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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qatar

Qatar - US Consular Information Sheet
February 26, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Qatar is a monarchy governed by the ruling Al Thani family in consultation with a council of ministers, an appointed advisory council and an elected municipal cou
cil.
Islamic ideals and beliefs provide the foundation of the country’s customs, laws and practices.
Located in the heart of the Persian Gulf, Qatar is a dynamic, modernizing, rapidly developing country that is among the wealthiest per capita in the world.
The capital is Doha.
Tourist facilities are available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Qatar for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Passports and visas are required.
U.S. citizens may obtain a single-entry tourist or business visa at Doha International Airport upon arrival.
Single entry visas cost $28 and must be paid by credit card only.
Cash is not accepted.
Visas are valid for 30 days and may be extended for an additional 30 days for a $28 fee through the Airport Visas Section of the Immigration Department located next to Doha International Airport.
However, U.S.-citizen travelers will be able to clear Qatari immigration more quickly and be granted a longer stay in country by obtaining visas prior to arrival.
If planning to arrive at another port of entry in Qatar, travelers should obtain a tourist or business visa in advance of their arrival from a Qatari embassy or consulate abroad.
Travelers should also note that the Qatari Government charges $55 for each day that an individual overstays a visa, up to a maximum amount of $3,300.

For further information on visas, residence permits and entry requirements, please visit the Qatari Ministry of Interior’s web site at www.moi.gov.qa/English/index.htm.
Travelers may also contact the Embassy of the State of Qatar (www.qatarembassy.net) at 2555 M Street NW, Washington, DC
20037, tel. (202) 274-1600, fax (202) 237-0061.
They may also contact the Consulate General of the State of Qatar, 1990 Post Oak Blvd. Suite 810, Houston TX 77056, telephone (713) 355-8221, fax (713) 355-8184, send email inquiries to info@qatarembassy.org.

Military personnel are subject to different entry/exit requirements and should refer to www.fcg.pentagon.mil for specific information pertaining to their travel requirements.
NOTE FOR DUAL NATIONALS:
Qatari law requires that Qatari citizens only hold Qatari citizenship and enter and exit on a Qatari passport.
Qatari authorities have confiscated the passports of U.S. citizens who acquired Qatari citizenship through marriage to a Qatari national or by virtue of birth in the U.S.
In several cases, Qatari authorities informed U.S. citizens that their U.S. citizenship had been revoked and was no longer valid.
However, foreign governments have no authority to revoke the citizenship of a U.S. citizen.
If this occurs, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Doha immediately.
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:
Incidents of violence are rare in Qatar, although attacks against Western targets have occurred.
To provide for public security, a large police presence is deployed throughout the country.
American citizens in Qatar are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events and take the appropriate steps to bolster their personal security at all times.

The Department of State remains concerned about the possibility of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests worldwide, including the Middle East.
Both historical and recurring information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan strikes against Western targets; these attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics to include assassination, kidnapping, hijacking and bombing.
On March 19, 2005, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) at a theater in Doha regularly frequented by westerners; a citizen of the United Kingdom was killed, and several other individuals were injured.

Increased security at official facilities has led terrorists and their sympathizers to seek softer, less fortified targets; the March 2005 theater attack in Doha is one such example.
Other locations of potential concern include any venue where U.S. citizens and other foreigners are known to congregate in large numbers such as public assemblies, sporting events, restaurants, residential areas, clubs, places of worship, schools, hotels, etc.
The Government of Qatar occasionally provides security for such locations and events, but to varying degrees.
In most instances, the Embassy cannot gauge the appropriateness of security for a given event prior to its commencement.
The Embassy strongly encourages American citizens to avoid large crowds and demonstrations whenever possible.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings and other Travel Alerts and additional resources 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:
The crime rate in Qatar is generally low.
A large police presence is apparent to travelers throughout the country.
Incidents of violence are rare but have occurred more frequently as Doha’s population and economic pressures on expatriate workers have increased substantially during the past few years.
Local and third country national young men have been known to verbally and physically harass unaccompanied, expatriate women.
Reports of petty theft have been growing, including ATM and credit card theft, purse snatching and pickpocketing.
Travelers are cautioned not to leave valuables such as cash, jewelry, and electronic items unsecured in hotel rooms or unattended in public places.

The Qatari Police can be contacted for emergency assistance by dialing 999 from any telephone in Qatar.
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 U.S. Embassy in Doha.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance.
The Embassy 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:
Good modern medical care and medicines are available in Doha, although only basic or no medical care may be available in Qatar’s smaller cities or outlying areas.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health services.
Information about the Qatari national healthcare system is available at http://www.hmc.org.qa.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Qatar is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Short-term visitors should obtain a valid International Driving Permit prior to arrival and should not drive in Qatar on a U.S. driver’s license.
Short-term visitors and business travelers can also obtain a Temporary Qatari Driving License by presenting their U.S. driver’s license at any branch of Qatar’s Traffic Police.
New and prospective residents should obtain a permanent Qatari Driving License immediately after arrival.
Once an American citizen holds a valid Qatari residence permit, they are no longer permitted to drive in Qatar with an International Driving Permit or a Temporary Qatar Driving License.

Traffic accidents are among Qatar’s leading causes of death.
Safety regulations in Qatar are improving thanks to a more stringent traffic law adopted in October 2007 and a country-wide traffic safety campaign.
However, informal rules of the road and the combination of local and third-country-national driving customs often prove frustrating for first-time drivers in Qatar.
The combination of Qatar’s extensive use of roundabouts, many road construction projects and the high speeds at which drivers may travel can prove challenging.
The rate of automobile accidents due to driver error and excessive speed is declining but remains higher than in the United States.
In rural areas, poor lighting, wandering camels and un-shouldered roads are other hazards.
Despite aggressive driving on Qatar’s roads, drivers should avoid altercations or arguments over traffic incidents, particularly with Qatari citizens who, if insulted, have filed complaints with local police that resulted in the arrest and overnight detention of U.S. citizens.
Drivers can be held liable for injuries to other persons involved in a vehicular accident, and local police have detained U.S. citizens overnight until the extent of the person’s injuries were known.
Due to its conservative Islamic norms, Qatar maintains a zero-tolerance policy against drinking and driving.
Qatar’s Traffic Police have arrested Americans for driving after consuming amounts of alcohol at even smaller levels normally accepted in the U.S.
Any motor vehicle over five years old cannot be imported into the country.
For specific information concerning Qatari driver’s permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact either the Embassy of the State of Qatar in Washington, DC or the Consulate General of the State of Qatar in Houston, Texas.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Qatar’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Qatari customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning importation into Qatar of items such as alcohol, narcotics, pork products, firearms, or anything deemed pornographic by Qatari authorities.
While importation of religious material for personal use is acceptable, importation of religious material for the purpose of proselytizing is not.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the State of Qatar in Washington, DC, or the Consulate General of the State of Qatar in Houston for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Please see our Customs Information.

Pets entering Qatar require an import permit from the Ministry of Agriculture.
Cats with proper documentation are allowed to enter with no difficulty, but some breeds of dogs, especially large dogs, are not admitted.
Application forms for import permits may be obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture through a sponsoring employer.
A copy of the pet's health certificate and vaccination record must be submitted with the application.

Qatari law does not recognize dual nationality.
Persons who possess Qatari citizenship in addition to U.S. citizenship are considered Qatari citizens by the State of Qatar and are subject to Qatar’s laws.
Qatari citizenship imposes special obligations, particularly with regard to child custody and exiting or entering the country.
For additional information, please refer to our dual nationality flyer
or contact the U.S. Embassy in Doha.

All U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available.
Qatari employers/sponsors customarily hold passports of foreign (i.e., non-Qatari) employees during the terms of their employment in Qatar.
Residents carry a Qatari Identification Card (Iqama) for identification in place of a passport.
Foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, may not leave Qatar without permission in the form of exit visas obtained by their employer/sponsor.
The U.S. Embassy in Doha cannot assist U.S. citizens in Qatar to obtain third country visas for unofficial travel.
Islam provides the foundation of Qatar’s customs, laws and practices.
Foreign visitors are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts.
Western bathing attire is worn at hotel pools and beaches.
BUSINESS AND EMPLOYMENT CONTRACTS:
The written, Arabic text of a contract governs employment and business arrangements under Qatari law.
Before signing a contract, U.S. citizens and companies should obtain an independent English translation of the original Arabic to ensure a full understanding of the contract's terms, limits, and agreements.
No U.S. citizen should work in Qatar or make a business arrangement without having seen and understood the full, written contract.
Verbal assurances or side letters are not binding in Qatar.

In the event of a contract or employment dispute, Qatari authorities refer to the Arabic language of a contract.
Since a Qatari sponsor holds the employee's passport and controls the issuance of exit visas, U.S. citizens cannot simply leave Qatar in the event of an employment or business dispute.
Any U.S. citizen who breaks an employment or business contract may have to pay substantial penalties before being allowed to depart Qatar.
Qatari law favors employers over employees, and Qatari sponsors have substantial leverage in any negotiations and may block the departure of the employee or bar future employment in Qatar.

