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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Svalbard

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

Norway

Norway US Consular Information Sheet
November 10, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Norway is a highly developed stable democracy with a modern economy.
The cost of living in Norway is high and tourist facilities are well developed and widely
available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Norway for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Norway is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Norway 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.

Contact the Royal Norwegian Embassy at 2720 34th Street NW, Washington, DC
20008-2714, Tel: 1-202-333-6000, web site: http://www.norway.org or the nearest Norwegian Consulate.
Consulates are located in Houston, Minneapolis, New York City, and San Francisco.
Information can also be obtained from the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration at http://www.udi.no.

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:
Norway remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Norway’s open borders with its European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
The U.S. government remains deeply concerned about the heightened threat of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests abroad.
In the post-9/11 environment, Norway shares with the rest of the world an increased threat of international Islamic terrorism. Norway was among a list of countries named as legitimate targets in al-Qa’ida audiotapes released as recently as, 2006.
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 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME INFORMATION:
Norway has a relatively low crime rate.
Most crimes involve the theft of personal property.
Residential burglaries, auto theft, and vandalism to parked cars also occur.
Most high-end value vehicles, especially in Oslo, have visible alarm system indicators to discourage joy riders or thieves.
Persons who appear affluent or disoriented may become targets of pick-pockets and purse-snatchers, especially during the peak tourist season (May-September).
Thieves frequently target tourists in airports, train stations, and hotels, particularly lobby/reception and restaurant areas.
Often such thieves work in pairs and use distraction as a method to steal purses or briefcases.
While passports are frequently stolen in the course of these thefts, money, credit cards, and jewelry are the actual objects of interest.
In some cases stolen passports are recovered.
Violent crime, although rare, occurs and appears to be increasing.
Some thieves or burglars may have weapons.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance.
The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney, if needed.

Norway has a program to provide financial compensation to victims who suffer serious criminal injuries.
Claimants can obtain application forms from the Norwegian Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority at http://www.voldsoffererstatning.no/index.php?id=10.
Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Oslo for further information. For further information about possible U.S. compensation, see our information for Victims of Crime.

The national emergency telephone numbers in Norway, equivalent to the “911” emergency line, are: Police 112, Fire 110, Ambulance 113.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are widely available and of high quality, but may be limited outside the larger urban areas.
The remote and sparse populations in northern Norway, and the dependency on ferries to cross fjords of western Norway, may affect transportation and ready access to medical facilities.
The U.S. Embassy in Oslo maintains a list of emergency clinics in major cities.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Norway.
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:
Healthcare in Norway is very expensive and healthcare providers sometimes require payment at time of service.
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 Norway is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.


Public transportation in Norway is generally safe, and the maintenance and condition of urban roads are generally good.
Rural road conditions are fair and the availability of roadside assistance is limited.
Most roadways beyond the city limits of Oslo and other major cities tend to be simple two-lane roads.
In mountainous areas of Norway, the roads also tend to be narrow and winding, with many tunnels.
The northerly latitude can also cause road conditions to vary greatly, depending on weather and time of year.
Many mountain roads are closed due to snow from late fall to late spring.
The use of winter tires is mandatory on all motor vehicles from November to April.

Norwegian law requires that drivers always use their vehicle headlights when driving.
Norwegian law also requires drivers to yield to vehicles coming from the right.
In some, but not all, instances, major roads with “right of way” are marked.
Seatbelts are mandatory for drivers and passengers.

Norway has some of the strictest laws in Europe concerning driving under the influence of alcohol; those laws prescribe heavy penalties for drivers convicted of having even a low blood alcohol level.
Frequent road checks with mandatory breathalyzer tests and the promise of stiff jail sentences encourage alcohol-free driving.
The maximum legal blood alcohol content level for driving a car in Norway is .02 per cent.

Automatic cameras placed by the police along roadways help to maintain speed limits, which are often lower than in other European countries.
Fines – and sometimes even jail time – are imposed for violations.


Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Norwegian driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Norwegian Tourist Board office at P.O. Box 4649, Grand Central Station, New York, New York 10163-4649 (tel.: 212-885-9700; fax: 212/885-9710) or visit their web site at http://www.norway.org/travel
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Norway’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Norway’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:
Please see our information on customs regulations.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Norway’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Norway are strict 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 in or visiting Norway are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Norway. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Oslo near the Royal Palace at Henrik Ibsensgate 48; tel. 47/2244-8550 (24 hours), consular fax 47/2256-2751.
The Embassy’s web site is http://norway.usembassy.gov
*
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated April 23, 2008 to update the sections on Crime, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 3 Sep 2019
Source: Food Safety News [edited]
-------------------------------------------------------------
More than 100 people have fallen ill in Norway from norovirus likely in a frozen seaweed salad from China. The 1st outbreak of norovirus suspected to be linked to the seaweed salad occurred in mid-June 2019 and the most recent was at the beginning of August 2019. The implicated product was also shipped to Denmark.

"It is suspected that seaweed from China was the cause of more than 100 cases of gastroenteritis from at least 11 eateries in different areas of Norway. Most of the outbreaks were in June and July 2019. Investigations are still ongoing. Norovirus was detected in patients from at least 2 of these eateries," Guri Aanderud, senior adviser in the seafood section at the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) told Food Safety News.

"We have no information regarding individual cases such as age, sex, place of residence, or hospitalization related to these outbreaks as norovirus is not notifiable in Norway. However, symptoms of norovirus are generally mild and self-limiting. All involved restaurants have received and served seaweed salad from two different lots in the relevant time period. Many of the people who reported illness have stated that they have eaten dishes containing seaweed salad."

