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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 15 Mar 2020 23:58:27 +0100 (MET)

San Juan, March 15, 2020 (AFP) - The US territory of Puerto Rico on Sunday ordered a 9:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, the strongest measure yet taken on American soil.   It took effect immediately and lasts until March 30.   "Faced with the possibility of transmission and propagation of the virus, I have ordered the imposition of a curfew for all residents of Puerto Rico," Governor Wanda Vazquez announced in a video message.   "We must take every precaution to ensure that we do not become potential carriers," Vazquez said.

The Caribbean territory of 2.9 million, whose residents are US citizens, also will close many businesses from Sunday until the end of the month, she said.   That includes malls, movie theaters, concert venues, gyms, bars and other businesses that bring together large crowds on the island popular with tourists.   The exceptions will be businesses in the food supply chain, and in the medical care system, as well as drugstores, gas stations, banks and senior citizens' group homes.

At night, only those who are providing or receiving medical care, or carrying out essential duties, will be allowed to be on Puerto Rico's streets.   Anyone defying the curfew faces a six-month jail term and a fine of up to $5,000.   The island declared a state of emergency when its first cases were reported March 12. The island has reported five cases.   On Friday, Vazquez accepted the resignation of Health Secretary Rafael Rodriguez Mercado, who was under fire for his handling the coronavirus emergency.

Recently, island residents were irate when two warehouses were found to be filled with abandoned supplies, apparently never used after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.   The storms' one-two punch left Puerto Ricans without power for months and killed nearly 3,000 people, according to the local government's official numbers.   President Donald Trump has accused the Puerto Rican government of incompetence and siphoning off hurricane relief money.   The Puerto Rican leaders accused Trump of treating the population of the island like second class citizens.
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.
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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 ...

Belarus

Belarus - US Consular Information Sheet
November 25, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Belarus became an independent republic in 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
In 1996, a constitutional referendum, not recognized by the internat
onal community, centralized power in the executive branch (president), headed by Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Economic and political reform in Belarus has stalled or is being reversed under his authoritarian government.
The Belarusian Government’s human rights record remains very poor.
President Lukashenka gained a third five-year term as president in March 2006, in an election that international observers judged to be seriously flawed.
Democratic nations, including the United States and the members of the European Union, condemned the subsequent governmental crackdown on peaceful protests in Minsk, and imposed visa restrictions and other sanctions on senior Belarusian officials. As a result of the release of political prisoners in August 2008, the EU lifted its visa restrictions, but those of the United States remain in effect.
Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages, and Russian is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in the cities.
Tourist facilities are not highly developed, but food and lodging in the capital and some regional centers are adequate.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Belarus for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Travelers must obtain a visa in advance to visit or transit through Belarus.
Travelers who do not have a visa cannot register at hotels.
U.S. citizens visiting or residing in Belarus are required to register with the local office of the Citizenship and Migration Department of the Ministry of Interior (formerly OVIR) within three business days after arrival.
The registration fee is one National Minimum Tariff Unit (currently about $17).
Failure to register can result in fines and difficulties when departing.
U.S. citizens staying in hotels are automatically registered at check-in.
Visa validity dates are strictly enforced; travelers should request visas of sufficient length to allow for changes in arrival and departure plans, and should carefully review the beginning and ending dates of their visas before traveling.
A valid exit visa is necessary to depart Belarus.
Generally, the visa issued by a Belarusian Embassy or Consulate is valid for both entry and exit.
Photocopies of visas may be helpful in the event of loss, but note that a copy of a visa will not be sufficient for entry or departure, as Belarusian border officials always require original travel documents.

Travelers who overstay their visa’s validity -- even for one day -- will be prevented from leaving until they have been granted an extension by the Department of Citizenship and Migration.
United States citizens without valid visas face delays in leaving Belarus and may have trouble finding adequate accommodation.
By Belarusian law, travelers with an expired visa may not check in at any hotel or other lodging establishment.

U.S. citizens traveling through Belarus to other countries are strongly advised that there is a transit visa requirement for entering and leaving Belarus.
Transit visas are required even for travelers transiting on direct overnight trains with no stops or transfers on Belarusian territory. Transit visas should be obtained prior to any journey that requires travel through Belarus.
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Russian visas are no substitute for this transit visa.
Most travel agencies, including those in Russia and CIS countries, as well as train ticket sales personnel, are often not aware of this visa requirement and may not seek a transit visa for a traveler unless instructed by the traveler to do so.

U.S. citizens attempting to transit Belarus without a valid Belarusian transit visa have been denied entry into the country and forcibly removed from trains.
In some instances, local border and railway authorities have threatened passengers who did not possess a valid transit visa with jail or extorted “fines.”
American citizens are advised not to pay any border or railway officials for transit visas or “transit visa fines,” as these officials are not authorized to issue such visas.
Americans finding themselves in Belarus without transit visas, if confronted by border or train personnel, should request to be put in contact with consular officials at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk.
U.S. citizens traveling to Belarus via Russia are reminded that they must possess a Russian transit visa in addition to their Belarusian visa. Russian Embassies outside of the United States, including the Russian Embassy in Belarus, generally do not issue transit or tourist visas to Americans.
Russian transit visas are not normally obtainable at Russian airports.

The Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons in the Republic of Belarus states that all foreign citizens may be granted permission for a temporary stay (up to 90 days within a chronological year), temporary residence (up to one year), or permanent residence.
Belarusian Embassies and Consulates will issue visas for temporary stays.
A temporary stay visa will allow the bearer to be present physically in Belarus for a maximum of 90 days within the 365-day period for which the visa is issued.
Once an individual has spent 90 days in Belarus, at one time or through a combination of visits, he or she will not be eligible to receive another visa until the original 365-day period has passed.

Individuals who receive visas for a temporary stay, but wish to remain in Belarus for longer than 90 days, must apply for temporary or permanent residence with the Ministry of Interior.
Individuals must make the application in Belarus within the 90 days allotted for a temporary stay.
Permission for temporary residence can be granted to students, spouses, or close relatives of Belarusian citizens, or for “work, business, or other activities.”
Travelers may contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk for information about application procedures for temporary or permanent residence.
Every foreigner entering Belarus is required to fill out a migration card.
This card should be retained for the whole period of stay and should be presented to the border authorities when exiting Belarus.

Foreign citizens without a valid Belarusian visa, migration card, or proper registration with the Department of Citizenship and Migration as a temporary visitor or resident can be subject to sanctions up to and including deportation under the provisions of the Code of Administrative Violations.
Depending on the circumstances, deportees also can be banned from returning to Belarus for a period from one to ten years.

Foreign citizens visiting and transiting Belarus also should be prepared to demonstrate sufficient financial means to support their stay.
For individuals staying in Belarus for less than one month, this amount is equal to approximately $15/day/person.
For those staying for longer than one month, the requirements call for $375/month/person.
Belarusian officials may request this proof of funds at the time of visa application, at the border, or during registration.
According to the Ministry of Interior, cash, credit cards, paid hotel reservations, or a letter from an inviting party pledging full financial support are sufficient means to demonstrate financial wherewithal.

Belarus requires all foreign nationals (other than accredited diplomats) entering the country to purchase medical insurance at the port-of-entry, regardless of any other insurance they might have.
Costs for this insurance will vary according to the length of stay.
(Subject to change, current information puts costs at approximately $1 for a one or two day stay, $15 for a stay of up to 31 days, and $85 for a stay of one year.)

Travelers entering Belarus by air with more than 35 kilograms of luggage (77 pounds) will be charged 2 Euros per kilogram in excess of that limit.
The fee must be paid in dollars or Euros.
In accordance with current customs regulations, foreigners may enter Belarus with up to $10,000 and exit the country with up to $3,000 without submitting a written declaration.
For additional information on customs rules for Belarus please see the Belarusian State Customs Committee official web site.
The Belarusian Government enforces a requirement for special permits to travel in “protected border zones.”
The Government of Belarus has not provided information defining the parameters of those zones.
Travelers should be alert for warning signs, road barriers, and/or border guard posts, and are advised not to cross into such areas without permission.

Foreign missionaries may not engage in religious activities outside the institutions that invited them unless they have a religious worker visa.
One-year validity, multiple-entry, "spiritual activities" visas, which are required of foreign missionaries, can be difficult to get, even for faiths that are registered with the government and have a long history in the country.
Approval often involves a difficult bureaucratic process.

A law enacted in 2002 required all religious groups and organizations, including recognized “traditional” religions such as Russian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism, Sunni Islam, and Lutheranism, to re-register; most organizations have done so.
Unregistered religious groups may not legally gather for religious purposes.
Many unregistered groups continue to meet, however, leaving them vulnerable to selective implementation of the law by authorities.
The law also stipulates that only Belarusian citizens can head religious organizations in Belarus.
In recent years, authorities have harassed, warned, fined, and briefly detained members of some unregistered and so-called "non-traditional" faiths for engaging in unsanctioned worship or proselytism. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that any U.S. citizen who chooses to attend a religious service of an unregistered religious group do so only after consulting with members of the group about the risk of harassment or possible arrest by local law enforcement authorities.
U.S. citizens are also urged to contact the U.S. Embassy should they encounter any problems with authorities due to their participation in such services or events.

