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.
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.
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.
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.
The only standard vaccine to consider for Andorra would be tetanus in line with many other developed countries of the world.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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."
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.
By Ricardo ARDUENGO, con Nelson DEL CASTILLO en San Juan y Leila MACOR en Miami
Utuado, Puerto Rico, Oct 19, 2017 (AFP) - It's been a month since Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico and Samuel de Jesus still can't drive out of his isolated, blacked-out town. In fact, much of the US territory in the Caribbean is still a crippled mess four weeks after that fierce Category Four storm.
The bridge connecting Rio Abajo to the rest of the island was swept away when Maria slammed the island on September 20. For two weeks Rio Abajo, located in a mountainous region in central-western Puerto Rico, was cut off and forgotten, without power or phone service. "We didn't know what to do. We were literally going crazy," said de Jesus, 35. "Those were difficult, desperate days. We could not find a way out, and the hurricane caused extensive damage," he told AFP.
During the two long weeks following Maria, the 27 families living in Rio Abajo saw their supplies quickly deplete. De Jesus, who has diabetes, needed to keep his insulin refrigerated. The storm blew away the island's already decrepit power grid, so people resorted to emergency generators. "But I was running out of gasoline to run the generator," he said. A helicopter now makes regular deliveries of food, water and medicine because with the bridge washed out, there is no other way in or out of town.
People can't wade across the river because it is contaminated with human waste after a pipe broke when the bridge went. Some brave souls use a precarious ladder rigged to get across the water, but for most people it is too dangerous. We need a bridge "to take out our vehicles and leave in case of emergency, or if there is a landslide," he said. Where the bridge once stood, residents set up a system of ropes, pulleys and buckets to move supplies over the river, which has been contaminated with sewer water since the hurricane. Over the remains of the bridge locals hung the single-star, red, white and blue flag of Puerto Rico and a sign that reads "the campsite of the forgotten."
- Desperate need for electricity -
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello visited the surrounding municipality of Utuado on Wednesday to deliver supplies, but he did not stop in Rio Abajo. "Utuado is certainly one of the most severely affected municipalities in all of Puerto Rico," Rossello said. "Our commitment is to give it support and aid during the whole road to recovery." Eighty-one percent of Puerto Rico remains blacked out one month after Maria struck. Clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing is scarce, too.
Puerto Ricans' main obstacle to getting back to some semblance of normality is the slowness of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in getting the power grid back up and running. The lack of power has paralyzed a key industry -- pharmaceutical production -- and most businesses including restaurants are closed or operating at great cost through the use of diesel powered generators.
This nightmare comes about a year after the US government established an external fiscal control board for the island after it declared bankruptcy because of 73 billion dollars in debt. Economist Joaquin Villamil told AFP that damage from Hurricane Maria is estimated at 20 billion dollars -- four times that of Hurricane Georges in 1998, when measured in 2016 dollars.
Villamil said reconstruction money provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from insurance companies will have a positive impact on the island's economy in the second half of fiscal 2018 and in fiscal 2019, but this boost will just be temporary. "From an economic point of view there is not much net gain," said Villamil, who works for a consulting firm called Estudios Tecnicos. He said the economy has been shrinking since 2006 and Maria will delay any prospect of recovery. It will take at least until 2026 to get back to the GDP level of 2006, he added.
Making things worse, people are leaving the island for the mainland US. Forecasts are that the population now at 3.4 million will go down to 3.1 million or even less by 2026, said Villamil. The government of Florida estimates that since October 3 -- the day a state of emergency to deal with an influx of Puerto Ricans was declared -- more than 36,000 people from the island have poured in.
Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
Safety & Security:
The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.
Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
Tetanus (childhood booster)
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.
Brazil is the largest country in South America and extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean to the depths of the Amazon basin. The climate varies throughout the country but generally it experiences a humid
Safety & Security
The level of crime in many of the main urban centres is certainly rising and tourists need to be aware of the risks involved in travelling particularly in the evening hours. It is wise to use an official taxi for any journeys after dark. It is sensible not to flaunt any personal wealth and to use the hotel safety boxes for any valuables and your travel documents. The amount of crime against tourists tends to be greater in areas surrounding hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs and other similar establishments that cater to visitors, especially at dusk and during the evening hours. There are frequent reports of theft on city buses and such transportation should be avoided. A number of the main cities have established specialised tourist police units to patrol areas frequented by tourists. Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia all continue to experience a high incidence of crime.
