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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Mariana Islands

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

Venezuela

Venezuela US Consular Information Sheet
May 05, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

Venezuela is a medium income country whose economy is dominated by a substantial oil industry.
The political climate in Venezuela is highly polarized and
olatile.
Violent crime is a continuing problem.
Assaults, robberies, and kidnappings occur throughout the country.
Scheduled air service and all-weather roads connect major cities and most regions of the country.
Venezuela’s tourism infrastructure varies in quality according to location and price.
For an in depth country description of Venezuela, please read the Department of State Background Notes on Venezuela.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport and a visa or tourist card are required.
Tourist cards are issued on flights from the U.S. to Venezuela for persons staying less than ninety days.
Persons traveling for reasons other than tourism, however, should consult the Venezuelan Embassy or nearest Venezuelan consulate regarding possible visa requirements for their specific purpose of travel.
Venezuelan immigration authorities may require that U.S. passports have at least six months validity remaining from the date of arrival in Venezuela.
Some U.S. citizens have been turned back to the United States if their passports will expire in less than six months. Passports should also be in good condition, as some U.S. citizens have been delayed or detained overnight for having otherwise valid passports in poor condition.
U.S. citizens residing in Venezuela should be careful to obtain legitimate Venezuelan documentation appropriate to their status.
There have been numerous cases in the last several months of U.S. citizens who, having employed intermediaries, received what they believed to be valid Venezuelan resident visas and work permits.
They were subsequently arrested and charged with possessing fraudulent Venezuelan documentation.
ONIDEX, the Venezuelan government agency responsible for immigration documents, has informed the Embassy that the only valid resident visas are those for which the bearer has personally signed at ONIDEX headquarters in Caracas.

Venezuelan law requires Venezuelan citizens to enter and depart Venezuela using Venezuelan passports and Venezuelan immigration authorities are increasingly enforcing this requirement.
In order to comply with U.S. and Venezuelan law, persons who hold dual American-Venezuelan nationality must plan to travel between Venezuela and the United States with valid U.S. and Venezuelan passports.
Please see our information on dual nationality for entry and exit requirements pertaining to dual nationals.
Venezuela's child protection law mandates that minors (under 18) who are citizens or non-citizen residents of Venezuela and who are traveling alone, with only one parent, or with a third party, must present a copy of their birth certificate and written, notarized authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian, specifically granting permission to travel alone, with one parent, or with a third party.
This authorization must reflect the precise date and time of the travel, including flight and/or other pertinent information.
Without this authorization, immigration authorities will prevent the child's departure from Venezuela.
The Venezuelan Government no longer recognizes blanket or non-specific travel authorizations.
When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of the death certificate is required in lieu of the written authorization.
If documents are prepared in the United States, the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated into Spanish, notarized, and authenticated by the Venezuela Embassy or a Venezuelan consulate in the United States.
If documents are prepared in Venezuela, only notarization by a Venezuelan notary is required.
A permission letter prepared outside Venezuela is valid for 90 days.
A permission letter prepared in Venezuela is valid for 60 days.
Travelers entering Venezuela from certain countries are required to have a current yellow fever vaccination certificate.
The Venezuelan government recommends that all travelers, regardless of their country of departure, be vaccinated for yellow fever before entering Venezuela.
Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are also common in some areas and travelers should take precautions to prevent infection.

An exit tax and airport fee must be paid when departing Venezuela by airline.
The exit tax is currently 46 Bolívares Fuertes, and the airport fee is currently 115 Bolívares Fuertes (a total of approximately 75 USD calculated at the official exchange rate). In many instances, especially with non-U.S. airlines, the exit tax and airport fee are not included in the airline ticket price and must be paid separately at the airport upon departure.
Authorities usually require that payment be made in local currency.
Both the departure tax and the airport fee are subject to change with little notice.
Travelers should check with their airlines for the latest information.
For current information concerning entry, tax, and customs requirements for Venezuela, travelers may contact the Venezuelan Embassy at 1099 30th Street, NW, Washington DC
20007, tel: (202) 342-2214, or visit the Embassy of Venezuela web site at http://www.embavenez-us.org/.
Travelers may also contact the Venezuelan consulates in New York, Miami, Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Houston, San Francisco, or San Juan.
Additional information about vaccination requirements for travel to Venezuela, as well as to other international destinations, 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); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via CDC's Internet site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.