On 22 Aug 2019, Goma Wakame Seaweed salad bags of 1000-gram imported into Norway by Ostlandske Formidling AS (Ofas) were withdrawn from the market due to suspected norovirus. Product was sold to the food service sector in Norway but distribution may have included several stores across the country. It was imported into Denmark by World Seafood and is produced by Dalian Kowa Foods Co. in China. Affected bags have item number 8032 and lot number 1904, which was manufactured on 14 Mar 2019, and lasts until 13 Mar 2021, and lot number 1811, which was made on 8 Nov 2018 and lasts until 7 Nov 2020.

Since withdrawing the product, no further outbreaks linked to seaweed salad have been reported.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority took product samples that have not yet been fully analyzed and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) has informed the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) via the Epidemic Intelligence Information System (EPIS).

Aanderud added it also knew of a Spanish RASFF [Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed] alert from 13 Aug 2019 related to a foodborne outbreak caused by norovirus GI and GII in frozen seaweed salad from China, via Germany. Countries part of this notice include Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) was mentioned in both RASFF notifications.

Adam Bradshaw, technical officer in the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at the World Health Organization, said INFOSAN was working with colleagues at the European Commission's RASFF because the frozen seaweed salad suspected to be responsible for the outbreak was distributed from China. He added it does not have the authority to disclose non-public information on behalf of countries involved in the outbreak when asked which countries had reported cases and how many.

"To better understand the potential international aspects of this event, we have been in contact with the INFOSAN emergency contact point in China to seek details as to whether the implicated frozen seaweed salad has been distributed from China to any other countries. Once further information is available, we will update all INFOSAN members through the INFOSAN community website," said Bradshaw.  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
===========================
[It should be noted that the prototypic norovirus, Norwalk virus, was originally isolated in Norwalk, Ohio, the state where an outbreak popped up at the Republican National Convention in 2016. Norovirus infections and outbreaks are usually more common in cooler, winter months. About half of all cases occur from December through February in countries above the equator and June through August in countries below the equator. However, in places closer to the equator, norovirus may be less seasonal. This may be because of temperature or the timing of the rainy season, but may also be associated with the birth rate. Worldwide, norovirus is the leading cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks. New norovirus strains emerge about every 2 to 4 years. Often, but not always, these new strains lead to an increase in outbreaks worldwide. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Tue 11 Jun 2019
Source: Associated Press [edited]

Norwegian authorities said Tuesday [11 Jun 2019] they were trying to identify the source of water contamination that has sent dozens of people in southern Norway to the hospital. Since Thursday [6 Jun 2019], 55 people, including 13 children from Askoy, an island north of Bergen, have been hospitalized following the contamination. All have been discharged. Norwegian news agency NTB reported that in all, some 2000 people had fallen sick.

A one-year-old child on the island died last week [week of Mon 3 Jun 2019] of an infection in the digestive tract, but it was not clear whether it was linked to the contamination.

"None of the patients are critically ill," said Oeyvind Kommedal, a doctor with the Haukeland university hospital that carried out laboratory tests. "We have a good control of the situation." He said tests showed that the bacterium _Campylobacter_ has been found in 36 cases.

On Monday [10 Jun 2019], Baard Espeli, deputy mayor of the municipality of Askoy, also said that _E. coli_ was found in a reservoir that supplied part of the area's drinking water. Espeli said that reservoir has been closed, but it remains unclear how the bacteria contaminated it in the 1st place.

_Campylobacter_ is one of the main causes of diarrheal diseases and is considered the most common bacterial cause of human gastroenteritis. Infections are generally mild but can be fatal among very young children and the elderly.
========================
[It is not specifically stated that all the cases are on the island. The finding of _E. coli_ in the water reflects faecal contamination but not necessarily that _E. coli_ was a pathogen. The outbreak, as many from contaminated water, may be related to multiple pathogens.

Askoy is a municipality in Hordaland county, Norway. The island municipality is located in the Midhordland district of the county, sitting in a large group of islands immediately northwest of the city of Bergen. The administrative centre of the municipality is the urban village of Kleppesto on the south-eastern shore of the island of Askoy. Its location can be found on a map at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ask%C3%B8y>. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Hordaland county, Norway: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/32342>]
Date: Mon 6 May 2019
Source: News in English (Norway) [edited]

A Norwegian woman in her 20s who was bitten by a dog while travelling in Southeast Asia 2 months ago died Monday night [6 May 2019]. Hospital officials confirm that the woman was infected with the deadly rabies virus.

She's the 1st person to have [died of] rabies on the Norwegian mainland since 1815. Rabies is extremely seldom on the Scandinavian peninsula.

The woman was originally from Hordaland but lived in the county of Sogn og Fjordane. She died at the hospital in Forde, where she'd been in intensive care since last week [week of 29 Apr 2019].

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that she was bitten by a dog while on a tour of Southeast Asia 2 months ago. The hospital wasn't alerted to her case until last [2 May 2019], when she was admitted after falling seriously ill. Test results confirmed the rabies virus on [Sat 4 May 2019].

There were several other Norwegians in her tour group from various places around the country. All of them have been alerted to her rabies infection and are being followed up by their local health care centres.
=======================
[This tragic event lacks detail. Reportedly, the victim was in a "tour group" to "South East Asia" (which country/ies?) including participants from various places in Norway.

Travellers must be aware of the rabies status in countries they are to visit. And a tourist, or, as a matter of fact, anybody getting bitten by a (stray?) dog in a rabies-endemic country, should immediately seek medical treatment, after thoroughly washing the bite wound.