Throughout this huge country the state of the roads varies greatly. In many regions the roads are dirt tracks and assistance would be hard to obtain for those travelling off from the main tourists routes. Bag snatching from traffic lights occurs in the main cities. If considering hiring a car make certain that your travel insurance is sufficient.
After your flight you will experience a degree of jet lag. Travelling from Europe this will be less than when you travel home but nevertheless it will still cause your body to complain for 24 to 48 hours. Try to have a more relaxing time for the first few days (and also after returning home if possible!). Be careful not to fall asleep by the pool and then awaken with sunburn which could ruin your time abroad.
In any country of this size the level of medical care will vary greatly. This is particular true out side the main tourist resorts. English speaking doctors should be available but the level of hospital care can be worrisome. Make certain you carry sufficient supplies of any medication you may require for your entire holiday. Essential drugs (asthma, diabetes, epilepsy etc) should be divided for security.
Sun Exposure and Dehydration
The hot humid tropical climate often leads to quite significant problems for the Irish traveller. Make sure you cover your head when out in the sunlight and drink plenty of fluids to replenish that lost through perspiration. Replace the salt you loose by eating crisps etc orby putting salt on your meal (providing there is no contraindication).
Visiting the Iguassu Falls
These huge waterfalls border Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. There is only minimal risk of malaria and so malaria prophylaxis is not generally recommended. Also, Yellow fever is not transmitted in this area but mosquitoes can abound. Sensible insect bite precautions should be followed at all times.
Food & Water
Many tourists who visit Brazil stay in the main resorts along the southern coast. The food and water preparation in the hotels is normally excellent but eating food from street vendors is generally unwise. Shell fish (bivalve oysters, mussels, clams etc) are unwise even in a five star hotel. Check the water from the cold water tap in your room. If you can’t easily smell chlorine (swimming pool style) don’t use it even for brushing your teeth. If travelling around the country (Caribbean coast or into the Amazon regions) take significantly more care.
This viral disease occurs throughout Brazil and it is usually transmitted through the bite from an infected warm-blooded animal (eg dogs, cats & monkeys). Any contact should be avoided but if it occurs treat it very seriously and seek competent medical attention immediately after you wash out the area and apply an antiseptic.
The risk of malaria is significant all year throughout the Amazon regions. There is insignificant risk for those staying along the coast up as far as Fortaleza and for those remaining in this region prophylaxis is not usually recommended. The risk in the region of Brasilia is also thought to be minimal though this is an area which has unusually experience an outbreak of Yellow Fever recently, and so the situation will require review.
Mosquito Borne Diseases Apart from malaria the other two main diseases transmitted by mosquitoes which cause problems in Brazil are Dengue Fever (mainly along Caribbean Coast but has been reported much further south) and Yellow Fever (mainly in the Amazon Basin but thought to be spreading to other regions). Avoidance techniques are important at all times throughout the day. Swimming **************************************** Most of the main tourist swimming pools will be well maintained and the smell of chlorine will be evident. If sea swimming is on your agenda make sure you go where there are plenty of others and never swim alone. Look for warning signs and pay attention to local advice. Be very careful of local currents which can be dangerous. Vaccinations **************************************** The Brazilian Embassy is advising all travellers to Brazil to have vaccination cover against Yellow Fever. Also for your personal protection it is wise to consider some further vaccines. Generally we would recommend the following vaccination cover; * Yellow Fever (mosquito borne) * Tetanus (childhood booster) * Typhoid (food & water borne) * Hepatitis A (food & water borne) For those travelling more extensively or staying in the country for longer periods we would usually suggest that further vaccines are considered including Hepatitis B, Meningitis and Rabies. Summary **************************************** Many travellers to Brazil will remain perfectly healthy and well providing they follow some sensible precautions. Further information is available from either of our centres regarding any recent disease outbreaks.