Naturalized U.S. citizens originally from Belarus do not automatically lose Belarusian citizenship upon naturalization.
Such individuals retain Belarusian citizenship unless they take specific steps to renounce it.
The Belarusian authorities will allow naturalized U.S. citizens from Belarus to enter the country without a valid Belarusian passport on a “certificate of return” issued by Belarusian Embassies and Consulates, but please note that a valid Belarusian passport will be required to leave the country.
It can take two to four weeks to receive a new Belarusian passport.
For additional information please consult with the Embassy of Belarus at http://www.belarusembassy.org.
Belarusian citizens, including dual nationals, are subject to Belarusian laws requiring service in Belarus’ armed forces, as well as other laws pertaining to passports and nationality.
American-Belarusian dual nationals of military age who do not wish to serve in the Belarusian armed forces should contact the Embassy of Belarus in Washington, D.C. to learn more about an exemption or deferment from Belarusian military service before going to Belarus.
Without this exemption or deferment document, they may not be able to leave Belarus without completing military service, or may be subject to criminal penalties for failure to serve.

Children born to Belarusian parent(s) before August 15, 2002, even if born in the United States and in possession of a U.S. passport, may not be issued a Belarusian visa for travel to Belarus.
The Belarusian government considers these children to be Belarusian citizens until age 16, when they may choose to accept or reject that claim to citizenship.
Instead of a visa, a "certificate of return" is issued that will allow the child to enter Belarus.
It is imperative that parents of such children understand that, in order to leave the country, the child will be required to have a Belarusian passport if he/she does not already have one.
It can take anywhere from two to four weeks to complete the application procedures and receive a new Belarusian passport.
(Note: if the parent left Belarus on a series PP passport, given to Belarusians who reside abroad and have cancelled their local registration, then Belarus would not require the child to reject his/her claim to citizenship).
For children born to one Belarusian parent and one foreign parent after 2002, the parents must by mutual consent agree to Belarusian citizenship for the child, regardless of the place of birth.
If the parents cannot reach consensus, Belarus would only force Belarusian citizenship on a child in cases where the child would be left stateless.
Visit the Embassy of Belarus web site at http://www.belarusembassy.org/ for the most current visa information, or contact the Embassy of Belarus at 1619 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel: 202-986-1606, fax: 202-986-1805, consul@belarusembassy.org.
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:
Both organized and spontaneous demonstrations occur in Belarus.
Localized street disturbances relating to political events occur most frequently in Minsk or larger cities.
In some instances, authorities may use force to disperse protesters; bystanders, including foreign nationals, may face the possibility of arrest, beating, or detention.
Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can sometimes become confrontational and escalate into violence.
For this reason, it is recommended that American citizens avoid all demonstrations and protest gatherings.

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.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.
These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation.

For the latest security information, Americans living or traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Belarus has a moderate incidence of street crime. Though violent crime against foreigners is rare, criminals have been known to use force if met with resistance from victims.
Common street crime, such as mugging and pocket picking, occurs most frequently near public transportation venues, near hotels frequented by foreigners, and/or at night in poorly lit areas.

American citizens and other foreigners in Belarus have also been the victims of car theft, car vandalism, and hotel and residential break-ins.
Foreigners visiting nightclubs should pay particular attention to their surroundings, as criminal elements may rob unsuspecting patrons after surreptitiously drugging their drinks.
Travelers should keep a copy of their passport in a separate location from their original passport.

As in many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available in Belarus. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
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 in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends and explaining 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.
To see if you can be compensated in the U.S. as a victim of violent crime overseas, see our information on Victims of Crime.

The local equivalents to the “911” emergency line in Belarus are: 111 Fire and Rescue Squad, 102 Police, 103 Ambulance (Medical Emergency)
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care in Belarus is limited.
There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including anesthetics, vaccines and antibiotics.
Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Travelers are encouraged to ensure that they bring an adequate supply of prescription medications in the event that there are delays in departing Belarus.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Belarus.
For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB at 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 Belarus on a 30 day visit.
Long-term residents or students must obtain an HIV/AIDS test in Belarus and submit the results to the Department of Citizenship and Migration.
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 (CDC) 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) website 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 Belarus is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
American citizens on short-term visits to Belarus (up to 90 days) are permitted to drive with a valid U.S. state driver’s license.
U.S. citizens should, therefore, always carry their passports with them to prove date of entry into the country in the event that police stop them.
If residing in Belarus for more than 90 days, one should apply for a Belarusian driver’s license.
Drivers will be required to successfully complete a two-part test in Russian; the first part is a computer-based multiple-choice test on local driving rules, and the second part is a driving test.
To receive a local driver’s license, drivers will also need to complete a medical exam at a special medical clinic, which will include a general physical, a chest x-ray, and an eye exam.

Radar traps and road construction sites, often unlit at night, are widespread.
Except for a stretch of the main east-west highway, where the speed limit is 100 km/h (60 mph), the maximum speed limit on divided highways or main roads outside village, town or city limits is 90 km/h (55 mph).
Speed limits in cities are 60 km/h unless marked and will usually range between 40 km/h and 70 km/h, with frequent radar traps.
Visible and hidden dangers exist, including potholes, unlit or poorly lit streets, inattentive and dark-clothed pedestrians walking on unlit roads, drivers and pedestrians under the influence of alcohol, and disregard for traffic rules.
Driving in winter is especially dangerous because of ice and snow.
Driving with caution is urged at all times.

Radio-dispatched taxi services are generally reliable, arrive promptly once called and usually offer the lowest fare.
Most radio-dispatched taxis are metered, although fares can vary greatly and are considerably higher in the late evening and overnight hours.
The use of informal taxis or "gypsy cabs" is not recommended.

Minsk has a clean, safe, and efficient subway system that easily reaches most of the city center. Service is stopped briefly during the early morning hours, but otherwise runs regularly throughout the day.
Ticket prices are extremely low by western standards.
Though their routes are extensive, buses and trolleys lack heating or cooling capabilities and are usually crowded.

Travelers on all public transportation should be wary of pickpockets and other petty crime.
For travelers interested in car rental, only one major western rental agency currently operates in Minsk.
In general, rental car networks in Belarus are not well developed.

Travelers may experience significant delays (of several hours) in crossing the border by road into neighboring countries.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Also visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at: http://siteks.com/sites/touragency/.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Belarus, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Belarus’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:
Traveler's checks are normally not accepted in Belarus as a means of payment, but can be freely exchanged for cash at any bank.
Most hotels, restaurants, and stores accept major credit cards.
All Belarusian banks provide cash from major credit cards.
All payments in Belarus are made in Belarusian rubles.
Authorized currency exchange centers are widely available throughout major cities.


ATMs are also available for use, and it has become easier to use credit cards and debit cards in Belarus, especially in Minsk; however, this does not mean that it is safer to do so.
There have been reports of instances in which U.S. citizens have had their card numbers “skimmed” and the money in their debit accounts stolen or their credit cards fraudulently charged.
(“Skimming” is the theft of credit card information by an employee of a legitimate merchant or bank, manually copying down numbers or using a magnetic stripe reader.)
In addition to skimming, the risk of physical theft of credit or debit cards also exists.
To prevent such theft, the Embassy recommends that travelers keep close track of their personal belongings and only carry what is needed when out.
If travelers choose to use credit cards, they should regularly check their account status to ensure its integrity.
Persons seeking to marry in Belarus should consult the information located on the Embassy web site at http://minsk.usembassy.gov/marriage.html.
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 Belarusian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belarus 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.
Access for U.S. consular officers to U.S. citizens in detention is often limited and/or delayed.
Although U.S. citizens are able to obtain legal representation, there has been at least one case of delayed notification, hindered consular access, limited medical treatment, and trial behind closed doors. 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 Belarus are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Belarus.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Minsk at 46 Starovilenskaya Ulitsa; telephone (375 17) 210-1283 or after hours (375 29) 676-0134, fax (375 17) 334-7853 or (375 17) 17-217-7160 (consular section).
The Consular Section may also be reached by email at ConsularMinsk@state.gov
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Belarus dated December 7, 2007, and updates the sections on Exit/Entry Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Criminal Penalties.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 2 Aug 2018 06:04:14 +0200
By Tatiana Kalinovskaya

Minsk, Aug 2, 2018 (AFP) - A massive corruption scandal has rocked the health service of ex-Soviet Belarus, leading even officials in the country dubbed "Europe's last dictatorship" to call for an overhaul of the system.   Authorities have arrested dozens of medics, drug company representatives and bureaucrats on suspicion of siphoning off millions of dollars in state funding.   Valery Vakulchik, head of the powerful KGB state security service, in televised comments last month denounced what he called a vast system of procurement of drugs and medical equipment at inflated prices.   Prices were habitually hiked by up to 60 percent and in some cases even doubled, he said.   Following his announcement, 37 top health officials were arrested and criminal investigations were opened involving 60 people including local representatives of international pharmaceutical companies.