Several worrying questions arise. Had the participants been informed, prior to travel, about health risks, rabies being just one of the potential hazards? Were medical care and advice sought following the bite? Were other co-travellers bitten as well?... - ProMED Mod.AS]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Mon 1 Apr 2019
Source: GIDEON (Global Infectious Disease Epidemiology Network) [edited]

re: ProMED-mail Tick-borne encephalitis - Norway: cattle
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is one of 8 zoonoses carried by ticks in Norway (the others are anaplasmosis, babesiosis, louping ill, Lyme borreliosis, relapsing fever, rickettsial spotted fever, and tularemia). As displayed in the following graphs, rates of human TBE are considerably lower than those of other tick-borne diseases in Norway, and below TBE rates reported by neighbouring countries. [1-3]

See graphs at

References
----------
1. Berger S. Infectious Diseases of Norway, 2019. 387 pages , 138 graphs, 858 references. Gideon e-books
2. Berger S. Tick-borne Encephalitis: Global Status, 2019. 89 pages , 49 graphs , 787 references. Gideon e-books
3. Gideon multi-graph tool,
-----------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Prof Steve Berger
Geographic Medicine
Tel Aviv Medical Center
Israel
==========================
[ProMED-mail thanks Dr Berger for pointing out that TBE virus is not the only tick-borne zoonotic pathogen in Norway. The objective of the author's study, as they defined it, was narrowly focused on TBE in cattle. They chose to analyse unpasteurized cow milk for TBEV RNA and to study the presence of IgG antibodies to TBEV in the same animals. They found evidence for TBE virus infection in cattle in certain areas and pointed out potential risk of infection of humans who consume unpasteurized milk from positive herds. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Tue 15 Jan 2019
Source: Food Safety News [abridged, edited]

A traditional Norwegian fish dish has been recalled due to a link with a case of botulism. Torpet Fiskeoppdrettsanlegg AS recalled rakfisk due to suspicions that consumption can cause botulism. Rakfisk is a traditional Norwegian fish dish made from trout or char, salted and then fermented for up to a year before being eaten without cooking. The withdrawal applies to all varieties of the product that the company produced in 2018.

Rakfisk was sold via various market stalls in Trondelag, direct delivery from Torpet Fiskeoppdrettsanlegg AS, and via COOP stores in Alen, Brekken, Roros, and Os, according to the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet). The one reported case is in a person who lives in Trondelag, in central Norway.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Folkehelseinstituttet) said rakfisk from the company is the suspected source for the case of foodborne botulism. People who have rakfisk of this type in the refrigerator should throw the product out and not eat it. Those who have eaten it and have symptoms consistent with botulism should consult a doctor. The agency said toxins can develop under certain adverse conditions in the production of certain foods, such as rakfisk, cured meats, and canned items.

Previous botulism cases in Norway have been associated with rakfisk and home canned meats.

Botulism is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by toxins produced by _Clostridium botulinum_ bacteria. Onset of symptoms varies from a few hours to several days after exposure to the bacteria or toxins. Symptoms can include blurred or double vision, facial muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech and breathing difficulties.  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
===================
[Given the vehicle, botulism type E is the likely culprit here.

The following was extracted from ProMED-mail Botulism, smoked fish - Finland ex Canada http://promedmail.org/post/20060721.2000: _Clostridium botulinum_ type E is naturally highly prevalent in aquatic environments and fish, leading to a high risk of contamination. The hot-smoking processes are usually too low to eliminate botulinum spores. Growth and toxin production from spores in vacuum-packed smoked fish products with anaerobic atmosphere and limited preservative factors is likely during extended storage at temperatures above 3 deg C (37.4 deg F). Therefore the most important factors controlling _C. botulinum_ growth and toxin production are efficient heat treatments, restricted shelf life, and continuous storage below 3 deg C (37.4 deg F). - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Norway:
More ...

New Zealand

New Zealand US Consular Information Sheet
September 22, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
New Zealand is a highly developed, stable parliamentary democracy, which recognizes the British monarch as sovereign. It has a modern economy, and tourist fa
ilities are widely available. The New Zealand Tourist Board, which has a wide range of information of interest to travelers, can be contacted via the internet at http://www.newzealand.com/USA/.
Read the Department of State Background Note on New Zealand for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
U.S. citizens eligible for a visa waiver do not need a visa for tourist stays of three months or less. For more information about visa waivers and entry requirements, contact the Embassy of New Zealand: 37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 328-4800; or the Consulate General of New Zealand in Los Angeles: 2425 Olympic Blvd Suite 600E, Santa Monica, CA 90404, telephone (310) 566-6555.
Visit the Consulate of New Zealand web site at http://www.nzcgla.com for the most current visa information.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens in New Zealand should review their personal security practices, be alert to any unusual activity around their homes or businesses, and report any significant incidents to local police.

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 other callers, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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

CRIME:
Crime rates in New Zealand are low but have increased in recent years. The most prevalent crime is theft or attempted theft from cars, camper vans and hostels. To help protect against theft, do not leave passports, or other valuable items in unattended vehicles. Violent crime against tourists is unusual; however, visitors who are traveling alone should be especially vigilant, and avoid isolated areas that are not frequented by the public.

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.
In New Zealand, a private organization called Victim Support works both independently and with the NZ Police to assist victims of crime. Victim Support is available 24 hours per day on 0800-842-846, 0800-Victim, by email at victim@xtra.co.nz.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in New Zealand is 111.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Quality medical care is widely available, but waiting lists exist for certain types of treatment.
High-quality medication (both over-the-counter and prescription) is widely available at local pharmacies, though the products’ names may differ from the American versions.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

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); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), 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/.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of New Zealand.
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 New Zealand is provided for general reference only.

