WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Andorra

General
************************************
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
**************
*********************
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
***************************************
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
************************************
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
************************************
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
************************************
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
************************************
The only standard vaccine to consider for Andorra would be tetanus in line with many other developed countries of the world.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puerto Rico

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"These diseases are everywhere, and there's a way to prevent them," she said.
=====================
[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:
More ...

Cook Islands

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

8 Aug 2019

Dengue-type1 outbreak was declared on the 27 Feb 2019 following a laboratory (NZLabPlus) confirmation of 7 dengue type 1 cases. From 28 Jan-4 Aug 2019, a cumulative number of 78 dengue cases have been reported (22 confirmed, and 56 probable-NS1Ag positives). Rarotonga and Aitutaki are the only islands affected and most of the cases have been from the main island of Rarotonga. Aitutaki has managed to contain its number of cases to 3. The last case was reported on 18 Apr 2019. A total of 42 cases have been hospitalised and given free mosquito nets to take and use at home. Apart from some severe cases, the hospitalisation was also an effort to contain and minimise the spread of the infection into the community. Unfortunately, some cases refused to be admitted but were given some health advice and mosquito precautionary measures. No deaths reported.

- Cook Islands. 17 Aug 2019. 78 dengue cases have been reported in Cook Islands since the outbreak began early in the year [2019]. The Cook Islands News reports the Ministry of Health saying 22 were confirmed cases while 56 have been deemed probable positives.

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Cook Islands:
- Cook Islands. 12 Apr 2019

As of Wednesday [10 Apr 2019], the Ministry for Health has 18 confirmed and 12 probable dengue fever cases. This is a total of 30 cases compared to 24 previously identified.
Date: Thu, 2 Jul 2015 05:34:35 +0200 (METDST)

Wellington, July 2, 2015 (AFP) - Airport authorities in the Cook Islands on Thursday warned thrill seekers to stay away from their runway's jet blast zone after three tourists were injured when a plane was taking off.   The main road in the tiny Pacific nation passes by the bottom of the runway and daring plane-spotters often stand in the wash of jet engines, clinging to the airport's fence as aircraft hit maximum thrust for ascent.   "If you don't hang onto anything, you'll be knocked over," Cook Islands Airport Authority chief executive Joe Ngamata told AFP.   "You get the young people and tourists looking for thrills going down there."

Ngamata said three tourists were blown over by the power of the jet blast last Thursday and were lucky to only receive cuts and bruises.   "It can be dangerous," he said, adding that the area was clearly marked with red danger signs to deter the practice.    "We might need to look at extra barriers or fences to keep people away."   However, stopping it may be difficult, with the national tourism authority including the jet blast in a recent marketing video showing "the top 10 reasons to come to the Cook Islands".
Date: Tue 1 Apr 2014
From: Dr Alyssa Pyke <Alyssa.Pyke@health.qld.gov.au> [edited]

A female patient in Townsville, Queensland, Australia has been diagnosed with Zika virus infection following a recent trip to the Cook Islands, where the virus is currently circulating. A serum sample collected in March 2014 was positive by 2 separate Zika virus TaqMan real-time RT-PCRs and a pan-Flavivirus RT-PCR. Nucleotide sequencing and phylogenetics revealed 99.1 per cent homology with a previous Cambodia 2010 sequence within the Asian lineage. Flavivirus IgG and IgM antibodies were also detected in the serum sample.

This is the 1st known imported case of Zika virus infection into northern Queensland, where the potential mosquito vector _Aedes aegypti_ is present, and only the 2nd such case diagnosed within Australia.
----------------------------------------------------
Dr Alyssa Pyke
Public Health Virology
Forensic and Scientific Services
Coopers Plains, Queensland
Australia
==============================
[As of 25 Mar 2014, there were 49 confirmed cases of Zika virus infection in the Cook Islands, the source of the virus in the case above. Concern for Zika virus introduction into northern Queensland where vector mosquitoes are present is a serious concern. Transport of this virus by viremic individuals has been the mechanism for its introduction into several Pacific islands. Dengue viruses have been introduced into Townsville, northern Queensland, by infected individuals and started small outbreaks there. Since that has happened with dengue viruses, it can happen with Zika virus as well.

ProMED thanks Alyssa Pyke for sending in this report.

A HealthMap showing the location of Queensland state can be accessed
at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/285>, and the Cook Islands at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/4035>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Tue 25 Mar 2014
Source: Radio New Zealand [edited]

There are now 49 confirmed cases of Zika virus [infection] in the Cook Islands, and as many as 630 people are believed to have suffered from the mosquito-borne disease.

Last month [February 2014], health authorities 1st thought they were dealing with dengue fever, but the 1st batch of test results confirmed 18 cases of Zika [virus infection].

The Director of Community Health Services, Dr Rangi Fariu, says further results from French Polynesia, where the disease 1st broke out in the region, take the number to 49.

He says scientists there are still determining the exact nature of the strain. "Tahiti just asked for those who were already shown positive; they wanted more samples to find out if the Zika [virus] strain that we have here is similar to the one that they have in Tahiti."