Transferring employment in Qatar requires the permission of the previous employer, which is discretionary, and is subject to approval by the Ministry of the Interior.
The Ministry of the Interior has denied employment transfers in the past, including ordering U.S. citizens deported and barred from re-entry to Qatar for two years.
The U.S. Embassy has no standing in Qatar’s courts, cannot sponsor visas, and cannot adjudicate labor or business disputes.
U.S. consular officers can provide lists of local attorneys to help U.S. citizens settle disputes, but ultimate responsibility for the resolution of disputes through Qatar’s legal system lies with the parties involved.
To obtain a residence permit in Qatar, the Government of Qatar usually requires foreign citizens to provide a police clearance certificate from their home countries.
Prospective residents can obtain a U.S. police clearance certificate two ways: through a local or state law enforcement agency or through the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
In both cases, the clearance will run against the National Crime Information Center, which contains all federal, state and local criminal records.
This process requires several weeks, and the U.S. Embassy in Doha strongly recommends that prospective residents obtain a U.S. police clearance before they arrive in Qatar.

For more information on business opportunities and practices in Qatar, please visit the Foreign Commercial Service’s Country Commercial Guide for Qatar at http://www.buyusa.gov/qatar.
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.
Criminal offenses are punished according to Qatari laws, which in some cases are based on Islamic law and sometimes more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Qatari laws, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, deported, or subject to a ban from departing Qatar.
Travel bans are not lifted until both parties resolve a dispute and the case is abandoned or, if not, until the matter is resolved by a court, which may require months to process the case.
Qatari law enforcement authorities have detained potential witnesses or relatives without charges or access to legal counsel during the investigation of a crime.
The U.S. Embassy in Doha cautions American citizens that Qatari police can and have arrested American citizens suspected of or witness to a crime, including traffic accidents involving injuries to pedestrians or the occupants of other cars, traffic arguments, slander, and a variety of lesser offenses.
Once arrested, the Qatari Police have no independent authority to grant a release, an authority reserved solely for Qatar’s Public Prosecution and Courts.
As a result, arrested Americans, regardless of the charges, often spend one night in jail awaiting a hearing with Qatar’s Public Prosecution or the appropriate court.
Qatari law enforcement authorities do not routinely notify the U.S. Embassy in Doha of a U.S. citizen’s arrest and, for more serious crimes, may not allow a U.S. Embassy official to visit an arrested U.S. citizen until the initial interrogation is completed.
Upon arrest, U.S. citizens should ask to speak to the U.S. Embassy immediately, and if not allowed, request a friend or family member notify the U.S. Embassy through the contact information below.
Incidents involving insults or obscene language/gestures often result in arrest, overnight imprisonment and/or fines whether the incident occurs between private parties or involves officers of the law.
Drunk driving, public intoxication and other alcohol-related offenses are treated with severity and will result in arrest, heavy fines, imprisonment, or expulsion from the country.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Qatar are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Homosexual activity is considered to be a criminal offense, and those convicted may be sentenced to lashing and/or a prison sentence, and/or deportation.
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 Qatar are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Doha through the State Department’s travel registration web site to obtain updated information on travel and security within Qatar.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Doha.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the U.S. Embassy in Doha to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in the Al-Luqta District on 22nd February Street, PO Box 2399, Doha; phone (974) 488-4101, extension 0 or 6500.
For after-hours emergencies, U.S. citizens may call (974) 488-4101, extension 0 or 6600, to reach the duty officer.
On the Internet, you may reach the Embassy web site at http://qatar.usembassy.gov for additional information and operating hours.
The embassy observes a Sunday through Thursday workweek.
Government offices and most businesses in Qatar also observe a Sunday through Thursday workweek.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Qatar dated November 26, 2007, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, and Criminal Penalties.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 26 Dec 2019
Source: WHO Emergencies preparedness, response, Disease outbreak news [edited]

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) - Qatar 26 Dec 2019
-----------------------------
On [5 Dec 2019], the National IHR Focal Point for Qatar reported 3 laboratory-confirmed cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) infection to WHO.

The 1st case-patient (case #1) is a 67-year-old female from Doha, Qatar. She developed fever, cough, shortness of breath, and headache on [23 Nov 2019] and presented to a hospital on [25 Nov 2019]. On [27 Nov 2019], she went to the same hospital for follow-up. However, on [28 Nov 2019], her condition worsened, and she was admitted to the hospital. A nasopharyngeal swab was collected on [28 Nov 2019] and tested positive for MERS-CoV by reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) on [29 Nov 2019]. The patient had underlying medical conditions and passed away on [12 Dec 2019]. The source of her infection is under investigation. The patient had neither a history of contact with dromedary camels nor recent travel. Follow-up and screening of 7 household contacts and 40 healthcare worker contacts is ongoing, and 2 asymptomatic secondary cases have been identified so far.

The 2 contacts are a 50-year-old (case # 2) and a 32-year-old (case # 3), living in Doha. Both were identified through contact tracing and are asymptomatic. Case #2 is the son of case #1 and has an underlying medical condition. Case #3 was involved in direct contact with case #1 and has no underlying medical conditions. A nasopharyngeal swab was collected on [29 Nov 2019] for both case #2 and case #3 and tested positive for MERS-CoV by RT-PCR on [29 Nov 2019]. As of [23 Dec 2019], both are in a stable condition in an isolation ward where protocols for infection prevention and control have been implemented.

Public health response
Upon identification of case #1, the case was isolated, the infection prevention and control protocols were implemented as per WHO guidelines, and investigation and contact tracing were initiated.

All 47 identified contacts of the patient have been monitored daily for the appearance of respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms for a period of 14 days following their last exposure to the patient.

All contacts were tested for MERS-CoV, and test results were positive for 2 asymptomatic contacts (cases #2 and #3 mentioned above).

WHO risk assessment
Infection with MERS-CoV can cause severe disease resulting in high mortality. Humans are infected with MERS-CoV from direct or indirect contact with dromedary camels. MERS-CoV has demonstrated the ability to transmit between humans. So far, the observed non-sustained human-to-human transmission has occurred mainly in healthcare settings.

The notification of additional cases does not change the overall risk assessment. WHO expects that additional cases of MERS-CoV infection will be reported from the Middle East and that cases will continue to be exported to other countries by individuals who might acquire the infection after exposure to dromedary camels, animal products (for example, consumption of camel's raw milk), or humans (for example, in a healthcare setting or household contacts).

WHO continues to monitor the epidemiological situation and conducts risk assessment based on the latest available information.

WHO advice
Based on the current situation and available information, WHO encourages all member states to continue their surveillance for acute respiratory infections and to carefully review any unusual patterns.

Infection prevention and control measures are critical to prevent the possible spread of MERS-CoV in healthcare facilities. It is not always possible to identify patients with MERS-CoV infection early because like other respiratory infections, the early symptoms of MERS-CoV infection are non-specific. Therefore, healthcare workers should always apply standard precautions consistently with all patients, regardless of their diagnosis. Droplet precautions should be added to the standard precautions when providing care to patients with symptoms of acute respiratory infection; contact precautions and eye protection should be added when caring for probable or confirmed cases of MERS-CoV infection; airborne precautions should be applied when performing aerosol-generating procedures.

Early identification, case management, and isolation, together with appropriate infection prevention and control measures, can prevent human-to-human transmission of MERS-CoV.

MERS-CoV appears to cause more severe disease in people with underlying chronic medical conditions such as diabetes mellitus, renal failure, chronic lung disease, and compromised immune systems. Therefore, people with these underlying medical conditions should avoid close unprotected contact with animals, particularly dromedary camels, when visiting farms, markets, or barn areas where the virus is known to be potentially circulating. General hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing before and after touching animals and avoiding contact with sick animals, should be adhered to.

Food hygiene practices should be observed. People should avoid drinking raw camel milk or camel urine or eating meat that has not been properly cooked.

WHO does not advise special screening at points of entry with regard to this event nor does it currently recommend the application of any travel or trade restrictions.
==================
[If this patient had not deteriorated on 28 Nov 2019, she most likely would not have been tested for MERS-CoV infection, and the infection may well have been missed. It would be very interesting to see data from countries on the Arabian Peninsula outside of Saudi Arabia on what proportion of respiratory illnesses are being tested for MERS-CoV infection, and what are the criteria being applied to test for suspected MERS-CoV infection. This case outwardly did not have a history of contact with dromedary camels, nor did she have contact with known MERS-CoV-infected individuals. But how many of her known contacts had a history of a respiratory infection, and was any serology performed? Just musing out loud, falling back on the question, "Why is Saudi Arabia seeing so many cases, but not neighboring countries?"

According to the ECDC (European Center for Disease Control) rapid assessment of 29 Aug 2018, Qatar has previously reported 19 cases of MERS-CoV infection including 5 deaths, for a reported case fatality ratio of approximately 25% (<https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/RRA-Severe-respiratory-disease-associated-MERS-CoV-22nd%20update-29-aug-2018.pdf>). The most recent case confirmed by Qatar prior to this announcement was reported on 23 May 2017 (see MERS-CoV (34): Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, WHO: http://promedmail.org/post/20170606.5087888). The inclusion of these 3 newly confirmed infections will bring this total to 22 cases of MERS-CoV infection including 5 deaths.

Qatar borders with the Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia not far from Hufoof, where there have been cases reported since 2017. See map at <https://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/map/Arabia-Map.htm>. - ProMED Mod.MPP]
Date: Wed 24 May 2017
Source: State of Qatar, Ministry of Public Health - News [edited]

Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) has announced that a new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) case has been confirmed for a 29-years-old, resident in Qatar, marking the 3rd MERS-CoV case to be confirmed in the country this year [2017] and bringing the cumulative number of confirmed MERS-CoV cases since 2012 to 21 cases among whom 7 have died.

The patient is a camel worker and had complaints of fever and dry cough for several days. He sought medical attention in Hamad General Hospital where an X-Ray investigation suggested a severe pneumonia. Consequently and as he reported an occupational frequent contact with camels, further samples were withdrawn from the patient. He ultimately tested positive for MERS-CoV according to Hamad Medical Corporation laboratories.

