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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: 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:
Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 16:37:27 +0200
By Ricardo ARDUENGO, con Nelson DEL CASTILLO en San Juan y Leila MACOR en Miami

Utuado, Puerto Rico, Oct 19, 2017 (AFP) - It's been a month since Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico and Samuel de Jesus still can't drive out of his isolated, blacked-out town.   In fact, much of the US territory in the Caribbean is still a crippled mess four weeks after that fierce Category Four storm.

The bridge connecting Rio Abajo to the rest of the island was swept away when Maria slammed the island on September 20. For two weeks Rio Abajo, located in a mountainous region in central-western Puerto Rico, was cut off and forgotten, without power or phone service.   "We didn't know what to do. We were literally going crazy," said de Jesus, 35.   "Those were difficult, desperate days. We could not find a way out, and the hurricane caused extensive damage," he told AFP.

During the two long weeks following Maria, the 27 families living in Rio Abajo saw their supplies quickly deplete.   De Jesus, who has diabetes, needed to keep his insulin refrigerated. The storm blew away the island's already decrepit power grid, so people resorted to emergency generators.   "But I was running out of gasoline to run the generator," he said.   A helicopter now makes regular deliveries of food, water and medicine because with the bridge washed out, there is no other way in or out of town.

People can't wade across the river because it is contaminated with human waste after a pipe broke when the bridge went.   Some brave souls use a precarious ladder rigged to get across the water, but for most people it is too dangerous.   We need a bridge "to take out our vehicles and leave in case of emergency, or if there is a landslide," he said.   Where the bridge once stood, residents set up a system of ropes, pulleys and buckets to move supplies over the river, which has been contaminated with sewer water since the hurricane.   Over the remains of the bridge locals hung the single-star, red, white and blue flag of Puerto Rico and a sign that reads "the campsite of the forgotten."

- Desperate need for electricity -
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello visited the surrounding municipality of Utuado on Wednesday to deliver supplies, but he did not stop in Rio Abajo.   "Utuado is certainly one of the most severely affected municipalities in all of Puerto Rico," Rossello said.   "Our commitment is to give it support and aid during the whole road to recovery."   Eighty-one percent of Puerto Rico remains blacked out one month after Maria struck. Clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing is scarce, too.

Puerto Ricans' main obstacle to getting back to some semblance of normality is the slowness of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in getting the power grid back up and running.   The lack of power has paralyzed a key industry -- pharmaceutical production -- and most businesses including restaurants are closed or operating at great cost through the use of diesel powered generators.

This nightmare comes about a year after the US government established an external fiscal control board for the island after it declared bankruptcy because of 73 billion dollars in debt.   Economist Joaquin Villamil told AFP that damage from Hurricane Maria is estimated at 20 billion dollars -- four times that of Hurricane Georges in 1998, when measured in 2016 dollars.

Villamil said reconstruction money provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from insurance companies will have a positive impact on the island's economy in the second half of fiscal 2018 and in fiscal 2019, but this boost will just be temporary.   "From an economic point of view there is not much net gain," said Villamil, who works for a consulting firm called Estudios Tecnicos.   He said the economy has been shrinking since 2006 and Maria will delay any prospect of recovery.   It will take at least until 2026 to get back to the GDP level of 2006, he added.

Making things worse, people are leaving the island for the mainland US. Forecasts are that the population now at 3.4 million will go down to 3.1 million or even less by 2026, said Villamil.   The government of Florida estimates that since October 3 -- the day a state of emergency to deal with an influx of Puerto Ricans was declared -- more than 36,000 people from the island have poured in.
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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 ...

Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands US Consular Information Sheet
April 03, 2006
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are a British overseas territory, part of the British West Indies, lying about 60 miles east of Puerto Rico. There are abo
t 50 islands in the BVI, many of them uninhabited. Tortola is the main island; other islands include Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada. Tourist facilities are widely available.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: For tourist stays of up to six months, U.S. citizens need a valid U.S. passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship (original or certified birth certificate, Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship as well as photo identification), onward or return tickets, and sufficient funds for their stay. Upon initial entry, no more than 60 days will be granted. At the end of 60 days, visitors must report to the Immigration Department's main office in Road Town for an extension. Extensions of up to 90 days are issued at the discretion of the Immigration Officer subsequent to an interview. For further information on travel to the British Virgin Islands, travelers should contact the BVI Department of Immigration at 1-284-494-3471. Visit the Embassy of the British Government web site at for the most current visa information.
See Entry and Exit Requirements for more information pertaining to dual nationality and the international child abduction . Please refer to our Customs Information to learn more about customs regulations.

SAFETY AND SECURITY For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements , including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement , 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., 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: Thefts and armed robberies do occur in the BVI. Visitors should take common-sense precautions against petty crime. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and use hotel safety deposit facilities to safeguard valuables and travel documents. Do not leave valuables unattended on the beach or in cars. Always lock up boats when going ashore.
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 care in the British Virgin Islands consists of a small general hospital with an emergency room staffed 24-hrs/day by physicians, several clinics on Tortola, and one clinic in Virgin Gorda. Ambulances staffed with paramedics serve both islands. There are no medical facilities on the other islands. A volunteer organization, Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR), responds 24-hrs/day to medical emergencies at sea or on outer islands. VISAR transports casualties to the nearest point for transfer to ambulance. To reach VISAR, dial SOS (767) or call on Marine Channel 16.
There is no hyperbaric chamber in the BVI. Patients requiring treatment for decompression illness are transferred to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Most sensitive medical cases are transferred to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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 internet site at . For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at . Further health information for travelers is available at .
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 the British Virgin Islands is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Vehicles drive on the left (the British side) with most steering wheels on the left (the "American" side). Road signs are limited and seatbelts are required by law. Drivers often fail to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, even at painted crosswalks. Speeding and reckless driving are fairly common in the BVI. Drivers can encounter nighttime drag racing on main thoroughfares and livestock on roads. Roads in Tortola's interior can be steep and extremely slippery when wet. Travelers planning to drive across the island should consider requesting four-wheel drive vehicles and should ensure that tires and brakes are in good operating condition on any rental vehicle. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information, as well as the website of the BVI's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at
.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the British Virgin Islands as being in compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards for oversight of BVI's air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at .
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: BVI customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the British Virgin Islands of items such as drugs and firearms. Visitors to BVI carrying firearms must declare them upon entry into any port in the territory. Firearms must be bonded and are held by the proper authorities until time of departure. Contact BVI Customs & Immigration at 1-284-494-3475, the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Washington, D.C. or one of the UK's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our information on 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 British Virgin Island laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the BVI 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 .
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: All Caribbean countries can be affected by hurricanes. The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living or traveling in the British Virgin Islands are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website , and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the BVI. 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 nearest U.S. Embassy to the BVI is located in Bridgetown, Barbados. The Consular Section is located in the American Life Insurance Company (ALICO) Building, Cheapside, telephone 1-246-431-0225 or fax 1-246-431-0179, email ConsularBridge2@state.gov , or . The U.S. Consular Agent in Antigua, located at Jasmine court, St. John's, tel. 1-268-463-6531, is closer to the BVI and can also assist in some limited non-emergency cases, by previous appointment only.
****
This replaces the British Virgin Islands Consular Information Sheet dated April 26, 2005 to update all sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 31 Jan 2014
Source NBC News [edited]

