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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Mariana Islands

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

Afghanistan

Afghanistal US Consular Information Sheet March 03, 2009


COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:


Afghanistan has made significant progress since the Taliban were deposed in 2001, but still faces daunting challenges, including de

eating terrorists and insurgents, recovering from over three decades of civil strife, dealing with years of severe drought and rebuilding a shattered physical, economic and political infrastructure. Coalition and NATO forces under ISAF work in partnership with Afghan security forces to combat Taliban and al-Qa’ida elements who seek to terrorize the population and challenge the government. Violence in 2008 reached unprecedented levels, as both ISAF/Afghan forces and the Taliban initiated more battles than ever before. President Hamid Karzai was sworn in as President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on December 7, 2004 and the Afghan Parliament was subsequently convened in late 2005. The government is working to develop a more effective police force, a more robust legal system, and sub-national institutions that work in partnership with traditional and local leaders to meet the needs of the population. The U.S. works closely with the international community to provide coordinated support for these efforts. An Afghanistan-hosted Peace Jirga with Pakistan resulted in a commitment to cooperate in combating terrorism, facilitate the return of Afghan refugees, and support regional economic activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Afghanistan for additional information.


ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:


 A passport and valid visa are required to enter and exit Afghanistan. Afghan entry visas are not available at Kabul International Airport or any other ports of entry in Afghanistan. American citizens who arrive without a visa are subject to confiscation of their passport and face heavy fines and difficulties in retrieving their passport and obtaining a visa, as well as possible deportation from the country. Americans arriving in the country via military air usually have considerable difficulties if they choose to depart Afghanistan on commercial air, because their passports are not stamped to show that they entered the country legally. Those coming on military air should move quickly after arrival to legalize their status if there is any chance they will depart the country on anything other than military air. Visit the Embassy of Afghanistan web site at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org for the most current visa information. The Consular office of the Embassy of Afghanistan is located at 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 216, Washington, DC 20007, phone number 202-298-9125. Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.


SAFETY AND SECURITY:


The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan emphasizes that the security situation remains critical for American citizens. The Taliban and associated insurgent groups, al-Qaida network terrorist organizations, and narco-traffickers oppose the strengthening of a democratic government. These groups aim to weaken or bring down the Government of Afghanistan and to drive Westerners out of the country. They do not hesitate to use violence, including targeting civilians. Terrorist activities may include, but are not limited to bombings -- including improvised explosive devices and car bombs -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults and kidnappings. There were over 120 suicide attacks in 2008. There is an ongoing threat to attack and kidnap U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers throughout the country. In 2008,, more than 30 NGO workers were killed (six foreigners) and at least 78 NGO staff members (seven foreigners) were abducted. Over 25 other foreign civilians, including journalists, were kidnapped. Kabul continues to experience suicide bombings against Afghan government personnel and installations, Afghan and coalition military assets, and international civilians. Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political or other issues. Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem. Official Americans' use of the Kabul-Jalalabad, Kabul-Kandahar highways and other roads throughout the country is often restricted or completely curtailed because of security concerns. Insurgents continue to use roadside and car bombs to conduct attacks and abductions along major highways. Millions of unexploded land mines and other ordinance present a constant danger. The country faces a difficult period in the near term, and American citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events. Americans should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns. The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder. Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property, or Americans coming to the country to engage in business, have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death. Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated, with few roads, mostly in poor condition, irregular cell phone signals, and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or the larger cities. Americans traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may not even have a way to communicate their difficulties to the outside world. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.


CRIME:


 A large portion of the Afghan population is unemployed, and many among the unemployed have moved to urban areas. Basic services are rudimentary or non-existent. These factors may directly contribute to crime and lawlessness. Diplomats and international relief workers have reported incidents of robberies and household burglaries as well as kidnappings and assault. Any American citizen who enters Afghanistan should remain vigilant for possible banditry, including violent attacks.


INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:


The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for assistance. The Embassy 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 provide a list of attorneys if needed. The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Afghanistan is: 119 Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.


CRIMINAL PENALTIES:


While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Afghanistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. During the last several years, there have been incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens. Arrested Americans have faced periods of detention—sometimes in difficult conditions—while awaiting trial. Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Another sensitive activity is proselytizing. Although the Afghan Constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing is often viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society. Proselytizing may lead to arrest and/or deportation. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.


SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:


Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is limited and unreliable. Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions. Credit card transactions are not available. International bank transfers are limited. Some ATM machines exist at Standard Charter Bank and Afghan International Bank (AIB) in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, but some travelers have complained of difficulties using them. International communications are difficult. Local telephone networks do not operate reliably. Most people rely on satellite or cellular telephone communications even to make local calls. Cellular phone service is available locally in Kabul and some other cities, but can be unreliable. Injured or distressed foreigners could face long delays before being able to communicate their needs to family or colleagues outside of Afghanistan. Internet access through local service providers is limited. In addition to being subject to all Afghan laws, U.S. citizens who are also citizens of Afghanistan may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Afghan citizens. U.S. citizens who are also Afghan nationals do not require visas for entry into Afghanistan. The Embassy of Afghanistan issues a letter confirming your nationality for entry into Afghanistan. However, you may wish to obtain a visa as some Afghan-Americans have experienced difficulties at land border crossings because they do not have a visa in their passport. For additional information on dual nationality in general, see the Consular Affairs home page for our dual nationality flyer. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. As stated in the Travel Warning, consular assistance for American citizens in Afghanistan is limited. Islam provides the foundation of Afghanistan's customs, laws and practices. Foreign visitors -- men and women -- are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts. Women in particular, especially when traveling outside of Kabul, may want to ensure that their tops have long sleeves and cover their collarbone and waistband, and that their pants/skirts cover their ankles. Almost all women in Afghanistan cover their hair in public; American women visitors should carry scarves for this purpose. Afghan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Afghanistan of items such as firearms, alcoholic beverages, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and printed materials. American travelers have faced fines and/or confiscation of items considered antiquities upon exiting Afghanistan. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers en route to Afghanistan may transit countries that have restrictions on firearms, including antique or display models. If you plan to take firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy and those that you will be transiting to learn about their regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling. Please consult http://www.customs.gov for information on importing firearms into the United States. Please see our Customs Information sheet.


MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:


Well-equipped medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan. European and American medicines are available in limited quantities and may be expensive or difficult to locate. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, and India are available, but their reliability can be questionable. Several western-style private clinics have opened in Kabul: the DK-German Medical Diagnostic Center (www.medical-kabul.com), Acomet Family Hospital (www.afghancomet.com), and CURE International Hospital (ph. 079-883-830) offer a variety of basic and routine-type care; Americans seeking treatment should request American or Western health practitioners. Afghan public hospitals should be avoided. Individuals without government licenses or even medical degrees often operate private clinics; there is no public agency that monitors their operations. Travelers will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country outside of Kabul, although there are some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages. For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance. Commercial medical evacuation capability from Afghanistan is limited and could take days to arrange. Even medevac companies that claim to service the world may not agree to come to Afghanistan. Those with medevac insurance should confirm with the insurance provider that it will be able to provide medevac assistance to this country. There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza in poultry in Afghanistan, to include the areas of Nangahar, Laghman, and Wardak provinces, and in the city of Kabul, however, there have been no reported cases of the H5N1 virus in humans. Updates on the Avian Influenza situation in Afghanistan are published on the Embassy’s web site at http://kabul.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html. For additional information on Avian Influenza, please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_1181.html Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Afghanistan. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB. http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx| The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Afghanistan. However, if one has questions, please inquire directly with the Embassy of Afghanistan at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org before you travel. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site. Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.