Dr Rangi Fariu says doctors have reported about 630 cases of suspected Zika virus [infection] in the Cook Islands and says the real number would be much higher.
========================
[This is the 1st report of Zika virus infections in the Cook Islands. The virus has been circulating in the islands of French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Easter Island. Although the distances between these islands is significant, the virus is being moved by viraemic people who travel between them. One can expect further spread to localities where there are populations of vector mosquitoes that can initiate new outbreaks. Zika virus is a flavivirus. Symptoms of Zika fever may include fever, headache, red eyes, rash, muscle aches, and joint pains. The illness is usually mild and lasts 4-7 days. No fatalities caused by Zika virus infection have been reported.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of the Cook Islands in the Pacific can be accessed at
More ...

Japan

General
***************************
Japan is a highly developed country with excellent tourist facilities. The country covers a number of islands and the population is estimated at over 125 million. English is widely spoken in the main tourist a
d urbanised centres.
Weather Profile
***************************
Due to the strong influence from the sea, Japan tends to have a high rainfall but milder winters than the adjacent mainland of China. This is similar to the climate experienced in Ireland by comparison to the rest of Europe. Spring and Autumn are usually the most pleasant months but during the Summer the climate can be significantly humid and tiring. During this time it will be essential that fluid intake is increased and that salt (lost through perspiration) is replaced - usually by increasing the amount eaten on your food providing this is not contraindicated by any personal medical condition such as blood pressure etc.
Alcohol Consumption
***************************
The Japanese authorities have limited patience with those arrested while under the influence of alcohol. For some travellers visiting the country this may mean a prolonged stay in the local jail and the subsequent missing of important appointments.
Natural Disasters
***************************
Japan is situated in a region of the world which regularly experiences earthquakes and other climatic changes including typhoons. A number of relatively small earthquakes are reported each year but, to date, this has seldom affected any tourist itinerary. However, further information is available at http://www.tokyoacs.com
Safety and Security
***************************
The risk to personal security for tourists while travelling throughout Japan is small though commonsense care of personal belongings is always essential. Where available, use the hotel safety boxes to store valuables and your passport, return air tickets. During the mid 1990’s a number of terrorist incidents occurred but no recent serious problems are being reported.
Airport Taxes
***************************
Many countries now include the cost of their ‘departure tax’ within the ticket. In Japan this will depend on which airport you leave from. The fee is collected in Yen at Kansai - Osaka International Airport but usually included in the ticket cost if flying via Narita - Tokyo International Airport.
Cost of living
***************************
Japan is not a cheap country for tourists. The cost of living is one of the highest throughout the world. Credit cards may be used in main cities but the ATM’s machines may not be available at all hours. Before taking a taxi from the airport it would be wise to check the costs and then assess whether or not it might be more prudent to use the local bus transport!
Medical Care
***************************
The level of medical care throughout most tourist regions in Japan is excellent. However, there may be limited English-speaking doctors in some more rural areas and even where this facility is available in the main cities the cost of healthcare can be very expensive. It is wise to carefully check your travel health insurance premium before you leave home.
Local Medications
***************************
Some commonly used European over-the-counter medications
may not be available in Japan. Also, there are strict laws governing the importation of certain medications which can be strictly enforced. Certain inhalers, sinus preparations etc may be confiscated on arrival. If you are taking any personal medications it may be wise to check before you leave. Obviously never carry packages for anybody else while travelling unless you are certain of the contents.
Avoiding Prickly Heat
***************************
The term prickly heat is used in a variety of ways but the cause is generally the same. In a hot climate the body perspires to maintain the internal temperature at a correct level. In the perspiration there will be fluid and your personal salts. The fluid evaporates but the salt dries against the skin. It is your individual reaction to this salt that leads to the ‘prickly heat rash’. The reaction to these salts can be minimised by removing the salts from the skin surface as soon as possible. Change your clothes regularly, use plenty of talcum powder to absorb the perspiration and dry off well after showering.
Food & Water Care in Japan
***************************
Any international traveller should recognise the risks of a ruined trip from unwise indulgence in local food and beverages. In Japan the level of food hygiene is high but the consumption of Sushi (uncooked raw fish) is unwise. Bivalve shellfish also carry a significant risk due to the limited level of sterilisation during the cooking process.
Malaria & Mosquitoes
***************************
No malaria transmission occurs throughout Japan although avoiding mosquito bites during the humid months is wise.
Airborne Disease
***************************
In any situation where you will be crowded together with many others the risk of a variety of airborne diseases will be higher. This will include serious diseases such as Meningococcal Meningitis but also others such as Influenza and the common cold. The risk of Meningococcal Meningitis in Japan is regarded as small and vaccine is not routinely recommended. However, having the Flu vaccine may be a wise precaution. It is also sensible to carry a small supply of lozenges to treat the inevitable sore throat which may occur.
Driving in Japan
***************************
The road system throughout Japan is excellent but unfortunately the road signs may prove too much of a hurdle for those unfamiliar with the language! The congestion within the cities tends to be high and tolls on some of the major roads may be quite expensive. The traffic moves on the left side of the road but for many tourists it will be wiser to consider using local transportation rather than risking a ruined holiday.
English Help Lines
***************************
Tourists can obtain important information and assistance in English while visiting Japan through the following numbers;
In Tokyo - 03-3968 4099
Rest of Japan - 0120-461 997
Vaccines for Japan
***************************
For the majority of short-term travellers visiting Japan no particular vaccines will be recommended. Those planning to live for longer periods within the country will need to discuss this through in greater detail.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 28 Nov 2019
Source: Mainichi Newspaper [in Japanese, machine trans, edited]

An announcement has been received that an employee of Kagoshima City and the drug development company Shin Nippon Kagaku (Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories (SNBL) in Tokyo) was infected with monkey-derived "B virus". The case concerns a technician, who was conducting animal experiments on monkeys at the research institute in Kagoshima City on the [28 Feb 2019]. The condition [of the infected individual] is not disclosed. This is the 1st time that infection has been confirmed in Japan, with about 50 cases overseas.

