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: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:45:27 +0100 (MET)
By Ivelisse RIVERA, con Leila MACOR en Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An alert issued by the Tsunami Warning Center immediately following the earthquake was later cancelled.   Tuesday's quake was the strongest of a series of tremors that have shaken the island since December 28, topping Monday's 5.8 quake.   That earthquake toppled houses and caused power outages, but there were no reports of casualties.
Date: Mon, 6 Jan 2020 18:04:21 +0100 (MET)

Miami, Jan 6, 2020 (AFP) - A 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook Puerto Rico Monday, toppling houses and causing power outages and small landslides but there were no reports of casualties, the US Geological Survey said.   The quake, just off the US territory's southern Caribbean coastline, was felt throughout much of the island, including the capital San Juan.

Some 250,000 customers were hit by electric power outages after the quake, which struck at 6:32 am local time (1032GMT).   Images posted on social media showed houses tumbled from their supporting pillars, cracks in walls, cars crushed under collapsed houses and small scale landslides.   The quake was the strongest of a series that have rippled through the island since December 28, and it was followed by at least eight aftershocks, officials said.   No tsunami alerts were issued.
More ...

Western Sahara

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

Laos

Laos - US Consular Information Sheet
March 27, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) is a poor, developing country ruled by an authoritarian, Communist, one-party government. Political power is centralized in the
Lao People's Revolutionary Party. Services and facilities for tourists are adequate in the capital, Vientiane, and the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, but are extremely limited in other parts of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Laos for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required. The Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that visas can be issued upon arrival in Laos to U.S. citizen tourists with two passport-size photographs and $35 at the following ports of entry: Wattay Airport, Vientiane; Friendship Bridge, Vientiane, Pakse and Luang Prabang Airports; Boten-Bohan and Vangtao-Chong Mek. Persons who obtain entry visas prior to their arrival in Laos may also enter at the following international entry points: Huaixay, Khammouane-Nakhonphanom, Savannakhet-Mukdahan, Daensayanh-Laobao, Namphao-Kaopae, and Namkan. Foreign tourists are generally admitted to Laos for 30 days. The Department of Immigration in Vientiane will extend 30-day tourist visas up to an additional 60 days for a fee of $2 per day. Foreigners who overstay their visas in Laos risk arrest and upon departure will be fined $10 for each day of overstay.
The Lao government requires payment of visa fees and fines in U.S. dollars. Thai baht and Lao kip may sometimes be accepted for the fees, but at unfavorable exchange rates.

Foreign tourists who wish to obtain a visa in advance may contact a Lao embassy or consulate. In the United States, visas and further information about Lao entry requirements can be obtained directly from the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, 2222 S St. NW, Washington DC 20008, tel: 202-332-6416, fax: 202-332-4923.

Business visas can only be arranged in advance; a company or individual “sponsor” must contact the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Vientiane and request a visa for the traveler by offering a “guarantee.” Once this request is approved by the MFA, the approval will be communicated to the Lao Embassy in Washington, DC and the U.S. traveler may then apply for the business visa. This process normally takes 1-3 months. After the traveler’s arrival, these visas can usually be extended for one month.

U.S. citizens should not attempt to enter Laos without valid travel documents or outside of official ports of entry. Travelers should not cross the border between Laos and Thailand along the Mekong River except at official immigration check crossings. Unscrupulous travel agents have sold U.S.-citizen travelers false Lao visas, which have resulted in those travelers being denied entry into Laos. Persons attempting to enter Laos outside of official ports of entry risk arrest or other serious consequences.
Immigration offices at some of the less-used land border crossing points are not well marked. Travelers should make sure that they complete immigration and customs formalities when they enter Laos. Travelers who enter Laos without completing these formalities may be subject to fine, detention, imprisonment, and/or deportation.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship, such as the child’s birth certificate, and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

At Wattay Airport (Vientiane), Pakse Airport and the Luang Prabang Airport, there is an international airport departure tax of US$10. This tax may be included in the price of the airline ticket, depending on the carrier.
At the Friendship Bridge (Vientiane, Laos - Nong Khai, Thailand border crossing) there is an overtime fee after 4:00 pm weekdays and during weekends. Visit the web site of the Embassy of Laos in the Untied States at: http://www.laoembassy.com for the more visa information.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
In recent years (2003-2005), there were periodic incidents of attacks on buses and other vehicles that killed 22 people; small bombings in public places; and other incidents of violence by anti-government forces. In 2007, the Embassy received reports from multiple sources of sporadic fighting between Lao Government forces and unidentified opponents in the area of Vang Vieng in northern Vientiane Province and in Bokeo Province. The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Laos exercise caution in public places and be alert to their surroundings, since the locations of future violent incidents are unpredictable.
Travelers are advised to be cautious when traveling the roads of Laos and to check with local authorities, transport companies, other travelers, and/or the Embassy regarding any recent developments prior to travel. Road obstacles such as changes in surface conditions due to the weather occur frequently.

The Lao Government security forces often stop and check all transport on main roads. Travelers should comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks.
U.S. citizens, especially those considering travel outside urban centers, are advised to contact relevant Lao government offices, such as Lao Immigration Police Headquarters in Vientiane, the Lao Tourist Police, local police and customs offices, or contact the U.S. Embassy for the most current security information. To avoid trouble with the authorities, U.S. citizens traveling outside of normal tourist areas or contemplating any unusual activity (including, but not limited to, engaging in business, extensive photography, or scientific research of any kind) should consider seeking advance permission from the Village Chief, District Head, Provincial Governor, or National Tourism Authority, as appropriate.

More than 100 casualties per year are caused by the large amount of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos left over from the Indochina War. Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Saravane, Khammouane, Sekong, Champassak, Houaphan, Attapeu, and Luang Prabang Provinces and parts of Vientiane Province are severely contaminated by UXO. In addition, numerous mine fields are left over from the war, including mine fields along Route 7 (from Route 13 to the Vietnam border), Route 9 (Savannakhet to the Vietnam border), and Route 20 (Pakse to Saravane). While traveling in Laos, U.S. citizens should never pick up unknown metal objects and should avoid traveling off of well-used roads, tracks and paths.

U.S. citizens considering travel by air, road or river within Laos are advised to carefully evaluate the relative risks of the three modes of transport (see sections on Aviation Safety Oversight, Traffic Safety, and River Travel below). Travelers should also exercise caution if contemplating swimming in rivers in Laos. Currents can be deceptive and strong.