The KGB chief acknowledged that the Soviet-style bureaucracy in the country bordering the European Union, ruled by strongman Alexander Lukashenko, helped promote corruption.   "The existing system of procuring medical equipment and drugs created the conditions for corrupt practices," he said.    "Bona fide suppliers could not rely on a positive outcome," he added, while procurements were made not directly from producers but "via numerous middlemen (and) finance companies."   Those detained in the scandal include deputy health minister Igor Lositsky, doctors at reputed clinics and leading business figures involved in producing and importing medicines.   One of the arrested businessmen is Sergei Shakutin, director of Iskamed group, who is the brother of one of Lukashenko's close associates.   Belta state news agency has published photos of searches at the home of a medical centre director that uncovered $500,000 in cash.   Officers also found $620,000 in the garage of the director of a public enterprise that imported medical equipment.

The KGB chief said bribes paid to corrupt officials amounted to millions of dollars.   "There will be further arrests since the people detained so far are just the perpetrators," Sergei Satsuk, editor of news site Yezhednevnik, who is familiar with the case, told AFP.   The chief beneficiaries in such schemes were retired law enforcement officials who set up companies to enter the lucrative medical equipment market, Satsuk said.   "In 10 years they drained all the juice out of the country's medical system," he said.   He said this involved supplying equipment that was not just over-priced but also often lacked the necessary certification or came with faked documentation.    Some equipment was imported as second-hand but re-sold as new.

- Powerful temptation -
This is one of the biggest corruption scandals in the history of Belarus, which is wedged between Russia and Poland and has been led by Lukashenko since 1994.   "Bureaucracy has privatised the state. We need to reform the whole system of state management, otherwise corruption schemes will spring up wherever budget funds are being spent," independent economist Yaroslav Romanchuk told AFP.

Other smaller corruption scandals have in recent years hit the sports, forestry and energy ministries as well as large companies, factories and banks.   Three ministers have been sacked and senior bureaucrats and regional officials have been arrested.   "Even if you clean out the state structures of bribe-takers, corruption won't die in Belarus for a single day," said Romanchuk.   "The very next day new people in old posts in the old system will relaunch the old corruption schemes."   The system "creates the most powerful temptation to set up schemes with kickbacks, bribes, swindling and abuses of office," Romanchuk said.
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2018 18:11:12 +0200

Minsk, July 24, 2018 (AFP) - Belarus on Tuesday announced that it is extending visa-free travel for tourists from five days to 30 days in a move that could attract more visitors to the ex-Soviet state on the European Union's doorstep.

Strongman ruler Alexander Lukashenko signed a decree allowing visitors from 80 countries including 39 in Europe, as well as the United States, Australia and Japan to stay for 30 days.   The ruling will enter force when the decree is published in one or two days.   The decree says the move is aimed at "promoting further development of the Belarusian tourism sector" as well as making the country more attractive as a host for sports events and festivals and improving its connectedness to the global economy.

Belarus said it is keen to promote itself as a medical tourism venue and for people keen to recuperate and undergo spa procedures at its sanatoriums.   The visa-free rule requires visitors to fly in and out of Minsk's main airport.    As before, the visa exemption does not apply to foreigners arriving or leaving from Russia because of a lack of border controls betweeen the neighbours.

Minsk has close ties to former Soviet master Moscow, with Belarus part of an economic union with Russia.   Chinese people will also be covered by a separate visa agreement that comes into force in August.   Ties between Belarus and the European Union have improved since the 28-nation bloc began lifting most of its sanctions on the country in 2015 after Lukashenko released high-profile political prisoners.
Date: Tue, 17 May 2016 07:34:10 +0200

Belmopan, Belize, May 17, 2016 (AFP) - Belize has joined the growing number of Latin American nations grappling with the Zika virus, after the health ministry confirmed the country's first known case.    Authorities said Monday the infected person resides in Belize City, adding that efforts would be taken to prevent the virus from spreading.

"An immediate investigation was launched and several actions were simultaneously initiated to minimize and contain a potential outbreak," a health ministry statement said.   The mosquito-borne Zika virus can cause the birth defect microcephaly, which can cause babies to be born with unusually small heads and deformed brains.
Date: Fri 17 Jul 2015
Source: Rusnovosti [in Russian, trans. ProMED Mod.NP, edited]

The deceased patient was infected in Belarus
-----------------------------------------------
Rospotrebnadzor [Federal Service for Consumer Protection and Human Welfare] reported that the 1st death from tick-borne encephalitis has been registered in Moscow. The tick-borne disease was imported.

Rospotrebnadzor reports, "Infections in the capital are not registered this year [2015] and have never been registered previously. The patient was infected in Belarus."

According to Infectious clinical hospital No. 1 of the Department of Health of Moscow, 10 imported cases of viral encephalitis were identified in the 1st half of 2015; 2 cases of infection occurred in the Altai region and in the Republic of Karelia. One [imported] case was brought from the Kostroma region, the Yaroslavl region, the Volgograd region and the Republic of Udmurtia, as well as from Belarus and Mongolia.

Rospotrebnadzor also reports that the rise of the biological activity of _Ixodes_ ticks was noted. These ticks are considered the main vectors of infections such as tick-borne spring-summer encephalitis, tick-borne borreliosis (Lyme disease), granulocytic anaplasmosis, and monocytic ehrlichiosis.
=====================
[Nearly 10,000 people sought medical aid after tick bites in Moscow for the period April-June of this year (2015), among them there are more than 1900 children up to 17 years. Last year (2014) for the same period it was recorded that around 8000 people sought medical aid after tick bites. The ticks attacked people mainly in the territory of the Moscow region.

This is the season of tickborne encephalitis virus (TBEV) transmission in Russia and neighboring countries. Russia, especially western Siberia, has the largest number of reported TBE cases. For additional details on TBE, see Mod.LL's extensive comments drawn from the US CDC (<http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/chapter-3-infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/tickborne-encephalitis>). The CDC information notes that in Russia, 2 inactivated TBE vaccines are available: TBE-Moscow (Chumakov Institute, Russia) and EnceVir (Microgen, Russia). The European and Russian vaccines should provide cross-protection against all 3 TBEV subtypes. Vaccine failures have been reported, particularly in people aged over 50 years.

In the previous post on TBE, ProMED Corr.BA noted, "According to weekly monitoring, from 1 Apr-15 Jul [2015] in Russia, more than 412,000 cases of tick bites were registered, including 94,270 children. Compared with the same period of last year (2014), the number of people affected by the tick bites increased by 19 per cent. In 2015, 947 cases of tick-borne encephalitis have registered in Russia. The largest number of cases was reported in the Krasnoyarsk region, followed by Novosibirsk [Siberia], Irkutsk, Tyumen, Kirov, Sverdlovsk, Vologda, Leningrad, Kemerovo, Pskov, and Kostroma regions, the Republic of Khakassia, the Perm and Primorye regions, St Petersburg [city], Moscow (importations from Yaroslavl, Vologda, Karelia, Altai, and Mongolia, Belarus)." - ProMED Mod.TY]

[The locations mentioned in this posting can be seen on the map at

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: 15 Jul 2015
Source: Evening Brest [machine translation & edited]

Belarus has 1 imported case of measles. The Ministry of Health of Belarus does not rule out the possibility of other imported cases of measles. This is especially true during the summer holidays and vacations.

According to the deputy chief doctor of the "National Center for Hygiene, Epidemiology and Public Health," Lyudmila Naroychik, other European countries often record measles. In 2014 Belarus recorded 5 imported cases of measles. So far in 2015, Belorus has already record 1 imported case. The infections have been from Russia, Israel, Spain, Turkey, according to BelTA  [unclear whether this refers just to 2014, or other years as well].

Measles is included in the national immunization schedule, and if vaccination is carried out, even in adulthood the person retains immunity. In this regard, it is important to get vaccinated before traveling abroad.
==================
[The HealthMap/ProMED map of Belarus can be found at:
More ...

Bulgaria

Bulgaria US Consular Information Sheet
September 20, 2007
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Bulgaria is a quickly developing European nation undergoing significant economic changes.
Tourist facilities are widely available, although conditions vary and
ome facilities may not be up to Western standards.
Goods and services taken for granted in other European countries may not be available in many areas of Bulgaria.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Bulgaria for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A United States passport is required for U.S. citizens who are not also Bulgarian nationals.
As of September 1, 2006, U.S. citizens who enter the country without a Bulgarian visa are authorized to stay for a total of 90 days within a six-month period.
This law is strictly enforced.
An application to extend one’s stay beyond the original 90 days can be filed for urgent or humanitarian reasons, but must be submitted to regional police authorities no later than five days prior to the end of the original 90-day period.
Travelers who have been in the country for 90 days, and then leave, will not be able to reenter Bulgaria before the six-month period expires.
Travelers using official or diplomatic passports must secure visas prior to arrival.
Upon entering the country, Bulgarian immigration authorities request that all foreigners declare the purpose of their visit and provide their intended address.
U.S. citizens intending to live or work in Bulgaria for more than 90 days within six months (or more than six months within a year) must obtain a “D” visa prior to arrival.
The practice of switching from tourist status to long-term status when already in Bulgaria is no longer allowed.
Those wanting to do so must leave Bulgaria and apply for a “D” visa at a Bulgarian embassy or consulate.
This procedure takes from two to four weeks.
American citizens who marry Bulgarian nationals and want to switch to long-term status must also leave the country, present their marriage license at a Bulgarian embassy or consulate in a neighboring country, and apply for a “D” visa.