Most cases of past infections have come into contact with monkeys at animal testing facilities, and the National Institute of Infectious Diseases says that "normally there is no risk of spreading infection because it does not move from person to person."

B virus is a type of herpes virus, and most macaque monkeys such as rhesus monkeys and Japanese [cynomolgus macaque] monkeys have viruses. It does not cause airborne infection, but if one is bitten by a monkey with the virus, fever and sensory abnormalities [may] occur at the contact area. Severe infections may cause sequelae of neuropathy.

According to the city, a technician was infected at the Safety Laboratory, which uses monkeys to investigate safety during drug development. In February of this year [2019], she complained of headache and fever, and this month [November 2019], the National Institute of Infectious Diseases determined that it was a B virus. Technicians have never been bitten or scratched and are likely to have touched excrement and saliva.  [byline: Ran Kanno]
======================
[The timeline of the infection in the above patient is uncertain. The 2nd report above indicates that the patient initially became ill in February 2019 but was diagnosed as a herpes B virus infection this month (November 2019). The 1st report above indicates that the patient is currently in a critical condition, but not for how long in that condition. The incubation period for human herpes B virus infections is 3-30 days, although CDC notes that it may be months or even years after infection is initiated for symptoms to appear.

Herpes B virus is an alpha herpes virus. Although herpes B virus is relatively common among the 3 species of macaques affected, human cases over the years have been sporadic and few -- 50 confirmed cases (now 51 with the case above) with 21 deaths. For those humans infected CDC notes that "vesicular skin lesions sometimes occur at the exposure site. The patient may also have lymphadenitis (inflamed lymph nodes), lymphangitis (infection of lymph vessels), nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and hiccups.

"The virus can spread to the central nervous system (CNS) and cause the following symptoms:
- hyperesthesias (increase in sensitivity to stimuli);
- ataxia (lack of voluntary control of muscle movements);
- diplopia (double vision);
- agitation;
- ascending flaccid paralysis (extreme weakness due to reduced muscle tone).

Most patients with CNS complications will die, even with antiviral therapy and supportive care, and those who survive usually suffer serious long-term neurologic problems. Respiratory failure associated with ascending paralysis is the most common cause of death. Respiratory involvement and death can occur 1 day to 3 weeks after symptom onset." The CDC website for this virus can be found at <https://www.cdc.gov/herpesbvirus/healthcare-providers.html>. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Kagoshima City, Kagoshima, Japan:
Date: Mon 25 Nov 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

In recent years, the number of syphilis cases has surged in Japan. In 2015, we reported on a big increase in syphilis cases in Japan where well over 2000 cases were recorded, a 4-fold increase from just 5 years earlier. In the past 2 years, more than 5500 cases were reported in 2017 and more than 6000 last year [2018]. Through [13 Nov 2019], the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) reported 5703 syphilis cases, including 1464 cases in Tokyo and 921 cases in Osaka.

Another issue the NIID has been looking at is syphilis in pregnant women in Japan. According to a report in The Mainichi [<https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20191125/p2a/00m/0na/015000c>]: The NIID analyzed cases of syphilis reported from the 1st to the 26th week of 2019 [1-30 Jun 2019], a 6-month period from January, and found that a reported 106 of 1117 women with syphilis were pregnant. Of the 61 patients who gave their answers to a section on whether they had worked in the adult entertainment industry in the preceding 6 months, 56 said they had not done so. "It is possible that most of the expectant mothers suffering from syphilis were infected by their male partners," said Takuya Yamagishi, a doctor at the NIID. Through mid-October [2019], Japan has reported 17 congenital syphilis cases, the same as in all of 2018.
=====================
[Japan, as the United States and other countries, has experienced a rising incidence of primary and secondary syphilis that initially involved mainly men who have sex with men, but more recently has involved women in their 20s and 30s. See ProMED-mail: Syphilis - Japan (02): rising incidence, heterosexual women & men, urban  http://promedmail.org/post/20181202.6175741.

In the US and elsewhere, this increase in the incidence of syphilis in women of childbearing age has been associated with a rising incidence of congenital syphilis. However, we were not told in that prior ProMED-mail post if rates of congenital syphilis are similarly rising in Japan. Now, according to data compiled by Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), the incidence of congenital syphilis in Japan is rising, with 17 cases reported by the 42nd week of 2019 (week ending 19 Oct 2019), which is as many as were reported in the whole of 2018  (<https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20191125/p2a/00m/0na/015000c>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Japan:
Date: Wed 20 Nov 2019
Source: The Mainichi [edited]

Cases of a lethal tick-borne virus in Japan are reportedly set to start passing the 100-people-per-year mark for the 1st time since record keeping on the condition began in 2013.