The whereabouts of three Hmong-American men who went missing in August 2007 after reportedly going on a business trip to Xieng Khouang Province remains unknown. The Government of Laos stated that the three departed Laos, but none of the three has contacted family members in the U.S. since they were last seen in 2007.

U.S. citizens are also advised to exercise caution in remote areas along the Lao border with Burma. Bandits, drug traffickers, and other people pursuing illegal activities operate in these border areas, as do armed insurgent groups opposed to the government of Burma.
Travelers should be aware that from 2004 to 2006, seven Lao- and Hmong-American citizens have been murdered in northern and northeastern Thailand near the border with Laos.
During the same period, a number of non-Americans with ties to Laos have also been murdered in this region of Thailand. In addition, in March 2006 a Hmong-American disappeared from his residence in Chiang Mai along with seven other individuals. In most of these cases, no arrests have been made.
If U.S. citizens, particularly Lao-Americans or Hmong-Americans, must travel to these areas, they should exercise caution and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security. It is also recommended that persons wishing to travel to border areas check first with the Thai Police and the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai or the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok or the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
While Laos generally has a low rate of violent crime, it is not immune from crime. While in Laos, Americans should remain aware of their surroundings and exercise appropriate security precautions. With the introduction of methamphetamines and other illicit drugs, thefts and assaults in Vientiane have increased and some have turned violent.
Bag-snatching is increasingly frequent and sexual assaults have also occurred. Residential burglary is commonplace. Expatriates attempting to report burglaries in progress to the police often find that police telephones are not answered or they are informed that the police are not authorized to respond to criminal activity at night or that they have no transportation. U.S. citizens who move to Vientiane are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy for security advice.

Travelers in Vientiane should exercise caution, particularly after dark, at roadside restaurants and stalls near the banks of the Mekong River. Foreigners are often the victims of purse snatchings while sitting down to eat or while riding bicycles or motorcycles in this area. To help ensure the security of valuables and documents carried on their person, travelers may wish to carry them in bags that cannot be easily stolen. U.S. citizens traveling to Vang Vieng should be aware that some tourists have been robbed and assaulted while walking alone to the caves on the far side of the Nam Song River.
Camping at night anywhere except in authorized campgrounds in national parks is dangerous.
Many restaurants in popular tourist locations in the Vang Vieng area offer menu items, particularly “pizzas,” “shakes” or “teas” which may contain unknown substances or opiates. These products are often advertised as “happy” or “special” items. These unknown foods and drinks can be dangerous, causing illness and death.

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

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities and services in Laos are limited and do not meet Western standards. In Vientiane, U.S. citizens may wish to contact the Primary Care Center also known as the Centre medical de L’Ambassade de France (CMAF), which is supported by the French Embassy.
The CMAF is located on Khou Vieng Road across the street from the Green Park Hotel, Tel. +856-21-214-150, or +856-20-558-4617, email: cmafloa@gmail.com.
U.S. citizens in Laos often seek medical care in Thailand. The Friendship Bridge linking Vientiane, Laos, to Nong Khai, Thailand, is open daily 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Officials generally will allow travelers to cross after hours in cases of medical emergency. AEK International Hospital (tel: 66-42-342-555) and North Eastern Wattana General Hospital, both in Udorn, Thailand (tel: 66-1-833-4262) have English-speaking staff accustomed to dealing with foreign patients. Nong Khai Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai, Thailand (tel: 66-1-833-4262) can handle most simple medical procedures. Ambulances for both AEK International Hospital and Nong Khai Wattana Hospital have permission to cross the Friendship Bridge to collect patients from Vientiane. In Vientiane, the Setthatirat Hospital ambulance (tel: 021-413-720) can take patients to Thailand. The Department of State assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or reputation of these hospitals.

Avian Influenza:
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Lao authorities have confirmed the presence in Laos of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, commonly known as “bird flu.” In 2007, two Lao nationals died after contracting the H4N1 virus. Travelers to Laos and other countries affected by the virus are cautioned to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. In addition, the CDC and WHO recommend eating only fully cooked poultry and eggs. The Lao government’s avian influenza hotline may be reached by calling 166 from anywhere in Laos.
This hotline may be used to report suspected cases of avian influenza in animals or humans, or to obtain information on areas in Laos where avian influenza may have been recently detected.
Operators speak Lao and English.
For the most current information and links on avian influenza in Laos, see the State Department’s Avian Influenza Fact Sheet or visit the website of the U.S. Embassy in Laos.

There is a problem with counterfeit pharmaceuticals throughout Southeast Asia. American citizens should be aware of this problem and purchase pharmaceuticals only through the most reputable pharmacies with a physician’s prescription.

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

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

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

The number of road accidents and fatalities in Laos has risen sharply in the last decade as the number of motor vehicles has increased. U.S. citizens involved in traffic accidents have been barred from leaving Laos before paying compensation for property damage or injuries, regardless of who was at fault.
A driver involved in a traffic accident should remain at the scene and attempt to contact the police or wait for them to arrive to prepare an accident report.
If renting a car or motorcycle, contact the rental company and its insurance agent.
If there is major damage, injury or death, contact the Consular Section or Embassy Duty Officer.

Traffic in Laos is chaotic and road conditions are very rough. Few roads have lane markings. Where lane markings, road signs, and stoplights do exist, they are widely ignored. Many drivers are unlicensed, inexperienced and uninsured. Driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs is not uncommon, and penalties for such offenses may not be enforced. Theoretically, traffic moves on the right, but vehicles use all parts of the road. Motorcyclists pay little or no heed to cars. Motorcycles carry as many as five people, greatly impeding the drivers' ability to react to traffic. The evening hours are particularly dangerous. Road construction sites are poorly marked, appear with no advance warning, and can be difficult to see at night. Roads are poorly lit, many vehicles have no operating lights, few bicycles have reflectors, and trucks without reflectors commonly park on unlit roads.

Public transportation is unreliable and is limited after sunset. The most common form of public transport is three-wheeled, open-sided taxis called "tuk-tuks.” Automobile taxis or cars for hire are available at the airport, the Friendship Bridge, and most major hotels, and near the Morning Market in Vientiane. Tuk-tuks and taxis are frequently in poor repair, and drivers generally speak little or no English. Inter-city transport is provided by buses, pickups, and trucks, which are also often in poor repair.

