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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

Recently, island residents were irate when two warehouses were found to be filled with abandoned supplies, apparently never used after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.   The storms' one-two punch left Puerto Ricans without power for months and killed nearly 3,000 people, according to the local government's official numbers.   President Donald Trump has accused the Puerto Rican government of incompetence and siphoning off hurricane relief money.   The Puerto Rican leaders accused Trump of treating the population of the island like second class citizens.
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:45:27 +0100 (MET)
By Ivelisse RIVERA, con Leila MACOR en Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An alert issued by the Tsunami Warning Center immediately following the earthquake was later cancelled.   Tuesday's quake was the strongest of a series of tremors that have shaken the island since December 28, topping Monday's 5.8 quake.   That earthquake toppled houses and caused power outages, but there were no reports of casualties.
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Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palau

Palau US Consular Information Sheet
March 10, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Republic of Palau is a constitutional democracy in free association with the United States.
Palau is an archipelago consisting of several hundred volcanic and
limestone islands and coral atolls, few of which are inhabited, and is politically divided into 16 states.
Palau’s developing economy depends on tourism, marine resources and a small agricultural sector.
Two kinds of public transportation are available, taxi and Airai bus service.
Palau International Airport is located on Babeldaob Island, near Koror Island.
Direct commercial air service to Palau exists from Manila, Taipei, and Guam.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Palau for additional information.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
Citizens and nationals of the United States of America, with the exception of United States military personnel, must have a passport valid for at least six months from date of entry.
A visa is not required for U.S. citizens visiting Palau for one year or less, provided the visitor otherwise complies with applicable regulations, for example, on employment.
U.S. military personnel must present official orders or documents certifying status; U.S. military dependents ten years or older must have a U.S. Government-issued photo-identification card showing the name, date of birth, and status of the bearer. For more information about entry requirements to Palau, travelers may consult with the Embassy of Palau, 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 452-6814.
Visit the Embassy of Palau’s web site for the most current information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information Sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Although the crime rate in Palau is relatively low, foreign residents can be the target of petty and, rarely, violent crimes, as well as other random acts against individuals and property.
Therefore, visitors should not be complacent regarding personal safety or the protection of valuables.
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, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney, if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Palau is: 911.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than those in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Palauan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Palau are severe, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
The official currency of Palau is the U.S. dollar.
Major credit cards, including Visa, Mastercard, and American Express, are accepted in most locations catering to tourists. There are several ATMs in Koror, located at branches of U.S. banks.

Koror State, where most tourist facilities are located, enforces a curfew between 2:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. Monday through Thursday, and between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Friday to Sunday and on national holidays.
Firearms of any kind are strictly prohibited in Palau.
The penalty for possession of a firearm or ammunition is up to fifteen years imprisonment.
Palau customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Palau of certain other items.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Palau in Washington, D.C., for specific information regarding customs requirements.
General information regarding disaster preparedness is available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs' website, and from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) home page.

Please see our Customs Information sheet.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Health facilities in Palau are adequate for routine medical care, but limited in availability and quality.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
Serious medical conditions requiring hospitalization or evacuation to the United States or elsewhere may cost thousands of dollars.

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 (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site.
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Palau is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Palau accepts a driver's license issued by a U.S. state or military authority.
Many roads in Koror, where the vast majority of the population lives, are in fair condition, but lack sidewalks and have little or no shoulder.
Construction of the main road connecting the airport with downtown Koror has been completed.
In addition, the newly constructed roadway, known as the “Compact Road,” that loops around the large island of Babeldaob is in excellent condition.
Secondary roads connecting villages to the Compact Road vary in quality from good to rough.
The national speed limit is 25 miles per hour, but drivers routinely ignore this limit on the good-quality roads, and traffic often moves slower in congested areas.
Passing slow-moving vehicles is illegal, but drivers do this routinely, creating potentially dangerous situations.
Drunken drivers are a late-night hazard in Palau.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Palau, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Palau’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Palau’s air carrier operations.
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 in or visiting Palau are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Koror or through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Palau.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the embassy or consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Airai State, in an area known as Omsangel.
There is no street address.
The mailing address is: PO Box 6028, Koror, Palau 96940.
The telephone number is (680) 587-2920/2990.
The fax number is (680) 587-2911.
The Embassy does not issue passports; that function is performed by the Honolulu Passport Agency.
*

*

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This replaces the Country Specific Information dated July 11, 2008, to update the section on Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 07:10:34 +0200 (METDST)
By Bernadette Carreon

Koror, Palau, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific may seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic -- but residents on Palau say life right now is far from idyllic.   The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere.   The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica.

