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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qatar

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

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

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

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

Increased security at official facilities has led terrorists and their sympathizers to seek softer, less fortified targets; the March 2005 theater attack in Doha is one such example.
Other locations of potential concern include any venue where U.S. citizens and other foreigners are known to congregate in large numbers such as public assemblies, sporting events, restaurants, residential areas, clubs, places of worship, schools, hotels, etc.
The Government of Qatar occasionally provides security for such locations and events, but to varying degrees.
In most instances, the Embassy cannot gauge the appropriateness of security for a given event prior to its commencement.
The Embassy strongly encourages American citizens to avoid large crowds and demonstrations whenever possible.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings and other Travel Alerts and additional resources can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
The crime rate in Qatar is generally low.
A large police presence is apparent to travelers throughout the country.
Incidents of violence are rare but have occurred more frequently as Doha’s population and economic pressures on expatriate workers have increased substantially during the past few years.
Local and third country national young men have been known to verbally and physically harass unaccompanied, expatriate women.
Reports of petty theft have been growing, including ATM and credit card theft, purse snatching and pickpocketing.
Travelers are cautioned not to leave valuables such as cash, jewelry, and electronic items unsecured in hotel rooms or unattended in public places.

The Qatari Police can be contacted for emergency assistance by dialing 999 from any telephone in Qatar.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Embassy in Doha.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance.
The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Good modern medical care and medicines are available in Doha, although only basic or no medical care may be available in Qatar’s smaller cities or outlying areas.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health services.
Information about the Qatari national healthcare system is available at http://www.hmc.org.qa.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

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

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

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

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

Please see our Customs Information.

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on business opportunities and practices in Qatar, please visit the Foreign Commercial Service’s Country Commercial Guide for Qatar at http://www.buyusa.gov/qatar.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Criminal offenses are punished according to Qatari laws, which in some cases are based on Islamic law and sometimes more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Qatari laws, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, deported, or subject to a ban from departing Qatar.
Travel bans are not lifted until both parties resolve a dispute and the case is abandoned or, if not, until the matter is resolved by a court, which may require months to process the case.
Qatari law enforcement authorities have detained potential witnesses or relatives without charges or access to legal counsel during the investigation of a crime.
The U.S. Embassy in Doha cautions American citizens that Qatari police can and have arrested American citizens suspected of or witness to a crime, including traffic accidents involving injuries to pedestrians or the occupants of other cars, traffic arguments, slander, and a variety of lesser offenses.
Once arrested, the Qatari Police have no independent authority to grant a release, an authority reserved solely for Qatar’s Public Prosecution and Courts.
As a result, arrested Americans, regardless of the charges, often spend one night in jail awaiting a hearing with Qatar’s Public Prosecution or the appropriate court.
Qatari law enforcement authorities do not routinely notify the U.S. Embassy in Doha of a U.S. citizen’s arrest and, for more serious crimes, may not allow a U.S. Embassy official to visit an arrested U.S. citizen until the initial interrogation is completed.
Upon arrest, U.S. citizens should ask to speak to the U.S. Embassy immediately, and if not allowed, request a friend or family member notify the U.S. Embassy through the contact information below.
Incidents involving insults or obscene language/gestures often result in arrest, overnight imprisonment and/or fines whether the incident occurs between private parties or involves officers of the law.
Drunk driving, public intoxication and other alcohol-related offenses are treated with severity and will result in arrest, heavy fines, imprisonment, or expulsion from the country.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Qatar are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Homosexual activity is considered to be a criminal offense, and those convicted may be sentenced to lashing and/or a prison sentence, and/or deportation.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Qatar are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Doha through the State Department’s travel registration web site to obtain updated information on travel and security within Qatar.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Doha.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the U.S. Embassy in Doha to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in the Al-Luqta District on 22nd February Street, PO Box 2399, Doha; phone (974) 488-4101, extension 0 or 6500.
For after-hours emergencies, U.S. citizens may call (974) 488-4101, extension 0 or 6600, to reach the duty officer.
On the Internet, you may reach the Embassy web site at http://qatar.usembassy.gov for additional information and operating hours.
The embassy observes a Sunday through Thursday workweek.
Government offices and most businesses in Qatar also observe a Sunday through Thursday workweek.
*

*

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 18 Feb 2020
Source: Qatari Ministry of Public Health [edited]

The Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) declared that a case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) has been confirmed. The case is a male citizen aged 65 years who has been suffering from several chronic diseases. The patient has been admitted to the hospital to receive the necessary medical care in accordance with the national protocol to deal with confirmed or suspected cases of the disease.

The Ministry of Public Health, in cooperation with the Ministry of Municipality and Environment, is taking all necessary preventive and precautionary measures to control the disease and prevent it from spreading.

MERS is a viral respiratory disease that is caused by one of the coronaviruses (MERS-CoV), but it differs from the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, which has recently spread in several countries. Both viruses differ in terms of the source of infection, mode of transmission, and the disease severity. The Ministry of Public Health confirms that no cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have been diagnosed in Qatar so far.

Only 3 cases of MERS-CoV were registered in Qatar during the past 2 years. The Ministry of Public Health calls on all members of public, and especially people with chronic diseases or those with immunodeficiency disorders, to adhere to public hygiene measures. This includes washing the hands regularly with water and soap, using hand sanitizers, as well as avoiding close contact with camels and seeking medical advice when experiencing symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, or shortness of breath.

The Rapid Response Team of the Health Protection and Communicable Disease Control is available round-the-clock to receive notifications or inquiries related to communicable diseases on its hotline numbers 66740948 or 66740951.
======================
[In early December 2019, Qatar reported 3 cases of MERS-CoV infection, a fatal case and 2 asymptomatic contacts of the fatal case. The fatal case denied a history of contact with camels or recent travel. She did have a history of underlying medical conditions (which may have led to contact with the health sector in the 2 weeks prior to onset of illness). Prior to these cases, the most recent report of a case of MERS-CoV infection in Qatar was in 2017 when there were 3 cases reported (see prior ProMED-mail posts listed below.)

The location of residence of this patient was not available, nor were other epidemiological variables, including possible high risk exposures.

The HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Qatar is available at
Date: Thu 26 Dec 2019
Source: WHO Emergencies preparedness, response, Disease outbreak news [edited]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We await further information on possible high risk transmission exposures.

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

Lebanon

Lebanon - US Consular Information Sheet
August 20, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Republic of Lebanon is a parliamentary republic. Political power is concentrated in the office of the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament, eac
representing one of Lebanon's three largest religious sects (Maronite Christians, Sunni and Shi'a Muslims). Since 1973, Lebanon has been in a state of war with Israel. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Lebanon for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Passports and visas are required.
American citizens coming to Lebanon for tourism can purchase a short-term visa at the border.
Travelers holding passports that contain visas or entry/exit stamps for Israel will likely be refused entry into Lebanon.
Travelers whose passports contain Israeli stamps or visas and who also hold an "Arab nationality" may be subject to arrest and imprisonment.
Travelers who have overstayed their entry visa validity in Lebanon have to adjust their status with the Central Department of Surete General (Department of Passport and Immigration) prior to their departure.

Further information on entry/exit requirements can be obtained from the Embassy of Lebanon, 2560 28th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20008, tel. (202) 939-6300.
Travelers may also contact one of the following Consulates General:
1959 E. Jefferson, Suite 4A
Detroit, MI 48207
(313) 567-0233
2400 Augusta, Suite 308
Houston, TX 77057
(713) 268-1640
7060 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 510
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 467-1253
6600 S.W. 57th Avenue, Suite 200
Miami, FL 33143
(305) 665-3004
(Honorary Consul, for Florida residents only)
9 E. 76th Street
New York, NY 10021
(212) 744-7905
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:
A Department of State Travel Warning advises U.S. citizens against travel to Lebanon.
Recent events underscore the need for caution and sound personal security precautions.
U.S. citizens who are in Lebanon despite this Travel Warning should exercise particular caution when traveling in parts of the southern suburbs of Beirut, portions of the Bekaa Valley and areas south of the Litani River in South Lebanon.
Hizballah maintains a strong presence in many of these areas, and there is the potential for action by other extremist groups.
The situation remains tense and a resumption of sporadic violence remains a possibility.
On May 7, 2008, Hizballah militants blocked the road to Rafiq Hariri International Airport.
The action rendered the airport inaccessible and travelers were unable to enter or leave the country via commercial air carriers.
Armed Hizballah and other opposition members proceeded to enter areas of Lebanon not traditionally under their control resulting in heavy fighting and a number of casualties.
While there is now full access to the airport, widespread hostilities have subsided, and the government of Lebanon has successfully elected a president and formed a cabinet, the United States remains concerned about Hizballah's willingness to use violence to achieve political ends with little or no warning.
Since the May hostilities there have been violent outbreaks in Tripoli that left over ten dead and dozens wounded.