Emergency services in Laos are either unreliable or non-existent. Lao road traffic regulations require any driver coming upon a road accident to assist in transporting injured persons to a hospital. Emergency telephone numbers in Vientiane are Fire: 190, Ambulance: 195 or 021-413-720, Traffic Police: 191, Tourist Police: 021-251-128 (only for incidents involving tourists). Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
TRAVEL OF FOREIGNERS WITHIN LAOS:
The Lao tourist police have informed foreign tourists that a licensed Lao tour guide must accompany any group of more than 5 foreign tourists; however, this regulation does not appear to be strictly enforced.
The authorities may restrict travel in rural areas outside of popular tourist destinations. Restricted areas may not be marked or even widely known by local citizens. If traveling without a reputable tour guide who is aware of local conditions, travelers should consult with local authorities before entering remote areas away from obvious tourist destinations.
Lao citizens who wish to have a foreign citizen -- including a family member -- stay in their home must obtain prior approval from the village chief. The foreigner may be held responsible if the Lao host has not secured prior permission for the visit. American citizens are strongly advised to ensure that such permission has been sought and granted before accepting offers to stay in Lao homes.
Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with the local authorities. See Section below on Photography and Other Restrictions.

RELATIONSHIPS WITH LAO CITIZENS:
Lao law prohibits sexual contact between foreign citizens and Lao nationals except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law. Any foreigner who enters into a sexual relationship with a Lao national risks being interrogated, detained, arrested, or fined. Lao police have confiscated passports and imposed fines of up to $5000 on foreigners who enter into disapproved sexual relationships. The Lao party to the relationship may also be jailed without trial. Foreigners are not permitted to invite Lao nationals of the opposite sex to their hotel rooms; police may raid hotel rooms without notice or consent.

Foreign citizens intending to marry Lao nationals are required by Lao law to obtain prior permission from the Lao Government. The formal application process can take as long as a year. American citizens may obtain information about these requirements from the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. The Lao Government will not issue a marriage certificate unless the correct procedures are followed. Any attempt to circumvent Lao regulations may result in arrest, imprisonment, a fine of $500-$5000, and deportation. A foreigner who cohabits with or enters into a close relationship with a Lao national may be accused by Lao authorities of entering into an illegal marriage and be subject to these same penalties.
A foreign citizen who wishes to become engaged to a Lao national is required to obtain prior permission from the chief of the village where the Lao national resides. Failure to obtain prior permission can result in a fine of $500-$5000. Lao police may impose a large fine on a foreign citizen a few days after he or she holds an engagement ceremony with a Lao citizen based on the suspicion that the couple subsequently had sexual relations out of wedlock.

MARRIAGE:
A Lao Prime Ministerial decree requires that marriages of Lao citizens abroad be registered with Lao embassies in order to be legal in Laos. If an American citizen marries a Lao citizen in the U.S. and then the couple comes to Laos, the American could be subject to penalties under the Lao law governing sexual relationships (above) if the marriage has not been registered beforehand with a Lao Embassy.

RELIGIOUS WORKERS:
Religious proselytizing or distributing religious material is strictly prohibited. Foreigners caught distributing religious material may be arrested or deported. The Government of Laos restricts the importation of religious texts and artifacts. While Lao law allows freedom of religion, the Government registers and controls all associations, including religious groups. Meetings, even in private homes, must be registered and those held outside of established locations may be broken up and the participants arrested.

RIVER TRAVEL:
River travel is common in Laos, but safety conditions do not conform to U.S. standards. In particular, travel by speedboat (local term “fast boat”) is dangerous and should be avoided, particularly during the dry season, which generally occurs from December through April. Travel on or across the Mekong River along the Thai border should be avoided at night. Lao militia forces have shot at boats on the Mekong after dark. Several people have drowned during the rainy season while inner-tubing or swimming in the Nam Song River near Vang Vieng.

PHOTOGRAPHY AND OTHER RESTRICTIONS:
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest — including bridges, airfields, military installations, government buildings, or government vehicles — may result in problems with authorities, including detention or arrest and confiscation of the camera. Tourists should be cautious when traveling near military bases and strictly observe signs delineating the military base areas. Military personnel have detained and questioned foreigners who have unknowingly passed by unmarked military facilities.
Because of the prohibition on religious proselytizing, travelers should use caution when taking photographs or videotaping non-Buddhist religious services. If attending public services or religious gatherings, foreigners should ask permission from the local police and civil authorities to photograph or videotape. See section above on Religious Workers. Local police may suspect persons using any kind of very sophisticated still or video camera equipment of being professional photographers or possibly photojournalists which may lead to questioning, detention, arrest or deportation by the police.

FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS:
There are network-connected ATMs in Vientiane, including those operated by the Foreign Commercial Bank of Laos, also know as the Banque Pour le Commerce Exterieur de Laos (BCEL). BCEL also has network-connected ATMS in Vang Vieng, and the Provincial capital cities, or “Muang”, of Luangnamtha, Oudomxay, Luangprabang, Khammouan, Savannakhet, and Champasak Provinces.
These machines are generally limited to withdrawals of the equivalent of about $100.00 in Lao kip only. Credit cards are accepted at major hotels and tourist-oriented businesses. Credit card cash advances and/or Western Union money transfers are available at banks in most provincial capitals and other tourist centers. While the government requires that prices be quoted in Lao kip, prices are often given in U.S. dollars or Thai baht, especially in tourist areas or at markets. The Lao Government requires payment in U.S. dollars for some taxes and fees, including visa fees and the airport departure tax.

CUSTOMS/CURRENCY REGULATIONS:
Lao customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Laos of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, foreign currency, cameras and other items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. (Please also see section on “Religious Workers” above). There are prohibitions against importing or exporting more than $2500 (U.S. dollar equivalent) of currency without authorization. Contact the Lao Embassy or Lao customs authorities for more details. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Please see our Customs Information.