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By Rosa SULLEIRO
Sao Paulo, June 14, 2019 (AFP) - A nationwide strike called by Brazil's trade unions disrupted public transport and triggered road blocks in parts of the country Friday, ahead of protests against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's pension reform. Hours before the opening match of the Copa America in Sao Paulo, some metro lines in the country's biggest city were paralyzed as professors and students also prepared to take to the streets over the government's planned education spending cuts. It will be the latest mass demonstration against Bolsonaro since he took office in January, but the timing could not be worse for the embattled president as Brazil prepares to play Bolivia in South America's showcase football tournament.
Bolsonaro was expected to attend the opener at Morumbi stadium where police sharpshooters will be deployed as part of increased security for the competition. One of Brazil's main trade unions estimated 45 million workers had taken part in the strike. Some 63 cities had been affected by the stoppage, with more than 80 cities recording demonstrations, G1 news site said. The number of protesters is expected to balloon in the afternoon with demonstrations planned in Brazil's major cities. Protesters have already blocked some roads in several cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where G1 said police had used tear gas to disperse demonstrators and clear the streets. Brazilians were divided over the partial strike. "This current government wants to destroy everything that we built decades ago so that's why I'm in favor (of the strike) and I am fighting against social inequality," Vania Santos, 49, told AFP in Rio. In Sao Paulo, Flavio Moreira opposed the stoppage, however, saying it "hurts the commercial part" of the city.
- Pension savings cut -
Bolsonaro's proposed overhaul of Brazil's pension system -- which he has warned will bankrupt the country if his plan is not approved -- is seen as key to getting a series of economic reforms through Congress. But the changes, including an increase in the retirement age and workers' contributions, have faced resistance from trade unions and in the lower house of Congress, where Bolsonaro's ultraconservative Social Liberal Party has only around 10 percent of the seats. A pared-back draft of the reform presented to Congress on Thursday -- which reduces expected savings from 1.2 trillion reais ($300 billion) in 10 years to around 900 billion reais -- did little to appease union leaders, who vowed to go ahead with the shutdown. Such savings are seen as vital to repairing Brazil's finances and economy, which were devastated by a 2015-2016 crisis.
Economy minister Paulo Guedes, who is spearheading the government's reform agenda, has threatened to resign if the bill is not passed or is watered down significantly. It caps a tumultuous six months for Bolsonaro, who has seen his popularity nosedive as he struggles to push his signature reform through a hostile Congress and keep Latin America's biggest economy from sliding back into recession. More than 13 million people are unemployed, the latest data shows, with a record number giving up looking for a job. Fighting between military and far-right factions of Bolsonaro's government has fueled chaos in his administration where his sons and right-wing writer and polemicist Olavo de Carvalho wield enormous influence. Bolsonaro sacked his third minister on Thursday -- retired general Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, who had been the government secretary and seen as a moderate voice. That came on the same day Bolsonaro broke his silence to defend Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who has been accused of wrongdoing while serving as a judge in the sprawling Car Wash anticorruption investigation.
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Lomo del Pino, Spain, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - A raging wildfire on the Spanish holiday island of Gran Canaria forced the evacuation of some 5,000 people, authorities said Sunday, warning it could take days for the blaze to be brought under control. The fire, which has spread to the mountainous Cruz de Tejeda region popular with tourists for its breathtaking views, is "extremely fierce" and "unstable", said Canary Islands president Angel Victor Torres in a statement. No fatalities have been reported.
More than 600 firefighters and 14 aircraft battled to contain the flames, hampered by strong winds and high temperatures. With the temperature set to rise Monday, authorities estimate it could take days before the blaze is brought under control. "The next few hours will be very important because the weather forecast for the night is not good," Torres said. The fire broke out days after another wildfire in the same region forced the evacuation of hundreds.
Gran Canaria is the second most populous of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa. The Canary Islands received 13.7 million foreign visitors last year, over half of them from Britain and Germany. Spain is frequently plagued by huge forest fires because of its arid summer climate.