The Bulgarian authorities do not consider presentation of a copy of the passport sufficient for identification purposes.
Visitors should carry their original passports with them at all times.
For further information concerning entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria at 1621 22nd St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008; http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org; tel. (202) 387-7969 (main switchboard (202) 387-0174), or the Bulgarian Consulate in New York City at 121 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10021; http://www.consulbulgaria-ny.org; tel. (212) 935-4646.
See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Bulgaria and other countries.
Visit the Embassy of Bulgaria web site at http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org for the most current visa information.
Traveling with Bulgarian minors: Bulgarian authorities are particularly strict in matters involving the travel of Bulgarian children.
Adults, other than a child’s parents, departing Bulgaria with a Bulgarian national (including dual or multi-national Bulgarian) child, must present to authorities a certified/legalized declaration signed by the child’s parents authorizing custody for travel purposes.
This holds true even if the adult is otherwise related to the child.
If the declaration is signed in Bulgaria, certification by a Bulgarian notary public is required.
If signed in the U.S., the declaration must be certified by a notary public and the court in the jurisdiction where the notary is licensed.
The declaration must then be legalized with an apostille issued by the individual state's Department of State or the Governor’s office.
Please note Bulgarian authorities do not require such documentation for minors who are not Bulgarian.
Find more information about dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union has enhanced the overall security environment for tourist and business travelers.
However, the country still suffers from many of the ills of a former Eastern Bloc country in transition.
Organized crime groups and criminals who specialize in petty crimes and credit card fraud are highly prevalent in Bulgaria’s largely cash economy.
Petty criminals such as pick-pockets and purse snatchers operate in crowded public areas and on public transportation.
Also, technology exists in Bulgaria to clone credit cards and trap ATM cards for later retrieval.
Suspected organized crime members often travel in convoys of late-model SUVs and luxury sedans, accompanied by armed men, and frequent expensive restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements 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:
Petty street crime, much of which is directed against persons who appear to have money or to be foreign, continues to be a problem.
Pocket picking and purse snatching are frequent occurrences, especially in crowded markets and on shopping streets.
Con artists operate on public transportation and in bus and train stations.
Credit cards and ATMs should be used with caution.
Be wary of people who approach you at an ATM and offer assistance.
Do not give your PIN number to anyone under any circumstances. (See the Special Circumstances section below.) Travelers should be suspicious of "instant friends" and should also require persons claiming to be government officials to show identification.
There have been incidents in which tourists have been drugged or assaulted and robbed after accepting offers of coffee or alcoholic beverages from "friendly” individuals met by “chance” at hotels, the airport, or at bus or train stations.
Travelers should be wary of unfamiliar individuals who encourage them to drink or eat products, as these may be tainted with strong tranquilizers (such as valium) that can lead rapidly to unconsciousness.
Reporting a crime immediately to the police has helped recover money and valuables on more than one occasion and is recommended.
To avoid becoming a victim of more serious crimes, one should use the same personal safety precautions that they would use in large urban areas of the United States.

Travelers should pay special attention to the drink prices at high-end bars and nightclubs.
There have been instances of travelers being charged exorbitant prices, especially for champagne and hard alcohol.
Bills have been as high as several thousand dollars for drinks, and in some establishments the management may use force to assure payment.

On occasion, taxi drivers overcharge unwary travelers, particularly at Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station.
We recommend travelers use taxis with meters and clearly marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield.
Travelers should be aware that there is no official commission that sets taxi cab rates.
Taxi drivers are within their full rights to charge passengers any price they want, provided that it corresponds with the price shown on the windshield sticker.
At the airport, there is a clearly marked booth within the arrivals terminal, which arranges for metered taxis at a fair rate.
Finding reputable taxis at the Central Train Station is more difficult.
It is recommended to inquire about the fare first, to avoid excessive payment if a metered taxi cannot be found.
Always ensure that you have and account for all luggage, packages and hand-carried items before you pay and release a taxi.
The likelihood of retrieving articles left behind in a taxi is remote.
Because pilferage of checked baggage may occur at Sofia Airport, travelers should not include items of value in checked luggage.
Automobile theft is a concern, with four-wheel-drive vehicles and late model European sedans the most popular targets.
Very few vehicles are recovered.
Thieves smash vehicle windows to steal valuables left in sight.
Break-ins at residential apartments occur as frequently as in major cities everywhere.
Persons who plan to reside in Bulgaria on a long-term basis should take measures to protect their dwellings.
Long-term residents should consider installation of window grilles, steel doors with well-functioning locks, and an alarm system that alerts an armed response team.

Travelers should also be cautious about making credit card charges over the Internet to unfamiliar websites.
As recent experience has shown, offers for merchandise and services may be scam artists posing as legitimate businesses.
A recent example involves Internet credit card payments to alleged tour operators via Bulgaria-based web sites.
In several cases, the corresponding businesses did not actually exist.
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:
While Bulgarian physicians are trained to a very high standard, most hospitals and clinics, especially in village areas, are generally not equipped and maintained to meet U.S. or Western European standards.
Basic medical supplies and over-the-counter and prescription medications are widely available, but highly specialized treatment may not be obtainable.
Pediatric facilities are in need of funding and lack equipment.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States may cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s Internet site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
All foreign citizens traveling to Bulgaria should be prepared to present valid evidence of health insurance to the Bulgarian border authorities in order to be admitted into the country.
The insurance should be valid for the duration of the traveler’s stay in Bulgaria.
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 Bulgaria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped.
There are few sections of limited-access divided highway.
Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes.
Rockslides and landslides may be encountered on roads in mountainous areas.
Livestock and animal-drawn carts present road hazards throughout the country, especially during the agricultural season.
Travel conditions deteriorate during the winter as roads become icy and potholes proliferate.
The U.S. Embassy in Sofia advises against driving at night because road conditions are more dangerous in the dark.
Some roads lack pavement markings and lights, and motorists often drive with dim or missing headlights.
Driving in Bulgaria is extremely dangerous.
Aggressive driving habits, the lack of safe infrastructure, and a mixture of late model and old model cars on the country’s highways contribute to a high fatality rate for road accidents.
Heavy traffic conditions have led to a significant increase in “road-rage” accidents.
Motorists should avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers in Bulgaria.
In particular, drivers of late-model sedans (BMW, Mercedes, Audi) are known to speed and drive dangerously.
Motorists should exercise caution and avoid altercations with the drivers of such vehicles, which may be driven by armed organized crime figures.
In some cities traffic lights late at night blink yellow in all directions, leaving rights-of-way unclear and contributing to frequent accidents.
Heavy truck traffic along the two-lane routes from the Greek border at Kulata to Sofia and from the Turkish border at Kapitan Andre to Plovdiv creates numerous hazards.
Motorists should expect long delays at border crossings.
A U.S. state driver's license is valid in Bulgaria only when used in conjunction with an International Driving Permit.
For information on how to obtain a permit, please see our road safety information.
If pulled over by a police officer, motorists should remember that, under Bulgarian law, police officers may not collect fines on the spot; they may only issue a ticket with the fine to be paid at the motorist’s local regional tax office.
Buses, trams, and trolleys are inexpensive, but they are often crowded and of widely varying quality.
Passengers on the busiest lines have reported pick pocketing, purse slashing, and pinching. The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women.
Children under 10 years of age may ride in the front seat only if seated in a child car seat.
In practice, these rules are often not followed.
Speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 90 km/h out of town, and 130 km/h on the highways.
For motorcycles, speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 80 km/h out of town, and 100 km/h on the highways.
Motorcyclists must drive with helmets and with lights on at all times.
At crossings that are not regulated, the driver who is on the right has the right-of-way, but this rule, too, is frequently ignored.
Drivers may be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood level as low as 0.05 percent.
Right turns on red lights are not permitted unless specifically authorized.
The penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death range from a 25 U.S. Dollar fine up to imprisonment for life.
A new law requires the use of headlights day and night from November 1st through March 31st.
The most generally encountered local traffic custom is a driver flashing high beams, which usually means that a traffic police post is ahead.
In case of emergency, drivers should contact the police at telephone number 166 and/or Roadside Assistance at telephone number 146.
For an ambulance, please call 150.
The fire department can be reached at 160.
For specific information concerning Bulgarian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please contact the Bulgarian Embassy via the Internet at http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.bulgariatravel.org/eng/index.php and the web site of the Bulgarian national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.kat.mvr.bg.
[Note: the latter web site is available in the Bulgarian language only.]
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Bulgaria’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Bulgaria’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy.
Due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity, credit cards should be used sparingly and with extreme caution.
There have been reports of false ATM fronts on bona fide machines that capture cards and PINs for later criminal use, including unauthorized charges or withdrawals.
In connection with such scams, travelers should be extremely wary of friendly bystanders near ATMs who offer assistance.
Any time a card is not returned the traveler should immediately report the card as lost/stolen to the card-issuing company.

