aggressive and/or inattentive.
Combined with the substandard road conditions noted above, the result is a significant traffic mortality rate.
According to the European Union Road Federation, Romania has the highest per vehicle rate of traffic fatalities of any country in the E.U.
It is essential for drivers to practice defensive driving techniques.
Romanian traffic laws are very strict.
The traffic police can confiscate any form of driver's license or permit for 1-3 months, and payment of fines may be requested at the time of the infractions.
Some examples when this might occur are failure to yield the right of way, failure to stop at a red light or stop sign, or failure to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks.
While, in theory, drivers must yield to pedestrians at all marked pedestrian crosswalks, many of these are poorly maintained, difficult to see, and sometimes located in unexpected places for foreign drivers.
Pedestrians must take extreme caution when crossing any road.
Romanian traffic laws provide for retention of a driver’s license by the police and possible imprisonment for driving under the influence of alcohol or for causing an accident resulting in injury or death.
There is zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol and police are required to give breathalyzer tests on the scene to all drivers involved in an accident.
Refusal to take a breathalyzer test will result in criminal penalties regardless of whether or not alcohol was involved.
U.S. driver's licenses are only valid in Romania for up to 90 days.
Before the 90-day period has expired, U.S. citizens must either obtain an international driving permit in addition to their U.S. driver's license or a Romanian driver's license.
Wearing a seat belt is mandatory.
Children under 12 years of age may not be transported in the front seat.
Unless otherwise marked with road signs, speed limits are as follows:
Inter-city traffic on highways
130 km/hr for cars and motorcycles (80 miles/hr)
110 km/hr for vans (65 miles/hr)
Urban traffic - 50 km/hr (30 miles/hr)
Express and European roads
100 km/hour for cars and motorcycles (60 miles/hr)
90 km/hour for vans (55 miles/hr)
All other roads
90 km/hr for cars and motorcycles (55 miles/hr)
80 km/hr for vans (50 miles/hr)
Motor vehicles with trailers and drivers with less than one year of driving experience have speed limits 20 km/hr (or 12 miles) slower than those listed above.
Inter-city travel is generally done via trains and buses, which vary in terms of quality, safety, cost, and reliability.
Pickpockets pose a danger on night trains and in train stations.
Inter-city travel by taxi is much more expensive, and safety depends on the quality of the driver.
Many older taxis are not equipped with seat belts.
To avoid being overcharged, passengers should request the taxi by phone through a reputable company and make sure the taxi has an operational meter or agree upon a price before entering the taxi.
The meter rate per km is posted on both sides of the taxi vehicle.
The host country authority responsible for road safety is the Traffic Police of the Romanian Ministry of Interior.
Emergency roadside help and information may be reached by dialing 9271 for vehicle assistance and towing services.
For ambulance services, fire brigade, or police, dial 112.
Please refer to our Road Safety page and the Bucharest Metropolitan Police Department web site for more information.
Also visit the website of Romania’s national tourist office.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Romania’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Romania’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site.
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
In 2005, Romania banned intercountry adoptions except by biological grandparents.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Romania are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Romania.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Strada Tudor Arghezi 7-9, telephone (40) 21-200-3300.
In emergencies, an after-hours duty officer may be reached by calling (40) 21-200-3433.
Consular services for U.S. citizens are performed at the Consular Section located at Strada Filipescu 26 (formerly Strada Snagov), one block from the U.S. Embassy at the corner of Strada Batistei.
The Consular Section can be reached through the Embassy operator at (40) 21-200-3300, and faxes can be sent to (40) 21 200-3381 or 200-3578.
This replaces the Country Specific Information sheet dated July 18, 2008 to update the information on Safety and Security, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, and Disaster Preparedness.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
By Mihaela RODINA
Boldesti-Scaieni, Roumanie, April 19, 2018 (AFP) - Measles still claims young lives in Romania, where nearly 40 children have died in an outbreak that many blame on parents being misled by scare stories that vaccinating them is dangerous. Some 12,000 people have contracted measles since late 2016 in the European Union's second-poorest country, 46 of them died.