Americans have been the targets of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the past.
The perpetrators of many of these attacks are still present and retain the ability to act.
On January 15, 2008, a U.S. Embassy vehicle was involved in a bomb attack that killed three Lebanese bystanders.
American citizens should thus keep a low profile, varying times and routes for all required travel.
Americans should also pay close attention to their personal security at locations where Westerners are generally known to congregate, and should avoid demonstrations and large gatherings.
Unofficial travel to Lebanon by U.S. Government employees and their family members requires prior approval by the Department of State.
Palestinian groups hostile to both the Lebanese government and the U.S. operate largely autonomously inside refugee camps in different areas of the country.
Intra-communal violence within the camps has resulted in violent incidents such as shootings and explosions.
Travel by U.S. citizens to Palestinian camps should be avoided.
Asbat al-Ansar, a terrorist group with apparent links to Al-Qaida, has targeted Lebanese, U.S. and other foreign government interests.
It has been outlawed by the Lebanese government but continues to maintain a presence in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp.
Americans traveling to Lebanon should also be aware that personnel from the U.S. Embassy are not able to travel in all areas of Lebanon.
In the case of an emergency involving a U.S. citizen in areas where it is unsafe for Embassy personnel to travel, the Embassy may not be able to render assistance.
In addition, dangers posed by landmines and unexploded ordnance throughout south Lebanon are significant and also exist in other areas where civil war fighting was intense.
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, including the Travel Warning for Lebanon, Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada or, for overseas callers, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: The crime rate in Lebanon is moderate, but both car theft and home break-ins occur.
Violent crime and sexual assault are rare, although petty theft -- such as pick pocketing and purse snatching -- is common in crowded public areas.
Police are responsive but often unable to effect a positive outcome.
There are no special concerns with regard to targeted victimization of Americans or to scams or confidence schemes.
There have, however, been recent kidnappings of Lebanese-American women by their Lebanese relatives in an effort to force these women into marriage.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Lebanon is 112.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: In Beirut and the surrounding areas, modern medical care and medicines are widely available.
Such facilities are not always available in outlying areas, although no location in the country is more than three hours from the capital.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for services, and without such payment, may deny service even in emergency cases.
A list of doctors who speak English and a list of hospitals are available from the U.S. Embassy and at the Embassy's web site at http://lebanon.usembassy.gov/
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the 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.

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

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 Lebanon is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Drivers in Lebanon often maneuver aggressively and pay little regard to traffic lights and stops signs.
Lanes are generally unmarked and roads outside of the capital may be poorly lit.
Pedestrians, especially, should exercise great caution.
Inter-city directional signs are improving throughout the country, but side roads are often not signposted at all.
Public transportation is generally safe.
Emergency services in Lebanon are adequate.
In case of a road accident, emergency numbers are “140” for the Red Cross and “125” for the emergency civil police.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of Lebanon's national tourist office at http://www.destinationlebanon.gov.lb.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Lebanon, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lebanon’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: In addition to being subject to all Lebanese laws, U.S. citizens who also possess Lebanese nationality may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on them as Lebanese citizens.
Lebanese citizens who are discovered to have associated with or traveled through Israel, are subject to arrest and detention.

Military Service:
Mandatory military service in Lebanon was abolished on February 4, 2007.
However, travelers with questions about prior military service, desertion, or failure to register in the past should contact the Military Office of the Embassy of Lebanon, 2560 28th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, or call (202) 265-2335 or fax (202) 667-0063 for details prior to traveling to Lebanon. Information about military service can also be found at the Lebanese government web site at http://www.lebarmy.gov.lb/English/FlagService.asp
Lebanese Customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning import and export of such items as firearms or antiquities.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Lebanon in Washington, D.C., or one of Lebanon's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our information on customs regulations.
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 Lebanese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lebanon 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.
For more information 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 Lebanon are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Lebanon.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Awkar, near Antelias, Beirut, Lebanon.
Public access hours for American citizens are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 am for regular consular services.
Consular Report of Births Abroad (birth certificates for newborns) are handled Wednesdays only from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
The telephone numbers are (961-4) 542-600, 543-600, and fax 544-209, and American citizens who require emergency services outside of these hours may contact the Embassy by telephone at any time.
American citizens registering at the embassy can receive updated information and warden messages via e-mail by subscribing to join-wardenmessagebeirut@mh.databack.com.
Information on consular services and registration can be found at http://lebanon.usembassy.gov or by phone at the above telephone numbers between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday local time.
* * * * * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated December 27, 2007 to update the sections on Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information and Aviation Oversight.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2020 14:55:57 +0100 (MET)

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

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

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

Tehran has now confirmed a total of four deaths and 18 infections by the SARS-like virus, which first emerged in China in late December.   Thousands of Lebanese travel to Iran every year to visit Shiite holy sites in Qom and other cities.   China on Friday raised the death toll to 2,236 -- most of them in the province of Hubei, where the virus was first detected. More than 75,000 have now been infected in China and over 1,100 abroad.
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2019 12:29:06 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Dec 26, 2019 (AFP) - Flooding at Beirut's only Jewish cemetery has swept away entire graves after heavy rainfall hit the Lebanese capital.   The floodwater destroyed a retaining wall at the graveyard in the Ras al-Nabaa district overnight into Thursday, dragging sarcophagi and large chunks of rubble onto the pavement below.

Nagi Georges Zeidan, an expert on Lebanon's tiny Jewish community and a volunteer at the graveyard, said at least four graves were damaged, all in part of the cemetery for people buried in the 1940s.   Zeidan said the skeletons of the deceased remained concealed but have yet to be removed from beneath the rubble. He urged authorities to intervene to make sure they are preserved.   The cemetery has 3,407 graves, according to Zeidan, who keeps a record of all the names of the deceased.   It is owned by the Lebanese Jewish Community Council and dates back to the 1820s, he added.

Lebanon was once home to thousands of Jews but they left steadily for Israel, Brazil, Europe and the United States after the State of Israel was established.   According to Zeidan, only 29 Jews remain in Lebanon.   A handful of buildings that were once synagogues still stand, including one in the northern city of Tripoli that has been turned into a fabric dye shop, and one in the southern city of Sidon.   A severe downpour overnight led to floods across Lebanon, blocking roads and damaging homes.
Date: Fri, 29 Nov 2019 18:52:20 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Nov 29, 2019 (AFP) - Angry Lebanese blocked main roads Friday as petrol stations across the country went on strike for the second day in a row, an AFP photographer and local media said.   Filling station owners announced the walkout from Thursday over mounting losses due to a dollar liquidity crunch.   More than a month into unprecedented anti-government protests, Lebanon is facing a dual political and economic crisis.

In Beirut and several other major cities on Friday, drivers briefly stopped their cars in the afternoon, blocking some main roads, the national news agency and the AFP photographer said.   In the capital, most stations had closed their pumps and blocked off their entrances with a barrier or yellow tape, but a handful had remained open, the photographer said.

Clutching empty one-gallon (four-litre) bottles, dozens clustered around pumps in the few still operating to fill up on fuel.   "My motorbike ran out of petrol, and I've been waiting outside the petrol station for three hours in vain," Yahya al-Shami said as he queued up for his fill in the capital's Cola neighbourhood.    "People are very worried because they all need petrol to work," he told AFP.   "The station is opening for half an hour, then closing again because all the drivers are fighting amongst each other as they wait."

On local television, a woman complained she had to abandon her car in the middle of the road as she looked for petrol.   "I've been to ten different stations looking for gas and I haven't found any," she said.   The Lebanese pound is pegged at around 1,500 pounds to the dollar, and both are used interchangeably in everyday transactions.

