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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: Tue, 24 Sep 2019 07:27:34 +0200 (METDST)

Miami, Sept 24, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.0 magnitude struck off the northwest coast of Puerto Rico late Monday, the United States Geological Survey said, although no casualties or damage were reported.   The quake struck 62km northwest of San Antonio at 11:23 pm local time (03:20 GMT) at a depth of 10km, the agency said.  San Antonio is home to Rafael Hernandez Airport, a key air link to the mainland US.    In 2010 nearby Haiti was struck by a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people and crippled the nation's infrastructure.
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:54:19 +0100

San Juan, Feb 12, 2018 (AFP) - Most of San Juan and a strip of northern Puerto Rico municipalities were plunged into darkness Sunday night after an explosion at a power station, five months after two hurricanes destroyed the island's electricity network.

The state electric power authority (AEE) said the blast was caused by a broken-down switch in Rio Piedras, resulting in a blackout in central San Juan and Palo Seco in the north.   "We have personnel working to restore the system as soon as possible," the AEE said.   San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said on Twitter that emergency services and local officials attended the scene in the neighbourhood of Monacillos, but no injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican capital's airport said it was maintaining its schedule using emergency generators.   The blackout comes as nearly 500,000 of AEE's 1.6 million customers remain without power since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the US territory in September 2017.   AEE engineer Jorge Bracero warned on Twitter that the outage was "serious," and advised those affected that power would not be restored until Monday.
Date: Wed, 13 Dec 2017 03:08:12 +0100
By Leila MACOR

Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Dec 13, 2017 (AFP) - Until Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Jose Figueroa did brisk business renting kayaks to tourists itching to see a lagoon that lights up by night thanks to millions of microorganisms.   Today, things are so dire he's considering selling water to motorists stopped at red lights.   "Now we are trying to survive," the 46-year-old tour guide said.

It used to be that visitors had to reserve a month in advance to get one of his kayaks and paddle around in the dark on the enchanting, bioluminescent body of water called Laguna Grande.   But tourists are scarce these days as the Caribbean island tries to recover from the ravages of the storm back in September.   "We do not know if we will have any work tonight," Figueroa said. "Last week, we worked only one day."    He and another employee of a company called Glass Bottom PR are cleaning kayaks on the seaside promenade of Fajardo, a tourist town in eastern Puerto Rico whose main attraction is the so-called Bio Bay.

The year started off well for Puerto Rico, with the global success of the song "Despacito" by local musicians Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee.   The catchy tune helped promote the US commonwealth island of 3.4 million people, which is saddled with huge debts and declared bankruptcy in May.    But the hurricane turned what should be an island bustling with tourists into one with deserted beaches, shuttered restaurants and hotels full of mainland US officials working on the rebuilding of the island.   "What few tourists we have are the federal officials themselves," said Figueroa.

- Locals only -
The grim outlook spreads up and down the seaside promenade of Fajardo, where many restaurants are closed because there is no electricity.   On this particular day around noon, the only restaurant open is one called Racar Seafood. It has its own emergency generator.   "We get by on local tourists," said its 61-year-old owner, Justino Cruz.   "Our clients are local -- those who have no electricity, no generator, cold food or no food."

Puerto Rico's once-devastated power grid is now back up to 70 percent capacity, but this is mainly concentrated in the capital San Juan.   So while inland towns that depend on tourism are struggling mightily, things are getting better in San Juan as cruise ships are once again docking.   On November 30, the first cruise ship since the storm arrived with thousands of vacationers on board. They were received with great fanfare -- quite literally, with trumpet blaring and cymbals crashing.

- Pitching in to help -
The World Travel & Tourism Council, based in London, says tourism accounted for about eight percent of Puerto Rico's GDP in 2016, or $8.1 billion.   Hurricane Maria's damage has been uneven. Although some tour guides now have no work and many eateries are shut down, hotels that have their own generators are doing just fine.   Thanks to the thousands of US government officials and reconstruction crew members that came in after the storm, the hotels that are open -- about 80 percent of the total -- are pretty much full.

These people are starting to leave the island this month but hotels may receive tourists around Christmas, at least in San Juan, where power has for the most part been restored.   The hurricane "undoubtedly cost billions in lost revenue," said Jose Izquierdo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.    But Izquierdo nevertheless says he is "optimistic" and suggests an alternative: put tourists to work as volunteers in the gargantuan reconstruction effort that the island needs.   "We want to look for travellers who want to travel with a purpose, who might have the commitment to help rebuild," said Izquierdo.

The program, called "Meaningful Travel" and launched in mid-November, organizes trips on which residents, Puerto Ricans living abroad and tourists are invited to help the island get back on its feet.   "The plan aims to create empathy with this tourist destination," said Izquierdo.    "We want to be like New Orleans after Katrina, where 10 years after the hurricane, tourism is the driving force of its economy. We want to build that narrative of recovery," he added.   "There are different ways in which the world wants to help Puerto Rico. The best way is to visit us."
Date: Thu, 9 Nov 2017 12:39:04 +0100
By Marcos PÉREZ RAMÍREZ

San Juan, Nov 9, 2017 (AFP) - Andrea Olivero, 11, consults her classmate Ada about an exercise during their daily English class at San Juan's Sotero Figueroa Elementary School. The task: list the positive and negative aspects of Hurricane Maria's passing almost two months ago.

The girls only have to look around. There is no electricity and they "roast" in the heat, Andrea says. At the back of the room, computers and televisions collect dust.   "We would like to move past the topic of the hurricane a bit. It is already getting repetitive," Andrea told AFP.   She is one of more than 300,000 pupils in the public education system, although only half of schools are functioning. Barely 42 per cent of Puerto Ricans have electricity seven weeks after Maria struck, killing at least 51 in the American territory.

The lack of power has prompted disorienting timetable changes on the tropical island, to avoid both the hottest hours of the day and the use of dining facilities.   "The children are very anxious. We manage to make progress in lessons and they change the hours again. Everything is messed up and we fall behind," English teacher Joan Rodriguez explained.   "We can't use the computers to illustrate classes," she said. "They are reading the novel "Charlotte's Web," and we wanted to do exercises comparing it to the film version. But we cannot use the television.

- Suspicions -
From October 23, some directors reopened their schools in the western region of Mayaguez and San Juan.   But last Thursday, the Department of Education ordered their closure, insisting they must be evaluated by engineering and architectural firms, then certified by the US Army Corps of Engineers.   One of those schools was Vila Mayo, also in San Juan. The community presumed it would open, as it had been used as a shelter, its electrical infrastructure had been inspected and it had not suffered structural damage.

But Luis Orengo, the education department's director in San Juan, told protesters outside the school it was closed as inspectors' findings had not reached the central government.   "This is unacceptable! The school is ready to give classes but they don't want to open it. Our children cannot lose a year," fumed Enid Guzman, who protested with her 11-year-old son, Reanny De la Cruz.   There are suspicions the stalled reopening of schools is, in part, related to the prior closure of 240 schools over the past year during Puerto Rico's long-running financial crisis.   The fiscal difficulties have seen the island's population drop over the past decade by 14 percent, leading in turn to a fall in school enrolment.

Before the storms, 300 schools were at risk of closure -- and for the president of Puerto Rico's federation of teachers, Mercedes Martinez, the government's aim is clear.   "Secretary (Julia) Keleher seems to have an orchestrated plan to close schools," she said, referring to the education secretary. "Why do you have to wait 30 days to get a certification so a school can open?"   Keleher has announced she expects most schools to be open by the middle of November.
Date: Tue 24 Oct 2017
Source: KFOR Oklahoma News4 [edited]

Puerto Rico has reported at least 76 cases of suspected and confirmed leptospirosis, including a handful of deaths, in the month after Hurricane Maria, said Dr. Carmen Deseda, the state epidemiologist for Puerto Rico.

Two deaths involved leptospirosis confirmed through laboratory testing, and "several other" deaths are pending test results, Deseda said. The 76 cases, up from 74 last week, also include one patient with confirmed leptospirosis who is currently hospitalized.

The island typically sees between 63 and 95 cases per year, she said. Health officials had expected that there would be a jump after the hurricane. "It's neither an epidemic nor a confirmed outbreak," Public Affairs Secretary Ramon Rosario Cortes said at a news conference Sunday [22 Oct 2017]. "But obviously, we are making all the announcements as though it were a health emergency."

Leptospirosis may be treated with antibiotics, but many people recover on their own. "The majority of leptospirosis cases is a mild, subclinical disease with no complications," Deseda said. "But one out of 10 people who have leptospirosis develop severe illness." In the 1st stage of leptospirosis, symptoms vary widely from fever and headache to red eyes and rashes. Some people may have no symptoms at all. But a small number will develop dire complications: meningitis, kidney and liver damage, bleeding in the lungs and even death.

Doctors are required to report any potential leptospirosis cases to health authorities, Deseda said. Those cases must then be tested to confirm the bacteria, since the symptoms can be difficult to tell apart from other illnesses. After that, health officials may look for patterns or clusters and determine whether there is an outbreak.

The lab tests on the suspected cases have been sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Deseda said. The turnaround time is about 5-6 days.

Doctors on the island have expressed concerns about burgeoning health crises amid hospitals that are overwhelmed, undersupplied and sometimes burning hot. Influenza is another concern on the horizon, Deseda said. Drinking water is also hard to come by on many parts of the island.

Dr. Raul Hernandez, an internist in San Juan, told CNN that people were drinking water from whatever sources they could find, such as rivers and creeks. If that water contains urine from a [leptospirosis-infected rat], those people will be at risk, he said.

Deseda said people should be discouraged from walking barefoot, drinking or swimming in potentially leptospirosis-contaminated waters.

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

Parts of Puerto Rico saw more than 30 inches of rain and consequent flooding with recent Hurricane Maria. A map showing the estimated rainfall across Puerto Rico with this hurricane is available at <https://twitter.com/NWSSanJuan/status/910983698597777409/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url>.

With continued absence of potable water, inadequate sanitation, and flooding in the streets for a large proportion of the population in Puerto Rico, food- and water-borne diseases, like leptospirosis, will be a major problem. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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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

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Macedonia

Macedonia US Consular Information Sheet
August 15, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Macedonia is a parliamentary democracy that is steadily transforming its economy. Tourist facilities are available in the capital, Skopje, and other major towns.
In tourist centers, such as Skopje and Ohrid, European-standard hotels and other travel amenities are available, while the standard of facilities throughout the rest of the country varies considerably. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Macedonia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Short trip for business or tourism:
A valid passport is required for travel to Macedonia.
A visa is not required for U.S. passport holders for tourist and business trips up to 90 days during a six-month period.
Entry stamps are issued at airports or land border crossing points, which grant permission to remain 90 days.
All foreign citizens must register with local police within 24 hours of arrival.
Those staying in private accommodation or renting an apartment should register in person at the police station nearest his/her place of residence, and should be accompanied to the station by the owner or landlord of the apartment.
Hotels are responsible for the registration of foreign guests.
If the foreigner changes address in Macedonia, he or she should notify the police station where s/he initially registered and reregister with the police station closest to the new place of residence.

An unaccompanied minor U.S. citizen who enters Macedonia should be in possession of a parental or guardian statement of consent to enter and stay in the country.
The statement of consent must be certified by a competent authority of the country from which s/he arrives or by a diplomatic or consular mission of the Republic of Macedonia abroad.

NOTE:
A U.S. citizen who possesses more than one passport is required to leave the country with the travel document used for entry into the country.

Temporary residence:
Individuals intending to work, study or remain longer then 90 (ninety) days in Macedonia, must obtain an entry visa prior to their arrival in Macedonia.
The practice of switching from tourist status to long-term status when already in Macedonia is no longer allowed.
Those wanting to do so must leave Macedonia and apply for a long-term visa at a Macedonian Embassy of Consulate.
Macedonian visas, as opposed to entry stamps, can only be issued at a Macedonian Embassy or Consulate in a foreign country.

American citizens resident in the United States may apply at:
Macedonian Embassy in Washington D.C.2129 Wyoming Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, Tel: (202) 667-0501; Fax: (202) 667-2131;
E-mail: washington@mfa.gov.mk; usoffice@macedonianembassy.org, Website: http://www.macedonianembassy.org.

The passport should be valid for at least three months longer than the validity of the visa.
For additional information about the conditions and procedures for visa issuance, the applicant should contact the Embassy or Consulate of the Republic of Macedonia.
Using the list of diplomatic and consular missions of the Republic of Macedonia abroad (which can be found at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website at www.mfa.gov.mk), a visa applicant can choose the most convenient Embassy/Consulate to the submit the visa application.