Lisbon, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Portuguese fuel tanker drivers whose strike has caused fuel shortages at the summer holiday season on Sunday ended their industrial action. Drivers have been staging a strike since Monday to demand further wage increases in 2021 and 2022, prompting the government to declare an energy crisis. "Since all the conditions are now in place to negotiate, we decided to end the strike," Pedro Pardal Henriques, spokesman for the National Union of Dangerous Goods Carriers (SNMMP), told reporters.
A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, the union President Francisco Sao Bento said, adding that the union did not "rule out new strikes being called if Antram (the employers association) adopts an uncompromising attitude". Police had launched an operation to escort fuel tankers with extra supplies and Portugal also mobilised about 500 members of the security forces to replace the strikers and drive the trucks. Despite the shortages, Energy Minister Joao Pedro Matos Fernandes said about two-thirds of the country's 3,000 or so petrol stations had not run dry.
By By Emal Haidary and Mushtaq Mojaddidi
Kabul, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Joy and celebration turned into horror and carnage when a suicide bomber targeted a packed Afghan wedding hall, killing at least 63 people in the deadliest attack to rock Kabul in months, officials and witnesses said Sunday. The massive blast, which took place late Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban finalise a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan and hopefully build a roadmap to a ceasefire. The groom recalled greeting smiling guests in the afternoon, before seeing their bodies being carried out hours later.
The attack "changed my happiness to sorrow", the young man, who gave his name as Mirwais, told local TV station Tolo News. "My family, my bride are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting," he said. "I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again." Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 63 people had been killed and 182 injured. "Among the wounded are women and children," Rahimi said. Earlier he stated a suicide bomber carried out the attack.
Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating for hours inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children. "The wedding guests were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened," recounted Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured and whose cousin was among the dead. "Following the explosion, there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones," he told AFP from his bed in a local hospital, where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds.
Images from inside the hall showed blood-stained bodies on the ground along with pieces of flesh and torn clothes, hats, sandals and bottles of mineral water. The huge blast ripped parts of the ceiling off. The wedding was believed to be a Shia gathering. Shia Muslims are frequently targeted in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, particularly by the so-called Islamic State group, which is also active in Kabul but did not immediately issue any claim of responsibility.
Wedding guest Hameed Quresh told AFP the young couple were saying their vows when the bomb went off. "We fainted following the blast, and we don't know who brought us to the hospital," sobbed Quresh, who lost one brother and was himself wounded. Another guest told Tolo that some 1,200 people had been invited. With low security, weddings are seen as easy targets. The attack sent a wave of grief through a city grimly accustomed to atrocities. President Ashraf Ghani called it "barbaric", while Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a "crime against humanity".
- Withdrawal deal expected -
The attack underscores both the inadequacy of Afghanistan's security forces and the scale of the problem they face. While the police and army claim they prevent most bombings from ever happening, the fact remains that insurgents pull off horrific attacks with chilling regularity. On July 28, at least 20 people were killed when attackers targeted Ghani's running mate Amrullah Saleh as he campaigned in presidential elections. The incident showed how even amid tight security and known threats, insurgents can conduct brazen attacks. The issue also goes to the heart of a prospective deal between the US and the Taliban that would see Washington begin to withdraw its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan.
The deal relies on the Taliban providing guarantees they will stop jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and IS from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Saturday's attack suggests any such promise would be tough to keep. The "Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists," Ghani said. Few believe such a deal will bring quick peace.
Many Afghans fear the Taliban could return, eroding hard-won rights for women in particular and leading to a spiralling civil war. Meanwhile, in the northern province of Balkh, 11 members of the same family were killed when their car hit a roadside bomb, officials said. The provincial governor blamed the Taliban for planting the device.
By Amélie BOTTOLLIER-DEPOIS
Paris, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Seafood lovers who prize the mussel for its earthy taste and succulent flesh may be unaware of its growing potential in the fight against water pollution. The mussel is the hoover of the sea, taking in phytoplankton for nourishment along with microplastics, pesticides and other pollutants -- which makes it an excellent gauge.
One day, it may also be pressed into service to cleanse water. "It's a super-filter in the marine world, filtering up to 25 litres of water a day," says marine biologist Leila Meistertzheim. "It's a real model of bioaccumulation of pollutants generally speaking." As they pump and filter the water through their gills in order to feed and breathe, mussels store almost everything else that passes through -- which is why strict health rules apply for those destined for human consumption.