MEDICAL INSURANCE:


The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. 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 Afghanistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering improvised-explosive devices and land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways. An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordinance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Robbery and kidnappings are also prevalent on highways outside of Kabul. The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads. Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced. Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit. Rural roads are not paved. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.


AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:


As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa. U.S. Government personnel are not authorized to travel on Ariana Afghan Airlines or any other airline falling under the oversight of the Government of Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, owing to safety concerns; however, U.S. Government personnel are permitted to travel on international flights operated by airlines from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet international aviation safety standards for the oversight of their air carrier operations under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.


CHILDREN'S ISSUES:


 For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction. R


EGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:


Americans living or traveling in Afghanistan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Afghanistan. Americans without internet 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 in Kabul on Great Massoud (Airport) Road, local phone number 0700-108-001 or 0700-108-002, and for emergencies after hours 0700-201-908. The web site is http://kabul.usembassy.gov/ * * * * * This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 16, 2008 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Criminal Penalties, Special Circumstances, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 09:00:05 +0100 (MET)

Kabul, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Afghanistan has detected its first novel coronavirus case, the country's health minister said Monday, a day after Kabul announced it would suspend air and ground travel to Iran, where 12 people have died from the outbreak.   "I announce the first positive coronavirus (case) in Herat," health minister Firozuddin Feroz told a press conference, calling on citizens to avoid travel to the western province which borders Iran.
Date: Sat 15 Feb 2020 2:34:10 PM AFT
Source: MENAFN, Afghanistan Times News report [edited]

At least 35 people including women and children have died in the past few weeks due to pneumonia outbreak in Badakhshan Province in the north-western mountainous area, the provincial health department confirmed.

Dr Noor Khawari, head of the provincial public health department, said [Sat 15 Feb 2020] that the people had died in the Wakhan district, a remote area surrounded by high and impassable mountains.

He said that 15 of the dead were children, calling malnutrition and cold weather as the main reasons for the fatalities. A medical team had been dispatched to Wakhan to prevent further outbreak of the disease, according to Dr Khawari.

The provincial council had earlier said that at least 10 people had lost their lives since an unknown disease had broken out in the Yomgan district [Badakhshan Province].

The report caused panic and concerns among the residents as coronavirus [infection, COVID-19] in China that borders Badakhshan takes the lives of people every day.

But the ministry of public health denied outbreak of any unknown disease in Badakhshan, saying that the recent deaths happened only due to pneumonia and pertussis (whooping cough) as well as malnutrition. Badakhshan is one of the provinces where seasonal diseases like pneumonia and whooping cough break out during winter. The diseases claim the lives of people in the remote areas behind high mountains as the roads connecting them to the provincial capital are blocked by heavy snowfalls.

The provincial health department has deployed medical teams to the borders with China and Tajikistan to examine those entering from the neighbouring states and to prevent coronavirus [infection, COVID-9].
===========================
[We are told in the news report above that at least 35 people, including 15 children, died in the past few weeks due to a "pneumonia" outbreak in Wakhan district, a remote area surrounded by high and impassable mountains, with a population of about 14 000 residents. Wakhan is a narrow strip about 350 km (220 mi) long and 13-65 km (8-40 mi) wide that extends from Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan in the west to Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China in the east, separating the Pamir Mountains and Tajikistan to the north and the Karakoram Mountains and Pakistan to the south  (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wakhan_Corridor>).

A trade route through this valley has been used by travellers since antiquity
(<https://caravanistan.com/afghanistan/wakhan-corridor/>).

A map of this region can be found at

The local residents are concerned that the novel coronavirus infection, COVID-19, may be the cause of the outbreak of pneumonia in Wakhan district. There are about 70 500 total cases of COVID-19 in China, mainly concentrated in Hubei Province in Central China.

Although Xinjiang in Western China has reportedly 75 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1 death (assessed 16 Feb 2020 at 9:43 PM EST) (<https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6>), spread of COVID-19 to this very remote region in Afghanistan, that is easily cut off from the rest of the world especially in winter, seems unlikely. Also, 43% of deaths (15/35) occurred in children, which would be unusual for COVID-19. However, we are not told the clinical presentation of the illness, nor how a diagnosis of "pneumonia" was made in this undeveloped region. Other diagnoses, such as influenza, are also possible. More information from knowledgeable sources would be appreciated. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[Maps of Afghanistan:
Date: Wed 11 Dec 2019
Source: MENA FN [edited]

Officials in the Ministry of Public Health has said that 2 fresh positive cases of polio have been registered in southern Uruzgan [Oruzgan] and northern Baghlan provinces.

According to health officials, the families of the polio-affected children live in Dand-e-Ghori [Dahana-i-Ghori] and Khas Uruzgan districts, [respectively], and the areas were out of the government's control and deprived of medical facilities.

Dr. Abdul Qayum Khplwak, head of the medical institute for the southern part of Afghanistan, said that one of the 2 children has been deprived of polio vaccination in Khas Uruzgan district of the province. He said that despite tremendous efforts towards fighting polio, there are great obstacles against the implementation of the process.

"Until every child receives polio vaccination, our efforts would not reach a complete goal," he said, adding that "the fresh case in Uruzgan shows that southern provinces are facing serious polio threats."

Meanwhile, a local medical in charge for polio affairs in Baghlan, Marjan Rasikh, has put the age of the polio-affected child at 4 years old, saying that the case has marked the initial positive polio in the province.

Over 24 positive polio cases have been recorded from the beginning of 2019: more than 8 cases in Uruzgan, 5 in Helmand, 4 in Kandahar, 2 in Paktia, and 3 other cases in Badghis, Nangarhar, and Kunar provinces.

To prevent the positive cases of polio, the health officials said that anti-polio vaccination should be implemented across the country.
===================
[The addition of these 2 newly confirmed cases will increase the total number of cases reported from Afghanistan with dates of onset during 2019 to 24. There was a newly confirmed case from Kandahar reported in last week's GPEI (Global Polio Eradication Initiative) report with date of onset 10 Nov 2019.

Again, the common denominator in the occurrence of WPV1 (wild poliovirus type 1)-associated AFP (acute flaccid paralysis) cases (presumed to be WPV cases) and in cVDPV (circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus)-associated cases is the presence of a significant susceptible population, or, in other words, areas with suboptimal vaccination coverages.

