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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Sun, 17 May 2020 19:55:15 +0200 (METDST)
By Gregory WALTON

Doha, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Qatar on Sunday began enforcing the world's toughest penalties of up to three years' in prison for failing to wear masks in public, in a country with one of the highest coronavirus infection rates.   More than 32,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the tiny Gulf country -- 1.2 percent of the 2.75 million population -- although just 15 people have died.   Only the micro-states of San Marino and the Vatican have had higher per-capita infection rates, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.   Violators of Qatar's new rules will face up to hree years in jail and fines of as much as $55,000.

Drivers alone in their vehicles are exempt from the requirement, but police erected checkpoints across the capital Doha on Sunday evening to check compliance by motorists.   Most customers gathered outside money lenders on Banks Street wore masks, while others produced a face covering when asked.   "From today it's very strict," said Majeed, a taxi driver waiting for business in the busy pedestrian area, who wore a black mask.   Heloisa, an expat resident, saw the steep penalties as "a bit of a scare tactic".   Wearing a mask is currently mandatory in around 50 countries, although scientists are divided on their effectiveness.

Authorities in Chad have made it an offence to be unmasked in public, on pain of 15 days in prison. In Morocco, similar rules can see violators jailed for three months and fined up to 1,300 dirhams ($130).   Qatari authorities have warned that gatherings during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan may have increased infections.   Abdullatif al-Khal, co-chair of Qatar's National Pandemic Preparedness Committee, said Thursday that there was "a huge risk in gatherings of families" for Ramadan meals.   "(They) led to a significant increase in the number of infections among Qataris," he said.   Neighbouring Saudi Arabia will enforce a round-the-clock nationwide curfew during the five-day Eid al-Fitr holiday later this month to fight the coronavirus.

- Labourers at risk -
Mosques, along with schools, malls, and restaurants remain closed in Qatar to prevent the disease's spread.   But construction sites remain open as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, although foremen and government inspectors are attempting to enforce social distancing rules.    Officials have said workers at three stadiums have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus. Masks have been compulsory for construction workers since April 26.   A 12-strong team of masked labourers kept their distance from one another as they worked under baking sun on a road project in Doha's blue-collar Msheireb district on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers were quarantined in Doha's gritty Industrial Area after a number of infections were confirmed there in mid-March, but authorities have begun to ease restrictions.   Khal said that most new cases were among migrant workers, although there has been a jump in infections among Qataris. He said the country had not yet reached the peak of its contagion.   Rights groups have warned that Gulf labourers' cramped living conditions, communal food preparation areas and shared bathrooms could undermine social distancing efforts and speed up the spread of the virus.
Date: Thu, 14 May 2020 17:39:24 +0200 (METDST)

Doha, May 14, 2020 (AFP) - Qatar has made wearing a face mask compulsory for everyone who steps outside their home, with violators facing jail time and fines of up to $55,000.   The move comes as the number of reported novel coronavirus cases in the Gulf monarchy jumped by another 1,733 on Thursday, a single-day record for the Gulf state.

Cabinet mandated the wearing of face masks "upon leaving the house for any reason" except when "alone while driving a vehicle", the Qatar News Agency reported Thursday.   The decision on Wednesday is effective from Sunday "until further notice", with penalties of up to three years in jail and fines of up to 200,000 riyals ($55,000), it added.

Qatar, with a population of 2.75 million people, has seen a relatively high number of novel coronavirus cases, with more than 28,000 people testing positive.   But its death rate remains low, with just 14 fatalities -- an outcome experts say is down to a young population and mandatory health checks for its vast foreign workforce.   Bars, restaurants, cinemas and mosques have been shut to contain the spread of the virus.   But construction projects, including World Cup 2022 stadiums, have continued with new rules to encourage social distancing.
Date: Fri, 1 May 2020 14:28:20 +0200 (METDST)

Doha, May 1, 2020 (AFP) - Twenty-three staff at a hospital in Qatar were injured when tents being used to boost capacity in response to coronavirus collapsed in a fierce storm, local media reported Friday.   Winds of up to 72 kilometres per hour (45 miles per hour) caused two expansion tents at Hazm Mebaireek General Hospital in Qatar's Industrial Area to collapse on Thursday, the Gulf Times reported.   No patients were hurt and most injuries to staff were minor, the daily added, citing the health ministry.   The Industrial Area, a gritty, densely-populated district mostly home to migrant labourers, has been the epicentre of Qatar's outbreak.    Tens of thousands of residents were quarantined in the area after cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed among the community in mid-March.

Gas-rich Qatar -- home to hundreds of thousands of foreign labourers working on projects linked to the 2022 World Cup -- has reported 12 deaths and 14,096 cases of the COVID-19 respiratory disease.    The hospital's executive director Hussein Ishaq said the incident was being treated "very seriously" and that an investigation had been launched.   "I want to express my appreciation to all the (hospital) staff who heroically helped ensure that no patients were injured and were safely transferred to other hospitals to continue receiving care," he said, quoted in the Gulf Times.
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]
More ...

Malta

Malta US Consular Information Sheet
November 26, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Malta is a small, developed, democratic Mediterranean island nation, positioned as a cultural stepping-stone between Europe and North Africa.
Malta became
a member of the European Union with nine other new member states on May 1, 2004, and became a full member of the Schengen area in March 2008.
Tourist facilities of all categories are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Malta for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Malta is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Malta for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet.
For further information concerning entry requirements for Malta, travelers should contact the Embassy of Malta at 2017 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington DC
20008, tel.: (202) 462-3611, web site: http://www.foreign.gov.mt/default.aspx?MLEV=47&MDIS=505, or the Maltese Consulate in New York City, tel.: (212) 725-2345.

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:
Malta remains largely free of terrorist incidents. No indigenous terrorist or extremist groups are known to be active in Malta, and no foreign terrorist organization has carried out an attack against U.S. interests in Malta in recent years.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found

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

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

CRIME:
Malta has a low rate of violent crime.
Theft of unattended personal property and car stereos from vehicles is a common problem.
Visitors are strongly encouraged to secure their valuables, and be aware of pickpockets and purse snatchers.
Such criminals focus on areas and establishments frequented by tourists.
Caution is particularly urged in the Paceville nightclub area, where excessive drinking and poor crowd control have led to instances of violent behavior.
Poverty, homelessness, and panhandling are almost non-existent in Malta.
All visitors to Malta should practice the same good, common sense personal security precautions that are part of everyday life in urban areas within the U.S., particularly when spending time in areas frequented by tourists.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The crime victim’s assistance agency is ‘APPOGG’- Support Line, tel: 179;
web site: www.appogg.gov.mt.
To learn about resources in the U.S. if you are the victim of a violent crime overseas, please also see our information on Victims of Crime.

