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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: 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
Date: Thu, 10 Mar 2016 14:54:28 +0100

Doha, March 10, 2016 (AFP) - A 66-year-old Qatari man has died after contracting the MERS virus, in the first fatal case in the Gulf state for 10 months, health officials announced Thursday.   The public health ministry, quoted by the official Qatar News Agency, said the man "had been suffering from several chronic diseases and died of complications from the disease".

This was the first such case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome reported in Qatar since May 2015 when it claimed the life of a 73-year-old man, the ministry added in a statement.   The ministry "continues to monitor acute respiratory diseases and is working in cooperation with all the health institutions in the public and private sectors to monitor any suspected case," it said.   The latest victim had been diagnosed with the virus in February. He was hospitalised after returning from a "neighbouring country", according to an official statement last month.

MERS is a viral respiratory illness and considered a deadlier but less infectious cousin of the SARS virus that appeared in Asia in 2003, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing hundreds.   Like SARS, it appears to cause a lung infection, with patients suffering coughing, breathing difficulties and a temperature.

MERS differs in that it also causes rapid kidney failure.   It first appeared five years ago in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which has been the country worst hit by the virus, with 1,286 cases of infection and 551 deaths, according to official figures.   Globally, there have been 1,644 confirmed MERS cases and 590 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
More ...

Western Sahara

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

World Travel News Headlines

9 December 2019
https://www.who.int/bangladesh/news/detail/09-12-2019-cholera-vaccination-campaign-launched-to-protect-635-000-people-in-cox-s-bazar

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Over 635,000 Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi host community will be vaccinated against cholera in a 3-week-long campaign beginning today at the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and nearby areas, to protect vulnerable population against the deadly disease amidst increasing number of cases of acute watery diarrhoea (AWD).


The Oral Cholera Vaccination (OCV) campaign will be implemented in the refugee camps from 8-14 December to reach 139,888 Rohingya aged 1 year and less than 5 years. In the host community, the campaign will take place from 8-31 December and aims to reach any person older than 1 year (495,197). In total, 635,085 people are expected to be reached.

Led by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, with support of the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and other partners, the campaign aims to reach people who missed some or all previous cholera vaccination opportunities. The campaign, including operational costs, is funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“We want to equip these populations with more protection against diarrheal diseases. Despite the progresses made to ensure access to quality water and sanitation, such diseases remain an issue of concern: approximately 80% of host community living near the camps have not been targeted in previous OCV campaigns and are still vulnerable”, says Dr Bardan Jung Rana, WHO Representative in Bangladesh.

Earlier rounds of cholera vaccination, which have taken place since the beginning of the emergency response in 2017, have helped prevent outbreaks of the disease. To this date, over 1 million people were vaccinated against cholera.
6th December 2019
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/06/flooding-hits-new-zealand-tourist-hubs-of-wanaka-and-queenstown

Heavy rain has led to rivers bursting their banks, forcing the closure of shops and restaurants

Streets in the South Island tourist towns of Wanaka and Queenstown were slowly going under water on Friday, after Lake Wanaka and Lake Wakatipu burst their banks earlier in the week, flooding businesses and sewerage systems.

Water and large debris closed the main street of Wanaka, a popular spot with Instagrammers thanks to its famous tree that appears to have grown out of the lake. On Friday businesses were sandbagging as heavy rain continued to fall.

Sewerage systems in the town were also at risk of contaminating the lake, with the Queenstown Lakes District council taking the precautionary measure of shutting down the sewer connection to a handful of premises.

Wanaka residents were told to be on “high alert” with heavy rain predicted all weekend.

The streets of the usually bustling tourist town were largely empty, and the popular cafes and restaurants on the lake shore were closed.

3rd December 2019
https://watchers.news/2019/12/03/at-least-25-dead-as-days-of-heavy-rain-hit-tamil-nadu-india/

At least 25 people were killed in various rain-related incidents in Tamil Nadu, India since November 29, 2019. 17 of the victims died after a wall collapsed following a continuous heavy downpour in Coimbatore on Monday morning, December 2.

Among the fatalities were 10 women. Around 1 305 huts and 465 tiled-roof houses were damaged, while 1,000 people were evacuated to government relief centers in Tuticorin, Cuddalore, and Tirunelveli districts as the north-east monsoon intensifies.

Schools remain closed on Monday including those in the districts of Chennai, Chengalpet, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Cuddalore, and Tuticorin, as the areas received 90 mm (3 inches) rain in the past 36 hours.

A flood alert has been issued to residents near the banks of Bhavani River in this western district of Tamil Nadu as a dam built across it has burst in the wake of torrential rains in catchment areas, officials said on Monday.