A map of Afghanistan showing provinces can be found at
The HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Afghanistan can be found at
Date: Mon 2 Dec 2019
Source: China.org.cn, Xinhua News Agency report [edited]

One fresh polio case had been detected in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province, a local newspaper reported on [Mon 2 Dec 2019].

"With this new case, the total number of polio cases in 2019 reaches 22 in the country. The latest polio case has been reported from Kandahar city, capital of Kandahar province which permanently paralyzed an 18-month-old child," Daily Afghanistan-e-Ma reported.

The paper added that polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease.

"Most of the Afghan children affected by poliovirus this year [2019] are living in areas where kids do not have access to health facilities and regular anti-polio vaccination campaign. However, this time a child has been affected in a large city where anti-polio vaccination had been conducted repeatedly this year," the report said.

There is no cure for polio and the polio vaccine is the only safe and effective way to protect children.

The ongoing conflicts have been hindering the efforts to stamp out the infectious disease in the mountainous country.
===================
[The addition of 3 newly confirmed cases of polio (all 3 due to WPV1, as per End Polio Pakistan <https://www.endpolio.com.pk/polioin-pakistan/polio-cases-in-provinces>) in Pakistan and one newly confirmed case of polio in Afghanistan brings the total number of WPV1 associated cases with date of onset in 2019 to 116 (94 in Pakistan and 22 in Afghanistan). The key question here is whether Afghanistan and Pakistan, with all the challenges in vaccinating the susceptible populations due to a variety of anti-vaccination impediments, will be able to interrupt transmission of the WPV1 in both countries simultaneously.

Maps of Afghanistan:
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/137>. - ProMED Mod.MPP]
Date: Sun 1 Sep 2019
Source: MENAFN - Afghanistan Times [edited]

Two new polio cases have surfaced separately in capital city of Tirinkot and Chora district of southern Uruzgan [Oruzgan] province, a statement from the relevant ministry said [Sun 1 Sep 2019].

A 30-month-old child and another 6-month-old infant were permanently paralyzed as a result of the polio virus.

According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), the total number of polio cases in 2019 reached 15 with the 2 new cases, saying all of these cases had been reported from inaccessible areas.

"Of the 15 polio cases this year [2019], 14 have been reported from the southern region of Afghanistan,' the statement said, adding "7 positive cases came from [Oruzgan], 5 from Helmand, and 2 other from Kandahar."

Only 1 out of 12 polio cases was reported from eastern Kunar province while the rest happened in the southern zone.

"Access to health services is the right of every citizen of the country," said Dr Ferozuddin Feroz, the Minister of Public Health. "We are deeply concerned about the increasing polio cases and the number of children who still don't have consistent and proper access to vaccination," he added.

He said the virus could spread further in the country and more children would be affected and paralyzed by polio virus.

He called upon people to 'work together and protect innocent children against polio and facilitate a safe and secure environment for our frontline workers in order to enable them administer vaccine drops to children in every nook and cranny of the country."

Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease. There is no cure and the vaccine is the only safe and effective way to protect children.

The polio vaccine is safe and harmless for new-born children whether they are sick or not. It is very important that new-borns and sick children get the vaccine because they may have lower immunity which makes them more susceptible to the virus.

Polio vaccination has also been strongly endorsed by national and global Islamic scholars.
========================
[As I mentioned in the moderator comment of the last post (Poliomyelitis update (71): global (Pakistan, Congo DR) http://promedmail.org/post/20190901.6651501), "While there have been no newly confirmed cases reported from Afghanistan this week nor have there been positive environmental samples reported from either Pakistan or Afghanistan, it doesn't mean the virus is not still circulating, just that there aren't new confirmations." Unfortunately there were cases under investigation.

As correctly stated in the media report above, the addition of these 2 newly confirmed cases brings the number of confirmed WPV1 cases reported by Afghanistan during 2019 to date to 15.

Oruzgan is located in the central part of Afghanistan, sharing southern and southwestern borders with Kandahar and Helmand provinces where other polio cases have been reported this year (2019) as well (<http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/afghanistan_admin-2009.jpg>).

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Afghanistan:
More ...

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

Iran

Iran - US Consular Information Sheet
July 1, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Iran is a constitutional Islamic republic with a theocratic system of government where ultimate political authority is vested in a religious scholar, the Supreme Leader

Shia Islam is the official religion of Iran, and Islamic law is the basis of the authority of the state.
The Iranian Constitution guarantees freedom of worship to Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, though they are sometimes the subject of discrimination and repression.
The workweek in Iran is Saturday through Thursday; however, many government offices and private companies are closed on Thursdays.
Friday is the day of rest when all establishments are closed.
Offices in Iran are generally open to the public during the morning hours only.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Iran for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Should you decide to travel to Iran despite the current Travel Warning, a passport and visa are required, except for travel to Kish Island.
To obtain a visa, contact the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan located at 2209 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20007; tel. 202-965-4990, 91, 92, 93, 94, 99, fax 202-965-1073, 202-965-4990 (Automated Fax-On-Demand after office hours).
Their web site is http://www.daftar.org/Eng/default.asp?lang=eng.

U.S. citizens traveling to Iran are being fingerprinted upon entry.
The Iranian press has reported that foreign tourists may obtain seven-day tourist visas at the airport in Tehran.
However, U.S. citizens are not eligible to receive these visas and have to obtain valid visas from the Iranian Interests Section in Washington.
Note:
possession of a valid Iranian visa will not guarantee entry into the country.
Some American travelers with valid visas have been refused entry at the border without explanation.
U.S. citizens do not have to obtain a visa for travel from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Kish Island.
U.S. passports are valid for travel to Iran.
However, the Iranian government does not recognize dual nationality and will treat U.S.-Iranian dual nationals solely as Iranian citizens.
Thus, U.S. citizens who were born in Iran, who became naturalized citizens of Iran (e.g. through marriage to an Iranian citizen), and children of such persons—even those without Iranian passports who do not consider themselves Iranian—are considered Iranian nationals by Iranian authorities.
Therefore, despite the fact that these individuals hold U.S. citizenship, under Iranian law, they must enter and exit Iran on an Iranian passport, unless the Iranian government has recognized a formal renunciation or loss of Iranian citizenship.
Dual nationals may be subject to harsher legal treatment than a visitor with only American citizenship.
(See section on Special Circumstances below.)
In the past, U.S.-Iranian dual nationals have been denied permission to enter/depart Iran using their U.S. passport; they have also had their U.S. passports confiscated upon arrival or departure.
(Depending on the circumstances, the individuals were sometimes able to retrieve their U.S. passports after renouncing their Iranian citizenship.)
Recently, Iranian authorities have prevented a number of Iranian-American citizen academics, journalists, and others who traveled to Iran for personal reasons from leaving, and in some cases have detained and imprisoned them on various charges, including espionage and being a threat to the regime.
Americans of Iranian origin should consider the risk of being targeted by authorities before planning travel to Iran.
Iranian authorities may deny dual nationals’ access to the United States Interests Section in Tehran, because they are considered to be solely Iranian citizens.