Travelers should be aware that all
border areas apart from designated border crossings are restricted zones. Presence in these zones is forbidden without prior official permission.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The security situation in Macedonia is stable, although occasional criminal violence does occur. Americans should avoid areas with demonstrations, strikes, or roadblocks where large crowds are gathered, particularly those involving political causes or striking workers.

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 overseas callers, 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: Crime in Macedonia is low by U.S. standards, and violent crime against Americans is rare. Pickpocketing, theft, and other petty street crimes do occur, however, particularly in areas where tourists and foreigners congregate. American travelers are advised to take the same precautions against becoming crime victims as they would in any U.S. city. Valuables, including cell phones and electronic items, should not be left in plain view in unattended vehicles. Windows and doors should be securely locked when residences are not occupied. Organized crime is present in Macedonia; organized criminal activity occasionally results in violent confrontations between members of rival organizations. ATM use is safe, as long as standard safety precautions are taken.
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 a victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to the local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Macedonia is:
police 192 and ambulance 194
If you are outside the city of Skopje you need to dial 02 first.

For additional assistance see our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Although many Macedonian physicians are trained to a high standard, and a number of well-equipped private clinics are available especially in Skopje, most public hospitals and clinics are not equipped and maintained at U.S. or Western European standards. Basic medical supplies are usually available, but specialized treatment may not be obtainable. Travelers with previously diagnosed medical conditions may wish to consult their physician before travel.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of [country]. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en/
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Macedonia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Driving safely in Macedonia requires excellent defensive driving skills. Many drivers routinely ignore speed limits and other traffic regulations, such as stopping for red lights and stop signs. Drivers may make illegal left turns from the far right lane, or drive into oncoming lanes of traffic. The combination of speeding, unsafe driving practices, poor vehicle maintenance, the mixture of new and old vehicles on the roads, and poor lighting contributes to unsafe driving conditions. Pedestrians should exercise extreme caution when crossing the street, even when using crosswalks, as local drivers rarely slow down or stop for pedestrians.

A valid U.S. driver’s license in conjunction with an International Driving Permit is required for Americans driving in Macedonia. Driving is on the right side of the road. Speed limits are generally posted. Most major highways are in good repair, but many secondary urban and rural roads are poorly maintained and lit. Horse-drawn carts, livestock, dead animals, rocks, or other objects are sometimes found in the roadway. Some vehicles are old and lack standard front or rear lights. Secondary mountain roads can be narrow and poorly marked, lack guardrails, and quickly become dangerous in inclement weather. Overall, public transportation in Macedonia is dilapidated. Roadside emergency services are limited.
In case of emergency, drivers may contact the police at telephone 192, the Ambulance Service at telephone 194, and Roadside Assistance at telephone 196.

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 Macedonia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Macedonia’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://faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Macedonian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation to or exportation from Macedonia of certain items, including items deemed to be of historical value or significance. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. Visitors should always observe “no photographing” signs. If in doubt, please ask permission before taking photographs.

The local currency is the denar. While credit cards are accepted in larger stores and restaurants, cash in local currency is advised for purchases in small establishments.

Upon entry into Macedonia, every foreigner must declare all cash amounts of foreign currency greater than EUR 2,000 at the Customs Control Office. Failure to report funds in excess of this amount may result in the confiscation of the entire amount by the customs service. After going through the court system, an individual is normally required to pay a fine and the National Bank will also keep a certain percentage of the undeclared amount before it is released.
Please also 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 Macedonian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Macedonia 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. Prostitution is illegal in Macedonia. 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 Macedonia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Macedonia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Skopje is located at Ilindenska bb, 1000 Skopje, tel. (389) (2) 311-6180, fax (389) (2) 321-3767, email: consularskopje@state.gov; web site: http://macedonia.usembassy.gov
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Macedonia dated March 05, 2008 to update the section on Entry/Exit Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon 29 Jul 2019
Source: Institute of Public Health of Republic of North Macedonia [abridged, edited]

Information on the situation of measles in the Republic of North Macedonia in 2018-2019, 25 Jul 2019
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In the period from 20 Jul-25 Jul 2019, a total of 5 cases of measles were reported. From the total number of newly reported cases, 4 cases are from Skopje, while one is from Kumanovo.

In total, since the onset of the epidemic in December 2018 as of 25 Jul 2019, 1870 cases of measles have been registered in the Republic of North Macedonia with a disease rate of 90.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Due to the epidemiological criteria, a measles epidemic is ongoing in the entire territory of the Republic of North Macedonia.

According to the place of permanent living, measles cases are registered in 24 towns, of which 979 cases are from Skopje, Kumanovo 231, Tetovo 194, Struga 112, Kicevo 59, Veles 53, Gostivar 69, Ohrid 35, Gevgelija 19, Debar 22, Prilep 11, Stip 40, and in other cities less than 10 cases were registered (Chart 1). The highest incidence is registered in Skopje (158.5/100 000, Struga (165.1/100 000, Kumanovo 161.9/100 000)

According to the vaccine status, 1501 or 80.3% of diseased people are unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated or with unknown vaccine status. >From the non-vaccinated persons, 320 (21.3%) are under the age of 12 months and are not subject to vaccination, according to the Immunization Calendar.

According to the results obtained from the samples sent to Luxembourg's reference measles laboratory, the B3 Dublin genotype circulates in the country, which is circulating also in the neighbouring countries.
 
The total number of immunized people aged 14 years with MRP [morbilli, rubella, and parotitis epidemica/MMR measles, mumps, rubella] vaccine since the start of the epidemic in the republic is 33,729.  From the beginning of the epidemic to present date, in the Centers for Public Health, a total of 6032 people have been vaccinated, of which more than 60% are health workers, students, and pupils in secondary medical schools, the rest are persons over 14 years of age.

[Available at the source URL:]
Chart 1. Geographic distribution of measles in N. Macedonia, December 2018-July 2019
----------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Aleksandar Jovicic
==========================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Republic of North Macedonia:
Date: Fri 29 Mar 2019
Source: Institute of Public Health of Republic of Macedonia [abridged, edited]

Information on the situation of measles in the Republic of North Macedonia in 2018-2019, 29 Mar 2019
-------------------

In the period 23 Mar-29 Mar 2019, a total of 109 cases of measles (laboratory confirmed or related to the epidemiological link) were reported.

Out of the total number of newly reported cases, 49 cases are from Skopje, with 89.8% of them incomplete vaccinated, unvaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status. The remaining 60 patients are from 11 other cities in North Macedonia:

- From Kumanovo and Struga, 30 cases (15 cases in each) were reported, of which 90% were unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status;
- From Tetovo and Debar: in 7 cases from Tetovo, 6 were unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status; from Debar, one case was unvaccinated and one with unknown vaccine status;
- From Gostivar, there are 6 cases, of which 5 are unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status;
- 4 cases were reported from Kicevo, with 2 of them unvaccinated and incomplete vaccinated;
- From Veles, 2 cases, with 1 unvaccinated and 1 incomplete vaccinated;
- 1 new case each was reported from Stip (unknown vaccine status), Ohrid (incomplete vaccinated), Radovis (not vaccinated), and Prilep (completely vaccinated).

In total, since the onset of the epidemic in Skopje in December 2018, as of 29 Mar 2019, 767 measles cases were registered in the Republic of North Macedonia, of which 575 were epidemiologically related and reported in the epidemic in Skopje.

According to the place of permanent living, measles cases were registered in 20 towns in Macedonia, of which 521 were from Skopje, 63 from Tetovo, 61 from Kumanovo, 27 from Struga, 18 cases from Gevgelija and Debar, 15 from Gostivar, 12 from Veles, 11 from Kicevo, 4 from Kocani and Shtip, and in sporadic cases in the other 9 cities. The highest incidence per 100 000 inhabitants is registered in Struga (97.3), Skopje (84.4), Debar (64.9), Kumanovo (42.8), and Gevgelija (41.8).

The largest number of cases are from the age group over 30 years, with 305 or 39.8% of the total. A high percentage of patients is also registered in the age group of 0-4 years, with 37.9% of the total number of cases (n = 291).

Out of 150 children aged 1-4 years, 137 or 91.3% were unvaccinated or with unknown vaccine status; from 412 patients in persons over 20 years of age, 69.2% (n = 285) were unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status.

Out of the total number of 767 registered cases of measles, the highest number and percentage, 369 or 48.1%, are laboratory confirmed, 193 or 25.2% are epidemiologically linked, while 205 cases (26.7%) are measles with clinical features.

>From the beginning of the epidemic in Skopje, the total number of vaccinated people under 14 years of age who are subject to 1st or 2nd vaccination is 11 475 children. In the rest of the republic, from the beginning of the epidemic, the total number of vaccinated people up to 14 years of age with a 1st or 2nd dose is 6776 children.

The total number of immunized people aged 14 years with the MRI vaccine since the beginning of the epidemic is 18,251.  Submitted by: Aleksandar Jovicic.
=========================
[HealthMap/ProMED map of North Macedonia
http://healthmap.org/promed/p/55666. - ProMED Mod.MPP]
Date: Fri 8 Mar 2019
Source: IPH (Institute of Public Health of Republic of Macedonia) [abridged, edited]

This week [week of Mon 4 Mar 2019], a total of 81 cases of measles have been reported (laboratory confirmed or with an epidemiological link). A total of 45 cases of measles have been reported from Skopje (of whom 73.3% were incompletely vaccinated, unvaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status) while the other 36 are from 9 other cities in Macedonia.

From Gevgelija, 7 cases were reported, 6 of them unvaccinated. From Kumanovo, 8 cases were reported, 7 unvaccinated. From Tetovo, 7 new cases were reported, 6 of which were not vaccinated, with incomplete vaccine status. From Struga, 5 cases were reported, of which 3 were incompletely vaccinated with unknown vaccine status. Three new cases have been reported from [each of] Debar and Veles; [of these,] 5 persons have been incomplete vaccinated or with unknown vaccine status. Also, one new case from [each of] Kriva Palanka (not vaccinated), Kicevo (unknown vaccine status), and Kocani (completely vaccinated) [were reported].

A total of 493 cases of measles have been registered in Macedonia since the beginning of the epidemic in Skopje since December 2018, of which 410 have been linked to the epidemic in Skopje.

According to the place of permanent living, measles cases were registered in 17 towns in Macedonia, of which 366 cases were from Skopje, 39 from Tetovo, 25 from Kumanovo, 16 from Gevgelija, 9 from Debar, 7 from Struga, 6 from Gostivar, 6 from Veles, 5 from Kichevo, and 4 from Kocani, and the other 7 cities are sporadic cases.

The largest number of cases are from the age group 0-4 years: 220, or 44.6% of the total. A high percentage of patients is also registered in elderly groups. Persons older than 30 years account for 36.9% (n = 182) and persons from 20-29 years for 10.3% (n = 51).

Out of a total of 122 cases of children aged 1-4 years, 105 (86%) were unvaccinated, and out of 233 cases in people over 20 years of age, 70.8% (n = 165) were unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated, or had unknown vaccine status.

From the total number of registered 493 cases of measles, the highest number and percentage -- 278 (56.4%) -- are laboratory confirmed; 117 (23.7%) are epidemiologically related, while 98 cases (19.9%) are measles [presumably this means clinically diagnosed but not laboratory confirmed. - ProMED Mod.SH].

Since the onset of the epidemic, in Skopje, total of 9958 children under 14 years of age have been vaccinated as part of the response to the outbreak with a 1st or 2nd dose. In the rest of the republic, since the epidemic began, a total of 5193 children up to 14 years have been vaccinated with a 1st or 2nd dose. The total number of those aged 14 years [and under] who have received MRP vaccine since the start of the epidemic in the Republic of Macedonia is 15 151.
Date: Sat 9 Feb 2019
Source: China.org.cn, a Xinhua report [edited]

The Macedonian Health Minister Venko Filipce confirmed on [Fri 8 Feb 2019] the death of a 6-month-old baby related to measles. According to Filipce, the baby was under treatment for lung complications and was not vaccinated.

The minister said vaccination in Macedonia should continue in order to strengthen the immunity of the population after the significant drop on vaccination coverage in 2014.  Filipce also confirmed that 2 children are treated for lung complications but are not in life-threatening conditions. The minister made the remarks after his visit at the Neurology Clinic in Skopje. On [2 Jan 2019], the Health Ministry in Macedonia declared the outbreak of measles in the capital of Skopje.
Date: Wed 2 Jan 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [abridged, edited]

Health officials in Macedonia are reporting a measles outbreak in the capital city of Skopje. Minister of Health Assoc. Dr. Venko Filipce announced the outbreak declaration today [2 Jan 2019].

In addition to the 7 cases that appeared in the Skopje settlement Radishani 10 days ago, there are now 12 new cases from almost all municipalities in Skopje, of which 6 are officially laboratory confirmed and 6 have a clear clinical picture and are awaiting official laboratory confirmation. The outbreak has affected both children and adults, all of whom were unvaccinated.