The local equivalents to the “911” emergency line in Malta are: Police 191; Ambulance 196; Fire 199.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care is available through public and private hospitals.
The quality of medical care in Malta is excellent.
Private hospitals generally offer a higher standard of service than the public hospitals, and the majority of the best doctors practice in private medical facilities.

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 Malta.
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 Malta is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic in Malta flows on the left, requiring attentiveness and caution from visitors from right-hand drive countries such as the United States.
In addition, drivers may be erratic or undisciplined. Roads flood easily, and are often narrow, winding, and congested, with poor visibility around curves.
Traffic arteries are prone to bottlenecks and accidents.
Buses are the primary means of public transportation.
Though the bus fleet is being modernized, most buses are old, cramped, and not air-conditioned.
Taxis are safe but expensive and are not metered; it is a good practice to agree with the driver in advance on the charge.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
There is a Malta Tourist Information Office located at Freedom Square Valletta, tel. 21-237-747, web site: http://www.visitmalta.com/getting-around
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Malta’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Malta’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:
Malta customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning currency restrictions and temporary importation into or export from Malta of items such as firearms, antiquities, and any item that might be deemed to have resalable value.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Malta in Washington or the Consulate of Malta in New York City for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Malta’s customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes.
ATA Carnet Headquarters located at U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States.
For additional information call (212) 354-4480, send an e-mail to atacarnet@uscib.org or visit http://uscib.org for details.

For more 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 Malta’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Malta are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit 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 Malta are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Malta.
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 on the third floor of the Development House, St. Anne Street, Floriana, Valletta, telephone (356) 2561-4000.
The Consular Section’s telephone number is (356) 2156-4115, fax: (356) 2124-3229, web site: http://malta.usembassy.gov/uscit_intro.html.
The Consular Section is open to the public Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Malta dated April 29, 2008, to update sections on Safety and Security and Exit and Entry Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 11 Mar 2020 17:17:44 +0100 (MET)

Rome, March 11, 2020 (AFP) - Malta's prime minister announced Wednesday that flights to the island from Switzerland, Germany, France and Spain would be suspended to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.   People arriving in Malta from those four countries and from Italy should self-isolate at home for 14 days, Prime Minister Robert Abela told reporters.   Those who flout the ban face a 1,000-euro fine.   The flight bans will take effect from midnight local time.

Aviation links to Italy, the scene of Europe's worst coronavirus outbreak, had already been halted.   Malta itself has so far reported six cases of coronavirus.   Authorities are looking into measures to repatriate tourists stuck on the Mediterranean island.   "The situation is under control and the country is well prepared," said Abela.   "We will do whatever is necessary to safeguard the people's health," he added.
Date: Fri 16 Aug 2019
Source: Times of Malta [abridged, edited]

The number of measles cases in Malta has soared to an unprecedented level this year [2019], with 30 cases reported in the 1st 6 months, according to the World Health Organisation.

Data recently published by the health body showed that the figures until June 2019 are in stark contrast to those for the previous years. According to the WHO data, between 2011 and 2018, there were only 11 cases reported. There were no cases reported in a number of these years, and, between 2012 and 2017, there were only 2 cases reported, one in 2013 and another 2 years later.

Earlier this year [2019], the WHO had flagged the issue [slipping vaccine rates] with a rapid increase in measles cases on a global level. At the time, preliminary figures had shown that measles cases rose 300% worldwide through the 1st 3 months of 2019 when compared to the same period last year [2018].

According to the Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci, after a number of years with no cases of the disease, in 2018, there were 5 imported cases and one local transmission.

Most of the cases occurred in adults who were not vaccinated. "This year [2019], we have already seen over 15 locally acquired cases. Most of the cases occurred in adults who were not vaccinated," Dr Gauci said when the preliminary figures came out.

In its report on this year's [2019] data, the WHO noted a "dramatic resurgence of measles compared to previous years" in the European region, with 49 of the 53 countries in the region together having reported over 160 000 measles cases and over 100 measles-related deaths by the end of May 2019.

"High national-level coverage can mask pockets of low coverage at the local level, resulting in an accumulation of susceptible individuals that often goes unrecognised until outbreaks occur. An enhanced response is needed to protect all populations in the region from this dangerous disease," WHO said. It has set the ambitious goal of achieving measles and rubella elimination in at least 5 of its regions by 2020.  [Byline: Claire Caruana]
Date: Sun 29 Jul 2018 17:28 CEST
Source: Times of Malta [summ., edited]

The number of salmonellosis cases reported to the health authorities so far in July 2018 has surpassed that in previous years, peaking at 20 cases in July alone.

Figures supplied to The Sunday Times of Malta by the health authorities showed that so far this month [July 2018], 20 cases of the food poisoning infection have been reported, up from 11 in 2017. Since the beginning of 2018, 67 cases have been brought to the authorities' attention.

Salmonellosis is a type of foodborne illness caused by bacteria and is often more common in summer. The infection is contracted when food contaminated with the bacteria is consumed, with young children, older adults, and those with impaired immune systems being more susceptible to severe infection. Symptoms include diarrhoea, fever, and abdominal cramps and usually develop 12 to 72 hours after the infection is contracted. It usually lasts 4 to 7 days.

Just this week, the health authorities confirmed _Salmonella_ had been found in eggs from St Joseph Farm [Southern region] during sampling by the veterinary authorities as part of the Veterinary National Control programme for _Salmonella_. Eggs packed by this farm have since been recalled, with the public being advised not to consume them. The Superintendent of Public Health warned that food that has been listed as recalled should not be consumed, while the general handling of eggs should also be done with caution.

Eggs, she said, should always be cooked until both the yolk and the white are firm, while egg dishes should be cooked to an internal temperature of 71 deg C [160 deg F] or hotter. The eggs used in sauces or any other items that contain raw or lightly-cooked eggs should be pasteurized, Dr Gauci said. Hands, and any implements that come in direct contact with raw eggs, should always be thoroughly washed.  [Byline: Claire Caruana]
============================
[While undercooked eggs are a common source for human salmonellosis, it is not unclear if the finding of contaminated eggs on Malta is related to the upswing of human cases. No information is given regarding the human and egg isolates to assess if they are related. - ProMED Mod. LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Il-Hamrun, Malta:
Date: Mon 13 Mar 2018
From: Christian Lenart <christian@lenart.at> [edited]

We report a case of _Leishmania donovani_/_L. infantum_ in a 56-year-old man from Austria. He travelled to Malta in June 2017 and complained about itchy, partly exulcerated papules in November 2017. His wife too was suffering from the same lesions but did not consult a dermatologist, since the lesions regressed spontaneously.

The patient first contacted a dermatologist, who performed an excision showing _Leishmania_ negative granulomatous inflammation as a histological result. He was then referred to the dermatological ward of the municipal hospital. The lesions were up to 2 cm [0.8 in] in size, disseminated on all extremities.

