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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Mariana Islands

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

Equatorial Guinea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the U.S. Embassy in Malabo at (240) 098895; Embassy personnel will assist in contacting the local police.
If you are the victim of a crime while in Equatorial Guinea, please remember to report the incident to local police, and contact the U.S. Embassy in Malabo for assistance.
The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, the consular officer can help you understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Hospitals, clinics, and other businesses and hotels do not accept credit cards.
If there are any concerns that travelers may need medical care or assistance while in Equatorial Guinea, they should make arrangements to have access to enough cash to cover possible expenses.
There are companies such as Western Union where international money orders can be arranged and cash obtained.
There are no ATM machines in the country (See SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES Section above).
You can see more information on medical insurance overseas.

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

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

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

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

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

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

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

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Equatorial Guinea are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Malabo through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Equatorial Guinea.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy in Malabo to contact them in case of emergency.

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 12:29:01 +0100 (MET)
By David Vujanovic

Tehran, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Iran's government vowed Monday to be transparent after being accused of covering up the deadliest coronavirus outbreak outside China, dismissing claims the toll could be as high as 50.

The authorities in the Islamic republic have come under mounting public pressure since it took days for them to admit to "accidentally" shooting down a Ukrainian airliner last month, killing 176 people.   The government said on Monday that Iran's coronavirus death toll had jumped by four to 12 -- by far the highest outside China -- as its neighbours closed their borders and imposed strict quarantine measures.

But Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a lawmaker from the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran, alleged the government was "lying" about the full extent of the outbreak.   The ILNA news agency, which is close to reformists, said the lawmaker spoke of "50 deaths" in Qom alone.   "The rest of the media have not published this figure, but we prefer not to censor what concerns the coronavirus because people's lives are in danger," ILNA editor Fatemeh Mahdiani told AFP.

Farahani was wearing a face mask during the closed session of parliament but left after speaking, as he felt unwell, state news agency IRNA reported, adding sanitary workers then cleaned his seat.   Iran's government rejected his claim that the virus had killed 50 in Qom.   "I categorically deny this information," Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said in a news conference aired live on state television.   "This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem," he added.

- Transparency pledge -
The government pledged transparency over the outbreak.   "We will announce any figures (we have) on the number of deaths throughout the country. We pledge to be transparent about the reporting of figures," its spokesman Ali Rabiei said.   Iran has been scrambling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak since it announced the first two deaths in the holy city of Qom on Wednesday last week.   Authorities have since ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres across the country as a "preventive measure".

A spokesman for Iran's parliament, Assadollah Abbassi, announced the latest four deaths among more than 60 infections after Monday's closed-door gathering of lawmakers.   Citing Health Minister Said Namaki, he said that "the cause of coronavirus infections in Iran are people who have entered the country illegally from Pakistan, Afghanistan and China".   Iran has yet to give a breakdown of where the other deaths occurred.   The worst-hit province for infections is Qom, with 34 cases, according to health ministry figures.

The others are in Tehran with 13 infections, Gilan with six, Markazi with four, Isfahan with two and one each for Hamedan and Mazandaran.   But the health minister said that one person who died of coronavirus in Qom, south of Tehran, was a businessman who had made several trips to China.   Namaki had unsuccessfully pleaded in January for Iran's government to order the suspension of all commercial flights between Iran and China.   In his remarks to state television on Sunday, the minister said direct flights between Iran and China were now suspended, but the Qom businessman had travelled there "on a connecting flight".

- Border closures -
Since it emerged in December, the new coronavirus has killed more than 2,500 people in China.   Iran now accounts for nearly half of the deaths elsewhere in the world, which currently stand at 30.   Many of Iran's neighbours have reported cases of coronavirus in people who had travelled to the Islamic republic.   Afghanistan on Monday reported its first case in a person who had travelled to Qom.   Baghdad also reported its first case on Monday -- an elderly Iranian citizen living in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf.

Iraq has shut its border with the Islamic republic and imposed a travel ban.   Similar preventive measures were imposed by Afghanistan, Armenia, Pakistan and Turkey.    Qom is a centre for Islamic studies and pilgrims, attracting scholars from Iran and beyond.   Kuwait and Bahrain also confirmed their first novel coronavirus cases, all of whom had come from Iran.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 12:00:17 +0100 (MET)

Quetta, Pakistan, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Pakistan began quarantining at least 200 people near the Iranian border, officials said Monday, as fears spiralled over the growing toll from the coronavirus in the region amid allegations of a coverup in Iran.

The quarantine announcement came hours after Pakistan sealed off its land border with Iran while neighbouring Afghanistan said it had detected its first infection.    It also came as Iranian authorities denied allegations of an official coverup following reports that dozens of deaths had gone unreported in the country.

In Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province authorities moved fast to quarantine at least 200 people after Shiite Muslim piligrims returning from Iran entered the country and briefly interacted with other residents.   "We have decided not to take a chance and keep all of them under observation for the next 15 days," Najeebullah Qambrani, assistant commissioner at the Taftan border crossing, told AFP, saying 250 people were being quarantined.