"Of the 15 000 unvaccinated children with vaccine calls, only 310 were vaccinated, which is a small figure. It is a good circumstance that schools [were closed] because of the holidays.

"But, of course, we have the situation under control. This is an extremely serious disease that, unfortunately, is sometimes fatal to the lives of children. Any disregard for the recommendations is an additional risk for the health of the whole population," said Minister Filipche (computer translated).  [Byline: Robert Herriman]
=========================
[A total of 310 children vaccinated of 15 000 is only 2% of the children immunized. This is an unacceptably high risk for the children. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Skopje, Macedonia (FYROM): <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/1999>]
More ...

Cuba

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

Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 22:45:46 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - The US moved to further hurt Cuba's vital tourism industry by tightening the ability of the country's airlines to lease aircraft.   The US Department of Commerce said it was revoking existing licenses for US companies leasing aircraft to Cuban carriers, and will deny future applications for aircraft leases.   The move could make it harder for Cuba to service its rapidly growing tourism sector, a key source of foreign revenue for the poor country.

Washington has stepped up pressure on Havana due to its support for the embattled regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.   "This action by the Commerce Department sends another clear message to the Cuban regime -- that they must immediately cease their destructive behaviour at home and abroad," Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear how many aircraft the move would impact.   Cuba's cash-poor carriers depend on aircraft rented from leasing companies or other airlines, which are often very old.   In May 2018, 112 people died in the crash of a 39-year-old Boeing 737 leased by national carrier Cubana de Aviacion from a small Mexican firm, Global Air.

In June of this year, US President Donald Trump announced a US ban on cruise ship stopovers by Americans on the island, forcing Havana to cut its 2019 tourism target by 15 percent to 4.3 million visitors.   Nearly 900,000 tourists visited the island on cruise ships last year, and almost 40 percent were American, according to official figures.   The announcement Friday also expanded restrictions on imports from Cuba and on products with US content that can be sold to the country.
Date: Wed 3 Jul 2019
Source: 660 City News [edited]

A Newfoundland woman is warning travellers to do their research before adventurous excursions abroad after she and several other Newfoundlanders became ill from a mysterious disease traced back to a cave she visited in Cuba. The illness was eventually identified as a respiratory infection called histoplasmosis, or "cave disease," caused by spores from bird or bat droppings in damp soil. [She] of Paradise, NL, travelled to Cuba with her husband on 27 Apr [2019], but her fever-like symptoms didn't appear until 21 May [2019], weeks after she returned home. X-rays showed nodules in her lungs and tests showed low blood counts. Her condition baffled local doctors, who initially thought her lung infection could be some form of pneumonia. The clue to her illness came from a chance meeting she'd made on the trip with a family of Newfoundlanders who had a mutual friend. [She] and her husband had travelled with the group on a tour that included cave diving in the Matanzas province of Cuba.

Back in Canada, a number of their new friends had also fallen ill. [She] and the travellers informed their doctors that they knew each other and were experiencing the same symptoms, and their illness was identified as a respiratory infection called histoplasmosis, or "cave disease." [She] said pinpointing the source of her condition offered some relief from what she called a terrible, alarming health issue that she feared might have been cancerous. "You didn't want to be too excited about the fact that somebody else was sick, but at least cancer was off the table," [she] said by phone Wednesday [3 Jul 2019].

Eastern Health, [her] local health authority, has issued an advisory for travellers heading to the Americas, Africa, East Asia and Australia to avoid contracting the disease. Histoplasmosis is a treatable disease, contracted by breathing in airborne spores where bird or bat droppings are disturbed in damp soil. Eastern Health described its symptoms as including "cough and chest pain, shortness of breath, fever and chills, headaches and flu-like illness." The disease is treatable and most people who contract it never show symptoms, but it can be serious for infants or people with compromised immune systems. The health authority said the advisory was issued after a low number of histoplasmosis cases were confirmed in the Eastern Health region. An exact number of cases could not be provided for privacy reasons, but [the patient] said she's heard of at least 5 others.

While the disease is treatable, it is rare in Newfoundland, making treatment more complicated. [The patient] said she's waiting to receive an anti-fungal medication that had to be approved from outside of the province, and she's been told she'll have to take the drug for treatment for the next 3 months to a year. [The patent] said she's still experiencing fatigue and a persistent cough, and her voice is still scratchy and strained from an illness she contracted from what was one of the most breathtaking excursions on her vacation. "It was absolutely amazing," she said of the cave. "It was so pristine and so nice-looking when we went in."

[She] said she'd advise other travellers to do a thorough background check on the regions they're visiting and any planned excursions. "It's without a doubt that you have to go and you have to research the excursion that you're going on," she said. "You have to know the region, the areas, 100%. [She] wrote a Facebook post about her experience that's been shared thousands of times, and she said people as far as France have written to her about experiencing similar, undiagnosed symptoms after travelling abroad.  [Byline: Holly McKenzie-Sutter]
====================
[_Histoplasma capsulatum_, a dimorphic fungus that grows in a mycelial form at ambient temperatures and as yeast at body temperature in mammals, is found worldwide in soil enriched by bird or bat droppings. Contaminated soil can be potentially infectious for years. Fungal spores become airborne during activities that disturb the contaminated soil, such as spelunking, mining, construction, excavation, demolition, roofing, chimney cleaning, farming, or gardening, which can lead to clusters of cases of histoplasmosis that follow inhalation of the aerosolized spores. The spores can travel distances downstream from the source in currents of air. Because of the presence of bats in caves, cave exploration is a known risk factor for histoplasmosis, which is sometimes known as "cave fever" (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10403317>). Physicians should be aware of the association between histoplasmosis and caving when caring for individuals who develop an acute febrile respiratory illness after cave exploration (<http://tinyurl.com/yxjust7x>).

Another disease that has also acquired the name "cave fever" is tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF). See ProMED-mail posts Tick-borne relapsing fever - Israel: spelunkers, tourists http://promedmail.org/post/20180422.5761531 and Tick-borne relapsing fever - USA: (TX) cave workers, 2017 http://promedmail.org/post/20180420.5759542.

Although birds cannot be infected by the _H. capsulatum_ and do not transmit the disease, bats can become infected by _H. capsulatum_ and may harbor the fungus in their gut (<https://academic.oup.com/jtm/article/15/2/133/1801173>).

In the US, histoplasmosis is endemic in the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi River valleys, where it is caused by _H. capsulatum_ var. _capsulatum_. Histoplasmosis has also been reported in Mexico, Central and South America, Oceania, Asia, Africa, and Europe (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4535725/>). In Africa, histoplasmosis occurs most commonly in west and central Africa, where it is caused by the _duboisii_ variety, which has yeast cells that average about twice the size of _H. capsulatum_ var. _capsulatum_  (<http://www.reviberoammicol.com/1997-14/155159.pdf>).

Most individuals with histoplasmosis are asymptomatic. Those who develop clinical manifestations are usually immunocompromised or are exposed to a large number of spores. Disseminated disease is especially more common in HIV/AIDS co-infected cases. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Newfoundland, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada:
Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2019 03:22:19 +0200
By Paul HANDLEY

Washington, June 5, 2019 (AFP) - The Trump administration clamped down on US tourist visits to Cuba Tuesday, aiming to cut the flow of dollars to a country that Washington accuses of helping prop up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The Treasury Department banned group educational travel, cruise ship and private yacht visits by Americans, taking aim at the most common ways US tourists and Cuban-Americans visit the Caribbean island.   The move could constitute a heavy hit on Cuba, which saw more than a quarter-million US visitors in the first four months of 2019, almost double the figure from a year earlier.   "The United States holds the Cuban regime accountable for its repression of the Cuban people, its interference in Venezuela, and its direct role in the man-made crisis led by Nicolas Maduro," the State Department said in a news release.   "Empowered by Cuba, he has created a humanitarian disaster that destabilizes the region."

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said the aim was to end what the administration considers "veiled tourism" to Cuba.   "We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime's access to US dollars," Bolton said on Twitter.   The Cuban government condemned the move, which could cost the country's economy tens of millions of dollars a year in lost income.   "They seek to stifle the economy and damage the standard of living of Cubans to wrest political concessions," said Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez in a tweeted statement. "They'll fail again."

- Reverses Obama's historic opening -
American tourism in Cuba took off after then-president Barack Obama moved to ease the half-century trade embargo against the communist government in 2014 -- even though continuing restrictions kept visits nominally in the realm of cultural and artistic exchanges and business dealings.   Cuba and the US restored ties in 2015 and Obama himself visited Havana in a historic presidential trip in March 2016, meeting with then-president Raul Castro. Weeks later, the ban was lifted on US commercial ship visits, opening the door for the Caribbean cruise ship industry to expand stops in Cuba.

But President Donald Trump came into office attacking the Obama opening, and within months began tightening relations, first by banning individual visits and limiting commercial interactions.   The State Department tied the new ban directly to Havana's support for Maduro -- whose embattled regime faces a direct challenge from US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, the self-declared acting president of Venezuela.  "Veiled tourism has served to line the pockets of the Cuban military, the very same people supporting Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and repressing the Cuban people on the island," the State Department said.

- 'Political grandstanding' -
Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the US agencies which arranges visits to Cuba, accused the Trump administration of playing politics by trying to appease conservative anti-Havana Cuban immigrants in Florida, an important election swing state where they carry significant political weight.   "This political grandstanding aimed at Florida in the run up to the 2020 elections is so unfortunate for the millions of Cubans that will feel the crunch from less US visitors," said Laverty.   "This has nothing to do with empowering the Cuban people and has everything to do with empowering a handful of people in Florida that have never even been to Cuba."   Travel industry officials said that people who are booked on tours now will be able to go, ensuring that advanced-booked cruise ships will likely be operating from Florida to Havana throughout this year.   But Royal Caribbean Cruises said ships leaving Wednesday and Thursday of this week will skip previously scheduled stops in Cuba as the company examines the new US policy.

Norwegian Cruise Lines said they are seeking additional information on the new policy to see how it will affect future travel.   Tessia Aral, the owner of ABC Charters in Miami, said it could have a huge impact on her business, which arranged trips to Cuba for about 10,000 people last year.   She said it will hurt not only companies like hers but also those of the many entrepreneurs in Cuba who have built businesses to serve tourists.   "The people making the rules have never been to Cuba. They don't know how things have changed" in recent years, she said.   "What they are doing is counter-productive. I believe it's really going to hurt the private entrepreneurs in Cuba -- all the private restaurants, all the private homes" who serve tourists.
Date: Sun, 10 Mar 2019 04:13:11 +0100
By Katell ABIVEN

Havana, March 10, 2019 (AFP) - In Havana, there's a shop selling a camera for more than $25,000 -- roughly 850 times the average monthly wage in Cuba.   The eye-popping sum earned predictable scorn on social media, but it begins to make sense when seen through the lens of the island's fledgling bid to tap into the luxury tourism market.

The exclusive camera store and other boutiques featuring A-list brands like Versace and Armani are located in a shopping gallery on the ground floor of the swanky Gran Hotel Manzana.   The mere existence of the shops certainly seems incongruous in a country that has been governed as a one-party communist state since 1959, and where the average wage is $30 a month.   But the hotel isn't exactly looking for locals to buy in -- it attracts "a clientele of private airplanes... princes and celebrities," according to general manager Xavier Destribats.

The Gran Hotel Manzana, the first ever five-star establishment in Havana, opened in 2017 in a sumptuous historic building that was, at the beginning of the 20th century, the island's first shopping mall.   The property run by Swiss group Kempinski is "the first genuine luxury hotel in Havana," said Destribats.   "It's the first hotel with a 1,000-square-meter spa," he said. All the rooms are at least 40 square meters (430 square feet), with prices ranging from $370 for a basic room in low season to $5,000 for the presidential suite.   "There was a certain type of clientele that didn't travel to Havana, or Cuba, because there wasn't the standard of luxury five-star hotel like in cities such as Paris or London," Destribats added.

- 'Feels like Miami' -
The hotel terrace offers stunning views over Havana's colorful historic neighbourhood, where many Cubans live in dilapidated buildings that have fallen into disrepair or have vegetation sprouting from them.   "It really doesn't feel like Cuba, clearly not -- it feels like being in the United States, Miami or Puerto Rico," said Celia Liegeois, a 26-year-old tourist from Paris.   Having traveled around the island nation for three weeks, she and a friend had decided to spend their last few days relaxing by the hotel's rooftop pool.