The Explorer of the Seas outbreak was caused by norovirus, one of the worst outbreaks in 20 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. The Explorer of the Seas cruise ship returned to port after hundreds of passengers became ill. Federal health officials confirmed on Friday [31 Jan 2014] that norovirus was the culprit that sickened nearly 700 people on a cruise ship this week, and said it was one of the biggest norovirus outbreaks in 20 years. But the source of the outbreak on the Royal Caribbean ship Explorer of the Seas, which returned early to New Jersey on Wednesday [29 Jan 2014], may never be known, CDC said: "CDC has been investigating the outbreak since last Sunday [26 Jan 2014] but no particular source has been identified and it's quite possible a source won't be identified."

The report comes after passengers streamed off the Caribbean Princess on Friday morning [31 Jan 2014], the 2nd cruise cut short this week amid reports of illness on board. The ship, operated by Princess Cruises, returned to Houston [Texas] a day early with a confirmed outbreak of norovirus. "The ship was forced to return to Houston one day early because we were informed that dense fog was expected to close the port for much of the weekend," the company said in a statement. "The ship did not return early because of the increased incidence of norovirus on board, despite some media reports."

At least 178 people on board became ill during the cruise, according to the cruise line and CDC. Sick patients were quarantined to their rooms, and other passengers said they no longer had access to buffet tongs as crew members handed out hand sanitiser. CDC health officials met the Caribbean Princess at the Bayport Cruise Terminal in Pasadena, Texas. The vessel launched on a 7-day cruise to the western Caribbean on [25 Jan 2014] and had been scheduled to return on Saturday [1 Feb 2014]. Princess Cruises said the outbreak was over by the time the ship returned to Houston. "As a result of our actions, case numbers declined significantly and by the end of the cruise there were no passengers with active symptoms," the company said. "Over the course of the cruise 178 passengers (5.7 per cent) and 11 crew (1 per cent) reported ill to the Medical Center."

CDC officials also helped Royal Caribbean clean up the Explorer of the Seas, and said it had been approved to go back out again with a new batch of passengers Friday afternoon [31 Jan 2014]. Royal Caribbean officials say they cleaned the ship, which carried more than 3000 passengers, 3 times. It's the 3rd cruise ship outbreak to occur this year [2014]. A Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Norwegian Star, reported that 130 passengers and 12 crew members became ill on 2-week cruise that launched [5 Jan 2014] from Miami.

About 20 million passengers take cruises in the US each year, fuelling a USD 37.8 billion annual industry, according to the American Association of Port Authorities. There were 9 vessel outbreaks in 2013 and 16 in 2012, according to the CDC. Norovirus is a common culprit in outbreaks on cruise ships, in nursing homes, and other confined places. It is a fast-moving gut bug typically spread by infected people or contaminated food or water. Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the US, resulting in about 21 million illnesses, between 56 000 and 71 000 hospitalizations and as many as 800 deaths, CDC says.

The virus lingers on surfaces and spreads very easily. Thorough hand washing with hot water and soap and meticulous environmental cleaning can help stop the spread. CDC says it's the season for norovirus. "Norovirus outbreaks wit high attack rates are common during this time of year," the agency said. "Most outbreaks occur between January and April."   [byline: Maggie Fox]
*****
Date: Wed 29 Jan 2014
Source: NBC News [edited]

Beleaguered passengers finally fled a Royal Caribbean cruise ship on Wednesday [29 Jan 2014] after a 10-day vacation cut short by a nasty gut bug that sickened nearly 700 people. One woman aboard the Explorer of the Seas yelled, "We made it!" as the ship docked in Bayonne [New Jersey], 2 days ahead of schedule. Other passengers stood on deck wrapped in blankets to watch the ship pull in. One person was removed from the Explorer of the Seas on a stretcher and taken away by ambulance. Others walked under their own power after the vessel arrived. Several passengers recounted a week full of tension and drama, but also professionalism and care from the cruise line crew.

Still, the ordeal on the 1020-foot ship -- whose relaxing voyage to the US Virgin Islands was thwarted by suspected norovirus -- may linger a little longer for people still showing signs of the fast-moving infection, health officials said. "We have passengers who are still exhibiting active disease," said Burnadette Burden, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who are still sick may be too ill to travel home -- and too contagious to use public transportation like trains and buses, health experts say. Royal Caribbean officials said Wednesday [29 Jan 2014] that they'd pay for hotels or make sure that ill passengers get additional medical care. "Should a guest feel sick enough that they want to go to the hospital, we will arrange for transportation," Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said in an email. "We will work with the small number of guests that still feel ill to make them as comfortable as possible."

At least 630 of the ship's 3071 passengers and at least 54 of the 1166 crew members came down with diarrhea and vomiting -- classic signs of norovirus. Most of the cases occurred early in the cruise, which left New Jersey on [21 Jan 2014], and many passengers had already recovered. It's hard to say that the outbreak was the worst on record because of inconsistencies in record-keeping. But it's a bad one, Burden said. "It would be fair to say this is one of the largest numbers in the last 20 years or so," she said. One of the closest outbreaks to compare occurred in 2006, when a Carnival Cruise ship, the Carnival Liberty, was hit with an outbreak of norovirus that sickened 679 passengers and crew on a November trip to the US Virgin Islands.