6th December 2019
https://erccportal.jrc.ec.europa.eu/ECHO-Flash/ECHO-Flash-Item/oid/17835

  • Southern Angola has been affected by widespread floods, triggered by heavy rains on 2-4 December.
  • According to the Government of Angola, 60 people have been displaced in the city of Ondjiva (Cunene Province), while several houses are damaged, roads are flooded, and power outages have been reported across areas of Ondjiva.
  • In Kalepi Municipality (Huila Province, southern Angola), a lightning event killed five people, and injured one on 2 December.
  • Moderate to heavy rains will persist over central, southern and eastern Angola on 6-8 December.
6th December, 2019
HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre

There is a case of human rabies in Latvia. The case has been clinically and laboratory confirmed (immunofluorescence and PCR). The case is 55 years old female from city Daugavpils, located 35 km from Belarus and Lithuania borders. Symptoms appeared on November, 22, she died on November, 28. 
 
Possible exposures: 
• In May, 2018 she was bitten in both legs (ankles) by puppy travelling in India;
• She worked as volunteer in animal shelter in Daugavpils, in April this year she was bitten/scratched there by a dog, and the dog is healthy now;
• She fed stray cats and dogs in the courtyard of the house in Daugavpils, as well as in a country house outside the city near the forest. Information about bites or other possible exposures is not known.

In none of these cases the person received PEP. Now 61 contacts receive post-exposure treatment (vaccination), mostly as precautions: staff of two hospitals and medical emergency service, and close contacts, including household. In Latvia the last cases of rabies in wild animals were registered in 2010, in 2012 was registered the last case in domestic animals. In 2014, Latvia received the status of a country free of rabies. Latvia continues to implement wild animal’s vaccination progamme. Neighbour countries Belarus and Russian Federation is not rabies free and animals can cross the border.
 
A test report has been received on the results of the rabies virus genotype identification and sequencing reaction (EURL-Rabies Protocol, (AFSSA) P. Meyer, 2009). The rabies virus genotype 1 was detected in the sample. According to the GenBank database, the virus sequence has 99.17% identity to the RV2924 isolate of rabies virus from Nepal. Information and evidence obtained during an epidemiological investigation demonstrated that the human rabies case had a dog bites during her travel in India (Naggar and Manali, state Himachal Pradesh – close to Nepal), in May 2018. No post exposure treatment was received.

No cases of illegally exported pets as the potential source of infection were identified in the relation to this rabies case. According to the literature in rare cases a long (more than one year) incubation period of rabies is observed. Taking into account the epidemiological data and the result of the rabies virus sequencing, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control of Latvia believes that this human rabies case is not epidemiologically linked to Latvia.
6th December, 2019
HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre

On 27/11/2019, a possible case of diphtheria was reported to the Department of Epidemiological Surveillance and Intervention through the Mandatory Notification System in Greece. It concerned an 8 years old boy of Greek nationality, who was hospitalized in the ICU of General Children's Hospital  where he died.  This child had underlying conditions (severe pulmonary hypertension) and was admitted to ICU  on 22/11/2019 with clinical presentation of laryngitis (without the presence of characteristic pseudo membranes) and pneumonia, immediately intubated, covered with double antibiotic regimen and died due to deterioration of his clinical presentation on 26/11/2019.
 
According to the epidemiological data given , there is no travel history, group living, no connection to another case and the child does not belong to a specific population group. Regarding his immunization status, the child was vaccinated with at least 3 doses against diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis.
 
Laboratory investigation of bronchial exudate isolated Corynebacterium diphtheriae via VITEK. Further laboratory testing was performed by the Public Health England  reference Laboratory for Corynebacteria. On Thursday 5/12/2019, the National Public Health Organization was informed that multiplex PCR testing was positive for C. Diphtheriae and positive for the diphtheria toxin gene. The Elek test was also positive for toxin production. The results of the child's post-mortem exam are pending.

Contact tracing and management is ongoing and has identified most of the close contacts of the patient. The National Public Health Organization provided recommendations on obtaining nasopharyngeal cultures in close contacts to evaluate carriage as well as the necessary preventive measures to protect the child's close contacts as well as the medical staff involved in direct patient care (i.e. awareness for potential compatible with diphtheria symptoms and administration of antibiotic prophylaxis together with booster or complete vaccination series as appropriate) according to the WHO’s Diphtheria Surveillance Standards (September 2018). In addition we have initiated the procedure for the procurement of a limited stockpile of DAT.
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 11:12:25 +0100 (MET)
By Clare BYRNE

Paris, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - France's transport chaos deepened Monday on the fifth day of a nationwide strike over pension reforms, ramping up tensions at the start of a crucial week in President Emmanuel Macron's battle with trade unions.   With only two of the Paris metro's 16 lines running as normal and suburban trains also heavily disrupted, many commuters slipped behind the wheel to try to get to work in torrential rain, causing major gridlock.