A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometres from its nearest neighbours, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific, which has acted as a buffer against the virus.   Along with strict travel restrictions, this seems to have kept infections at bay for a number of nations including Tonga, the Solomons Islands, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.   But remoteness is not certain to stop the relentless march of the new disease. The Northern Mariana Islands confirmed its first cases over the weekend, followed by a suspected death on Monday.

Klamiokl Tulop, a 28-year-old artist and single mum, is hopeful Palau can avoid the fate of Wuhan, New York or Madrid -- where better-resourced health services were overrun.   But she describes a growing sense of dread, a fear that the virus is coming or could already be on the island undetected.   "You can feel a rising tension and anxiety just shopping," she told AFP. "Stores are crowded even more during non-payday weeks."   There have been several scares on Palau, including a potential case that saw one person placed into quarantine this week as authorities await test results.

- Antarctic seclusion -
Inside Australia's four remote Antarctic research bases, around 90 people have found themselves ensconced on the only virus-free continent as they watch their old home transform beyond recognition.   There is no need for social distancing in the tundra.   "They're probably the only Australians at the moment that can have a large dinner together or have the bar still open or the gym still open," Antarctic Division Operations manager Robb Clifton told AFP.   The bases are now isolated until November, so the group is safe, but Clifton admits "the main thing that's on the mind of expeditioners is how their loved ones are going back home."

In some places, reporting no cases does not always mean there are no cases to report.   North Korea has portrayed emergency measures as an unqualified success in keeping COVID-19 out, despite sustained epidemics in neighbouring China and South Korea.   But state media also appears to have doctored images to give ordinary North Koreans face masks -- handing sceptics reason to believe the world's most secretive government may not be telling the whole truth.

- 'Waiting for the inevitable?' -
While Palau has no confirmed cases, it has still been gripped by the society-altering fears and economic paralysis that have affected the rest of the world.   Supermarket aisles in the country's largest town Koror have seen panic buying and there are shortages of hand sanitisers, masks and alcohol.   The islands depend heavily on goods being shipped or flown in, meaning supplies can quickly run low.

United Airlines used to fly six times a week from nearby Guam -- which has seen more than 50 cases -- but now there is just one flight a week.   "Look at how bad we coped when shipments were late before this pandemic happened," Tulop said. "Everyone was practically in uproar."   Residents have been practising social distancing. Doctors are waiting for test kits to arrive from Taiwan. The government is building five isolation rooms that will be able to hold up to 14 patients.   It all feels like waiting for the inevitable.   "I would like to be optimistic we won't get the virus," Tulop said. "But Palau would most definitely get it. We rely heavily on tourism and most of us even need to travel for work."

Rondy Ronny's job is to host big tourist events, but work has already dried up, and he admits to being "very anxious".   "I have loans and bills and payments due," he said. "This will definitely put me back, I hope the government will do something about our economy too, to help it recover."   Palau's biggest test may yet come with the first positive case.   But even in the most remote corners of the world, the impact of this truly global pandemic is already being felt.   Nowhere, it seems, is truly virus-free.
Date: Thu, 1 Aug 2019 02:51:49 +0200 (METDST)

Koror, Palau, Aug 1, 2019 (AFP) - Palau has called on Australia to do more to tackle climate change, saying the Pacific's "big brother" has an obligation to act on an issue that threatens the existence of its small island neighbours.   Australia has launched a diplomatic push it calls the Pacific "step-up" to boost its influence and counter growing Chinese influence in the region.   But Palau President Tommy Remengesau said Canberra's lack of action on climate change risked damaging its standing among Pacific leaders.   "I share the concern of the rest of the Pacific that Australia, as a big brother, can do more than what they're doing right now and should take the lead," he told reporters Wednesday.    "We're asking Australia to take a more active and more partnership role as a big brother in this fight."