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

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

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Laos are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Laos. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located on Rue Bartholonie (near Tat Dam), in Vientiane; from the U.S., mail may be addressed to U.S. Embassy Vientiane, Unit 8165, Box V, APO AP 96546; Telephone (856-21) 267-000, recorded emergency information for American citizens (856-21) 267-111; duty officer emergency cellular telephone (856-20) 550-2016; Embassy-wide fax number (856-21) 267-190; Consular Section e-mail: CONSLAO@state.gov, Embassy web site: http://laos.usembassy.gov/.
*
*
*
*
*
*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Laos dated September 5, 2007, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Financial Transactions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2019 01:34:32 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, Nov 21, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit north-western Laos near the Thai border early Thursday, the United States Geological Survey reported.    The shallow quake hit at 6:50 am local time (2350 Wednesday GMT), USGS said. 
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2019 09:40:50 +0100 (MET)

Loei, Thailand, Oct 31, 2019 (AFP) - The once-mighty Mekong river has been reduced to a thin, grubby neck of water in stretches of northern Thailand -- record lows blamed on drought and a recently completed dam far upstream.   The $4.47 billion Thai-owned Xayaburi hydro-electric power plant went into operation this week in Laos after years of warnings over the potential impact on fish flow, sediment and water levels on a river which feeds tens of millions.

Along parts of Thailand's northeastern border at Loei, the kilometre-wide (3,300-foot) river has shrivelled to a few dozen metres, with boulders and bedrock encasing muddy pools of water.   From above, the encroaching banks of Laos and Thailand are now a thread of water apart, restricting fishing grounds to a slim channel.   Fishermen blame a combination of this year's weak monsoon and the Xayaburi dam, around 300 kilometres (185 miles) to the north.   "I don't want any more dam construction," said fisherman Sup Aunkaew, who tossed a meagre catch into his boat, adding that the fish spawning habits have been "confused" by the unseasonally low water levels.   "But we can't really oppose their plans if they want to do it."

Landlocked and impoverished Laos has set its sights on becoming "the battery of Asia", with 44 operating hydro plants and 46 more under construction many on key tributaries of the Mekong, according to monitor International Rivers.  The Mekong River Commission (MRC), a body governing regional water diplomacy, said the water levels from June to October are the lowest in nearly 30 years.   In Nong Khai, which faces the Laos' capital Vientiane, the water dropped to around one metre (3.2 feet) on Tuesday, several times shallower than average, the MCR said.   Measurements across the river "are significantly below the minimum levels for this time of year and are expected to decreases further", it said in a statement to AFP.   "The concern is for the upcoming dry season."

- 'Death of a thousand cuts' -
Experts say the dam-building frenzy in China and Laos has compounded the drought.   "These are causing the Mekong to die a death of a thousand cuts," said Brian Eyler, author of "The Last Days of the Mighty Mekong".   He said the lower part of the river is at a "crisis point" until rains come again next year.   The Mekong, which rises on the Tibetan plateau and courses through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam -- sustains tens of millions of people along its banks through fishing and agriculture. 

The 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi dam was built by CKPower -- a subsidiary of the Thai builder and majority shareholder CH Karnchang -- which went ahead with construction despite protests in Thailand, which is buying most of the electricity.   As it began operations the company plastered Thai newspapers with advertising this week referring to the "greatness of the Mekong" and calling the dam "fish riendly".   It did not respond to several requests for comment but the company has trumpeted its commitment to clean, sustainable energy.   In July the dam operator denied tests on the mega-structure were responsible for the river drying up downstream in northeastern Thailand.
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2019 05:21:07 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, Aug 20, 2019 (AFP) - At least 13 Chinese tourists were killed and dozens injured when their bus skidded off the road and plunged 30 metres into a ravine in Laos, a police officer said Tuesday.   The bus was carrying more than 40 Chinese nationals heading towards the tourist town of Luang Prabang when the accident occurred late on Monday.   "At this moment, 13 bodies have been recovered... while two are still missing," police officer Xaiyaphon Chitavong told AFP, blaming brake failure for the accident.   He added that 31 people were receiving medical treatment.    Chinese state media showed photos of rescuers wading through ankle-deep floodwaters.

Traffic accidents in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar are common, with safety regulations often flouted and law enforcement low.    The monsoon season from June to October also drenches rural roads with heavy rains creating slippery conditions.   Tourism to communist-run Laos has grown in recent years, and visitors from China increased by 13 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the year before, according to the state-backed Vientiane Times.
Date: Sat, 28 Jul 2018 13:48:53 +0200

Attapeu , Laos, July 28, 2018 (AFP) - Rescuers battled thick mud and flood waters across a swathe of remote southern Laos to find survivors of a deadly dam burst that submerged entire villages, as an official suggested faulty construction may have led to the disaster.   The exact number of dead and missing from Monday's dam collapse remains a mystery because of the complexity of the rescue operation in an inaccessible area and the secretive reflexes of Laos's Communist authorities in the face of an unprecedented crisis.

"The search is very complicated, many areas cannot be accessed by cars or boats. Also we have limited modern equipment to bring to the field," deputy secretary of Attapeu province committee Meenaporn Chaichompoo told reporters Friday.   The head of the rescue mission Kumriang Authakaison said Saturday that eight people are confirmed dead, down from 27 reported by officials earlier this week. He added that 123 were confirmed missing.    But conflicting information swirled about how many remain unaccounted for after Chaichompoo said Friday "we can't find 1,126 people", without elaborating. 

Makeshift shelters are packed with thousands of people who fled their homes in panic with just a few hours' notice of the impending disaster, now spending their days on plastic mats waiting for news of missing neighbours.    All karaoke bars and entertainment venues were ordered tone down loud music and celebrations in the province as the nation mourned the calamity, the most devastating to hit Laos's contentious hydropower sector.

A stretch of land dozens of kilometres long and wide was submerged when the Xe-Namnoy dam collapsed after heavy rains.    Slowly retreating floodwaters have cut off access to villages and covered much of the area with thick, sticky mud.      "This is one of the worst (disasters) I've ever seen. Especially because we're not a very strong country in terms of rescue operations," a volunteer rescue worker told AFP, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media.

- Poor construction? -
Days into the treacherous search for survivors, questions are being raised about the quality of the construction of the $1.2 billion dam, a joint venture between South Korean, Laotian and Thai firms.    Operators said it burst after heavy rains in a country regularly battered by monsoons.