CDC officials have not confirmed that norovirus is the culprit on the Explorer of the Seas, though it's a common cause of illness on cruise ships. Officials said testing was delayed by a treacherous winter snowstorm that closed the agency's Atlanta headquarters and results aren't expected until Friday [31 Jan 2014]. But if it is the germ, it's highly contagious for the one to 2 days when people are actively sick -- and for a few days afterward. The virus actually lingers in people's stool for 2 weeks or more, according to the CDC. That means that anyone who fell ill -- and those who were around them -- should pay extra attention to washing their hands and other kinds of cleanliness, said Dr Ruth Lynfield, outgoing head of the public health committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Cleanliness will be the key for the cruise line, too. Officials said they plan another scrub, a so-called "barrier sanitation" program to ensure that any remaining traces of illness are removed from the ship. Norovirus is a notoriously difficult bug to eradicate, health experts say. "It will be the 3rd aggressive sanitizing procedure the ship has undertaken since we became aware of the issue, and will additionally provide a window of more than 24 hours where there are no persons aboard the ship," officials said in a statement.   [byline: JoNel Aleccia]
******
Date: Fri 31 Jan 2014
Source: CDC, National Center for Environmental Health, Division of
Emergency and Environmental Health Services, Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) [edited]

Cruise ship: Explorer of the Seas -- voyage dates: 21-31 Jan 2014
-----------------------------------------------------------------
- number of passengers who reported being ill during the voyage out of total number of passengers onboard: 634 of 3071 (20.6 per cent)
- number of crew who reported being ill during the voyage out of total number of crew onboard: 55 of 1166 (4.7 per cent)
- predominant symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea
- Causative agent: Norovirus

Actions: in response to the outbreak, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and the crew aboard the ship took the following actions:
- increasing cleaning and disinfection procedures according to their outbreak prevention and response plan;
- making announcements to both notify onboard passengers of the outbreak and encourage case reporting;
- collecting stool specimens from ill passengers and crew for submission to the CDC lab;
- making multiple daily reports of gastrointestinal illness cases to the VSP [Vessel Sanitation Program];
- preparing additional crew members to join the ship mid-voyage to assist with case management and intensified sanitation procedures;
- consulting with CDC on plans for: passenger notification procedures and the planned delayed embarkation schedule in Bayonne, NJ on [31 Jan 2014], and disembarkation plans for active cases, terminal, and transport infection control procedures.

One CDC Vessel Sanitation Program epidemiologist, one contract epidemiologist, and one VSP environmental health officer boarded the ship in St Thomas, [US Virgin Islands] and are sailing on the ship as it travels back to port in New Jersey. This team is conducting an epidemiologic investigation, environmental health assessment, and evaluating the outbreak and response activities on board. One additional CDC Vessel Sanitation Program environmental health officer will board the ship upon arrival on [29 Jan 2014] to assist with the evaluation of the disinfection process. The team will continue the investigation and evaluation on the ship thru the boarding of new passengers for the next voyage. 5 clinical specimens were shipped to the CDC lab for testing on [26 Jan 2014].
**************************
Date: Fri 31 Jan 2014
Source: CDC, National Center for Environmental Health, Division of
Emergency and Environmental Health Services, Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) [edited]

Cruise ship: Caribbean Princess -- voyage dates: 25 Jan-1 Feb 2014
------------------------------------------------------------------
- number of passengers who reported being ill during the voyage out of total number of passengers onboard: 181 of 3102 (5.8 per cent)
- number of crew who reported being ill during the voyage out of total number of crew onboard: 11 of 1148 (0.96 per cent)
- predominant symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea
- causative agent: Norovirus

Actions: in response to the outbreak, Princess Cruise Lines and the crew aboard the ship took the following actions:
- increasing cleaning and disinfection procedures according to their outbreak prevention and response plan;
- making announcements to both notify onboard passengers of the outbreak and encourage case reporting;
- collecting stool specimens from ill passengers and crew for submission to the CDC lab. Samples tested with the vessel's onboard rapid norovirus test were positive for norovirus. The specimens will be sent to the CDC lab for confirmatory analysis;
- making multiple daily reports of gastrointestinal illness cases to the VSP;
- consulting with CDC on plans for: passenger notification procedures and the planned delayed embarkation schedule in Houston, TX on [1 Feb 2014], and disembarkation plans for active cases, and terminal and transport infection control procedures.

Two CDC Vessel Sanitation Program environmental health officers will board the ship in Houston, TX on [31 Jan and 1 Feb 2014] to conduct an epidemiologic investigation, environmental health assessment, and evaluate the outbreak and response activities. Specimens are being collected and will be sent to the CDC lab for testing.
=====================
[ProMED-mail does not normally report outbreaks of norovirus-related gastroenteritis because of their ubiquity during the winter months. (Hence the alternate designation 'winter vomiting bug'). Norovirus infection is very contagious and can be contracted from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes acute gastroenteritis with stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea and vomiting. Anyone can be infected with norovirus and acquire norovirus illness repeatedly throughout life. Norovirus is the commonest cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States. Each year, it causes 19-21 million cases and contributes to 56 000-71 000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths. Norovirus is also the commonest cause of foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States. There's no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection and no drug to treat it.

Norovirus illness is usually not serious. Most people get better in 1 to 3 days. But norovirus illness can be serious in young children, the elderly, and people with other health conditions. It can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalisation but rarely death. Most outbreaks of norovirus illness happen when infected people spread the virus to others. But, norovirus can also spread by consumption of contaminated food or water and by touching contaminated surfaces.

Health care facilities, including nursing homes and hospitals, are the most commonly reported places for norovirus outbreaks in the United States. Over half of all norovirus outbreaks reported in the United States occur in long-term care facilities. Outbreaks of norovirus illness appear to be occurring more frequently in cruise ships and similar environments. - ProMed Mod.CP]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
<http://healthmap.org/r/8vcv>.]
Date: Tue 13 Dec 2011
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News [edited]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] has linked 5 past cases of Legionnaires' disease -- reported between March 2010 and August 2011 -- with stays at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Resort and Marriott's Frenchman's Cove [in Saint Thomas], prompting remediation work to the resorts' water systems. The VI [Virgin Islands] Health Department has been "working closely" with a team of CDC specialists to monitor the remediation efforts at the resorts, after an investigation into the 5 past cases, according to a statement the Health Department released Monday [12 Dec 2012].

The illness was found in stateside residents who had been guests at the resorts, said Health Department spokeswoman Eunice Bedminster. They required hospitalization but have since recovered, she said. There have been no reports of employees affected at either site, according to the Health Department statement.

The statement indicates that Frenchman's Reef and Morningstar Beach Resort has hired a consultant who led a cleaning project of the affected areas and treated the water system. Test results show no existence of _Legionella_ bacteria, although the Health Department statement said the test results have not yet been evaluated independently by the CDC.

The Health [Department] had asked the resorts to notify those who could potentially be affected by the bacteria: guests and employees, Bedminster said. The properties asked for an extension on a deadline that had been set, and it was granted, but the deadlines passed last week [week of 5 Dec 2011] without the notification to guests and employees going out, Bedminster said. She did not know if, after the deadline, the properties had made the requested notifications, she said.

The hotel provided The Daily News with a written statement that did not address guest notification: "Marriott takes hotel hygiene and cleanliness very seriously. As soon as we were notified of the possibility of the presence of _Legionella_ bacteria we immediately began to work with the USVI Department of Health (DOH) to address the situation. The Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Resorts hired a consultant who led a cleaning project of affected areas and the treatment of the water system. The latest test results taken after the implementation of these measures show no existence of _Legionella_ bacteria in the samples tested. We have complied with the recommendations provided by the DOH, and we have successfully addressed the issue at the resort. The DOH has allowed the hotel to remain fully open for business and welcome our guests."