Another excision was performed, showing plenty of amastigotes affected macrophages. He then was checked for signs of visceral manifestation, but showed no hepatosplenomegaly. The blood sample showed no conspicuity with normal haematological results and normal CRP [C-reactive protein]. The PCR test for _Leishmania_ sp. DNA was positive.

The Western blot (IgG) was positive as well, whilst immunoaffinity chromatography was negative. Skin biopsy genotyping proved a diagnosis of _Leishmania infantum_/_L.donovani_. Since the patient had multiple lesions treatment with miltefosine was initiated.

Leishmania in Malta
-----------------------------------------
While especially leishmaniasis was quite common in the early 20th century in Malta, there were hardly any cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis at the end of the century. For the last years the incidence has been stable with about 3 to 4 cases of visceral leishmaniasis, VL, per year (1).  In 2012, 3 VL and no CL cases were reported (2). All cases of leishmaniasis are caused by _L. infantum_ in Malta, transmitted from dogs to humans by _Phlebotomus perniciosus_. The 2 identified zymodemes in Malta are MON 1, causing visceral and MON 78, causing cutaneous leishmaniasis (3).

References
---------------------------------------
1. Alvar J, Vélez ID, Bern C, et al and the WHO Leishmaniasis Control Team. Leishmaniasis worldwide and global estimates of its incidence. PLoS One. 2012; 7(5): e35671. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035671; available at <http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0035671>.
2. Government of Malta, Ministry for Health, the Elderly and Community Care: Annual report 2012; p. 46; available at <https://www.gov.mt/en/Government/Publications/Documents/Annual%20Reports/MHEC.pdf>.
3. Pace D, Williams TN, Grochowska A, et al. Manifestations of paediatric _Leishmania infantum_ infections in Malta. Travel Med Infect Dis. 2011; 9(1):37-46. doi: 10.1016/j.tmaid.2010.11.005; available at <http://www.travelmedicinejournal.com/article/S1477-8939(10)00196-1/fulltext>.
--------------------------------------
Dr Christian Lenart
Department of Emergency Medicine
Krankenhaus Hietzing (Municipal Hospital Vienna-Hietzing)
Austria
christian@lenart.at
===============================
[Leishmaniasis is endemic in Malta and cases imported from Malta to other countries are not unusual. _Leishmania infantum_ usually results in visceral leishmaniasis and the genotyping in this case could not distinguish between _L. donovani_/_L. infantum_. Miltefosine is the drug of choice for cutaneous leishmaniasis. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps: Austria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/63886> Malta: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/77>]
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2018 18:18:07 +0100

Valletta, Feb 20, 2018 (AFP) - Malta International Airport was brought to a standstill on Tuesday by a fire that left flights suspended and hundreds of passengers stranded.   Passengers were evacuated from the airport as smoke billowed through the arrivals and departure lounges, an AFP reporter at the scene said.   Firefighters worked for two hours to put out the small blaze, which began at around 1:15 pm and caused no injuries.

Airport operators said 10 outbound international flights were delayed. They added later in an online statement that operations at the terminal were resuming.   The airport said the blaze broke out in the pump room for the airport's small aquarium, located in the arrivals concourse.   "Terminal operations are now resuming, and Malta International Airport's recovery plan has been activated," it said in a statement in the late afternoon.

Hundreds of passengers were left standing outside the airport and some even on the apron.   One flight to nearby Catania in Sicily was expected to take off 11 hours later than scheduled, according to the departures timetable.   Flights to Stockholm, Cyprus, Krakow, London Gatwick and Dublin were also delayed.   Flights from British airports Heathrow and Gatwick were diverted to Catania.
More ...

Cuba

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2020 00:29:17 +0100 (MET)

Havana, March 23, 2020 (AFP) - Cuba will quarantine foreign tourists from Tuesday to guard against the spread of the new coronavirus, the communist country's Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said Monday.   "All tourists still in hotels will be placed in quarantine... They cannot leave the hotel" until they find a flight home, he said on state TV, adding that there were 32,500 holidaymakers from overseas on the Caribbean island on Monday.
Date: Tue, 28 Jan 2020 21:50:13 +0100 (MET)

Havana, Jan 28, 2020 (AFP) - A major earthquake that hit the Caribbean Tuesday rocked the Cuban capital Havana, causing buildings to be evacuated and sending thousands of people into the streets.  The quake rattled several tall buildings in the city, which were immediately evacuated by authorities.

The earthquake was felt in several provinces including Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba in the east, Cienfuegos in the centre and Havana in the northwest, the official Cubadebate website reported.   There were no preliminary reports of damage or injuries, however.  The US Geological Survey reported the 7.7 magnitude quake hit at a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles), at 1910 GMT -- 125 kilometres northwest of Lucea, Jamaica.
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 22:45:46 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - The US moved to further hurt Cuba's vital tourism industry by tightening the ability of the country's airlines to lease aircraft.   The US Department of Commerce said it was revoking existing licenses for US companies leasing aircraft to Cuban carriers, and will deny future applications for aircraft leases.   The move could make it harder for Cuba to service its rapidly growing tourism sector, a key source of foreign revenue for the poor country.

Washington has stepped up pressure on Havana due to its support for the embattled regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.   "This action by the Commerce Department sends another clear message to the Cuban regime -- that they must immediately cease their destructive behaviour at home and abroad," Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear how many aircraft the move would impact.   Cuba's cash-poor carriers depend on aircraft rented from leasing companies or other airlines, which are often very old.   In May 2018, 112 people died in the crash of a 39-year-old Boeing 737 leased by national carrier Cubana de Aviacion from a small Mexican firm, Global Air.

In June of this year, US President Donald Trump announced a US ban on cruise ship stopovers by Americans on the island, forcing Havana to cut its 2019 tourism target by 15 percent to 4.3 million visitors.   Nearly 900,000 tourists visited the island on cruise ships last year, and almost 40 percent were American, according to official figures.   The announcement Friday also expanded restrictions on imports from Cuba and on products with US content that can be sold to the country.
Date: Wed 3 Jul 2019
Source: 660 City News [edited]

A Newfoundland woman is warning travellers to do their research before adventurous excursions abroad after she and several other Newfoundlanders became ill from a mysterious disease traced back to a cave she visited in Cuba. The illness was eventually identified as a respiratory infection called histoplasmosis, or "cave disease," caused by spores from bird or bat droppings in damp soil. [She] of Paradise, NL, travelled to Cuba with her husband on 27 Apr [2019], but her fever-like symptoms didn't appear until 21 May [2019], weeks after she returned home. X-rays showed nodules in her lungs and tests showed low blood counts. Her condition baffled local doctors, who initially thought her lung infection could be some form of pneumonia. The clue to her illness came from a chance meeting she'd made on the trip with a family of Newfoundlanders who had a mutual friend. [She] and her husband had travelled with the group on a tour that included cave diving in the Matanzas province of Cuba.