But Laos Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath said poor design may have contributed to the accident, according to state media and Radio Free Asia.   "It might be construction technique that led to the collapse after it was affected by the rain," he told RFA in an interview broadcast Friday.    One of the Korean firms involved in the project, SK Engineering & Construction, said it was investigating the cause of the dam break and would donate $10 million in relief aid.   The accident has kicked up criticism of Laos' ambitious dam-building scheme as it bids to become a major power exporter, billing itself the "battery of Asia" with more than 50 projects set to o online by 2020.     The majority of energy generated in the tiny, landlocked country is sold to its neighbours, mostly to Thailand where much of it is sucked up in the sweaty, energy-hungry capital Bangkok.

Villagers have complained of being relocated -- sometimes repeatedly -- while river waters crucial for fishing and farming have been diverted, destroying livelihoods in one of Asia's poorest countries.    Downstream countries like Cambodia and Vietnam also fret that their waterways and fishing stocks could be damaged by the hydopower boom in Laos.    The accident has prompted fears over the safety of other dams in the country.   "Most of the dams are built by foreign companies and Laos authorities don't have expert knowledge and management to check for weaknesses or problems, that's our worry," villager Si Wonghajak told AFP.
Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2018 13:09:09 +0200

Attapeu , Laos, July 26, 2018 (AFP) - The torrent of water unleashed in a deadly Laos dam collapse has drained into Cambodia, forcing thousands to evacuate, as rescuers on Thursday battled monsoon rains to find scores of Laotians still missing after entire villages were washed away.   Twenty-seven people have been confirmed dead, with 131 still missing, after the Xe-Namnoy dam collapsed on Monday in a remote southern corner of Laos, leaving villagers with little time to escape.   It is an unprecedented accident to strike the hydropower industry in Laos, where the Communist government has dammed large sections of its myriad waterways to generate electricity that is mostly sold to its neighbours.

The search and rescue effort entered a third day Thursday, with China, Vietnam and Thailand sending in specialists, while villagers picked through their wrecked, mud-caked homes for possessions as the flood waters receded.   Carcasses of livestock floated in the knee-deep waters in a devastated village visited by AFP, as heavy rain pounded the area.   Thousands of villagers downstream in Cambodia have also been forced to flee as the water once held back by the dam flowed south.   "Water is still rising, so more people will be evacuated," Men Kong, a government spokesman in Cambodia's Stung Streng province, told AFP.   Cambodian soldiers ferried villagers and motorbikes from flooded zones on wooden boats, while supplies were handed out to some who found refuge on dry land.

In Laos, Chinese rescuers in life jackets and helmets joined local soldiers searching for the missing Thursday, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, while community volunteers pitched in with private boats to return to villages still submerged.   Residents recalled their terror as water rushed through their homes.   Tran Van Bien, 47, from Ban Mai village close to the ruined dam said he was told to evacuate just two hours before the dam burst on Monday evening, running to a neighbour's house with his family as his home quickly filled with water.   "We were on the roof of that house the whole night, cold and scared. At 4:00 am a wooden boat passed and we decided to send my wife and my kid out," he told AFP from a nearby town where he eventually found dry land.   "My wife tied our child to her body, saying if they died, they would die together rather than being alone."

- 'Insufficient warning' -
The $1.2 billion Xe-Namnoy dam, a joint venture between Laos, Thai and Korean companies, was still under construction in southern Attapeu province when it collapsed after heavy rains pounded the area earlier this week.   Two South Korean companies involved in the project's construction and operation said damage was reported a day before the auxiliary "Saddle D" dam collapsed.   However a timeline from operator Korea Western Power Co. obtained by AFP said 11 centimetres (four inches) of subsidence was spotted at the dam's centre as early as Friday.   The company told AFP it could not yet determine the cause of the collapse.   "It is too early to define whether it was a natural disaster or a manmade disaster," a spokesman told AFP Thursday.

Thailand issued new regulations for its hydro plant operators in Laos this week, ordering companies to report on dam conditions every week and communicate closely with residents.    "If a dam plans to release water they must coordinate with local officials to warn people and to prevent people from panic at least seven days (in advance)," Thailand's Energy and Mining Minister Khammany Inthirath announced Wednesday.   Southeastern Laos is frequently lashed by monsoon rains, and dam operators regularly release water from reservoirs in order to avoid overflow -- or collapse.   The 410 MW Xe-Namnoy project is one of more than 50 hydropower plans underway in Laos, which has billed itself as the "battery of Asia" in its ambitious bid to become a major power exporter in the region.

Laos has said it wants to double its power generation capacity to 28,000 MW by 2020 and has opened its doors to foreign investors -- mainly from China, Thailand and Vietnam -- to build dams across the country.   But the projects have come under fire from rights groups who say local communities are forcibly moved and lose key access to river waters for farming and fishing.   "This tragedy has compounded their suffering," International Rivers said in a statement Thursday.   "Communities were not given sufficient advanced warning to ensure their safety and that of their families. This event raises major questions about dam standards and dam safety in Laos."
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:59:31 +0100 (MET)
By Nicolas DELAUNAY

Cousin Island, Seychelles, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Giant tortoises amble across Cousin Island as rare birds flit above.   The scene attests to a stunning success for BirdLife International, a conservation group that bought the tiny Seychelles isle in 1968 to save a songbird from extinction.   Thick vegetation smothers ruins that are the only reminder of the coconut and cinnamon plantations that covered the island when the group stepped in to protect the Seychelles Warbler.

Now teeming with flora and fauna and boasting white beaches, Cousin Island is firmly on the tourist map, with managers scrambling to contain visitor numbers and soften their negative environmental impact.    More than 16,000 people visited the island in 2018, compared with 12,000 a decade earlier.   "Tourism is important for Cousin. That's what allows us to finance the conservation projects we run here.    "But 16,000 tourists... that was too much," said Nirmal Shah, director of Nature Seychelles, which is charged with running the special reserve.

Before the island was in private hands, the population of Seychelles Warblers was thought to have shrunk to just 26, barely hanging on in a mangrove swamp after much of their native habitat had been destroyed.    Now, they number more than 3,000 and the greenish-brown bird has been reintroduced to four other islands in the archipelago.   The former plantations have transformed into native forests, teeming with lizards, hermit crabs and seabirds, and the island is the most important nesting site for hawksbill turtles in the western Indian Ocean.   The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) waxes lyrical about the "unique biodiversity and conservation achievements" of Cousin, "the first island purchased for species conservation", a model since replicated around the world.