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases announced on [19 Nov 2019] that the 2019 total of 96 people affected with Huaiyangshan banyangvirus [severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome], also known as the SFTS virus, had surpassed the previous high of 90 in 2017. Additionally, the mortality rate is high, and due to the risk of infection being passed on by pets, the institute is warning people to be cautious. [There is a unique case of a cat transmitting SFTS virus to a veterinarian and veterinary nurse in Japan (see Severe fever w/ thrombocytopenia synd. - East Asia (02): Japan (MZ) http://promedmail.org/post/20181211.6204927). The usual transmission is via ticks. - ProMED Mod.TY]

The virus that causes SFTS was discovered by a group of Chinese researchers in 2011. It lies dormant in the body for around 6 days to 2 weeks, when it then shows symptoms including a fever, diarrhoea and bloody bowel discharges. Mortality rates of 30% have been reported. Only symptomatic treatment is available for those suffering from the virus, and there is no vaccine.

The institute has been seeking reports from medical institutions across the country regarding all patients since 2013, and an upward trend has been visible since the 1st set of reports showed 40 patients in the initiative's 1st year.

It is believed that there has not been an increase in infections, but rather that as a newly understood disease it has gradually become more easily recognized by medical professionals.

As of the end of October [2019], an overall total of 491 patients had been diagnosed with the condition [since 1st diagnosed in the country in 2013], and at the time those reports were filed 70 of [the patients] had died. It is possible that the number of the deceased has increased since that time. SFTS is particularly dangerous for elderly people, with 90% of recorded cases among those aged 60 and over.

The virus is carried by wild animals including deer and boars; if a tick (such as the Asian longhorned tick) sucks the blood of an infected animal and then later bites into another one, it passes on the virus. While it is important to be vigilant when out in hills and fields, there is also a danger of pets transmitting the disease to their owners at home after going outside.

Masayuki Saijo, head of the institute's Department of Virology 1, said, "When your pet is feeling unwell, wear protective items including thick gloves, and try not let them bite you."  [Byline: Go Kumagai]
====================
[SFTS virus apparently has become established in Japan. There were cases every year from 2013 to present, but more cases occurred in 2017 and 2018. Cases were widely disbursed geographically in 2018, with 24 prefectures reporting infected individuals. The best way to avoid infection would be to avoid tick bites.

SFTS is a serious disease and of significant public health concern. Although SFTS virus infections may be serious, there is evidence for subclinical or mild infections as well, so the previous numbers may be an underestimate of the total number of infections. There is also some evidence for person-to-person direct transmission of the virus, but that appears to be a rare event. The virus is doubtless endemic in several countries in Asia, and cases have occurred previously in Japan. Apparently, there are 2 previously reported affected individuals who acquired their infections directly from an SFTS virus-infected cat. No mention was made of tick transmission in that instance. The possible route of transmission from the cat to the veterinarian and veterinary nurse via exposure to blood or other bodily fluids is not mentioned (see Severe fever w/ thrombocytopenia synd. - East Asia (02): Japan (MZ) http://promedmail.org/post/20181211.6204927).

SFTS virus is a tick-transmitted phlebovirus in the Bunyavirus family.
Images of a _Haemaphysalis longicornis_ tick, the SFTS vector, can be seen at

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Fri, 25 Oct 2019 18:01:59 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, Oct 25, 2019 (AFP) - Four people were killed and another person was missing in landslides and floods on Friday, local officials and news reports said, as Japan was hit by heavy rains just two weeks after a deadly typhoon barrelled through the country.   A woman in her 60s was sent to hospital and another woman in her 40s was unaccounted for after landslides struck two houses in Chiba, southeast of Tokyo, said a local disaster management official.   "She was later confirmed dead in hospital," the official told AFP.   A separate landslide destroyed another house in Chiba, killing a man, public broadcaster NHK said, adding he appeared to be a person who had earlier been reported missing.

Elsewhere in Chiba prefecture, two elderly men died in separate incidents, one in a submerged car, Kyodo news agency reported.  The Japan Meteorological Agency issued warnings of heavy rains, landslides and floods in a swathe of areas including eastern and central Japan.   "As risks of disasters have already increased, please be extremely vigilant about landslides, rise in river water volumes and floods as rains will continue," the JMA warned on its Twitter account.   Non-mandatory evacuation orders were issued to more than 390,000 residents in the Fukushima region and 5,000 people in Chiba, NHK reported.   Local authorities in Minamisoma, eastern Fukushima, announced they planned to discharge water from a dam that had reached maximum capacity Friday night, raising fears of flooding in populated downstream areas.
 