The Daily News spoke with Marriott Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Resort General Manager Jose Gonzalez Espinosa by phone and asked for comment on the Health Department's assertion that the resort did not make the notifications it was supposed to make by the deadline. Gonzalez would not answer the questions unless they were in writing. The Daily News has a policy against submitting questions in writing because written Q and A stifles and slows follow-up and response. The resort underwent a major renovation during the summer, closing 3 May 2011 and reopening on 6 Oct 2011.

Legionnaires' disease is a pneumonia caused by the _Legionella_ bacteria, which live in warm water supplies, said Dr Lauri Hicks, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC. The bacteria that cause the disease do not pass from person to person. "It really requires exposure to water aerosol that contains _Legionella_," she said, Exposure may occur from showering or with time spent in a whirlpool or hot tub where the bacteria that lead to Legionnaires' disease are present, Hicks said.

Only a fraction of people -- typically those with certain risk factors, such as compromised immune systems -- exposed to the bacteria become ill, she said.

According to the Health Department statement, from 2000 through 2009, a total of 22 418 cases of legionellosis were reported to CDC from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The CDC informed the Health Department in October [2011] of the 5 Legionnaires' disease cases among past guests at the resorts, and the Health Department asked for the agency's help in investigating. From 18 to 22 Oct 2011, CDC specialists conducted testing, and the properties were alerted about the possible _Legionella_ contamination, Bedminster said. On 3 Nov 2011, the Health Department notified each property of the CDC's conclusive findings and ordered them to immediately work on their water systems, including cleansing, superheating, chlorinating, and hiring a private consultant experienced in eliminating _Legionella_ from building water systems, according to the release. More than 6 weeks later, the Health Department notified the public with the statement it released Monday [12 Dec 2011].

Bedminster said that there had been no delay -- and that remediation work began immediately. "We have worked in good faith with both the resorts during what I have said was a monitoring process. We had some agreed-upon deadlines that had not been met, so we had to let the public know," she said.

Bedminster said that Health Department officials had discussed the possibility of enforcement actions with the Department of Labor and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to get those deadlines met, but she did not know the outcome of the discussions. "Safeguarding the public's health, including that of employees and guests, from exposure and threats are of the utmost importance to the Department of Health," acting Health Commissioner Mercedes Dullum said in the prepared statement. "DOH will continue to monitor this situation with assistance from the CDC. People should not be discouraged from traveling to or within the US Virgin Islands."  [Byline: Joy Blackburn]
---------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Denis Green
denis@gatesit.com.au
=======================
[The following has been extracted from the US CDC document Travel-Associated Legionnaires' Disease (<http://www.cdc.gov/legionella/faq.htm>):

"About 20-25 percent of all Legionnaires' disease reported to CDC is travel-associated. Legionnaires' disease is important to diagnose and to report because its identification implies the presence of an environmental source to which other susceptible individuals are likely to be exposed. Clusters of Legionnaires' disease associated with travel to hotels or aboard cruise ships are rarely detected by individual clinicians or health departments; travelers typically disperse from the source of infection before developing symptoms. Therefore, a travel history should be actively sought from patients with community-acquired pneumonia and _Legionella_ testing should be performed for those who have traveled in the 2 weeks before onset of symptoms.

"_Because of the multi-state nature of travel in the US, national-level surveillance is necessary to detect outbreaks of travel-associated Legionnaires' disease. CDC relies upon state and local health departments to conduct this surveillance. Surveillance through the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) is still important for monitoring national trends; all cases should be reported through NNDSS."

"Because of the public health importance of timely reporting, inform CDC of travel-associated cases by emailing about the patient's movements in the 2-10 days before onset."

"Environmental sampling/testing should only be conducted after careful consideration of the epidemiologic evidence linking a case(s) to a particular location."

The following article is linked to the CDC document: Barbaree JM, et al: Protocol for Sampling Environmental Sites for Legionellae. Applied Environmental Microbiol 1987; 53(7): 1454-8 (<http://www.cdc.gov/legionella/files/sampling_protocol1987.pdf>): "Since legionellae not related to disease may be found in many of the sites sampled, an epidemiologic association with the probable source should be established before intervention methods, such as disinfection, are undertaken."

"Random sampling without an epidemiologic evaluation and comparing isolates from the environment and from patients could lead to false conclusions about sources of epidemic strains."

Potential environmental sampling sites for _Legionella_ spp that the CDC document suggests include: internal surfaces of faucets, aerators, and shower heads; and water from incoming water main, holding tanks and cisterns, water heater tanks, decorative fountains, irrigation equipment, fire sprinkler system (if recently used), whirlpools, and spas. Because _Legionella_ may be found in water supplies without linkage to any cases, the actual causative source should be demonstrated by matching the genotype of the environmental isolates with that of any clinical isolates to assure frequently costly corrective measures are carried out on the actual source (<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC86783/>; and <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2730281/>).

The Virgin Islands are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, which form the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Politically, the eastern islands form the British Virgin Islands and the western ones form the United States Virgin Islands. The US Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Virgin_Islands >). They can be seen on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at <http://healthmap.org/r/1xng>. - ProMed Mod.ML]
Date: Sat 18 Sep 2010
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News [edited]
<http://virginislandsdailynews.com/dengue-outbreak-confirmed-in-1.1018284>

After 19 cases of suspected dengue fever -- and at least one death -- reported in the St Thomas-St John District, the VI Health Department issued a statement Friday [17 Sep 2010] saying that the district is experiencing a dengue fever outbreak. According to the Health Department statement released [Fri 17 Sep 2010], 9 of the 19 suspected cases have been laboratory-confirmed as dengue fever in the St Thomas-St John District since June [2010]. On St Croix, there have been 4 suspected cases with no confirmed cases. There is no requirement in the territory that people with suspected dengue fever undergo testing to confirm whether or not they have the mosquito-borne virus, said Health Department epidemiologist Eugene Tull.

His experience with a 2005 outbreak on St Croix leads him to believe that the number of dengue cases this year [2010] is higher than reported, Tull said, adding that he is now receiving anecdotal information about more cases in the community. According to the release, the strain causing the current outbreak is [dengue virus] type 2, which was responsible for the 2005 outbreak on St Croix.
================
[An interactive HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/r/01tp>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Fri 27 Aug 2010
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News [edited]
<http://virginislandsdailynews.com/news/dengue-fever-possible-cause-of-death-of-st-john-woman-1.977556>

A St John woman who was transferred last week [week of 16 Aug 2010] to a Miami hospital with possible dengue fever symptoms died there 20 Aug [2010] from complications, her husband said. VI [Virgin Islands] Health Department epidemiologist Eugene Tull said earlier this week [week of 23 Aug 2010] that he had no information about a possible death from dengue fever.