Back in Canada, a number of their new friends had also fallen ill. [She] and the travellers informed their doctors that they knew each other and were experiencing the same symptoms, and their illness was identified as a respiratory infection called histoplasmosis, or "cave disease." [She] said pinpointing the source of her condition offered some relief from what she called a terrible, alarming health issue that she feared might have been cancerous. "You didn't want to be too excited about the fact that somebody else was sick, but at least cancer was off the table," [she] said by phone Wednesday [3 Jul 2019].

Eastern Health, [her] local health authority, has issued an advisory for travellers heading to the Americas, Africa, East Asia and Australia to avoid contracting the disease. Histoplasmosis is a treatable disease, contracted by breathing in airborne spores where bird or bat droppings are disturbed in damp soil. Eastern Health described its symptoms as including "cough and chest pain, shortness of breath, fever and chills, headaches and flu-like illness." The disease is treatable and most people who contract it never show symptoms, but it can be serious for infants or people with compromised immune systems. The health authority said the advisory was issued after a low number of histoplasmosis cases were confirmed in the Eastern Health region. An exact number of cases could not be provided for privacy reasons, but [the patient] said she's heard of at least 5 others.

While the disease is treatable, it is rare in Newfoundland, making treatment more complicated. [The patient] said she's waiting to receive an anti-fungal medication that had to be approved from outside of the province, and she's been told she'll have to take the drug for treatment for the next 3 months to a year. [The patent] said she's still experiencing fatigue and a persistent cough, and her voice is still scratchy and strained from an illness she contracted from what was one of the most breathtaking excursions on her vacation. "It was absolutely amazing," she said of the cave. "It was so pristine and so nice-looking when we went in."

[She] said she'd advise other travellers to do a thorough background check on the regions they're visiting and any planned excursions. "It's without a doubt that you have to go and you have to research the excursion that you're going on," she said. "You have to know the region, the areas, 100%. [She] wrote a Facebook post about her experience that's been shared thousands of times, and she said people as far as France have written to her about experiencing similar, undiagnosed symptoms after travelling abroad.  [Byline: Holly McKenzie-Sutter]
====================
[_Histoplasma capsulatum_, a dimorphic fungus that grows in a mycelial form at ambient temperatures and as yeast at body temperature in mammals, is found worldwide in soil enriched by bird or bat droppings. Contaminated soil can be potentially infectious for years. Fungal spores become airborne during activities that disturb the contaminated soil, such as spelunking, mining, construction, excavation, demolition, roofing, chimney cleaning, farming, or gardening, which can lead to clusters of cases of histoplasmosis that follow inhalation of the aerosolized spores. The spores can travel distances downstream from the source in currents of air. Because of the presence of bats in caves, cave exploration is a known risk factor for histoplasmosis, which is sometimes known as "cave fever" (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10403317>). Physicians should be aware of the association between histoplasmosis and caving when caring for individuals who develop an acute febrile respiratory illness after cave exploration (<http://tinyurl.com/yxjust7x>).

Another disease that has also acquired the name "cave fever" is tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF). See ProMED-mail posts Tick-borne relapsing fever - Israel: spelunkers, tourists http://promedmail.org/post/20180422.5761531 and Tick-borne relapsing fever - USA: (TX) cave workers, 2017 http://promedmail.org/post/20180420.5759542.

Although birds cannot be infected by the _H. capsulatum_ and do not transmit the disease, bats can become infected by _H. capsulatum_ and may harbor the fungus in their gut (<https://academic.oup.com/jtm/article/15/2/133/1801173>).

In the US, histoplasmosis is endemic in the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi River valleys, where it is caused by _H. capsulatum_ var. _capsulatum_. Histoplasmosis has also been reported in Mexico, Central and South America, Oceania, Asia, Africa, and Europe (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4535725/>). In Africa, histoplasmosis occurs most commonly in west and central Africa, where it is caused by the _duboisii_ variety, which has yeast cells that average about twice the size of _H. capsulatum_ var. _capsulatum_  (<http://www.reviberoammicol.com/1997-14/155159.pdf>).

Most individuals with histoplasmosis are asymptomatic. Those who develop clinical manifestations are usually immunocompromised or are exposed to a large number of spores. Disseminated disease is especially more common in HIV/AIDS co-infected cases. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Newfoundland, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada:
Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2019 03:22:19 +0200
By Paul HANDLEY

Washington, June 5, 2019 (AFP) - The Trump administration clamped down on US tourist visits to Cuba Tuesday, aiming to cut the flow of dollars to a country that Washington accuses of helping prop up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The Treasury Department banned group educational travel, cruise ship and private yacht visits by Americans, taking aim at the most common ways US tourists and Cuban-Americans visit the Caribbean island.   The move could constitute a heavy hit on Cuba, which saw more than a quarter-million US visitors in the first four months of 2019, almost double the figure from a year earlier.   "The United States holds the Cuban regime accountable for its repression of the Cuban people, its interference in Venezuela, and its direct role in the man-made crisis led by Nicolas Maduro," the State Department said in a news release.   "Empowered by Cuba, he has created a humanitarian disaster that destabilizes the region."

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said the aim was to end what the administration considers "veiled tourism" to Cuba.   "We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime's access to US dollars," Bolton said on Twitter.   The Cuban government condemned the move, which could cost the country's economy tens of millions of dollars a year in lost income.   "They seek to stifle the economy and damage the standard of living of Cubans to wrest political concessions," said Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez in a tweeted statement. "They'll fail again."

- Reverses Obama's historic opening -
American tourism in Cuba took off after then-president Barack Obama moved to ease the half-century trade embargo against the communist government in 2014 -- even though continuing restrictions kept visits nominally in the realm of cultural and artistic exchanges and business dealings.   Cuba and the US restored ties in 2015 and Obama himself visited Havana in a historic presidential trip in March 2016, meeting with then-president Raul Castro. Weeks later, the ban was lifted on US commercial ship visits, opening the door for the Caribbean cruise ship industry to expand stops in Cuba.

But President Donald Trump came into office attacking the Obama opening, and within months began tightening relations, first by banning individual visits and limiting commercial interactions.   The State Department tied the new ban directly to Havana's support for Maduro -- whose embattled regime faces a direct challenge from US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, the self-declared acting president of Venezuela.  "Veiled tourism has served to line the pockets of the Cuban military, the very same people supporting Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and repressing the Cuban people on the island," the State Department said.

- 'Political grandstanding' -
Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the US agencies which arranges visits to Cuba, accused the Trump administration of playing politics by trying to appease conservative anti-Havana Cuban immigrants in Florida, an important election swing state where they carry significant political weight.   "This political grandstanding aimed at Florida in the run up to the 2020 elections is so unfortunate for the millions of Cubans that will feel the crunch from less US visitors," said Laverty.   "This has nothing to do with empowering the Cuban people and has everything to do with empowering a handful of people in Florida that have never even been to Cuba."   Travel industry officials said that people who are booked on tours now will be able to go, ensuring that advanced-booked cruise ships will likely be operating from Florida to Havana throughout this year.   But Royal Caribbean Cruises said ships leaving Wednesday and Thursday of this week will skip previously scheduled stops in Cuba as the company examines the new US policy.