Visitors may exchange cash at banks or Exchange Bureaus, but they should know that Exchange Bureaus sometimes post misleading rate quotations that confuse travelers.
People on the street who offer high rates of exchange are usually con artists intent on swindling the unwary traveler.
Damaged or very worn U.S dollar bank notes are often not accepted at banks or Exchange Bureaus.
Major branches of the following Bulgarian banks will cash travelers' cheques on the spot for Leva, the Bulgarian currency, or another desired currency:
Bulbank, Bulgarian Postbank, Biochim, First Investment Bank, and United Bulgarian Bank (UBB).
UBB also serves as a Western Union agent and provides direct transfer of money to travelers in need.
There are also many Western Union branches in major towns and cities.
Most shops, hotels, and restaurants, with the exception of the major hotels, do not accept travelers' cheques or credit cards.
Only some local banks can cash U.S. Treasury checks and the payee may need to wait up to a month to receive funds.
Corruption remains an important concern of the Government.
The Commission for Coordinating of the Activity for Combating Corruption manages the efforts of each government agency’s internal inspectorate in fighting public corruption and engages in public awareness campaigns.
Complaints of public corruption can be made to it at the Ministry of Justice, 2A Knyaz Dondukov Blvd., 1055 Sofia, Bulgaria, email: acc@government.bg, 359-2-980-9213, 359-2-923-7595, 359-2-940-3630 or to the Ministry of Finance hotline: 0800180018.
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 Bulgaria’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bulgaria 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 Bulgaria 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 Bulgaria.
Americans without Internet access may use a public computer at the U.S. Embassy to register.
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 16, Kozyak St., Sofia1407; tel.: (+359 2) 937-5100; fax (+359 2) 937-5209; web site: http://sofia.usembassy.gov/.
Questions regarding consular services may be directed via email to: niv_sofia@state.gov (for non-immigrant visa matters); iv_sofia@state.gov (for immigrant visa matters) and acs_sofia@state.gov (for American Citizen Services matters).
*

*

*
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 28, 2007, to update the sections on Entry and Exit
Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Children’s Issues, and Registration/Embassy.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 6 Mar 2020 14:42:37 +0100 (MET)

Sofia, March 6, 2020 (AFP) - Bulgaria declared a nationwide influenza epidemic, closing schools and banning planned surgeries from Friday as the country -- so far spared any novel coronavirus infections -- grapples with a rise in flu cases.   Members of the national task force set up to address the new coronavirus warned hospitals were already full of flu patients, potentially jeopardising preparedness to respond to an expected virus arrival and spread.

Doctors in the EU's poorest member say the country of 7 million people has seen an unusual rapid spread of type B flu.   "Such rapid growth of type B flu has not happened in Bulgaria for the past ten years," said Todo Kantardzhiev, director of the national centre for contagious diseases.   Almost 5,000 people contracted type B flu in the last week of February, according to National Centre of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases data with babies and children aged under 14 most affected.

Schools will remain closed until March 11, the health ministry said, recommending universities cancel classes in order to contain the outbreak.   Local authorities were also advised to cancel sports or cultural events likely to draw large numbers of people.   Hospitals were meanwhile ordered to postpone all planned surgeries and ban patients' visits.

Pharmacies in the Balkan country have already run out of protective face masks and disinfectants as people rushed to stock themselves amid a coronavirus panic.   "The health system is already overburdened even before a first case of coronavirus has been detected," said health ministry official Angel Kunchev.
Date: Fri 23 Aug 2019
Source: Ekathimerini [edited]

Two cases of the West Nile Virus [WNV] have been confirmed in Bulgaria, with one of the patients said to have lived in Cyprus during a part of the summer.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bulgaria has not issued an update as of [Thu 22 Aug 2019] morning, but according to Philenews, the health ministry in Bulgaria had issued a statement regarding a 48-year-old Bulgarian man who was diagnosed with WNV [infection]. The man, said to be from Pazardzhik in southern Bulgaria, is a construction worker who had been living for the last 2 months in Cyprus.

Upon his return to his country, according to Bulgarian officials, the worker started running a fever and generally feeling unwell. He was then immediately admitted to hospital with a known WNV infection.

Other towns were also on alert in Bulgaria, with an official statement saying clinics for infectious diseases in Belgrade and Nis have reported infected people. Most cases were associated with summer flu symptoms while the nervous system was affected in a number of other cases.

Based on additional media reports, there were other places besides Cyprus on the radar of Bulgarian officials regarding possible WNV infections.

According to State Medical Services of the Republic of Cyprus, 9 WNV cases have been confirmed in the south this year up until [16 Aug 2019]. All cases involved the neuroinvasive disease of the virus, with 2 patients remaining critical and 4 others being discharged from hospital.

Earlier this week, one confirmed WNV death was recorded in greater Nicosia with officials saying the patient was very senior.
Date: Mon 5 Aug 2019, 11:33 AM
Source: Novinite.com [edited]

Mosquitoes carry viral meningitis in Bulgaria. There are nearly 1/3 more cases of meningitis since the beginning of the year [2019] than the previous year [2018]. The state has allocated another BGN 2 million [USD 1 783 680] to deal with mosquitoes.

The disease is not typical for Bulgaria's latitudes, but has started to manifest itself with climate change, said Prof. Dr. Tatyana Chervenyakova of the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Bulgaria. The infection is transmitted through mosquitoes, and if there are complications, hospitalisation may be needed. However, the complications are only about 1% of the cases, said Prof. Chervenyakova.

Most of the cases pass the disease slightly - with fever and general malaise. It usually goes away after 2-3 days.

"It is very difficult to control the mosquitoes in these rainfalls. After every rainfall it must be sprayed. We shouldn't think that all mosquitoes are infected with the virus. The individual protection is the availability of repellents, the other is within the reach of the state " Dr. Tatiana Chervenyakova, said in an interview for Bulgaria ON ON AIR.
=======================
[This report deals with mosquito-borne virus infections, but does not indicate which one, nor is the number of cases to date given. There are 2 possible arboviruses involved as the etiological agents of these cases: West Nile virus or Usutu virus. Both have been found in Central Europe. As noted in a previous ProMED-mail post, "West Nile virus (WNV) and Usutu virus (USUV) are phylogenetically closely related mosquito-borne members of the family _Flaviviridae_, and belong to the Japanese encephalitis antigenic complex of the _Flavivirus genus_ (1,2). Both viruses have been isolated from numerous ornithophilic mosquito species, mainly _Culex_ spp. (1,2). In the enzootic cycle of WNV and USUV, avian species are also involved and serve as amplifying hosts. Mosquitoes facilitate virus transmission to humans and equids which then remain incidental hosts as they are not able to produce a level of viraemia sufficient for further virus transmission by mosquito bites (2)." (see  <https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2019.24.28.1900038>  for complete reference list, including those cited here).

ProMED-mail would appreciate a response indicating which virus or viruses are involved in these cases in Bulgaria. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: 30 Aug 2018
Source: Euro Surveillance [summarized, edited]

In June 2018, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) was diagnosed in a Greek construction worker who returned home after becoming ill with fever and haemorrhagic symptoms in south-western Bulgaria. Here, we describe the case along with the epidemiological investigation and phylogenetic analysis.

On 30 May 2018, a Greek male in his late 40s returned to Greece after spending 23 days in a forested area in Blagoevgrad province, south-western Bulgaria, where he was working in bridge construction. Three days earlier (27 May 2018, day 1), while in Bulgaria, he developed fever, severe headache, myalgia (mainly in the lower extremities), malaise and loss of appetite; on 28 May 2018 he visited a local hospital and received symptomatic treatment as an outpatient. As his condition deteriorated (onset of photophobia and abdominal pain) he returned to his permanent residence in northern Greece. On 31 May 2018 (day 5), the patient was admitted to a local hospital.

He was transferred to the university hospital in Alexandroupolis the next day because he presented severe thrombocytopenia and leukopenia; elevated levels of liver enzymes, creatine phosphokinase (CPK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH); and prolonged activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT) (Table). On day 6, his headache was resolved, but his fever (38.2 C [101 F]), malaise and myalgia were ongoing. The main laboratory findings were thrombocytopenia, prolonged aPTT (82 s) and increased level of aminotransferases. His laboratory parameters indicated rhabdomyolysis (CPK 1739 U/L) and slightly elevated urea and creatinine levels (Table). A bone marrow biopsy showed haemophagocytosis. ...

Based on the patient's clinical presentation, and as he was bitten by a tick in an area of Bulgaria where CCHF cases have been reported previously, CCHF was highly suspected. Typically, the incubation period of CCHF after a tick bite is short (1-3 days), but the exact date of the bite was unknown in this case. The treating physician contacted the National Reference Centre for Arboviruses and Haemorrhagic Fever Viruses in Thessaloniki, and the suspected case was immediately notified to the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (HCDCP). ...