Some low-lying Pacific island nations are threatened by rising seas, while others are pummelled by cyclones that have become more regular and powerful due to climate change.   Remengesau said Palau and other nations would make "an impassioned plea" for Australia to do more when the annual Pacific Islands Forum is held in Tuvalu later this month.   "If Australia, which is in the midst of the Pacific, do not take the lead, then it's very hard to expect European countries or others to speak and act on our behalf," he said.   Australia -- led by climate-sceptic Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- recently approved the giant Adani coal mine in Queensland state.

Critics also say the country will only meet its emissions target under the 2015 Paris climate deal by fudging data using "carryover credits" earned under the previous Kyoto deal to get it over the line.   The 11-member Pacific Islands Development Forum this week urged developed countries not to use such credits and called for an immediate halt to the development of any new coal mines.   "By 2100, the coral atoll nations of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tokelau and the Maldives and many (small island developing states) could be submerged," the group warned after a meeting in Fiji.   Australia's conservative government has rejected the call to stop using carryover credits and defended its record on emissions reduction.
Date: Sun, 27 Jan 2019 04:00:35 +0100
By Bernadette Carreon

Koror, Palau, Jan 27, 2019 (AFP) - Swimming with the famous golden jellyfish in Palau can be put back on the bucket list following a two-year ban, but bathers may be stung with a hefty price increase for the pleasure.    The government ordered the famed Ongeim'l Tketau Jellyfish Lake closed to swimmers in 2016 because of dwindling numbers of the unique creature -- blamed on warming waters although with some suspicion sunscreen on bathers may also have contributed. 

The conservation move proved costly for tour operators with the loss of Palau's most popular attraction contributing to a slump in tourism numbers.   But authorities in Koror State, which owns the resource, say stocks are now recovering and tourists are again being welcomed at Jellyfish Lake.  "The jellyfish are returning, tourists are visiting again," Dora Benhart, the outreach officer of Koror State's conservation department said.   Swimming with the jellyfish on Mecherchar island, about a 45-minute boat ride from Koror, is "one of the most unique attractions" Palau has to offer, according to the Visitors Authority chairman Ngirai Tmetuchl.   It is estimated to attract at least two-thirds of the annual visitors to the western Pacific archipelago which peaked at 160,000 in 2015.   The numbers slumped to 108,000 last year which Tmeuchl said was caused by a combination of factors, including restrictions on Jellyfish Lake.

The rare species of golden jellyfish, believed to exist only in this marine lake, does have a sting but it is mild and often undetectable making swimming among them a popular experience.    The jellyfish population, which once swelled to around 20 million, slumped in 2016 because of El Nino, a climate pattern linked to warming waters in the central and eastern areas of the equatorial Pacific.    Palau President Tommy Remenegsau called for the lake to be closed, and while it was never officially shut down by Koror State, the dwindling jellyfish numbers saw a self-imposed ban by tour operators who stopped taking visitors to the island rather than charge them US$100 to see nothing.

- Numbers rising -
With the waters cooling over the past year the jellyfish have increased to numbers strong enough to invite tourists back but Sharon Patris, a research biologist at the Coral Reef Research Foundation said it would take some time to reach "normal numbers" of five to eight million.    A proposal to increase the visiting fee to US$150 is now before the Koror State legislature.    Authorities are also strictly enforcing rules about the use of sunscreen, saying it must be environmentally friendly and applied more than 30 minutes before entering the water.    Although a link between sunscreen and falling jellyfish numbers has been suggested and dismissed, authorities said they wanted to ensure the purity of the water.

Clothes worn by bathers must be thoroughly rinsed before swimming to eliminate the risk of taking "invasive species" into the lake.   Patris added there was a similar fall in jellyfish numbers in 1998 linked to an El Nino event and data showed "the jellyfish did not disappear because of the presence of sunscreen".    There are more than 50 marine lakes in Palau, five of them containing jellyfish but only the one Jellyfish Lake is open to visitors.    The Visitor Authority's Tmetuchl has called for a second lake containing the same golden species of jellyfish to be made available to the public.   This is opposed by conservationists who say it would expose another lake to the same risks as the first.
Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2018 09:58:57 +0200

Taipei, July 19, 2018 (AFP) - Taiwan has stepped in to help its ally Palau attract more tourists after an airline from the Micronesian nation said it was forced to shut under pressure from China.   Taiwan's battle to protect its few remaining official allies has intensified as relations with Beijing deteriorate.   Four former allies of Taiwan have switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing since 2016 as China offers economic incentives to jump ship.    China sees Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the island views itself as a sovereign nation and is a self-ruling democracy.

Tensions have escalated under President Tsai Ing-wen since she came to power two years ago as she has refused to accept both sides are part of "one China".   Palau has maintained ties with Taiwan but now one of its airlines, Palau Pacific Airways, says it has been forced to suspend operations because of a plunge in Chinese tourists.    A letter from the airline's Taiwanese owner, Sea Passion Group, to Palau's national congress accused Beijing of branding Palau "an illegal tour destination", denting its business.    The airline said it believed it had been targeted "most likely due to lack of diplomatic status".   A Palau-based member of staff from the airline told AFP the shutdown would happen after August and would halt flights to and from Hong Kong and Macau, the only two routes it operates.

Taiwan's foreign ministry said Thursday that Taiwan's national airline, China Airlines, has added two more weekly flights to Palau between June and August "to assist in attracting more overseas visitors".  "Helping our diplomatic allies with economic development is one of the important tasks in promoting bilateral cooperation," it said in a statement.    In 2016, tourists from China made up 47 percent of all visitors to Palau, a Pacific island group with a population of 22,000. Taiwan tourists accounted for 10 percent of visitors.    But in is letter to Palau's congress, Sea Passion Group said the number of air travellers using its flights fell 16 percent from January to June this year against the same period in 2017 and ticket prices dropped 45 percent to $300.

Taiwan's local media reported China had imposed a ban last November on tours to Palau and the Vatican -- also one of Taiwan's allies -- and that agencies could face a steep fine if they run trips to those destinations.    The number of group tourists from China to Taiwan has also plunged in recent years as relations sour.    In addition, Beijing has used it growing clout to force multinational firms to list Taiwan as a province of China, including Australian airline Qantas, clothing supplier Gap and hotel chain Marriott.
Date: Fri, 8 Dec 2017 06:43:29 +0100

Koror, Palau, Dec 8, 2017 (AFP) - Visitors to the tiny Pacific nation of Palau are being made to sign a promise to respect the environment, in an innovative move that authorities hope will curb ecological damage caused by booming numbers of tourists.

Claimed to be a world first, the "Palau Pledge" is stamped onto visitors' passports and must be signed upon arrival in the country, which lies in the western Pacific about halfway between Australia and Japan.   "I take this pledge as your guest, to protect and preserve your beautiful island home," it reads in part.   "I vow to tread lightly, act kindly and explore mindfully."

With crystal clear waters, pristine reefs and abundant sea life, Palau is regarded as one of the world's best diving spots and was once a niche tourist destination.   But visitor numbers have exploded in recent years, particularly from China, straining both infrastructure and the environment.

The symbolic pledge was written with the help of Palau's children and President Tommy Remengesau said it was about preserving the environment for future generations.   "Conservation is at the heart of our culture," he said.   "We rely on our environment to survive and if our beautiful country is lost to environmental degradation, we will be the last generation to enjoy both its beauty and life-sustaining biodiversity."   Palau welcomed almost 150,000 tourists last year, up 70 percent on 2010 figures and the nation of 20,000 has struggled to cope.

Some of the new arrivals have caused outrage among locals by capturing turtles so they can take selfies with them, walking on fragile coral and leaving trash on beaches.   "The Palau Pledge aims to encourage environmentally sound habits in visitors," the government said in a statement.   "If action is not taken now, it will get to the point where it is too late to protect some of the most unique parts of the country."
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2020 03:38:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Anna SMOLCHENKO

Moscow, June 1, 2020 (AFP) - Shopping malls and parks are set to reopen in Moscow on Monday as the Russian capital eases coronavirus restrictions despite having the world's third-largest caseload.   The relaxation of the confinement orders in Moscow, the epicentre of Russia's outbreak with a population of more than 12 million, comes after President Vladimir Putin announced the epidemic had passed its peak in the country.

Under lockdown since March 30, residents of Europe's most populous city were until now only allowed to leave their homes for brief trips to shop, walk dogs or travel to essential jobs with a permit.   While Muscovites welcomed the opportunity to return to parks and malls after weeks of being cooped up at home, many ridiculed the Moscow mayor's "experiment" aimed at regulating people's walks and exercise.

As a two-week test measure, Sergei Sobyanin said residents of Moscow will be allowed to take walks according to a staggered schedule based on their home address.   "Regular walks are allowed between 9am and 9pm but no more than three times a week -- twice on weekdays and once on a weekend," said Sobyanin on his blog, adding that a detailed schedule would be released separately.   People can jog or exercise between 5am and 9am but must wear masks, according to the new rules.   Sobyanin said he feared that without limits on walking, people would throng the streets in scenes reminiscent of May Day outpourings in Soviet times.

- 'Sheer lunacy' -
The new regulations unleashed a flood of mockery on social media, with political commentator Alexander Golts calling them "sheer lunacy".   Critics quipped that life in Moscow was beginning to imitate dystopian fiction such as the novels of Aldous Huxley and Yevgeny Zamyatin.

Popular comedian Maxim Galkin, who has nearly eight million followers on Instagram, released a sketch in which Putin and Sobyanin discuss a "breathing schedule" for Moscow residents.   The five-minute parody has been viewed nearly six million times over the past few days.   When the restrictions are relaxed, dry-cleaners, laundry services and repair workshops will be allowed to reopen, while restaurants, cafes and cinemas will remain closed for now.

Moscow authorities also said that no mass gatherings would be allowed during the city-wide quarantine that will remain in place until at least June 14.   On Thursday authorities sentenced prominent reporter and activist Ilya Azar to 15 days in jail for staging a lone protest in central Moscow.   Dozens of his supporters have also been briefly detained over the past few days.   Rights organisations including Amnesty International and the Council of Europe have warned Moscow against using the coronavirus lockdown as a pretext to muzzle activists.

Many critics have also questioned the move to lift the restrictions as Russia reported more than 9,000 new infections on Sunday.   With more than 405,000 confirmed infections and over 4,600 deaths, the country has the world's third-largest caseload after the United States and Brazil.   Analysts say Putin is keen to open up the Russian economy and has recently ordered a World War II victory parade postponed by the contagion to be held on June 24.   The 67-year-old leader is also widely expected to announce a new date for a vote on constitutional reforms that could pave the way for him to potentially stay in power until 2036.
Date: Sun, 31 May 2020 11:16:20 +0200 (METDST)

Mogadishu, May 31, 2020 (AFP) - At least 10 people died and 12 were wounded when an explosive device ripped through a minibus outside the Somali capital Mogadishu on Sunday, the government said.   The deadly explosion occurred near Lafole village along the Afgoye-Mogadishu where the passenger bus was travelling early in the day.   "At least 10 civilians were killed in an explosion at Lafole area this morning, those who died were all civilians," the information ministry said in a statement, adding that the victims were on their way to a funeral.

Witnesses said the minibus was completely destroyed, and described an horrific scene with everyone on board either dead or wounded and many bodies ripped apart or burned beyond recognition.   "This was a horrible incident this morning, the explosive device went off as the bus was passing by the area and destroyed it completely," said Daud Doyow, a witness.   "Bodies of civilians were strewn in pieces and most of the people died," he added.   "There were more than 20 people on board and 10 of them were confirmed dead while the rest are seriously wounded and taken to hospital, this is a horrible scene here," said another witness, Abdirisak Adan.   No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Somalia's al Qaeda-aligned Shabaab group carries out regular attacks in and around the capital, often killing civilians.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 17:58:12 +0200 (METDST)

Nairobi, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - Kenya said Wednesday it had documented a record 123 cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, a "staggering" figure although one also explained in part by wider testing.   "Today, I come to you with sombre news," Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said.   "Our figures today are staggering. Out of the 3,077 samples tested, we have 123 positive cases. For the first time we have hit a triple digit.    "This is the highest number of positive cases we have ever recorded in a single day since we recorded the first case on March 13."

A total of 1,471 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Kenya since the start of the epidemic. Of these, 55 have been fatal.   The tally of infections has doubled since mid-May but the country has also tripled its number of daily tests, from less than 1,000 to nearly 3,000, which has helped unearth more cases.

Kagwe sounded a warning about the vulnerability of crowded slums in the capital Nairobi, which leads the list of new cases followed by the port city of Mombasa.   "There is a raging number of infections in these areas," he said, adding: "No-one should have a false sense of security about their immunity to COVID-19."   Among its anti-coronavirus measures, Kenya has a national 7pm-5am curfew, which is currently in force until June 6, and has a ban on entering or exiting the cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale and Mandera.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 16:38:21 +0200 (METDST)

Nicosia, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - Cyprus hopes to attract tourists after its coronavirus lockdown by paying the medical costs of anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 while holidaying on the island, officials said Wednesday.   The plan was outlined in a letter to tour operators and airlines detailing the measures Cyprus is taking to ensure the safety of its tourism sector.   The letter was made public Wednesday and signed by the ministers of foreign affairs, transport, and tourism.

The Mediterranean island is marketing itself as a safe holiday destination during the global pandemic.   The Republic of Cyprus has reported 939 novel coronavirus cases and only 17 deaths.   The government said it is "committed to taking care of all travellers who test positive during their stay, as well as their families and close contacts".   It pledged to cover accommodation, dining and medical care if a tourist falls ill with the virus.   The "traveller will only need to bear the cost of their airport transfer and repatriation flight," it said.

- 'Quarantine hotels' -
A 100-bed hospital will be available exclusively for tourists who test positive, with more beds available "at very short notice if required".   An additional 112 beds in intensive care units with 200 respirators will be reserved for critically ill patients.   Designated "quarantine hotels" will have 500 rooms available for family members and close contacts of patients.

Other hotels on the island will be allowed to remain open if a guest tests positive, but their room will "undergo a deep clean".   Authorities have forecast a 70 percent decline in tourist arrivals in 2020.    Tourism earned Cyprus EUR2.68 billion ($2.94 bn) in 2019 -- about 15 percent of gross domestic product -- down one percent from the previous year, which was bolstered by a record 3.97 million arrivals.   Cyprus plans to reopen its airports on June 9 to arrivals from 13 countries considered low risk.   These include Israel, Greece, Germany, Austria and Malta but the island's two biggest markets Britain and Russia are not on the approved list.

hose arriving between June 9-19 will need to provide a health certificate proving they do not have the virus.   That requirement will be dropped from June 20, when another six countries will be added to the approved list, including Switzerland and Poland.   Cyprus says it will update the list of approved countries on a weekly basis based on scientific advice.

Officials will administer temperature checks and free random testing of arrivals.   Having tested over 10 percent of its population, Cyprus says it has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in Europe.   "Very few countries worldwide, especially in the Mediterranean, can boast about such statistics," the letter said.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 14:45:11 +0200 (METDST)

Stockholm, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - Airline SAS said Wednesday it would resume flights on several domestic and international routes in June, over two months after the operator grounded most of its fleet over the new coronavirus' impact on travel.   "This primarily includes domestic flights within and between the Scandinavian countries, but flights to New York, Chicago and Amsterdam from Copenhagen are also set to resume," SAS said in a statement.

The Scandinavian airline announced in mid-March it was halting most of its traffic and furloughing around 90 percent of its staff.   In late April the airline, whose two largest shareholders are the Swedish and Danish states, announced it was laying off about 5,000 people, representing 40 percent of the company's workforce.

In early May the company secured a state-guaranteed credit line of 3.3 billion Swedish kronor ($344 million or 313 million euros) to help it navigate the impact of the new coronavirus.   Even with the resumption of some flights, the airline continues to operate at a reduced capacity, but the added routes means an effective doubling of the aircraft in use from 15 to 30, according to SAS.   Finnair, of Nordic neighbour Finland, announced early last week it would start resuming its long-haul flight to Asia in July.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 14:25:21 +0200 (METDST)

Yerevan, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - Virus cases have overwhelmed Armenia's hospitals, officials said Wednesday, raising the prospect that intensive care treatment could be restricted to patients with the best chance of survival.   The tiny Caucasus nation of some three million has so far reported 7,774 coronavirus cases and 98 deaths.   At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said "the situation with the coronavirus pandemic is very severe in Armenia."

Health ministry spokeswoman Alina Nikoghosyan told AFP: "if the current situation persists, in the coming days, intensive care will only be available for the patients with the best survival chances."   Health Minister Arsen Torosyan said Sunday that out of the country's 186 intensive care beds for coronavirus patients, only 32 remained empty and would soon be filled.

The prime minister called for stricter enforcement of measures aimed at containing the outbreak such as the wearing of face masks in public spaces.   This comes after the country lifted a state of emergency on May 4 which it had declared in March because of the pandemic.   Pashinyan said his government had failed to enforce anti-virus measures and there had been widespread quarantine violations.   "Our mistake was that we put too much trust in our citizens' sense of responsibility," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan said he did not rule out that the government could have to impose a fresh nationwide lockdown.   Analysts have criticised the government's handling of the crisis, saying a decision to close borders was taken too late and officials sent the public "confusing messages."   "Officials were calling for the wearing of face masks, but they themselves didn't wear them until recently," said analyst Tatul Hakobyan.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 09:53:01 +0200 (METDST)

New Delhi, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - India is wilting under a heatwave, with the temperature in places reaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and the capital enduring its hottest May day in nearly two decades.   The hot spell is projected to scorch northern India for several more days, the Meteorological Department said late Tuesday, "with severe heat wave conditions in isolated pockets".   As global temperatures rise, heatwaves are a regular menace in the country -- particularly in May and June. Last year dozens of people died.

Met officials said Churu in the northern state of Rajasthan was the hottest place on record on Tuesday, at 50 Celsius, while parts of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh sweltered in the high 40s.   Parts of the capital, New Delhi, recorded the hottest May day in 18 years with the mercury hitting 47.6 Celsius.   No deaths have been reported so far this year, but last year the government said the heat had killed 3,500 people since 2015. There have been fewer
fatalities in recent years.

The country of 1.3 billion people suffers from severe water shortages with tens of millions lacking running water -- to say nothing of air conditioning.   Parts of Delhi and elsewhere regularly see scuffles when tankers arrive to deliver water. Last year Chennai made international headlines when the southern city ran out of water entirely.   The heatwave adds to problems the country already has dealing with the spread of coronavirus.   India now has the 10th highest number of coronavirus cases globally, climbing above 150,000 on Wednesday with almost 4,500 deaths.

Last week cyclone Amphan killed more than 100 people as it ravaged in eastern India and Bangladesh, flattening villages, destroying farms and leaving millions without power.   Huge swarms of desert locusts, meanwhile, have destroyed nearly 50,000 hectares (125,000 acres) of crops across western and central India, and may enter Delhi in coming days.   The north-eastern states of Assam and Meghalaya are also currently experiencing floods, with more heavy rainfall forecast in the coming days.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 09:02:35 +0200 (METDST)

Seoul, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - South Korea reported its biggest jump in coronavirus infections in seven weeks on Wednesday, driven by a fresh cluster at an e-commerce warehouse on Seoul's outskirts, as millions more pupils went back to school.   The country has been held up as a global model in how to curb the virus and has rushed to contain new infections as life returns to normal.   But officials announced 40 new cases Wednesday -- taking its total to 11,265 -- with most new infections from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.   It was the largest increase since 53 infections were announced on April 8.

An outbreak at a warehouse of e-commerce firm Coupang in Bucheon, west of Seoul, has seen 36 cases so far, the KCDC added.   "It is suspected that the basic regulations were not enforced at the warehouse," said vice health minister Kim Gang-lip.   "If quarantine rules are not implemented at workplaces, it could lead to a dreadful result of a mass infection."   But officials said the possibility of parcel recipients being infected was low.   Social distancing rules have been relaxed in South Korea and facilities such as museums and churches have reopened while some professional sports -- including baseball and soccer -- started new seasons earlier this month, albeit behind closed doors.

More than two million students returned to classes on Wednesday, as part of the phased reopening of schools.   Some high schools were forced to turn back pupils shortly after resuming classes last week over concerns of new virus cases in their neighbourhood.   The country endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the disease outside mainland China, and while it never imposed a compulsory lockdown, strict social distancing had been widely observed since March.   But it appears to have brought its outbreak under control thanks to an extensive "trace, test and treat" programme.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 05:15:57 +0200 (METDST)
By Fulya OZERKAN

Istanbul, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - An eerie silence has fallen over Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, one of the world's oldest, largest and most visited markets, where a raucous mixture of languages, cultures and commerce has buzzed for centuries.   But there are now signs of life at the market as municipal workers roam its deserted alleys, spraying the floor, columns and walls ahead of the doors reopening on Monday for the first time in two months.

The bazaar -- home to almost 3,000 shops where more than 30,000 people work -- was closed on March 23 as part of measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed over 4,300 people in Turkey.   Officials say it has been the longest closure in the bazaar's more than 550-year-old history, except for forced shutdowns following fires and earthquakes.   The market is usually visited by 150,000 people every day -- and by 42 million last year -- while traders shout out deals in dozens of languages to lure tourists into their stores.   Now the stores are all shuttered, except for about 20 stock exchange offices and jeweller's shops which have remained open for economic reasons, with only special customers received by appointment.

The bazaar has been disinfected every Wednesday during the shutdown, while janitors have cleaned every morning.   "God willing we will reopen our market in a healthy fashion on June 1," Fatih Kurtulmus, chairman of the Grand Bazaar's board, told AFP in an interview.    "I have faith that our country will begin receiving tourists from mid-June by paying attention to hygiene rules," he said inside the historic market.

Kurtulmus added that while not much activity is expected in the first weeks, "I believe tourists will fly to Istanbul by the end of June because they cannot do without... the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque."   The bazaar is located on Istanbul's historic peninsula, home to the Sultanahmet mosque, also called the Blue Mosque, and the ancient church-turned-mosque-turned-museum Hagia Sophia.

- 'Heart of the economy' -
The Grand Bazaar was built in 1455, two years after the Ottomans seized Istanbul -- then known as Constantinople -- from the Byzantines.   The market thrived, expanding rapidly with the rising Ottoman empire, and by the 17th century it had taken on its current shape, giving the bazaar its Turkish name Kapalicarsi (covered market).    "Our Grand Bazaar -- the heart of the economy, culture, history and tourism has never been shut down except for natural disasters," Kurtulmus said.   "We had to take a pause because of the COVID-19 that has shaken the world because we had to prioritise safety and health before the economy."   After Turkey announced its first confirmed case in mid-March, health scans were carried out on the market's traders.    Seven were confirmed to have coronavirus, Kurtulmus said, adding that they could have been infected by the many tourists in the packed confines of the market.

- 'How will we pay rent?'-
The bazaar will reopen under strict rules laid out by the health ministry, which include the mandatory use of face masks and a limit on the number of customers allowed inside.   Traders are worried as the bazaar is unlikely to see many tourists for some time, although Turkey is gradually easing its restrictions, including opening shopping malls.    "Tourism is the backbone of Grand Bazaar's economy. We will see when the tourists will come," said Ayhan Oguz, a jeweller on the bazaar's main alley.   "2020 seems to be a year of economic losses for us. If business returns to normal, tourism opens and flights resume by September, I believe we will also return to normal," he said.

Namik, another jeweller, had a gloomier outlook: "We are at a low ebb. How will we pay the rents?"   "My shop remains open but there's no customers, there's no business," he added.   Kurtulmus pointed to all the history that the market has survived already.   "I have the confidence that the Grand Bazaar will get up a full head of steam and compensate for the economic loss by the end of the year."
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 05:07:59 +0200 (METDST)

Miami, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - South Florida residents were unable to enjoy the reopening of restaurants and beaches after two months of coronavirus lockdown, when three straight days of rain Tuesday caused severe flooding in Miami and other coastal cities.   Floridians have received warnings for severe storms, tornadoes and flash floods since Sunday, as streets turned into rivers and electricity flickered.

Images of cars flooded up to their windows have circulated on social media, as well as photos of people kayaking through the streets of Miami. Some people were even surfing, towed along by a rope attached to an SUV.   "This is epic. Never had this much rain in 3 consecutive days in 8 years of living here. 10.58" and counting... will be over a foot easily," tweeted Brian McNoldy, a hurricane and climatology expert at the University of Miami.   As of Tuesday night, there were no reports of damage.

The rain ruined the long Memorial Day weekend and prevented crowds from forming at the recently reopened restaurants and beaches in Broward County, north of Miami, that opened Tuesday.   The weather also puts at risk the launch, planned for Wednesday, of a rocket with two astronauts on board from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, in the centre of the state.

Meanwhile, in northeast Florida, another disturbance producing storms has a 30 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone, according to the National Hurricane Center.   Hurricane season officially begins June 1, but this year it was pushed forward by Tropical Storm Arthur, which formed two weeks ago in the Atlantic Ocean and passed by the coast of Florida and the Carolinas.