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:
Violent crime in Venezuela is pervasive, both in the capital, Caracas, and in the interior.
The country has one of the highest per-capita murder rates in the world.
Armed robberies take place in broad daylight throughout the city, including areas generally presumed safe and frequented by tourists.
A common technique is to choke the victim into unconsciousness and then rob them of all they are carrying.
Well-armed criminal gangs operate with impunity, often setting up fake police checkpoints.
Kidnapping is a particularly serious problem, with more than 1,000 reported during the past year alone.
Investigation of all crime is haphazard and ineffective.
In the case of high-profile killings, the authorities quickly round up suspects, but rarely produce evidence linking these individuals to the crime.
Only a very small percentage of criminals are tried and convicted.

Travel to and from Maiquetía Airport, the international airport serving Caracas, can be dangerous and corruption at the airport itself is rampant.
Travelers at the airport have been victims of personal property theft, as well as mugging and “express kidnapping” in which individuals are taken to make purchases or to withdraw as much money as possible from ATMs, often at gunpoint.
The Embassy has received multiple, credible reports that individuals with what appear to be official uniforms or other credentials are involved in facilitating or perpetrating these crimes.
For this reason, American citizen travelers should be wary of all strangers, even those in official uniform or carrying official identification.
There are also known drug trafficking groups working from the airport.
Travelers should not accept packages from anyone and should keep their luggage with them at all times.

Because of the frequency of robberies at gunpoint, travelers are encouraged to arrive during daylight hours.
If not, travelers should use extra care both within and outside the airport.
The Embassy strongly advises that all arriving passengers make advance plans for transportation from the airport to their place of lodging.
If possible, travelers should arrange to be picked up at the airport by someone who is known to them.
The Embassy has received frequent reports of armed robberies in taxicabs going to and from the airport at Maiquetía.
There is no foolproof method of knowing whether a taxi driver at the airport is reliable.
The fact that a taxi driver presents a credential or drives an automobile with official taxi license plates marked “libre” is no longer an indication of reliability.
Incidents of taxi drivers in Caracas overcharging, robbing, and injuring passengers are common.
Travelers should take care to use radio-dispatched taxis or those from reputable hotels.
Travelers should call a 24-hour radio-dispatched taxi service from a public phone lobby or ask hotel, restaurant, or airline representatives to contact a licensed cab company for them.
A list of transportation services used by members of the U.S. Embassy community is available on the U.S. Embassy web site at http://venezuela.usembassy.gov/.
The Embassy does not vouch for the professional ability or integrity of any specific provider.
The list is not meant to be an endorsement by the Department of State or the Embassy.
Likewise, the absence of any individual or company does not imply lack of competence.
While visiting Venezuela, Americans are encouraged to carry as little U.S. currency on them as possible and to avoid wearing expensive or flashy watches and jewelry.
Due to the poor security situation, the Embassy does not recommend changing money at the international airport.
Visitors should bring a major credit card, but should be aware of widespread pilfering of credit card data to make unauthorized transactions.
Travelers’ checks are not recommended as they are honored in only a few locations.
It is possible to exchange U.S. currency at approved exchange offices near major hotel chains in Caracas (personal checks are not accepted) and at commercial banks with some restrictions.
Due to currency regulations, hotels cannot provide currency exchange.
There are ATM machines throughout Venezuela.
Malfunctions are common, however, and travelers should be careful to use only those in well-lit public places.
ATM data has also been hacked and used to make unauthorized withdrawals from user’s accounts.
Popular tourist attractions, such as the Avila National Park, are increasingly associated with violent crime.
Americans planning to participate in outdoor activities in potentially isolated areas are strongly urged to travel in groups of five or more and to provide family or friends with their itineraries prior to departure.
Cross-border violence, kidnapping, drug trafficking, smuggling, and cattle-rustling occur frequently in areas along the 1,000-mile long border between Venezuela and Colombia.
Some kidnap victims have been released after ransom payments, while others have been murdered.
In many cases, Colombian terrorists are believed to be the perpetrators.
Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) has had a long history of kidnapping for ransom, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are active in the kidnapping trade.
Common criminals are also increasingly involved in kidnappings, either dealing with victim's families directly or selling the victim to terrorist groups.