By 9 am, the tailbacks in the Paris area ran to 600 kilometres (370 miles), twice the normal level, the Sytadin monitoring website said.   Large queues formed at bus stops following an announcement that one out of two buses would be running but striking workers blocked seven out of 25 bus depots, leaving more travellers stranded.   With many having opted to work from home last week and only now returning to the workplace, this week will test public support for the strike.

A poll Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed 53 percent of the French supporting the strike or expressing sympathy for their demands, up six points in a week.   Unions have called a second day of mass protests for Tuesday, a day before the government unveils the full details of its plans for a single points-based pension scheme that does away with dozens of more advantageous plans enjoyed by train drivers, sailors, lawyers and other professions.

- 'A monstrosity' -
Critics argue that the shake-up will require people in both the public and private sector to work longer for a smaller retirement payout.   Teachers are expected to walk out again for the second time in a week Tuesday, leading to widespread school closures.

Firefighters, electricity workers and "yellow vest" anti-government demonstrators have also joined railway workers in the streets in recent days.   The government's pensions envoy Jean-Paul Delevoye, who drafted the reforms, and Health Minister Agnes Buzyn will meet with trade unions on Monday to try to negotiate an end to the deadlock.   But the unions have sounded an uncompromising note.   "I will not negotiate over the implementation of what I describe as a monstrosity which endangers tomorrow's pensioners," said Yves Veyrier, the head of the militant Force Ouvriere union.

The strike has squeezed retailers in the run-up to Christmas, raising the prospect of another bleak year-end after the unrest caused by the yellow vests in late 2018.   The first day of the stoppage already caused an average 30 percent drop in sales, according to the Alliance of Commerce, which represents 27,000 supermarkets and clothing and shoe stores with almost 200,000 workers.   A hotel association said reservations in the larger Paris region dropped by 30 to 40 percent on the first day of the strike.    Regional and international trains, including the Eurostar to London and Thalys to Brussels, have also been hobbled by the unrest, and several flights were cancelled on the first days of the strike.

- Fairer system for all? -
Over 800,000 people took to the streets when the strike was launched on December 5, many accusing Macron of trying to weaken France's generous social safety net.   The president, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and senior cabinet ministers met late Sunday to discuss the changes, which they argue will ensure a fairer and more sustainable system for all.   "If we do not carry out a far-reaching, serious and progressive reform today, someone else will do a really brutal one tomorrow," Philippe told Le Journal du Dimanche.

The strike has drawn comparisons with late 1995 when three weeks of strikes forced the then centre-right government to withdraw its pension reforms.   Adrien Quatennens, a lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party, acknowledged on LCI radio that the strike was hard on businesses and commuters, but said: "It's better to endure a few weeks of hassle than... years of hardship" in retirement.
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 10:20:33 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS, with Holly Robertson in Sydney

Wellington, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - Five people were killed, 18 were injured and several more were left stranded after an island volcano popular with tourists erupted unexpectedly in New Zealand on Monday.   Police said some 50 people were visiting White Island when it exploded suddenly in the early afternoon -- hurling ash and rock high into the air.   Two dozen people made it off the island, five of whom have since died. The rest are being treated for injuries, including severe burns.

Nothing is yet known about a group -- now estimated to number in the double digits -- who are still trapped on the island.   "We're unsure of the exact numbers on there and we're unsure of their wellbeing," said deputy commissioner John Tims.   As night fell, he said volcanic activity made a rescue attempt too dangerous.   "The island is unstable, there's a danger of further eruptions, it is physically unsafe for us to return to the island"   "I've got to consider the safety of our people and emergency services staff."   The eruption occurred at 2:11pm (0111 GMT), thrusting a thick plume of white ash 3.6 kilometres (12,000 feet) into the sky.   Seconds before, live camera feeds showed a group of more than a half dozen people walking on the crater floor. Then the images went black.

A "considerable number" of those caught up in the disaster are believed to be Australian, according to officials in Canberra.   As many as 30 people are also believed to be cruise passengers on a day trip from the vessel Ovation of the Seas, Kevin O'Sullivan, chief executive officer of industry body the New Zealand Cruise Association told AFP.   The ship's operator Royal Caribbean -- who had billed the trip to White Island as "an unforgettable guided tour of New Zealand's most active volcano" -- said "a number of our guests were touring the island" but did not confirm that number.   The ship has a capacity of around 4,000 people and set sail from Sydney last week on a 12 day voyage.