The HCDCP investigated the case immediately after the diagnosis of CCHF (through telephone interviews with a close family member and with the patient, after recovery, to confirm the dates) and his contacts while he was ill (household members, co-workers, roommates in Bulgaria and relatives who visited him in the hospitals). Close contacts were tested for CCHF and monitored for 14 days for any symptom development. The risk for further transmission was also assessed. The HCDCP promptly informed the Bulgarian health authorities about the case; they also informed the patient's Greek co-workers in Bulgaria about prevention and proper management of tick bites (informative material in Greek was sent to them) advising them to seek medical care in case they develop symptoms.

No other cases were reported among the patient's co-workers in Bulgaria, up to the end of July 2018. The regional and local public health authorities were also informed about the case, and they performed further contact investigation in Greece. No secondary cases were detected. The HCDCP raised awareness for CCHF among health professionals working in local health centres and hospitals in northern Greece, especially in areas with populations travelling to Bulgaria for occupational reasons.

The patient and his laboratory samples, apparel, waste and cleaning procedures were managed in accordance with the national guidelines for viral haemorrhagic fevers (available in Greek from HCDCP website: <http://www.keelpno.gr/>). In particular, upon the suspicion of CCHF (day 8), the patient was immediately isolated, and strict barrier precautions were utilised (waterproof gowns, gloves, FFP3 respiratory masks, goggles), and personal protective equipment was used by healthcare workers (HCWs) and visitors; however, visitors were discouraged from entering the isolation room. The HCDCP sent guidelines for contact tracing and active surveillance of symptoms in HCWs possibly exposed to CCHFV. Patients who were hospitalised in the same room with the patient before the suspicion of CCHF (2 patients in the 1st hospital (days 5-6), and 3 patients in the 2nd hospital (days 6-8)), were also monitored for symptoms for 14 days after their last contact with the patient. No secondary cases were observed. ...

Discussion
---------
CCHF was 1st recognised in Bulgaria in 1952; since then, several cases have been reported. Genetic characterisation of the Bulgarian strains showed that they cluster into the clade Europe 1. Our patient was infected in an area that was considered at low risk for CCHF outbreaks up to 2008, when a cluster of cases was observed in the region. Although the seroprevalence in the human population in Blagoevgrad province is low (1 percent), a seroprevalence of 41.9 percent in livestock was reported recently. Since CCHFV is transmitted mainly by bites of infected Ixodid ticks, persons living in rural areas are at increased risk for acquiring the infection. This was the reason that information about preventive measures was sent to our patient's Greek co-workers in Bulgaria, and all related public health authorities were informed about the case.

Regarding Greece, no other imported cases have been reported so far, and the only autochthonous CCHF case was observed in 2008. A review of travel-associated CCHF cases published during 1960-2016 reported 21 cases; 2 imported cases have been reported within Europe: Bulgaria to Germany in 2001 and Bulgaria to the United Kingdom in 2014.

Due to the high pathogenicity of CCHFV, the absence of a specific drug treatment or vaccine, and the risk of person-to-person transmission, rapid diagnosis is crucial to ensure that appropriate infection control measures (e.g. isolation of patient and barrier precautions) can be implemented in a timely manner. A detailed medical history of the patient, including travel history and possible risk factors, is important for the timely diagnosis of the disease. In our case, information regarding the tick bite was not provided immediately, and this, in combination with the non-specific initial symptoms, meant that CCHF was 1st suspected on day 8 of illness. Despite this delay, the patient fully recovered, and no secondary cases of CCHF have been reported. Since the northern part of Greece is close to CCHF-endemic countries, HCWs in this region should be made aware of CCHF, including the provision of training to better help them address questions from patients about travel history (to identify potential risk of exposure). Physicians should include CCHF in the differential diagnosis for patients with haemorrhagic syndromes, especially if patients report a tick bite, outdoor activities, or occupation in rural areas and recent travel to an endemic area.
=======================
[The above report provides an excellent example of CCHF transmission in a case with no history of conventional professional contact with infected cattle, such as cattle rearing or butchering. History of travel to a location that has reported human cases, presence of the vector, and the clinical picture should raise suspicions in health care providers, with appropriate diagnostic tests conducted as soon as possible. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2018 12:10:48 +0100
By Diana SIMEONOVA

Bansko, Bulgaria, March 8, 2018 (AFP) - "Unlimited Ski and Fun!" promises a pamphlet touting the Bansko ski resort, a magnet for bargain-hunting holidaymakers in southwest Bulgaria.   But nature lovers are demanding limits to the growth of the bustling resort carved into the majestic pine forests of Pirin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983.

The clearance of more than 160 hectares (400 acres) of centuries-old forest to build the ski zone already prompted UNESCO in 2010 to remove the area from the World Heritage designation, labelling it a "buffer zone".   Now a much larger area could come under threat after a government decision in December opened 48 percent of the park's 40,000 hectares for construction, sparking weekly protests attended by thousands across the country.

Protestors accuse the government of favouring business interests in a country ranked by watchdog Transparency International as the EU's most graft-prone, with one huge banner at a recent rally in the capital Sofia reading: "Corruption! Save Pirin".   But the resort is the area's biggest employer and locals have responded with their own demonstrations in favour of expansion.   At issue in particular is a plan to build a second ski lift to ease persistent queues at the sole six-person lift, which currently takes 2,200 skiers per hour up to the 75 kilometres (46 miles) of runs.

- 'Horrific' queue -
British holidaymaker Carolyn Bennett, 30, is among the skiers who come in droves to Bansko from Britain, Russia and Bulgaria's Balkan neighbours, attracted by the cheap food and lift passes as well as budget flights.   But even on a supposedly quiet day, she was among scores of people at the foot of the ski lift, where queues form from early morning and waits can last up to three hours.

"Another gondola is going to have a huge impact environmentally but I imagine coming here in peak season, that queue would probably be horrific," she shrugged in the crammed gondola cabin.    "With a daily lift pass costing 28 euros ($34), Bansko is the cheapest resort of its capacity in Europe, and even if our queues have become notorious, people keep pouring in," Bansko's marketing chief Ivan Obreykov told AFP.   Daily lift passes at ski resorts in France and Austria typically cost twice as much.

Bansko hosts some 35,000 to 40,000 visitors per month during the winter season. On a busy day, up to 7,000 people could hit the ski lift at the same time in the mornings.   Booming construction in the once quiet town of 9,500 inhabitants has seen its two-storey houses and cobbled streets surrounded by hotels and luxury apartments with space for 18,000 guests.   While ugly concrete skeletons of a number of hotel projects abandoned after the 2008 financial crisis mar the landscape, pressure is mounting to expand both the town and the ski zone.

- Trojan horse claim -
Obreykov praised the government's green light for the second ski lift, adding that its construction was the resort's "first and most pressing task".   But those opposed to the plan say it is a Trojan horse to cover up previous unauthorised building and encourage even more expansion.   "If they wanted to do just a second gondola, they would not have opened almost half of the territory of Pirin National Park for construction," WWF's Konstantin Ivanov said at a rally in Sofia.   "We don't buy their promises that nothing more will be built there," he added.   WWF claims the ski zone has already grown to cover 60 percent more territory than initially agreed and points to as yet unapproved plans for huge expansion of the resort.    Obreykov denied the charge, adding that new ski runs could be built only within the current area of the ski zone.

A recent study for the WWF concluded that the resort has already inflicted "irreparable damage" on the reserve, calling for UNESCO to inscribe Pirin on its List of World Heritage in Danger if new construction begins.    A report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in November also said the conservation outlook for Pirin National Park -- home to bears, chamois and wolves -- was of "significant concern" and just one step away from the final "critical" stage.   IUCN also underlined the "threats of disturbance and fragmentation of the site associated with the exclusion of the skiing areas as incompatible with its World Heritage status."

- 'Deepening mistrust' -
For economist Petar Ganev, of the Sofia-based Institute for Market Economics, the row is an example of "deepening mistrust in Bulgaria's institutions".   On the one hand, Ganev said Bansko is "a positive example of a very poor place which grew into a prosperous resort" and that building a second ski lift could be justified for that reason.   But, he added, suspicions that development is not being regulated fairly will "continue to bring people out on the streets".   "The problem is not the second gondola but the corruption in the country," Ganev said.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 12:35:06 +0200 (METDST)

Brussels, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Belgium's death toll from the novel coronavirus passed the 500 mark Monday, with almost 12,000 cases detected since the start of the epidemic.   Health authorities in the country of 11.4 million said 513 COVID-19 deaths had been recorded and 11,899 cases confirmed by laboratory tests.

But officials said the rise in admissions to hospital and to intensive care units had slowed slightly over the previous 24 hours.   "We're not at the peak, but at what we call the inflection point -- that means the force of the epidemic is beginning to diminish thanks to the efforts we have all made over the last two weeks," said Emmanuel Andre, spokesman for government's epidemic team.   "It is extremely important to keep up these efforts -- just because the curve is softening slightly today, it doesn't mean it won't get worse if we let up our efforts."

On Friday, Belgium extended lockdown measures by two weeks to April 18 to slow the spread of the virus.   Schools, restaurants and most shops are closed, entry to supermarkets is restricted to allow room for social distancing and people have been told to work from home.