In-country travel by U.S. Embassy employees, both official and private, within a 50-mile area along the entire Venezuela/Colombia border, is prohibited.
The State Department warns American citizens not to travel within a 50-mile area along the entire Venezuela/Colombia border.
U.S. citizens who elect to visit areas along the border region with Colombia despite this warning, apart from the Colombian terrorist threat, could encounter Venezuelan military-controlled areas and may be subject to search and arrest.
The U.S. Embassy must approve in advance the official travel to Venezuela of all U.S. Government personnel.
Private travel by U.S. military personnel to Venezuela requires advance approval by the U.S. Embassy.
Please consult the Department of Defense Foreign Clearance Guide at https://www.fcg.pentagon.mil/ for further information.
Non-military employees of the U.S. Government do not need Embassy approval for private travel.
Political marches and demonstrations are frequent in Caracas and often pass without incident.
Nevertheless, travelers should be aware that violence, including exchanges of gunfire, has occurred at political demonstrations in the past.
Demonstrations tend to occur at or near university campuses, business centers, and gathering places such as public squares and plazas.
Marches generally occur on busy thoroughfares, significantly impacting traffic.
Most major tourist destinations, including coastal beach resorts and Margarita Island, have not in the past been generally affected by protest actions.
The city of Merida, however, a major tourist destination in the Andes, has been the scene of frequent student demonstrations, some of them violent, including the use of firearms.
Travelers should keep informed of local developments by following the local press, radio and television.
Visitors should also consult their local hosts, including U.S. and Venezuelan business contacts, hotels, tour guides, and travel organizers.
As circumstances warrant, the Embassy sends out messages to U.S. citizens who have registered on-line.
These messages are also posted on the U.S. Citizens page of the Embassy’s web site at http://venezuela.usembassy.gov/.
U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Venezuela are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, no matter where they occur.
Harassment of U.S. citizens by pro-government groups, Venezuelan airport authorities, and some segments of the police occurs but is quite limited. Venezuela’s most senior leaders, including President Chavez, regularly express anti-American sentiment.
The Venezuelan government’s rhetoric against the U.S. government, its American culture and institutions, has affected attitudes in what used to be one of the most pro-American countries in the hemisphere.

Venezuela is an earthquake-prone country and is occasionally subject to torrential rains, which can cause major disasters such as the one in Vargas State in 1999.
Travelers who intend to rent or purchase long-term housing in Venezuela should choose structures designed for earthquake resistance.
Such individuals may wish to seek professional assistance from an architect or civil/structural engineer, as does the Embassy, when renting or purchasing a house or apartment in Venezuela.
Americans already housed in such premises are also encouraged to seek a professional structural assessment of their housing.

For further information on seismic activity, you may wish to visit:

1. The Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER) web site at http://mceer.buffalo.edu/infoservice/Quakeline_Database/default.asp
2. The Global Seismic Hazard Assessment Program web site at www.seismo.ethz.ch/GSHAP
3. The Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project web site at www.oas.org/CDMP
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts including the Worldwide Caution can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Venezuela and its capital, Caracas, have one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world.
Virtually all murders go unsolved.
The poor neighborhoods that cover the hills around Caracas are extremely dangerous.
These areas are seldom patrolled by police and should be avoided.
Armed robberies are common in urban and tourist areas throughout Venezuela, even areas presumed safe and visited by tourists.
Crimes committed against travelers are usually money-oriented crimes, such as theft and armed robbery.
Incidents occur during daylight hours as well as at night.
Many criminals are armed with guns or knives and will use force.
Jewelry attracts the attention of thieves.
Travelers are advised to leave jewelry items, especially expensive-looking wristwatches, at home.
Gangs of thieves will often surround their victims and use a chokehold to disable them, even in crowded market areas where there is little or no police presence.
Theft from hotel rooms and safe deposit boxes is a problem, and theft of unattended valuables on the beach and from rental cars parked near isolated areas or on city streets is a common occurrence.
A guarded garage or locked trunk is not a guarantee against theft.
Pickpockets concentrate in and around crowded bus and subway stations in downtown Caracas.
Subway escalators are favored sites for "bump and rob" petty thefts by roving bands of young criminals.
Many of these criminals are well dressed to allay suspicion and to blend in with crowds using the subways during rush hour.
Travelers should not display money or valuables.
"Express kidnappings," in which victims are seized in an attempt to get quick cash in exchange for their release, are a problem.
Kidnapping of U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals, from homes, hotels, unauthorized taxis and the airport terminal has occurred.
U.S. citizens should be alert to their surroundings and take necessary precautions.
The Department has received reports of robberies during nighttime and early morning hours on the highways around and leading to Caracas.
Reports have specifically involved cars being forced off the La Guaira highway leading from Caracas to the Maquetía International Airport, and the "Regional del Centro" highway leading from Caracas to Maracay/Valencia, at which point the victims are robbed.
The Department recommends avoiding driving at night and in the early morning where possible.
Drivers traveling on highways during nighttime and early morning hours should exercise caution.
Police responsiveness and effectiveness in Venezuela vary drastically but generally do not meet U.S. expectations.
U.S. travelers have reported robberies and other crimes committed against them by individuals wearing uniforms and purporting to be police officers or National Guard members.
Incidents of piracy off the coast of Venezuela remain a concern.
Some of these incidents have been especially violent, including the severe beating of a U.S. citizen in 2002, the fatal shooting of an Italian citizen in January 2004, and a machete attack on a U.S. citizen in 2005.
U.S. citizen yachters should exercise a heightened level of caution in Venezuelan waters.
Please consult the U.S. Coast Guard web site at http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-o/g-opr/g-opr.htm for additional information on sailing in Venezuela.