Footage showed cars splashing through roads partly inundated with water, as several swollen rivers flooded in eastern Japan.   Some 4,700 houses in the region were without power by Friday evening, while some train services were suspended, officials said.   Japan was hit by Typhoon Hagibis about two weeks ago, with the death toll from the violent storm now standing at more than 80.   Residents still picking up the pieces after that storm expressed frustrations over reconstruction delays and their fear of another disaster.   "I'm a bit worried that if an evacuation order is issued, we will have to leave here," a woman in Nagano in central Japan who was cleaning up mud told NHK.   Many of the river banks and levees that were breached during Hagibis have not yet been repaired.
Date: Tue, 15 Oct 2019 09:50:21 +0200 (METDST)
By Kyoko HASEGAWA

Tokyo, Oct 15, 2019 (AFP) - Rescuers in Japan were working around the clock Tuesday in an increasingly desperate search for survivors of a powerful weekend typhoon that killed nearly 70 people and caused widespread destruction.   Hagibis slammed into Japan on Saturday night, unleashing fierce winds and unprecedented rain that triggered landslides and caused dozens of rivers to burst their banks.   By Tuesday afternoon, local media put the toll at nearly 70, with around a dozen people missing. The government's tally was lower, but it said it was still updating information.   Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there was no plan to slow rescue operations, with around 110,000 police, coast guard, firefighters and military troops involved.   "Currently in damaged areas rescue work and searches for the missing are continuing around the clock," Abe told parliament.   "Where rivers flooded, work is ongoing to fix spots where banks broke, and water is being pumped out where floods occurred," he added.   The prime minister's office said more than 3,000 people have been rescued in the wake of the disaster, which affected 36 of the country's 47 prefectures.   The defence ministry has called up several hundred reserve troops in addition to active duty soldiers for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

- Rain prompts new warnings -
Government officials warned that more rain was expected throughout the day Tuesday in several parts of the country affected by the typhoon.   "We ask people not to drop their guard and to remain fully alert," chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga. told reporters.   Hagibis crashed into land packing gusts up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, but it was the storm's heavy rain that caused the most damage.   At least 176 rivers burst their banks, including in central Nagano, where a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods and submerging bullet trains in a depot up to their windows.   Deaths were reported across many prefectures and included a man whose apartment was flooded, a municipal worker whose car was caught in rising waters and at least seven crew aboard a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo bay on Saturday night.   By Tuesday morning, some 34,000 households were still without power, and 133,000 homes had no water.   Tens of thousands of people spent Monday night in government shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "My frightened daughter can't stop shaking. We want to go home quickly," Rie Nishioka, 39, told Kyodo News agency in Miyagi prefecture.

- Government pledges aid -
The government pledged financial support to affected regions without specifying how much aid it would set aside.   "Support for the victims of the disaster is an urgent task," Abe said.   "There are concerns that the impact on daily life and economic activities may be long-lasting."   Another area affected by the storm was Fukushima, where several bags containing soil and plants collected during nuclear decontamination efforts were washed away.   "Ten bags out of 2,667 were swept into a river during the typhoon, but six of them were recovered yesterday," environment ministry official Keisuke Takagi told AFP, adding that the remaining four bags had been found and would be collected soon.   "Residents must be worried about the environment, but there are no reports that the bags were broken, so there will be nothing to worry about once they have been recovered safely," he said.   Hagibis caused transport chaos over a holiday weekend in Japan, grounding flights and halting train services.   By Tuesday, things were largely back to normal, though some flights were cancelled and train services partially disrupted where tracks or train stock were damaged by the storm.   The typhoon also caused disruption to sporting events, delaying Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and forcing Rugby World Cup organisers to cancel three matches.   A crunch fixture pitting the hosts against Scotland went ahead on Sunday night, with Japan winning its first-ever quarter final spot.
More ...