Among the dead, 39 were children under the age of three who had not been vaccinated, making Romania one of the worst affected countries in the ongoing measles outbreak in Europe. "People are mistrustful because they read all sorts of things on the internet," said Dr Silvana Dan, from the southern regional Prahova Public Health Authority, citing persistent rumours that vaccination causes autism. A girl aged just 11 months died in the region in March after her parents refused to vaccinate her.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that affects children in particular but it has largely been brought under control. The World Health Organization (WHO) says deaths caused by measles plunged from 550,100 in 2000, to just under 90,000 in 2016. Paradoxically, and to the horror of health authorities worldwide, this very success has seen the public let down its guard and question whether vaccination is now really necessary.
Local officials say health workers are "on the barricades," doing all they can to get the message across, especially in rural areas, that measles is a killer which can be stopped. It is not straightforward. "The reasons for people not being vaccinated are different in different population groups," local WHO representative Miljana Grbic told AFP. "Our research shows that there are specificities such as convenience of services, education, support of family doctors, community support and peer support that play a big role here," Grbic said.
- Roma especially vulnerable -
In Valea Seaca, some 250 kilometres (150 miles) northeast of Prahova, another baby girl of just 10 months died of measles in February. "Her parents refused, in writing, to have their children vaccinated after seeing reports on television that vaccines kill," local mayor Ioan Pravat told AFP. The National Centre for the Supervision and Control of Transmissible Diseases says most measles cases are found in more vulnerable, disadvantaged communities, Roma for the most part, who often do not have access to a family doctor or if they do, only ask them for help in an emergency.
The local authorities hope that Roma health workers can help ease that problem. Aurelia Oprisan, one of them, makes her rounds every day in Boldesti-Scaieni, to the south, knocking on doors to spread the vaccination message. "Many people are negatively influenced by the press so I tell them that what they are hearing is not true," Oprisan told AFP. There are signs this approach may be working. "I don't want to lie to you. At the beginning I, too, was afraid because I had heard that there could be problems, like causing paralysis," said Anisoara Iorga. "But then I did get my children vaccinated and they had no problems at all."
- Progress but below target -
If there is progress overall, there is also still a way to go. The WHO recommends a vaccination rate of 95 percent for effective control. But in Romania, it is 87 percent for the first inoculation and only 75 percent for the second, according to the latest official figures from 2016. Some critics say the authorities share part of the blame because the supply of vaccine is irregular and insufficient.
Stung into action, the government has pledged to improve vaccination rates by making 10 child vaccines compulsory but debates on a draft law submitted last year have made little progress. "We have received lots of amendments which we are in the process of analysing," said Florin Buicu, a doctor and Social Democrat MP who chairs parliament's health committee.
Many of these have been submitted by anti-vaccine groups who have become increasingly active, Buicu said. Medical professionals are outraged. "We have to defend the scientific work (underlying vaccines) while information which has no such basis is taken as the truth," said Dr Alexandru Rafila, head of Romania's microbiology society.
World Travel News Headlines
13:15:00 +0100 (MET)
By Ella IDE and Jastinder KHERA
Rome, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Italy's new coronavirus spread south on Tuesday to Tuscany and Sicily, as the civil protection agency reported a surge in the number of infected people and Rome convened emergency talks. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has blamed poor management in a hospital in the country's north for the outbreak, which has caused seven deaths in Italy so far and infected the largest number of people in Europe. Tuscany reported its first two cases, including one in the tourist destination of Florence, while Sicily marked one: a tourist from the worst-hit Lombardy region, where 212 people have tested positive. The female tourist in Sicily, who had been staying in a hotel in Palermo, tested positive on the first swab but was awaiting the definitive result from Italy's institute of infectious diseases, civil protection agency chief Angelo Borrelli said.