Rules governing the sale of fuel to foreign sailors in Venezuela vary by state.
U.S. citizen yachters should inquire about specific state procedures prior to attempting to purchase fuel in any given location.
Failure to comply with a state’s particular requirements can result in arrest and criminal charges.

The Embassy is aware of several instances where women lured American men to Venezuela after establishing “relationships” with them over the Internet.
Some of these men were robbed shortly after they arrived in Venezuela.
Others were recruited to act as narcotics couriers or “drug mules.”
In three instances, the Americans were arrested at the airport with narcotics in their possession and served extended jail terms in Venezuela.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you 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 are 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 care at private hospitals and clinics in Caracas and other major cities is generally good.
Public hospitals and clinics generally provide a lower level of care and basic supplies at public facilities may be in short supply or unavailable.
Cash payment is usually required in advance of the provision of medical services at private facilities, although some facilities will accept credit cards.
Patients who cannot provide advance payment may be referred to a public hospital for treatment.
Private companies that require the patient to be a subscriber to the service or provide cash payment in advance generally provide the most effective ambulance services.
Public ambulance service is unreliable.
U.S. citizens should be aware that due to the currency restrictions in effect in Venezuela they might find it difficult to receive wire transfers from abroad, whether through a bank or Western Union.
Such wire transfers cannot be used reliably as a source of emergency funds.
U.S. citizens traveling to Venezuela may also find it difficult to obtain certain prescription drugs, particularly name brands, and should ensure that they have sufficient quantities of all medications for the duration of their stay.
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 Venezuela is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving regulations in Venezuela are similar to those in the United States, although many drivers do not obey them.
Defensive driving is a necessity.
Child car seats and seatbelts are not required and are seldom available in rental cars and taxis.
Outside the major cities, night driving can be dangerous because of unmarked road damage or repairs in progress, unlighted vehicles, and livestock.
Even in urban areas, road damage is often marked by a pile of rocks or sticks left by passersby near or in the pothole or crevice, without flares or other devices to highlight the danger.
Traffic jams are common within Caracas during most of the day and are frequently exploited by criminals. Stops at National Guard and local police checkpoints are mandatory.
Drivers should follow all National Guard instructions and be prepared to show vehicle and insurance papers and passports.
Vehicles may be searched.
Inexpensive bus service is available to most destinations throughout the country, but the high incidence of criminal activity on public transportation makes bus travel inadvisable.
Peak holiday travel occurs during summer and winter school breaks and major civil and religious holidays, including Carnival, Easter, Christmas and New Year's holidays.
Lengthy delays due to road congestion are common during these peak periods.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Venezuela’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Venezuela’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: In February 2007, the National Assembly granted President Chavez the authority to rule by decree in 11 general areas for 18 months.
Laws issued by President Chavez under this authority become effective immediately after their publication in the government legislative gazette.
As a result, laws directly impacting U.S. Citizens or their interests in Venezuela may come into force with little or no warning.
U.S. Citizens are advised to carefully monitor changes in Venezuelan law. Venezuela is also slated to hold gubernatorial and mayoral elections nation-wide in late 2008.
These electoral races are expected to generate extensive political campaigning from pro-government and opposition parties.
The government of Venezuela implemented rigid foreign exchange controls in 2003, including a fixed official rate of exchange.
Foreign exchange transactions must take place through exchange houses or commercial banks at the official rate.
As of October 2005 it is no longer possible to exchange money at hotels.
Currency exchange for tourists can be arranged at "casas de cambio" (exchange houses).
There are exchange houses located near most major hotels.