All traffic travels on the left in New Zealand, and drivers should exercise extra caution if accustomed to driving on the right. Driving on the wrong side of the road is a leading cause of serious injury and death for American tourists.
Cars turning left must yield to oncoming cars that are turning right.
Proceed carefully through intersections.
Red means “stop”—do not turn at a red light.

New Zealand has only 100 miles of multilane divided motorways. Most intercity travel is accomplished on two lane roads.
While these are in good condition, New Zealand's rugged terrain means motorists often encounter sharper curves and steeper grades than those found in the U.S. interstate highway system. Renting a car or camper is a popular way to enjoy New Zealand's natural beauty, but visitors unfamiliar with local conditions should drive particularly conservatively.
Posted speed limit signs should be observed. Drivers should use caution to avoid animals when driving in rural areas.

Pedestrians are advised to look carefully in all directions before crossing a street or roadway, and to use crosswalks.
Pedestrians do not have the right of way except in crosswalks.
New Zealand law requires that cars yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, and that cars stop at least two meters (approximately 6 feet) from a crosswalk that is in use.

Traffic circles are common throughout New Zealand.
When approaching a traffic circle, always yield to traffic coming from the right –noting that traffic already in the circle has the right-of-way-- and merge to the left into the circle.

Public transportation, including buses, trains and taxis, is for the most part reliable and safe.
In case of emergency, phone the local police at 111.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning the operation and rental of motor vehicles, contact the New Zealand Tourist Board via the Internet at http://www.newzealand.com/USA/ or the Land Transport Safety Authority at http://www.ltsa.govt.nz.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of New Zealand’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:
Some heavily populated parts of New Zealand are in areas of very high seismic activity. General information regarding disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

Many tourists come to New Zealand to participate in extreme adventure sports, such as bungee jumping, sky diving, hiking, rappelling, climbing, motorcycling, and kayaking.
All too often, injuries and even death result from participation in such activities.
Travelers are advised to employ caution and common sense when engaging in adventure sports.
Never participate in such sports alone, always carry identification, and let someone else know where you are at all times.
Before kayaking, check the river conditions and wear a life jacket.
When hiking, rappelling, or climbing, carry a first aid kit, know the location of the nearest rescue center, and bring a friend along.

New Zealand is an island nation, and the government is serious about preserving its delicate ecosystem.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) imposes strict regulations regarding what can be imported into New Zealand.
People failing to declare goods that could be quarantined can be fined up to $100,000 NZ and/or face up to five years in prison. People failing to declare risk goods such as fresh fruit, seeds, and plants can receive an instant fine of $200 NZ.
When importing a pet, thorough veterinary documentation and a quarantine period are required.
Unfinished wood products, used hiking shoes and gardening tools, fresh food items, and items such as used pet carriers may be seized and destroyed by MAF.
More information can be found at http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz/personal-travel-belongings-and-mail/arriving-by-air/what-you-cannot-bring
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than those in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating New Zealand laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in New Zealand 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 New Zealand are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within New Zealand.
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 in Wellington is located at 29 Fitzherbert Terrace, Thorndon, Wellington.
The telephone number is (64) (4) 462-6000.
The fax number is (64) (4) 471-2380.
The Embassy’s web site is http://wellington.usembassy.gov.
The U.S. Embassy in Wellington does not have a consular section and thus cannot provide consular services to American citizens.
All consular services for American citizens are provided by the Consulate General in Auckland.
The U.S. Consulate General in Auckland is located on the third floor of the Citigroup Centre, 23 Customs Street East, between Commerce and Queen Streets. The telephone number is (64) (9) 303-2724. The fax number is (64) (9) 366-0870.
See information on services to Americans at http://wellington.usembassy.gov/service.html.
The Consulate General in Auckland handles all consular matters in New Zealand.

For after-hours emergencies anywhere in New Zealand, a duty officer can be contacted by telephone. Persons seeking after-hours assistance may call (64) (4) 462-6000; after listening to a brief recording, the caller may leave a message on the voice mail system, describing the nature of the emergency and giving a point of contact. The phone system will automatically call the duty officer in Wellington or in Auckland, who will listen to the message and take the appropriate action .
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This replaces the Country Specific Information dated January 31, 2008, to update the Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 11 Sep 2019
Source: Stuff [edited]

People who attended a football tournament in Hamilton and some businesses are being warned they could have been exposed to measles. On [Wed 11 Sep 2019] the Waikato District Health Board confirmed there are 13 measles cases in the Waikato including Hamilton, Paeroa and Morrinsville.

The District Health Board is urging people who attended the New Zealand Secondary School Girls Football tournament in Hamilton to be aware they may have been exposed to measles.

The tournament ran from [3 Sep 2019] and organisers have been asked to alert all participating teams.   [Byline: Libby Wilson]
Date: Thu 5 Sep 2019
Source: BBC News [abridged, edited]

New Zealand's ongoing measles outbreak has hit the milestone of more than 1000 confirmed cases. A total of 1051 people were affected between [1 Jan and 5 Sep 2019], the ministry of health said.

Measles is a highly contagious and potentially fatal illness that causes coughing, rashes and fever. Although effective and safe vaccination is available, some developed countries have seen a measles resurgence in past years.
Worldwide, the number of cases has quadrupled in the first 3 months of 2019 compared with the same time last year [2018], according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The New Zealand outbreak is largely concentrated around the country's biggest city Auckland, with 877 of the confirmed cases seen there. The Health Ministry has issued a statement calling for everyone aged 12 months to 50 years old to get vaccinated if they have not been already.