Health ministers from neighbouring countries were to meet in Rome as the number of confirmed infections jumped to 283, with over 50 new cases reported since Monday. The EU's health commissioner and other international health officials were also expected in the Italian capital Tuesday. Hundreds of people were confined to their rooms at a Tenerife hotel after an Italian tourist was hospitalised with a suspected case of coronavirus, health officials in the Canary Islands said. While no neighbouring country has closed its borders with Italy, several governments have announced additional measures for travellers arriving from Italy, in particular from the two northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto. They range from medical screening to recommendations to self-isolate.
- 'Mission Impossible' -
Several upcoming matches in Italian Serie A and the Europa League will be played behind closed doors to combat the spread of the disease. Production of the latest "Mission: Impossible" film starring Tom Cruise in Venice has been stopped following the outbreak. The main centre of infection in Italy has been the town of Codogno, a town of some 15,000 people around 60 kilometres (35 miles) to the south of Milan. Codogno and several others in northern Italy have been put under isolation in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.
The 38-year-old man dubbed "Patient One" by Italian media was admitted to hospital last Wednesday in Codogno, and it is thought a large number of the cases in the worst-hit region of Lombardy can be traced back to him. His heavily pregnant wife, several doctors, staff and patients at the hospital are thought to have caught the virus from him. As well as the towns placed under quarantine, further wide-ranging measures have affected tens of millions of inhabitants in the north of Italy, with schools closed and cultural and sporting events cancelled. Elsewhere in the country officials have also been recommending precautionary measures. In Calabria in the south, bishops have asked their worshippers not to make the sign of peace during mass, media reported. All seven of those who have died so far in Italy were either elderly or had pre-existing medical conditions.
Madrid, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Hundreds of people were confined to their rooms at a Tenerife hotel Tuesday after an Italian tourist was hospitalised with a suspected case of coronavirus, health officials in the Canary Islands said. "Hundreds of hotel clients are being monitored for health reasons and the degree of supervision will be assessed during the day, but so far, we're not talking about quarantine," health authority spokeswoman Veronica Martin told AFP, confirming that the Italian tourist "was staying at this hotel while on holiday in Tenerife".
By Laurent Thomet with Dario Thuburn in Geneva
Beijing, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Fresh deaths and a surge in new coronavirus cases in Iran, Japan and South Korea on Tuesday fuelled fears of a pandemic, as the disease took root in some of the world's poorest -- and worst-equipped -- countries. The rapid spread abroad came as the World Health Organization announced that the epidemic had peaked at its epicentre in China, where it has killed more than 2,600 people and infected over 77,000 others.
But the situation has worsened elsewhere with nearly 2,700 other cases and more than 40 deaths globally, prompting restrictions on travellers from infected nations, the cancellation of football matches and national efforts to isolate suspected patients. South Korea, Italy and Iran have each logged sharp increases in infections and deaths, while several Middle Eastern countries also reported their first confirmed COVID-19 cases.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted the virus could still be contained, praising China's drastic quarantine measures in several cities for helping to prevent an even bigger spread. "For the moment we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large-scale deaths," Tedros told reporters in Geneva on Monday. He added, however, that countries should do everything they can to "prepare for a potential pandemic" -- a term is used to describe an illness that spreads across numerous communities. The White House plans to spend $2.5 billion to combat the epidemic, according to US media. There are 53 cases in the United States so far.
- Iran hotspot -
Iran has emerged as a major hotspot with the death toll rising to 15 on Tuesday as three more people succumbed to the disease. The country has been scrambling to contain the epidemic since last week when it announced its first two deaths in Qom, a centre for Islamic studies and pilgrims that attracts scholars from abroad.
Iran has confirmed 61 cases so far, making its mortality rate exponentially higher than anywhere else in the world and raising suspicion that many more people have contracted the disease there. A WHO team was due in Iran on Tuesday. Several neighbours have enacted measures to block arrivals from Iran but the virus has already spread to Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East. The WHO has warned that poorer countries with weak health care systems are the most at risk.