Nearby, Suki Lu, a recently arrived 28-year-old Chinese television presenter, is impressed at what she sees.   "It's beautiful. Look at the sunset! It's truly addictive," she said.   "I live in Dubai so when you talk about luxury hotels, the level there is really high, but I think I'll like this hotel," she said, while her friend used a drone to get an aerial view of the building.   The largest single group of visitors to the Gran Hotel Manzana -- one-fifth of the total -- are tourists from the United States, although there are plenty of visitors from Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The Kempinski group, which hopes to open two or three more hotels in Cuba, is of course not the only chain to show an interest in the ultra-luxury market.   In September 2018, Spain's Iberostar opened its second five-star hotel, the Grand Packard.   French hotel giant Accor is planning on opening its own luxury establishment on the Malecon, Havana's famous seaside boulevard, in September.   It will include a chocolate shop on its ground floor and a restaurant and concert space on its roof.   The employees' outfits will be designed by Spanish fashion designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

- US blacklist -
However, there is a slight catch: in every case, the hotels are owned by Gaviota, the Cuban army's branch dedicated to tourism.   The foreign hotel groups are only allowed to run the establishments, all built by French group Bouygues, which has a long-standing local presence.   Authorities don't publish the army's revenues, but this alliance between hoteliers and the military landed the luxury hotels on Washington's blacklist.

US tourists are technically banned from staying in the hotels -- but the restriction can be easily circumvented by either paying in cash or booking through travel agents.   Beyond hotels, developers have more ideas to entice those with deep pockets.   "There's a plan to build golf courses in partnership with real estate groups," said industry expert Jose Luis Perello.   The opening of a luxury hotel means Cuba has turned a corner, he said.   "Since it opened up to international tourism more than 20 years ago, Cuba has focused all its plans and strategies" on "sun and beach tourism" for the masses, Perello said.   That category currently accounts for 73 percent of the 70,000 hotel rooms on offer in Cuba. And those who rent them usually don't spend much money.

The same goes for cruise ship tourists -- while the number of cruises docking in Cuba has exploded, passengers only spend an average of $15 a day on land.   That isn't great news for Cuba, which welcomed 4.7 million tourists in 2018 -- it needs the cash.   The government, which has been subjected to US sanctions since 1962, used to depend on aid from its oil-rich ally Venezuela.   But with Venezuela in turmoil, Cuba is scrambling for other sources of hard currency and its economic growth has stagnated at around one percent -- not enough to cover the population's basic needs.   Opening luxury hotels is "a new stage," but also "a necessity," Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz says.
Date: Mon, 4 Feb 2019 03:08:04 +0100

Havana, Feb 4, 2019 (AFP) - The number of people killed in the powerful tornado that ripped through part of Havana last week has risen to six, authorities said Sunday.    Public Health Minister Jose Angel Portal Miranda said in state media that "sadly, two people have died among the 13 who were in critical condition." The earlier death toll was four.

The storm which hit Havana area towns including Regla, Guanabacoa, San Miguel de Padron and 10 de octubre late January 27, has been confirmed as a F4 storm, with F5 the strongest.    Its powerful winds overturned trees and homes and cars, and several areas a number of blocks wide were all but wiped off the map.
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Portugal

Portugal US Consular Information Sheet
November 18, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Portugal is a developed and stable democracy with a modern economy.
Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Backgrou
d Notes on Portugal for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Portugal is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Portugal for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet.

Portuguese law requires some non-European Union foreign nationals to register with immigration officials within three working days of entering Portugal.
The law affects those who transit another Schengen area country by air en route to Portugal and stay at noncommercial accommodations.

Travelers may also contact the Embassy of Portugal at 2012 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20036, tel. (202) 350-5400, or the Portuguese Consulates in Boston, MA; New Bedford, MA; Providence, RI; New York, NY; Newark, NJ; San Francisco, CA; or Los Angeles, CA.
Visit the Government of Portugal’s web site at http://embassyportugal-us.org/ for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Portugal remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Portugal’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity. Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
Brief general strikes and public protests by public sector employees, industrial workers and/or university student groups take place with some frequency, but are usually publicized in advance and are rarely violent.

For the latest security information, Americans living and 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Portugal has a relatively low rate of violent crime.
Travelers may become targets of pickpockets and purse snatchers, particularly at popular tourist sites, restaurants, or on public transportation.
Rental cars and vehicles with non-local license plates can be targets for break-ins; travelers should remove visible luggage from vehicles upon parking.
Travelers should also avoid using automatic teller machines in isolated or poorly lit areas. Drivers in Portugal should keep car doors locked when stopped at intersections.
In general, visitors to Portugal should carry limited cash and credit cards on their person, and leave extra cash, credit cards, and personal documents at home or in a hotel safe.
While thieves may operate anywhere, the U.S. Embassy receives most reports of theft from the following areas:
Lisbon:
Pickpocketing and purse snatching in the Lisbon area sometimes occurs in buses, restaurants, the airport, trains, train stations, and trams, especially aboard tram number 28 to the Castle of São Jorge.
Theft of purses, briefcases and wallets also occurs in hotel lobbies, restaurants and elevators.
At restaurants, items hung over the backs of chairs or placed on the floor may be stolen.
There have been incidents of theft of unattended luggage from the Lisbon Airport.
Special care should be taken in the Santa Apolonia and Rossio train stations, the Alfama and Bairro Alto districts, the Castle of São Jorge and the area of Belém. Though violent crime against tourists is uncommon, an American man was attacked by knife-wielding robbers in September 2008 while walking down the street in Cascais (a popular seaside town near Lisbon) in the early morning hours.

Outside Lisbon:
Thefts have been reported in the towns of Sintra, Cascais, Mafra, Fatima and in the Algarve.
Automobile break-ins sometimes occur in parking areas at tourist attractions and near restaurants.
Special care should be taken in parking at the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace in Sintra and at the beachfront areas of Guincho, Cabo da Roca, and Boca do Inferno.

Azores:
Pickpocketing and purse snatching are not common occurrences in the Azores. There are no reports of organized crime or gangs.

Madeira:
Pickpocketing, while infrequent, may occur in the Old Town and Santa Catarina Park areas of Funchal.

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.

Portugal has a crime victim’s assistance program, administered through an organization known by its acronym, "APAV."
Click here for more information (translated into English). Office hours are weekdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 2 – 5 p.m. Phone: [351] 707 20 00 77.
To learn about possible sources of American compensation, see our information on Victims of Crime.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Portugal is: 1-1-2.
English-speaking operators are normally available.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Good medical care is available, but facilities may be limited outside urban areas.
Public hospitals offer services at a lower cost generally than private hospitals but sometimes do not maintain the same standards as hospitals in the United States.
Travelers are encouraged to obtain insurance that would cover medical services from a private Portuguese hospital or clinic.
Private hospitals will ask for a credit card or other form of payment upon admission.
In a life-threatening emergency, an ambulance can be requested by calling the national emergency response telephone number 1-1-2.
On the other hand, private ambulances should only be used for transport, not life-threatening emergencies, and usually require on-the-spot payment.
Note that the responsiveness of emergency services is often not up to U.S. standards.

PRESCRIPTION MEDICINES: Travelers sometimes request that relatives or friends in the U.S. mail prescription medicines to them in Portugal, but to do so violates Portuguese law and usually results in the shipment of medications being impounded by Portuguese Customs.
When this occurs, the medications may not be released.
Travelers who use prescription medicine should bring a sufficient supply with them to cover their anticipated stay in Portugal, along with a copy of their physician's prescription.
Should an unforeseen need for prescription refills or new medications arise, Portuguese pharmacies generally carry equivalent medications to those found in the United States, however, they may be sold under a different brand, may not be available in the same dosage, and may require a prescription from a local doctor.

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

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Portugal is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Portugal has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and related fatalities in Europe.
Drivers should use extreme caution, as local driving habits, high speeds, and poorly marked roads pose special hazards.
In Portugal, fines for traffic violations are substantial and usually must be paid on the spot. Taxis are a reliable means of transportation, though travelers should be alert to possible discrepancies between the meter fare and the amount requested by the driver.
Buses are reliable and inexpensive.

In the Azores, driving can be treacherous due to narrow cobblestone streets, blind curves, unprotected embankments, herds of cows in the countryside roads, and the high speeds of other drivers.
In contrast to the situation on the Portuguese mainland, traffic violations are registered by radar and later forwarded to the offender via the postal service; payments are not made on the spot.
Taxis do not have meters.
The fare consists of a base fee plus a posted rate per kilometer traveled.
Public buses are inexpensive.
Bus services begin at 7:00 a.m. and generally operate until 8:00 p.m. depending on the destination.

U.S. visitors to Portugal may drive with a valid U.S. driver's license for up to six months. For international driving permits, please contact AAA or the National Auto Club.
For specific information concerning Portuguese driver's permits, vehicle inspection and mandatory insurance, please contact the Portuguese National Tourist Office by telephone at 1-800-767-8842 or visit the website for the Portuguese Directorate-General for Traffic at www.dgv.pt.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Portugal’s national authority responsible for road safety at www.dgv.pt
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Portugal's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Portugal’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa/.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Portuguese customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Portugal of such items as firearms, antiquities, medications, business equipment, sales samples and other items.
It is advisable to contact a Portuguese Embassy or Consulate in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Portugal's customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/ Temporary Admission) carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes.
ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of The Americas, New York, NY 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA carnet in the United States.
For additional information, please telephone (212) 354-4480, or send an e-mail to atacarnet@uscib.org, or visit http://www.uscib.org for details.
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 Portugal’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Portugal 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 Portugal are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Portugal. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located on Avenida das Forças Armadas, in the neighborhood of Sete Rios.
Telephone 351-21-727-3300, fax 351-21-727-2354, home page: portugal.usembassy.gov.

The U.S. Consulate in the Azores is located in the city of Ponta Delgada on the island of San Miguel. The address is Av. Principe do Monaco, 6-2o, telephone 351-296-282-216, fax 351-296-28-72-16.

There is a part-time U.S. Consular Agency in Funchal, on the island of Madeira, on Rua Alfandega, no. 10-2, Room A-B, telephone 351-291-235-636, fax 351-291-229-360.
The Consular Agency is open Monday through Friday, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Portugal dated April 25, 2008, to update sections on entry/exit requirements, safety and security, information for victims of crime, crime, and medical facilities and health information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 23:01:00 +0200 (METDST)

Lisbon, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Portuguese fuel tanker drivers whose strike has caused fuel shortages at the summer holiday season on Sunday ended their industrial action.   Drivers have been staging a strike since Monday to demand further wage increases in 2021 and 2022, prompting the government to declare an energy crisis.   "Since all the conditions are now in place to negotiate, we decided to end the strike," Pedro Pardal Henriques, spokesman for the National Union of Dangerous Goods Carriers (SNMMP), told reporters.

A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, the union President Francisco Sao Bento said, adding that the union did not "rule out new strikes being called if Antram (the employers association) adopts an uncompromising attitude".   Police had launched an operation to escort fuel tankers with extra supplies and Portugal also mobilised about 500 members of the security forces to replace the strikers and drive the trucks.   Despite the shortages, Energy Minister Joao Pedro Matos Fernandes said about two-thirds of the country's 3,000 or so petrol stations had not run dry.
Date: Sun, 11 Aug 2019 15:52:22 +0200 (METDST)

Lisbon, Aug 11, 2019 (AFP) - Many Portuguese petrol stations were sold out Sunday after drivers rushed to fill up before a strike by fuel-tanker drivers kicks off at the height of the summer holidays.   "Empty" signs hung on pumps in Lisbon and elsewhere across the country a few hours before the strike was to begin at midnight (2200 GMT).

"There was enormous anticipation" by car owners, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said, noting that sales had almost doubled in recent days.   An internet site that compiles reports from drivers,  https://janaodaparaabastecer.vost.pt, said that almost 15 percent of the country's 3,000-plus stations were partially or fully sold out.   The open-ended strike appeared certain after an ultimate meeting of unions on Saturday failed to satisfy truck driver's demands for a pay raise.   They staged a four-day strike in April, shortly before Easter weekend, that also caused significant fuel shortages.

The truck drivers, led by a union founded in November 2018, suspended that movement after receiving the wage increase they demanded of at least 1,400 euros ($1,580).   But they are now asking employers to give them new increases in 2021 and 2022.   The government has declared an "energy crisis" which allows it to ration fuel -- to 25 litres (6.6 US gallons) for car owners and 100 litres for trucks.   It has also decreed that tanker drivers will have to deliver a minimum of 50 percent of their normal shipments.

Airports are another priority for fuel deliveries, and around 500 soldiers and paramilitary police could be called upon to drive tanker trucks if the minimum level of deliveries is not adhered to.   Costa did not rule out requisitioning drivers if the situation called for it, while warning that even if the minimum level of service was provided "the strike is going to affect consumers deeply."
Date: Tue, 23 Jul 2019 14:20:24 +0200
By Levi FERNANDES

Lisbon, July 23, 2019 (AFP) - Hundreds of Portuguese firefighters aided by overnight rain gained the upper hand Tuesday against massive wildfires raging for four days and said they hoped to bring them completely under control later in the day before winds pick up and temperatures rise again.