Despite his stable condition, the patient was admitted to hospital; in consistence with the national infection prevention and control protocol for confirmed and suspected MERS-CoV cases to ensure the appropriate medical attention. However, neither a history of contact with similar cases nor a recent travel outside the country was reported for the patient who has no comorbidities.

Once the case has been confirmed, the rapid response team of the Health Protection and Communicable disease Control (HP & CDC) department at the MOPH, accompanied with the team from Animal Health Department, Ministry of Municipality and Environment, have started a field investigation to assess the possible source of the infection and to verify whether any of the patient contacts has suspected symptoms according to the WHO standard case definition. Consequently, all traced contacts will be monitored over a period of 2 weeks, while those who develop suspected symptoms will then be subjected to confirmatory laboratory investigation.

The Ministry of Public Health advices citizens and residents, in particular those with comorbidities or low immunity, to abide to cough etiquette and handwashing with soap and water thoroughly and avoid unnecessary contact with sick animals.

MOPH proclaimed that Health Protection & CDC Hotlines 66740948 & 66740951 are accessible 24/7 to respond to any notification or enquiry related to infectious diseases.
==================
[The above press release mentioned the participation of animal health experts in the investigation of the described case. Information on their observations and findings, including results of laboratory tests (in case animal samples were taken), will be appreciated.

Qatar officially notified the OIE about its 1st event of MERS-CoV in camels, as an emerging disease, on 28 Nov 2013. The start of the event was, reportedly, dated 14 Oct 2013. The 'affected population' was kept on a "small farm with 14 camels, one sheep, one pigeon cage and some chicken" in Al-Shahanya, Ar Rayyan district. The diagnostic laboratory, given as "the Erasmus Medical Center (Rotterdam) and National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (Bilthoven), the Netherlands (OIE Reference Laboratory)", established the diagnosis of MERS-CoV in camels by PCR, on 26 Nov 2013. The report included the following epidemiological comment: "The health authority in Qatar notified the presence of a confirmed human MERS-CoV case. A joint team from both health and veterinary authorities was sent to the patient farm to investigate the health status of animals and the contact person. A farm worker proved to be positive for MERS-CoV and samples were collected from the 14 existing camels in addition to one sheep, some pigeons and chickens and some environmental samples (water, soil, animal food and grass) and all were sent to the Netherlands for testing. All animals were kept under observation and quarantine and all were apparently healthy". The above immediate notification was followed by 3 follow-up reports (29 Dec 2013, 22 Apr 2014 and 09 Jun 2014).

Follow-up report No 1, submitted a month later, namely on 29 Dec 2013, informed: "There are no new outbreaks in this report". The report, however, included the following epidemiological comments: "The samples from the same herd tested, using the same technique were negative and this may show that MERS-CoV infection in camels is a self-limiting disease. The planned massive survey for MERS-CoV in animals is under implementation and the same herd is under systematic retesting. Follow-up reports will be submitted when there will be new data".

Follow-up report No 2, submitted 22 Apr 2014, addressed "A single barn of 26 camels of different ages" in the same location (Al-Shahanyain), Qatar. The diagnostic laboratory was named as "Department of Viroscience, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam (The Netherlands) (Foreign laboratory)"; the tests were performed on 19 Apr 2014, applying PCR and virus isolation, both positive. The report included the following epidemiological comments: "During an existing survey (pilot phase of the survey), nasal swabs were collected from an 8-month-old camel among healthy dromedary camels. The sample was inoculated on Vero cells and cytopathic changes were observed in cells at 48h post-infection. Human hepatoma cells (Huh-7 cells) were inoculated with MERS-CoV to further functionally characterize this viral isolate. After 2 days, virus-induced cytopathic effects were observed in the inoculated cell cultures. Virus production in Huh-7 cells was blocked by pre-incubating MERS-CoV with a 1/200 dilution of serum from MERS-CoV antibody positive camels. Conclusion: these data demonstrate that the MERS-CoV obtained from a dromedary camel is able to replicate in human cells and uses DPP4 as entry receptor, similar as isolates obtained from MERS patients".

Follow-up report No 3, submitted 9 Jun 2014, involved 3 barns with a total number of 12 camels of different ages, similarly in Al-Shahanya. Of the 12 susceptible camels, there were 5 "cases", indicated as an apparent morbidity rate of 41.67 percent. The diagnostic laboratory was "Erasmus Medical Center (Rotterdam) and National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (Bilthoven), The Netherlands (Foreign laboratory)", which applied SNT. This report included the following epidemiological comment: "Milk was collected according to local customs; cria's (dromedary calves) were not weaned after delivery but kept at the farm in paddocks adjacent to their dams throughout lactation. Dams were reunited with their cria to trigger milk production. Once milk production was initiated, the milk samples were collected by the camel owner or caretaker without specific hygienic precautions". The named follow-up report No 3 was the last report of MERS-CoV in camels submitted so far by Qatar to the OIE. It included the statement "continuing". No additional MERS-CoV reports from Qatar have become available since June 2014.

According to WAHID's archive data, the summary of the event since its start, as of June 2014, was:
Total outbreaks = 3 (Submitted)
Species/ Susceptible/ Cases/ Deaths/ Destroyed/ Slaughtered
Camelidae/ 52/ 9/ 0/ 0/ 0
(see at <http://www.oie.int/wahis_2/temp/reports/en_fup_0000015380_20140610_175414.pdf>).

In May 2017, the OIE updated its case definition for the reporting of MERS-CoV, as follows:

"1. Introduction
Dromedary camels have been confirmed by several studies to be the reservoir of the MERS-CoV infection in humans. Zoonotic transmissions of MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans were reported in multiple occasions. MERS-CoV has never been reported as a disease in camels though in experimental infections MERS-CoV has been associated with mild upper respiratory signs. Positive PCR results for MERS-CoV or isolation of the virus from camels is notifiable to the OIE because MERS is an emerging disease with a significant public health impact.

2. Confirmed case:
A dromedary camel with laboratory confirmation (*note 1) of MERS-CoV infection, with or without clinical signs.

3. Suspected case:
a) Observed clinical signs of mild respiratory infection (rhinitis in young dromedaries); and
b) Direct epidemiologic link (*note 2) with a confirmed human or camel MERS-CoV case; and
c) Testing for MERS-CoV is unavailable, negative or inconclusive (*note 4) on a single inadequate specimen (*note 3).

Notes
1 A case may be laboratory confirmed by virus isolation or detection of viral nucleic acid. The presence of viral nucleic acid can be confirmed by 1) a positive RT-PCR result on at least 2 specific genomic targets,
2) a single positive target with sequencing of a 2nd target or
3) a single positive target with positive result in a rapid MERS-CoV Ag Test. Serological investigations are of little value as high percentage of tested dromedaries possess antibodies to MERS-CoV.

2. A direct epidemiological link with a confirmed MERS-CoV dromedary camel may include living or traveling together in close proximity or sharing the same environment with individual dromedaries infected with MERS-CoV.

3. An inadequate specimen would include a specimen that has had improper handling, is judged to be of poor quality by the testing laboratory, or was taken too late in the course of illness.

4. Inconclusive tests may include a positive screening test on a single rRT-PCR target without further confirmation. Animals with an inconclusive initial test should undergo additional sampling and testing to determine if the animal can be classified as a confirmed MERS-CoV case. At herd level, having positive single target PCRs in more than one animal could constitute confirmation. Preference should be a repeat nasopharyngeal specimen. Other types of clinical specimens could also be considered for molecular testing if necessary, including blood/serum, and stool/rectal swab. These generally have lower titers of virus than respiratory tract specimens but have been used to confirm cases when other specimens were inadequate or unobtainable".

As commented by Mod.MPP (see http://promedmail.org/post/20170524.5059234), according to a review of cases reported by Saudi Arabia and classified as "primary" cases (N=560), 27.3 percent had a history of camel exposure, and 72.7 percent were reported as still under investigation for high risk exposures at the time of initial confirmation report. The 85th General Session of the World Assembly of OIE Delegates has been held in Paris during this week (21 to 26 May 2017). According to WHO updated information, MERS-CoV has caused, since its initial detection in Sep 2012, at least 1952 human cases, of which at least 693 deaths in 27 countries. It will be interesting to note if the reporting of this disease, according to the OIE criteria, and its possible control in the animal reservoir have been discussed during the General Session.

Subscribers are referred to a recent review paper (Ref 1), and in particular to figure 3 "Hypothesis of MERS-CoV transmission to humans".

A One Health approach to the MERS-CoV issue, its epidemiology and control, will require the active involvement of the 3 relevant international authorities, namely the FAO, OIE and WHO.

References
M. G. Hemida, A. Elmoslemany, F. Al-Hizab, A. Alnaeem, F. Almathen, B. Faye, D. K. W. Chu, R. A. P. M. Perera & M. Peiris. Dromedary Camels and the Transmission of Middle East. Transboundary & Emerging Diseases 64 (2017) 344-353.  <http://agritrop.cirad.fr/580073/7/Hemida_et_al-2017-Transboundary_and_Emerging_Diseases.pdf>. - ProMED Mod.AS]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Sat, 26 Nov 2016 20:00:07 +0100

Doha, Nov 26, 2016 (AFP) - Rainfall caused widespread flooding in Qatar on Saturday, potentially raising fresh concerns about infrastructure in the Gulf country due to host the 2022 football World Cup.   Several major roads were flooded, prompting official warnings.   "As the rain continues to pour in most parts of the country, motorists are advised to be cautious," the interior ministry tweeted after earlier calling the rainfall "medium to heavy".   Some apartment buildings on the Pearl Qatar, an artificial island in Doha, estimated to have cost $15 billion (13.5 billion euros) to build, suffered flooding, as did the nearby suburb of Qanat Quartier, built to resemble Venice.