- Games off -
South Korean President Moon Jae-in warned that the outbreak was "very grave" as the country's death toll rose to 10 and the number of confirmed infections approached 1,000 -- the largest total outside China. Scores of events have been cancelled or postponed as the outbreak has spread in the world's 12th-largest economy, from K-pop concerts to the World Team Table Tennis championship. Parliament closed for cleaning Tuesday after confirmation a person with the coronavirus had attended a meeting last week. More than 80 percent of the infections have been in and around Daegu, South Korea's fourth-largest city.
Streets there have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale. Most of the country's infections are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, an entity often accused of being a cult. The US Centers for Disease Control warned Americans against "all nonessential travel to South Korea". In Japan, a fourth former passenger of the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship died, according to local media. The man was in his 80s. Nearly 700 people from the quarantined ship have tested positive for the illness so far.
Infections have also spiked inside Japan, with at least 160 cases including one death. The government has expanded the number of hospitals that can receive suspected patients and asked people with moderate symptoms to stay home. Businesses were asked to "let people stay away from offices, to avoid rush hour commuting hours, and to encourage telecommuting," Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said. Italy -- which has reported seven deaths and over 200 cases -- has locked down 11 towns, while upcoming football matches in its Serie A and the Europa League will be played behind closed doors. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that residents could face weeks of lockdown.
- China cases slow -
In China, 508 new cases were reported, with all but nine at the outbreak's epicentre in central Hubei province. The death toll nationwide reached 2,663 on Tuesday after 71 more people died, the lowest rise in almost three weeks. Reassured by the official numbers, the country is gingerly returning to business. Beijing is seeing more cars on the street, factories are resuming work, Apple is reopening several stores, and some regions are relaxing traffic restrictions. But schools remain closed, the capital has a mandatory 14-day quarantine for returning residents, and authorities are keeping some 56 million people in Hubei under lockdown.
Dubai, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - The new coronavirus hit four more Middle Eastern states on Monday, with Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman reporting new cases and the UAE calling on its citizens not to travel to Iran and Thailand. Oman also halted flights to and from Iran -- which is battling the deadliest outbreak outside China --with immediate effect. The move came shortly after two Omani women who had returned from Iran were diagnosed with the disease.
The three cases in Kuwait and the one in Bahrain were also in individuals who had returned from Iran, where the virus has claimed the lives of 12 people. Bahrain also shut three schools after a man who had transported children to the institutions tested positive after returning from Iran on February 21 via Dubai airport, the health ministry said.
In Kuwait, a 53-year-old Kuwaiti, a 61-year-old Saudi national and a 21-year-old stateless Arab who tested positive had all returned from Iran's holy city of Mashhad, the Kuwaiti health ministry said. In Iraq, the virus was confirmed in an Iranian national studying in the southern shrine city of Najaf, health officials said. All seven bourses in the oil-rich Gulf states were down on Monday as fears of a pandemic hit crude prices. The Saudi stock exchange led the slide, shedding 2.95 percent.
- Travel bans -
Iran's confirmed death toll rose to 12 on Monday, with the government vowing to be transparent and dismissing a lawmaker's claim the toll could be as high as 50. The outbreak has prompted travel bans from nearby countries.
Last week, Kuwait banned entry of all ships from the Islamic republic and suspended flights to and from the country. Kuwait also banned non-citizens coming from Iran from entering the Gulf state and operated chartered flights to bring back hundreds of Kuwaiti Shiite pilgrims from the Islamic republic.
Around a third of Kuwait's 1.4 million citizens are Shiite Muslims, who travel regularly to Iran to visit religious shrines. Kuwait also hosts roughly 50,000 Iranian workers. Over half of Bahrain's population of under one million are Shiites, who also travel frequently to Iran. The United Arab Emirates has already announced 13 cases of the novel coronavirus, all of them foreigners. The latest were a 70-year-old Iranian man, whose condition is unstable, and his 64-year-old wife.