Norwegian Cruise Lines said they are seeking additional information on the new policy to see how it will affect future travel.   Tessia Aral, the owner of ABC Charters in Miami, said it could have a huge impact on her business, which arranged trips to Cuba for about 10,000 people last year.   She said it will hurt not only companies like hers but also those of the many entrepreneurs in Cuba who have built businesses to serve tourists.   "The people making the rules have never been to Cuba. They don't know how things have changed" in recent years, she said.   "What they are doing is counter-productive. I believe it's really going to hurt the private entrepreneurs in Cuba -- all the private restaurants, all the private homes" who serve tourists.
More ...

Jordan

General Information:
***************************************
The Middle East is a favourite destination for many Irish holiday makers. The combination of a beautiful climate linked with such historical richness is hard to beat. Unfortunately the
security situation throughout the region has led to some significant concerns over the years. Nevertheless, in the vast majority of cases those visiting the region will not encounter any particular concerns in this regard. It is a wise precaution to ensure that your passport is valid for at least a further six months beyond the time of your holiday as otherwise you may be refused entry.
Security Situation:
***************************************
Security throughout the Middle East is generally tight. Carry some means of identification at all times in case you are requested to produce it by police or army personnel. In Jerusalem the city has been divided and it is sensible to remember which quarter you are in at all times.
Health Facilities:
***************************************
Generally the health facilities throughout the region are excellent. However, when visiting certain rural regions you may find it difficult to obtain hospital care similar to that at home. In Israel, travellers can find information in English about emergency medical facilities and after-hours pharmacies in the "Jerusalem Post" and English language "Ha'aretz" newspapers.
Food & Water Facilities:
***************************************
Again, this depends on your location and the facilities which are there at the time of the year you visit. Bottled water is easily available and food hygiene is usually excellent throughout all the main tourist destinations. However, it is generally wiser not to drink hotel tap water and only to use it for brushing your teeth if there is a clear smell of chlorine. When on organised trips tourists are sometimes offered local tea or other drinks. Generally this will be safe as the water is boiled but take care that the cup hygiene is acceptable.
Sun Exposure:
***************************************
The climatic conditions in the Middle East vary considerably throughout the year. Many tourists visit in late autumn or early spring. At these times the climate is much cooler and the evenings can be distinctly chilly. However, during the main tourist season (May to September) the temperatures rise high into the 80’s or 90’s and dehydration can easily occur. Increasing fluid and salt intake is important under these circumstances. It is essential that travellers are aware of the climatic conditions which should be present for their trip and that sensible clothing is used at all times.
Rabies:
***************************************
Tourists should avoid all animals as this viral disease is transmitted through the bite, lick or scratch of any infected warm blooded animal. In Israel the most common animals involved are foxes and jackals and in Jordan, dogs tend to be the main culprits.
Exploring the Region:
***************************************
Leaving the main tourist routes is unwise. There are a number of security risks which have to be considered and there are also significant health concerns which may be encountered. In July 2000 an 18 year old American tourist died of sunstroke when she became separated from her group in the Dead Sea region of Israel. Those exploring caves and parts of the desert areas also run the risk of diseases like Borreliosis and Rabies.
Walking & Trekking:
***************************************
For many going to these countries their trip will involve visiting some of the major ruins and archeological sites. This will involve a good deal of walking and trekking. Good supporting foot wear is essential and it would be wise to carry a crepe bandage in case of a sprained ankle. Having a suitable painkiller or anti-inflammatory medication would also be advantageous. Check your health will be up to the journey.
Swimming:
***************************************
Pools are usually very well maintained and the risk of disease is small. Those swimming in the sea should remember that the Mediterranean is home to many jelly fish. Swim with others and never alone and especially after alcohol or a heavy meal.
Anthrax:
***************************************
This bacterial disease is rare in the Middle east though travellers should be aware that it can be transmitted through unprepared leather goods usually bought in the local market places. Typically the disease may then present with a black ulcerated skin lesion.

Malaria:
***************************************
Fortunately this disease does not occur in Israel or Jordan. However other mosquito and sandfly diseases do occur and so protection against their bites should be used when necessary.
Hepatitis:
***************************************
There are many forms of this disease but the most common is Hepatitis A, often known as Infectious Jaundice. This disease can keep an infected individual off work for many weeks and it is wise to consider vaccination cover before exposure. In Israel approx 65% of the population will have been infected before 18 years of age.
Vaccinations:
***************************************
There are no essential vaccines for entry/exit however most Irish tourists are recommended to receive cover against; Poliomyelitis, Typhoid, Tetanus and Hepatitis A. Those living in these countries or planning an extended trip should also consider cover against Hepatitis B and Rabies.
Summary:
***************************************
Due to the unrest within Israel there are concerns regarding the safety of tourists at this time. If you are travelling to this region it is wise to ensure that your insurance policy is sufficient if your circumstances or travel plans change.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 20 Mar 2020 16:32:44 +0100 (MET)

Amman, March 20, 2020 (AFP) - Jordan will impose a round-the-clock curfew from Saturday morning until further notice to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country, the government announced.   The exceptional measure, to be applied for an indefinite period, was taken after "citizens did not respect directives" calling on them not to leave their homes except for extreme emergencies, government spokesman Amjad Adayleh said on Friday.

Adayleh warned that lack of compliance with the curfew would result in "immediate imprisonment, which will not exceed one year".   The kingdom has reported 69 cases of the COVID-19 disease, with no deaths so far.   "In view of the exceptional circumstances in the world and in our region and to avoid epidemics, a curfew will come into force from Saturday at 7:00 a.m. (0500 GMT) and until further notice in all regions of the kingdom," Adayleh, who is also the minister of state for media affairs, said at a news conference in the capital Amman.

All shops will be closed and authorities will announce on Tuesday the "specific times according to specific procedures" for the population to get supplies, he added.    "Unfortunately, in the past two days, citizens did not respect directives and have been out in the streets and markets. This poses a great danger to their health and safety."   Earlier this week, the army was deployed to enforce directives calling on the population to "only leave their homes in cases of force majeure".    Jordanian authorities also banned travel between provinces and sealed off the capital as well as suspending public transport and flights.    Only bakeries and pharmacies have remained open.
Date: Sat, 14 Mar 2020 17:23:28 +0100 (MET)

Amman, March 14, 2020 (AFP) - Jordan said Saturday it would halt flights, close its land borders and shut down schools, places of worship and public gatherings to stop the spread of novel coronavirus.   Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz told official news agency Petra that "all flights into and out of the kingdom will be suspended from Tuesday until further notice".