Like canaries in a coal mine, mussels have long been used as "bio-indicators" of the health of the seas, lakes and rivers they inhabit. Little-known pollutants can turn up to join the usual suspects, with increasing attention paid to microplastics containing bisphenol A and phthalates, both thought to be endocrine disruptors.
Meistertzheim heads a study for France's Tara Ocean Foundation using mussels to gauge the health of the estuaries of the Thames, Elba and Seine rivers. The mussels, placed in fish traps, are submerged in the waters for a month before researchers dissect them to determine what chemical substances lurk in their tissues. The idea of deploying mussels across the oceans to absorb ubiquitous microplastics is just a dream for now, but for other pollutants, the bivalves are already at work. "In some places, mussels are used, as well as oysters, to cleanse the sea of pesticides, for example," Meistertzheim notes.
- E. coli busters -
Richard Luthy, an environmental engineer from California's Stanford University, says that, in most cases, mussels harvested from contaminated waters should not be eaten. But if the contaminant is E. coli, mussels can be thanked for the "removal and inactivation" of the faecal material, he says, calling the service a "public health benefit". The mussels are edible because they "excrete the bacteria as faeces or mucus," he says. Mussels living in waterways affected by eutrophication -- often marked by abundant algae -- are also fit for human consumption, researchers say. The phenomenon is often the result of waste dumped into the waterway containing phosphates and nitrites, such as detergents, fertilisers and sewage. The nutrients in these substances encourage the proliferation of algae, which in turn starves the water of oxygen, upsetting the ecosystem.
Mussels "recycle" these nutrients by feeding on the algae, says Eve Galimany, a researcher of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Milford Laboratory who has experimented with mussels in the Bronx River in New York. The recycling principle is already at work in a pilot project titled Baltic Blue Growth in Sweden, Denmark and the Baltic countries which grows mussels to be fed to animals such as poultry, fish and pigs. "Eutrophication... is the biggest problem of the Baltic Sea, the most urgent one," says project head Lena Tasse. Mussels "could be part of a solution". Why feed them to animals if they are safe for humans? Because Baltic mussels are too small to be of interest to seafood lovers, says Tasse, adding: "Swedes like big mussels."
Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the effects of microplastics on human health. A recent report by WWF said that humans ingest an average of five grammes of microplastics a week -- about the weight of a credit card. A 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, based on samples from British coastlines and supermarkets, estimated that every 100 grammes (3.5 ounces) of mussels contained 70 tiny pieces of plastic. Should we be worried? Meistertzheim thinks not. "I eat them," she says. "A dish of mussels is not necessarily worse than organic hamburger meat wrapped in plastic."
By Ricky Ombeni and Marthe Bosuandole
Kinshasa, DR Congo, Aug 17, 2019 (AFP) - Measles has killed 2,758 people in the DR Congo since January, more than the Ebola epidemic in a year, medical NGO Doctors Without Borders said, and called Saturday for a "massive mobilisation of funds." The disease, preventable with a vaccine, has infected over 145,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo between January and early August, it said in a statement. "Since July, the epidemic has worsened, with a rise in new cases reported in several provinces," said the NGO that goes by its French acronym MSF. "Only $2.5 million has been raised out of the $8.9 million required for the Health Cluster response plan -- in stark contrast with the Ebola epidemic in the east of the country, which attracts multiple organisations and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding," it added.
MSF tweeted that without a "massive mobilisation of funds and response organisations, the current measles outbreak in #DRCongo could get even worse." The NGO said it has vaccinated 474,860 children between the ages of six months and five years since the beginning of the year, and provided care to more than 27,000 measles patients. In the country's east, Ebola has claimed more than 1,900 lives since erupting last August.
Measles is a highly-contagious diseased caused by a virus that attacks mainly children. The most serious complications include blindness, brain swelling, diarrhoea, and severe respiratory infections. Last year, cases more than doubled to almost 350,000 from 2017, according to the World Health Organization, amid a rise in "anti-vaxxer" sentiment in some countries that can afford the vaccine, and lagging resources for the preventative measure in poor nations. The DR Congo declared a measles epidemic in June.