Immunisation Advisory Centre director Dr. Nikki Turner told New Zealand's Newshub it is a "very sad" milestone to reach. The ministry has also put out a travel advice to get vaccinated at least 2 weeks before visiting Auckland.

The US Center[s] for Disease Control and Prevention has issued advice to get measles vaccination before visiting New Zealand.
Date: Wed, 4 Sep 2019 08:23:46 +0200 (METDST)

Wellington, Sept 4, 2019 (AFP) - Five Chinese nationals were killed and another six injured when a tourist bus veered off a highway and flipped during bad weather in New Zealand's North Island, police said.   Police said 27 people were in the vehicle when it crashed about 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside Rotorua -- a popular tourist town in the Bay of Plenty area known for its hot springs.    "Unfortunately police believe that five of those 27 onboard have lost their lives as a result of the crash," inspector Brent Crowe told reporters.

Crowe said two of the survivors were seriously injured and four were moderately hurt.   "This is an absolute tragedy for Bay of Plenty roads, even more so because of the fact we have Chinese nationals, visitors to our country, who have been impacted."   Crowe declined to give details of the deceased, saying authorities were still working to identify them and contact their families in China.   He said the driver was not seriously injured and an investigation into the cause of the crash was under way.   He said the accident occurred as the bus approached a bend on a winding, hilly stretch of road.   "At the time, the weather was very unfavourable, there was high winds, fog and a lot of rain. The road surface was clearly wet and therefore slippery," he said.

The Chinese embassy in Wellington told TVNZ that ambassador Wu Xi was on her way to the crash site to help those involved in the crash.   "The embassy attaches great importance to the tragic incident," it said. "Our deep condolences with those who died and injured."
Date: Sat 31 Aug 2019
Source: Stuff [abridged, edited]

Measles cases have been confirmed in more than 50 schools in the Auckland region since the beginning of this year's [2019's] outbreak. There have been 778 cases confirmed in the region as of Saturday [31 Aug 2019], with 19 new diagnoses since Friday [30 Aug 2019], the Auckland Regional Public Health Service said.

Medical officer of health Dr William Rainger said it was seeing 18-20 new cases per day, which had been constant for the last week. The majority of the cases were in south Auckland and in children under age 5 and young people between 15 and 29.

"Some of these people have been very, very unwell, however there have been no deaths as of yet," Dr Rainger said.

The ministry modified its standard MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccination catch-up advice this week. Under its new recommendations, babies as young as 6 months may now be vaccinated for measles at their doctor's discretion if parents have concerns about their potential exposure.  [Byline: Caroline Williams and Laine Moger]
==========================
[Also see the following 2 articles:
 
The worst-affected region in Auckland was the Counties Manukau DHB area, with more than 400 confirmed cases. It is the worst outbreak in 20 years.

Demographics also played a part. "We have a lot of pacific families, and it's a relatively young population as well, both of which we are seeing increasing numbers compared to the total number of cases," Dr Maria Poynter from the Auckland Regional Public Health service said.  <https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12262226>. - ProMED Mod.LK]
Date: Fri 23 Aug 2019
Source: Otago Daily Times [abridged, edited]

A 2nd measles case has been confirmed in Queenstown, New Zealand. In a statement the Southern District Health Board said a Queenstown resident was confirmed to have had measles. They were [sic] infectious with measles while at the following locations: [see the source URL above for the complete list].

It follows the 1st confirmed case, announced last week [mid-August 2019], of a visitor to the resort being infectious.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Fri 11/10/2019 14:43
WorldHealthOrganizationNews@who.int

Attributable to the Federal Ministry of Health in Sudan, WHO and UNICEF

KHARTOUM, 11 October 2019 -  "Sudan has launched an oral cholera vaccination campaign in response to the ongoing outbreak of cholera. More than 1.6 million people aged one year and above in the Blue Nile and Sinnar states will be vaccinated over the coming five days.  “The announcement of the Federal Ministry of Health in Sudan on the cholera outbreak last month allowed national and state authorities, and health partners, to act quickly and respond to the outbreak.

“Since the announcement on 8 September, 262 cases of suspected cholera and eight related deaths have been reported as of 9 October in the Blue Nile and Sinnar states. No cholera-related deaths have been reported since mid-September. “The vaccines were procured and successfully shipped using funding from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. In addition, Gavi is providing nearly US$ 2 million to cover operational costs for the campaign.

“We joined efforts to respond as quickly as possible to contain the current outbreak of cholera and prevent it from spreading further in Sudan. The vaccination campaign kicking off today in combination with other measures including scaling up water, sanitation and hygiene activities, enhancing surveillance, prepositioning supplies and case management, will help protect people who are at highest risk.

“The first round of the campaign will conclude on 16 October and will be followed by a second round in four to six weeks to provide an additional dose to ensure people are protected for at least the next three years.  “As part of the campaign, over 3,560 vaccinators, more than 2,240 social mobilizers, and almost 70 independent monitors have been trained and deployed to the two affected states.”
Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2019 21:29:49 +0200 (METDST)

Paris, Oct 20, 2019 (AFP) - French rail services ground to a halt in parts of the country Sunday as workers walked off the job for a third day in a dispute over train staffing levels, stranding holiday travellers.   Services in the Paris suburbs, the northeastern Champagne-Ardenne region and the southern Occitanie region, which includes Toulouse and Montpellier, were particularly affected.   The state railway company SNCF said most services would return to normal on Monday.