It is also possible to exchange money at commercial banks; however, visitors should be aware that the exchange would not be immediate.
Exchanges through commercial banks must first be approved by the Commission for Administration of Foreign Currencies (CADIVI).
This requires a registration process, which delays the exchange.
The exchange control mechanisms also require the exchange houses and commercial banks to obtain authorization from CADIVI to trade Bolívares Fuertes (the local currency) into U.S. dollars.
Outside the major cities, a good supply of Venezuelan currency is necessary, as it may be difficult to find exchange houses.
The Embassy cannot provide currency exchange services.
Travelers will likely encounter individuals in Venezuela who are willing to exchange Bolívares Fuertes for U.S. dollars at a rate significantly higher than the official rate of exchange.
These "parallel market" currency exchanges are prohibited under the Venezuelan foreign exchange controls.
Travelers engaging in such activity may be detained by the Venezuelan authorities.
Additionally, in accordance with an October 2005 law, any person who exchanges more than 10,000 U.S. dollars in the course of a year through unofficial means is subject to a fine of double the amount exchanged.
If the amount exceeds 20,000 U.S. dollars the penalty is two to six years imprisonment.
Any person who transports more than 10,000 U.S. dollars into or out of Venezuela by any means must declare this amount to customs officials.
Credit cards are generally accepted at most upscale tourist establishments, but foreign exchange controls have made credit card acceptance less common than in the past.
Visa, MasterCard, and American Express have representatives in Venezuela.
Due to the prevalence of credit card fraud in Venezuela, travelers should exercise caution in using their credit cards and should check statements regularly to ensure that no unauthorized charges have been made.
Most major cities have ATMs with 24-hour service where users may withdraw local currency, but many of these ATMs will not accept U.S.-issued debit cards.
Venezuelan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Venezuela of items such as plant and animal products, firearms, medications, archaeological or "cultural heritage" items, and pirated copies of copyrighted articles.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Venezuela in Washington or one of Venezuela's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
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 Venezuela’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Venezuela 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 Venezuela are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Caracas through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Venezuela.
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 to contact them in case of emergency.
The Consular Section is open for American Citizen Services from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, excluding U.S. and Venezuelan holidays.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Calle Suapure and Calle F, Colinas de Valle Arriba, Caracas.
The telephone number during regular business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) is (58) (212) 975-6411.
In case of an after-hours emergency, callers should dial (58) (212) 907-8400.
The Embassy’s web site, http://venezuela.usembassy.gov/ , contains complete information about services provided and hours of operation.
A part-time consular agent in Maracaibo provides services for U.S. citizens in western Venezuela.
The agent is available to the public every Monday from 8:15 am to 12:15 pm, at the Centro Venezolano Americano del Zulia (CEVAZ), Calle 63 No. 3E-60, Maracaibo; telephone 58)(0261) 793-2101 or 793-3488.
*

*

*
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated November 1, 2007, and updates all sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 21 Nov 2019
Source: WHO Emergencies preparedness [edited]

On 13 Nov 2019, the Venezuela International Health Regulations (IHR) National Focal Point (NFP) and the Venezuela PAHO/WHO Country Office shared information about a confirmed case of yellow fever in Bolivar State. The case-patient is a 46-year-old male resident of the municipality of Gran Sabana, Bolivar State. He was in the locality of Uriman municipality of Gran Sabana within the 19 days prior to the onset of symptoms. Symptom onset was on 14 Sep 2019, and included fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, epistaxis, petechiae, and diarrhoea. On 26 Sep 2019, he visited a public  hospital in the municipality of Heres where his condition deteriorated, with moderate dehydration, bleeding from the gums, jaundice, choluria, abdominal pain, and hepatomegaly. As of 13 Nov 2019, the patient remains hospitalized with chronic renal failure and moderate anaemia.