Health Department spokeswoman Eunice Bedminster said Thursday [26 Aug 2010] that the department was not aware of any deaths from the territory's dengue fever cases but had been investigating since receiving inquiries from reporters Monday [23 Aug 2010].

Tull said earlier this week that so far this year [2010], there have been 8 confirmed, laboratory positive cases of dengue fever in the territory, 3 probable cases with lab results pending, and 15 suspected cases. All of those were in the St Thomas/St John District, except for 2 of the suspected cases, which were on St Croix, he said. [Byline: Joy Blackburn]
=====================
[The attribution of the woman's death to dengue virus infection is speculative. ProMED-mail awaits confirmation (or not) as further information becomes available. It is clear, however, that locally acquired dengue virus infections are occurring there.

Maps showing the location of the US Virgin Islands can be accessed at <http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/carib.htm>. and the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at <http://healthmap.org/r/01tp> - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Thu 3 Jun 2010
Source: Caribbean Net News [summ. & edited]
<http://www.caribbeannetnews.com/news-23418--19-19--.html>

Health commissioner Julia Sheen on Wednesday [2 Jun 2010] said the Department of Health has confirmed the U.S. Virgin Islands' 1st case of dengue fever. The case was reported in the St Thomas-St John district and follow-up testing confirmed positive for the disease caused [by the virus transmitted] by the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito, which is mostly found in the home, Sheen said.

"Increased rains can make certain areas near the home a haven for mosquito breeding and place individuals at risk for dengue fever," Sheen said. "We went through both the hurricane and rainy seasons last year [2009] without a positive case of dengue being reported and with this confirmed case, we urge residents to be vigilant and help their communities and the Department of Health stop the spread of dengue fever by doing basic things."

Residents should:
- Keep tires in a dry place
- Put plants that are currently in water, into soil and empty flowerpot vases weekly
- Keep water barrels tightly sealed
- Cover or turn pet dishes and buckets that hold water upside down
- Place a screen or mesh over the overflow pipe of cisterns
- Repair or replace damaged screens and keep windows and doors without screens closed
- Cover infant cribs with mosquito netting
- Spray dark closets often
- Use mosquito repellents containing DEET. Follow instructions carefully and use on arms, legs, ankles, and nape of neck. Avoid applying repellant to eyes, lips, or bruised skin, and to children under 2 years old and to the hands of older children

DOH epidemiologist Dr Eugene Tull said that the Department will issue a fogging schedule as part of its mosquito abatement program later this week [week of 3 Jun 2010] in light of recent rains, but reminds residents that the mosquito that causes [transmits] dengue [virus] is usually in the house. "They hide in dark closets and sleep when we sleep and are awake when we are awake," Dr Tull said.
================
[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map of the U.S. Virgin Islands southeast of Puerto Rico can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/r/01tp>. - ProMed Mod. TY]
More ...

Belarus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to Belarus on a 30 day visit.
Long-term residents or students must obtain an HIV/AIDS test in Belarus and submit the results to the Department of Citizenship and Migration.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Belarus is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
American citizens on short-term visits to Belarus (up to 90 days) are permitted to drive with a valid U.S. state driver’s license.
U.S. citizens should, therefore, always carry their passports with them to prove date of entry into the country in the event that police stop them.
If residing in Belarus for more than 90 days, one should apply for a Belarusian driver’s license.
Drivers will be required to successfully complete a two-part test in Russian; the first part is a computer-based multiple-choice test on local driving rules, and the second part is a driving test.
To receive a local driver’s license, drivers will also need to complete a medical exam at a special medical clinic, which will include a general physical, a chest x-ray, and an eye exam.

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

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

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

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

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

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


ATMs are also available for use, and it has become easier to use credit cards and debit cards in Belarus, especially in Minsk; however, this does not mean that it is safer to do so.
There have been reports of instances in which U.S. citizens have had their card numbers “skimmed” and the money in their debit accounts stolen or their credit cards fraudulently charged.
(“Skimming” is the theft of credit card information by an employee of a legitimate merchant or bank, manually copying down numbers or using a magnetic stripe reader.)
In addition to skimming, the risk of physical theft of credit or debit cards also exists.
To prevent such theft, the Embassy recommends that travelers keep close track of their personal belongings and only carry what is needed when out.
If travelers choose to use credit cards, they should regularly check their account status to ensure its integrity.
Persons seeking to marry in Belarus should consult the information located on the Embassy web site at http://minsk.usembassy.gov/marriage.html.
Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Belarusian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belarus are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Access for U.S. consular officers to U.S. citizens in detention is often limited and/or delayed.
Although U.S. citizens are able to obtain legal representation, there has been at least one case of delayed notification, hindered consular access, limited medical treatment, and trial behind closed doors. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Belarus are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Belarus.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Minsk at 46 Starovilenskaya Ulitsa; telephone (375 17) 210-1283 or after hours (375 29) 676-0134, fax (375 17) 334-7853 or (375 17) 17-217-7160 (consular section).
The Consular Section may also be reached by email at ConsularMinsk@state.gov
*

*

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue 17 Sep 2019
Source: Boston Globe [edited]

Rhode Island officials announced Tuesday [17 Sep 2019] that 2 more human cases of eastern equine encephalitis [EEE] were confirmed in the state.

The 2 people -- one a Coventry child younger than 10 and the other a person in their 50s from Charlestown -- have been discharged from the hospital and are recovering, according to a statement from the state's Department of Public Health.

Authorities think the 2 people contracted EEE in late August [2019]. The cases were confirmed by tests done at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 3 confirmed EEE cases in Rhode Island this year [2019]. A West Warwick resident diagnosed with the mosquito-borne illness died this month [September 2019].

All 3 people contracted EEE before areas at critical risk for the disease were aerially sprayed with pesticide, state officials said.

EEE is a rare but potentially fatal disease that can cause brain inflammation and is transmitted to humans bitten by infected mosquitoes, according to federal authorities. About 1/3 of infected people who develop the disease will die, officials have said, and those who recover often live with severe and devastating neurological complications. There is no treatment for EEE.

"This [2019] has been a year with significantly elevated EEE activity, and mosquitoes will remain a threat in Rhode Island until our 1st hard frost, which is still several weeks out," said Ana Novais, the deputy director for the state's health department. "Personal mosquito-prevention measures remain everyone's 1st defence against EEE. If possible, people should limit their time outdoors at sunrise and sunset. If you are going to be out, long sleeves and pants are very important, as is bug spray [repellent]."

EEE was also confirmed in a deer in Exeter this week [week of Mon 16 Sep 2019].