The industrial action began on Friday after a train in north-eastern France slammed into a truck at a level crossing, injuring 11 people.  The train driver was himself among those hurt but being the sole employee of state railway company SNCF on board had to help take care of passengers.   Unions said the incident highlighted understaffing on trains, notably the absence of ticket inspectors on some lines.

Since Friday, staff have been exercising their "right to withdraw" their labour -- a clause that allows workers to walk off the job in case of "clear and present danger to their life or health".   SNCF's management has accused the workers of abusing that right on a busy weekend for train travel, at the start of the mid-autumn school holidays.   It argues that some train lines have not had ticket inspectors for decades.
Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2019 17:53:19 +0200 (METDST)

Frankfurt am Main, Oct 20, 2019 (AFP) - Cabin crew at four Lufthansa subsidiary airlines staged a day-long strike Sunday, causing dozens of cancellations at German airports in a battle for better pay and conditions.   The walkout, called by the UFO cabin crew union, was initially set to last from 5:00 am until 11:00 am (0300-0900 GMT) but a worsening spat with Lufthansa bosses prompted the union to extend the strike until midnight.

The industrial action at Eurowings, Germanwings, SunExpress and Lufthansa CityLine led to over 100 flight cancellations, mainly hitting short-haul journeys at Hamburg airport, Munich, Berlin-Tegel, Cologne and Stuttgart, according to DPA news agency.   Frankfurt airport, the country's busiest, reported "only a few" cancellations, affecting CityLine flights.

In a statement, UFO said it had ramped up the strike after the Lufthansa group told employees the walkouts were "illegal" and "endanger your jobs".   "This is not only wrong, it also signals the next level in the threats against cabin crew colleagues," UFO said. "This behaviour must be stopped."   But the Lufthansa group downplayed the impact of the strike, with a spokesman telling DPA that "more than 90 percent of the crew members showed up on time for their shift".

The union had previously called off plans for Lufthansa workers to join Sunday's warning strike after the company offered a surprise two-percent pay hike to flight attendants at the flagship airline.   But other demands for better conditions have yet to be met and UFO has not ruled out further action, with fresh talks at all five airlines scheduled for Monday.   Bosses at the Lufthansa group believe UFO may no longer have the legal right to speak for workers and have challenged its status in court.   Internal disputes at the union have cost it members and support among cabin crew, some of whom have now turned to other representative organisations.
Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2019 06:45:19 +0200 (METDST)

Niamey, Oct 20, 2019 (AFP) - Floods in southeast Niger have forced 23,000 people to flee their homes since early October, officials said Saturday, threatening a new humanitarian crisis in a region already wracked by Boko Haram Islamist violence.   Heavy rains have caused the Komadougou Yobe river that flows through the semi-desert Diffa region into Lake Chad to burst its banks, inundating villages, flooding fields and damaging crops.   Two villages near the city of Diffa were "completely submerged" and 2,500 households have been forced to move, according to national radio the Voice of the Sahel.

Some 400 families were sheltering in a gym in the city, it added.   "We have been fighting for days to stop the water rising, but it's not working," Amadou Issa, a rice farmer, told AFP. "The sandbags we've been using to keep the water out are completely under water."   Extreme weather events are common in Niger, one of the world's poorest countries.   Between June and September 57 people were killed and more than 130,000 affected by flooding according to government figures.

The capital Niamey was hit badly in September, with the waters of the Niger river -- the third biggest in Africa -- rising to a level not seen in more than 50 years and swamping parts of the city.   Last year, drought and flooding led to food shortages in a crisis which, exacerbated by jihadist violence, left more than 10 percent of the population needing humanitarian aid.   Niger, along with neighbouring Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania is also struggling against escalating attacks by armed Islamists.   According to the UN's human rights agency UNHCR, the Diffa region is home to almost 120,000 refugees and 109,000 internally displaced people.
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: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 15:43:29 +0200 (METDST)

Accra, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - Floods caused by eight days of torrential downpours in north-eastern Ghana have left 28 people dead and displaced hundreds, officials said Friday.     "At the moment the death toll is 28. About 640 people in some six communities have been displaced and we are providing shelters for them," George Ayisi, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Organisation, told AFP.    "We've counted about 286 collapsed houses during this disaster and that is making life difficult for the people."

Relief items were being transported 800 kilometres (500 miles) by road from the capital Accra to the affected region on the border with Burkina Faso as meteorologists warned the rains could last into November.    "We have to just prepare for anything," Ayisi said.   So far this year 46 people have been killed in floods in the West African nation, the disaster relief agency said.   Flooding in northern and other parts of Ghana happens each year during the rainy season.    Last year, 34 people died in northern Ghana during flooding caused by heavy rains and waters spilling from a dam in Burkina Faso.
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 04:33:10 +0200 (METDST)
By Patrick FORT

Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - "They've placed us in the red zone, which means the tourists aren't coming like before. Even the aid workers don't come," said Antoine Atiou, governor of Burkina Faso's Hauts-Bassins region.   The "red zone" refers to the risk of jihadist attacks -- a top-end warning by Western embassies to travellers wanting to visit southwest Burkina and the economic capital, Bobo-Dioulasso, once a popular tourist destination.   The impact has been brutal for local businesses. The city's hotels have emptied, its heritage sites are quiet and the souvenir shops shuttered.    "It's hard, hard, hard!... We haven't seen a tourist for a fortnight," said Sanou Moumouni, a guide at the city's mosque and in the historic Kibidwe district for 22 years.   In the past he could sometimes earn 100,000 CFA francs ($167, 150 euros) in two days, he said, but he has not made 5,000 francs in the last three months.    "I'm living on loans," he said. "We no longer have work because of the murderers. We're sick of it."    The north and the east of the landlocked country in West Africa endure frequent Islamist attacks, which have claimed some 600 lives in the past four years. There have also been some raids in the west.