He said exceptions would be made for cargo flights and those carrying diplomats and staff of international organisations, providing they follow health ministry guidelines -- including a two-week quarantine.   "All land and sea crossings and airports are closed except for cargo," he added, saying Jordanians in neighbouring countries who needed to return could do so but would also face quarantine.

He also announced that the country's mosques and churches would be closed and that hospital and prison visits would be suspended.   Razzaz also announced a two-week closure of all educational institutions from Sunday, the start of the working week.   He said all public gatherings would be cancelled and urged citizens to stay in their homes as much as possible.

Jordan has so far announced one case of the COVID-19 illness, but Razzaz said the new measures were taken "in light of accelerating global developments, to protect the nation and its citizens."   In nearby Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered schools and universities to close for two weeks starting Sunday, his spokesman announced.
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 2019 15:31:58 +0100 (MET)

Amman, Nov 6, 2019 (AFP) - Eight people, including four tourists, were wounded in a knife attack on Wednesday at the famed archeological site of Jerash in northern Jordan, a security spokesman told AFP.   Four tourists -- three Mexicans and a Swiss woman -- were wounded, along with a Jordanian tour guide and a security officer who tried to stop the assailant, public security directorate spokesman Amer Sartawi said.   The attack took place around noon (1000 GMT) at the Roman ruins of Jerash, a popular attraction 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the capital Amman.   The health ministry confirmed that eight people had been wounded, with Sartawi saying earlier that they had "been transported to hospital for treatment".    He said the assailant had been arrested but did not specify his nationality, noting that the motive was as yet unknown.

Jordanian tour guide Zouheir Zreiqat was at the scene and told AFP that the attack happened "just before midday when around 100 foreign tourists" were at the site.    "A bearded man in his twenties wearing black and brandishing a knife started to stab tourists," according to Zreiqat.   He said others started to shout for help and he, along with three other tour guides and three tourists managed to stop the assailant.   "We chased him until we could grab him and get him on the ground," Zreiqat said.    "We took the knife from him. He stayed silent, without saying a word until the police arrived and arrested him."

- Violent attacks -
It was not the first time tourist sites have been targeted by attacks in Jordan.    In December 2016, in Karak, home to one of the region's biggest Crusader castles, 10 people were killed in an attack that also left 30 wounded.    Seven police officers, two Jordanian civilians and a Canadian tourist were killed in the attack.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group (IS) and sparked concern over its impact on tourism, a mainstay of the Jordanian economy.    Ten people were convicted of carrying out the attack, with two sentenced to death.   Several violent incidents struck the country the same year, including a suicide attack in June claimed by IS that killed seven Jordanian border guards near the frontier with Syria.    Amman has played a significant role in the United States-led coalition fight against IS in Syria and Iraq, both neighbouring Jordan.

- Economic troubles -
Lacking in natural resources, the country of nearly 10 million depends on tourism and the kingdom has been working to pull the key sector out of a crisis caused by regional unrest in recent years.   Jordan's economy as a whole was hit hard by the combined impact of the international financial crisis, the Arab Spring uprisings that convulsed the Middle East in 2011 and the conflict in Syria.

Tourism accounts for 10 to 12 percent of gross domestic product and the government aims to double this by 2022, former tourism minister Lina Annab told AFP in an interview last year.  The country boasts 21,000 archaeological and historical sites that span millennia, according to the tourism board.   They include the Roman ruins of Jerash, the ancient city of Petra, the Dead Sea and Wadi al-Kharrar, or Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where some believe Jesus was baptised.   Jordan welcomed seven million tourists in 2010, but arrivals plunged to around three million in each of the following two years, tourism board head Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat said in April.    Numbers have rebounded as spillover from the war in neighbouring Syria has abated, officials have said, with the government working to bring annual tourist arrivals back up to 7 million by 2020.
Date: Mon 26 Apr 2019, 3:51 PM
Source: Roya News [edited]

The initial results of the laboratory specimens of the food poisoning cases in Raymon town, west of Jarash revealed that _E. coli_ bacteria was the cause of the poisoning. The reports indicated that the bacterium was found in samples taken from water tanks in a bakery and restaurant during inspections conducted by teams of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Environment and the Jordan Food and Drug Administration (JFDA).

The report said that 5 people were referred to hospital on [Sat 24 Aug 2019], where it was suspected that they have food poisoning. The Ministry of Health had then sent an investigation committee to take water samples, after it was thought that the poisoning was caused by water that people used from 2 water stations.

Water samples were also taken from houses of people who suffered poisoning, 2 restaurants and a bakery. However, the bacteria were found in one of the restaurants and the bakery.

So far, 49 cases were referred to the Comprehensive Health Center, while 22 were referred to Jarash Government Hospital, where 7 of which left the hospital.

Preliminary results of the water samples taken from the 2 stations showed that water is clear of any kind of bacteria. The restaurant and bakery were closed down.
=======================
[_E. coli_ contamination does not necessarily mean that the organism was the cause of the illnesses as the observation can just reflect human faecal contamination and other pathogens including viruses, parasites and other bacteria may be involved. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Sat, 10 Nov 2018 16:22:28 +0100

Amman, Nov 10, 2018 (AFP) - Flash floods killed 12 people in Jordan and forced nearly 4,000 tourists to flee the famed ancient desert city of Petra, emergency services said on Saturday.   Search teams were scouring valleys near the historic hill town of Madaba for a young girl who was still missing after Friday's floods, civil defence spokesman Iyad Amru told state television.

Among those confirmed dead after torrential rains swept the south of the kingdom were six people found in the Madaba area southwest of the capital Amman.   To the east, three people were killed near Dabaa on the Desert Highway, one of Jordan's three main north-south arteries, while one was killed near Maan in the south.    It was not immediately clear where the other two died.   Amru said two girls had gone missing in the Madaba region, later announcing that one of their bodies had been found.

Government spokeswoman Jumana Ghneimat said authorities had found alive four Israeli tourists who had gone missing in the Wadi Rum desert in southern Jordan but were looking for two more.   "Our embassy in Tel Aviv contacted the Israeli foreign ministry for information on the identities of the missing Israelis," Ghneimat said in statements carried by the state news agency Petra.   Israel initially confirmed the report but in a later update a spokesman for the foreign ministry said that "all the Israelis in Jordan have contacted us. All of them were found".

- Tourists evacuated -
The Jordanian army deployed helicopters and all-terrain vehicles to help with search and rescue operations after floodwaters cut off the Desert Highway in both directions.   A rescuer was also among the dead, the civil defence spokesman said.   State television said the waters had reached as high as four metres (13 feet) in parts of the red-rock ravine city of Petra and the adjacent Wadi Musa desert.