Meanwhile Portugal's civil protection agency rejected critism that not enough resources were deployed to battle the blazes which have ripped through the heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Lisbon, scorching large areas and leaving a trail of blackened destruction.   "The work carried out throughout the night has born its fruits," commander Luis Belo Costa of the agency told a news conference.

"It has been a constant effort. Let's see if we can finish the job," he said, adding that firefighters had managed to stop the advance of the flames in hard-to-reach areas.   Light rains overnight raised humidity levels, aiding the battle against the blazes which the authorities suspect were deliberately started.   But Costa warned winds were expected to pick up in the afternoon, which could complicate the task.

Portugal's civil protection agency had said on Monday morning the wildfires were "90 percent controlled", but strong winds fanned the flames into life again in the afternoon.   At least 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) have so far been scorched, according to the EU's European Forest Fire Information System.   Nearly 1,300 firefighters were still deployed, Portugal's civil protection agency said Tuesday.
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2019 03:07:58 +0200

Canico, Portugal, April 18, 2019 (AFP) - Twenty-nine German tourists were killed when their bus spun off the road and tumbled down a slope before crashing into a house on the Portuguese island of Madeira.   Drone footage of the aftermath of the accident showed the badly mangled wreckage of the bus resting precariously on its side against a building on a hillside, the vehicle's roof partially crushed and front window smashed.

Rescue workers attended to injured passengers among the undergrowth where the bus came to rest, some of them bearing bloodied head bandages and bloodstained clothes, others appearing to be more seriously hurt.   Local authorities said most of the dead were in their 40s and 50s.   They were among the more than one million tourists who visit the Atlantic islands off the coast of Morocco each year, attracted by its subtropical climate and rugged volcanic terrain.   "Horrible news comes to us from Madeira," a German government spokesman tweeted after the crash.   "Our deep sorrow goes to all those who lost their lives in the bus accident, our thoughts are with the injured," he added.

German holidaymakers were the second largest group after British tourists to visit the islands -- known as the Pearl of the Atlantic and the Floating Garden in the Atlantic -- in 2017, according to Madeira's tourism office.    The islands are home to just 270,000 inhabitants.    Filipe Sousa, mayor of Santa Cruz where the accident happened, said 17 women and 11 men were killed in the crash, with another 21 injured.    A doctor told reporters another woman died of her injuries in hospital.   "I express the sorrow and solidarity of all the Portuguese people in this tragic moment, and especially for the families of the victims who I have been told were all German," President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told Portuguese television.   He said he would travel to Madeira overnight.

- 'Profound sadness' -
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa added on Twitter that he had contacted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to convey his condolences   "It is with profound sadness that I heard of the accident on Madeira," he wrote on the government's Twitter page.   "I took the occasion to convey my sadness to Chancellor Angela Merkel at this difficult time," he added.  The regional protection service in Madeira confirmed 28 deaths in the accident that happened at 6:30 pm (1730 GMT) Wednesday, while hospital authorities said another woman later died of her injuries.

The bus had been carrying around 50 passengers.   Regional government Vice President Pedro Calado said it was "premature" to speculate on the cause of the crash, adding that the vehicle was five years old and that "everything had apparently been going well".   Judicial authorities had opened an investigation into the circumstances of the accident, the Madeira public prosecutor's office told the Lusa news agency.   Medical teams were being sent from Lisbon to help local staff carry out post-mortems on the dead.
Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2019 13:13:10 +0200

Lisbon, April 17, 2019 (AFP) - Lines stretched out at petrol stations in Portugal on Wednesday as supplies were hit by a fuel haulers strike days before a long holiday weekend.   The queue at one filling station was one kilometre long, according to local media, which said nearly 3,000 were already dry across the country.   An estimated 800 filling stations were out of petrol in the region around the capital Lisbon and 400 around the northern city of Porto.   The union which represents a majority of Portuguese truck drivers who haul dangerous materials went on strike on Monday seeking a wage hike and special protections.

The government on Tuesday ordered a certain number of drivers back to work in order to ensure a minimum service to airports, ports, emergency services, public transport and 40 percent of filling stations in the Lisbon and Porto regions as the country begins marking a three-day holiday weekend for Easter on Friday.   "The minimum service will be enlarged if necessary," Prime Minister Antonio Costa told lawmakers in a debate on Wednesday.   Negotiations held on Tuesday made no progress.
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Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan - US Consular Information Sheet
March 02, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Turkmenistan is a Central Asian nation roughly the size of California.
It shares borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.
Turkmen
stan gained its independence in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Primarily a desert country, it has a population of around six million people. Tourist facilities, especially outside of the capital city of Ashgabat, are not highly developed.
Many of the goods and services taken for granted in North American and Western European countries are not yet available. Travel within the country can be difficult due to limited infrastructure and government-imposed internal travel restrictions.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Turkmenistan for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
American citizens must have a valid passport and visa and/or letter of invitation from the Government of Turkmenistan to enter and exit Turkmenistan.
To apply for a visa, all U.S. citizens must complete an application and have a letter of invitation approved by the State Migration Service (SMS), formerly known as the State Service for the Registration of Foreigners (SSRF), in Ashgabat.
An individual or organization in Turkmenistan must submit the letter of invitation on behalf of an American citizen to the SMS accompanied by a copy of the traveler's passport ID page.
Each traveler’s passport must be valid for at least 6 months following the date of the application.
The SMS requires at least 15 working days for approval.
The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat does not issue letters of invitation to citizens interested in private travel to Turkmenistan.
Applications for a visa can be submitted to the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington, D.C., or directly to the SMS in Ashgabat.
Under local law, a traveler with a stamped and approved invitation letter may also obtain a visa at the Ashgabat International Airport upon arrival in Turkmenistan; however, some travelers have reported difficulties with airlines not boarding passengers who only have approved invitation letters in lieu of a visa for onward travel to Turkmenistan.
Travelers are strongly recommended to obtain a visa before traveling.

The price for the visa will vary according to the intended length of stay.
For an additional charge, the SMS can extend a visa in Ashgabat beyond its initial validity.
Any traveler arriving without a visa or without the documents necessary to obtain a visa will be denied entry and may be held at the airport or border until the traveler has secured transportation out of Turkmenistan.
Based on past incidents, the Embassy discourages travelers from planning to use transit visas in lieu of obtaining tourist visas through a travel agency.
The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat is unable to intervene with Turkmenistani authorities regarding the admission of private travelers to Turkmenistan.
Travelers departing Turkmenistan must have a current valid visa or they will be denied exit until they have extended the validity of the visa through their departure date.
In addition, U.S. citizens traveling in Turkmenistan should be aware that they need special permission from the SMS to travel to areas of the country that have been restricted by the Government of Turkmenistan, including almost all border areas.

Upon arrival at an airport or border entry point, foreigners will be charged approximately $12 for an immigration card issued by Turkmen authorities.
All foreigners are required to carry this immigration card for the duration of their stay in Turkmenistan.
Authorities will collect the immigration card upon departure.
Those departing Turkmenistan from the Ashgabat airport and flying with a non-Turkmenistani flagged carrier are required to pay a $25 departure fee.

In addition to the immigration requirements mentioned above, foreigners are subject to local registration requirements.
Americans who plan to stay more than three working days in Turkmenistan must register with the SMS.
SMS offices are located in all of Turkmenistan's five major cities: Ashgabat, Dashoguz, Mary, Turkmenabat and Turkmenbashy.
Foreigners who plan to travel outside of the city in which they will register must inform the SMS in advance; otherwise travelers will face fines or deportation.
One day prior to their departure from Turkmenistan foreigners must return to an SMS office to register the departure.
Foreigners should be registered and deregistered at the SMS in the city in which their sponsoring organization is located.
Foreigners who fail to register their departure may be prevented by immigration authorities from leaving the country until they have done so.
The penalties for remaining in Turkmenistan with an expired visa or for failing to register with SMS include fines, arrest, and/or deportation.
Foreigners who are deported for these violations may be prohibited from returning to Turkmenistan for up to five years.
American citizens in Turkmenistan are strongly urged to ensure that their visas do not expire and that they register with SMS upon arrival and upon departure.

Visitors holding tourist visas organized by a travel agency must stay in hotels; other visitors may stay in private accommodations whose owner must register the visitor's presence.
Visit the Embassy of Turkmenistan web site for the most current visa information.

Several popular travel guides discuss traveling by “ferry” across the Caspian Sea from Baku, Azerbaijan, to the port of Turkmenbashy in western Turkmenistan.
Some travelers have faced problems attempting to travel to Turkmenistan by boat.
Travelers should be aware that these “ferries” are in fact cargo ships that take on some passengers incidental to their primary function.
Passengers are generally not provided food or water on these ships, and sleeping and sanitary facilities are likely to be rudimentary.
Travelers should be aware that ships arriving at the port of Turkmenbashy often wait days offshore for outgoing ships to vacate the dock to allow incoming ships to disembark.
Some travelers have spent more than a week offshore while their ship awaited permission to enter the port, and they have run out of stores of food and water, or had their Turkmen visas expire before they could be used.
For this and other reasons travelers, especially those who plan to enter Turkmenistan by boat, are discouraged from using transit visas to enter Turkmenistan.

At Ashgabat International Airport, most airlines do not accept payment for tickets by credit card, or in any currency other than US dollars or Turkmen manat.
Travelers planning direct transit through Turkmenistan en route to another country should be aware that if they are stranded due to a missed connection, they will not be allowed to leave the arrival detention area until they are able to buy a ticket for an onward flight out of Turkmenistan.
For this reason, the Embassy discourages travelers from planning to directly transit through Ashgabat International Airport.

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:
Those considering travel to Turkmenistan should take the country's proximity to regions of past and current instability into account before making any plans.
The Government of Turkmenistan has designated many areas throughout the country as “restricted zones,” particularly the border areas next to Iran, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, the entire region of Dashoguz (including Dashoguz city), and areas of the Caspian coast.
Travel to these areas by foreigners is forbidden without special permission from the Government of Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan Airlines, the national airline, will not sell a ticket to any traveler who intends to travel to a “restricted zone” without proof of permission from the government.
Travelers who wish to visit a “restricted zone” must have a valid passport and visa and must apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a special permit.
There is a minimum processing time of 10 working days for these permits.

Visible police and military presence in Turkmenistan is common.
Both uniformed and plainclothes officials frequently ask to see passports, visas, migration cards, and SMS registrations.
Travelers should ask to see identification if they are not certain that the person requesting the information is an official.
These documentation checks, and residence and vehicle searches, are common.
Security personnel maintain checkpoints on major roads.

Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest, such as government buildings, may result in problems with authorities.
Visitors should ask whether buildings may be photographed.

Supporters of extremist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement remain active in Central Asia.
These groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. Government or private interests in the region, including in Turkmenistan.
Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets.
Because of increased security at official U.S. facilities, terrorists are seeking softer civilian targets such as residential areas, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, hotels, schools, outdoor recreation events, resorts, beaches, maritime facilities, and commercial aircraft.

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

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

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

CRIME:
Although the government's official policy is to report that there is no violent crime, there are incidents of assault, rape, and murder sometimes directed at foreigners.
Prostitution, heroin use, and economic conditions are all factors contributing to the incidence of violent crimes.
Petty theft is common in crowded public places such as the local bazaars.
Visitors should take appropriate measures to safeguard their passports and valuables in such areas.
Also, visitors should not leave their valuables in plain view within a parked vehicle.
Several recent cases suggest that there has been an increase in theft from parked vehicles.

Foreign visitors, including American citizens, present an attractive target for criminals.
Travelers should exercise the same common sense, good judgment, and caution as they would in any major U.S. city.
For instance, one should avoid carrying large sums of money in public.
Travelers should avoid walking alone after dark, and women specifically should avoid being alone in isolated areas.
Most taxis are not regulated by any government licensing agency and drivers are usually private citizens looking to make money.
The majority of cars will not have seat belts or other safety devices, and drivers may not have had any formal driver training.
For safety reasons, visitors should strongly consider hiring a private car and driver through their travel agency or hotel.
There is one government-owned and regulated taxi company, operating in Ashgabat, which charges a flat fee of 45,000 Old Turkmen Manat/9 Denominated Turkmen Manat (about $3.25 at the February 2009 exchange rate) for a one-way trip within Ashgabat city limits.
Its telephone number is: (993 12) 32-97-75.
If using local unregulated taxis, passengers should always negotiate fares with taxi drivers in advance, and extreme caution should be used when using taxis after dark, especially when there are other passengers in the vehicle.