In Massachusetts, 8 human cases of EEE have been confirmed this year [2019]. Last month [August 2019], a Fairhaven woman with EEE died.
========================
[The 1st Rhode Island case died. Now there are 2 additional EEE cases who have recovered sufficiently to have been discharged from the hospital. Although most reported cases of EEE this year [2019] have occurred in horses, there have been several recent human cases as well. Individuals living in areas where human or equine EEE cases have occurred should heed the above recommendations to prevent mosquito bites. Avoidance of mosquito bites is the only preventive measure available. Fortunately, horses can be vaccinated, but there is no vaccine available for humans.

The risk of EEE virus infection for humans and horses will continue in Rhode Island and the other affected states until the 1st killing frosts occur, likely in October (2019). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Rhode Island, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/241>]
Date: Tue 17 Sep 2019
Source: Detroit Free Press [edited]

State health officials said Tuesday [17 Sep 2019] that 3 Michiganders have died from the rare and dangerous mosquito-borne virus eastern equine encephalitis [EEE], and 4 others have been sickened by the disease, amid the biggest outbreak in more than a decade.

Those who live in all 8 of the affected counties -- Kalamazoo, Cass, Van Buren, Berrien, Barry, St. Joseph, Genesee, and Lapeer counties -- are urged to consider canceling, postponing, or rescheduling outdoor events that occur at or after dusk, especially those that involve children, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. This would include events such as late-evening sports practices or games or outdoor music practices "out of an abundance of caution to protect the public health, and applies until the 1st hard frost of the year [2019]," according to an MDHHS news release.

The 3 people who died were all adults and lived in Kalamazoo, Cass, and Van Buren counties, [respectively], said Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The 4 other confirmed cases are in Kalamazoo, Berrien, and Barry counties.

Animals have also been confirmed to have the virus in St. Joseph, Genesee, and Lapeer counties.

The Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department also issued a recommendation to local communities and school districts to consider canceling outdoor events at dusk or after dark, when mosquitoes are most active, or move [the events] indoors.  "Michigan is currently experiencing its worst eastern equine encephalitis outbreak in more than a decade," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. "The ongoing cases reported in humans and animals and the severity of this disease illustrate the importance of taking precautions against mosquito bites."

EEE is one of the deadliest mosquito-borne viruses in the US. One in 3 people who are infected with the virus die. The only way to prevent it is to avoid mosquito bites. The MDHHS says residents should
- apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET or other US Environmental Protection Agency-registered product to exposed skin or clothing, and always follow the manufacturer's directions for use;
- wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Apply insect repellent to clothing to help prevent bites;
- maintain window and door screening to help keep mosquitoes outside;
- empty water from mosquito breeding sites around the home, such as buckets, unused kiddie pools, old tires, or similar sites where mosquitoes may lay eggs; and
- use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas.

Symptoms of EEE include
- sudden onset of fever, chills;
- body and joint aches, which can progress to a severe encephalitis;
- headache;
- disorientation;
- tremors;
- seizures;
- paralysis; and
- coma.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should visit a doctor.

[Byline: Kristen Jordan Shamus]
=======================
[The number of human cases remains at 7. However, 3 of these have died since the 6 Sep 2019 report (see Eastern equine encephalitis - North America (18): USA human, horse, deer http://promedmail.org/post/20190910.6667626). However, even among the survivors, there is a significant risk of permanent neurological damage following clinical encephalitis. CDC reports that many individuals with clinical encephalitis "are left with disabling and progressive mental and physical sequelae, which can range from minimal brain dysfunction to severe intellectual impairment, personality disorders, seizures, paralysis, and cranial nerve dysfunction. Many patients with severe sequelae die within a few years" (<https://www.cdc.gov/easternequineencephalitis/tech/symptoms.html>). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Michigan, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/225>
Michigan county map:
Date: Mon 16 Sep 2019
Source: Patch [edited]

The state Department of Public Health is warning that an adult resident of East Lyme has tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). This is the 1st human case of EEE identified in Connecticut this season [2019].  The patient became ill during the last week of August [2019] with encephalitis and remains hospitalized. Laboratory tests, which were completed today at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Laboratory in Ft. Collins, Colorado, confirmed the presence of antibodies to the virus that causes EEE.  "EEE is a rare but serious and potentially fatal disease that can affect people of all ages," said DPH commissioner Renee Coleman Mitchell in a release. "Using insect repellent, covering bare skin, and avoiding being outdoors from dusk to dawn are effective ways to help keep you from being bitten by mosquitoes."  The EEE virus has been identified in mosquitoes in 12 towns and in horses in 2 other towns.

Towns where mosquitoes have tested positive for EEE include Chester, Haddam, Hampton, Groton, Killingworth, Ledyard, Madison, North Stonington, Plainfield, Shelton, Stonington, and Voluntown. Horses have tested positive for EEE virus in Colchester and Columbia this season, and the virus has been detected in a flock of wild pheasants.  Other states throughout the northeast are also experiencing an active season for EEE. In addition to the virus being found in mosquitoes, there have been a total of 8 human cases of EEE infection in Massachusetts and one human case in Rhode Island, with one case in each state resulting in a fatality. "This is the 2nd human case of EEE ever reported in Connecticut," said Dr. Matthew Cartter, director of infectious diseases for the DPH. "The 1st human case of EEE reported in Connecticut occurred in the fall of 2013."

The DPH advises against unnecessary trips into mosquito breeding grounds and marshes, as the mosquitoes that transmit EEE virus are associated with freshwater swamps and are most active at dusk and dawn. Overnight camping or other substantial outdoor exposure in freshwater swamps in Connecticut should be avoided. Even though the temperatures are getting cooler, the DPH is advising that mosquito season is not over, and residents should continue to take measures to prevent mosquito bites, including wearing protective clothing and using repellents.  Although EEE-infected mosquitoes continue to be detected in the south-eastern corner of the state, the numbers are declining, and we are not experiencing the excessively high levels of activity seen in Massachusetts. There are currently no plans to implement widespread aerial pesticide spraying in the state.

Severe cases of EEE virus infection (involving encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain) begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting. The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, and coma. Approximately 1/3 of patients who develop EEE die, and many of those who survive have mild to severe brain damage, according to the DPH.

There is no specific treatment for EEE. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and no effective anti-viral drugs have been discovered. Severe illnesses are treated by supportive therapy, which may include hospitalization, respiratory support, IV fluids, and prevention of other infections. It takes 4-10 days after the bite of an infected mosquito to develop symptoms of EEE.

The management of mosquitoes in Connecticut is a collaborative effort involving the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and the DPH, together with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Connecticut. These agencies are responsible for monitoring and managing the state's mosquito population levels to reduce the potential public health threat of mosquito-borne diseases.