It broadcast footage of tourists sheltering on high ground on both sides of the access road to Jordan's biggest attraction.   The government spokeswoman said 3,762 tourists were evacuated.   Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, Petra draws hundreds of thousands of tourists a year to its rock-hewn treasury, temples and mausoleums.   Its buildings have been used as sets for several Hollywood blockbusters including "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".   Wadi Rum, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, has attracted generations of tourists with its spectacular sandstone and granite rock formations.   Its landscapes served as a backdrop in the filming of the Hollywood classic "Lawrence of Arabia".

The latest deaths come after October 25 flash floods in the Dead Sea region of the kingdom killed 21 people, most of them children on a school trip.   Jordan's education and tourism ministers both resigned last week over failings in the government's response to those floods.   The education ministry ordered schools closed nationwide on Saturday amid warnings of more heavy rains.   Jordan's minister of water and irrigation, Raed Abu al-Saoud, said on Saturday that the country's 14 main dams had filled up by some 26 percent of full capacity in the past 48 hours because of the torrential rains.   Jordan is a water-poor country that is 90 percent desert.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 09:15:57 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after more than two months of stringent curbs.   Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the ministry said in a series of measures announced on the official Saudi Press Agency.   The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday.   From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added.   The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21.   "Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing," Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday.   Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.

In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities.   That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said.   Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 05:52:24 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chile registered a new high for coronavirus cases on Monday, with nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours, including two ministers in President Sebastian Pinera's government.   Health authorities announced 4,895 new infections in the South American country and 43 deaths.

Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno and Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet said they were among those with the disease.   "I have been informed that the COVID-19 test I had a few days ago was positive," Moreno said on Twitter, adding that he had no symptoms so far.   The 63-year-old minister had placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff tested positive.  Jobet also tested positive after starting to quarantine preventatively on Saturday, "when he experienced mild symptoms, which could be associated with the disease," a statement from the Energy Ministry said.

The 44-year-old minister "has had no direct contact with President Sebastian Pinera or other cabinet members in recent days," the statement said, without specifying how he became infected.   Three other ministers, who had self-quarantined after being in contact with infected people, all tested negative and resumed work.

Chile suffered a surge in infections last week, prompting the government to order the lockdown of Santiago.   The capital is the main focus of the pandemic in Chile, with 90 percent of the country's 74,000 cases.   Last week, the Senate was closed after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus. Sessions were held by video conference.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 01:15:01 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Demonstrators defied coronavirus restrictions to march in cities across Ecuador on Monday in protest against President Lenin Moreno's drastic economic measures to tackle the crisis.   Moreno last week announced public spending cuts including the closure of state companies and embassies around the world, but trade unions Monday said workers were paying a disproportionate price compared to Ecuador's elite.   "This protest is because the government is firing workers to avoid making the rich pay," Mecias Tatamuez, head of the county's largest union, the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), told reporters at a march in Quito.

Around 2,000 people marched in the capital, waving flags and banners and shouting anti-government slogans.   The protesters wore masks and respected distancing measures recommended against the spread of the coronavirus that has caused at least 3,200 deaths in the country, making it South America's worst hit nation per capita. Authorities say more than 2,000 further deaths are likely linked to the virus.

Demonstrations took place in several other cities, including Guayaquil, the epicentre of Ecuador's health crisis, where union leaders said hundreds marched through the city.   Moreno ordered the closure of Ecuadoran embassies, a reduction in diplomatic staff and scrapped seven state companies as part of measures designed to save some $4 billion.    He also announced the liquidation of the TAME airline, which has lost more than $400 million over the last five years.

The government says the pandemic has so far cost the economy at least $8 billion.   Public sector working hours have been cut by 25 percent, with an accompanying 16 percent pay cut.   Moreno said on Sunday that 150,000 people had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.   Ecuador was struggling economically before the pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil.   The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by 6.3 percent this year, the sharpest drop of any country in South America.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 22:20:46 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland recorded no new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 21.   Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it a "significant milestone", adding on Twitter: "This is a day of hope. We will prevail."

The announcement came one week after Ireland, which has suffered 1,606 deaths from 24,698 infections, began to ease lockdown measures that had been in place for nearly two months.   Ireland entered lockdown in late March, recording a peak of 77 deaths on a single day on April 20.   "In the last 24 hours we didn't have any deaths notified to us," chief medical officer Tony Holohan said at a daily press briefing.   He warned that the zero figure could be a result of a lag in reporting of deaths over the weekend, but he added: "It's part of the continued trend that we've seen in (the) reduction in the total number of deaths."

Ireland has announced a five-step plan to reopen the nation by August and took the first steps last Monday -- allowing outdoor employees to return to work, some shops to reopen and the resumption of  activities such as golf and tennis.   While the news of no fresh deaths was greeted as progress, officials remain concerned there will be a "second wave" as the lockdown is loosened.   "The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed COVID-19 as a country," Holohan added in a statement.   "It will take another week to see any effect on disease incidence that might arise from the easing of measures."
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 21:59:40 +0200 (METDST)

Luxembourg, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Luxembourg will ease its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, reopening cafes and restaurants and allowing civil and religious ceremonies under strict conditions, the government announced.   The tiny country has so far registered only 3,993 COVID-19 cases, of which 110 have been fatal. Four people are in intensive care and shops were closed on March 18 to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told a news conference on Monday that eateries could reopen terraces with a maximum of four people at a single table.   Indoor dining in cafes and restaurants will resume on Friday, he said, with social distancing of 1.5 metres (five feet) between groups.   Marriages and funerals will also be allowed if the attendees wore face masks and kept two metres distance from each other.   Bettel however said cafes and restaurants would have to close at midnight.

Francois Koepp, the general secretary of the Horeca federation grouping hotels, restaurants and cafes, welcomed the announcement, saying the sector had "greatly suffered from the confinement".   He said it provided employment to some 21,000 people in this nation of 620,000 inhabitants.   Cinema theatres and gyms will open at the end of the week but children's parks will remain closed.   The government has pledged to give every citizen over 16 a voucher worth 50 euros ( $54) to spend in hotels to provide a boost to the sector.   The vouchers will also be given to some 200,000 cross border workers from Belgium, France and Germany.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 20:36:16 +0200 (METDST)

Prague, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - The Czech Republic and Slovakia will reopen their border this week for those travelling to the other country for up to 48 hours, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Monday.   "This will be possible without tests or quarantine" starting Wednesday, he added in a message posted on Twitter.   The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a single country until 1993. Babis himself was born in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

Both countries have fared well in the current pandemic, with Slovakia posting the lowest death toll per capita in the EU and the Czech Republic keeping its COVID-19 figures down as well.   The Czech government will also open border crossings with Austria and Germany on Tuesday but will still require negative COVID-19 tests from those entering the country.   "We have negotiated similar conditions on the other side of the border with our German and Austrian colleagues," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said.   The interior ministry said blanket border checks would be replaced by random ones and added it would still not allow tourists into the country.