Prostitution is illegal, and prostitutes have been known to accompany men to their residences or hotel rooms in order to steal from them, sometimes with the help of an accomplice.
The authorities will generally consider any woman leaving a discotheque with a foreign man late at night to be a prostitute, and on that basis, the foreigner may be detained.
In recent years, at least one foreigner was kept in jail for fifteen days on charges of soliciting prostitution.
Travelers should be aware that U.S. law provides for criminal prosecution in U.S. federal courts of American citizens who have solicited a prostitute under the age of 18 while traveling abroad.

Police can ask anyone to present identity papers at any time, but authorities are especially aggressive late at night.
Even if valid papers are presented, the police may ask for a bribe.
For this reason, those going from place to place late at night should consider using a trusted driver.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing these products back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available from the U.S. Department of Justice, Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section.

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, help you 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.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Turkmenistan is 03.
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 Turkmenistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Turkmenistan 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:
Turkmenistan has a cash-only economy.
However, several new hotels accept credit cards.
Vnesheconombank and the National Bank of Pakistan cash traveler’s checks and personal checks for a fee, although cashing a personal check is a lengthy process that could require up to two months.
Vnesheconombank also accepts Visa for cash advances, for a fee.

Although the manat is the official currency, U.S. dollars are widely accepted and are required as payment for certain goods and services.
Travelers may wish to bring sufficient U.S. currency to exchange into manat to cover expenses not payable in U.S. Dollars.
Old U.S. dollar bills (issued before 1990) and/or those in poor condition (with tears, writing or stamps) are not acceptable forms of currency in Turkmenistan.
Banks frequently do not have small bills for change.
In 2008, the government of Turkmenistan unified its dual currency exchange rate by bringing the commercial and governmental exchange rates together.
This change occurred incrementally, contributing to wild currency speculation by average citizens, many of whom keep their savings in U.S. dollars in their homes, rather than in bank accounts.
As a result, the banks, at times, have imposed limits on the amount of currency that could be exchanged by an individual on a particular day.
Travelers should check with their travel agencies to discuss options for currency exchange if a limitation should happen during their visit to Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Turkmenistan of items such as carpets, jewelry, musical instruments, pieces of art, archaeological artifacts, antiques, protected animals, etc.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Travelers who wish to take carpets out of Turkmenistan must obtain a certificate from the Carpet Museum in central Ashgabat indicating that the carpet is not of historical value.
Some private shops may have carpets for sale for which they have already obtained certificates; buyers should be sure to ask about customs certificates before purchasing any carpet.
In addition, buyers may have to pay a tax calculated according to the size of the carpet.
Travelers who have purchased other items that could be perceived to be of historical value, such as jewelry, have also reported difficulties in taking these items out of Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan's indigenous dog, the Alabay, is considered a national treasure and is banned for export without prior permission.
American citizens should also check to ensure that any item they intend to bring into the United States is permitted by U.S. customs regulations.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports and visas with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship, are readily available.

Travelers to Turkmenistan should be aware that there are several types of poisonous snakes and insects indigenous to the country. Even in cities, it is common to encounter cobras and scorpions, especially in areas covered with tall grass.
Travelers are advised to be alert to these dangers to avoid being bitten or stung. Please see our Customs Information sheet.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Turkmenistan is limited and well below North American and Western European standards.
All visitors are strongly advised to purchase medical evacuation insurance to cover costs associated with transporting them to adequate medical facilities in the event of serious illness or injury.
Such travel can be expensive if undertaken under emergency conditions, and absent this insurance, medical evacuation travel may be logistically impossible on an emergency basis.
Travelers with medical conditions should consult their regular physician to determine whether travel to Turkmenistan is advisable in light of the level of available health care.
Resident American citizens travel to Western Europe or North America for treatment of any serious medical condition.
The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of public hospitals and English-speaking physicians in the country, however the standard of care at these hospitals cannot be considered comparable to Western standards.
Basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics are often in short supply.
Two private clinics have foreign medical practitioners (generally Turkish) who may be available for consultations and treatment; these clinics, however, have refused in some cases to admit patients with serious conditions, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay for treatment.
Even at these hospitals, the standard of care is low compared to Western standards.
Travelers requiring prescription medications should bring sufficient supplies of all necessary medications and appropriate documentation to ensure no problems with customs officials upon arrival.

Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Turkmenistan.
Currently, HIV tests are not required for applicants requesting tourist visas; however, should an individual be discovered to be HIV positive, that status would be grounds for denial of a visa or deportation.
All individuals requesting residence visas are required to submit to an HIV test.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Turkmenistan before you travel.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site.
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Turkmenistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road conditions in Turkmenistan make driving difficult and sometimes dangerous.
Most roads outside of major cities are narrow, riddled with potholes, unlit at night, and without proper road signs.
Driving at night on these roads should be avoided.
City roads are better in comparison to rural routes but may be hazardous due to potholes, uncovered manholes, poor lighting, and heavy pedestrian traffic.
Pedestrians frequently cross against traffic and create dangerous conditions.
Traffic accidents involving serious injury to drivers, passengers, and pedestrians are common.

In general, visitors should use caution when driving in Turkmenistan.
Drivers pay little attention to lanes and other road markings, with weaving and sudden lane changes a common occurrence (usually without use of a turn signal).
Drivers will often encounter cars going the wrong way on one-way streets or divided highways.
Cars also frequently make left-turns from the right lane and vice-versa.
Pedestrians regularly walk or stand in the middle of busy streets during the day and night, often without paying attention to oncoming traffic.

Roadside assistance does not exist in Turkmenistan, where vast stretches of highway are often unmarked.
Police checkpoints (where cars are required to stop and register) are a common feature on major routes between cities.
The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat has received reports that police stationed at checkpoints may arbitrarily fine motorists.
Local law requires that traffic fines be paid within 12 hours.
If a fine is not paid within that period, the amount may double every 12 hours up to 72 hours, after which time the vehicle in question may be seized.

Travelers who wish to drive in Turkmenistan must have a valid international driving permit.
Foreigners who plan to reside in Turkmenistan must apply for a local driver's license with the Road Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Turkmenistan.
American citizens who want more specific information about driving in Turkmenistan should contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan at 2207 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC
20008, telephone (202) 588-1500.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Turkmenistan driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Turkmenistan National Tourist Organization offices at its Permanent Mission in New York.
The address is: 136 East 67th Street, NY, NY 10021.
The phone number is 1-212-472-5921.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Turkmenistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Turkmenistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.

Travelers may experience significant delays, unexpected re-routing, and sudden cancellations of flights, including those of Turkmenistan Airlines (Turkmenhowayollary), the national airline.
Travelers have reported difficulties securing reservations and purchasing tickets from Turkmenistan Airlines on both domestic and international flights, which are routinely overbooked.

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 Turkmenistan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Turkmenistan.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 9 1984 (Pushkin Street), off Magtymguly Street, tel. (993-12) 35-00-45; fax (993-12) 39-26-14.
The Consular Section can also be contacted by e-mail.
The Consular Section is open for American Citizens services every Monday through Friday afternoon, excepting holidays.
American Citizens are requested to call for an appointment for services except in cases of emergency.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Turkmenistan dated September 2, 2008 without substantive changes.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 9 Sep 2016 19:53:02 +0200

Avaza, Turkmenistan, Sept 9, 2016 (AFP) - Turkmenistan strongman President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on Friday opened a giant five-star hotel worth over $100 million, shaped like a cruise ship, at the country's main Caspian Sea resort.   The 13-floor, 350-room hotel is the biggest in Turkmenistan's Avaza tourist zone, which the government is trying to promote despite an incredibly restrictive visa regime for foreigners.

"The purpose of this resort is to create the best conditions for interesting recreation time for the Turkmen people," Berdymukhamedov said of Avaza, adding that the hotel was called "Gami", or "Boat" to symbolise "the boat of our friendship."    "And since we are on a boat, we will be having nautical pasta -- a cheap Soviet pasta dish with minced pork and beef -- for lunch," he joked, before the dish was served to officials, diplomats and journalists at the ceremonial lunch.   The Central Asian country's leader, 59, also quoted a nautically-themed poem by Russian wordsmith Mikhail Lermontov.   The 90-metre by 200 metre (300 by 650 feet) white marble-clad hotel was built to echo a "snow-white ocean ship" a representative of the state company that ordered it built, told AFP.

A giant portrait of Berdymukhamedov spanned three floors of the building as dancers performed in front of it.   The hotel was built by the Turkish construction and logistics firm Ekol.   Hydrocarbon-rich Turkmenistan's secretive government has a reputation for lavish spending on frivolous architectural projects, even in times of economic crisis.   The country devalued its manat currency by around twenty percent in early 2015 under pressure from low prices for hydrocarbons, which account for practically all of the country's exports.

On the black market the currency's value can fetch up to 6 manats to the dollar against an official rate of 3.5 to the dollar, down from 2.8 to the dollar in 2014.    Despite Berdymukhamedov officially encouraging belt-tightening, the country has continued to spend heavily on infrastructure ahead of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games it will host in the capital Ashgabat.

In 2013 Ashgabat earned a Guinness World Record as the city with the highest density of white marble-clad buildings.    "If the marble was laid out flat, there would be one square metre of marble for every 4.87 m³ of land," Guinness said at the time.   The city also hosts a golden statue of Berdymukhamedov and a similar statue of predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov, which once rotated with the movements of the sun.
Date: Wed, 6 Apr 2016 16:21:20 +0200

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, April 6, 2016 (AFP) - Turkmenistan has passed a law making HIV tests mandatory prior to marriage, state media reported on Wednesday, in a sign the reclusive Central Asian state fears the spread of a disease it has always downplayed.    The law is the closest the highly secretive state of 5 million has come to acknowledging a public health threat from the disease which is prevalent throughout the former Soviet Union.

The law, which aims to "create conditions for healthy families and prevent the birth of HIV-infected children" was published in the state newspaper on Wednesday and is effective immediately.    An official from the country's national AIDS Center, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the new law was "very necessary" given the "high risk" of the spread of the virus.   The official cited use of intravenous drugs, mostly sourced from neighbouring Afghanistan, and prostitution as the main means of transmission.

Other than "persons entering marriage", the legislation also enforces HIV tests for blood donors, "persons suspected of narcotics use", prisoners, citizens of foreign countries applying for work visas and stateless persons.    According to the law signed by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the government will guarantee anonymity and free treatment for sufferers of the disease.

Turkmenistan, which remains largely closed to the outside world, has always downplayed the prevalence of HIV, a disease that attacks the human immune system and is transmitted from person to person via bodily fluids.   In 2002, the health ministry, which does not publish data on infectious diseases, claimed the country had only two cases of HIV and that both patients had been infected outside Turkmenistan.
Date: Tue, 21 Jul 2015 17:03:00 +0200 (METDST)

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, July 21, 2015 (AFP) - Health-obsessed former Soviet Turkmenistan is the country with the world's lowest proportion of smokers, World Health Organisation chief Margaret Chan said during a visit to the isolated nation on Tuesday.    Chan said that  just 8 percent of the population smoked, according to WHO figures.   "Recently a WHO overview showed that in Turkmenistan only 8 percent of the population smokes," Chan told the country's authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who is a dentist by training.   "This is the lowest national indicator in the world. I congratulate you on this achievement," she said at a health forum in the capital Ashgabat.

Cited by state media, Chan noted that the country ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2011 by which time it had already banned smoking in public places.   Also speaking at the forum, Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the Convention Secretariat, challenged the Central Asian state to drive smoking down to five per cent of the population in the coming years.   In 1990, 27 percent of Turkmen males over 15 and 1 percent of females smoked.

A decade later Turkmenistan banned smoking in public places, state buildings and the army, as well as all forms of tobacco advertising.   By comparison, 31.1 percent of the global male population over the age of 15 smoked in 2012, while 6.2 percent of females were smokers.   President Berdymukhamedov, in power since the death of eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006, is a keen equestrian, while Niyazov campaigned against smoking and built a 36-kilometre "path of health" into the mountains surrounding Ashgabat which government officials were forced to walk.   This April the gas-rich country of more than five million held a month of public exercises and sporting events under the slogan "health and happiness."
Date: Wed, 1 Jul 2015 17:54:35 +0200 (METDST)

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, July 1, 2015 (AFP) - Turkmenistan reported its hottest June on record Wednesday, as a heat wave envelops former Soviet Central Asia.   "June 2015 was the hottest June since 1891 when records began. Daytime temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Celsius in the shade 16 times," a spokeswoman at Turkmenistan's state meteorological service in the capital Ashgabat told AFP Wednesday.   She noted that Tuesday, when temperatures reached 47.2 degrees Celsius, was the hottest June day in Ashgabat in the recorded history of the energy-rich country.   Many Muslims fasting for the Ramadan holy month in the secluded Caspian state have taken time off work and are shutting themselves away in air conditioned rooms, one observant Muslim who did not wish to be named told AFP.