Balochistan's secretary of health Mudassir Malik confirmed the quarantine but estimated that between 200 and 250 were being held.   He added that around 7,000 pilgrims had returned to Pakistan from Iran this month alone.   Afghanistan and Pakistan share long, porous borders with Iran that are often used by smugglers and human traffickers, while millions of Afghan refugees currently live in the Islamic Republic -- raising fears that the virus could easily spread over the border.

Pakistan -- bordered by China to the north and Iran to the south -- also suffers the additional burden of having a lacklustre healthcare system following decades of under-investment by the state, leaving impoverished, rural communities especially vulnerable.

Balochistan in particular is woefully unprepared to handle a public health emergency after being beset for decades by a separatist insurgency, jihadist violence, and neglect from the central government.   The novel coronavirus has spread to more than 25 countries, with more than 2,500 dead in China, and is causing mounting alarm due to new pockets of outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 09:00:05 +0100 (MET)

Kabul, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Afghanistan has detected its first novel coronavirus case, the country's health minister said Monday, a day after Kabul announced it would suspend air and ground travel to Iran, where 12 people have died from the outbreak.   "I announce the first positive coronavirus (case) in Herat," health minister Firozuddin Feroz told a press conference, calling on citizens to avoid travel to the western province which borders Iran.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 08:04:46 +0100 (MET)

Dubai, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Kuwait and Bahrain confirmed on Monday their first novel coronavirus cases, the countries' health ministries announced, adding all had come from Iran.  Kuwait reported three infections and Bahrain one in citizens who had returned home from the Islamic republic.
Date: Sun, 23 Feb 2020 19:13:29 +0100 (MET)

Rome, Feb 23, 2020 (AFP) - An elderly cancer patient became the third person known to be infected with the coronavirus to die in Italy, health officials said on Sunday, as the number of people contracting the virus continued to mount.    The death of the woman in a hospital in the small city of Crema in Lombardy, the centre of Italy's coronavirus scare, followed that of a 77-year-old woman on Saturday and a 78-year-old man on Friday, the first victim of coronavirus in Europe.

The head of Italy's civil protection department, Angelo Borrelli, said during a news conference that 152 people had now tested positive for the virus, including the three deceased.    The cancer patient had been hospitalised for a few days, said Lombardy's health chief, Giulio Gallera.    "She'd been tested and they already knew she had the coronavirus," Gallera said, adding that it was too early to know whether the virus was the actual
cause of death.

The deaths, and steadily rising cases of infected people, have prompted a series of security measures to try to check the spread of the contagion.    Eleven towns -- 10 in Lombardy and 1 in Veneto -- are under lockdown, with residents prohibited from leaving. Regional authorities have ordered gathering spots, such as bars, restaurants and discos to close.     Schools throughout the affected areas are to remain closed next week.    Most of the cases in Italy are in Lombardy, a prosperous region in the country's north, and can be traced back to a 38-year-old man whom authorities have called "patient one." 

The man, who is intensive care, dined last month with another man who had visited China in January. He exhibited flu-like symptoms at the time of the dinner, but has since tested negative for the virus, media reports said.    And health officials are still puzzled over certain cases with no obvious links with infected persons.    "The rapid increase in reported cases in Italy over the past two days is of concern," the World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said on Sunday.     "What is also worrying is that not all reported cases seem to have clear epidemiological links, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case," he added.

Experts from WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control plan to arrive in Italy on Tuesday, he said.    Mounting worries over the spread of the virus have  disrupted fashion shows at Milan Fashion Week and cancelled operas at the famed La Scala.
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2020 14:55:57 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Feb 21, 2020 (AFP) - The first case of the novel coronavirus in Lebanon was confirmed on Friday, the health minister said, adding that two other suspected cases were being investigated.   "We confirmed the first case today," Hassan Hamad said at a press conference in Beirut.

The COVID-19 virus was found in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had travelled from Qom in Iran, he said.   A medical source at the hospital where the woman is being treated told AFP that she returned from Iran with a high fever, but that her immunity was good and her condition stable.

Hamad said that all the people who were on the same flight from Iran had been contacted by the health authorities.   He said that anyone returning from Iran would be asked to observe a two-week home quarantine.   The COVID-19 outbreak first appeared in Iran on Wednesday.

Tehran has now confirmed a total of four deaths and 18 infections by the SARS-like virus, which first emerged in China in late December.   Thousands of Lebanese travel to Iran every year to visit Shiite holy sites in Qom and other cities.   China on Friday raised the death toll to 2,236 -- most of them in the province of Hubei, where the virus was first detected. More than 75,000 have now been infected in China and over 1,100 abroad.
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2020 10:38:16 +0100 (MET)

Seoul, Feb 21, 2020 (AFP) - North Korea has cancelled the Pyongyang Marathon -- its biggest tourist money-spinner of the year -- because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, tour companies said Friday.   Beijing-based Koryo Tours, the official partner of the marathon, said on its website it had "received official confirmation today that the Pyongyang Marathon 2020 is cancelled".   "This is due to the ongoing closure of the North Korean border and COVID-19 virus situation in China and the greater region," it added.   Young Pioneer Tours, which specialises in budget trips to the isolated country, issued a similar statement.