The Doha News website reported that the Qatar Animal Welfare Society pleaded urgently for foster homes to take care of its dogs because of the conditions.   The Peninsula English-language newspaper reported that rain caused leaks at major Doha shopping centre the Landmark Mall.   Many people used social media to post videos and pictures, with some questioning how a relatively small amount of rain -- the first of the winter -- could cause such problems.   The wet weather had been predicted and the government "Rain Emergency Team" had already convened to discuss potential problems.

Last November, the government began an inquiry after rain damaged Doha's Hamad international airport, which opened in 2014, flooded roads and streets and caused some schools to close.   Gas-rich Qatar is spending more than $200 billion on major infrastructure such as roads, the airport, a metro system and a new city ahead of the 2022 World Cup, which will be played at this time of year -- from November 21 to December 18.   World Bank figures show Qatar's average annual rainfall is around 75 millimetres.
Date: Mon 13 Jun 2016 01:58 AM (Qatar)
Source: Gulf Times [edited]

The Ministry of Public Health has announced that a new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) case has been confirmed in a 23-year-old male resident, marking it the 3rd to be confirmed in the country this year [2016].

The person was not in contact with a confirmed case and does not suffer from any chronic diseases that usually cause immunity suppression. The patient was admitted to Hamad General Hospital as he reported fever, cough, runny nose, and backache where he tested positive for Mers-CoV. The patient is now stable and receives medical care in the isolation ward.

The ministry said that Health Protection and Communicable Disease Control Hotlines, 66740948 and 66740951, are accessible round-the-clock to respond to any notification or query related to infectious diseases.

MERS-CoV was 1st identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, since September 2012, it has been notified of 1652 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including at least 591 related deaths [the most recent report from WHO on 16 May 2016 gives a global tally of 1733 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including at least 628 related deaths (<http://www.who.int/csr/don/16-may-2016-mers-saudi-arabia/en/>) - ProMED Mod.MPP].

Mers-CoV is a zoonotic virus that is transmitted from animals to humans.
==================
[As mentioned in the above report, this is now the 3rd case of MERS-CoV infection reported in Qatar in 2016. The 1st case was reported in February 2016 in a 66 year old Qatari male who had been, for 2 months preceding onset of illness, in Saudi Arabia where he had a camel farm (see MERS-CoV (35): Saudi Arabia, Qatar ex Saudi Arabia, WHO http://promedmail.org/post/20160311.4085518 and MERS-CoV (24): Qatar ex Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia (RI) RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20160222.4041719). The 2nd case was a 40 year old Qatari national camel worker with non-specific, non-respiratory symptoms (see MERS-CoV (56): Qatar, Saudi Arabia, WHO http://promedmail.org/post/20160503.4198200).

According to the most recent ECDC Communicable Disease Threats Report, as of 9 June 2016, there have been a total of 1753 cases of MERS-CoV infection, including 680 deaths reported by health authorities worldwide. Besides, there have been a total of 15 cases of MERS-CoV infection including 5 deaths reported by Qatar as of 9 Jun 2016, making this current case the 16th case reported by Qatar since April 2012.  (<http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications/Publications/Communicable-disease-threats-report-11-june-2016.pdf>).

In addition to the 16 cases reported by Qatar, there have been 2 additional cases reported in Qatari nationals treated in Europe (see Novel coronavirus - Saudi Arabia (03): UK HPA, WHO, Qatar
East. Med. (07): Saudi Arabia, UK, Germany

We await further information on possible high risk transmission exposures.

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Qatar can be found at:
Date: Mon 2 May 2016
Source: Gulf Times

A 40-year old camel worker has tested positive for the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) announced.

It is the 2nd case confirmed in Qatar so far this year [2016].

The worker, who was neither in contact with a suspected patient nor abroad during the last 2 weeks, is free from chronic diseases that usually cause immunity suppression. He was admitted to Hamad General Hospital [in Doha] with general symptoms where routine investigations tested positive for MERS-CoV, despite him not exhibiting any respiratory related symptoms.

The patient is currently in stable condition and receiving the necessary medical care in the isolation ward, according to the national protocol for infection prevention and control, the ministry said in a statement.

After the tests proved positive, the rapid response team of MoPH carried out extensive search to list all potential contacts to check for their possible consistence with the standard case definition of the suspected cases, based on the World Health Organisation guidelines. All traced contacts will be monitored over a period of 2 weeks, while those who develop suspected symptoms will then be subjected to confirmatory laboratory investigation, the ministry added.

While research efforts continue on a global and local level to determine the modes of transmission of MERS-CoV infection, the MoPH has advised citizens and residents who suffer from chronic diseases to avoid direct contact with camels and to wash hands with soap and water thoroughly. Also recommended are implementing respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette and the need to boil camel milk before drinking.

MoPH added that Health Protection & CDC Hotlines 66740948 and 66740951 are accessible 24/7 to respond to any notification or inquiry related to infectious diseases.
==================
[The text of the media report above is almost verbatim from the MoPH announcement, also released today (2 May 2016 and available at <https://www.moph.gov.qa/news/moph-announces-the-second-mers-cov-case-in-2016?backArt=326&page=2>). On 22 Feb 2016, there was a report of a case of MERS-CoV infection in a 66 year old Qatari male who had a farm (with camels and sheep) in Saudi Arabia. The addition of this newly confirmed case brings the total number of cases of MERS-CoV infection reported by Qatar to 15 since 2012. It is noteworthy that in the absence of respiratory symptoms, the history of camel contact most probably led to testing for MERS-CoV infection in this patient, suggesting a high index of suspicion on the part of the medical community treating this patient.

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Qatar can be found at
More ...

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan US Consular Information Sheet
January 27, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Azerbaijan is a constitutional republic with a developing economy.
Western-style amenities are found in the capital, Baku, but they are generally not avail
ble outside that city.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Azerbaijan for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Travelers may obtain single-entry visas for USD 131 by mail or in person from either the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington, DC or any other Azerbaijani embassy offering consular services.
Travelers may also obtain single-entry, 30-day visas at the airport upon arrival for USD 131.
Visas are not available at the land borders with Georgia or Russia.
Double-entry, 90-day visas (cost: USD 131) and one-year multiple-entry visas (cost: USD 250) are only available through an Azerbaijani embassy or through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A letter of invitation from a contact in Azerbaijan is required, and travelers who expect to travel in the region should request a one-year, multiple-entry visa.
According to Azerbaijani law, foreign nationals intending to remain in Azerbaijan for more than 30 days must register with local police within three days of their arrival. Foreign citizens should approach the passport section of the local district police office and fill out an application form. The registration fee is AZN 9.90 (approximately USD 12).

American citizens of Armenian ancestry should be aware their visa applications may be denied by the Government of Azerbaijan on the grounds that their safety cannot be guaranteed.
U.S. citizens who obtain a single-entry visa at the port of entry are permitted to remain in Azerbaijan for up to one month, after which an extension of stay must be requested (cost: USD 131).
For persons already in Azerbaijan, visa applications, extensions or renewals are made at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Shikhali Gurbanov St., 4, Baku; tel. (9-9412) 492 34 01, or the State Migration Service, Ataturk Avenue 53, Baku; tel (9-9412) 498-9464.
For additional information, please contact the Embassy of Azerbaijan, 2741 34th Street NW, Washington, DC
20008 (tel. 202-337-3500); e-mail: azerbaijan@azembassy.com.
American citizens should ensure their visas and/or local identification cards, for stays of longer than 30 days, are current and valid, and they carry local identification cards, if applicable, at all times. It is advisable to carry a photocopy of your current passport and valid visa if you do not normally carry your passport as well.
Visit the Embassy of Azerbaijan web site at http://www.azembassy.us/ for the most current visa information.
.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
As a result of continuing conflict, travelers are cautioned to avoid travel to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied areas.
Because of the existing state of hostilities, consular services are not available to Americans in Nagorno-Karabakh.
American citizens of Armenian ancestry considering travel to Azerbaijan should remain particularly vigilant when visiting the country, as the Government of Azerbaijan has claimed that it is unable to guarantee their safety.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State‘s Bureau of Consular Affairs web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.

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:
Baku has experienced a trend away from casual stealth street crime, such as pick-pocketing, towards more targeted and aggressive attacks.
These attacks tend to be against males, usually involve alcohol, and usually occur late at night.
The attacks typically involve multiple attackers on a lone victim using overwhelming numbers and a quick, violent attack to end resistance or flight.
Violent crimes tend to be more frequent in the winter, despite the presence of fewer tourists and foreigners in general at this time of year.
Many recent attacks have resulted in injuries.
There are also reports of foreigners being held up at knife- or gunpoint at or near ATMs during hours of darkness. Visitors should not walk alone at night.

All incidents of crime should be reported to the local police and U.S. Embassy.
The Police Office of Crimes By and Against Foreigners has an English-speaking officer available at all times who may be reached at (994 12) 490-95-32 or, after hours, at 490-94-52.
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.

The local equivalents of the “911” emergency lines in Azerbaijan are: 101-Fire Brigade; 102-Police; 103-Ambulance; 104-Gas services; and 112-Ministry of Emergency Situations.

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

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Azerbaijan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Azerbaijan 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.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
The Republic of Azerbaijan's economy is mostly cash-only.
Traveler’s checks and credit cards are accepted only in some hotels and a few restaurants and supermarkets.