But banks in Lebanon have been rationing dollar withdrawals, forcing those in need to resort to money-changers and pushing the unofficial exchange rate above 2,000 pounds to the greenback.   The central bank last month said it would help fuel importers with access to the dollar at the lower official exchange rate.   But petrol stations say they are making losses because they are forced to buy dollars at the higher rate to pay importers demanding the foreign currency.

The government stepped down on October 29, less than two weeks after the first demonstration, but the country's deeply divided political parties have failed to form a new one.   The protesters have demanded a new technocratic cabinet made up of independent experts, rather than representatives of the country's traditional political parties divided along sectarian lines.

On Friday, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis said he had met several officials including central bank governor Riad Salameh.   "We discussed measures urgently needed to stop the further deepening of the economic crisis," Kubis wrote on Twitter.   "Formation of a credible and competent government that can regain the trust of the people and of the international partners of Lebanon is the priority."
Date: Sat, 9 Nov 2019 14:18:27 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Nov 9, 2019 (AFP) - Several petrol stations in protest-hit Lebanon stopped services Saturday, as reserves ran dry due to a shortage of US dollars to pay suppliers, a syndicate head said.   The shuttering of petrol stations came as demonstrators again took to the street across the country, keeping up their three-week-long movement against a political class regarded as inefficient and corrupt.    "The petrol stations that opened today are the ones that still have reserves. They will close down as soon as supply runs out," said Sami Brax, the head of the Syndicate of Gas Station Owners.   He said if officials do not facilitate access to dollars by Tuesday, "we will be forced to stop imports and close down all petrol stations."

Petrol stations receive payment from customers in Lebanese pounds but have to pay importers and suppliers in dollars.    For two decades, the Lebanese pound has been pegged to the US dollar, with both currencies used interchangeably in daily life.   But banks have been reducing access to dollars since the end of the summer, following fears of a shortage in central bank dollar reserves.   In recent days, banks halted all ATM withdrawals in dollars and severely restricted conversions from Lebanese pounds.   Many Lebanese have had to instead buy dollars from money changers at a higher exchange rate, in what amounts to a de-facto devaluation of the local currency that has sparked price hikes.

The official exchange rate has remained fixed at 1,507 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, but the rate in the parallel market has surpassed 1,800.   "The banks are under pressure from people, both inside Lebanon and abroad," said economist Naseeb Ghabreel, after many rushed to withdraw their dollar savings or convert Lebanese pound accounts.   Since September, petrol station owners have accused banks of failing to provide them with the dollars they need and threatened strikes.    In response, the central bank last month pledged to facilitate access to the greenback for importers of petroleum products, wheat and medicine.   But the measure has not yet gone into effect.

Lebanon has since October 17 witnessed an unprecedented popular uprising against everything from power cuts and poor social security to alleged state corruption.   The government yielded to popular pressure and stepped down last month, with the World Bank urging for the quick formation of a new cabinet to prevent the economy from further deteriorating.
Date: Tue 22 Oct 2019
Source: WHO Disease outbreak news [abridged, edited]

Health authorities in Lebanon are responding to an outbreak of measles. From 1 Nov 2018 through 12 Oct 2019, a total of 1171 cases have been reported, of which 675 (57.6%) were laboratory confirmed, 8 (0.7%) epidemiologically linked cases, and 488 (41.7%) were clinically diagnosed. No associated deaths have been reported as of now.

Measles cases have been reported in all 8 Lebanese governorates, with Aakar, Baalbek-El-Hermel, Bekaa North, and Mount Lebanon governorates most affected. A total of 90% of suspected measles cases were Lebanese nationals, while 10% were Syrians living in informal settlements and in residential areas. The cumulative incidence of measles among Lebanese was higher than that of Syrians (22.4 versus 11.1 per 100,000 population, respectively).

The most affected age group among the 1123 cases with known age was children under the age of 5 years with 705 cases (63%), followed by cases of 5-9 years of age (271 cases; 24%), 10-14 (31 cases; 3%), 15-24 (19 cases; 2%), and people over 24 years of age 97 cases (9%). In addition, children below 5 years old have the highest cumulative incidence (124.6 per 100 000 population) followed by children in the age group of 5-9 years (41.4 per 100 000 population).

The immunization strategy employed by the Lebanon public health sector includes both measles vaccine given at 9 months of age (introduced in 1987) and measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine given to children as 2 doses at 12 and 18 months of age (MMR, introduced in 1996). The private sector implements MMR vaccination, at 12 months and 4-5 years of age.

In Lebanon, between 2000 and 2018, the WHO-UNICEF coverage estimations for 2nd dose of measles-containing vaccine ranged from 15-75% with a median coverage of 63%.

Public health response
The Ministry of Health (MoH) in Lebanon is coordinating the response activities, with the support of WHO and UNICEF. Public health response measures include:

- Epidemiological investigations, contact tracing, and monitoring of close contacts;
- Sensitization of clinicians on measles surveillance, reporting, case investigation, and management;
- Social mobilization and distribution of information, education, and communication (IEC) materials;
- Measles assessment mission, conducted in May 2019, recommended a national measles campaign and support to the epidemiological surveillance unit;
- Localized accelerated immunization activities in areas of measles clusters; and
- Planning of a national measles campaign targeting 1,170,000 children in the age group of 6 months to less than 10 years of age.

WHO risk assessment
Based on the available information, the risk at the national level is considered to be high for the following reasons: nationwide case distribution and low vaccination coverage at national level with immunity gaps; the country host around 1 million displaced Syrians with limited access to healthcare; limited funding for supplementary immunization activities to improve measles vaccination coverage and for the epidemiological surveillance unit to support surveillance activities and capacity building; and measles cases being reported throughout the country.

The overall risk at regional level was assessed as moderate due to porous boundaries allowing free movement between Lebanon and Syria, the low vaccination coverage, and recent measles outbreaks reported in neighbouring countries. The overall risk at global level was assessed as low.

WHO advice
While there is no specific antiviral treatment for measles, the provision of Vitamin A is recommended by WHO for all children infected with measles, as it is associated with reduced mortality and severity of complications. In populations with high levels of malnutrition and a lack of adequate health care, up to 10% of measles cases result in death, and in the most vulnerable groups, deaths can reach up to 30%. Among malnourished children and people with greater susceptibility, measles can also cause serious complications, including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea, ear infection, and pneumonia.

In countries with low vaccination coverage, epidemics typically occur every 2-3 years and usually last between 2 and 3 months, although their duration varies according to population size, crowding, and the population's immunity status.

WHO urges all member states to do the following:
- Vaccinate to maintain high coverage (greater than or equal to 95%) with 2 doses of measles-containing-vaccine, in every district;
- Vaccinate at-risk populations (without proof of vaccination or immunity against measles and rubella), such as healthcare workers, people working in tourism and transportation, and international travellers;
- Maintain a reserve of MCV for control of imported cases;
- Strengthen epidemiological surveillance for "fever with rash cases" for timely detection of all suspected cases of measles in public and private healthcare facilities;
- Ensure that collected blood samples from suspect measles cases are received by laboratories within 5 days;
- Provide a rapid response to imported measles cases through the activation of rapid response teams to prevent the establishment or re-establishment of endemic transmission;
- Administer Vitamin A supplementation to all children diagnosed with measles to reduce the complications and mortality (2 doses of 50 000 IU for a child less than 6 month of age, 100 000 IU for children between 6 and12 months of age, or 200 000 IU for children 12-59 months, immediately upon diagnosis and on the following day).
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Belarus