South Africa

General Introduction: The Republic of South Africa lies at the Southern tip of the African continent, flanked between the Indian and Atlantic oceans. Although it lies close to the tropic of Capricorn, the inland areas are tempered by the relatively high a
titudes. Summers and winters are opposite to that found in Ireland. In South Africa the summer extents from October to March. Although South Africa is basically a developed country, much of its population, particularly in rural parts, live in poverty. However facilities for tourists in urban areas and game parks are generally excellent. Despite all the well documented reports overall violence against tourists is usually low but obviously care should always be taken. Travelling late at night is usually unwise and take particular care if visiting nightclubs etc.
Climate: There is generally a moderate climate with sunny days and cool nights. The Cape Town region has a mean yearly temperature of 170C while Johannesburg has an annual mean temperature of 160C. This is mainly because Johannesburg is at 5,700 feet altitude. Throughout South Africa, summer extends between October and March and winter is between June and September. In Johannesburg the winter months tend to be dry and cool while the rainy season tends to occur during the warmer summer months.
Health Facilities: In the larger cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban & Pretoria and many others there will be no difficulty in receiving excellent medical attention. However when travelling throughout the more isolated rural regions the same situation does not occur. Travellers should always ensure that they are up-to-date in their routine travel vaccinations. World Travel Medicine Consultants (WTMC) in South Africa offer excellent medical facilities in many of the main centres. Contact by email their head office at for further information.
Jet Lag: Even though the hour changes from Ireland are not great after flying for approximately 13 hours you will arrive tired. On the plane journey take some exercise by walking around and occasionally stretching your calf muscles to lessen any risk of blood clots. If you are on the contraceptive pill (women only!) this will increase your risk on a long haul flight and you should talk this through with the doctor looking after your health care advice and vaccines. On arrival, try and rest for the first 24 hours to allow your body to catch up with itself. If lying by the pool remember not to fall asleep and wake some hours later with significant sunburn!
Mosquito-Borne Disease: Mosquitoes are most often associated with Malaria, however it is not the only disease which the insect may carry. Insect repellents which contain more than 30% DEET are effective for keeping mosquitoes away but remember to cover your arms and legs when they are biting. This is mainly in the hours between dusk and dawn. The risk of malaria can be reduced by taking malarial prophylaxis on a regular basis if you are planning to visit the risk areas. Anti malaria tablets are advised for those visiting low altitude areas especially areas around the Kruger National Park, north, east and western Transvaal, and the costal lowlands of Natal. Large towns and cities and high altitudes are more likely to be free of mosquitoes.
Effects of Heat: Extreme climate conditions can also lead to gastrointestinal difficulties but don't forget that when you perspire you will loose both water and salt. Replacing the lost water is easy but many travellers forget to replace the salt in their diet. This can lead to muscular cramps, tiredness and lethargy, a dull headache and generally feeling cross and out of sorts. Replacing depleted salt is most easily achieved by sprinkling it on your meals. Salt tablets can be dangerous and are best avoided except in expert hands. If you have any blood pressure difficulties then it will be important to talk this whole issue through with your doctor before leaving Ireland.
Waterborne diseases: Water sources in well developed urban areas of South Africa are generally safe. Outside the main cities caution must always be exercised with regard to drinking water. Safe water should be well chlorinated and so will have a distinct chlorine odour. Sealed bottled water is more preferable especially in less developed areas. Avoid ice in your drinks as its source may be unknown and don't brush your teeth in water you wouldn't want to drink. If unsure be careful and use sealed bottled water from one of the hotels.
Food-Borne Disease: Again, in the larger cities and tourist resorts, the food and its preparation is generally of an excellent standard and you should experience no problems. It is advised however to avoid eating shellfish and cold/rare meats. In particular, Capetown is famous for its various shellfish meals. Personally I would strongly encourage travellers to avoid them even in the best hotels and restaurants. It is just not worth the risk. As in any hot climate it is also wise to choose only the type of fruit you can peel yourself. Above all avoid buying or consuming food from roadside stalls or street vendors.
Rabies in South Africa: Travellers need to be aware that this potentially fatal viral condition occurs throughout Africa. The risk to any tourist or business traveller is very small but common sense needs to be maintained at all times. The disease is mainly transmitted through the bite of an infected warm blooded animal. Usually dogs and cats are involved but also be very careful of monkeys. If bitten by any potentially at risk animal wash out the wound immediately, apply a strong antiseptic and seek medical attention urgently
Yellow Fever: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is only required for travellers coming from endemic zones in Africa and the Americas. Travellers on scheduled airlines whose flights have originated outside the areas regarded as infected (or who are only in transit through these areas) are NOT required to possess a certificate.
If the flight originated from within a Yellow fever endemic area a certificate is then required.

Vaccination Schedule: Apart from Yellow Fever vaccine in certain circumstances, as mentioned above, there are no other vaccinations required for entry into South Africa from Ireland. Nevertheless there are a number of recommended vaccines for most travellers which need to be discussed. For trekking holidays or extended visits Rabies and Hepatitis B may need to be considered. Most travellers should start their vaccines at least 4 to 6 weeks before departure.
Further Information: South Africa is a beautiful destination with much to offer. Further general health information on staying healthy while travelling abroad may be obtained from the Tropical Medical Bureau. www.tmb.ie

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 12:19:45 +0100 (MET)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - South African Airways was placed under a state-approved rescue plan on Thursday to avoid the embattled airline's collapse following a costly week-long strike last month.   Thousands of South African Airways (SAA) staff walked out on November 15 after the flag carrier failed to meet a string of demands, including higher wages and job in-sourcing.   The strike was called off the following week after SAA management and unions eventually clinched a deal.

But the walkout dealt a severe blow to the debt-ridden airline, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts.   "The Board of SAA has adopted a resolution to place the company into business rescue," said a statement by South Africa's Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, adding that the decision was also supported by the government.   "It must be clear that this is not a bailout," said Gordhan. "This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline."   The business rescue process will be directed by an independent practitioner. It is meant to prevent a "disorderly collapse of the airline", he added.   Gordhan said the government would provide 2 billion rand ($136 million) to SAA in "a fiscally neutral manner".   Existing lenders will also provide a 2 billion rand loan guaranteed by the government.

- 'Financial challenges' -
South Africa is struggling to get state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.   Its national airline -- which employs more than 5,000 workers and is Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines -- had been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) a day during the strike.   SAA's board said the business rescue, scheduled to start immediately, was decided after consultations with shareholders and the public enterprises department "to find a solution to our company's well-documented financial challenges".

"The considered and unanimous conclusion has been to place the company into business rescue in order to create a better return for the company's creditors and shareholders," said the SAA board of directors in a statement.   The rescue plan will include a "new provisional timetable" and ensure "selected activities... continue operating successfully".   With a fleet of more than 50 aircraft, SAA flies to over 35 domestic and international destinations.   "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board.   "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time.