- Nature first -
Tourists have been allowed onto the island since 1972, but the message is clear: nature comes first.   In a well-oiled routine, every morning a handful of luxury sailboats and small motorboats anchor off the island, where their occupants wait for Nature Seychelles to skipper them ashore on their boats.   "Tourist boats cannot land directly on the island, the biohazard risk is too big," Shah said.   "Non-indigenous animals who may accidently be on board could come to the island and threaten its (ecological) balance."   Too many tourists can also upset this balance.

Nature Seychelles in July increased the price of visits from 33 to 40 euros ($36 to $44) and removed a free pass for children under 15, resulting in a welcome 10-percent reduction in visitor numbers.   "Something had to be done, there was too much pressure on the environment," said Dailus Laurence, the chief warden of the island.   "When there are too many tourists it can bother nesting birds and turtles who want to come and lay their eggs on the island."

One guide said that some tourists, bothered by the island's ubiquitous mosquitos, would "leave the paths, move away from the group and walk where they are not supposed to", putting fragile habitats at risk.   Shah said that if they wanted to increase the number of tourists, it would require hiring more wardens and guides who live on the island, which would also have a negative impact on nature.   "Our absolute priority is nature, and it comes before tourists. If we have to take more steps to protect it and reduce the number of tourists, we will," he said.
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:45:27 +0100 (MET)
By Ivelisse RIVERA, con Leila MACOR en Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the past few days there have been growing calls among Democratic lawmakers for Trump to declare the situation in Puerto Rico a disaster.   It is a delicate subject, as Trump has accused the government of Puerto Rico of incompetence and of siphoning off hurricane relief money, triggering a public spat between the president and the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, as well as the former governor Ricardo Rossello, who was forced to step down last summer amid massive protests.   The Puerto Rican leaders accused Trump of treating the population of the island like second class citizens.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 23:16:11 +0100 (MET)

Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Firefighters battled to bring a blaze at Malabo's cathedral under control on Wednesday, as flames engulfed parts of the historic building, considered the most important Christian church in Equatorial Guinea.     Dozens of people gathered in silence near the cathedral in the early evening as the fire service sprayed water jets onto the century-old structure.

It was not immediately known whether anyone was hurt in the fire, in which huge flames consumed part of the facade of the building.       "We have just extinguished the fire, it's finished. The roof is gone, it is a catastrophe," firefighter Alfredo Abeso told AFP.   Another firefighter at the scene said: "The whole roof is gone, the interior is burned."   The cause of the fire is not known but the cathedral has been closed to the public since January 7 for restoration work.    Built in a neo-gothic style between 1897 and 1916, the cathedral is one of the central African country's main tourist attractions.

The blaze brought comparisons to the devastating fire that ravaged the 13th century Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris in April 2019.     The French Embassy in Malabo said the fire was a "cruel reminder" of the fire at Notre Dame.    "We share the emotion of our friends in Malabo and Equatorial Guinea and hope that the fire can be brought under control quickly," it said on Twitter.      Paris engineers are still working to stabilise the 13th century cathedral in the French capital after fire tore through its roof and dramatically toppled its spire last year.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 21:55:41 +0100 (MET)

Rio de Janeiro, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Widespread complaints over foul-smelling drinking water in Rio de Janeiro have triggered a run on supermarket bottled water, though the public utility denied any health risk Wednesday.   Rio governor Wilson Witzel set alarm bells ringing in a Twitter post on Tuesday, saying the situation -- fuelled by social media rumours -- was "unacceptable" and calling for a "rigorous investigation."

Moving to calm growing fears, public water utility Cedae attributed the problems to the presence of geosmin, a harmless organic compound, insisting the resulting earthy-tasting tap water was safe to drink.   "The results of the analyses show the presence of geosmin, at a rate sufficient to change the taste. But there is no risk to health," Sergio Marques, the official in charge of water quality, told a press conference.   Cedae later said it had fired the head of the Guandu treatment plant, which supplies nearly 80 percent of Rio's drinking water.   It said the supply from Guandu would be treated with carbon in the coming days to get rid of the geosmin.

According to O Globo newspaper, nearly 70 districts of the capital have been affected.   It reported that more than 1,300 cases of gastroenteritis were recorded over the last 15 days in Santa Cruz in the west of Rio, where water quality complaints were rife.   Cedae's president Helio Cabral apologized "to the whole population for the problems in the water supply," which began earlier this month.

The problem has been exacerbated by false rumours circulating on social media that the water was toxic.   Despite assurances, many Rio citizens were taking no chances. In supermarkets, mineral water stocks have been selling out and long queues are formed as soon as they are replenished.   Geosmin is also responsible for the earthy taste in some vegetables.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 21:25:04 +0100 (MET)

Lima, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Five tourists arrested for damaging Peru's iconic Machu Picchu site will be deported to Bolivia later on Wednesday, police said.   A sixth was released from custody and ordered to remain in Machu Picchu pending trial after paying bail of $910.   The six tourists -- four men and two women -- were arrested for damaging Peru's "cultural heritage" after being found in a restricted area of the Temple of the Sun on Sunday.   They were also suspected of defecating inside the 600-year-old temple, an important edifice in the Inca sanctuary.   "We've got the order. Today the five foreign tourists will be expelled," Cusco police official Edward Delgado told AFP.   "We're going to take them by road to the city of Desaguadero, on the border with Bolivia."   The border town, a nine-hour drive away, is the nearest frontier point to the southern Cusco region where Machu Picchu is located.

The sixth tourist, 28-year-old Nahuel Gomez, must sign at a local court every 10 days while awaiting trial.   He admitted to removing a stone slab from a temple wall that was chipped when it fell to the ground, causing a crack in the floor.   He could face four years in prison if found guilty of damaging Peru's cultural heritage.   Several parts of the semicircular Temple of the Sun are off limits to tourists for preservation reasons.   Worshipers at the temple would make offerings to the sun, which was considered the most important deity in the Inca empire as well as other pre-Inca civilizations in the Andean region.   The group -- made up of a Chilean, two Argentines, two Brazilians, including one of the women, and a French woman -- allegedly entered the Inca sanctuary on Saturday and hid on site so they could spend the night there -- which is prohibited.