Toulouse, France, Aug 17, 2019 (AFP) - Nine people were injured during a fireworks display in a popular resort in southern France when one rocket misfired close to onlookers on the beach, firefighters said Saturday. Three of those hurt in the incident in on Friday night in Collioure were taken to hospital after the device "exploded very low" and rained down sparks on some of the 80,000 crowd, firefighters and the local prefecture said.
One person remained in hospital after surgery for a shoulder fracture. The misfiring rocket was part of a show on a barge just off the port of Collioure, a small picturesque seaside town near the Spanish border whose 3,000 population mushrooms around 30-fold with summer tourists. Three doctors on site swiftly intervened to treat those injured, the local prefecture said, adding local police have opened an investigation into the incident.
By Ricky Ombeni and Marthe Bosuandole
Bukavu, DR Congo, Aug 16, 2019 (AFP) - A woman has died of Ebola and her infant son was diagnosed with the virus in the first confirmed cases in DR Congo's South Kivu province, reviving fears Friday the highly contagious disease could spread through the region.
The Democratic Republic of Congo's Ebola epidemic has claimed more than 1,900 lives since erupting last August. "Two cases which tested positive for Ebola were confirmed overnight in South Kivu, in Lwindi district in the Mwenga region," the provincial government said in a statement. A woman in her twenties died while her seven-month-old child tested positive for the virus and is receiving treatment, the vast central African nation's pointman on Ebola, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, said in a statement.
The woman had been staying with a family in the North Kivu town of Beni, the epicentre of the outbreak, and was identified as a "high-risk contact" of one of the family members infected with Ebola, the statement said. She then "escaped" movement controls in the area, changing identities four times and travelling from Beni through the North Kivu cities of Butembo and Goma to South Kivu's Bukavu and Mwenga, the statement added. She died on Wednesday. "We reassure neighbouring countries that all steps are being taken to strengthen surveillance at points of entry as well as sanitary control," the statement said. South Kivu shares borders with Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted that the outbreak in South Kivu "has sparked a rapid response... to provide treatment, identify all contacts, raise community awareness & begin vaccinating". The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it was "rapidly deploying an expert team" to the area. And South Kivu Governor Theo Ngwabidje told reporters: "Teams from the national anti-Ebola coordination campaign arrived yesterday to provide support."
- Risk of crossing border 'enormous' -
The outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus began in neighbouring North Kivu province on August 1, 2018 and spread to Ituri province. The WHO declared the epidemic a "public health emergency of international concern" last month after cases were confirmed in the densely-populated North Kivu capital Goma. The city's proximity to Rwanda and many transport links sparked fears of cross-border spread. "Beni, Butembo and Goma are still containable," a Congolese professor and epidemiologist said of the three North Kivu cities. "But with the disease in South Kivu, the risks of it spreading to (the eastern DR Congo town) of Kalemie, Tanzania and Burundi are enormous."
Residents in South Kivu's capital Bukavu said they were worried. "At this time of year, we rarely have running water -- how are we going to avoid this disease if we have to frequently wash our hands?" asked mother-of-five Martine Mushagalusa. Anselme Kangeta, 35, said: "Given the crowded way we live, movement is uncontrolled, people go from one place to another without taking precautions. The authorities must get involved otherwise we will all die." South Kivu experienced an Ebola scare on July 31 when doctors briefly quarantined 15 people in the town of Birava over fears they were infected, but tests came back negative.
- Drug breakthrough -
Ebola is named after a river in northern DR Congo, formerly named Zaire, where the virus was first identified in 1976. The latest outbreak is the second-deadliest on record after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014-2016. The pathogen causes fever, vomiting and severe diarrhoea, often followed by kidney and liver failure, and internal and external bleeding. The disease is spread by contact with infected bodily fluids and is fought with the time-honoured but laborious techniques of tracing contacts and quarantining them.
The cases in South Kivu come on the heels of researchers announcing a possible breakthrough in the quest for drug to treat Ebola. Two prototype drugs, REGN-EB3 and mA114, slashed mortality rates among Ebola patients in a
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