Belarus - US Consular Information Sheet
November 25, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Belarus became an independent republic in 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
In 1996, a constitutional referendum, not recognized by the internat
onal community, centralized power in the executive branch (president), headed by Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Economic and political reform in Belarus has stalled or is being reversed under his authoritarian government.
The Belarusian Government’s human rights record remains very poor.
President Lukashenka gained a third five-year term as president in March 2006, in an election that international observers judged to be seriously flawed.
Democratic nations, including the United States and the members of the European Union, condemned the subsequent governmental crackdown on peaceful protests in Minsk, and imposed visa restrictions and other sanctions on senior Belarusian officials. As a result of the release of political prisoners in August 2008, the EU lifted its visa restrictions, but those of the United States remain in effect.
Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages, and Russian is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in the cities.
Tourist facilities are not highly developed, but food and lodging in the capital and some regional centers are adequate.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Belarus for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Travelers must obtain a visa in advance to visit or transit through Belarus.
Travelers who do not have a visa cannot register at hotels.
U.S. citizens visiting or residing in Belarus are required to register with the local office of the Citizenship and Migration Department of the Ministry of Interior (formerly OVIR) within three business days after arrival.
The registration fee is one National Minimum Tariff Unit (currently about $17).
Failure to register can result in fines and difficulties when departing.
U.S. citizens staying in hotels are automatically registered at check-in.
Visa validity dates are strictly enforced; travelers should request visas of sufficient length to allow for changes in arrival and departure plans, and should carefully review the beginning and ending dates of their visas before traveling.
A valid exit visa is necessary to depart Belarus.
Generally, the visa issued by a Belarusian Embassy or Consulate is valid for both entry and exit.
Photocopies of visas may be helpful in the event of loss, but note that a copy of a visa will not be sufficient for entry or departure, as Belarusian border officials always require original travel documents.

Travelers who overstay their visa’s validity -- even for one day -- will be prevented from leaving until they have been granted an extension by the Department of Citizenship and Migration.
United States citizens without valid visas face delays in leaving Belarus and may have trouble finding adequate accommodation.
By Belarusian law, travelers with an expired visa may not check in at any hotel or other lodging establishment.

U.S. citizens traveling through Belarus to other countries are strongly advised that there is a transit visa requirement for entering and leaving Belarus.
Transit visas are required even for travelers transiting on direct overnight trains with no stops or transfers on Belarusian territory. Transit visas should be obtained prior to any journey that requires travel through Belarus.
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Russian visas are no substitute for this transit visa.
Most travel agencies, including those in Russia and CIS countries, as well as train ticket sales personnel, are often not aware of this visa requirement and may not seek a transit visa for a traveler unless instructed by the traveler to do so.

U.S. citizens attempting to transit Belarus without a valid Belarusian transit visa have been denied entry into the country and forcibly removed from trains.
In some instances, local border and railway authorities have threatened passengers who did not possess a valid transit visa with jail or extorted “fines.”
American citizens are advised not to pay any border or railway officials for transit visas or “transit visa fines,” as these officials are not authorized to issue such visas.
Americans finding themselves in Belarus without transit visas, if confronted by border or train personnel, should request to be put in contact with consular officials at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk.
U.S. citizens traveling to Belarus via Russia are reminded that they must possess a Russian transit visa in addition to their Belarusian visa. Russian Embassies outside of the United States, including the Russian Embassy in Belarus, generally do not issue transit or tourist visas to Americans.
Russian transit visas are not normally obtainable at Russian airports.

The Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons in the Republic of Belarus states that all foreign citizens may be granted permission for a temporary stay (up to 90 days within a chronological year), temporary residence (up to one year), or permanent residence.
Belarusian Embassies and Consulates will issue visas for temporary stays.
A temporary stay visa will allow the bearer to be present physically in Belarus for a maximum of 90 days within the 365-day period for which the visa is issued.
Once an individual has spent 90 days in Belarus, at one time or through a combination of visits, he or she will not be eligible to receive another visa until the original 365-day period has passed.

Individuals who receive visas for a temporary stay, but wish to remain in Belarus for longer than 90 days, must apply for temporary or permanent residence with the Ministry of Interior.
Individuals must make the application in Belarus within the 90 days allotted for a temporary stay.
Permission for temporary residence can be granted to students, spouses, or close relatives of Belarusian citizens, or for “work, business, or other activities.”
Travelers may contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk for information about application procedures for temporary or permanent residence.
Every foreigner entering Belarus is required to fill out a migration card.
This card should be retained for the whole period of stay and should be presented to the border authorities when exiting Belarus.

Foreign citizens without a valid Belarusian visa, migration card, or proper registration with the Department of Citizenship and Migration as a temporary visitor or resident can be subject to sanctions up to and including deportation under the provisions of the Code of Administrative Violations.
Depending on the circumstances, deportees also can be banned from returning to Belarus for a period from one to ten years.

Foreign citizens visiting and transiting Belarus also should be prepared to demonstrate sufficient financial means to support their stay.
For individuals staying in Belarus for less than one month, this amount is equal to approximately $15/day/person.
For those staying for longer than one month, the requirements call for $375/month/person.
Belarusian officials may request this proof of funds at the time of visa application, at the border, or during registration.
According to the Ministry of Interior, cash, credit cards, paid hotel reservations, or a letter from an inviting party pledging full financial support are sufficient means to demonstrate financial wherewithal.

Belarus requires all foreign nationals (other than accredited diplomats) entering the country to purchase medical insurance at the port-of-entry, regardless of any other insurance they might have.
Costs for this insurance will vary according to the length of stay.
(Subject to change, current information puts costs at approximately $1 for a one or two day stay, $15 for a stay of up to 31 days, and $85 for a stay of one year.)

Travelers entering Belarus by air with more than 35 kilograms of luggage (77 pounds) will be charged 2 Euros per kilogram in excess of that limit.
The fee must be paid in dollars or Euros.
In accordance with current customs regulations, foreigners may enter Belarus with up to $10,000 and exit the country with up to $3,000 without submitting a written declaration.
For additional information on customs rules for Belarus please see the Belarusian State Customs Committee official web site.
The Belarusian Government enforces a requirement for special permits to travel in “protected border zones.”
The Government of Belarus has not provided information defining the parameters of those zones.
Travelers should be alert for warning signs, road barriers, and/or border guard posts, and are advised not to cross into such areas without permission.

Foreign missionaries may not engage in religious activities outside the institutions that invited them unless they have a religious worker visa.
One-year validity, multiple-entry, "spiritual activities" visas, which are required of foreign missionaries, can be difficult to get, even for faiths that are registered with the government and have a long history in the country.
Approval often involves a difficult bureaucratic process.

A law enacted in 2002 required all religious groups and organizations, including recognized “traditional” religions such as Russian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism, Sunni Islam, and Lutheranism, to re-register; most organizations have done so.
Unregistered religious groups may not legally gather for religious purposes.
Many unregistered groups continue to meet, however, leaving them vulnerable to selective implementation of the law by authorities.
The law also stipulates that only Belarusian citizens can head religious organizations in Belarus.
In recent years, authorities have harassed, warned, fined, and briefly detained members of some unregistered and so-called "non-traditional" faiths for engaging in unsanctioned worship or proselytism. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that any U.S. citizen who chooses to attend a religious service of an unregistered religious group do so only after consulting with members of the group about the risk of harassment or possible arrest by local law enforcement authorities.
U.S. citizens are also urged to contact the U.S. Embassy should they encounter any problems with authorities due to their participation in such services or events.

Naturalized U.S. citizens originally from Belarus do not automatically lose Belarusian citizenship upon naturalization.
Such individuals retain Belarusian citizenship unless they take specific steps to renounce it.
The Belarusian authorities will allow naturalized U.S. citizens from Belarus to enter the country without a valid Belarusian passport on a “certificate of return” issued by Belarusian Embassies and Consulates, but please note that a valid Belarusian passport will be required to leave the country.
It can take two to four weeks to receive a new Belarusian passport.
For additional information please consult with the Embassy of Belarus at http://www.belarusembassy.org.
Belarusian citizens, including dual nationals, are subject to Belarusian laws requiring service in Belarus’ armed forces, as well as other laws pertaining to passports and nationality.
American-Belarusian dual nationals of military age who do not wish to serve in the Belarusian armed forces should contact the Embassy of Belarus in Washington, D.C. to learn more about an exemption or deferment from Belarusian military service before going to Belarus.
Without this exemption or deferment document, they may not be able to leave Belarus without completing military service, or may be subject to criminal penalties for failure to serve.