In Kazakhstan temperatures, while set to vary in the coming week, remain very high in the southern regions of the country.   "In the afternoon the streets are empty," said Shafarat Sataeva, 72, from the southern region of Kyzylorda, where temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius in the shade on Wednesday, the highest anywhere in the country.   In Tajikistan over 50 people including three Russian soldiers stationed at Russia's military base in the country drowned in mountain rivers and lakes as they sought to cool themselves.   The country's meteorological service said temperatures are expected to pass 40 degrees Celsius in the capital Dushanbe and warned of mudflows from high levels of glacial melt in the mountainous country.
Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2014 05:22:34 +0200 (METDST)
by Igor Sasin

AVAZA, Turkmenistan, July 15, 2014 (AFP) - Better known for its inhospitable desert plains than beach breaks, isolated ex-Soviet Turkmenistan this month welcomed an unlikely group of visitors: a sun-tanned crop of the world's top windsurfers.   Bordering Iran and Afghanistan, the energy-rich Central Asian country played host to a leg of the windsurfing World Cup at a sparkling new Caspian Sea resort that authorities hope can turn the once hermit state into a water sports hub.

International competitors bobbed and weaved through the foaming surf as their sails glistened in the sweltering heat -- an unfamiliar sight in a nation that until 2006 was cut off from the rest of the world by the eccentric two-decade rule of former dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.   "This is such a chance for me!" said a joyous Orazmyrat Arnamammedov, one of only a handful of windsurfers in Turkmenistan.   "It's happiness for me to take part in a competition with sportsmen who are known around the world," the 32-year-old sports instructor told AFP.

Turkmenistan is on a drive to promote itself as a destination for sports, adventure travel and even beach holidays in a bid to boost tourist numbers from the current 15,000 visitors per year.   "Holding world-class windsurfing competitions will be a significant step, taking Turkmenistan to a new level," President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said at the opening of the Turkmenistan PWA World Cup windsurfing event.

Turkmen officials said holding sporting championships is part of the government's plan to develop tourism.   Next year the country will host the world championship in belt wrestling -- a traditional form of the sport -- in November and the 2017 5th Asian Indoor-Martial Arts Games.   "Sports and travel are the new trend for international tourism in Turkmenistan," said an official in the state tourism committee who asked not to be named.

- Resort rising from desert -
The sprawling Caspian Sea town of Avaza, which hosted the windsurfing competition from its 16 kilometres of beach, is a key part of that plan.    By 2020 Ashgabat hopes to transform the desert resort, whose name means "singing wave" in Turkmen, into a vast complex that can compete with Turkey's huge southwestern sea resort of Antalya.   "Avaza has every chance of becoming a major attraction for tourists, both from neighbouring countries and also from overseas," Berdymukhamedov said recently.   "In this part of the Caspian, the water is exceptionally clean and there are good beaches and a mild climate."   Since work started in 2007, six hotels and other accommodation for some 7,000 visitors has been built by mainly Turkish firms at a cost of around $2 billion (1.5 billion euros). 

But the resort -- where US pop star Jennifer Lopez was jetted in to perform last summer -- is set to grow into a vast complex with at least 60 hotels, as well as sanatoriums, rest homes, cottages and camp sites, that the the state tourism committee boasts will be "up to world standards".   An artificial river runs through the town and a new airport has been opened in the nearby city of Turkmenbashi.    A winter sports stadium with an ice rink and a 2,000 seat Palace of Congress are also in the pipeline, with the total price tag for the development expected to hit $7 billion.

- 'Why go to Avaza?' -
But some locals are not convinced that the Turkmen resort can bring in the crowds.   A week's package holiday for international visitors costs around $1,500, said Mukhamet Begliyev, who works at a private travel agency.   "Even if someone rich enough turns up, what do we have to offer except the sea and the hotels? The entertainment sphere isn't developed at Avaza at the moment," Begliyev said.   The "international" airport in Turkmenbashi so far only accepts domestic flights and getting a visa to the country is still a major hurdle.

For the moment that means the resort is largely attracting domestic holidaymakers, although Turkmenistan's low wages mean it is beyond the means of many.    For 28-year-old Gozel Akhundova from Dashoguz, a city in the country's north, even a brief stay in an Avaza hotel at $70 a night was an expensive treat.   "We'll only spend three days here. If it was cheaper, we'd stay longer," she said.   And the fledgling resort still has a long way to go to compete with more established holiday spots.     "Why should I go to Avaza, when there is Antalya?" asked Akhmet, a 22-year-old student in Ashgabat who said he planned to holiday in Turkey this summer.   "The service is good, there's plenty of fun activities and it's cheap," he said.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 09:54:04 +0100 (MET)
By Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - A nationwide strike shut down public transport, schools and other services across France on Thursday as unions kicked off an open-ended strike against President Emmanuel Macron's plans for a "universal" pension system they say will force millions of people to work longer.

Parents scrambled to organise daycare as teachers walked off the job or were unable to get to work, and many employees were working from home or forced to take the day off as trains, metros and buses were cancelled.   Union leaders have vowed to keep up their protest unless Macron drops the pension overhaul, the latest move in the centrist president's push to reform wide swathes of the French economy.   "The idea of social concertation that Macron says is so important in fact doesn't exist," the head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said on BFM television Thursday.

Around 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains as well as regional lines were cancelled, and Air France has axed 30 percent of domestic flights and 15 percent of short-haul international routes.   In Paris, 11 of the 16 metro lines were shut down and others had just bare-bones service during the morning rush hour, and the Eiffel Tower turned away tourists because of the strike.   "There are not enough employees to open the monument in secure conditions," the tower's operator said in a statement.

The strike -- which is open-ended and could last several days -- has drawn comparisons with the showdown between government and unions over pensions in November-December 1995, when the country was paralysed for around three weeks.   Unions won that battle, and are banking on widespread support from both public and private-sector workers against Macron's reform.   The government has yet to unveil the details of the project, but officials have conceded that people will have to work longer for the system to remain financial viable.

- Outcome uncertain -
The strikes will be a major test of whether Macron, a former investment banker who came to power on the back of a promise to transform France, has the political strength to push through one of his key campaign pledges.   He has already succeeded in controversial labour and tax reforms aimed at encouraging hiring, as well as an overhaul of the state rail operator SNCF, long seen as an untouchable union bastion.

He has also largely seen off the "yellow vest" protests against declining living standards that erupted a year ago, but that anger could feed into the latest protest.   "The moment of truth for Macron," the Le Monde daily wrote in Thursday's edition. "The next days are a decisive test for the head of state."   The SNCF said international lines including the Eurostar and Thalys services were severely disrupted, and Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Wednesday that he expected just three in 10 schools would be able to open.

- 'Special regimes' -
The strike is the latest in a series of protests against Macron this year by the "yellow vests" as well as police, firefighters, teachers, hospital workers and lawyers.   Macron wants to implement a "universal" retirement system that would do away with 42 "special regimes" for sectors ranging from rail and energy workers to lawyers and Paris Opera employees, which often grant workers higher pensions or early retirement.

But unions say the changes would effectively require millions of private-sector workers to work beyond the legal retirement age of 62 if they want to receive the full pension they have been promised.   Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who has acknowledged French workers will gradually have to work longer, is set to unveil details of the reform on December 12.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Wednesday that some 250 demonstrations are expected nationwide, warning that a radical fringe of protesters could cause trouble.   Paris police chief Didier Lallement said around 6,000 members of the security forces would be deployed in the capital alone, with 180 motorbikes used to respond fast to any rioting.   Two major demonstrations are planned for Paris that will converge on the Place de la Nation, with officials ordering Paris businesses along the routes to close on Thursday.   British low-cost carrier EasyJet has cancelled 223 domestic and short-haul international flights and warned others risk being delayed.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 08:13:04 +0100 (MET)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - South African Airways was placed under a state-led rescue plan on Thursday as part of a massive restructuring following a costly week-long strike last month.   Thousands of South African Airways (SAA) staff walked out on November 15 after the cash-strapped airline failed to meet a string of demands, including higher wages and job in-sourcing.   The strike was called off the following week after SAA management and unions eventually clinched a deal.

But the walkout dealt a severe blow to the debt-ridden airline, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts.   "The Board of SAA has adopted a resolution to place the company into business rescue," said a statement by South Africa's Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, adding that the decision was also supported by the government.   "It must be clear that this is not a bailout," said Gordhan. "This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline."   South Africa is struggling to get state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.

- Costly strike -
Its national airline -- which employs more than 5,000 workers and is Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines -- had been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) a day during the strike.   SAA's board said the business rescue, scheduled to start immediately, was decided after consultations with shareholders and the public enterprises department "to find a solution to our company's well-documented financial challenges".   "The considered and unanimous conclusion has been to place the company into business rescue in order to create a better return for the company's creditors and shareholders," said the SAA board of directors in a statement.

Business practitioners were set to be appointed "in the near future" to oversee the process, they added.   Unions did not immediately respond to AFP's requests for comment.   They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding.   SAA had initially refused any pay rise.    The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March.   "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board.   "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time."
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 07:01:49 +0100 (MET)

Manila, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - The number of people killed by Typhoon Kammuri's pounding of the Philippines this week has hit 13, officials said Thursday, as authorities confirmed reports of storm-related deaths.   Kammuri's fierce winds toppled trees and flattened flimsy homes across a swathe of the nation's north on Tuesday, and forced a rare 12-hour shutdown of Manila's international airport.   Authorities said on Wednesday one person had drowned while three died after being hit by trees and flying objects.

Disaster officials did not offer details on how the other victims died, but local police reports indicated some may have drowned or been crushed by trees.   Mark Timbal, spokesman for the national disaster agency, said no new bodies have been found but the death toll could rise as reports on the ground are verified.    "There is the possibility of an increase in the number, but we are hoping against it," Timbal told AFP.    Hundreds of thousands of people living in exposed or low-lying areas were evacuated from their homes before Kammuri made landfall late Monday, which authorities said had saved lives.

Still the storm damaged 135 schools and destroyed nearly 1,200 homes, with crop damage in the hardest hit areas estimated to reach nearly $16 million.   The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.    President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to visit on Thursday the Bicol region, a peninsula south of Manila which was hit hard by the typhoon.     Ninoy Aquino International Airport was closed half of Tuesday as a precaution, affecting over 500 flights, while roughly half the day's programme at the Southeast Asian Games, hosted by Manila and nearby cities, had to be postponed.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 05:14:37 +0100 (MET)

Bogota, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of protesters took part in anti-government demonstrations in Colombia's capital Bogota and other cities Wednesday during the country's third general strike in two weeks.   Strike leaders say they intend to maintain pressure on right-wing President Ivan Duque's government, after brushing aside his appeals to cancel the strike on the grounds its effects were crippling the economy.   But crowds were smaller than previous demonstrations as protests took place for a 14th consecutive day.   Some roads were blocked in the capital and in the northeastern city of Cali, but many businesses remained open.   Around 250,000 people took part in the first demonstration against Duque's 15-month-old government on November 21, when the initial general strike brought the country to a standstill.

Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez estimated that 40,000 people took part in demonstrations across the country on Wednesday, but organizers said the number of participants was much higher.   "The Colombian people have woken up!" shouted Paola Jiminez, a 41-year-old lawyer taking part in a pot-banging "cacerolazo" demonstration in Bogota.   "Colombians are finding it more and more difficult financially," she said.   A student taking part in one of several peaceful protests in Bogota, who gave his name as Nicolas, held up a banner saying: "The state lies more than my ex."

Police were deployed in nearby streets, but there were no confrontations of the kind that have marred some protests over the last two weeks, during which four people died. Some 500 have been injured.   On Tuesday, the Colombian National Strike Committee -- comprising unions, students and teacher organizations, indigenous groups and the opposition -- met directly with Duque's advisors for the first time, but reached no agreement.    Another meeting was scheduled for Thursday.

Under fire for his economic policies and corruption in the country, Duque launched a national dialogue with mayors and other officials 10 days ago.   The strike committee has presented Duque with a list of 13 demands, including the withdrawal of his proposed tax reforms, and full compliance with the 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas.   Among them is a call to dismantle the feared ESMAD riot police, widely criticized for its heavy handed response to protesters.   Duque has yielded to some of the demands on tax reform, announcing the return of Value Added Tax to the poorest 20 percent of the population and benefits for companies that hire young people.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 00:51:07 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa entered a two-day lockdown Thursday as authorities launched an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign to contain a deadly measles outbreak that has devastated the Pacific island nation.   Officials ordered all businesses and non-essential government services to close, shut down inter-island ferry services and told private cars to keep off the roads.