On Monday, Abu Dhabi authorities called on all UAE citizens "to not travel to Iran and Thailand at present and up until further notice" as part of its efforts to monitor and contain the spread of the disease. UAE airlines have suspended most flights to China -- where the virus first emerged in December -- except to the capital Beijing, but have not yet taken any measures to restrict travel to and from Iran. Around half a million Iranians live and work in the UAE.
Two Gulf states -- Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- remain free of the virus, but all have suspended flights to China. Qatar Airways said on Monday that people arriving from Iran and South Korea would be asked to stay in home isolation or a quarantine facility for 14 days. China's death toll from COVID-19 rose to nearly 2,600 on Monday, while the virus has now spread to more than 30 countries.
Kolkata, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Rangers have suspended safari rides in a popular nature reserve in eastern India after five one-horned female rhinoceroses died from a suspected infectious disease, officials said Monday. The animals were found dead over four days last week in Jaldapara National Park, nearly 700 kilometres (434 miles) north of West Bengal state's capital Kolkata.
India is home to two-thirds of the world's remaining one-horned rhinos, a vulnerable species on the IUCN red list "Blood smears from carcasses have been sent to a laboratory in Kolkata," the reserve's chief conservator Ujjal Ghosh told AFP. "All the five dead rhinos were adult females. We have put our staff on alert."
The park -- spread over 200 square kilometres (77 square miles) in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas -- is home to 204 rhinos according to the last official count in 2015. More than 70 captive elephants used for safaris and patrolling also live in the reserve. The safari rides are carried out on elephants. Activists said the animals may have died from anthrax, a communicable disease that attacks herbivores.
Humans can contract anthrax directly or indirectly from animals or animal products. "We suspect that the animals died from a communicable disease like anthrax. Jaldapara forest has the odd case of anthrax which killed animals earlier," wildlife activist Animesh Bose told AFP. Rangers were riding on elephants to reach the rhinos and vaccinate them using dart guns, the Hindustan Times reported. Drones would try to find out if other animals have died or fallen ill, the newspaper said.
Jakarta, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Dozens of Jakarta neighbourhoods were flooded Tuesday after torrential rains pounded Indonesia's capital, less than two months after nearly 70 people were killed in some of the megacity's worst flooding in years. There were no immediate reports of casualties after the latest deluge, but parts of the city ground to a halt as whole neighbourhoods were swamped in muddy water, while power outages hit some districts. At least 81 neighbourhoods were inundated with a dozen toll roads closed and some commuter train lines shuttered, according to an announcement by Indonesia's Disaster Mitigation Agency.
More torrential rains were expected later in the day. "So the flooding will likely spread," agency spokesperson Agus Wibowo said on Twitter. Floodwaters in some districts were as high as 127 centimetres (4 feet). The low-lying city is prone to flooding during the wet season which starts around November. Torrential rain in January triggered flooding and landslides that killed nearly 70 people in and around Jakarta while thousands more were forced to evacuate to shelters.
Monday 24 February 2020
Joint WHO and ECDC mission in Italy to support COVID-19 control and prevention efforts
24-02-2020 -- Italy has reported a rapid increase in cases of laboratory-confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) since 21 February 2020. An initial investigation by Italian authorities has found several clusters of cases in different regions of northern Italy, with evidence of local transmission of COVID-19.
A WHO-led team of experts from WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) arrived in Italy on Monday 24 February to support Italian authorities in understanding the situation. WHO experts are providing support in the areas of clinical management, infection prevention and control, surveillance and risk communication. At this stage the focus is on limiting further human-to-human transmission.
While limited local person-to-person transmission of COVID-19 in countries outside of China was expected, the rapid increase in reported cases in Italy over the past two days is of concern. However, it should also be noted that based on current data, in the majority of cases (4 out of every 5) people experience mild or no symptoms.
“COVID-19 is a new virus that we need to take very seriously. This mission to Italy is one of the ways in which WHO/Europe is supporting countries across the Region. We are working hard with our Member States to ensure that they are ready for COVID-19, preparing for the arrival of cases and possible localized spread. It is vital that we treat patients with dignity and compassion, put measures in place to prevent onward transmission, and protect health workers,” commented Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.