On 26 Sep 2019, the 1st serum sample was sent to the National Reference Laboratory, the National Institute of Hygiene "Rafael Rangel" per its acronym in Spanish, IHRR, in Caracas. On 13 Nov 2019, the sample tested positive for yellow fever by reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), and negative for dengue on 14 Nov 2019 by RT-PCR. On 10 Oct 2019, a 2nd serum sample was taken and sent to the IHRR, for which the results are still pending.

Most of the territory of Venezuela is considered as at risk for sylvatic yellow fever, and this case marks the 1st confirmed autochthonous case of yellow fever diagnosed in Venezuela since 2005.

Public health response
-----------------------
A joint investigation team (WHO Country Office and the Venezuela Ministry of Health) was deployed on 12 Nov [2019] to characterize the risk and develop the response plan. PAHO Immunizations (IM) Unit along with the Revolving Fund have secured a donation of 571 000 doses of yellow fever vaccine from UNICEF that arrived in the country at the end of October [2019].

The local public health authorities have strengthened the active and passive epidemiological surveillance activities in humans and non-human primates. Additionally, strategic vaccination activities have been planned.

WHO risk assessment
-----------------------
Yellow fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes and has the potential to spread rapidly and cause serious public health impact. There is no specific treatment, although the disease is preventable using a single dose of yellow fever vaccine, which provides immunity for life. Supportive care is required to treat dehydration, respiratory failure, and fever; antibiotics are recommended to treat associated bacterial infections.

The origin of the infection of this case is likely to be sylvatic, in an area determined as at risk for yellow fever. Venezuela is considered at risk for yellow fever transmission.

WHO advice
-------------
This yellow fever case report illustrates the importance of maintaining awareness and strong surveillance systems (including laboratory capacity) and high coverage of yellow fever vaccination, especially in areas with a favourable ecosystem for yellow fever transmission and indigenous groups.

Advice to travelers planning to visit, or reside in, areas at risk for yellow fever transmission includes:
- Vaccination against yellow fever at least 10 days prior to the travel is recommended for all travelers aged 9 months or above traveling to Venezuela, except for travelers whose itineraries are limited to the following areas:
-- the entire states of Aragua, Carabobo, Miranda, Vargas and Yaracuy, and the Distrito Federal.
- It is not recommended for travelers whose itineraries are limited to the following areas:
-- all areas above 2300 m in the states of Merida, Trujillo and Tachira;
-- the states of Falcon and Lara; Margarita Island;
-- the capital city of Caracas and the city of Valencia (please see the map here:
- The vaccine is contraindicated in children aged under 6 months and is not recommended for those aged between 6 and 8 months, except during epidemics when the risk of infection with yellow fever virus may be very high.
- Caution is recommended before vaccinating people aged 60 years or more against yellow fever, and a risk-benefit assessment should be performed for any person 60 years or more of age who has not been vaccinated and for whom the vaccine is normally recommended.
- A single dose of WHO-approved yellow fever vaccine is sufficient to confer life-long protection against yellow fever disease. A booster dose of the vaccine is not needed.
- Yellow fever virus may be transmitted not only in areas of high endemicity but also in areas of low endemicity if a traveller's itinerary results in heavy exposure to mosquitoes (e.g., during prolonged travel in rural areas). WHO recommends as a general precaution to avoid mosquito bites; the highest risk for transmission of yellow fever virus is during the day and early evening.
- A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travellers aged one year of age or older, arriving from Brazil, and for travellers having transited for more than 12 hours through an airport in Brazil. Travelers should be aware that the absence of a requirement for vaccination does not imply that there is no risk of exposure to yellow fever in the country. Vaccination coverage in some populations might be suboptimal, particularly among indigenous communities.
- International certificates of vaccination against yellow fever become valid 10 days after primary vaccination and remain valid for the duration of the life of the person vaccinated. A booster dose after 10 years is not necessary for protection and can no longer be required for international travelers as a condition of entry into a country.
- Awareness of symptoms and signs of yellow fever.
- Promotion of healthcare-seeking advice while traveling and upon return from an area at risk for yellow fever transmission, especially to a country where the establishment of a local cycle of transmission is possible (i.e., where the competent vector is present).

WHO encourages Member States to take all actions necessary to keep travelers well informed of risks and of preventive measures including vaccination. Travelers should also be made aware of yellow fever signs and symptoms and be instructed to seek rapid medical advice when presenting signs after possible exposure.