In December 2018, an Italian man and his Canadian companion were kidnapped on the road from Bobo to the capital Ouagadougou. Last April, the Burkinabe government said it had information that the couple was still alive, but might have been taken to another country.   Bobo-Dioulassou itself has been relatively spared as the jihadist threat expands across poor nations of Africa's Sahel region.   Ministry of tourism statistics from 2017 show that of about half a million annual visitors to Burkina Faso, fewer than 150,000 came from abroad -- down 5.6 percent from 2015.   The number of nights stayed in the country by Westerners fell from 30,000 in 2012 to fewer than 15,000 in 2017. "This trend has probably sped up in 2018 and 2019," a local tour operator said.

- Crafts and wonders -
Renowned for its traditional masks, its batik print textiles and the balafon -- a West African instrument like a xylophone -- Bobo attracted thousands of Western tourists.   The Lonely Planet guide, which notes the security situation currently prohibits travel, says the city's "tree-lined streets exude a languid, semitropical atmosphere that makes it a favourite rest stop for travellers", adding that highlights include a "thriving live-music scene and excellent restaurants". 

The city itself has an array of charms, with its grand railway station, bustling market and striking Great Mosque -- an undulating white-plastered mud structure studded with wooden poles that dominates the historic centre.   Bobo-Dioulasso is a jumping-off point to visit regional highlights like the ruined fortress of Loropeni, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also a base for exploring the Dogon country in Mali, Ivory Coast and Ghana.   "Everyone came through Bobo. We really were a tourist region. Now it's over," said Benjamin Ouedraogo, owner of the Watinoma hotel and president of the professional association of hotel and restaurant owners in High Basins.   He said hotels in the region only do a third of the business they did before the attacks   To avoid closing his hotel, Ouedraogo took on a second job in the building trade. "We asked for help, but state aid is a disaster," he said, explaining that the authorities rejected applications for tax rebates and preferential tariffs on water and electricity.

- 'We subsist' -
In Kibidwe, an old neighbourhood of the city near the mosque, children play in alleys and women wash clothes in the open air, but most of the shops that catered for tourists are now shut.   Sanon Bissiri, an artist, was quick to bring out his batik prints on spotting Western journalists.    "I don't hang them every day any more, that's pointless. Since July, I haven't even sold two. All this because of those jihadists. Now I have to do masonry whenever I'm wanted."   Bissiri used to sell his textiles to an Italian association that made regular visits.   "That's over. We just get by. It's my wife who meets our needs," he said. "I come in to work each day on foot, six kilometres (nearly four miles). I can't afford medicine for my son with his cough."   Bobo's nightlife is not what it was, though the locally-brewed beer is the same.    "There's still a little activity with Burkinabe visitors," said musician Gaoussou Ben Sanou. But "there's less money, fewer dates, fewer gigs. We can't sell records".   Governor Atiou said people were reluctant to go out.   "All that weighs on economic activity. Unfortunately, this is the aim of the terrorists."
Date: Thu, 17 Oct 2019 12:37:14 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 17, 2019 (AFP) - Five people were killed and dozens were injured after a powerful earthquake hit the southern Philippines, authorities said Thursday.   The 6.4-magnitude quake struck the Mindanao region on Wednesday night, reducing dozens of houses to rubble on the southern third of the Philippines.   On Thursday afternoon, authorities said five people were killed and 53 injured, mainly in a cluster of small farming towns.   Three people were killed in landslides while another was crushed by the collapsed wall of a house. The fifth suffered a fatal heart attack, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.   No fatalities were reported in Mindanao's major cities. Local authorities had earlier told AFP three children were among the dead.   The Philippine seismology office has recorded more than 300 weaker aftershocks in the area since the big quake, but authorities said they do not expect the toll to rise significantly.

The disaster council's spokesman Mark Timbal told local television it had not received any reports of missing people from any of the quake-hit areas.   "People have returned home... They are OK now, unlike last night when they were terrified and slept on roads beside their homes," Zaldy Ortiz, civil defence officer of Magsaysay town, told AFP.   Local school and government holidays were announced in Magsaysay, where the landslides struck, to allow building inspectors to check structures for damage, Ortiz added.   Power was being restored in the bigger cities, but there was substantial damage to some hospitals, government buildings, schools, churches and houses in the small towns, the council said in a report.   In General Santos City, firefighters on Thursday finally put out a blaze that started at a shopping mall shortly after the quake.   The Philippines is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.
Date: Thu, 17 Oct 2019 05:32:08 +0200 (METDST)
By Tom LITTLE

Kulusuk, Denmark, Oct 17, 2019 (AFP) - Kayaking past blue-white icebergs drifting along near a pristine harbour, wandering around colourful houses or trekking in the snow-capped wilderness: July and August are high season for tourists in eastern Greenland.   Many of the 85,000 tourists who visit each year head to the west coast, but eastern Greenland, with its glaciers, wilderness and wildlife starring whales and polar bears, is also drawing visitors.

Sarah Bovet, a 29-year-old Swiss artist, said it's hard to know what to expect.   "Thinking you're going to be surprised, you are even more so in reality," she said standing outside a hostel in the tiny village of Kulusuk.   Bovet was on an artistic residency in Greenland when she visited Kulusuk and its 250 souls.   Although she had imagined a small village before arriving, its stunning views and bright colours still came as a surprise.   With just one supermarket, an airport built in the 1950s by the US military to serve a Cold War radar base, and a harbour surrounded by brightly painted wooden houses, most of the villagers appreciate the extra revenue from tourism.