The annual marathon is held in April as part of the anniversary commemorations for founder Kim Il Sung's birth in 1912, and attracts curious foreigners eager to run through the streets of the tightly controlled city.   Almost 1,000 Westerners took part last year, according to organisers, paying entry fees of up to $150 to do so.

North Korea has put itself into self-imposed isolation to protect itself from the outbreak raging in neighbouring China, which has infected more than 75,000 people and killed over 2,200.   Pyongyang has suspended flights and train services, banned tourists, and imposed 30 days of quarantine on resident foreigners.   North Korea is subject to multiple international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and its medical infrastructure is weak, with chronic shortages of medicines and equipment.

As a result an outbreak would wreak havoc, analysts say.   It has taken similar measures before: it banned tourists for more than four months from October 2014 to keep out the Ebola virus, even though no cases had been reported in Asia.   North Korea clamped down for six months during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-03, which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong.
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2020 05:56:39 +0100 (MET)

Jukkasjaervi, Sweden, Feb 21, 2020 (AFP) - High above the Arctic Circle and nestled in the snow-dusted forests of northern Sweden, gaggles of tourists gathered on a February morning for a glimpse of hallways, bedrooms and a wedding chapel sculpted from ice, part of the 30th incarnation of Sweden's ice hotel.   Stopping in blue-white hallways to take snaps of a chandelier and ornately decorated bedrooms entirely carved from ice, the tourists are among the 50,000 day visitors to the hotel every year, founded in 1989 by a hotelier looking to attract visitors to the remote town of Jukkasjarvi, 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of the Arctic Circle.   Built every October from the frozen waters of the nearby river Torne, the winter hotel has 35 bedrooms.

Temperatures reach -5 degrees Celsius (23 Fahrenheit) in the rooms, which start at around three times the average price of a night in a three-star establishment in Stockholm.   Individual suites cost more, and feature sculptures and designs by artists from around the world.   One room inspired by the aurora borealis -- the northern lights that can be seen in the skies nearby -- features lighting that changes colour, as well as a giant snow sculpture of a reindeer's head, all set to a soundtrack of ambient music and, occasionally, reindeer grunts.   Around 20,000 guests spend a night in the hotel every year.   But 25-year-old guide Julia Hansers said guests usually react less to the cold than to the tranquillity.   "A lot of people coming here live in the city, and there you always have some sort of sounds and noise around you, and inside the ice hotel it's completely quiet," said Hansers, peering out from under a thick woolly hat.

Bo Bjerggaard, a gallerist from Copenhagen, spent a night wrapped in a sleeping bag and a reindeer-skin throw.   "During the night I had to get up and then it was of course cold," Bjerggaard said, standing outside in the hotel's dazzling white courtyard made from snow.   "Then (it's) great again when you come back into the sleeping bag -- you sleep so well because of the temperature," he said with a smile.   Guests can also enjoy a drink in the ice bar, where all beverages are served in glasses made from ice.   Since 2016 the hotel has also used solar panels to generate electricity to cool a nearby building to below zero to allow them to keep 20 rooms frozen all year round.   When spring arrives, the winter hotel's rooms are closed and it melts back into the river until October, when construction begins again.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 21:01:10 +0100 (MET)

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

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

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

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

Illustrating how annoying the issue has become, bed bugs have even featured in the Paris 2020 electoral campaign, with mayoral hopeful Benjamin Griveaux promising to clean up the capital in 100 days.    The plan of the candidate, who has since bowed out over a sex-tape scandal, included specialised anti-pest "brigades" targeting bed bugs, rats and cockroaches, which would intervene free of charge for low-income households, and at the lowest market price for others.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 19:02:28 +0100 (MET)

Oslo, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - Two German tourists were killed Thursday in an avalanche while on a snowmobile tour in Norway, authorities said.    A helicopter carrying rescue personnel and a sniffer dog were dispatched to search for the missing pair, who were discovered dead in the Svalbard archipelago, about a thousand kilometres (miles) from the North Pole.    "Two German citizens are confirmed dead in an avalanche," the office of the Governor of Svalbard said in a statement.

They had been on a snowmobile tour run by a Russian tour operator, about 15 to 20 kilometres (about 9 to 12 miles) south of Barentsburg, the second largest settlement on Svalbard, according broadcaster NRK.    Authorities said they received reports that two people were missing shortly before 3:00 pm (1400 GMT), and a few hours later the pair were discovered.    The Svalbard archipelago covers an area twice the size of Belgium and is home to some 2,900 inhabitants who rely on tourism, scientific research and mining.