Residents were advised to stay in their homes and display a red flag if they were not yet immunised as hundreds of vaccination teams fanned out across the nation of 200,000 in the early hours of the morning.   The operation, carried out under emergency powers invoked as the epidemic took hold last month, is a desperate bid to halt an inexorably rising death toll that reached 62 on Thursday, most of them young children.   "I've seen mass mobilisation campaigns before, but not over an entire country like this," UNICEF's Pacific island chief Sheldon Yett told AFP.   "That's what we're doing right now. This entire country is being vaccinated."

Immunisation rates in Samoa were about 30 percent before the outbreak and have risen to more than 55 percent since a compulsory mass vaccination campaign began a fortnight ago.   Yett said the aim of this week's two-day drive was to push the rate above 90 percent, which should help curb the current outbreak and stop future epidemics.   He said the normally busy streets of the capital Apia were almost deserted early Thursday.   "It's very, very quiet out here. I can just hear a few barking dogs. The streets are empty. There are no cars," he said.   "People are staying at home waiting for the vaccination campaign. The teams are getting their supplies together and getting ready to go out."   Even Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi's residence had a red flag fluttering outside it, with the leader saying his nephew had recently arrived from Australia and needed a measles shot.

Malielegaoi said he was angered by anecdotal reports that some parents were encouraging their children to hide from the vaccination teams to avoid the mandatory immunisation injection.    "The message is that we have vaccinated a lot of people and they are OK," he told reporters.   "The only cure for this is vaccination... having your children vaccinated is the only way."   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.

The latest figures show that 54 of the 62 dead were aged four or less and infants account for most of the 4,217 cases recorded since the outbreak began in mid-October.   There have also been measles epidemics in neighbouring Fiji and Tonga, but higher immunisation rates mean they have been more easily contained, with no fatalities.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 22:05:06 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Wednesday it was pulling its non-local staff from an eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo after it said an armed group tried to enter its compound.    The NGO becomes the latest aid agency to withdraw its staff from the Biakato region after an unclaimed attack last week saw three Ebola workers killed at an accommodation camp in Biakato Mines in Ituri province, causing the World Health Organization to withdraw its staff from the area.     MSF and an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC), which is treating two people with confirmed cases of Ebola and nine suspected cases, decided to stay in the Biakato region despite last week's incident.

The NGO said that on Tuesday night a group wielding machetes and sticks broke into the Biakato Health Centre, which houses the ETC, but did not cause any casualties and did not enter the Ebola facility.   A separate group with the same weapons then tried but failed to enter the MSF facility in Biakato Mines. The NGO said they threw stones but did not do any damage.   "Due to a deterioration in the security situation, MSF made the difficult decision to withdraw all non-local staff from the Biakato region," MSF said in a statement.    According to local authorities, the attackers from last week's incident are likely to be members of the Mayi-Mayi militia group.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is undergoing its 10th Ebola epidemic, which is the second deadliest on record.    An outbreak of the much-feared haemorrhagic virus has killed 2,206 people mainly in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri, according to the latest official figures.   Insecurity has complicated the epidemic from the outset, compounding resistance within communities to preventive measures, care facilities and safe burials.   On November 4, the authorities said more than 300 attacks on Ebola health workers had been recorded since the start of the year, leaving six dead and 70 wounded, some of them patients.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 15:50:07 +0100 (MET)
By Ish MAFUNDIKWA, with Zinyange AUNTONY in Bulawayo

Harare, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - The floor is dusty, the walls filthy and the furniture decrepit, but for two weeks last month a tiny flat in a Harare township was transformed into a maternity clinic where scores of babies were born.   Its owner, 69-year-old Esther Gwena, says she helped to deliver 250 infants as Zimbabwe's health sector tottered -- a feat that earned comparisons to Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing.

Hundreds of junior medics at state hospitals began a strike three months ago because their salaries -- less than $200 a month -- are not enough to live on in a country gripped by 500 percent inflation.   Nurses are only working two days a week.   Those who can't afford private care -- the majority of the 14 million people reeling under an economic crisis compounded by acute food shortages -- suffer at home or seek help from people like Gwena.   Senior doctors, in a letter last week, said state hospitals had become a "death trap" and warned of a "slow genocide".   Gwena, a widow and member of the local Apostolic Faith sect, is a self-taught midwife.   When the health services strike peaked last month, she came to the rescue.

- 'I had to do something' -
"A man came to me and said there were two women in advanced labour at (a nearby clinic) but the place was closed because the nurses were on strike," she told AFP in her two-room flat in Mbare township.   She rushed there and found that one of the women had a baby which had died.   "I took the other one to my place, where I helped her. The baby survived. From that time, I knew I had to do something," she said.   Word that she was helping deliver babies for free spread quickly.

The state-owned television ZBC described her as "a modern Zimbabwean version of Florence Nightingale" and First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa visited Gwena and donated food, detergents and blankets.   A funeral services company chipped in with a mobile water tank and pitched a tent outside to serve as a waiting room for women before they went into advanced labour.   "I helped to deliver 250 babies ... (they) are alive and kicking and at home with their mothers," Gwena said.   Two weeks later, the government asked her to stop after a nearby maternity clinic reopened.   Winnie Denhere, 35, cradled her two-day-old baby boy outside the clinic, where she had taken him for an immunisation injection.   "Everything went very well, she didn't ask us for money," she said, speaking of Gwena, who brought her child into the world.

- 'People dying' -
But while some laud Gwena as a selfless do-gooder, doctors worry that she exposed herself, the mothers, the babies to infection.   "We need to do something about our facilities so no one goes to her," Harare's director of medical services Prosper Chonzi, said.   Medicines have been in short supply and broken machines go unrepaired.   The government has fired 448 junior octors for striking.    Senior doctors last week also stopped work in protest over the sacking of junior colleagues. Dozens marched in Harare on Monday.   "People dying has become the order of the day in our hospitals," said the vice-president of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association Raphael Magota.

He told AFP machines were breaking down and that intensive care units were only able to treat two or three people "due to lack of equipment".     A senior doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the situation has become untenable.   "There is no public health in Zimbabwe at the moment; everything has come to a standstill," he said.   Even the scarce equipment is often not right.   "One needs gloves that fit just right when performing delicate operations, but we get old gloves that are too big," said another doctor.   A UN special rapporteur on food security, Hilal Elver, last week spoke of "disturbing information" that public hospitals had exhausted food stocks, forcing them to seek humanitarian aid and that medical equipment in some cases was "no longer operational".

In the second largest city of Bulawayo, Zimbabweans living abroad are helping in a small way by crowdfunding and sending money back home to offer health care for the vulnerable.   One such initiative is Citizwean Clinic, which opened its doors last month and attended to hundreds of patients in the first five days -- providing free consultation and drugs.   "We go to the hospital these days it's bad, there are no doctors. We heard that there were doctors here," said hypertensive patient Elina Dzingire, 63.    "We've really been helped here," she told AFP from the clinic in the city's Cowdray Park township.    Health Minister Obadiah Moyo admitted the situation in hospitals is constrained but says the government will soon advertise the posts left vacant by the sacked doctors.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 13:55:04 +0100 (MET)
By Ron LOPEZ

Manila, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - Typhoon Kammuri killed at least two people in the Philippines on Tuesday as it tore roofs off houses and forced the international airport in Manila to shut down.   The storm roared ashore late Monday and passed south of Manila -- home to 13 million people -- and thousands of athletes at the regional Southeast Asian Games.   Just before it exited into the South China Sea, the typhoon killed two people in the central island of Mindoro, where one man was crushed by a falling tree and another killed by a flying piece of lumber, police said.    Ahead of the storm's arrival a 33-year-old man was electrocuted on Monday while securing a roof against the winds, which by late Tuesday weakened to a maximum of 130 kilometres (81 miles) per hour.

Authorities were still assessing the storm's impact, but a small local airport was seriously damaged, many power poles toppled and homes were battered.   "A lot of trees fell... There were a lot of roofs flying during the typhoon too," said Junie Castillo, a disaster officer in one of the areas first hit.   Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport was "closed for operations" due to high winds, leaving nearly 500 flights cancelled, general manager Ed Monreal told AFP.   Flights would resume at 11:00 pm (1500 GMT), Monreal later told a news conference.   One of the terminals AFP visited, which would normally be bustling with morning departures, was occupied by a handful of staff and stranded passengers.

One traveller, 23-year-old Canadian Constance Benoit, was hit with a nearly day-long delay to her flight back home.   She had arrived in Manila on a typhoon-buffeted flight Monday morning from the central island of Cebu.   "It was the most turbulent flight I ever took in my life," she told AFP. "I just discovered what airsickness is."   About 340,000 people had been evacuated from their homes in the central Bicol region, disaster officials said.   The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.   The country's deadliest cyclone on record was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

- Games rescheduled -
Kammuri had already snarled some plans for the SEA Games, which opened Saturday and are set to run through December 11 in and around Manila.   The typhoon forced organisers to reschedule about half of the events set for Tuesday, but they pledged the competition would finish on time.   Kammuri wrought particular havoc on water-based and outdoor competitions, causing more than a dozen events to be postponed.   The storm is another difficulty for the Games, which suffered from a string of logistical glitches and a rush of last-minute construction in the run-up to Saturday's opening.    The competition, which is spread across three main sites that are hours' drive apart, includes a Games-record 56 sports and dozens of venues.   Around 8,750 athletes and team officials are expected at this year's 30th edition -- the biggest ever -- along with another 12,000 volunteers.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:24:08 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - A man and woman have been rescued after surviving two weeks in Australia's arid outback on little more than vodka, groundwater and biscuits, but a third person is still missing, police said Tuesday.   The three friends set out to explore the country's vast sun-baked interior near Alice Springs on November 19 when their car became bogged down in a river bed.   After three days staying put and waiting for a rescue, the group feared supplies were dwindling and two of them decided to walk along a property fence line in the hope of finding help.   Police said Tuesday that a local rancher had found the man, 40-year-old Phu Tran, "slightly disorientated" but in a "good condition" a two-day walk from the vehicle.

His discovery came after Tamra McBeath-Riley, 52, was found on Sunday less than two kilometres from the same vehicle suffering from dehydration.   McBeath-Riley told public broadcaster ABC that the trio -- accompanied by their blue Staffordshire terrier Raya -- had survived by drinking pre-mixed vodka drinks and water from a hole dug for cattle, eating biscuits and sheltering in a hole dug under her car.   But the third person, 46-year-old Claire Hockridge, has not been seen since splitting from Phu two days ago.   "She was still fine when he left but we obviously are now focusing our search to identify where she is," police superintendent Pauline Vicary said.   Police were "hopeful that she's still in that condition," Vicary added, as her colleagues resumed an aerial search.   McBeath-Riley and Hockridge live in Alice Springs, while Phu was visiting from elsewhere in Australia.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:07:45 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - The World Health Organisation warned of a "slide back" in global efforts to eliminate measles Tuesday, as the death toll from an outbreak that has killed dozens of children in Samoa continued to climb.   A total of 55 people have died since the epidemic began in mid-October, 50 of them children aged four or under, officials in the Pacific nation said Tuesday.   Another 18 infants are critically ill in hospital and the crisis shows no sign of slowing, with 153 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the national total to 3,881 in a population of 200,000.   Emergency measures including compulsory mass immunisations and school closures have so far done little to stop the virus spreading in a country that was particularly vulnerable to measles due to low vaccination rates of about 31 percent.

World Health Organisation (WHO) medical officer for the western Pacific, Jose Hagan, said it was a grim reminder of the danger posed by "probably the most infectious disease that we know of".   "Unfortunately the case (to) fatality rate of measles is much higher than people realise," he told Radio New Zealand.   "This is quite a severe disease and we just aren't used to seeing it, so it comes as quite a surprise when we see how fatal it can be."   He said the fatality rate in Samoa was less than two percent but had been known to reach five percent in developing countries.

Hagen said increased access to measles vaccines was estimated to have saved 21 million lives over the past 20 years.   "But we are starting to have a slide back and there are outbreaks happening all over the world in all WHO regions and it's leading to the virus being exported through international travel," he said.   Cases have skyrocketed in Europe, leading to Britain, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania all losing their measles-free status in August.   The United States narrowly maintained its "measles eliminated" status a few months later, despite experiencing its worst outbreak since 1992.   The WHO has pointed to various reasons for declining immunisation rates including lack of access to healthcare and complacency about the need to vaccinate.

Another major factor, which has been cited by the WHO as a reason for the severity of the Samoa outbreak, is misinformation about immunisation from anti-vaccine campaigners.   Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi this week said vaccination was the only answer to the epidemic.   He has ordered the government to cease non-essential operations on Thursday and Friday so public servants can help a mandatory vaccination campaign that aims to give anti-measles jabs to everyone aged below 60.