Justus Atuaq, a young hunter in Kulusuk, takes tourists out on sled tours in March and April -- the spring high season -- earning money that helps him feed and care for the dogs he uses for racing and hunting.   "Now I can take dogsleds for hunting, and sometimes tourists coming from other countries also want to dogsled," he said outside his wooden house.   Tourists also take boat trips during the summer high season from July to August.   Arrivals to the island grew 10 percent year-on-year from 2014 to 2017, and three percent in 2018, according to the tourist board, Visit Greenland.   Many adventure seekers and nature lovers arrive by plane, but cruise ships also bring admirers, hugging the picture perfect coastline.

- Growing strategic importance -
But they are not alone in taking an interest in the world's largest island.   The Danish territory's rich natural resources and growing strategic importance as the Arctic ice sheet melts have attracted the attention of US President Donald Trump.   The Arctic region has untapped reserves of oil, gas and minerals, as well as abundant stocks of fish and shrimp.   In August, Trump offered to buy Greenland, then called off a visit to Copenhagen over its refusal to sell.

Denmark colonised Greenland in the 1700s, granting it autonomy in 1979.    Today, many Greenlandic political parties advocate full independence.   The territory still receives an annual subsidy from Copenhagen, which was 4.3 billion Danish kroner (576 million euros) in 2017, and tourism could help it to become economically self-reliant.   Like many parts of Greenland, Kulusuk has no tarmac roads and visitors must travel by plane or boat.   The growth in tourism could put a strain on the village's infrastructure, and the sector faces unique challenges given Greenland's location, weather and the cost of travelling there.

Day tours of Kulusuk with flights from the Icelandic capital Reykjavik are 97,000 Icelandic kronur ($780, 700 euros).   Jakob Ipsen, a 48-year-old who grew up between Denmark and Greenland's west coast, runs Kulusuk's sole hotel.   The 32-room hotel stands beside a fjord, and from its dining room, guests can watch icebergs drift by during the summer.    But the region's isolation can be problematic, Ipsen admits.    "We have to get all our supplies in with the first ship for the whole summer season, and for the winter season when everything is frozen over, we have to get all our supplies in with the last ship for the whole winter," he said.

- 'They go back as different people' -
Greenland must tackle its infrastructure challenges if it wants to develop tourism, Visit Greenland says.   Government-funded work is under way to extend runways at the capital Nuuk and Ilulissat, both on the west coast, and a new airport is planned in the south.   The tourist body said it would weigh the environmental impact of boosting infrastructure, both on the environment and on local communities.    Ipsen worries about the effects of uncontrolled tourism to the region.   "We want to try to maintain it as it is, so it's not exploding," he said.

Already, said Johanna Bjork Sveinbjornsdottir, who runs tours in Kulusuk for an Iceland-based company, the rise in visitor numbers is making itself felt.   "In the campsites here out in nature where you used to be alone, there's two, three groups at a time," she said.   Like Ipsen, she is also concerned about the effect that rising visitor numbers could have on the wilderness around the village.    "If you want nature to survive that, you have to build up the infrastructure," she said, pointing to the lack of officially designated campsites around Kulusuk, with no rubbish bins or toilets for travellers outdoors and no one supervising the sites.   Despite the concerns, Sveinbjornsdottir hopes visitors will keep coming.   "They go back as different people," she said. "Everything is beyond what you ever imagined."
Date: Tue, 15 Oct 2019 19:33:58 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, Oct 15, 2019 (AFP) - Lebanon has turned to its neighbours for help battling forest fires that have ravaged homes and killed a volunteer firefighter in the Mediterranean country, its premier said on Tuesday.   Heavy rain fell on parts of the country including Beirut in the evening, after Cyprus dispatched help and as Greece and Jordan vowed to follow suit.   "We have contacted the Europeans who will send means of help," Prime Minister Saad Hariri said earlier in comments carried by national news agency NNA.

Dozens of blazes have hit Lebanon in recent days, fire chief Raymond Khattar told NNA, amid unusually high temperatures and strong winds.   Thick smoke had been seen drifting over the outskirts of Beirut, the mountainous Chouf region to its southeast, and the southern city of Saida.   In the Chouf, an area famed for its forests, a volunteer firefighter lost his life trying to put out the flames, his family said.   In an area south of Beirut, firefighters have for two days been unable to stop the blaze, which has burnt four homes to the ground and caused dozens to suffer breathing difficulties, NNA said.

Interior Minister Raya El-Hassan said nearby Cyprus and Greece had responded to Lebanon's call for help.   "Two Cypriot planes have been working to put out the fires since yesterday," she said on Twitter.   "Greece has responded to our request and will send two planes to help us," she added.   Jordan's army said the king had ordered two firefighting planes to be dispatched.   NNA said the army was working together with helicopters and the Cypriot planes to fight the blaze, with access sometimes impeded by thick smoke and high-voltage power lines.   Personnel from UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL, who usually patrol the country's southern border with Israel, have also joined in the efforts, the agency said.   Lebanese on social media criticised the government's apparent inability to respond fast enough on its own.

In neighbouring war-torn Syria, fires also killed two people, Syrian state media said.   Flames have ripped through parts of the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus, as well as the central province of Homs but most have been brought under control, state news agency SANA said.   Two members of the Latakia forestry department were killed while fighting the blaze, it added.   In Tartus, the fires -- mostly stamped out -- coincided with the olive harvest, the governor told SANA.   In Homs, trees were burnt and electricity networks disrupted in mountainous areas, the agency reported.