Azerbaijani customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Azerbaijan of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities including carpets, medications, and caviar, and any amount of currency over USD 1000.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
A few Western-type medical clinics, the quality of which is comparable to those in Western countries, are operating in Baku.
However, medical facilities outside the capital remain inadequate, unsanitary, and unsafe.
There is often a shortage of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles and vaccines. Bring adequate amounts of prescription medicines for the duration of your visit, as pharmacies often do not carry all brands or doses.

Tuberculosis (TB) is an increasingly serious health concern in Azerbaijan.
For further information, please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Travel Notice on TB http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx.

Avian Influenza:
In 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Azerbaijani authorities confirmed several human cases of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, commonly known as "bird flu."
Travelers to Azerbaijan and other countries affected by the virus are cautioned to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals.
In addition, the CDC and WHO recommend eating only fully cooked poultry and eggs.
For the most current information and links on avian influenza in Azerbaijan, see the State Department’s Avian Influenza Fact Sheet or visit the web site of the U.S. Embassy in Baku at http://azerbaijan.usembassy.gov/.

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

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

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The U.S. 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 Azerbaijan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving hazards such as open manholes, debris, sinkholes, and potholes are common in Baku.
Most drivers do not pay attention to traffic regulations, signals, lane markings, pedestrians, or other drivers.
Drivers often travel at extremely high speeds, and accidents are frequent and often serious.
Driving in Baku should be considered extremely hazardous.
Outside the city, even where roads are present, conditions are similar.
Roads are often in poor repair and unlighted, and lack lane markings, traffic signs, and warnings.
Many rural roads are largely unpaved.
Public transportation throughout the country is overcrowded and poorly maintained.
The U.S. Embassy strongly discourages use of the Baku Metro.
Train travel in the Caucasus region is not secure.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the Azerbaijan’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://azerbaijan.tourism.az/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Azerbaijan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Azerbaijan’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.

Travelers on regional airlines among the countries of the Caucasus may experience prolonged delays and sudden cancellations of flights.
In addition to frequent delays, flights are often overcrowded, with passengers without seats standing in the aisle along with excess unsecured cabin luggage.
Even basic safety features such as seat belts are sometimes missing.
Air travel to Azerbaijan on international carriers via Europe is typically more reliable.

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 Azerbaijan 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 Azerbaijan.
Americans without Internet 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 Azadlig Prospekt 83; tel. (9-9412) 498-03-35, 36, or 37; (9-9412) 490-66-71; email: ConsularBaku@state.gov; web site at http://azerbaijan.usembassy.gov.
Travelers are encouraged to notify the Embassy before their permanent departure from the country.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Azerbaijan dated June 19, 2008 to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements; Safety and Security; and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2019 03:13:16 +0200
By Andrea PALASCIANO

Naftalan, Azerbaijan, April 19, 2019 (AFP) - Immersed up to her neck in a dark viscous liquid, Sulfiya smiles in delight, confident that the fetid substance will cure her painful condition.   Sulfiya, a Russian woman in her 60s, has travelled to Azerbaijan's north-western city of Naftalan in the hope that crude oil baths at a local sanatorium will end her years of suffering from polyarthritis, a disease affecting the joints.   "This is so pleasant," she enthuses, despite the reek of engine oil.

Her naked dip in oil heated to just above body temperature lasts 10 minutes, after which an attendant scrapes the brown oil off her skin and sends her into a shower.   The native of Russia's Tatarstan region said she and her friends "have long dreamed of coming" for treatment in Naftalan.   The petroleum spa resort in the oil-rich Caucasus country is a draw for visitors despite its proximity to Nagorny Karabakh, a region disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia in a long-running armed conflict.

After 10 days of bathing in crude oil Sulfiya says she now feels "much better" and has even reduced her medication for the polyarthritis that she has had for 12 years.   "It is a gift from God," agrees 48-year-old Rufat, an Azerbaijani journalist and opposition party member who is undergoing treatment in the sanatorium called Sehirli, or "magic" in Azerbaijani.   Azerbaijan's vast oil deposits were discovered in the mid-19th century, making what was at the time part of the Russian Empire one of the first places in the world to start commercial oil production.

Oil exports to markets all over the world are the largest sector of Azerbaijan's economy, but the crude that comes from subsoil reservoirs in Naftalan is not suitable for commercial use.   Instead the local oil is used to treat muscular, skin and bone conditions as well as gynaecological and neurological problems.   According to a legend, which spa staff readily tell clients, the healing properties of Naftalan's "miraculous oil" were discovered by accident when a camel left to die near a pool of oil was cured.

The small town of Naftalan some 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the capital Baku became a popular health resort for Soviet citizens in the 1920s.   "In the past, when there weren't any hotels or sanatoriums, people would come to Naftalan and stay with locals," said one of the doctors at the Sehirli sanatorium, Fabil Azizov, sitting in her office under a portrait of strongman President Ilham Aliyev.   "But as time passed, sanatoriums were built and treatment methods developed."

- Controversial benefits -
Some specialists warn the method has dangerous side effects.   "Despite the stories of past cures, the use of crude oil for medicinal purposes has been condemned by Western doctors as potentially carcinogenic," former journalist Maryam Omidi wrote in a 2017 book published in Britain about Soviet-era sanatoriums.

In fact, the oil at Naftalan is almost 50 percent naphthalene, a carcinogenic substance found in cigarette smoke and mothballs that in large amounts can damage or destroy red blood cells.   But doctors and patients at Naftalan brush aside any misgivings and the sanatorium even has a small museum displaying crutches that once belonged to patients who have recovered from their illnesses.

- 'We heard gunshots' -
During its heyday in the 1980s, Naftalan would host more than 70,000 visitors a year.    But in 1988, a bloody war began with neighbouring Armenia for the control of Azerbaijan's separatist Nagorny Karabakh region, which unilaterally proclaimed independence from Baku in 1991.

The conflict claimed the lives of some 30,000 people from both sides and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.   A 1994 ceasefire agreement ended hostilities, but the arch foes have yet to reach a definitive peace deal and there are frequent skirmishes along the volatile frontline.   During the war, the sanatoriums in Naftalan -- a few kilometres from the frontline -- were converted into hospitals for wounded soldiers and temporary accommodation for refugees.

Over the last two decades, the Azerbaijani authorities have worked hard to re-establish Naftalan's reputation as a health resort.    They resettled refugees in other regions, demolished decrepit Soviet-era sanatoriums and built brand-new tourist facilities.   Modern Naftalan is a blend of kitsch-looking high-end spas where a week's treatment costs some 1,000 euros, and modest sanatoriums where a week's treatment costs around 100 euros.   The simmering Karabakh conflict may be out of sight, but guests can still feel uncomfortably close to the military action.   During one of the deadliest recent bouts of fighting in April 2016, "we heard gunshots," said a member of staff at Naftalan's luxurious Garabag spa, adding quickly that "everyone stayed on."
Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2019 05:49:56 +0200
By Andrea PALASCIANO

Naftalan, Azerbaijan, April 12, 2019 (AFP) - Immersed up to her neck in a dark viscous liquid, Sulfiya smiles in delight, confident that the fetid substance will cure her painful condition.   Sulfiya, a Russian woman in her 60s, has travelled to Azerbaijan's north-western city of Naftalan in the hope that crude oil baths at a local sanatorium will end her years of suffering from polyarthritis, a disease affecting the joints.   "This is so pleasant," she enthuses, despite the reek of engine oil.

Her naked dip in oil heated to just above body temperature lasts 10 minutes, after which an attendant scrapes the brown oil off her skin and sends her into a shower.   The native of Russia's Tatarstan region said she and her friends "have long dreamed of coming" for treatment in Naftalan.   The petroleum spa resort in the oil-rich Caucasus country is a draw for visitors despite its proximity to Nagorny Karabakh, a region disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia in a long-running armed conflict.

After 10 days of bathing in crude oil Sulfiya says she now feels "much better" and has even reduced her medication for the polyarthritis that she has had for 12 years.   "It is a gift from God," agrees 48-year-old Rufat, an Azerbaijani journalist and opposition party member who is undergoing treatment in the sanatorium called Sehirli, or "magic" in Azerbaijani.   Azerbaijan's vast oil deposits were discovered in the mid-19th century, making what was at the time part of the Russian Empire one of the first places in the world to start commercial oil production.

Oil exports to markets all over the world are the largest sector of Azerbaijan's economy, but the crude that comes from subsoil reservoirs in Naftalan is not suitable for commercial use.   Instead the local oil is used to treat to cure muscular, skin and bone conditions as well as gynaecological and neurological problems.   According to a legend, which spa staff readily tell clients, the healing properties of Naftalan's "miraculous oil" were discovered by accident when a camel left to die near a pool of oil was cured.

The small town of Naftalan some 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the capital Baku became a popular health resort for Soviet citizens in the 1920s.   "In the past, when there weren't any hotels or sanatoriums, people would come to Naftalan and stay with locals," said one of the doctors at the Sehirli sanatorium, Fabil Azizov, sitting in her office under a portrait of strongman President Ilham Aliyev.   "But as time passed, sanatoriums were built and treatment methods developed."

- Controversial benefits -
Some specialists warn the method has dangerous side effects.   "Despite the stories of past cures, the use of crude oil for medicinal purposes has been condemned by Western doctors as potentially carcinogenic," former journalist Maryam Omidi wrote in a 2017 book published in Britain about Soviet-era sanatoriums.