- 'Lesser evil' -
Unions told AFP they would comment later on Thursday.   They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding.   SAA had initially refused any pay rise.    The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March. But it was unable to cover all of its staff salaries last month.    "Business rescue allows for the airline to continue to operate while it is being restructured, as opposed to liquidation," analyst Daniel Silke told AFP.   He said the rescue was a "lesser evil for SAA" and would save more jobs than a "shutdown".

But Silke still expected jobs to be cut as SAA attempted to reduce costs.   "Various divisions that make of SAA could be privatised," he said. "There will be a review of SAA aircraft and routes covered by SAA."   Unions had already demanded a three-year guarantee of job security following an announcement last month that almost 1,000 SAA employees could lose their jobs as part of another restructuring plan.   SAA pledged to defer that process to the end of January as part of the deal that ended the strike.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 08:13:04 +0100 (MET)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - South African Airways was placed under a state-led rescue plan on Thursday as part of a massive restructuring following a costly week-long strike last month.   Thousands of South African Airways (SAA) staff walked out on November 15 after the cash-strapped airline failed to meet a string of demands, including higher wages and job in-sourcing.   The strike was called off the following week after SAA management and unions eventually clinched a deal.

But the walkout dealt a severe blow to the debt-ridden airline, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts.   "The Board of SAA has adopted a resolution to place the company into business rescue," said a statement by South Africa's Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, adding that the decision was also supported by the government.   "It must be clear that this is not a bailout," said Gordhan. "This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline."   South Africa is struggling to get state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.

- Costly strike -
Its national airline -- which employs more than 5,000 workers and is Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines -- had been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) a day during the strike.   SAA's board said the business rescue, scheduled to start immediately, was decided after consultations with shareholders and the public enterprises department "to find a solution to our company's well-documented financial challenges".   "The considered and unanimous conclusion has been to place the company into business rescue in order to create a better return for the company's creditors and shareholders," said the SAA board of directors in a statement.

Business practitioners were set to be appointed "in the near future" to oversee the process, they added.   Unions did not immediately respond to AFP's requests for comment.   They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding.   SAA had initially refused any pay rise.    The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March.   "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board.   "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time."
Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2019 17:01:20 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, Nov 27, 2019 (AFP) - South Africa on Wednesday said it was introducing an affordable, cutting-edge drug to fight HIV in the country with the largest number of people living with the AIDS-causing virus.   Hailing the new anti-retroviral drug as "the fastest way to reduce HIV viral load", the health department said it will start rolling out the advanced pill known as TLD on December 1, international World Aids day.   Health Minister Zweli Mkhize unveiled the pioneering drug at a ceremony in southwestern KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the country's highest prevalence rates, where more than a quarter of the population is infected.

The new three-in-one pill, developed with the financial backing of global health development organisation Unitaid, bands together the drugs tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, lamivudine and dolutegravir.   Dolutegravir is the preferred first-line and second-line treatment recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and is already the drug of choice in high-income countries.    Unitaid's director of operations Robert Matiru said the new TLD drug "is highly effective and has much more rapid viral suppression" than the current treatment regime.   "It has fewer side effects in general and is much more resilient... and also is even cheaper," he told AFP.

The fixed dose, one pill combination is hoped to make it easier and more affordable for those suffering with the virus to begin -- and stay on -- treatment.    Unitaid said the price would start at $75 per person per year and could drop lower, creating savings that could allow up to five million more people to receive treatment.   South Africa accounts for more than 10 percent of all HIV-related deaths and 15 percent of new infections, according to Unitaid.   The country has the world's largest HIV treatment programme, delivering anti-retroviral treatment to some 4.8 million people.   But at least 7.7 million South Africans are living with HIV, with the highest prevalence among adults aged 15 to 49 years.
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2019 18:10:23 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, Nov 17, 2019 (AFP) - South African unions on Sunday called on all aviation workers to join striking South African Airways (SAA) staff after the cash-strapped airline failed to meet their demands.   The country's embattled flag carrier has been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) per day since more than 3,000 workers started an open-ended strike on Friday -- forcing the airline to cancel hundreds of flights.   Talks with the two unions representing the striking workers ended without resolution on Saturday, prompting threats of further action.   "In response to this deliberate provocation by the SAA board and its executive management, (the) NUMSA (metalworkers' union) is in the process of consulting workers for a secondary strike in aviation," NUMSA spokeswoman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola told reporters outside the SAA headquarters in Johannesburg.

NUMSA and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) first threatened to strike after SAA announced this week that almost 1,000 employees could lose their jobs as part of a restructuring process.   Initial talks with management deadlocked after they failed to agree on wage hikes, prompting the unions to press on with their threats.   SAA is offering a 5.9 percent pay rise, while unions are demanding an eight percent across-the-board hike and a three-year guaranteeof job security.   They are also asking the airline to in-source more jobs.    "We are fighting against retrenchment, corruption and privatisation," Hlubi-Majola told journalists.   She said discussions with SAA subsidiaries, South Africa's airport management company and airline service providers were under way.   Two transport unions have also been called on to join the action.   "This secondary strike will have the impact of shutting down the entire aviation sector," NUMSA and SACCA said in a joint statement.   SAA CEO Zuks Ramasia voiced "concern" about the unions' intentions and urged them to "reconsider".   "The intent of a secondary strike is to cause disruption, bring all airport operations to a halt and create huge damage to the South African economy," Ramasia said in a statement on Sunday.