Children born to Belarusian parent(s) before August 15, 2002, even if born in the United States and in possession of a U.S. passport, may not be issued a Belarusian visa for travel to Belarus.
The Belarusian government considers these children to be Belarusian citizens until age 16, when they may choose to accept or reject that claim to citizenship.
Instead of a visa, a "certificate of return" is issued that will allow the child to enter Belarus.
It is imperative that parents of such children understand that, in order to leave the country, the child will be required to have a Belarusian passport if he/she does not already have one.
It can take anywhere from two to four weeks to complete the application procedures and receive a new Belarusian passport.
(Note: if the parent left Belarus on a series PP passport, given to Belarusians who reside abroad and have cancelled their local registration, then Belarus would not require the child to reject his/her claim to citizenship).
For children born to one Belarusian parent and one foreign parent after 2002, the parents must by mutual consent agree to Belarusian citizenship for the child, regardless of the place of birth.
If the parents cannot reach consensus, Belarus would only force Belarusian citizenship on a child in cases where the child would be left stateless.
Visit the Embassy of Belarus web site at http://www.belarusembassy.org/ for the most current visa information, or contact the Embassy of Belarus at 1619 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel: 202-986-1606, fax: 202-986-1805, consul@belarusembassy.org.
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:
Both organized and spontaneous demonstrations occur in Belarus.
Localized street disturbances relating to political events occur most frequently in Minsk or larger cities.
In some instances, authorities may use force to disperse protesters; bystanders, including foreign nationals, may face the possibility of arrest, beating, or detention.
Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can sometimes become confrontational and escalate into violence.
For this reason, it is recommended that American citizens avoid all demonstrations and protest gatherings.

Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.
These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation.

For the latest security information, Americans living or traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Belarus has a moderate incidence of street crime. Though violent crime against foreigners is rare, criminals have been known to use force if met with resistance from victims.
Common street crime, such as mugging and pocket picking, occurs most frequently near public transportation venues, near hotels frequented by foreigners, and/or at night in poorly lit areas.

American citizens and other foreigners in Belarus have also been the victims of car theft, car vandalism, and hotel and residential break-ins.
Foreigners visiting nightclubs should pay particular attention to their surroundings, as criminal elements may rob unsuspecting patrons after surreptitiously drugging their drinks.
Travelers should keep a copy of their passport in a separate location from their original passport.

As in many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available in Belarus. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends and explaining 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.
To see if you can be compensated in the U.S. as a victim of violent crime overseas, see our information on Victims of Crime.

The local equivalents to the “911” emergency line in Belarus are: 111 Fire and Rescue Squad, 102 Police, 103 Ambulance (Medical Emergency)
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care in Belarus is limited.
There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including anesthetics, vaccines and antibiotics.
Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Travelers are encouraged to ensure that they bring an adequate supply of prescription medications in the event that there are delays in departing Belarus.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Belarus.
For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to Belarus on a 30 day visit.
Long-term residents or students must obtain an HIV/AIDS test in Belarus and submit the results to the Department of Citizenship and Migration.
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 (CDC) 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) website 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 Belarus is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
American citizens on short-term visits to Belarus (up to 90 days) are permitted to drive with a valid U.S. state driver’s license.
U.S. citizens should, therefore, always carry their passports with them to prove date of entry into the country in the event that police stop them.
If residing in Belarus for more than 90 days, one should apply for a Belarusian driver’s license.
Drivers will be required to successfully complete a two-part test in Russian; the first part is a computer-based multiple-choice test on local driving rules, and the second part is a driving test.
To receive a local driver’s license, drivers will also need to complete a medical exam at a special medical clinic, which will include a general physical, a chest x-ray, and an eye exam.

Radar traps and road construction sites, often unlit at night, are widespread.
Except for a stretch of the main east-west highway, where the speed limit is 100 km/h (60 mph), the maximum speed limit on divided highways or main roads outside village, town or city limits is 90 km/h (55 mph).
Speed limits in cities are 60 km/h unless marked and will usually range between 40 km/h and 70 km/h, with frequent radar traps.
Visible and hidden dangers exist, including potholes, unlit or poorly lit streets, inattentive and dark-clothed pedestrians walking on unlit roads, drivers and pedestrians under the influence of alcohol, and disregard for traffic rules.
Driving in winter is especially dangerous because of ice and snow.
Driving with caution is urged at all times.

Radio-dispatched taxi services are generally reliable, arrive promptly once called and usually offer the lowest fare.
Most radio-dispatched taxis are metered, although fares can vary greatly and are considerably higher in the late evening and overnight hours.
The use of informal taxis or "gypsy cabs" is not recommended.

Minsk has a clean, safe, and efficient subway system that easily reaches most of the city center. Service is stopped briefly during the early morning hours, but otherwise runs regularly throughout the day.
Ticket prices are extremely low by western standards.
Though their routes are extensive, buses and trolleys lack heating or cooling capabilities and are usually crowded.

Travelers on all public transportation should be wary of pickpockets and other petty crime.
For travelers interested in car rental, only one major western rental agency currently operates in Minsk.
In general, rental car networks in Belarus are not well developed.

Travelers may experience significant delays (of several hours) in crossing the border by road into neighboring countries.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Also visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at: http://siteks.com/sites/touragency/.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Belarus, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Belarus’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:
Traveler's checks are normally not accepted in Belarus as a means of payment, but can be freely exchanged for cash at any bank.
Most hotels, restaurants, and stores accept major credit cards.
All Belarusian banks provide cash from major credit cards.
All payments in Belarus are made in Belarusian rubles.
Authorized currency exchange centers are widely available throughout major cities.


ATMs are also available for use, and it has become easier to use credit cards and debit cards in Belarus, especially in Minsk; however, this does not mean that it is safer to do so.
There have been reports of instances in which U.S. citizens have had their card numbers “skimmed” and the money in their debit accounts stolen or their credit cards fraudulently charged.
(“Skimming” is the theft of credit card information by an employee of a legitimate merchant or bank, manually copying down numbers or using a magnetic stripe reader.)
In addition to skimming, the risk of physical theft of credit or debit cards also exists.
To prevent such theft, the Embassy recommends that travelers keep close track of their personal belongings and only carry what is needed when out.
If travelers choose to use credit cards, they should regularly check their account status to ensure its integrity.
Persons seeking to marry in Belarus should consult the information located on the Embassy web site at http://minsk.usembassy.gov/marriage.html.
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 Belarusian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belarus 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.
Access for U.S. consular officers to U.S. citizens in detention is often limited and/or delayed.
Although U.S. citizens are able to obtain legal representation, there has been at least one case of delayed notification, hindered consular access, limited medical treatment, and trial behind closed doors. 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 Belarus are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Belarus.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Minsk at 46 Starovilenskaya Ulitsa; telephone (375 17) 210-1283 or after hours (375 29) 676-0134, fax (375 17) 334-7853 or (375 17) 17-217-7160 (consular section).
The Consular Section may also be reached by email at ConsularMinsk@state.gov
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Belarus dated December 7, 2007, and updates the sections on Exit/Entry Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Criminal Penalties.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 2 Aug 2018 06:04:14 +0200
By Tatiana Kalinovskaya

Minsk, Aug 2, 2018 (AFP) - A massive corruption scandal has rocked the health service of ex-Soviet Belarus, leading even officials in the country dubbed "Europe's last dictatorship" to call for an overhaul of the system.   Authorities have arrested dozens of medics, drug company representatives and bureaucrats on suspicion of siphoning off millions of dollars in state funding.   Valery Vakulchik, head of the powerful KGB state security service, in televised comments last month denounced what he called a vast system of procurement of drugs and medical equipment at inflated prices.   Prices were habitually hiked by up to 60 percent and in some cases even doubled, he said.   Following his announcement, 37 top health officials were arrested and criminal investigations were opened involving 60 people including local representatives of international pharmaceutical companies.

The KGB chief acknowledged that the Soviet-style bureaucracy in the country bordering the European Union, ruled by strongman Alexander Lukashenko, helped promote corruption.   "The existing system of procuring medical equipment and drugs created the conditions for corrupt practices," he said.    "Bona fide suppliers could not rely on a positive outcome," he added, while procurements were made not directly from producers but "via numerous middlemen (and) finance companies."   Those detained in the scandal include deputy health minister Igor Lositsky, doctors at reputed clinics and leading business figures involved in producing and importing medicines.   One of the arrested businessmen is Sergei Shakutin, director of Iskamed group, who is the brother of one of Lukashenko's close associates.   Belta state news agency has published photos of searches at the home of a medical centre director that uncovered $500,000 in cash.   Officers also found $620,000 in the garage of the director of a public enterprise that imported medical equipment.