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government was working on other measures to ease the travel restrictions adopted in mid-March.   "We would like to introduce them next week," he added.   Vojtech said EU citizens could now come to the Czech Republic "on business or to visit their family for a maximum of 72 hours if they submit a negative coronavirus test."

The country is also accessible to non-EU citizens who do seasonal jobs there, on condition they have tested negative.   Czech restaurants, bars, hotels, castles, zoos and swimming pools have been open since Monday, when the government lifted many anti-virus measures.   Czechs also no longer have to wear face masks outside their homes, except in shops and on public transport.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 17:45:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shafiqul ALAM

Dhaka, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Some 15,000 Rohingya refugees are now under coronavirus quarantine in Bangladesh's vast camps, officials said Monday, as the number of confirmed infections rose to 29.   Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped settlements, housing almost a million Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar, and officials had restricted movement to the area in April.

Despite this, the first cases in the camps were detected in mid-May.   "None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still we have brought them in isolation centres and quarantined their families," Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the surrounding Cox's Bazar area told AFP.   He said narrow roads to three districts of the camps -- where the majority of the infections were detected -- have been blocked off by authorities.

The 15,000 Rohingya inside these so-called blocks faced further restrictions on their movement, he said.   It comes as charity workers expressed fears over being infected in the camps as they worked without adequate protection.   Two of the areas under isolation are in Kutupalong camp, home to roughly 600,000 Rohingya.   "We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts," Bhuiyan said.

Seven isolation centres with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared, he said.   Officials hope to have just under 2,000 ready by the end of May, he added.   Mahbubur Rahman, the chief health official of Cox's Bazar, said authorities hoped this week they would double the number of tests being performed daily from 188.   He said further entry restrictions have been imposed on the camp, with a 14 day quarantine in place for anyone visiting from Dhaka.   "We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun," Rahman told AFP.

- 'Very little awareness' -
Bangladesh on Monday notched up a record single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 1,975 new infections, taking the toll to 35,585 cases and 501 deaths.   In early April authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox's Bazar district -- home to 3.4 million people including the refugees -- after a number of infections.

But a charity worker with one of the many aid organisations active in the camps said Monday he and many others were "very worried".   "Fear and panic has gripped aid workers because many of us were forced to work without much protection," he told AFP without wishing to be named.   "Social distancing is almost impossible in the camps. There is very little awareness about COVID-19 disease among the refugees, despite efforts by aid agencies."

The lack of information is exacerbated by local authorities having cut off access to the internet in September to combat, they said, drug traffickers and other criminals.   More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar to Cox's Bazar, where around 200,000 refugees were already living.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 15:25:38 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar's government has announced it will dispatch troops and doctors to an eastern town after several bodies were found in the streets and where two people died from the novel coronavirus.   Madagascar's cabinet held a special meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Toamasina, the country's second largest city.   The Indian Ocean island nation has registered 527 infections and two deaths, both in Toamasina.

Since Thursday, more than 120 new cases were confirmed, and several bodies were found in the city's streets though the cause of death was not clear.   "Doctors must carry out thorough examinations to see if these deaths are caused by another illness (...) or if they are really due to severe acute respiratory problems which is the critical form of COVID-19," Professor Hanta Marie Danielle Vololontiana, spokesperson for the government's virus taskforce, said in a national broadcast on Sunday.   The government will send 150 soldiers to reinforce Toamasina, maintain order and enforce measures against the coronavirus such as mask wearing and social distancing.

The cabinet also fired Toamasina's prefect without providing any explanation.    A team was also ordered to distribute a drink based on artemisia, a plant recognised as a treatment against malaria, which the Malagasy authorities claim cures COVID-19.    The potential benefits of this herbal tea, called Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study.    The cabinet has also announced an investigation into the death of a doctor in Toamasina. According to local press, the victim was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 and was found dead hanged in his room on Sunday morning.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 09:20:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Bhuvan Bagga with Indranil Mukherjee in Mumbai

New Delhi, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Domestic flights resumed in India on Monday even as coronavirus cases surge, while confusion about quarantine rules prompted jitters among passengers and the cancellation of dozens of planes.   India had halted all flights within the country, and departing and leaving for abroad, in late March as it sought to stop the spread of coronavirus with the world's largest lockdown.   But desperate to get Asia's third-largest economy moving again, the government announced last week that around 1,050 daily flights -- a third of the usual capacity -- would resume on Monday.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said strict rules would include mandatory mask-wearing and thermal screenings, although middle seats on the aircraft would not be kept empty.   The announcement reportedly caught airlines and state authorities off-guard, with several local governments announcing that passengers would have to go into quarantine for two weeks on arrival.   Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases, capped at 50 the number of departures and arrivals in and out of its capital Mumbai.

Airlines scrapped dozens of flights on Monday while hundreds of passengers cancelled their bookings, reports said.   The NDTV news channel said 82 flights to and from New Delhi had been cancelled and nine at Bangalore airport.   Other flights from cities including infection hotspots Mumbai and Chennai were struck off, many at short notice, reports said.   At Mumbai airport social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were cancelled at the last minute.

- 'Really scary' -
At New Delhi airport, hundreds of people anxious to get home but apprehensive about the risks queued from before dawn -- all wearing masks and standing at least one metre (three feet) apart.   Security personnel behind plastic screens verified check-in documents and that passengers had the government contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, on their phones.

"While I'm looking forward (to flying home), the idea of flying is really scary," student Gladia Laipubam told AFP as she stood in line.   "Anything can happen. It's very risky. I don't really know when I'll be able to come back to Delhi now. There is no clarity from the university too at this time."   One female airline employee wearing gloves, a mask and a protective face shield said she and many other colleagues felt "very nervous" about starting work again.   "Dealing with so many people at this time is so risky. I must have interacted with at least 200 people since this morning," she told AFP, not wishing to be named.

Cabin crew on the planes had to wear full protective suits with masks, plastic visors and blue rubber gloves, and many were also confused about the rules, the Press Trust of India reported.   "There is no clarity on whether I need to go into home quarantine for 14 days after returning to my base or show up for duty on Monday," one pilot told PTI.   New coronavirus cases in India crossed 6,000 for the third consecutive day on Sunday, surging to a record single-day spike of 6,767 infections.   The country has recorded almost 140,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.   Singh has said that international flights could resume in June, although dozens of special flights have in recent weeks brought back some of the hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad.
Date: Fri, 22 May 2020 11:02:28 +0200 (METDST)

Suva, Fiji, May 22, 2020 (AFP) - A huge fire at one of Suva's largest markets blanketed the Fijian capital in thick smoke before it was brought under control Friday, firefighters said.   The blaze engulfed the Suva Flea Market, a major tourist attraction near the waterfront, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the air.   The National Fire Authority said an adjoining shop was also badly damaged but there were no reports of injuries.   "It's been stopped now and no one was injured but that's all we can say at the moment," a spokesman told AFP.   The said the cause of the fire was being investigated.