- Embattled airline -
The CEO added that SAA could not "afford to pay any salary increases" and reiterated the 5.9 percent rise offer.   "The company has repeatedly communicated the precarious financial position of the company," Ramasia said.      More than 300 SAA flights have been grounded as a result of the open-ended strike.   International flights started slowly resuming on Sunday, while regional and domestic flights remain grounded.   "We hope all our customers understand that the cancellations have been beyond our control," Ramasia said.   South Africa is struggling to get its state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.   SAA -- one of Africa's biggest airlines -- is deep in debt and has not posted a profit since 2011, despite several government bailouts.   Finance Minister Tito boweni announced in February that the government would reimburse the company's 9.2 billion rand ($620 million) debt over the next three years.   Ramasia said discussions with unions would resume once the airline had considered "options on the way forward".
Date: Mon, 28 Oct 2019 17:59:26 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, Oct 28, 2019 (AFP) - South Africa's water affairs minister on Monday urged citizens to use water sparingly as water restrictions and the effects of climate change creep in.   Intermittent water shortages have left neighbourhoods in the central and northern regions of South Africa without water over the past week as the country reels from a string of heatwaves.   "We have to immediately begin to disaster proof South Africa and South Africa's security of water," Sisulu told journalists in Johannesburg.   "We are working hard to avoid the much-dreaded Day Zero phenomenon and instead we are announcing restrictions on water usage."    South Africa has imposed water restrictions in major metros, as a cautionary measure.

In the capital Pretoria, taps ran dry last week in the suburb of Laudium as a result of dwindling supplies, infrastructure failure among other issues at the country's largest water utility and supplies, Rand water.   Sisulu, 65, has come under fire for not doing enough to ensure water flows in the urban areas.    But many parts of the country including the Eastern and Northern Cape, have endured drought conditions for months, resulting in livestock deaths and failed crops.   "Climate change is a reality and it is affecting South Africa in this way," Sisulu noted.

Dam levels across the country have dropped by 10 to 60 percent compared to 2018, according to a recent report by the water department.    The company, in charge of water restrictions, said that owing to high demand it would over time have to intensify water restrictions by slowing the output from reservoirs.    Sisulu called for calm saying "there is no need to panic, but there is a need to be prudent in the way that we use water".   The earliest rains were expected in December, "so we are in for a long dry season," that would be "getting longer, more intense and more frequent," she said.   The minister will announce a water plan next month.   South Africa  is a water-scarce country and it recorded the lowest annual rainfall in more than a century in 2015.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

6th December 2019
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/06/flooding-hits-new-zealand-tourist-hubs-of-wanaka-and-queenstown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another landslip on the island's west coast will take an estimated six weeks to clear.   The worst of the weather hit over the weekend and it is forecast to deteriorate again later in the week, leaving authorities scrambling during a brief respite to complete as much repair work as possible.
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2019 17:30:45 +0100 (MET)

Kigali, Dec 8, 2019 (AFP) - Rwanda on Sunday started a voluntary Ebola vaccination programme at its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in a bid to prevent the spread of the deadly virus from its neighbour.   All countries in high-risk areas, even if not hit by Ebola, had been advised by the WHO to use a new vaccine developed by US group Johnson & Johnson, the country's health minister, Diane Gashumba, told journalists.   The idea was "to protect those with high chances of getting in contact with people living in areas where Ebola has been reported to be active", she said.

The vaccine, Ad26-ZEBOV-GP, is an experimental drug produced by US pharmaceuticals giant, Johnson & Johnson. It was used for the first time in mid-November in Goma in DR Congo, on the other side of the border.    So far, there have no confirmed cases of Ebola in Rwanda.   The epicentre of the outbreak in DR Congo, which has killed more than 2,200 people since August 2018, is located 350 kilometres (217 miles) north of Goma, in the Beni-Butembo region.   That region sits on the DR Congo border with Uganda.   More than 250,000 people in DR Congo have already been vaccinated using another product, rVSV-ZEBOV, made by US drug company, Merck Shape and Dohme.

- Ebola in Goma -
People working in the health sector, at border crossings, police officers, and business executives who frequently travel between the two countries are being given priority in the vaccination campaign.   But all residents in the border districts can ask to be vaccinated if they wish.    The first volunteers expressed relief at the measure.    "We lived in a life of worry because of what was going on in DR Congo," Joel Ntwari Murihe, one of the first Rwandans to be vaccinated, told AFP.   "It caused a lot of border disruptions as we were restricted to buying or selling with DR Congo residents who live in Goma.    "The vaccine is an assurance to the safety for our lives and our children's lives."

The head of DR Congo's anti-Ebola efforts, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, and the WHO's representative in Rwanda, Kasonde Mwinga, were present at the campaign launch.    In August, Rwanda briefly closed its border with DR Congo and ordered its citizens not to visit the country when the first Ebola cases were recorded in Goma.   The city, which is the regional capital of the Congolese province of North Kivu, sits on the border with Rwanda.    The border has since been reopened, but strict medical checks are being enforced.