As a precaution, however, it is advisable for U.S.-Iranian dual nationals to obtain in their Iranian passports the necessary visas for the country which they will transit upon their return to the U.S. so that, if their U.S. passports are confiscated in Iran, they may depart Iran with their Iranian passport.
These individuals can then apply for a new U.S. passport in that third country.

Dual nationals whose U.S. passports are confiscated may also obtain a “Confirmation of Nationality” from the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland, which is the U.S. protecting power.
This statement, addressed to the relevant foreign embassies in Tehran, enables the travelers to apply for third-country visas in Tehran.
Dual nationals finding themselves in this situation should note in advance that the Swiss Embassy would issue this statement only after the traveler's U.S. nationality is confirmed and after some processing delay.
Dual nationals must enter and depart the United States on U.S. passports.

Visa extensions are time-consuming and must be filed at least one week in advance of the expiration date.
As of March 21, 2006, a foreign national and anyone accompanying him/her will pay a fine of 300,000 rials or 30,000 ottomans per day for each day of unauthorized stay in Iran.

All Iranian nationals, including U.S.-Iranian dual nationals, must have an exit permit stamped in their Iranian passports in order to depart Iran.
The stamp is affixed to the Iranian passport when it is issued and remains valid until the expiration date of the passport.
All Iranian nationals residing abroad and in Iran, including U.S.-Iranian dual nationals, are now required to pay an exit tax regardless of the duration of their stay in Iran.
More specific information on Iranian passport and exit visa requirements may be obtained from the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C.
Non-Iranian-national women who marry Iranian citizens gain Iranian nationality upon marriage.
If the marriage takes place in Iran, the woman’s American passport will be confiscated by Iranian authorities.
They must have the consent of their husbands to leave Iran or, in his absence, must gain the permission of the local prosecutor.
Iranian law combined with the lack of diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran means that the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran can provide only very limited assistance if an American woman married to an Iranian man has marital difficulties and/or encounters difficulty in leaving Iran.

After divorce or death of the husband, a foreign-born woman has the choice to renounce her Iranian citizenship but any of the couple’s children will automatically be Iranian citizens and their citizenship is irrevocable.
They will be required to enter and depart Iran on Iranian passports.
For a divorce to be recognized it should be carried out in Iran or, if outside Iran, in accordance with Sharia law.
Upon divorce, custody of the children normally goes to the mother until the child reaches age 7, at which point custody is automatically transferred to the father.
However, if the courts determine that the father is unsuitable to raise the children, they may grant custody to the paternal grandfather or to the mother, if the mother has not renounced her Iranian citizenship and is normally resident in Iran.
If the courts grant custody to the mother, she will need permission from the paternal grandfather or the courts to obtain exit visas for the minor children (under age 18) to leave the country.
Iran is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Please see the Department of State’s International Parental Child Abduction flyer on Iran for further information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens who travel to Iran despite the Travel Warning should exercise caution throughout the country, but especially in the southeastern region where westerners have been victims of criminal gangs often involved in the smuggling of drugs and other contraband.
American citizens should avoid travel to areas within 100 kilometers of the border with Afghanistan, within 10 kilometers of the border with Iraq, and generally anywhere east of the line from Bam and Bandar Abbas toward the Pakistan border.

Terrorist explosions have killed a number of people since 2005.
Be aware that the Iranian government has blamed the U.S. and/or UK governments for involvement in the February 2007 bombing that killed Iranian military forces in Zahedan in the southeast and the 2005/2006 bombings in Ahvaz/Khuzestan in the southwest.
A number of British firms were damaged in attacks in August and November 2005.

U.S. citizens are advised to avoid demonstrations and large public gatherings.
Increased tension between Iran and the West over the past several years is a cause of concern for American travelers.

Iranian security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited and could result in serious criminal charges, including espionage, which carries the death penalty.

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

Up-to-date information on safety and security, including safety and security in Iran, 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:
Major crime is generally not a problem for travelers in Iran, although foreigners occasionally have been victims of petty street crime.
Young men in unmarked cars have robbed foreigners and young men on motor bikes have snatched bags.
There have been reports of robberies by police impersonators, usually in civilian clothing.
Insist on seeing the officer’s identity card and request the presence of a uniformed officer/marked patrol car.
Travelers should not surrender any documents or cash.

Travelers should not carry large amounts of hard currency.
In view of the possibility of theft, passports, disembarkation cards, other important documents and valuables should be kept in hotel safes or other secure locations.
Pre-booked taxis are safer than those hailed from the street.
Americans should check with their hotel or tour guide for information on local scams.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran or the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Because of the lack of a U.S. Embassy in Iran, the processing time for a replacement passport takes longer at the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy than elsewhere.

If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Interests Section for assistance.
The 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, Swiss Embassy officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent of the “911” emergency line in Iran is as follows:
115 for ambulance service, 125 for fire and 110 for police.
English speakers, however, are generally unavailable. See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Basic medical care and medicines are available in the principal cities, but may not be available in rural areas.
Medical facilities do not meet U.S. standards and sometimes lack medicines and supplies.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
In 2006, there were reports of Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, mostly in the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan province.
See www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs208/en for more information.
Iranian authorities have confirmed outbreaks of avian influenza (bird flu) in January 2008 in northern Iran, as well as earlier reports among wild swans in the Anzali Wetlands and in domestic poultry in the northern provinces of Azerbaijan and Gilan.
There have been a number of fatalities from avian flu reported in eastern Turkey, 45 kilometers from the Iranian border.
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 Iran is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:
Travelers in possession of International Driver’s Permits may drive in Iran, though the U.S. Interests Section in Iran does not recommend that tourists drive in Iran.
Iran has a very high rate of traffic accidents, the second highest cause of mortality in the country.
Drivers throughout Iran tend to ignore traffic lights, traffic signs and lane markers.
Urban streets are not well lit.
It is therefore particularly dangerous to drive at night.
Sidewalks in urban areas only exist on main roads and are usually obstructed by parked cars.
In the residential areas, few sidewalks exist.
Drivers almost never yield to pedestrians at crosswalks.
If you are involved in an accident, no matter how minor, do not leave the scene.
Wait until the police arrive to file a report.

Iranian authorities sometimes set up informal roadblocks, both in cities and on highways, often manned by young, inexperienced officers.
They are often suspicious of foreigners.
Ensure you carry a form of identification with you and avoid getting into disputes.
Pollution levels from cars are very high, particularly in Tehran, which can trigger respiratory problems. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the U.S. by carriers registered in Iran, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Government of Iran’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.
Civil aviation in Iran continues to experience air incidents and accidents, including five crashes with fatalities between April 20, 2005, and November 27, 2006.
Incidents have included engine failure and planes veering off the runway.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
The Iranian Government has seized the passports and blocked the departure of foreigners who work in Iran on tax/commercial disputes.

In addition to being subject to all Iranian laws, U.S. citizens who also possess Iranian citizenship may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on citizens of Iran, such as military service or taxes. Iranian-citizen males aged 18-34 are required to perform military service, unless exempt.
Iranian-Americans, even those born in the U.S., are included.