Information on what can be done to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes and the latest mosquito test results and human infections is available online.  [Byline: Rich Kirby]
===========================
[This has been an active year for EEE virus transmission in the eastern USA from the upper Midwest to the northeastern states and south to Florida. Although historically, EEE human cases in Connecticut have been very rare, the occurrence of a human case in the state this year (2019) is not surprising. There have been equine and/or human EEE cases this summer (2019) in the 3 bordering states: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York. Interestingly, pheasants are mentioned in the above report. They are susceptible and, after being infected with the virus from the bite of an EEE-carrying mosquito, become ill or moribund with viremia titers that can reach 10^9 per ml. Ill or moribund pheasant can be attacked and cannibalized by pen mates that, in turn, are infected orally and may become ill and die as well. As the above report cautions, the only way to avoid infection is for people to avoid mosquito bites. Although the incidence of EEE cases and virus-positive mosquitoes may be declining, there is a risk of infection until the 1st killing frost occurs in autumn, when the mosquitoes are no longer active. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Connecticut, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/210>]
Date: Wed 11 Sep 2019
Source: BBC Afrique [In French, trans. Mod.LXL, edited]

At least 18 people died in 10 days after eating pesticide-contaminated food in 2 localities in Burkina Faso. A dozen still remain under observation in hospitals, according to the Minister of Health.  The 1st cases were reported on [1 Sep 2019] in the town of Didyr in the centre-west of the country, said Professor Claudine Lougue, Minister of Health.  About 15 members of the same families felt unwell after eating local dishes made from bean leaves and small millet seeds, which are actually seed remains. Thirteen died later despite medical care.

On Monday [2 Sep 2019], the ministry received another alert, this time from the central-eastern region. Here again, 14 people from the same family were admitted to the health centres. Five have lost their lives. After analysis, doctors diagnosed massive food poisoning, said the minister. Complementary examinations incriminate pesticides, she said.  "Investigations have been made on samples of biological products such as blood and urine, and we found an unusually high level of pesticides in foods that were consumed. There was an abnormally high level of pesticides, and these pesticides were strongly incriminated," said the minister.

The remains of food have been secured, announced Professor Lougue, who calls on citizens to observe strict hygiene measures in the use of plant leaves for consumption. Pesticides are used for the needs of field work, especially in the countryside during this period of wintering.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 16:44:19 +0200 (METDST)

London, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - British Airways pilots on Wednesday cancelled a strike that had been due September 27, the British Airline Pilots Association union said after two walkouts last week that cost the company dear.   "Someone has to take the initiative to sort out this (pay) dispute and with no sign of that from BA the pilots have decided to take the responsible course," BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said in a statement.    The union chief added that the airline's "passengers rightly expect BA and its pilots to resolve their issues without disruption and now is the time for cool heads and pragmatism to be brought to bear.    "I hope BA and its owner IAG show as much responsibility as the pilots," he added.   It was now "time for a period of reflection before the dispute escalates further and irreparable damage is done to the (BA) brand."

However the union added that should the airline "refuse meaningful new negotiations, BALPA retains the right to announce further strike dates".   British Airways, which likes to call itself "the world's favourite airline", flew into turbulence last week as pilots staged a costly and historic two-day strike, tarnishing its global reputation according to aviation analysts.   Pilots walked out for the first time in the company's 100-year history, sparked by a bitter and long-running feud over pay.   BA faced the embarrassment of grounding its entire UK fleet on September 9 and 10, causing the cancellation of about 1,600 flights.   The move sparked travel chaos for about 200,000 passengers who had been due to fly in and out of London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

The disruption continued into September 11 because half of BA's 300 aircraft and more than 700 pilots were mostly in the wrong place.   As a result, BA was forced to cancel approximately ten percent of its daily 850 flights in and out of Britain that day.    BALPA and its members are demanding a bigger share of British Airways profits.   The airline has offered a salary increase of 11.5 percent over three years, which it argues would boost the annual pay of some captains to £200,000 ($250,000 or 226,000 euros).   However, the union has rejected the proposal made in July.   BALPA meanwhile estimates that last week's 48-hour strike cost the airline £80 million.   BA is owned by IAG, which was formed in 2011 with the merger of British Airways and Spain's Iberia. IAG has since added other carriers, including Austria's Vueling and Ireland's Aer Lingus.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:26:37 +0200 (METDST)
By Sam Reeves

Kuala Lumpur, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Toxic haze from Indonesian forest fires closed schools and airports across the country and in neighbouring Malaysia Wednesday, while air quality worsened in Singapore just days before the city's Formula One motor race.   Illegal fires to clear land for agriculture are blazing out of control on Sumatra and Borneo islands, with Jakarta deploying thousands of security forces and water-bombing aircraft to tackle them.

Indonesian blazes belch smog across Southeast Asia annually, but this year's are the worst since 2015 and have added to concerns about wildfire outbreaks worldwide exacerbating global warming.   On Wednesday, air quality deteriorated to "very unhealthy" levels on an official index in many parts of peninsular Malaysia, to the east of Sumatra, with the Kuala Lumpur skyline shrouded by dense smog.    Nearly 1,500 schools were closed across Malaysia due to the air pollution, with over one million pupils affected, according to the education ministry.

A growing number of Malaysians were suffering health problems due to the haze, with authorities saying there had been a sharp increase in outpatients at government hospitals -- many suffering dry and itchy eyes.   Indonesian authorities said hundreds of schools in hard-hit Riau province on Sumatra were shut, without providing a precise number, while about 1,300 were closed in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo.    Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.   Poor visibility closed seven airports in the Indonesian part of Borneo, the transport ministry in Jakarta said. Scores of flights have already been diverted and cancelled in the region in recent days due to the smog.

- Singapore smog race? -
Air quality in Singapore worsened to unhealthy levels and a white smog obscured the striking waterfront skyline, featuring the Marina Bay Sands casino resort with its three towers and boat-shaped top level.    The worsening pollution increased fears that this weekend's Formula One race may be affected. Organisers say the possibility of haze is one of the issues in their contingency plan for Sunday's showpiece night race, but have not given further details.

The city-state's tourism board said spectators would be able to buy masks as protection from the haze if conditions did not improve and assistance would be provided for those who feel unwell, the Today news portal reported.   The fires have sparked tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia.    Indonesia's environment minister initially suggested the haze was from Malaysian fires despite satellite data showing hundreds of blazes in Indonesia and only a handful in its neighbour, prompting anger from her Malaysian counterpart.

Indonesia later sealed off dozens of plantations where it said fires were blazing, including some owned by Malaysia-based firms, deepening the row.   But Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has struck a diplomatic tone throughout the crisis, said Malaysia may pass legislation forcing its companies to tackle fires on plantations abroad.   Malaysia wants its firms with sites overseas to put out blazes contributing to the haze, he said, adding: "Of course, if we find they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law to make them responsible."