WHO reminds Members States to strengthen the control checks of immunization status of travelers to all potentially endemic areas. Viraemic returning travelers infected in endemic areas may pose a risk for the establishment of local cycles of yellow fever transmission in areas where a competent vector is present. If there are medical grounds for not getting vaccinated, this must be certified by the appropriate authorities.

WHO does not recommend any general travel or trade restrictions be applied to Venezuela based on the information available for this event.

For more information on yellow fever, please see:
PAHO/WHO Yellow Fever Fact Sheet
WHO Yellow Fever Health Topics
WHO Yellow Fever Risk Mapping and Recommended Vaccination for Travellers
PAHO/WHO Guidance on Laboratory Diagnosis of Yellow Fever Virus Infection
Country list - Vaccination requirements and recommendations for international travellers; and malaria situation per country - 2019 edition
Global Strategy to Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics (EYE) 2017-2026
WHO International Travel and Health Website
=====================
[This report provides additional information that was unavailable in the initial report. The case is now confirmed as yellow fever (YF), and the locality in Bolivar state where the man was infected is now identified as the municipality of Gran Sabana. The likelihood that this is a case of sylvan (forest) transmission is stated. The arrival of a substantial lot of YF vaccine is reported. One hopes that the plans for a vaccination campaign are completed and put into action quickly to prevent ongoing transmission in an urban cycle involving _Aedes aegypti_ that are doubtless abundant in this locality. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Tue 19 Nov 2019
Source: Caracas Chronicles [edited]

The Venezuelan Public Health Society and the Let's Defend The National Epidemiology Network issued an alert after a case of yellow fever was confirmed in the state of Bolivar, after 14 years without the disease. The Health Ministry hasn't published information about the case or issued an alert, but Venezuela must formally report it to international institutions, due to the risk to a population that isn't vaccinated, having the vector (mosquitoes) in all of the territory (increasing the odds of an epidemic), and the poor access to an epidemiologic report [about the case]. Doctor Julio Castro wrote about the case for Prodavinci.  [Byline: Naky Soto]
======================
[There is little information about this case: where and when it occurred in Bolivar state, tests used to diagnose the case, condition of the patient, and any follow-up measures taken by public health authorities. Yellow fever (YF) virus is endemic in Venezuela as it is in many South American countries.

The most recent ProMED-mail report of YF in Venezuela was in 2010, in Anzoategui state, where there were 3 probable YF cases in monkeys. This outbreak was enzootic, as determined by the Ministry of Health (see Yellow fever - South America: Venezuela (AN) monkey, susp http://promedmail.org/post/20101112.4114).

Presumably, this current case is one of spill-over from the sylvan (forest) transmission cycle. Maintenance of a high level (80-90%) of coverage is essential to prevent cases and avoid outbreaks involving the urban cycle with _Aedes aegypti_ transmission. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Venezuela:
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sat 20 Jul 2019
Source: El Pitazo [in Spanish, trans. ProMED KS, edited]

More than 10 cases of malaria have been reported in the Boyaca III sector of Barcelona (Anzoategui, Venezuela) in the past 2 weeks. Of these cases, 2 are young children aged 1 and 2 years old, infected after the bite of the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito.

Maria Febres, a nurse and resident of the community, states that the malaria outbreak is due to the lack of weeding and cleaning in the channel that crosses the Boyaca III sector, where more than 500 families reside.  "We have 12 cases of malaria in the sector. We need them to come clean the canal, which has not received adequate maintenance for 2 years, putting many families at risk of contracting malaria due to the proliferation of mosquitoes," she said.

The nurse told the infociudadano [city correspondent] of El Pitazo [local media company], Eduardo Mora, that the sector has not been fumigated since 2018, and called on Public Health and Malariology officials to visit the area and verify what is happening.  "The most affected area is Boyaca III sector II, because we have a Simoncito [children's centre -- so-called in honour of Simon Bolivar] there and the children who go every day are the ones most at risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito and, thus, getting malaria," said Maria.  [Byline: Giovanna Pellicani]
===================
[Over the past 5 years, the malaria control programme in Venezuela has not be functioning, and malaria has resurged in most of the country, which is well illustrated by this report. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Anzoategui, Venezuela: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/40477>]
Date: Sun, 7 Jul 2019 14:05:22 +0200
By Guillaume DECAMME

El Tucuco, Venezuela, July 7, 2019 (AFP) - The sweltering heat of the Venezuelan forest makes no difference to Jose Gregorio, who trembles with a cold chill. "I have pain everywhere, fever," he stammers.    Gregorio has the classic symptoms of malaria, a disease eradicated years ago among his Yukpa indigenous people, but it's back with a vengeance all across crisis-struck Venezuela.   "He had sore joints and then started vomiting, and it's been four or five days since he's eaten anything," says his worried wife Marisol.   Their four-month-old baby babbles beside his father on the bed.   "The baby and I also had malaria," says Marisol. "Before, that was not the case here, there was only chikungunya and dengue, malaria came back here last year."