The KGB chief said bribes paid to corrupt officials amounted to millions of dollars.   "There will be further arrests since the people detained so far are just the perpetrators," Sergei Satsuk, editor of news site Yezhednevnik, who is familiar with the case, told AFP.   The chief beneficiaries in such schemes were retired law enforcement officials who set up companies to enter the lucrative medical equipment market, Satsuk said.   "In 10 years they drained all the juice out of the country's medical system," he said.   He said this involved supplying equipment that was not just over-priced but also often lacked the necessary certification or came with faked documentation.    Some equipment was imported as second-hand but re-sold as new.

- Powerful temptation -
This is one of the biggest corruption scandals in the history of Belarus, which is wedged between Russia and Poland and has been led by Lukashenko since 1994.   "Bureaucracy has privatised the state. We need to reform the whole system of state management, otherwise corruption schemes will spring up wherever budget funds are being spent," independent economist Yaroslav Romanchuk told AFP.

Other smaller corruption scandals have in recent years hit the sports, forestry and energy ministries as well as large companies, factories and banks.   Three ministers have been sacked and senior bureaucrats and regional officials have been arrested.   "Even if you clean out the state structures of bribe-takers, corruption won't die in Belarus for a single day," said Romanchuk.   "The very next day new people in old posts in the old system will relaunch the old corruption schemes."   The system "creates the most powerful temptation to set up schemes with kickbacks, bribes, swindling and abuses of office," Romanchuk said.
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2018 18:11:12 +0200

Minsk, July 24, 2018 (AFP) - Belarus on Tuesday announced that it is extending visa-free travel for tourists from five days to 30 days in a move that could attract more visitors to the ex-Soviet state on the European Union's doorstep.

Strongman ruler Alexander Lukashenko signed a decree allowing visitors from 80 countries including 39 in Europe, as well as the United States, Australia and Japan to stay for 30 days.   The ruling will enter force when the decree is published in one or two days.   The decree says the move is aimed at "promoting further development of the Belarusian tourism sector" as well as making the country more attractive as a host for sports events and festivals and improving its connectedness to the global economy.

Belarus said it is keen to promote itself as a medical tourism venue and for people keen to recuperate and undergo spa procedures at its sanatoriums.   The visa-free rule requires visitors to fly in and out of Minsk's main airport.    As before, the visa exemption does not apply to foreigners arriving or leaving from Russia because of a lack of border controls betweeen the neighbours.

Minsk has close ties to former Soviet master Moscow, with Belarus part of an economic union with Russia.   Chinese people will also be covered by a separate visa agreement that comes into force in August.   Ties between Belarus and the European Union have improved since the 28-nation bloc began lifting most of its sanctions on the country in 2015 after Lukashenko released high-profile political prisoners.
Date: Tue, 17 May 2016 07:34:10 +0200

Belmopan, Belize, May 17, 2016 (AFP) - Belize has joined the growing number of Latin American nations grappling with the Zika virus, after the health ministry confirmed the country's first known case.    Authorities said Monday the infected person resides in Belize City, adding that efforts would be taken to prevent the virus from spreading.

"An immediate investigation was launched and several actions were simultaneously initiated to minimize and contain a potential outbreak," a health ministry statement said.   The mosquito-borne Zika virus can cause the birth defect microcephaly, which can cause babies to be born with unusually small heads and deformed brains.
Date: Fri 17 Jul 2015
Source: Rusnovosti [in Russian, trans. ProMED Mod.NP, edited]

The deceased patient was infected in Belarus
-----------------------------------------------
Rospotrebnadzor [Federal Service for Consumer Protection and Human Welfare] reported that the 1st death from tick-borne encephalitis has been registered in Moscow. The tick-borne disease was imported.

Rospotrebnadzor reports, "Infections in the capital are not registered this year [2015] and have never been registered previously. The patient was infected in Belarus."

According to Infectious clinical hospital No. 1 of the Department of Health of Moscow, 10 imported cases of viral encephalitis were identified in the 1st half of 2015; 2 cases of infection occurred in the Altai region and in the Republic of Karelia. One [imported] case was brought from the Kostroma region, the Yaroslavl region, the Volgograd region and the Republic of Udmurtia, as well as from Belarus and Mongolia.

Rospotrebnadzor also reports that the rise of the biological activity of _Ixodes_ ticks was noted. These ticks are considered the main vectors of infections such as tick-borne spring-summer encephalitis, tick-borne borreliosis (Lyme disease), granulocytic anaplasmosis, and monocytic ehrlichiosis.
=====================
[Nearly 10,000 people sought medical aid after tick bites in Moscow for the period April-June of this year (2015), among them there are more than 1900 children up to 17 years. Last year (2014) for the same period it was recorded that around 8000 people sought medical aid after tick bites. The ticks attacked people mainly in the territory of the Moscow region.

This is the season of tickborne encephalitis virus (TBEV) transmission in Russia and neighboring countries. Russia, especially western Siberia, has the largest number of reported TBE cases. For additional details on TBE, see Mod.LL's extensive comments drawn from the US CDC (<http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/chapter-3-infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/tickborne-encephalitis>). The CDC information notes that in Russia, 2 inactivated TBE vaccines are available: TBE-Moscow (Chumakov Institute, Russia) and EnceVir (Microgen, Russia). The European and Russian vaccines should provide cross-protection against all 3 TBEV subtypes. Vaccine failures have been reported, particularly in people aged over 50 years.

In the previous post on TBE, ProMED Corr.BA noted, "According to weekly monitoring, from 1 Apr-15 Jul [2015] in Russia, more than 412,000 cases of tick bites were registered, including 94,270 children. Compared with the same period of last year (2014), the number of people affected by the tick bites increased by 19 per cent. In 2015, 947 cases of tick-borne encephalitis have registered in Russia. The largest number of cases was reported in the Krasnoyarsk region, followed by Novosibirsk [Siberia], Irkutsk, Tyumen, Kirov, Sverdlovsk, Vologda, Leningrad, Kemerovo, Pskov, and Kostroma regions, the Republic of Khakassia, the Perm and Primorye regions, St Petersburg [city], Moscow (importations from Yaroslavl, Vologda, Karelia, Altai, and Mongolia, Belarus)." - ProMED Mod.TY]

[The locations mentioned in this posting can be seen on the map at

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: 15 Jul 2015
Source: Evening Brest [machine translation & edited]

Belarus has 1 imported case of measles. The Ministry of Health of Belarus does not rule out the possibility of other imported cases of measles. This is especially true during the summer holidays and vacations.

According to the deputy chief doctor of the "National Center for Hygiene, Epidemiology and Public Health," Lyudmila Naroychik, other European countries often record measles. In 2014 Belarus recorded 5 imported cases of measles. So far in 2015, Belorus has already record 1 imported case. The infections have been from Russia, Israel, Spain, Turkey, according to BelTA  [unclear whether this refers just to 2014, or other years as well].

Measles is included in the national immunization schedule, and if vaccination is carried out, even in adulthood the person retains immunity. In this regard, it is important to get vaccinated before traveling abroad.
==================
[The HealthMap/ProMED map of Belarus can be found at:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: Q Costa Rica News [edited]
<https://qcostarica.com/costa-rica-is-the-first-country-in-america-where-very-resistant-antibiotic-bacteria-for-meningitis-is-isolated/>

A 50-year-old man and a senior became the 1st 2 people in Costa Rica -- and in the Americas -- found to be infected with the bacteria most resistant to antibiotics used in the treatment of meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia that cause serious brain damage and even death. The Centro Nacional de Referencia en Bacteriolog­a (CNRB) -- National Center of Reference in Bacteriology, of the Instituto Costarricense de Investigacian y Enseaanza en Nutricin y Salud (Inciensa) -- Costa Rican Institute for Research and Education in Nutrition and Health (Incense), issued an alert, in early February [2020], after documenting the circulation of _Neisseria meningitidis_ (_N. meningitidis_) serogroup Y, resistant to penicillin and not sensitive to cefotaxime [and ceftriaxone?], two 3rd generation antibiotics, reports La Nation.
====================
[Invasive meningococcal disease (meningococcaemia and meningitis) is a life-threatening infection caused by _Neisseria meningitidis_ that evolves rapidly, often even when appropriate treatment has been started promptly. Because antimicrobial treatment for invasive meningococcal disease with a 3rd-generation cephalosporin (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone) is the widely accepted standard recommendation (<https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/39/9/1267/402080>), resistance of _N. meningitidis_ to cefotaxime and ceftriaxone is very worrisome.