Outdoor sports activities and walks outside are still allowed, but only in small groups, with a friend or with family members living under the same roof.    Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said the lockdown could be extended by another two weeks to May 3 if the spread of the virus demanded it.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 12:16:41 +0200 (METDST)

Madrid, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Spain confirmed another 812 deaths in 24 hours from the coronavirus on Monday, bringing the total number of deaths to 7,340, according to health ministry figures.   It is the first decline in the number of deaths in a 24-hour period since Thursday in Spain, which has the world's second most deadly outbreak after Italy. Spain recorded 838 virus deaths on Sunday.   The number of confirmed cases in Spain has now reached 85,195 -- after the one-day increase of 8.0 percent.

However, officials have pointed to a slower growth rate for both deaths and confirmed cases and expressed hope that the peak of the outbreak was approaching.   The percentage increase in the number of deaths on Monday over the previous day was of 12.4 percent, less than half the increase of 27 percent recorded on Wednesday.

Spain imposed a near-total nationwide lockdown on March 14 to try to curb the spread of the virus, banning people from leaving their homes except to go to work, buy food and medicine or care for a sick relative.   Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Saturday announced even stricter lockdown measures which will force all non-essential workers in the nation of around 47 million residents to stay home for the next two weeks.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 11:21:42 +0200 (METDST)

Harare, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Zimbabwean authorities on Monday began enforcing a three-week lockdown in its fight against the spread of coronavirus after the disease left one person dead and infected six others.   President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a 21-day "total" lockdown from Monday curtailing movement within the country, shutting most shops and suspending flights in and out of Zimbabwe.    Police mounted checkpoints on routes leading to Harare's central business district, stopping cars and turning away pedestrians who had no authorisation to be in the area.

Elsewhere truckloads of metropolitan and national police armed with batons were on patrol, ordering people back to their homes.   "We don't want to see people here on the streets. We don't want to see people who have no business in town just loitering," a policewoman said through a loud hailer. "Everyone to their homes."   Her colleagues, in riot gear, dispersed people standing in small groups at the Copacabana minibus terminus, which is usually abuzz with people including foreign currency dealers.    In the township of Mbare, the usually bustling  terminus for long-distance buses was deserted with only municipal street cleaners sweeping the empty bus ranks.   A traditionally busy downtown area of Harare referred to as "The Third World" resembled a ghost town with few people on the streets. Most shops had their shutters down.

For many of the country's 16 million people, who are already suffering a grim economic recession, the lockdown means even tougher hardship.   With unemployment rate estimated at around 90 percent, most Zimbabweans have informal jobs to eke out a living and few have substantial savings.   Some were trying to leave the city for rural villages.   "We would rather spend the 21 days at our rural home, where we don't have to buy everything. I can't afford to feed my family here when I am not working," said Most Jawure.   "We have been waiting here for more than two hours but there are no buses," Jawure told AFP while standing with his wife and daughter beside a bulging suitcase.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 09:48:42 +0200 (METDST)

Moscow, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Moscow on Monday imposed a lockdown in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus as Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin asked regional authorities to make similar preparations.    The enforcement of the tough new rules, which were suddenly announced by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin late Sunday, coincide with the beginning of a "non-working" week declared by President Vladimir Putin last week.   Europe's largest city announced the strict new isolation measures after many Muscovites refused to heed official recommendations and self-isolate at the weekend and instead went to parks for barbecues.

On Monday, the streets of Moscow were deserted following the closure of all non-essential shops, including restaurants and cafes, but traffic was still seen on the roads in the city centre.   "I ask regional heads to work on the introduction of quarantines similar to the one introduced in Moscow," Mishustin said at a government meeting.   In a rare televised address last Wednesday, Putin announced that Russians would not be required to go to work this week, but would still get paid.   The country has so far reported 1,534 cases of coronavirus and eight deaths, with more than one thousand infections in the capital.   The new restrictions apply to all of the city's residents, regardless of age.

Muscovites will only be allowed to leave their homes in cases of a medical emergency, to travel to jobs judged essential, and to shop for food or medicines.   People will be allowed to take out trash and walk their dogs within a 100-metre (330-foot) radius of their homes.   The new isolation rules, which will be policed by a vast system of facial-recognition cameras in Moscow, come into force as Russia closes its borders as part of increasingly stringent measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 08:20:07 +0200 (METDST)

Shanghai, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - A passenger train derailed after striking debris from a landslide in central China on Monday, injuring a number of passengers and staff, officials said.   The accident happened around midday in a rural part of Hunan province and came after recent heavy rains triggered landslides in the area, the state-run railway system said.   The statement said one car caught fire and five derailed. An unspecified number of staff and passengers were sent to hospital for treatment.

There were no immediate reports of deaths.   Unverified video posted on Chinese social media sites showed at least three cars lying on their side and smoke rising from a fire in the distance.   The train was travelling from the eastern city of Jinan to Guangzhou in the nation's south.   Parts of southern, eastern and central China have been soaked by steady rains beginning last week.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 08:10:11 +0200 (METDST)

Mogadishu, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - A governor in Somalia's Puntland has been killed in a suicide bombing claimed by the al-Shabaab jihadist group, police and hospital sources said Monday.   Abdisalan Hassan Hersi, governor of Nugaal region, succumbed to his injuries after being rushed to hospital in Garowe, the capital of Puntland where the blast occurred Sunday.   "The doctors tried to save the governor's life but unfortunately he died from his injuries," Mohamed Weli, a police officer in Puntland, told AFP by phone.   "He was in a critical condition when he was admitted to hospital."   A source at the hospital, who did not wish to be identified, said the governor died less than an hour after being admitted to the intensive care ward.   "He was badly wounded in the blast and he had little chance of surviving such serious injuries," the source told AFP.

A former police commander and a civilian also wounded in the blast were being treated at hospital, officials said Monday.   Several witnesses described the attacker running at the governor's vehicle before detonating a suicide vest, triggering an explosion.   Al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group waging a deadly insurgency in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.   The Al-Qaeda affiliate was driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 and lost most of their strongholds, but still control vast swathes of the countryside.   They have vowed to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu and have carried out many attacks in the capital.
Date: Sun, 29 Mar 2020 20:06:11 +0200 (METDST)

Luanda, March 29, 2020 (AFP) - Angola has recorded its first two deaths from coronavirus, out of the seven confirmed cases in the southwestern African country, health minister said Sunday.   "We now have seven confirmed cases and unfortunately two people lost their lives between last night and this morning," Health Minister Silvia Lutucuta told a news conference.   The fatalities were both Angolan citizens -- a 59-year-old, who was regularly resident in Portugal,but returned home on March 12 and a 37-year-old who had returned home from Lisbon the following day.
Date: Sun, 29 Mar 2020 11:48:20 +0200 (METDST)

Montevideo, March 29, 2020 (AFP) - Uruguay reported its first death linked to the novel coronavirus on Saturday, a former minister and ally of the ruling party, the government said.   "With deep sadness we announce the first death due to coronavirus in Uruguay," Secretary of the Presidency Alvaro Delgado told a press conference, naming the victim as Rodolfo Gonzalez Rissotto.

Gonzalez Rissotto was one of nine patients with the coronavirus who were in intensive care, Delgado said, adding his death was "all the more reason to reinforce the request to everyone to take care of themselves and stay home."   President Luis Lacalle Pou paid tribute in a tweet.   "A big hug for the family and friends of Rodolfo Gonzalez Risotto. Friend and counselor. RIP."   Uruguay has reported 304 confirmed cases of the virus.
Date: Fri 27 Mar 2020
Source: AP News [edited]

Standing over the still body of an intubated 5-year-old boy wearing nothing but a plastic diaper, an Iranian healthcare worker in a hazmat suit and mask begged the public for just one thing: Stop drinking industrial alcohol [methanol, the most common industrial alcohol] over fears about the new coronavirus.

The boy, now blind after his parents gave him toxic methanol in the mistaken belief it protects against the virus, is just one of hundreds of victims of an epidemic inside the pandemic now gripping Iran.

Iranian media report nearly 300 people have been killed and more than 1000 sickened so far by ingesting methanol across the Islamic Republic, where drinking alcohol [ethanol] is banned and where those who do rely on bootleggers. An Iranian doctor helping the country's Health Ministry told the Associated Press on Friday [27 Mar 2020] the problem was even greater, giving a death toll of around 480 with 2850 people sickened. [Apparently all from methanol intoxication. - ProMed Mod.TG]

The poisonings come as fake remedies spread across social media in Iran, where people remain deeply suspicious of the government after it downplayed the crisis for days before it overwhelmed the country.

"Other countries have only one problem, which is the new coronavirus pandemic. But we are fighting on 2 fronts here," said Dr. Hossein Hassanian, an adviser to Iran's Health Ministry, who gave the higher figures to the AP. "We have to both cure the people with alcohol [methanol] poisoning and also fight the coronavirus."

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, clearing up in 2-3 weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

The pandemic has swept across the world, overwhelming hospitals, crippling economies, and forcing governments to restrict the movements of billions of people. Particularly hard hit has been Iran, home to 80 million people.