- Scene of terror -
Tourist Michael Schade, made it off the island just in time and was able to capture footage of the devastation.   His videos showed groups of startled tourists clustered by the shoreline, waiting to be evacuated as the ground around them smouldered, the sky filled with white debris. An ash-caked helicopter lies damaged nearby.   As his ship hurtled away, the caldera became virtually invisible, shrouded by a thick bank of ash.   Volcanic Air said they had landed a helicopter on the island shortly before the eruption carrying four visitors and one pilot. All were now accounted for.   "It had landed on the island. What happened after that we don't know, but we know that all five made it back to Whakatane on one of the tourist boats," a company spokesman told AFP.

Guillaume Calmelet, the co-director of Skydive Tauranga, saw the eruption from above as he took a customer on a tandem skydive from a plane 12,000 feet above the Bay of Plenty.   "As soon as the parachute opened there was this huge cloud that was really different to whatever we've seen before," he told AFP. "I could see it coming out in freefall, so probably about 30 seconds for the whole cloud to form, if that. It was pretty quick."   The country's National Emergency Management Agency described the eruption as "moderate", although the plume of ash was clearly visible from the mainland and from satellites flying overhead.    "We have seen a steady decline in activity since the eruption. There remains significant uncertainty as to future changes but currently, there are no signs of escalation."

White Island -- - also known as Whakaari -- is about 50 kilometres (30 miles) offshore in the picturesque Bay of Plenty and is popular with adventurous tourists willing to don hard hats and gas masks.   It is New Zealand's most active volcano cone and about 70 percent of it is underwater, according to government-backed agency GeoNet.   Around 10,000 people visit the volcano every year. It has erupted frequently over the last half-century, most recently in 2016.

In August of that year the New Zealand Defence Force airlifted a 2.4-tonne shipping container onto the island to serve as an emergency shelter in case of an eruption.   "Sudden, unheralded eruptions from volcanoes such as White Island can be expected at any time," said University of Auckland volcanologist Shane Cronin.   "The hazards expected from such events are the violent ejection of hot blocks and ash, and formation of 'hurricane-like' currents of wet ash and coarse particles that radiate from the explosion vent."   "These can be deadly in terms of causing impact trauma, burns and respiratory problems. The eruptions are short-lived, but once one occurs, there are high chances for further, generally smaller ones as the system re-equilibrates."
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 09:54:20 +0100 (MET)

Rome, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - A 4.5 magnitude earthquake hit the central Italian region of Mugello on Monday, sending panicked residents into the streets but causing minimal damage to buildings.   The quake, centred some 31 km (19 miles) northeast of Florence in Tuscany, hit at 4:37 am (0330 GMT), after a series of smaller quakes, according to the national institute for geophysics and vulcanology (INGV).

Residents fled their buildings in the rain,  congregating outside or in their cars to await authorities.    "The quake went on for awhile, especially the first one, things fell down at a supermarket but for the moment we haven't seen any damage to people or things," said Filippo Carla' Campa, mayor of the town of Vicchio.   A resident of Barberino del Mugello said his neighbours were panicking getting out of the building.    "Paintings fell off the walls, bookcases fell over," he told Rai 24.    In Barberino del Mugello, the 17th century church suffered a crack in one side, television images showed.

Schools were closed in the region and some trains through Florence were cancelled or delayed.    Italy is frequently struck by seismic activity, often devastating. Most recently, a series of strong quakes hit central Italy in late 2016 and early 2017, killing 300 people.   In 1919, the area was hit by an earthquake that killed 100 people.
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 03:52:15 +0100 (MET)

Mount Hutt, New Zealand, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - Almost 1,000 tourists were stranded in New Zealand's South Island Monday after wild storms cut highways, washed away bridges and flooded the rugged landscape.   Meteorologists said up to 400 millimetres (16 inches) of rain was dumped on the South Island over 24 hours by a severe weather system that unleashed gale-force winds and 230,000 lightning strikes.   The main highway through the island was closed after the Rangitata river burst its banks. Townships near the popular Franz Josef glacier were isolated when landslips blocked road access.

With New Zealand entering its peak tourist season, some 970 travellers at Franz Josef were left facing the prospect of taking an expensive helicopter ride to get out or hunkering down until Friday, when the road is expected to be cleared.   "Between the community, the hotels and motels and our welfare centre we've managed to billet out most people overnight," Civil Defence spokesman Stephen Doran told TVNZ.   "We'd just ask people to stay put at the moment. We want to keep the work site clear so we can get supplies in there... and try to get the road into some sort of shape."

Another landslip on the island's west coast will take an estimated six weeks to clear.   The worst of the weather hit over the weekend and it is forecast to deteriorate again later in the week, leaving authorities scrambling during a brief respite to complete as much repair work as possible.