The news report above says that 2 patients in Costa Rica were infected with _N. meningitidis_ serogroup Y resistant to penicillin and 2 3rd generation cephalosporins, one of which was cefotaxime. The other 3rd generation cephalosporin is not specified, but is perhaps ceftriaxone, the other 3rd generation cephalosporin usually used to treat this disease. We are also not told in the news report above if the 2 patients were epidemiologically linked, nor are we told the extent (that is, MICs [minimum inhibitory concentration] of penicillin or cefotaxime), the mechanisms of resistance, or resistance to any of the other antimicrobial drugs used to prevent or treat this disease.

More information would be appreciated from knowledgeable sources. Reduced susceptibility of _N. meningitidis_ to penicillin has been reported in the past in many countries, including the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>), usually due to decreased affinity of target penicillin-binding proteins for penicillin and less commonly to beta-lactamase production (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC89938/>, <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3134848-relative-penicillin-g-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-and-reduced-affinity-of-penicillin-binding-protein-3/>, and <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC162989/pdf/392577.pdf>).

Meningococcal isolates with reduced susceptibility to penicillin G usually were reported susceptible to 3rd-generation cephalosporins (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone). For example, despite the decrease in susceptibility to penicillin G in 33% of 2888 isolates of _N. meningitidis_, all isolates were susceptible to ceftriaxone in Brazil from 2009 to 2016 (<https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29717974-surveillance-of-antimicrobial-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-strains-isolated-from-invasive-cases-in-brazil-from-2009-to-2016/>). Similar data have been reported for the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>).

However, one previous study reported 8 clinical isolates _N. meningitidis_ in Delhi, India in 2006 that were resistant to ceftriaxone and cefotaxime, with most also resistant to penicillin, ciprofloxacin, and chloramphenicol (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1698303/>). All of the isolates were identified as serogroup A _N. meningitidis_, but no further details concerning these isolates were given in this report (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1865813/>).

Resistance to other antimicrobial agents that may be used for therapy of meningococcal infections or for prophylaxis of case contacts has been reported in several countries. This includes resistance to chloramphenicol, fluoroquinolones, and rifampin. Horizontal exchange of genes that encode resistance for penicillin, rifampin, and the fluoroquinolones from other _Neisseria_ species that share a common ecological niche with _N. meningitidis_ in the nasopharynx has been proposed as one possible mechanism of acquisition of meningococcal antibiotic resistance (<http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/49/3/545>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Costa Rica: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/17>]
Date: Tue 25 Feb 2020
From: Anne Laudisoit, PhD [edited]
<laudisoit@ecohealthalliance.org>

A suspect plague outbreak cluster has been noted in the the Godjoka health area as of 19 Feb 2020. The chief medical officer of the Rethy Health zone, the head nurse and the laboratory team from the Rethy General reference hospital investigated the outbreak site. The Godjoka village is located in the Linga health zone, Djugu territory, Ituri province, in the Congo DR (N 02.01'47.9'' and E030.44'56.6'', 1940m) in the plague endemic area.
 
There have been 6 suspected cases of plague, including 5 deaths and 1 recovering patient. The index case is a young boy who died on 19 Feb 2020. His mother, the neighbour and her child all died on 21 Feb 2020 and were buried the night of 24 Feb 2020, under pressure from the villagers. Finally the traditional healer ["tradipraticien"] who took care of the mother (who was the 2nd case) died in turn on 25 Feb 2020, and samples were taken that same day. The rapid diagnostic test was positive for plague.  Because of their rapidly fatal course, pneumonic plague is suspected for one or more of the 5 fatal cases. 

The only survivor has been under treatment at the Godjoka Health center since 22 Feb; he is the 20 year-old brother of the index case. The test on the sputum of this patient was negative.
-------------------------------------
Francoise Ngave Nyisi, Rethy General Reference Hospital, DR Congo
Mandro Michel, Provincial Division of Health, Bunia, DR Congo
Adroba Pascal, Provincial Division of Health, Bunia, DR Congo
Laudisoit Anne, Ecohealth Alliance, New York, USA
=====================
[ProMED thanks Dr Laudisoit and her hardworking Congolese colleagues for this important report.  Thus far the diagnosis of plague rests on the single positive diagnostic test obtained from the traditional healer, as it appears that the first 4 fatal cases were buried before diagnostic tests could be obtained. Following this logic, It is possible that the sole survivor thus far has the bubonic form of the disease, and thus a negative sputum result.  We seek and hope to obtain further information on all of these cases, including age, nature and duration of symptoms, presence or absence of buboes, etc.

This putative plague cluster is in a known historic plague-endemic region, where there were 31 cases and 8 deaths between Jan - Oct 2019, as previously reported by ProMED (Plague - Congo DR (02): (IT) fatal http://promedmail.org/post/20191016.6731137).  The Ituri district, of course, has also been affected by the still smouldering North Kivu-Ituri Ebola outbreak that began in July 2018.  This district has also been, and continues to be, a region of great civil unrest, with multiple armed insurgency groups operating near and across the Ugandan border.

The following background information on plague by Mod.LL is copied from our most recent ProMED post on plague [see below under See Also]:

"The bacterium that causes plague is _Yersinia pestis_. Most cases of plague are due to bubonic plague following the bite of an infected rodent flea causing a swollen and very tender lymph gland. The swollen gland is called a "bubo." Bubonic plague should be suspected when a person develops a swollen gland, fever, chills, headache, and extreme exhaustion, and has a history of possible exposure to infected rodents, rabbits, or fleas. A person usually becomes ill with bubonic plague 2-6 days after being bitten. At this point in the illness, there is no risk of person-to-person spread, so if this was indeed a case of bubonic plague, no isolation or quarantine is necessary.

When bubonic plague is left untreated, plague bacteria invade the bloodstream. As the plague bacteria multiply in the bloodstream, they spread rapidly throughout the body and cause a severe and often fatal condition. Infection of the lungs with the plague bacterium causes the pneumonic form of plague, a severe respiratory illness. The infected person may experience high fever, chills, cough, and breathing difficulty and may expel bloody sputum. If plague patients are not given specific antimicrobial therapy, the disease can progress rapidly to death. At this stage, as appears to have happened in this case, person-to-person spread can occur, causing other cases of "primary" plague pneumonia. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A ProMED/HealthMap of DR Congo is available at: DR Congo:
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:14:05 +0100 (MET)
By Anuj Chopra and Haitham El-Tabei

Riyadh, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for visits to Islam's holiest sites for the "umrah" pilgrimage, an unprecedented move triggered by coronavirus fears that raises questions over the annual hajj.   The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in the cities of Mecca and Medina, also suspended visas for tourists from countries with reported infections as fears of a pandemic deepen.

Saudi Arabia, which so far has reported no cases of the virus but has expressed alarm over its spread in neighbouring countries, said the suspensions were temporary. It provided no timeframe for when they will be lifted.   "The kingdom's government has decided to take the following precautions: suspending entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visit to the Prophet's mosque temporarily," the foreign ministry said in a statement.   "Suspending entry into the kingdom with tourist visas for those coming from countries, in which the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is a danger."

The move comes as Gulf countries implement a raft of measures, including flight suspensions and school closures, to curb the spread of the disease from people returning from pilgrimages to Iran.  Even as the number of fresh coronavirus cases declines at the epicentre of the disease in China, there has been a sudden increase across the Middle East.