Dual nationals sometimes have their U.S. passports confiscated and may be denied permission to leave Iran, or encounter other problems with Iranian authorities.
Likewise, Iranian authorities may deny dual nationals’ access to the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran, because they are considered to be solely Iranian citizens.
Refer to the above section entitled "Entry/Exit Requirements" for additional information concerning dual nationality.

U.S. citizens who are not dual U.S.-Iran nationals are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport (biodata page and page with Iranian visa) with them at all times, so that if questioned by local officials, proof of U.S. citizenship is readily available.
Carry some other form of identification with you, such as a drivers license or other photo identification at all times as well.
Credit cards and bank cards are not widely accepted in Iran.
It is difficult to change dollars to rials in Iranian banks and you may not be able to access your U.S. bank accounts via the Internet from Iran.
You will not be able to access your U.S. bank accounts using ATMs in Iran.
Travelers checks can be difficult to exchange.
Bring enough hard currency to cover your stay, but make sure you declare this currency upon entry.
There is no Western Union or similar institution and bank transfers may not be possible.
Exchange money only at banks or an authorized currency exchange facility, not on the street, and keep your exchange receipts.

Pre-paid overseas calling cards are available at most newsagents.
The Internet is widely used in Iran.
There are Internet cafes in most hotels.
Usage may be monitored.

Do not work illegally.
You will be deported, fined and/or imprisoned.
You may also be prevented from entering the country again.
Islamic law is strictly enforced in Iran.
Alcohol is forbidden. Importation of pork products is banned.
Consult a guide book on Iran to determine how to dress and behave properly and respectfully.
Women should expect to wear a headscarf and jacket that covers the arms and upper body while in public.
There may be additional dress requirements at certain religious sites, e.g., women might need to put on a chador (which covers the whole body except the face) at some shrines.
During the holy month of Ramadan, you should in general observe the Muslim tradition of not eating, drinking or smoking in public from sunrise to sunset each day, though there are exemptions for foreign travelers who eat in hotel restaurants.
(See the Criminal Penalties section below for more information.)
In general, it is best to ask before taking photographs of people.
Hobbies like photography and those involving the use of binoculars (e.g., bird-watching) can be misunderstood and get you in trouble with security officials.
(See the Safety and Security section above for warnings on photography.)
For specific information regarding Iranian customs regulations, contact the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, DC.
Please see our Customs Information for U.S. regulations.
Most laptops are controlled items.
It is unlawful to bring controlled items into Iran, even on a temporary basis, unless specifically authorized by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in a manner consistent with the Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act of 1992 and other relevant law.
U.S. Government economic sanctions still govern imports of Iranian-origin goods and services and exports to Iran.
Except for carpets and foodstuffs, and information or informational materials and gifts valued at $100 or less, the importation of Iranian-origin goods or services into the United States is prohibited.
The exportation or re-exportation of goods, technology or services directly or indirectly from the United States or by a U.S. person to Iran also is prohibited, except in the following cases: articles donated to relieve human suffering (such as food, clothing and medicine), gifts valued at $100 or less, licensed exports of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices, and trade in informational materials.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Department of Treasury, provides guidance to the public on the interpretation of the current economic sanctions.
For further information, consult OFAC’s Compliance Programs Division, at 202-622-2490, visit the OFAC web site at http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/, or obtain information via fax at 202-622-0077.
For information concerning licensing of exports, contact OFAC’s Licensing Division at:

Licensing Division
Office of Foreign Assets Control
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Treasury Annex
Washington, DC 20220
Telephone (202) 622-2480; Fax (202) 622-1657

Iran is prone to earthquakes.
Many people have died in recent years, most notably in the city of Bam in 2003, killing 30,000.
In February 2005, an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale struck Zarand in southeast Iran.
In March 2006, several earthquakes occurred in Restan province, western Iran, killing around 100 and injuring 1200.
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 Iranian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Fines, public floggings, and long prison terms are common.
Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, as well as persons who encourage Muslims to convert, are subject to arrest and possible execution.
Drinking, possession of alcoholic beverages and drugs, un-Islamic dress, as well as public displays of affection with a member of the opposite sex are considered to be crimes.
Relations between non-Muslim men and Muslim women are illegal.
Adultery, sex outside of marriage and gay sex are all illegal under Iranian law and carry the death penalty.
DVDs depicting sexual relations and magazines showing unveiled women are forbidden.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Iran are severe and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Iran executes many people each year on drug-related charges.
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.

U.S. citizens in Iran who violate Iranian laws, including laws that are unfamiliar to Westerners (such as those regarding the proper wearing of apparel,) may face severe penalties.

The Iranian Government reportedly has the names of all individuals who filed claims against Iran at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague pursuant to the 1981 Algerian Accords.
In addition, the Iranian Government reportedly has compiled a list of the claimants who were awarded compensation in the Iran Claims Program administered by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.
The Iranian government is allegedly targeting award-holders who travel to Iran.
It is reported that upon some claimants' entry into Iran, Iranian authorities question them as to the status of payment of their respective awards with a view to recouping the award money.
It is also reported that the Iranian Government has threatened to prevent U.S. claimants who visit Iran from departing the country until they make arrangements to repay part or all of their award.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION/U.S. INTERESTS SECTION LOCATION:
There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Iran.
The Embassy of Switzerland serves as the protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran.
The U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy is currently located at Afrika Avenue, West Farzan Street, no. 59, Tehran.
The telephone numbers for the U.S. Interests Section are (98) 021-8878-2964 and 98-021-8879-2364, fax 98-021-8877-3265, email: tie.vertretung@eda.admin.ch.
The workweek is Sunday through Thursday.
Public service hours are 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon.
The Interests Section does not issue U.S. visas or accept visa applications.
The limited consular services provided to U.S. citizens in Tehran include:
(a) registering U.S. citizens;
(b) answering inquiries concerning the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens in Iran;
(c) rendering assistance in times of distress or physical danger;
(d) providing U.S. citizens with passport and Social Security card applications and other citizenship forms for approval at the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland;
(e) performing notarial services on the basis of accommodation; and,
(f) taking provisional custody of the personal effects of deceased U.S. citizens.
Americans living or traveling in Iran are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Iran.
They may also register on the web site of the U.S. Interests Section at www.eda.admin.ch/tehran.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate before flying to Iran.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the U.S. Interests Section to contact them in case of emergency.
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*
*
*
*
*
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 5, 2007, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, Criminal Penalties and Registration/U.S. Interests Section Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 11:40:20 +0100 (MET)
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.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 12:29:01 +0100 (MET)
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.
Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: Financial Tribune [edited]

Iran has confirmed 43 cases of people infected with the new coronavirus, with 8 reported dead by Sunday [23 Feb 2020] noon, health officials said. The Health Ministry has identified 15 new cases of the COVID-19 virus and 3 more deaths, raising the total number of the infected to 43, and bringing the death toll to 8, the head of the ministry's Media Center announced.