She doesn't bat an eyelid at the mention of either of the other mosquito-borne viruses, whose spread has been fueled by the collapse of Venezuela's health system.   "Here" is El Tucuco, a small village at the foot of the mountains that form the border with Colombia, a three-hour drive from Maracaibo in Venezuela's western Zulia state.   With 3,700 people, El Tucuco is the Yukpas' "capital" and malaria is rapidly making its presence felt here as in the rest of Venezuela -- a country that could once boast of being the first to have eradicated the disease in 1961.

- 'Pandemic' -
There are no official statistics on malaria's reach into El Tucuco, nor on the number of deaths it causes.    But from his consulting room at the Catholic Mission, Dr Carlos Polanco is seeing a developing crisis.    "Out of 10 people who are tested for malaria in the village laboratory, four to five come out with a positive test. This is an alarming figure."   Brother Nelson Sandoval, a Capuchin friar who presides over the mission, adds: "Before entering the order, I already knew this community and I had never seen a case of malaria. Today we are in the middle of a pandemic."   El Tucuco is affected by Plasmodium vivax, the most geographically widespread malarial species. The more lethal Plasmodium falciparum strain is prevalent in the Amazonian regions of southeastern Venezuela.

According to Sandoval and Polanco, the reason for malaria's sudden virulence in El Tucuco is simple: once-regular fumigation missions by the Venezuelan government stopped.   "And as the population of mosquitos increased, cases exploded," said Polanco.   Added to this is the malnutrition that weakens resistance to the disease, a new phenomenon since the economic crisis took hold at the end of 2015.    "Before, it was possible to vary one's diet, but with inflation the Yukpa cannot afford it," instead making do with what they can grow, like cassava and plantain, according to Polanco.   Rosa, 67, knows all about malnutrition. Lying on the floor of her house, she is battling malaria for the third time. "The doctor weighed me yesterday -- 37 kilograms. I was 83 kilos before."

A report published in British medical journal The Lancet in February warned of an epidemic of malaria and dengue fever as a result of the continuing crisis in Venezuela.   Between 2016 and 2017 alone, the number of malaria cases in the nation jumped 70 per cent.    "The situation is catastrophic," said Dr Huniades Urbina, secretary of the national Academy of Medicine. In 2018, "there were 600,000 cases of malaria and we, the scientific organizations, estimate that in 2019 we could reach a million cases" -- one in every 30 people.   But these figures are only estimates, "because the government conceals the statistics."

-'Nobody answers us'-
The malaria explosion has gone hand in hand with the worsening economic crisis. According to Nicolas Maduro's government, inflation reached a staggering 130,000 percent in 2018 and GDP halved between 2013 and 2018.    In the oil-rich state of Zulia, service stations have been dry for more than a month. Electricity blackouts are commonplace and residents flee abroad in their thousands.   Despite a poster of late president Hugo Chavez at the entry to the clinic, there is little sign of government presence in El Tucuco. Dr Luisana Hernandez despairs of ever seeing any state help.   "Every day, everything is deteriorating a bit more," she says, exasperated. Refrigerators intended to keep vaccines cold do not work "because we have no gasoline to run the generator," and both the clinic's broken-down ambulances are gathering rust in the garden.   "We've knocked on every door. But nobody answers us," said Hernandez.

Without fuel to bring drugs from the city, without resources to prevent illnesses, eradicating malaria in an almost impossible task.   Brother Nelson does what he can, with help from the Catholic charity Caritas and the Pan American Health Organization. His mission distributes the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and primaquine to sick Yukpa people.   Maria Jose Romero, 22, was able to benefit from treatment. "Repeated seizures are due to the fact that many people cannot follow the treatment," for lack of drugs, she said.   Romero now lives across the border in Colombia, having fled Venezuela. She is visiting El Tucuco to see her family. Soon she will return to the other side of the mountain, on foot.   "It's three days' walk," she says.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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