The Indonesian government has insisted it is doing all it can to fight the blazes. But this year's fires have been worsened by dry weather and experts believe there is little chance of them being extinguished until the onset of the rainy season in October.   Indonesia's meteorology, climate and geophysics agency said Wednesday that over 1,000 hotspots -- areas of intense heat detected by satellite that indicate a likely fire -- had been sighted, most of them on Sumatra.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:14:44 +0200 (METDST)
By Aishwarya KUMAR

New Delhi, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - India announced on Wednesday a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes, as a backlash gathers pace worldwide due to health concerns about a product promoted as less harmful than smoking tobacco.   The Indian announcement, also outlawing production, import and distribution, came a day after New York became the second US state to ban flavoured e-cigarettes following a string of vaping-linked deaths.   "The decision was made keeping in mind the impact that e-cigarettes have on the youth of today," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters in New Delhi.

E-cigarettes do not "burn" but instead heat up a liquid -- tasting of everything from bourbon to bubble gum and which usually contains nicotine -- that turns into vapour and is inhaled.   The vapour is missing the estimated 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke but does contain a number of substances that could potentially be harmful.   They have been pushed by producers, and also by some governments including in Britain, as a safer alternative to traditional smoking -- and as a way to kick the habit.

However critics say that apart from being harmful in themselves, the flavours of e-cigarette liquids appeal particularly to children and risk getting them addicted to nicotine.   Some 3.6 million middle and high school students in the United States used vaping products in 2018, an increase of 1.5 million on the year before.   The New York emergency legislation followed an outbreak of severe pulmonary disease that has killed seven people and sickened hundreds.   President Donald Trump's administration announced last week that it would soon ban flavoured e-cigarette products to stem a rising tide of youth users.

- Big E-Tobacco -
Although few Indians vape at present, the Indian ban also cuts off a vast potential market of 1.3 billion consumers for makers of e-cigarettes.   Tobacco firms have been investing heavily in the technology to compensate for falling demand for cigarettes due to high taxes and public smoking bans, particularly in the West.

In 2018 Altria, the US maker of brands such as Marlboro and Chesterfield, splashed out almost $13 billion on a stake in one of the biggest e-cigarette makers, Juul.   A few Indian states have already banned e-cigarettes although the restrictions have been ineffective since online sale of vaping products continue.   The new ban does not cover traditional tobacco products in India.   According to the World Health Organization, India is the world's second-largest consumer of tobacco products, killing nearly 900,000 people every year.

Nearly 275 million people over 15, or 35 percent of adults, are users, although chewing tobacco -- which also causes cancer -- is more prevalent than smoking.   India is also the world's third--largest producer of tobacco, the WHO says, and tobacco farmers are an important vote bank for political parties.   According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, an estimated 45.7 million people depend on the tobacco sector in India for their livelihood.   Tobacco is also a major Indian export, and the government holds substantial stakes, directly or indirectly, in tobacco firms including in ITC, one of India's biggest companies.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 03:56:31 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Humberto strengthened to a major Category 3 storm on Tuesday and was expected to pass near Bermuda, threatening it with dangerous waves and heavy rain, the US National Hurricane Center said.   "Hurricane conditions are expected to reach Bermuda by Wednesday night and continue into early Thursday morning," the Miami-based NHC said.   "Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or so, but Humberto should remain a powerful hurricane through Thursday," it said.   As of 8:00 pm (0000 GMT), the storm had maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) and was moving east-northeast at 12 miles per hour.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 01:36:21 +0200 (METDST)

Dakar, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Four people died after a boat carrying dozens of tourists capsized during heavy storms in Senegal, authorities and emergency services said Tuesday.   The death toll could rise as three passengers were said to be missing after the accident.  The boat was carrying several Senegalese nationals, six French people, two Germans, two Swedes and one person from Guinea-Bissau, when it turned over Monday in driving rain and a heavy swell, fire department chief Papa Angel Michel Diatta said.   All the dead were Senegalese, officials and emergency services said.

Two worked in a national park, one was a woman and the other victim was a child, Diatta said.   The boat was heading for the Madeleine islands, site of an offshore national park popular with tourists who travel from Dakar, coastal capital of the West African country.   Senegalese President Macky Sall appealed for "greater caution and respect for existing security norms duing the rainy season" in a tweet.

Emergency services continued to look for those missing on Tuesday. AFP journalists saw a dozen divers at the scene. Distressed families were waiting on the shore to get news of their loved ones.    "The gendarmerie called us at 5:00 am (GMT and local time). My brother was on the boat. The worst thing is not knowing," said Aminata Diop, who was among the relatives on the beach.   There are "four dead bodies and between three and four people are missing. Thirty-five people were on the boat. Search and rescue operations are continuing this morning," Interior Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye told AFP by telephone.

The causes of the accident were unclear. The interior minister told Senegalese media overnight that several tourists were worried about the heavy rains and wanted to return to the pier but others wanted to stay on the boat.   The survivors spent the night on the island, Ndiaye told local radio on Tuesday. Blankets and food were sent to them and they were to be ferried back to the mainland in the morning, he added.   The rainy season arrived late this year and heavy storms have resulted in several casualties this month.    Two fishermen were killed on their canoe in the same area nearly two weeks ago.
Date: Tue, 17 Sep 2019 15:38:37 +0200 (METDST)

Jakarta, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Massive forest fires in Indonesia that have caused a toxic haze to spread as far as Singapore and peninsular Malaysia are also seriously affecting endangered orangutans and their habitat, a rescue foundation said Tuesday.   Jakarta has deployed thousands of troops as temporary fireman and deployed dozens of water-bombing aircraft to battle blazes that are turning pristine forest into charred landscape in Sumatra and Borneo islands.   The fires -- usually started by illegal burning to clear land for farming -- have unleashed a choking haze across parts of southeast Asia.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation said Tuesday that the haze was affecting hundreds of great apes in its care at rescue centres and wildlife re-introduction shelters.   "The thick smoke does not only endanger the health of our staff... but also it affects the 355 orangutans we currently care for", the foundation said in a statement, referring to just once cetre in Kalimantan   "As many as 37 young orangutans are suspected to have contracted a mild respiratory infection," it added.   Conditions were so bad at their Samboja Lestari facility in East Kalimantan that outdoor activities for the animals had been restricted to a few hours a day.

Orangutans have been particularly vulnerable to commercial land clearances and have seen their natural habitat shrink dramatically in the last few decades.   The population of orangutan in Borneo has plummeted from about 288,500 in 1973 to about 100,000 today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.   The toxic smoke caused by the forest fires is an annual problem for Indonesia and its neighbours, but has been worsened this year by particularly dry weather.   On Borneo island, which Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei, pollution levels were "hazardous", according to environment ministry data.   Hundreds of schools across Indonesia and Malaysia were shut.