Health authorities in Italy are implementing measures to prevent onward transmission, including closing of schools and bars and cancelling of sports events and other mass gatherings in the areas affected. This aligns with the containment strategy currently being implemented globally in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. “WHO stands by the Government of Italy in its efforts and commitment to mitigate this outbreak and manage the cases effectively. Now is the time for solidarity and cooperation, to work together to protect everyone’s health,” added Dr Kluge.
Countries across the European Region continue to prepare for and respond to cases of COVID-19. This includes establishing how to promptly detect sick people, testing samples from suspect cases, ensuring appropriate infection control and case management to minimize the risk of the virus spreading, and maintaining communication with the public.
WHO Media Team
By David Vujanovic
Tehran, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Iran's government vowed Monday to be transparent after being accused of covering up the deadliest coronavirus outbreak outside China, dismissing claims the toll could be as high as 50.
The authorities in the Islamic republic have come under mounting public pressure since it took days for them to admit to "accidentally" shooting down a Ukrainian airliner last month, killing 176 people. The government said on Monday that Iran's coronavirus death toll had jumped by four to 12 -- by far the highest outside China -- as its neighbours closed their borders and imposed strict quarantine measures.
But Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a lawmaker from the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran, alleged the government was "lying" about the full extent of the outbreak. The ILNA news agency, which is close to reformists, said the lawmaker spoke of "50 deaths" in Qom alone. "The rest of the media have not published this figure, but we prefer not to censor what concerns the coronavirus because people's lives are in danger," ILNA editor Fatemeh Mahdiani told AFP.
Farahani was wearing a face mask during the closed session of parliament but left after speaking, as he felt unwell, state news agency IRNA reported, adding sanitary workers then cleaned his seat. Iran's government rejected his claim that the virus had killed 50 in Qom. "I categorically deny this information," Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said in a news conference aired live on state television. "This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem," he added.
- Transparency pledge -
The government pledged transparency over the outbreak. "We will announce any figures (we have) on the number of deaths throughout the country. We pledge to be transparent about the reporting of figures," its spokesman Ali Rabiei said. Iran has been scrambling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak since it announced the first two deaths in the holy city of Qom on Wednesday last week. Authorities have since ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres across the country as a "preventive measure".
A spokesman for Iran's parliament, Assadollah Abbassi, announced the latest four deaths among more than 60 infections after Monday's closed-door gathering of lawmakers. Citing Health Minister Said Namaki, he said that "the cause of coronavirus infections in Iran are people who have entered the country illegally from Pakistan, Afghanistan and China". Iran has yet to give a breakdown of where the other deaths occurred. The worst-hit province for infections is Qom, with 34 cases, according to health ministry figures.
The others are in Tehran with 13 infections, Gilan with six, Markazi with four, Isfahan with two and one each for Hamedan and Mazandaran. But the health minister said that one person who died of coronavirus in Qom, south of Tehran, was a businessman who had made several trips to China. Namaki had unsuccessfully pleaded in January for Iran's government to order the suspension of all commercial flights between Iran and China. In his remarks to state television on Sunday, the minister said direct flights between Iran and China were now suspended, but the Qom businessman had travelled there "on a connecting flight".
- Border closures -
Since it emerged in December, the new coronavirus has killed more than 2,500 people in China. Iran now accounts for nearly half of the deaths elsewhere in the world, which currently stand at 30. Many of Iran's neighbours have reported cases of coronavirus in people who had travelled to the Islamic republic. Afghanistan on Monday reported its first case in a person who had travelled to Qom. Baghdad also reported its first case on Monday -- an elderly Iranian citizen living in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf.
Iraq has shut its border with the Islamic republic and imposed a travel ban. Similar preventive measures were imposed by Afghanistan, Armenia, Pakistan and Turkey. Qom is a centre for Islamic studies and pilgrims, attracting scholars from Iran and beyond. Kuwait and Bahrain also confirmed their first novel coronavirus cases, all of whom had come from Iran.