A source with the public prosecutor's office told AFP that Nahuel admitted to the damage but said "it wasn't intentional, he only leant against the wall."   The Machu Picchu complex -- which includes three distinct areas for agriculture, housing and religious ceremonies -- is the most iconic site from the Inca empire, which ruled over a large swath of western South America for 100 years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.   Machu Picchu, which means "old mountain" in the Quechua language indigenous to the area, is at the top of a lush mountain and was built during the reign of the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438-1471).
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 20:53:05 +0100 (MET)

Alicante, Spain, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - A fire broke out Wednesday on the roof of the airport in Alicante, a city on the eastern Mediterranean coast which is a tourism hotspot, forcing its closure to air traffic.   "The fire is under control but it has not been extinguished. Firefighters are continuing to work," a spokesman for Spanish airport operator Aena told AFP, adding the airport will remain closed to air traffic until noon on Thursday.

Ten flights which were due to land at Alicante were cancelled, as were 12 which were supposed to depart from the airport, he said.    Another four flights which were due to land at Alicante were diverted to other Spanish airports.   The flames were visible from inside the terminal, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.   Passengers and workers stood outside as dense smoke rose from the terminal building.   No one was injured and the authorities are still not sure what caused the fire.

The airport serves the eastern region of Valencia, which is home to several popular resorts such as Benidorm. It handled just under 14 million passengers last year, making it Spain's fifth busiest airport.   Aena recommended in a tweet that passengers contact their airline before heading to Alicante airport to see what the status of their flight was.   "We are coordinating with airlines. Consult your company to know if your flight is cancelled or will operate from an alternative airport," it said.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 11:12:40 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - A new virus from the same family as the deadly SARS pathogen could have been spread between family members in the Chinese city of Wuhan, local authorities said Wednesday.   The outbreak, which has killed one person, has caused alarm because of the link with SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   One of the 41 patients reported in the city could have been infected by her husband, Wuhan's health commission said in a statement on Wednesday.   The announcement follows news that a Chinese woman had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in Thailand after travelling there from Wuhan.

No human-to-human transmission of the virus behind the Wuhan outbreak has been confirmed so far, but the health commission said the possibility "cannot be excluded".   The commission said that one man who had been diagnosed worked at Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which has been identified as the centre of the outbreak, but his wife had been diagnosed with the illness despite reporting "no history of exposure" at the market.   At a press conference on Wednesday following a fact-finding trip to Wuhan, Hong Kong health officials also said that the possibility of human-to-human transmission could not be ruled out despite no "definitive evidence".

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, from Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection, said there were two family group cases among the recorded cases in Wuhan, including the husband and wife and a separate case of a father, son and nephew living together.   However, he said mainland doctors believed the three men were most likely to have been exposed to the same virus in the market.   The market has been closed since January 1.   The woman diagnosed in Thailand, who is currently in a stable condition, had not reported visiting the seafood market, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

WHO doctor Maria Van Kerkhove said Tuesday that they "wouldn't be surprised if there was some limited human-to-human transmission, especially among families who have close contact with one another".   The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Level 1 "Watch" alert for travellers to Wuhan after the patient was diagnosed in Thailand, saying they should practice normal precautions and avoid contact with animals and sick people.

Wuhan's health commission said on Wednesday that most of the patients diagnosed with the virus were male, and many were middle-aged or elderly.   In Hong Kong, hospitals have raised their alert level to "serious" and stepped up detection measures including temperature checkpoints for inbound travellers.   Hong Kong authorities said on Tuesday that the number of people hospitalised with fever or respiratory symptoms in recent days after travelling to Wuhan had grown to 71, including seven new cases since Friday.   Sixty of that total, however, have already been discharged. None have yet been diagnosed with the new coronavirus.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 03:48:17 +0100 (MET)
By Emile Kouton with Celia Lebur in Lagos

Lome, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - After he was struck down by malaria and typhoid, Togolese tailor Ayawo Hievi thought he was set to recover when he started taking drugs prescribed by his doctor.   But far from curing him, the medication he was given at the neighbourhood clinic made him far worse -- eventually costing him one of his kidneys.    The drugs were fake.   "After four days of care, there was no improvement, but I started to feel pain in my belly," Hievi, 52, told AFP.

After two weeks of suffering he became unable to walk and was rushed into the university hospital in the West African nation's capital Lome.    "The doctors told me that my kidneys had been damaged... the quinine and the antibiotics used to treat me in the medical office were fake drugs."   Now, over four years later, he remains crippled by chronic kidney failure and has to go to hospital for dialysis regularly.    Hievi's horror story is far from unique in a continent awash with counterfeit medicines.    The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year some 100,000 people across Africa die from taking "falsified or substandard" medication.

The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated in 2015 that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor quality anti-malaria drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   Weak legislation, poor healthcare systems and widespread poverty have encouraged the growth of this parallel -- and deadly -- market. Since 2013, Africa has made up 42 percent of the fake medicine seized worldwide.    The two drugs most likely to be out-of-date or poor, ineffective copies are antibiotics and anti-malarials, say experts.    And bogus drugs not only pose a risk to the patient -- they also play a worrying part in building resistance to vital frontline medications.

- 'Difficult to trace' -
In a bid to tackle the scourge, presidents from seven countries -- the Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Uganda -- meet Friday in Lome to sign an agreement for criminalising trafficking in fake drugs.    The goal is to bolster cooperation between governments and encourage other African nations to join the initiative.   But even if leaders put pen to paper, the task of stamping out the flows of counterfeit medication is huge.    Medicines spread out on plastic sheets or offered at ramshackle stalls are for sale at markets across West Africa.

Those hawked on the streets are often a fraction of the price of what's available in more reputable pharmacies where controls are stricter and supplies often have to come through official channels.    "It is very difficult to trace where the fake medicines come from," said Dr Innocent Kounde Kpeto, the president of Togo's pharmacist association.    "The countries which are mentioned on the boxes are often not the countries of origin or manufacture of these drugs. The manufacturers cover their tracks so as not to be identified".

It is estimated that between 30 and 60 percent of medicine sold in Africa is fake and Kpeto said most of it comes from China or India.    Efforts to staunch the deadly torrents of counterfeits have made some headway.    Some trafficking hubs have been dismantled, such as Adjegounle market in Cotonou that served as a key gateway for fakes heading to giant neighbour Nigeria.   In mid-November, the police in Ivory Coast made a record seizure of 200 tonnes in Abidjan and arrested four suspects including a Chinese national.