In fact, the oil at Naftalan is almost 50 percent naphthalene, a carcinogenic substance found in cigarette smoke and mothballs that in large amounts can damage or destroy red blood cells.   But doctors and patients at Naftalan brush aside any misgivings and the sanatorium even has a small museum displaying crutches that once belonged to patients who have recovered from their illnesses.

- 'We heard gunshots' -
During its heyday in the 1980s, Naftalan would host more than 70,000 visitors a year.    But in 1988, a bloody war began with neighbouring Armenia for the control of Azerbaijan's separatist Nagorny Karabakh region, which unilaterally proclaimed independence from Baku in 1991.  The conflict claimed the lives of some 30,000 people from both sides and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.   A 1994 ceasefire agreement ended hostilities, but the arch foes have yet to reach a definitive peace deal and there are frequent skirmishes along the volatile frontline.

During the war, the sanatoriums in Naftalan -- a few kilometres from the frontline -- were converted into hospitals for wounded soldiers and temporary accommodation for refugees.   Over the last two decades, the Azerbaijani authorities have worked hard to re-establish Naftalan's reputation as a health resort.    They resettled refugees in other regions, demolished decrepit Soviet-era sanatoriums and built brand-new tourist facilities.

Modern Naftalan is a blend of kitsch-looking high-end spas where a week's treatment costs some 1,000 euros, and modest sanatoriums where a week's treatment costs around 100 euros.   The simmering Karabakh conflict may be out of sight, but guests can still feel uncomfortably close to the military action.   During one of the deadliest recent bouts of fighting in April 2016, "we heard gunshots," said a member of staff at Naftalan's luxurious Garabag spa, adding quickly that "everyone stayed on."
Date: Sun, 27 Aug 2017 12:33:14 +0200

Baku, Aug 27, 2017 (AFP) - Six people were injured Sunday when a fire at a military base in Azerbaijan set off explosions of weapons at a storage depot, officials in the Caucasus nation said.   Residents were evacuated from two villages Gilezi and Shitalchai nearest to the base, about 70 kilometres north of capital Baku, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said there was a fire at the base "which caused the explosions," without giving details of damages or cause of the fire.   A spokeswoman of the health ministry, Liya Bairamova, told AFP that six people were injured in the fire and blasts, though without clarifying if they were soldiers or civilians.   Earlier emergencies authorities said that first response vehicles could not get close to the base because of ongoing explosions.   A major road from Baku north to the city of Guba and the Russian border was closed due to the incident.
Date: Fri 8 Jul 2016, 14:46
Source: Azeri Press Agency (APA) [edited]

A 10-year-old boy has died of rabies after being bitten by a dog in his head, face, and mouth 20 days ago in the Dayikend village of Azerbaijan's Salyan. Rita Ismayilova, head of the department of epidemiology of especially dangerous infectious diseases of the Republican Anti Plague Station under the Health Ministry, told APA that the boy was admitted to the Salyan district central hospital the same day he was attacked by the dog. However, the child's body failed to create immunity as the incubation period of the disease was short, so it developed into rabies. The child was transferred to Baku and received symptomatic treatment in the children infectious diseases hospital No.1.

Nevertheless, the child could not be saved and he died on 7 Jul 2016. It's well known that there's no treatment for a person who is infected with rabies; it results in death", she said. She added that about 17 000 people bitten by animals every year are healed [see comment]. On rare occasions, the incubation period is very short. "This child's incubation period was 14 days and symptoms had already manifested. The treatment didn't help because the child's body failed to create immunity. Moreover, he had been bitten in dangerous parts -- his face, head, fingers, upper body. These areas are close to the brain and therefore death occurs earlier", she said. Note that this is the 2nd such [event] recorded in 2016. The 1st incident took place in Zagatala in May; P.T. (b. 1969) did not go to hospital after being bitten and died of rabies in Zagatala [See item 2].  [Byline: Konul Kamilqizi]
=====================
[The term "healed" may mislead, suggestive of remedying established rabies disease. The 17 000 people bitten by animals in Azerbaijan have, rather likely, undergone a "post exposure prophylaxis" treatment, preventing the development of disease (which, unfortunately, cannot be healed...). - ProMED Mod.AS]
************************
Azerbaijan, fatal human case
Date: Tue 24 May 2016, 12:31 GMT
Source: News.AZ [edited]

Azerbaijan's Health Ministry on Tue [24 May 2016] confirmed its 1st recorded human rabies case in the country in 2016. Liya Bayramova, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told APA that P.T., 47, a resident of the Faldar village of the country's Zagatala district, was hospitalized with symptoms of rabies on 22 May 2016. "The woman was bitten by a dog on 1 Apr 2016, but she didn't admit to hospital immediately," Bayramova said.

She noted that in fact, in animal bite cases, people must be vaccinated against rabies within 14 days. "Turajova went to the hospital after 52 days when signs of rabies appeared. Her treatment continued in a hospital in Zagatala, and doctors from Minghachevir and Baku were sent for consultation," she added.

Rita Ismayilova, head of the department of epidemiology of especially dangerous infectious diseases of the Republican Anti Plague Station under the Health Ministry, told APA that a dog bit the index finger of that woman's right hand 2 months ago. "As she was slightly injured, she didn't seek medical aid. The wound healed, but 2 months later she began to exhibit signs of rabies. Symptoms begin with fear of light, water and air. Though the woman was hospitalized, human rabies case often results in death," Ismayilova noted.

She added that it is the 1st case of human rabies recorded in Azerbaijan in 2016. The last case of human rabies was recorded 3-4 years ago.
====================
[The statement of the spokesperson that "in fact, in animal bite cases, people must be vaccinated against rabies within 14 days" does not comply with WHO guidelines for the "post exposure prophylaxis (PEP)" procedures. Such cases require "immediate" post-exposure-prophylaxis treatment. Subscribers are referred to the following WHO's "Top 10 General Considerations in Rabies PEP", updated 2014:

1. Wounds must be immediately washed/flushed for 15 minutes and disinfected.
2. Rabies PEP should be instituted immediately. PEP consists of a course of potent, effective rabies vaccine that meets WHO recommendations and administration of rabies immunoglobulin.
3. PEP must be applied using vaccine regimens and administration routes that have been proven to be safe and effective.
4. PEP does not have contraindications if purified rabies immunoglobulin and vaccine are used. Pregnancy and infancy are not contraindications to PEP.
5. If rabies immunoglobulin is not available on 1st visit, use can be delayed by up to 7 days from the date of the 1st vaccine dose.
6. Initiation of PEP should not await the results of laboratory diagnosis or be delayed by dog observation when rabies is suspected.
7. When suspect rabid animal contacts (excluding bats) occur in areas free of carnivore-mediated rabies and where there is adequate surveillance in place, PEP may not be required. The decision must be based on expert risk assessment.
8. Patients presenting for rabies PEP even months after having been bitten should be treated as if the contact had recently occurred.
9. PEP should be administered even if the suspect animal is not available for testing or observation. However, vaccine and immunoglobulin administration may be discontinued if the animal involved: is a vaccinated dog (cat or ferret) that following observation for 10 days, remains healthy or is humanely killed and declared negative for rabies by a WHO prescribed laboratory test. 10. In areas enzootic for (canine and wildlife) rabies, PEP should be instituted immediately unless adequate laboratory surveillance and data indicates that the species involved is not a vector of rabies.

For the above and further information, see WHO "Guide for Rabies Pre and Post Exposure Prophylaxis in Humans at

The recent case, in a child (item 1), was a "Category III" case ("Bites to the head, neck, face hand and genitals") requiring special treatment.

Subscribers are referred to the excellent paper
"Things-you-may-not-know-about-rabies-but-should", available at
Date: Wed 18 Feb 2015
Source: Azer News [edited]

We are accustomed to hear about food poisoning in summertime and may neglect winter's main danger -- botulism -- which may strike us down. In January 2015, 64 cases of food poisoning were registered in Azerbaijan. The total number of victims of these poisoning cases reached 92 people, said Imran Abdullayev, Head of Hygiene and Epidemiology Center Department of the Health Ministry. Moreover, cases of botulism were registered in January 2015, which harmed 9 people, leaving 1 dead. The poisoning was due to homemade pickled tomatoes.

The Centre of Hygiene and Epidemiology urges people to follow hygiene rules at home and buy food from reliable catering outlets and grocery stores to avoid food poisoning. Special attention should be paid to children's nutrition.

To avoid food poisoning, one must simply follow hygiene rules at home and buy food in reliable catering outlets and grocery stores.

Prevention of botulism is simple: combining a refrigeration temperature with salt content and acidic conditions. This combination stops the growth of the bacterium and production of toxin.  [Byline: Nigar Orujova]
====================
[Pickling food in an acidic medium such as vinegar is one way of preserving the food and minimizing the risk of botulism, since the spores do not germinate below pH 4.6. Inadequate acidification, therefore, may be the issue here, and this has occurred before related to human botulism, as an example, from homemade pickled eggs (CDC: Foodborne botulism from eating home-pickled eggs -- Illinois, 1997. MMWR 2000;49:778-780). - ProMED Mod.LL]

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

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 17:37:27 +0100 (MET)
By Helen ROXBURGH

Beijing, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - A new SARS-like virus has killed 17 people in China, infected hundreds and reached as far as the United States, with fears mounting about its spread as hundreds of millions travel for Lunar New Year celebrations, which start Friday.   Many countries have stepped up screening of passengers from Wuhan, the Chinese city identified as the epicentre, and the World Health Organization has called an emergency meeting.   Here's what we know so far about the virus:

- It's entirely new -
The pathogen appears to be a never-before-seen strain of coronavirus -- a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003.   Arnaud Fontanet, head of the department of epidemiology at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, told AFP the current virus strain was 80 percent genetically identical to SARS.   China has already shared the genome sequencing of this novel coronavirus with the international scientific community.   It has been named "2019-nCoV".

- It's being passed between humans -
The WHO said Monday it believed an animal source was the "primary source" of the outbreak, and Wuhan authorities identified a seafood market as the centre of the epidemic.   But China has since confirmed that there was evidence the virus is now passing from person to person, without any contact with the now-closed market.

The virus has infected more than 400 people across the country, with most cases in Wuhan, according to officials. Li Bin of China's National Health Commission on Wednesday said 1,394 people were still under medical observation.   Doctor Nathalie MacDermott of King's College London said it seems likely that the virus is spread through droplets in the air from sneezing or coughing.   Doctors at the University of Hong Kong published an initial paper on Tuesday modelling the spread of the virus which estimated that there have been some 1,343 cases in Wuhan -- similar to a projection of 1,700 last week by scientists at Imperial College, London.   Both are much higher than official figures.

- It is milder than SARS -
Compared with SARS, the symptoms appear to be less aggressive, and experts say the death toll is still relatively low.   "It's difficult to compare this disease with SARS," said Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at China's National Health Commission at a press conference this week. "It's mild. The condition of the lung is not like SARS."   However, the milder nature of the virus can also cause alarm.

The outbreak comes as China prepares for the Lunar New Year Holiday, with hundreds of millions travelling across the country to see family.   Professor Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, told AFP that the fact that the virus seems milder in the majority of people is "paradoxically more worrying" as it allows people to travel further before their symptoms are detected.   "Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high," said Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust.

- International public health emergency? -
The WHO will hold a meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a "public health emergency of international concern" and if so, what should be done to manage it.   Cases have so far been confirmed in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau and the United States.

The WHO has only used the rare label a handful of times, including during the H1N1 -- or swine flu -- pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.   The Chinese government announced Tuesday it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as the SARS outbreak, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel.   But if the WHO decides to take this step, it would put the Wuhan virus in the same category as a handful of very serious epidemics.

- Global precautions -
As the number of confirmed deaths and infections has risen, so has concern worldwide about the disease spreading to other countries.   In Thailand, authorities have introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving at airports in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi from high-risk areas in China.

In Hong Kong, where hundreds died during the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003, authorities have said they are on high alert, carrying out scans at the city's airport -- one of the world's busiest -- and at other international land and sea crossing points.

The United States also ordered the screening of passengers arriving on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan, including at airports in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.   Taiwan has issued travel advisories, and went to its second-highest alert level for those travelling to or from Wuhan. Vietnam has also ordered more border checks on its border with China.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 16:53:32 +0100 (MET)
By Beiyi SEOW

Beijing, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - The death toll from a new SARS-like virus that has infected hundreds in China rose to 17 on Wednesday, as authorities urged people to steer clear of the city at the centre of the outbreak.   The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   With hundreds of millions of people travelling across China this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, the National Health Commission announced measures to contain the disease -- including sterilisation and ventilation at airports and bus stations, as well as inside planes and trains.

In Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, large public events were cancelled and international football matches were moved to a new location. Visitors were urged to stay away, while residents were advised to not to leave the central city, which is home to 11 million people.   "If it's not necessary we suggest that people don't come to Wuhan," Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV.    The illness is mainly transmitted via the respiratory tract and there "is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease", health commission vice minister Li Bin told a news conference in Beijing.   More than 500 cases have now been reported, with the majority in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province.

The virus has now infected at least 444 people in Hubei province alone, said provincial officials at a press conference, adding that the death toll had risen from nine to 17.   Major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing have also reported cases, as well as provinces in northeastern, central, and southern China.   The World Health Organization started an emergency meeting Wednesday to decide whether or not to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has now been detected in the United States, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Macau.

The Chinese government has classified the outbreak in the same category as the SARS epidemic, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the illness and the potential to implement quarantine measures.   But they still have not been able to confirm the exact source of the virus.   "We will step up research efforts to identify the source and transmission of the disease," Li said, adding that "the cases are mostly linked to Wuhan".   Countries have intensified efforts to stop the spread of the pathogen -- known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).   Passengers are facing screening measures at five US airports and a host of transport hubs across Asia. Britain and Italy on Wednesday also announced enhanced monitoring of passengers from Wuhan.

- Virus source -
A prominent expert from China's National Health Commission confirmed this week that the virus can be passed between people.   However, animals are suspected to be the primary source of the outbreak.   A Wuhan market is believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak.

A price list circulating online in China for a business there lists a menagerie of animals or animal-based products including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies and rats. It also offered civets, the animal linked to SARS.   "We already know that the disease originated from a market which conducted illegal transaction of wild animals," said Gao Fu, director of the Chinese centre for disease control and prevention.   He said it was clear "this virus is adapting and mutating".   Hong Kong and British scientists have estimated that between 1,300 and 1,700 people in Wuhan may have been infected.

- Containment -
Health authorities are urging people to wash their hands regularly, avoid crowded places, get plenty of fresh air and wear a mask if they have a cough.   Anyone with a cough or fever was urged to go to hospital.   In Wuhan, city authorities made it mandatory to wear a mask in public places on Wednesday, according to state-run People's Daily.

In response to skyrocketing demand for masks -- which were starting to sell out at pharmacies and on some popular websites -- China's industry and information technology ministry said it would "spare no effort in increasing supply", state media reported.   "These days, I wear masks even in places that are not too crowded, although I wouldn't have done so in the past," said Wang Suping, 50, who works at a Beijing arts school.   At the capital's main international airport, the majority of people were wearing masks.

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it had agreed to allow staff to wear surgical masks on mainland China flights, and that passengers from Wuhan would be offered masks and antiseptic wipes.   In Wuhan, police were conducting vehicle spot checks for live poultry or wild animals leaving and entering the city, state media said.   Officials also screened people on roads, the airport and the train station for fever.   The local government has cancelled major public activities and banned tour groups from heading out of the city.   Women's Olympics football qualifiers scheduled for February 3-9 in Wuhan have been moved to the eastern city of Nanjing.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 15:49:25 +0100 (MET)

Montreal, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - A Canadian guide died and five French tourists were missing after at least one snowmobile plunged through ice in northern Quebec, police said Tuesday.   The group were riding close to where a river exits the Saint-Jean lake, and were outside the approved area for snowmobiles, police spokesman Hugues Beaulieu told AFP.   Nine people, including the guide, were on the trip on Tuesday evening when the ice broke underneath them.   Police said they were alerted by two of the tourists who had rescued a third tourist from the freezing water.

The 42-year-old guide was pulled out by emergency response teams and taken to hospital, but he died overnight, Beaulieu said, adding "five French tourists are still missing."   The police and army were searching the area on Wednesday, assisted by divers.   "This sector was not part of a marked trail, they were off-piste," said the spokesman.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 04:55:57 +0100 (MET)

Hong Kong, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - Macau on Wednesday reported its first confirmed case of the new SARS-like coronavirus as authorities announced all staff in the city's bustling casinos had been ordered to wear face masks.   The former Portuguese colony is a huge draw for mainland tourists as the only place in China that allows gambling.

With the Lunar New Year approaching this weekend, a huge influx of mainland tourists is expected in the city.   Asian countries have ramped up measures to block the spread of the new virus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has so far killed at least nine people.

On Wednesday, Macau announced its first confirmed case -- a 52-year-old businesswoman from Wuhan who arrived in the city by high-speed rail on Sunday, via the neighbouring city of Zhuhai.    "A series of tests found that she was positive for the coronavirus and had symptoms of pneumonia," Lei Chin-lon, the head of Macau's health bureau, told reporters.    The woman had been staying at the New Orient Landmark Hotel with two friends who were being monitored since her admission to hospital on Tuesday.

Ao Ieong Iu, Macau's Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, said staff in all casinos would be required to wear masks while anyone arriving at entry ports along the city's border with the mainland would need to fill out health declaration forms.    "We have not banned tourism groups from Wuhan but we are not encouraging them," Ao Ieong said.    "We will stay in close contact with tourism agencies and require them to notify us of all groups going to and coming from Wuhan," she added.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 22:23:22 +0100 (MET)
By Issam Ahmed with Helen Roxburgh

Washington/Beijing, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - The United States on Tuesday announced its first case of a new virus that has claimed six lives in China and sickened hundreds, joining countries around the world in ramping up measures to block its spread.   The man, a US resident in his 30s who lives near Seattle, is in good condition, according to federal and state officials, and approached authorities himself after reading about the SARS-like virus in news reports.   He is "currently hospitalized out of an abundance of precaution, and for short term monitoring, not because there was severe illness," said Chris Spitters, a Washington state health official.  "This is an evolving situation and again, we do expect additional patients in the United States and globally," added Nancy Messonier, a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but stressed that the overall risk to Americans remained low.

The man entered the country on January 15 after traveling to Wuhan, two days before the US began deploying health officials at major airports to screen passengers arriving from that central Chinese city which is at the heart of the outbreak. The efforts are to be extended now to a total of five US airports.   It came as countries ramped up measures to block the spread of the virus -- known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus or 2019-nCoV -- as the number of cases surpassed 300, raising concerns in the middle of a major Chinese holiday travel rush.

Fears of a bigger outbreak rose after a prominent expert from China's National Health Commission confirmed late Monday that the virus can be passed between people.   That conclusion is shared by the CDC, which said "person-to-person spread is occurring, although it's unclear how easily the virus spreads between people," even as the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a more cautious approach, saying it is still investigating.   The UN agency will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to determine whether to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has also been detected in Thailand, Japan and South Korea and Taiwan.

- Holiday rush -
Authorities previously said there was no obvious evidence of person-to-person transmission and animals were suspected to be the source, as a seafood market where live animals were sold in Wuhan was identified as the center of the outbreak.   Hundreds of millions of people are criss-crossing China this week in packed buses, trains and planes to celebrate the Lunar New Year with relatives.

More than 80 new cases have been confirmed, bringing the total number of people hit by the virus in China to 315, with the vast majority in Hubei, the province where Wuhan lies, according to officials.   But cases have also been confirmed around the country, including Beijing and Shanghai.   The first case on the self-ruled island of Taiwan was also confirmed Tuesday, with a woman taken to hospital on arrival at the airport from Wuhan.   Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV Tuesday that the death toll had risen from four to six.   The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

- Fever checks -
At four airports in Thailand, authorities introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving from high-risk areas of China.   In Hong Kong, authorities said they were on "extreme high alert," with passengers from Wuhan required to fill out health declarations and face possible jail time if they do not declare symptoms.   Enhanced screening measures have also been set up at airports in Australia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore and Russia, Malaysia and Vietnam.   A man showing symptoms of the disease who had travelled to Wuhan has been put in isolation in Australia as health officials await test results, authorities said Tuesday.   In China, the government announced it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as SARS, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed ith the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel.

In Wuhan, authorities banned tour groups and police were conducting spot checks for animals in vehicles leaving and entering the city, state media said.   It added that city health authorities had scheduled 800 beds to be made available in three hospitals and 1,200 more would soon be ready, and passengers were being screened for fever at the airport, railway stations and bus terminals.   Doctors at the University of Hong Kong released a study on Tuesday estimating that there have been 1,343 cases of the new virus in Wuhan.   The WHO has only called a global public health emergency a handful of times, including during the H1N1 -- or swine flu -- pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 20:58:18 +0100 (MET)

Lima, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Peru is installing security cameras at its world renowned Machu Picchu site after it was damaged earlier this month by foreign tourists, authorities said Tuesday.   "We are going to strengthen security at Machu Picchu by installing high-tech cameras," Jose Bastante, head of the archaeological park, told AFP.   Bastante said 18 cameras will be located at three strategic points of the citadel as well as access points from surrounding mountains.   "This will allow us to better control visitors and avoid any action or infraction to the regulations, also any type of risk," he said, adding that drones were also being used for security.

Five tourists accused of damaging the iconic site were deported to Bolivia last week and barred from returning to the country for 15 years.    A sixth, from Argentina, was fined $360 and must pay $1,500 to the culture ministry for repairs after he admitted to damaging the Temple of the Sun at the ancient Inca sanctuary.

The Argentine, 28-year-old Nahuel Gomez, also received a suspended sentenced of three years and four months, but can leave the country once the fines are paid.   Gomez admitted to causing a stone slab to fall from a temple wall. It was chipped when it fell, causing a crack in the floor.   "The damaged caused is significant. The integrity of Machu Picchu has been broken," Bastante said.   Members of the group were also suspected of defecating inside the 600-year-old temple.

The Machu Picchu complex -- which includes three distinct areas for agriculture, housing and religious ceremonies -- is the most iconic site from the Inca empire, which ruled over a large swath of western South America for 100 years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.   Machu Picchu, which means "old mountain" in the Quechua language indigenous to the area, is at the top of a lush mountain and was built during the reign of the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438-1471).
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 17:28:23 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Beleaguered national airline South African Airways (SAA) announced on Tuesday it was cancelling 10 domestic and one international flight in an effort to streamline services and save cash.   The cash-strapped airline was last month placed under a state-approved business rescue plan to avoid total collapse following a costly week-long strike by thousands of its workers.   SAA said in was dropping 10 domestic flights between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, while canning its direct route between Johannesburg and Munich.

Passengers on cancelled domestic flights will be accommodated on its budget sister airline, Mango, while international travellers would be re-routed via its flights between Johannesburg and Frankfurt, and London Heathrow.   "These decisions are in line with SAA's usual policy of reviewing flights and consolidating services with low demand," it said in a statement.   "Furthermore, during the current process of business rescue, these cancellations represent a responsible strategy to conserve cash and optimise the airline's position ahead of any further capital investment."

The company said there might be further flight schedule changes over the coming days.   Aviation analyst Phuthego Mojapele said a spate of cancellations by clients were exacerbating problems for SAA.   "At the moment SAA's perception out there ... it's not really looking good because there is negative news that is being perpetuated on the wires every single day," Mojapele told local television station, eNCA.   "However, SAA's records in terms of safety, in terms of the service has always been excellent," he added.

The debt-ridden carrier, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts, has been awaiting a two-billion rand ($138 million) payout from the Treasury to fund a rescue plan announced in December.   Finance Minister Tito Mboweni last week told journalists that the government was still trying to "find a solution to finance the airline".    Local media have reported that SAA is selling nine older aircraft to make way for new planes, part of a separate plan to rid itself of its most costly aircraft.   SAA, Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines, employs more than 5,000 workers. It has a fleet of more than 50 aircraft flying to more than more 35 domestic and international destinations.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 12:26:16 +0100 (MET)

Taipei, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Taiwan on Tuesday reported its first confirmed case of the new SARS-like coronavirus as the government warned the public against travelling to Chinese city where it emerged.    The patient is a Taiwanese woman in her fifties, living in Wuhan, who returned to the island on Monday with symptoms including fever, coughing and a sore throat.   Asian countries have ramped up measures to block the spread of the new virus as the death toll in China rose to six and the number of cases jumped to almost 300 since it first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The Taiwan patient reported her symptoms to quarantine officials on arrival at Taoyuan airport and was immediately taken to a hospital for treatment, said the island's Centers for Disease Control (CDC).    The woman told officials that she had not visited any local markets or had contact with birds or wild animals while in Wuhan.    Authorities are monitoring some 46 passengers and crew from the same flight, the agency said.

The CDC raised its alert on Wuhan to the highest level, urging the public against travelling to the city unless necessary.    "We ask the public not to panic as the individual was taken to hospital directly from the airport and did not step into the community," it said in a statement, adding that it reported the case to the World Health Organization and China authorities.   The coronavirus has spread to Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 12:08:14 +0100 (MET)

Kathmandu, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Eight Indian tourists, including four children, have died after they were found unconscious in their room at a hill resort in Nepal on Tuesday, police said.   The eight -- two couples and their children -- had slept in one room at a hotel in Daman, a popular tourist destination in Makwanpur district about 55 kilometres (34 miles) from Kathmandu.   "They were found unconscious this morning and airlifted to Kathmandu but died during treatment," police spokesman Shailesh Thapa Chettri told AFP.

The families, from the south-eastern state of Kerala, used a gas heater in their room to keep warm, a district official told AFP.   "We suspect they died of suffocation, but autopsy reports will confirm the cause," Chettri added.   India is Nepal's biggest source of tourists, making up some 16 percent of visitors to the Himalayan nation.
Date: Sun, 19 Jan 2020 14:17:42 +0100 (MET)

Kathmandu, Jan 19, 2020 (AFP) - Avalanches, heavy snow and poor visibility hampered the search Sunday for four South Koreans and three Nepalis caught in an avalanche in the popular Annapurna region of the Himalayas, officials said   Relatives of the missing Koreans have arrived in Kathmandu alongside several officials sent by Seoul to help with the emergency rescue efforts, Ang Dorjee Sherpa of the Korean Alpine Federation told AFP.

The missing group was near the Annapurna base camp around 3,230 metres (10,600 feet) above sea level when the avalanche struck after heavy snowfall on Friday.   "Our team reached the area but could not proceed with their search because of more avalanches. We are exploring ways to move the operation forward," said Mira Acharya from Nepal's tourism department.

Rescuers were working with Korean officials to deploy drones in the search on Monday, said Dilip Gurung of the tourism management committee in Chhomrong, which lies on the trekking route.   "It is difficult for people to go. We will try to fly drones to help find something," Gurung said.   Helicopters were sent out on Saturday to rescue about 200 people stranded around Annapurna and other nearby mountains after the incident.

Guesthouses and the trekking route were blanketed in a thick layer of snow.   "The snow was very deep and it took us more than double the time to dig through and walk," said Jeevan Dahal, a guide who was rescued by helicopter.   "We saw the avalanche-hit area from the helicopter. Everything was white."   Tek Gurung, a guesthouse owner aiding the search operation, said more than two metres of snow (6.6 feet) had fallen on the trekking trails and it was "extremely difficult" to search the snow-covered area on foot.

Six of the missing were part of the same expedition, while one Nepali porter was escorting a different group.   The four foreigners -- two men and two women -- were part of an 11-member team of South Korean nationals. Others have safely descended.    Education officials in Seoul said they were part of a team of volunteer teachers working with children in Nepal.

Two more South Koreans were due to arrive in Nepal on Sunday to help with the search, the country's foreign ministry said.   Sherpa said it had snowed heavily around Annapurna in recent days, making the trek risky.   "The weather and snow got worse and, feeling it was becoming dangerous and difficult, they decided to turn. As they were heading back the avalanche hit," Sherpa told AFP on Saturday.

Annapurna is an avalanche-prone and technically difficult mountain range with a higher death rate than Everest, the world's highest peak.    Thousands of trekkers visit the route every year for its stunning views of the Himalayas.   A snowstorm killed about 40 people on the circuit in 2014, in one of the biggest trekking tragedies to hit Nepal.