According to data released by Kianoush Jahanpour, the epicenter of the virus outbreak in Iran is Qom, speculated to have been spread by a businessman with regular travels to China. Up to now, all those who have contracted the disease live in central and northern parts of Iran, IRNA reported.

With Iran reporting the highest number of deaths outside mainland China, neighboring countries have started to take precautionary measures to halt the spread of the disease. Kuwait has suspended travels to and from Iran and it has barred ships coming from Iran to enter the country. Iraq has also banned flights from Iran. Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan have closed borders with Iran as a safety measure, fearing the spike in the number of deaths from the new coronavirus. Following Turkey's announcement that it has started to screen all travelers arriving from Iran, officials from Iran's Health Ministry said all travelers to Turkey are to be tested and issued a health certificate 24 hours before their flights leave for the neighboring country.
 
Preventive Measures
President Hassan Rouhani has ordered the health minister to set up a committee and mobilize resources to coordinate efforts to stem the coronavirus spread. Health Minister Saeed Namaki is set to attend a parliamentary session on Monday [24 Feb 2020] to update the lawmakers on the epidemic. Lawmakers have advised the public to refrain from traveling in the New Year holidays that start on [20 Mar 2020]. Namaki said although they will sanitize buses, trains and airplanes, it is best for the public not to make unnecessary trips. Means of public transportation are also being disinfected on a regular basis.

The minister has also asked ICT ministry to send frequent educative text messages to the public on preventive measures. The Culture Ministry has canceled all cultural events, including concerts and closed down cinemas across the country until the end of the week. All sports events have been canceled for 10 days starting Monday [24 Feb 2020]. Following a mandate issued by the Health Ministry and the Science Ministry to close some universities until the weekend, the University of Tehran ordered the evacuation of dormitories on Sunday [23 Feb 2020]. Schools have been shut down for several days in a number of provinces.

The Health Ministry has asked officials to bar restaurants and cafes from serving hookah, which is usually shared among several people. Free masks are to be distributed among the people, with the priority given to cities that have reported coronavirus cases.

The total number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus has exceeded 77 000, with over 2300 deaths worldwide. Almost all deaths have taken place in mainland China, the epicenter of the disease, followed by Iran and South Korea, reporting 8 and 6 deaths, respectively. The East Asian country has confirmed over 600 cases of the new coronavirus while Tehran has only reported 43.
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[The number of cases in Iran is growing with 15 newly confirmed cases and 3 newly reported deaths bringing the total number of cases to 43, including 8 fatalities. One suspects as testing expands and more milder clinical presentations are found to be SARS-CoV-2-positive, the reported case fatality rate will be lower. The epidemiologic picture is still unfolding.

Qom is located to the southwest of Tehran in central Iran, and Guila is to the northwest of both Qom and Tehran and is located on the Caspian Sea.

A good map of Iran showing provinces can be found at
<https://www.mapsofworld.com/iran/iran-political-map.html>.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Iran is available at
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2020 12:19:59 +0100 (MET)

Tehran, Feb 19, 2020 (AFP) - Two people in Iran tested positive Wednesday for the deadly new coronavirus, the health ministry said, in the Islamic republic's first cases of the disease.   Kianoush Jahanpour, a ministry spokesman, said the cases were detected in the holy city of Qom, south of the Iranian capital.   "In the past two days, some suspect cases of the new coronavirus were observed in Qom city," he said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.

"Teams were dispatched after receiving the reports, and based on the existing protocols the suspect cases were isolated and tested," said Jahanpour.   "Out of the samples sent, a laboratory tested two of them as positive for coronavirus just minutes ago and some of the other samples were type B influenza."

The health ministry spokesman said additional tests were being done on the two cases and final results would be announced "as soon as possible".   The new coronavirus epidemic has killed more than 2,000 people in China and infected more than 74,000. It has spread to at least two dozen countries.   The United Arab Emirates was the first country in the Middle East to report cases of coronavirus last month.
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2020 11:21:38 +0100 (MET)

Tehran, Jan 14, 2020 (AFP) - Flooding in southern Iran has killed at least three people and left hundreds of villages cut off following days of heavy rainfall, official media reported on Tuesday.   "So far three people have been confirmed dead and one has been reported missing," Press TV, the English-language service of state television, reported on its website.   Rescue teams used boats and helicopters to provide relief after floodwaters cut off road access to urban areas of Hormozgan, Kerman and Sistan-Baluchistan provinces, state news agency IRNA said.

They have so far been unable to reach the town of Qasr-e Qand and 40 surrounding villages in Sistan-Baluchistan, said governor Rahimbaksh Pakandish, cited by IRNA.   Five hundred villages were affected and thousands of homes destroyed or damaged in the south-eastern province, IRNA reported, adding that 285 families were given emergency shelter in Red Crescent tents.   "More than 20,000 people in villages of Sistan-Baluchistan province have lost their homes because of flooding or are surrounded by water," Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi was quoted as saying.   The Revolutionary Guards distributed 1,000 food packages to those affected, said IRNA.

In Kerman province, roads were severed and 40 villages suffered damage, while in Hormozgan province 61 people were rescued.   The amount of rain that fell in the southwestern province of Hormozgan since Friday was "unprecedented", the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.   Floodwaters had surrounded more than 50 villages in the Gulf province.   "Unprecedented floods are ravaging #Iran's Sistan & Baluchistan province, with significant human & material costs," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Monday night.   The flood disaster is the worst in Iran since at least 70 people were killed across 20 provinces in April.
More ...

Nepal

General:
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Nepal is regarded as a developing nation which has a great variability of facilities for the tourist depending on the location throughout the country. It is a mountainous country and many travellers to th
s region undertake long arduous treks. It is wise to ensure that your general health will be sufficient for the trip you plan under normal circumstances. Talking your itinerary through with other experienced travellers to this region will be important before you finally book your holiday. The climate varies throughout the year with their monsoon season typically stretching from May to October. During this time significant flooding can occur and the high humidity leads to increased numbers of mosquitoes. Travel to the Terai plains during this period leads to the greatest risk of mosquito borne disease.
Safety & Security:
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The security situation throughout Nepal has caused quite a degree of concern throughout the past few years. There has been a general increased level of robberies and this has involved tourists on a number of occasions. Those trekking in Nepal are strongly advised to travel with reputable organised groups who will have checked the local situation out carefully before departure. It is very inadvisable to trek alone in Nepal. This is particularly true in the Rasuwa District of the Langtang Area. Airport security in Katmandu has been improved since the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC814 in December 1999 but take care of your belongings at all times and never carry anything for strangers no matter how plausible their reason may be.
Health Facilities:
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The level of Western health facilities in Katmandu and Pokhara are excellent but expensive. Outside of the main city the level of healthcare can be very limited. It is essential that all tourists ensure that they have adequate travel insurance which will cover accidents and evacuation by helicopter. Cover for cancelled flights and loss of belongings is also extremely important. The CIWEC Medical Clinic in Katmandu provides an excellent medical service for travellers and their web page gives extensive advice on travelling throughout Nepal.Telephone numbers Katmandu 228531, or 241732. Web site: www.ciwec-clinic.com
Food & Water Facilities:
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Katmandu is a large city with a large population and much squalor. The main tourist hotels provide a good degree of hygiene for travellers but those undertaking trekking holidays will leave this relative health security and head to regions of the country where food and water hygiene are very poor. It is essential that all food consumed is freshly prepared and well cooked. Cold vegetables or salads should be avoided as the risk of diseases like amoebiasis and giardiasis is very high. All water should be checked for a smell of chlorine and if this is not present then it should not be used for either drinking or brushing your teeth. Even bottled water from any source outside of the main hotels should be treated with suspicion as in many cases it will be plain untreated tap water.
Rabies risks in Nepal:
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This viral disease is usually transmitted by the bite (lick or scratch) from any infected warm blooded animal. Usually humans are infected by dogs but cats and monkeys are also frequently implicated. In many of the temples of Nepal there will be a multitude of monkeys and it may be difficult to avoid contact. If you are exposed then urgent medical attention will be required and this will often mean a rapid return to Katmandu. Never treat this disease lightly and always ensure that any contact is followed up as soon as possible.
Altitude Problems:
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Arriving into Katmandu at 4,500ft usually presents no major difficulty for travellers. However, depending on the actual trek which is proposed you may put yourself at risk of exhaustion, dehydration and altitude sickness. The better tour companies will tailor the actual trek to the abilities of those taking part but try not to allow yourself become attached to a group which will push your health to extremes. Many treks will take travellers to heights reaching 18,000ft.
Malaria risk in Nepal:
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The main risk of malaria in Nepal will be for those visiting the Terai region. Even here, the significant risk occurs during the monsoon season and for a period afterwards. However, malaria transmission is reported from other regions of the country and this will need to be talked through in depth before you leave home.
Mosquito Borne diseases:
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Apart from malaria there are two other significant mosquito borne diseases which occur in regions of Nepal. Dengue Fever and Japanese B Encephalitis are both frequently implicated in outbreaks and both diseases can cause severe illness even death. Avoiding mosquito and sandfly bites at all times is essential.
Road & Climbing Safety:
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The road conditions throughout rural Nepal are poor and care will be required at all times. Many mountainous passes are impassible during the monsoon season and can even be very hazardous at other times throughout the year. In Katmandu the roads are congested, pollution is a significant problem and walkways may be non existent in many places. If undertaking a trek it is important to make sure your general health is sufficient and that you have adequate clothing and shoes to suit both the expected and unexpected.
Local Laws & Customs:
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The Nepalese customs are very strict regarding importation and exportation of many goods including valuable metals, articles of archeological or religious importance, drugs, arms and communication equipment. Imprisonment can quickly follow any infringement of their rules. Women are advised to dress modestly and generally it is wiser to avoid inappropriate clothing in public such as shorts, sleeveless tops etc.
Vaccination for Nepal:
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Unless you are entering Katmandu from tropical Africa there are no essential vaccines for entry or exit. We used to receive reports of buses being stopped coming overland from India and for all on board to have evidence of Cholera vaccination. However, this does not appear to be a current problem. Nevertheless, for your own personal health it is recommended that travellers are covered against the following diseases;
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Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food and water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food and water borne disease)
For those undertaking a longer more rural trip other vaccines may need to be considered including Hepatitis B, Rabies, Japanese B and Meningitis.
Summary:
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Tourists will need to ensure the highest level of personal care while visiting Nepal at all times. Many of the conditions and situations mentioned above occur frequently in those who forget the basic commonsense rules about travelling healthy.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 5 Feb 2020
Source: The Himalayan Times [edited]

A person died from viral fever in Swamikartik Khapar rural municipality of Bajura district on Tuesday evening [4 Feb 2020]. The deceased was aged 55, of Joru, in the rural municipality. Five other members of this person's family are known to be sick, said in-charge of Sappata Health Post, Birja BK, adding that hundreds have fallen sick in the rural municipality.

Acting chief administrative officer of Swamikartik Khapar rural municipality, Kuber Shahi, said that over 215 people in ward-1 have fallen ill from the seasonal flu. He added that health workers are finding it difficult to administer treatment after the whole village started falling sick. Shahi quoted the health workers as saying that treatment of patients has become challenging due to lack of sufficient medicines and human resources at the health post. The number of people suffering from the condition increased over the past week.

Meanwhile, the coordinator of the health department at the rural municipality, Bhakta Bahadur Kaila, said health personnel along with available medicines would be mobilised to the viral-fever-affected areas. Health professionals have advised the locals to be alert and take precautionary measures to avoid the spreading of the viral condition.

Himali rural municipality has also reported some cases of the viral fever; a team of health professionals are visiting today to assess the situation.  [byline: Prakash Singh]
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 18:26:22 +0100 (MET)

Kathmandu, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - Health authorities in Nepal on Friday confirmed that a student who returned from Wuhan, China tested positive for the new coronavirus, becoming the first South Asian country to report the deadly disease.   The 32-year-old student arrived in Nepal on January 9, and entered the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Kathmandu four days later after running a fever and reporting trouble breathing, hospital spokesperson Anup Bastola told AFP.

The health ministry confirmed the case in a statement.   "The results of a sample, sent to Hong Kong, have returned positive," Bastola told AFP.    "He was discharged after recovery. We are monitoring the patient and he and his family members are healthy. So are all the health workers in the hospital," Bastola said.

Nepal's health ministry also said in a statement that surveillance has been increased at the airport, "and suspicious patients entering Nepal are being monitored with correct manpower and equipment".   At least 26 people have been killed by the previously unknown SARS-like coronavirus. Cases have been reported in half a dozen countries, including the United States.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 12:08:14 +0100 (MET)

Kathmandu, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Eight Indian tourists, including four children, have died after they were found unconscious in their room at a hill resort in Nepal on Tuesday, police said.   The eight -- two couples and their children -- had slept in one room at a hotel in Daman, a popular tourist destination in Makwanpur district about 55 kilometres (34 miles) from Kathmandu.   "They were found unconscious this morning and airlifted to Kathmandu but died during treatment," police spokesman Shailesh Thapa Chettri told AFP.

The families, from the south-eastern state of Kerala, used a gas heater in their room to keep warm, a district official told AFP.   "We suspect they died of suffocation, but autopsy reports will confirm the cause," Chettri added.   India is Nepal's biggest source of tourists, making up some 16 percent of visitors to the Himalayan nation.
Date: Sun, 19 Jan 2020 14:17:42 +0100 (MET)

Kathmandu, Jan 19, 2020 (AFP) - Avalanches, heavy snow and poor visibility hampered the search Sunday for four South Koreans and three Nepalis caught in an avalanche in the popular Annapurna region of the Himalayas, officials said   Relatives of the missing Koreans have arrived in Kathmandu alongside several officials sent by Seoul to help with the emergency rescue efforts, Ang Dorjee Sherpa of the Korean Alpine Federation told AFP.

The missing group was near the Annapurna base camp around 3,230 metres (10,600 feet) above sea level when the avalanche struck after heavy snowfall on Friday.   "Our team reached the area but could not proceed with their search because of more avalanches. We are exploring ways to move the operation forward," said Mira Acharya from Nepal's tourism department.

Rescuers were working with Korean officials to deploy drones in the search on Monday, said Dilip Gurung of the tourism management committee in Chhomrong, which lies on the trekking route.   "It is difficult for people to go. We will try to fly drones to help find something," Gurung said.   Helicopters were sent out on Saturday to rescue about 200 people stranded around Annapurna and other nearby mountains after the incident.

Guesthouses and the trekking route were blanketed in a thick layer of snow.   "The snow was very deep and it took us more than double the time to dig through and walk," said Jeevan Dahal, a guide who was rescued by helicopter.   "We saw the avalanche-hit area from the helicopter. Everything was white."   Tek Gurung, a guesthouse owner aiding the search operation, said more than two metres of snow (6.6 feet) had fallen on the trekking trails and it was "extremely difficult" to search the snow-covered area on foot.

Six of the missing were part of the same expedition, while one Nepali porter was escorting a different group.   The four foreigners -- two men and two women -- were part of an 11-member team of South Korean nationals. Others have safely descended.    Education officials in Seoul said they were part of a team of volunteer teachers working with children in Nepal.

Two more South Koreans were due to arrive in Nepal on Sunday to help with the search, the country's foreign ministry said.   Sherpa said it had snowed heavily around Annapurna in recent days, making the trek risky.   "The weather and snow got worse and, feeling it was becoming dangerous and difficult, they decided to turn. As they were heading back the avalanche hit," Sherpa told AFP on Saturday.

Annapurna is an avalanche-prone and technically difficult mountain range with a higher death rate than Everest, the world's highest peak.    Thousands of trekkers visit the route every year for its stunning views of the Himalayas.   A snowstorm killed about 40 people on the circuit in 2014, in one of the biggest trekking tragedies to hit Nepal.
Kathmandu. 6 Sep 2019

If laboratory tests carried out at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital today [6 Sep 2019] are anything to go by, roughly 50% of those who visit the hospital with fever and muscle pain are dengue-infected. According to the hospital, of the 372 blood tests done today [6 Sep 2019], 175 tested positive for dengue. "There has been a significant rise in the number of dengue-infected patients at the hospital. Unless people are aware and start working on their own, it is difficult to prevent the infection," said Anup Bastola, spokesperson and consultant tropical medicine physician at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital.

- Kathmandu. 19 Sep 2019.The cases of dengue fever are on the rise in Bhaktapur, indicating that it is gradually taking an epidemic turn. In the past 2 weeks, 197 people have been diagnosed with dengue in the district.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020
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.
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 11:48:12 +0100 (MET)

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".
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 11:40:20 +0100 (MET)
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.
Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: ZBC News [edited]

Mbire, Mashonaland Central Province has been affected by an outbreak of anthrax prompting the Veterinary Services Department to place an embargo on the movement of cattle from the province.

The acting provincial coordinator, Richard Chipfuwa, said 34 beasts had so far succumbed to the disease in the remote district, which sits on the border with Mozambique and Zambia. "These (the 34) are the reported cases, but we suspect there could be many more that were not reported. We have since mobilized vaccines to the district's 5 dip tanks: Nyatsengwa, Masomo, Tengu, Bonga and Sapa, so that farmers can have the remaining herd saved," he said.

But a poor road network in the district is making it difficult for veterinary officials to access some of the dip tanks, a situation made worse by the ongoing rains. The officials, in addition to treating infected animals, are also educating communities against consuming meat from dead animals, because this could pose health risks to people.

The anthrax outbreak in Mbire, an arid district rich in an assortment of wildlife, is suspected to have been passed on to livestock by infected wild animals such buffaloes, which are typical carriers of the disease. Last year [2019], the province lost nearly 1300 cattle due to anthrax and other livestock diseases.
=====================
[For a description of Mashonaland, go to: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashonaland>. It is in northern Zimbabwe and is made up of 3 provinces, East, West, and Central. For a map showing the location of Mashonaland Central Province go to: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashonaland_Central_Province>.

In these hard to reach areas, it is a constant concern knowing what is happening where. And this goes a long way as to why some 34 animals are reported affected and probably more. And why it is so important to get the necessary volumes of vaccine out to these communities as soon as possible. We wish the provincial veterinary service well and all the luck that they enjoy. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Mashonaland Central Province, Zimbabwe:
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 16:22:59 +0100 (MET)

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.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 17:49:00 +0100 (MET)

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.
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 04:50:33 +0100 (MET)

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.
Date: Mon 24 Feb 2020
Source: Dhaka Tribune [edited]

In Baliadanga upazila of Thakurgaon district, 2 members of a family have died and 3 other members fell sick of an unknown disease. The deceased are MB 35, wife of HI, and her sister in law PB, wife of H from Songaon village of the upazila.

Quoting family members, local schoolteacher SPL said: "MB fell sick and died on Friday [21 Feb 2020] and on Saturday [22 Feb 2020], PB fell sick. "She came back home after undergoing primary treatment at Baliadanga Health Complex; however, she died early Sunday [23 Feb 2020]."

Soon afterwards, 3 other members of the family -- TA, HK and AA -- fell sick and were taken to Adhunik Sadar Hospital, she added.

Thakurgaon Civil Surgeon Dr MD Mahfuzar Rahman Sarker said a representative team of the health department has visited the village to investigate the cause of deaths.

The reasons of the deaths are yet to be known; however, the ones who fell sick are in better condition now, he added.

In 2019, 4 members of a family died due to Nipah virus in the same upazila. Locals are assuming the current deaths are occurring for the same reason.
===================
[With these cases described only as fatal or ill without mention of symptoms, it is not possible to speculate on what the etiology of thisdisease might be. The above report does mention that 4 fatal Nipah virus infections occurred in the same locality last year (2019). Nipah virus must surely be on the list of rule-outs in these current cases. This is the season when Nipah virus is circulating in Bangladesh in giant fruit bats (_Pteropus_ species) with spill-over of the virus by the bats' contamination of fruit or of palm sap juice in collecting pots on the palms. Person-to-person transmission of the virus can also occur. The transmission season is usually January to April.

As noted earlier, it is unfortunate that the public awareness efforts have not prevented these cases from occurring. Perhaps because cases are sporadic and geographically scattered there is little public perception of risk of infection and serious disease. Until effective public education to prevent infection by avoiding eating contaminated fruit or date palm sap is implemented, sporadic cases will continue to occur.

An image of a Pteropus fruit bat can be found at

HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
A map showing the location of the area where the cases occurred can be accessed at the above URL. - ProMED Mod.TY]

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.

Best Regards,
WHO Media Team

Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 12:29:01 +0100 (MET)
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.