As of now, there is no known cure for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Scientists and doctors continue to study the virus and search for effective medicines and a vaccine.

But in messages forwarded and forwarded again, Iranian social media accounts in Farsi falsely suggested a British schoolteacher and others cured themselves of the coronavirus with whiskey and honey, based on a tabloid story from early February [2020]. Mixed with messages about the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, some wrongly believed drinking high-proof alcohol would kill the virus in their bodies.

The Islamic Republic has reported over 29 000 confirmed cases [of COVID-19] and more than 2200 deaths from the virus, the highest toll of any country in the Middle East. International experts also fear Iran may be under-reporting its cases, as officials for days played down the virus ahead of a parliamentary election.

That fear of the virus, coupled with poor education and internet rumours, saw dozens sickened by drinking bootleg alcohol containing methanol in Iran's southwestern Khuzestan province and its southern city of Shiraz. Videos aired by Iranian media showed patients with IVs stuck in their arms, lying on beds otherwise needed for the fight against the coronavirus, including the intubated 5-year-old boy. Iranian media also reported cases in the cities of Karaj and Yazd.

In Iran, the government mandates manufacturers of toxic methanol add an artificial color to their products so the public can tell it apart from ethanol, the kind used in cleaning wounds. Ethanol is also the kind of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, though its production is illegal in Iran.

Some bootleggers in Iran use methanol, adding a splash of bleach to mask the added color before selling it as drinkable. Sometimes it is mixed with consumable alcohol to stretch supply, and other times it comes as methanol, falsely advertised as drinkable. Methanol also can contaminate traditionally fermented alcohol.

Methanol cannot be smelled or tasted in drinks. It causes delayed organ and brain damage. Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation, blindness, and even coma.

Hassanian said his figures included reports from coroner's offices around Iran also counting those who died outside of hospitals from the poisonings.

"Unfortunately, in some provinces, including Khuzestan and Fars, deaths from drinking methanol has exceeded the number of deaths from the new coronavirus," he said.

Dr. Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologist in Oslo, said to expect more methanol poisoning victims.

"The virus is spreading, and people are just dying off, and I think they are even less aware of the fact there are other dangers around," Hovda said. "When they keep drinking this [methanol], there's going to be more people poisoned."

Even before the outbreak, methanol poisoning had taken a toll in Iran. One academic study found methanol poisoning sickened 768 people in Iran between September and October 2018 alone, killing 76.

Other Muslim nations banning their citizens from drinking also see such methanol poisoning, although Iran appears to be the only one in the pandemic so far to turn toward it as a fake cure. In Buddhist Cambodia, police said they seized 4200 liters (1100 gallons) of methanol from a man who unwittingly planned to make toxic hand sanitizer because of the virus outbreak.

Muslim drinkers in Iran can be punished with cash fines and 80 lashes. However, minority Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians can drink alcoholic beverages in private.

While police occasionally announce alcohol busts, the trade in nontoxic alcohol also continues. Locally made Iranian arak from fermented raisins, known as Aragh sagi, sells for USD 10 for a 1.5 l [1.6 qt] bottle. Imported vodka sells for USD 40 a bottle.

"Every year during Nowruz, or the Persian New Year holidays beginning 21 Mar 2020, my customers double," said Rafik, an Iranian-Armenian who makes vodka in the basement of his Tehran home. He spoke on the condition only his 1st name be used for fear of arrest. "This year [2020], because of coronavirus, it jumped up by 4- or 5-fold."

Farhad, a self-described heavy drinker who lives in central Tehran, said alcohol remains easy to find for those looking for it. "Even you can find it offered when you are walking down the street, " he said.

Since 1979, Iran's 40 alcohol factories have seen their production changed to pharmaceutical needs and sanitizers. Others had been left idle, like the abandoned Shams alcohol factory east of Tehran.

But now, in a time when even some mosques in Iran hand out high-proof alcohol as a sanitizer, officials plan to start work again at Shams to produce 22 000 l [23 247 qt] of 99% alcohol a day. [This alcohol is not for internal consumption but can be used in hand sanitizers. - ProMed Mod.TG]  [Byline: Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell]
====================
[Methanol toxicity initially lacks severe toxic manifestations. Its pathophysiology represents a classic example of lethal synthesis in which toxic metabolites cause fatality after a characteristic latent period. In other words, these people may not realize they are sick or ill until sometime after consumption.

Methanol is sometimes used as an ethanol substitute for alcohol. Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fruit juices, fermented beverages, and diet soft drinks containing aspartame are the primary sources of methanol in the human body, but [they contain] minute quantities.

Wood alcohol is also known as methanol. It is a commonly used toxic organic solvent causing metabolic acidosis, neurologic issues, and death when ingested. It is a part of many commercial industrial solvents and of adulterated alcoholic beverages or is mistaken as being the same as alcohol for ingestion. Methanol toxicity remains a common problem in many parts of the developing world, especially among members of lower socioeconomic classes.

Neurological complications are recognized more frequently due to advanced technologies and because of early recognition of the toxicity and advances in supportive care. Hemodialysis and better management of acid-base disturbances remain the most important therapeutic improvements.

Serum methanol levels of greater than 20 mg/dL correlate with ocular injury. Funduscopic changes are notable within only a few hours after methanol ingestion. The mechanism by which the methanol causes toxicity to the visual system is not well understood. Formic acid, the toxic metabolite of methanol, is regarded as being responsible for ocular toxicity, and blindness can occur in humans.

The prognosis in methanol poisoning correlates with the amount of methanol consumed and the subsequent degree of metabolic acidosis; more severe acidosis confers a poorer prognosis. Methanol has a relatively low toxicity. The adverse effects are thought to be from the accumulation of formic acid, a metabolite of methanol metabolism. The prognosis is further dependent on the amount of formic acid that has accumulated in the blood, with a direct correlation existing between the formic acid concentration and morbidity and mortality. Little long-term improvement can be expected in patients with neurologic complications.

The minimal lethal dose of methanol in adults is believed to be 1 mg/kg of body weight. The exact rates of morbidity and mortality from methanol intoxication are not available.

Rapid, early treatment is necessary for survival, but sequelae such as blindness may be permanent.

Metabolic acidosis in methanol poisoning may necessitate the administration of bicarbonate and assisted ventilation. Bicarbonate potentially may reverse visual deficits. In addition, bicarbonate may help to decrease the amount of active formic acid.

Antidote therapy, often using ethanol or fomepizole, is directed towards delaying methanol metabolism until the methanol is eliminated from the patient's system either naturally or via dialysis. Like methanol, ethanol is metabolized by ADH [alcohol dehydrogenase], but the enzyme's affinity for ethanol is 10-20 times higher than it is for methanol. Fomepizole is also metabolized by ADH; however, its use is limited because of high cost and lack of availability.

Hemodialysis can easily remove methanol and formic acid. Indications for this procedure include (1) greater than 30 mL [1 oz] of methanol ingested, (2) serum methanol level greater than 20 mg/dL, (3) observation of visual complications, and (4) no improvement in acidosis despite repeated sodium bicarbonate infusions.

Intravenous administration of ethanol in a 10% dextrose solution may be helpful. As ethanol prolongs the elimination half-life of methanol, the treatment may take several days, and the patient should be hospitalized. Dialysis may be necessary to prevent kidney failure as well. Hemodialysis remains an effective treatment.

Portions of this comment were extracted from

This tragic development is another example of the broader deleterious impact of a pandemic on other aspects of public health.  Anecdotal reports of other potentially harmful "home remedies" for COVID-19 being hawked on the internet reminds us that education of the general public and responsible messaging are more important now than ever. - ProMed Mod.LXL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 22:49:49 +0100 (MET)

Dublin, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland is to impose a lockdown in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday.   "Everybody must stay at home, in all circumstances," he said of the new measures to come into force at midnight (0000 GMT) on Saturday and last until 12 April.   Exceptions will be made for essential workers, medical appointments and the purchase of food.   Travel for "vital family reasons", for farming and exercise within two kilometres (one mile) of homes will also be allowed.

All public or private gatherings "of any number of people" outside a single household are also prohibited.   "These are radical actions aimed at saving as many people's lives as possible," said Varadkar at a press conference.   "I'm asking us for a time to forego our personal liberties and freedoms for a greater cause."   There have been 22 COVID-19 related deaths and 2,121 confirmed cases of the virus in Ireland, according to department of health figures released earlier Friday.   Earlier this month the Irish government ordered schools, universities and pubs to close nationwide.   Swathes of non-essential businesses were also ordered shut earlier this week as Ireland braced for an uptick of COVID-19 cases within its borders.

Emergency coronavirus legislation passed through the final stages of Irish parliament and was signed into law by president Michael D. Higgins earlier Friday.   The bill enacts a rent freeze and a moratorium on evictions for the duration of the crisis.   It also streamlines the registration of healthcare and defence forces staff returning to the workforce, and enables the Irish government's financial supports to those laid off as a result of COVID-19 business closures.   "The legislation is emergency legislation for a time of crisis," said Higgins in a statement.   "These are difficult times, but our difficulties will come to an end."