Since its outbreak, the United Arab Emirates has reported 13 coronavirus cases, Kuwait has recorded 43, Bahrain has 33 and Oman is at four cases.   Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, with 19 fatalities from 139 infections -- the highest death toll outside China, where COVID-19 originated.   While no cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, one citizen is reported to be infected in Kuwait along with four Saudi women in Bahrain -- all of whom had returned from Iran.

- 'Unprecedented' move -
The umrah, which refers to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year, attracts millions of devout Muslims from all over the globe each year.    There was no clarity over how the move would affect the annual hajj pilgrimage due to start in late July.   Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in last year's hajj -- one of the five pillars of Islam.

The event is a key rite of passage for Muslims and a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites.   "This move by Saudi Arabia is unprecedented," Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based risk consultancy Cornerstone Global Associates, told AFP.   "The concern for Saudi authorities would be Ramadan, which starts at the end of April, and hajj afterwards, should the coronavirus become a pandemic."

The holy fasting month of Ramadan is considered a favourable period by Muslim pilgrims to perform the Umrah.   Saudi Arabia's custodianship of Mecca and Medina -- Islam's two holiest sites -- is seen as the kingdom's most powerful source of political legitimacy.     But a series of deadly disasters over the years has prompted criticism of the Sunni kingdom's management of the pilgrimage.

In September 2015, a stampede killed up to 2,300 worshippers -- including hundreds of Iranians -- in the worst disaster ever to strike the pilgrimage.   The pilgrimage forms a crucial source of revenue for the government, which hopes to welcome 30 million pilgrims annually to the kingdom by 2030.   De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform plan seeks to shift the economy of Saudi Arabia -- the world's top crude exporter -- away from oil dependency towards other sources of revenue, including religious tourism.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 05:04:04 +0100 (MET)

Kuala Lumpur, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Badminton's German Open will not go ahead next week and the Polish Open has been postponed, officials said as two more Olympic qualifying events fell victim to the coronavirus.   It hasn't yet been decided whether the German Open, originally scheduled for March 3-8, will be postponed or cancelled entirely, the Badminton World Federation said late Wednesday.   New dates are being sought for the Polish Open, which was meant to take place on March 26-29, but it will not now fall in the qualifying period for the Tokyo Olympics.

Both events were in the same month as the All England Open, one of the biggest events in the badminton calendar, although that tournament is currently still set to go ahead.   "The BWF is continuing to monitor all official updates on COVID-19 with no change to the intention to stage other HSBC BWF World Tour or BWF-sanctioned tournaments," said a statement.   This week the Vietnam International Challenge, which also carried rankings points for the Olympics, was shifted from late March to early June.

The loss of qualifying tournaments will pose a problem for many players including two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan, who needs a rapid rise up the rankings to win a place on the Chinese team.   Many of China's players are currently in Britain and have been cleared to play during what is a "critical period" of Olympic qualifying, the Chinese Badminton Association said last weekend.   China have been the dominant force in badminton at recent Olympics, sweeping all five titles at London 2012 and winning the men's singles and doubles gold medals four years ago in Rio.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:58:42 +0100 (MET)

Tallinn, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Estonia reported its first coronavirus case on Thursday, a day after the man returned to the Baltic nation of just 1.3 million people from his homeland Iran.    "The person, a permanent resident of Estonia who is not a citizen, arrived in Estonia on Wednesday evening," Social Affairs Minister Tanel Kiik told public broadcaster ERR.   He said the Iranian citizen is currently hospitalised.

Local media said the man arrived in Tallinn by bus from the Latvian capital Riga.   "For now, there are no plans of putting cities in quarantine following this one case," Kiik said.    "The patient is isolated, there is no risk of the disease spreading, now we have to identify all the people the patient was in contact with."   Iran has announced a total of 19 deaths and more than 130 infections, including the country's deputy health minister.   Iran's coronavirus death toll is the highest after that of China, where more than 2,700 people have died from the disease.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 19:27:33 +0100 (MET)

Vynnyky, Ukraine, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Ukrainian authorities began the task of destroying 37,000 bottles of illicit adulterated vodka on Wednesday, a national "record" in a country where consumption of illegal alcohol regularly poisons and even kills.    Minister of Justice Denys Malyuska launched the operation in the city of Vynnyky in the central Lviv region where the bottles, holding 14 tonnes of alcohol, have been stored since their seizure in 2014.   "It is difficult to say what is in there but consumption is strictly not recommended," said the minister.    "This adulterated alcohol poses a huge threat to people's health and their lives."    In front of the media, the contents of several bottles were poured into plastic tanks or blue dye was added, to rule out any illegal re-sale of the beverage.

The procedure should last about a week, after which the liquid will be poured into the sewers at a secret location, according to the minister.   "This is the first time this procedure has been used so that everyone can see that the alcohol that has been seized is really destroyed," said Maliouska.   The minister said that in the past there had been "complaints" from the business community that because of corruption within the police, the illicit alcohol had often turned up in shops after being seized.   Cases of poisoning from adulterated drinks are a regular occurence in Ukraine, where the consumption of alcohol, especially spirits, remains high. And they are often fatal.

In 2016, 73 people died from a total of 150 people who were poisoned by adulterated alcohol.    The following year, six poisoning cases killed three people and, according to Ukrainian media, ten poisonings recorded by the authorities in 2018 led to nine deaths.   The tax department of the Lviv region told AFP on Wednesday that the most adulterated alcohol was vodka, which is then sold in shops in small towns or cafes located along the roads.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 07:21:09 +0100 (MET)

Copenhagen, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Denmark reported its first coronavirus case Thursday, a man who had returned from a skiing holiday in northern Italy which has become a hotspot for the disease.   "The man who came back from a skiing trip with his wife and son on February 24 has been suffering since then from a cough and a temperature," Denmark's public health agency said in a statement.   "The man tested positive, but the results of his wife and son are negative," it said.   The man is relatively well and has returned to his home, where he remains in isolation with his family, it added.   According to public TV station TV2, the man is one of its employees.   Italy has reported 400 coronavirus cases, mostly in the north, and 12 deaths.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 23:18:10 +0100 (MET)

Bucharest, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Romania reported its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday -- a man who was in contact with an Italian who visited the country last week.    "The patient, who is in good health and is showing no symptoms, will be transferred to Bucharest's hospital of infectious diseases," Health Minister Victor Costache told a press conference.

Seven other people who live at the same address as the man in the south-eastern Gorj county have all tested negative but will be quarantined for 14 days as a precaution, emergency department official Raed Arafat said.   The Italian believed to be the source of Romania's first diagnosis tested positive for the deadly virus upon returning to Italy after a four-day visit to Gorj.

New cases have been emerging across Europe, many linked to the continent's coronavirus hotspot in northern Italy.    Several governments have advised against travel to Italy, which has now recorded 400 cases and 12 deaths.   The COVID-19 outbreak has killed over 2,700 people and infected more than 80,000 in 34 countries, although the vast majority of cases remain in China, according to the World Health Organization.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 21:33:56 +0100 (MET)

Oslo, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Norwegian health authorities on Wednesday announced the first case of coronavirus in the Nordic nation in someone who returned from China last week, but said the patient was not "in danger".   "The person is not ill, they are in good health and do not present any symptoms," Line Vold, an official at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, told reporters. "We think it is very unlikely that they have infected" others.   Routine tests had given a "weekly positive result" and detected traces of the new coronavirus, the institute said.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 20:03:47 +0100 (MET)

Tbilisi, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Georgia on Wednesday announced its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in the South Caucasus region.   "A Georgian national has tested positive for the novel coronavirus," Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze told a news conference, adding that the infected man has been placed in isolation in a Tbilisi hospital.   "Three different tests of the 50-year-old man's nasopharyngeal smear gave positive results, but he is doing well, he is clinically healthy," head of Georgia's national centre for disease control, Amiran Gamkrelidze told journalists.

The man had arrived in Georgia from Iran via Azerbaijan, Gamkrelidze said.   Tikaradze said Georgia would introduce a two-week ban on Iranian nationals entering Georgia, but flatly dismissed fears of a coronavirus epidemic in the ex-Soviet country "at this point".   On Sunday, Georgia's neighbour Armenia closed its border with Iran and suspended flights as fears over an outbreak of coronavirus in Iran sent neighbouring countries scrambling to contain the outbreak.