Togo is one of the pioneer countries trying to stop the flow.    It changed the law in 2015 and now traffickers can face 20 years in jail and a fine of some $85,000 (75,000 euros).   In a show of force in July the authorities burnt over 67 tonnes of counterfeit pharmaceuticals discovered between     But even given these recent successes, those in the industry like Dr Kpeto insist that the threat is still grave and involves "highly organised criminal networks".    "The phenomenon remains major," he said.    Traffickers can turn an investment of just $1,000 (900 euros) into a profit of $500,000, he claimed.   The fake medicines are smuggled in the same way as guns or narcotics and often bring higher returns.

- 'Die for nothing' -
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with a market of 200 million people, is the number one destination on the continent for fake drugs and a showcase of difficulties being faced.    In September 2016 the World Customs Organization seized tens of millions of fake pills and medicines at 16 ports around Africa: 35 percent were intended for Nigeria.    Across the vast nation there are tens of thousands of vendors selling the counterfeits.   Competition between traffickers is fierce and the official agency meant to combat the problem is overwhelmed.

In a bid to improve the situation, Vivian Nwakah founded in 2017 start-up Medsaf and raised $1.4 million to help Nigerians track their medication from producer to user.    "The country doesn't have a reliable and centralised distribution network," she said.    "A hospital sometimes has to deal with 30 or 40 distributors for all the medications it needs. How can you have quality control with so many suppliers?"   As a result, fake or faulty medicine has not just flooded markets but also pharmacies and hospitals -- both state and private.    Sometimes, without hospital administrators even being aware, that means the drugs that reach the patients can be expired, poorly stored or the wrong doses. 

Medsaf works to ensure the quality control of thousands of products at over 130 hospitals and pharmacies in Nigeria. It looks forward to expanding deeper into Nigeria as well as Ivory Coast and Senegal.   The company uses technology, database management and analytics to monitor the movement of medications and verifies their official registration number, the expiry dates and storage conditions.   "Technology we use can help to solve most of the issues related to fake drugs," Nwakah said. "People die for nothing. We can change that."
Date: Mon 13 Jan 2020, 00.45 IST
Source: The Hindu [edited]

A 58-year-old woman from Seegemakki village in Tumari Gram Panchayat limits in Sagar taluk died due to Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD), also known as monkey fever, at a private hospital in Manipal in Udupi district on [Sat 11 Jan 2020].

The deceased, H, who had complained of high fever and aches in joints was admitted to government sub-divisional hospital in Sagar city for treatment on [Tue 7 Jan 2020]. Her blood tested positive for KFD.

Rajesh Suragihalli, District Health Officer, told The Hindu that as her health condition had worsened, she was shifted to a private hospital in Manipal on [Thu 9 Jan 2020] for advanced treatment. She failed to respond to the treatment and breathed her last on [Sat 11 Jan 2020], he said.

Following the death, the Department of Health and Family Welfare has sounded an alert in Sagar and Tirthahalli taluks from where 7 positive cases have been reported since [1 Jan 2020]. The vaccination drive has been stepped up in the villages from where positive cases are reported. Three advanced life support ambulances have been stationed in government sub-divisional hospital in Sagar to shift KFD patients with health complications to private hospitals in Shivamogga city or Manipal for additional treatment, he said.
====================
[Kyasanur Forest disease (KFD) is an acute febrile illness caused by Kyasanur Forest disease virus (KFDV), a member of the family _Flaviviridae_, characterized by severe muscle pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, and bleeding manifestations. The virus was 1st identified in 1957 after it was isolated from a sick monkey from the Kyasanur Forest in Karnataka state of India. The disease is transmitted to humans following a tick bite or contact with an infected animal, especially a sick or recently dead monkey. There is no evidence of person-to-person transmission (<https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/kyasanur/index.html>).

The case fatality of Kyasanur Forest disease (KFD) is 2-10% and mortality is higher in the elderly and in individuals with comorbid conditions. There is no specific treatment for KFD. Prompt symptomatic and supportive treatment can reduce morbidity and mortality. Surveillance (human, monkey, and tick), personal protection against tick bites, and vaccination are the key measures for prevention and control of KFD (<https://idsp.nic.in/WriteReadData/l892s/60398414361527247979.pdf>).

As per the media report above, 7 confirmed KFD cases have been reported from Sagar and Tirthahalli taluks in Karnataka state so far in 2020. KFD typically occurs during the dry season from November through May, which correlates with the increased activity of the nymphs of ticks. Exposure to adult ticks and nymphs in rural or outdoor settings increases the risk of infection; herders, forest workers, farmers, and hunters are particularly at increased risk of contracting the disease. Vaccination and personal protective measures against tick bites are keys to prevent KFD.

The recommended preventive measures include using tick repellents, walking along clear trails, avoiding contact with weeds, and wearing full sleeved clothes and long pants to reduce exposed skin to reduce contact with ticks and subsequent tick bites. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Karnataka State, India: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/307>]
Date: Mon 13 Jan 2020
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

An emergency committee to control the sale of food has been created in a city in northwest Argentina after a spike in _Salmonella_ cases in early 2020. There have been 51 confirmed cases of salmonellosis in Salta so far in 2020. At least 5 people have been hospitalized but recovered after treatment.

The committee will be responsible for controlling food sold on public roads at street stalls and at commercial premises. It includes experts from the National University of Salta (UNSA) and Catholic University of Salta (Ucasal). Officials hope by increasing controls they can bring the rise in infections under control and minimize the risk to the public. The group, created by the Mayor of Salta Bettina Romero and Undersecretary of Health and Human Environment Monica Torfe, held a meeting with Juan Jose Esteban, manager of the Hospital Senor del Milagro, and teams from the department of epidemiology of the province on preventive measures to tackle the salmonellosis rise this past week.

Norma Sponton, head of the microbiology sector; Teresita Cruz, of the epidemiological surveillance program of the province; Paula Herrera, from the Ministry of Health, and Jose Herrera, from the hospital also participated. Experts from the 2 universities are involved in training the inspectors who will be in charge of carrying out the control tasks.

Food contaminated with _Salmonella_ bacteria does not usually look, smell, or taste spoiled. Symptoms of salmonellosis infection can include diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for 4 to 7 days. In some cases, however, diarrhoea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.
===================
[The serotype of _S. enterica_ is not stated and it is not clear what the food reservoir for this ongoing outbreak is. A food diary of affected persons may be helpful.

The city of Salta is located in north-western Argentina in the province of the same name which can be found on a map at

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Argentina: