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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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

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Lithuania

Lithuania US Consular Information Sheet
May 19, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Lithuania is a stable democracy undergoing rapid economic growth. Tourist facilities in Vilnius, the capital, and to a lesser extent in Kaunas and Klaipeda, are simi
ar to those available in other European cities. In other parts of the country, however, some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries may not be available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Lithuania for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required to enter Lithuania. As there are no direct flights from the U.S. to Lithuania, U.S. citizens should be aware of passport validity requirements in transit countries. American citizens do not need a visa to travel to Lithuania for business or pleasure for up to 90 days. That 90-day period begins with entry to any of the “Schengen Group” countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden. Multiple visits to Schengen countries may not exceed 90 days in any 6 month period. Travelers remaining in Lithuania for more than 90 days within any six-month period must apply for temporary residency.

Lithuanian authorities recommend applying or a residency permit through a Lithuanian embassy or consulate before initial entry into Lithuania, as processing times can run beyond 90 days. All foreigners of non-European Union countries seeking entry into Lithuania must carry proof of a medical insurance policy contracted for payment of all costs of hospitalization and medical treatment in Lithuania. Visitors unable to demonstrate sufficient proof of medical insurance must purchase short-term insurance at the border from a Lithuanian provider for roughly $1.00 per day. The number of days will be calculated from the day of entry until the date on the return ticket. Children residing in Lithuania must have written permission to travel outside the country from at least one parent if their parents are not accompanying them on their trip. This policy is not applicable to temporary visitors. See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Lithuania and other countries. Visit the Embassy of Lithuania web site at www.ltembassyus.org for the most current visa information.
Note: Although European Union regulations require that non-EU visitors obtain a stamp in their passport upon initial entry to a Schengen country, many borders are not staffed with officers carrying out this function. If an American citizen wishes to ensure that his or her entry is properly documented, it may be necessary to request a stamp at an official point of entry. Under local law, travelers without a stamp in their passport may be questioned and asked to document the length of their stay in Schengen countries at the time of departure or at any other point during their visit, and could face possible fines or other repercussions if unable to do so.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information abut customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Civil unrest is not a problem in Lithuania, and there have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including 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., 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: Lithuania is a relatively safe country. Visitors should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Large amounts of cash and expensive jewelry should be secured in a hotel safe or left at home. Crimes against foreigners, while usually non-violent, do occur. Pickpocketing and thefts are problems, so personal belongings should be well protected at all times. Theft from cars and car thefts occur regularly. Drivers should be wary of persons indicating they should pull over or that something is wrong with their car. Often, a second car or person is following, and when the driver of the targeted car gets out to see if there is a problem the person who has been following will either steal the driver’s belongings from the vehicle or get in and drive off with the car. Drivers should never get out of the car to check for damage without first turning off the ignition and taking the keys. Valuables should not be left in plain sight in parked vehicles, as there have been increasing reports of car windows smashed and items stolen. If possible, American citizens should avoid walking alone at night. ATMs should be avoided after dark. In any public area, one should always be alert to being surrounded by two or more people at once. Additionally, criminals have a penchant for taking advantage of drunken pedestrians. Americans have reported being robbed and/or scammed while intoxicated.
Following a trend that has spread across Eastern and Central Europe, racially motivated verbal, and sometimes physical, harassment of foreigners of non-Caucasian ethnicity has been reported in major cities. Incidents of racially motivated attacks against American citizens have been reported in Klaipeda and Vilnius.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on these serious problems is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, 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. For more information about assistance for victims of crime in Lithuania, please visit the Embassy’s web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/service/crime-victim-assistance.html.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Lithuania has improved in the last 15 years, but medical facilities do not always meet Western standards. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services that nearly equal Western European or U.S. standards. Most medical supplies are now widely available, including disposable needles, anesthetics, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. However, hospitals and clinics still suffer from a lack of equipment and resources. Lithuania has highly trained medical professionals, some of whom speak English, but their availability is decreasing as they leave for employment opportunities abroad. Depending on his or her condition, a patient may not receive an appointment with a specialist for several weeks. Western-quality dental care can be obtained in major cities. Elderly travelers who require medical care may face difficulties. Most pharmaceuticals sold in Lithuania are from Europe; travelers will not necessarily find the same brands that they use in the United States. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, particularly if immigration status in Lithuania is unclear.

Tick-borne encephalitis and lyme disease are widespread throughout the country. Those intending to visit parks or forested areas in Lithuania are urged to speak with their health care practitioners about immunization. Rabies is also increasingly prevalent in rural areas.
The Lithuanian Government does not require HIV testing for U.S. citizens. However, sexually transmitted diseases are a growing public health problem.
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.
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. All foreigners of non-European Union countries seeking entry into Lithuania must carry proof of a medical insurance policy contracted for payment of all costs of hospitalization and medical treatment in Lithuania (please see entry/exit requirements above). 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 Lithuania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The Police allow Americans to drive in Lithuania with an American driver’s license for up to 90 days. Americans who reside in Lithuania for 185 days or more in one calendar year and who wish to continue driving in Lithuania must acquire a Lithuanian driver's license. The foreign license must be given to the Lithuanian Road Police to be processed by the Consular Department of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in turn sends it to the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section, where the owner is expected to claim it.
Roads in Lithuania range from well-maintained two- to four-lane highways connecting major cities to small dirt roads traversing the countryside. Violation of traffic rules is common. It is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles, traveling at high speed, even in crowded urban areas. Driving at night, especially in the countryside, can be particularly hazardous. In summer, older seasonal vehicles and inexperienced drivers are extra hazards. Driving with caution is urged at all times. Driving while intoxicated is a very serious offense and carries heavy penalties. The speed limit is 50 km/hr in town and 90 km/hr out of town unless otherwise indicated. The phone number for roadside assistance is 8-800-01414 from a regular phone and 1414 from a GSM mobile phone.
Seatbelts are mandatory for the driver and all passengers except children under the age of 12. During the winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. Winter or all-season tires are required from November 10th through April 1st. Studded tires are not allowed from April 10th through October 31st. Drivers must have at least their low beam lights on at all times while driving. Public transportation is generally safe.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at www.tourism.lt and at www.lra.lt/index_en.html.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Lithuania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lithuania’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Lithuanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary importation into or export from Lithuania of items such as firearms and antiquities. Please see our Customs Information.
Telephone connections are generally good. American 1-800 numbers can be accessed from Lithuania but not on a toll-free basis; the international long distance rate per minute will be charged. Local Internet cafes offer computer access. ATMs are widely available. Most hotels and other businesses accept major credit cards.
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 Lithuanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lithuania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or possessing or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. For more information about arrest procedures in Lithuania, please visit the Embassy’s web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/arrests.html. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web page.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Lithuania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Lithuania. 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 at Akmenu Gatve 6, tel. (370) (5) 266-5500 or 266-5600; fax (370) (5) 266-5590. Consular information can also be found on the Embassy Vilnius web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated November 5, 2007 to update sections on Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 7 Aug 2019 01:17:58 EEST
Source: Xinhua News Agency [edited]

The rate of tick-borne encephalitis in Lithuania remains the highest in Europe, announced the country's Center for Communicable Diseases and AIDS (ULAC) on [Tue 6 Aug 2019].

According to ULAC, the rate of tick-borne encephalitis cases was 16.6 cases per 100 000 population in 2017, based on the latest data provided by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in its latest annual epidemiological report.  "In Lithuania the rate of encephalitis remains the highest in Europe," said ULAC.

Lithuania was followed by the Czech Republic and Estonia with the rate of 6.4 cases per 100 000 population, according to ULAC.  ULAC notes the largest proportion of tick-borne encephalitis cases is at the age group of 45-64 years and the lowest among the children of the age of 0-4 years.  "ULAC medics remind vaccination is the most reliable protection from tick-borne encephalitis," said ULAC in the announcement, noting vaccines have a reliability rate of 98 percent.

ULAC's warning comes amid increasing number of tick-borne encephalitis cases this year [2019] in Lithuania, a Baltic country with a population of around 3 million.  More than 90 cases of tick-borne encephalitis were reported during the 1st half of the year [2019] in Lithuania, 1/3 more compared to the same period last year [2018], according to local data by ULAC.

According to the ECDC's report, the highest prevalence of tick-borne encephalitis historically is found in the Baltic countries. Tick-borne encephalitis usually reaches its seasonal peak during the warmest months -- July and August.

Tick-borne encephalitis is a human viral infectious disease of central nervous system caused by infected ticks, usually found in woodland habitats. The disease manifests itself with symptoms similar to fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, and can cause meningitis.
=====================
[Cases of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) have been reported before (see ProMED mail archive Tick-borne encephalitis - EU (Czech Rep., Latvia, Lithuania) http://promedmail.org/post/20040624.1677). Given the high rate of TBE cases in Lithuania reported above, there doubtless have been cases occurring there annually in recent years.

A report in Eurosurveillance Weekly in 2004 stated, "Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is endemic in virtually all countries in Central and Eastern Europe. It is caused by several closely related but distinct flaviviruses. 3 subtypes are recognised at present: a Far-Eastern subtype, a Siberian subtype and a European subtype. The Siberian subtype is associated with Russian spring-summer encephalitis and is transmitted predominantly by the tick _Ixodes persulcatus_, whereas the European subtype causes central European encephalitis and is transmitted by _Ixodes ricinus_.

The clinical spectrum of acute TBE ranges from symptoms of mild meningitis to severe meningoencephalitis with or without myelitis. The incubation period of central European TBE is 7-14 days. Onset is generally biphasic. The 1st phase involves a non-specific influenza-like illness with fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting, lasting about a week. After a period of remission lasting a few days, the fever returns with aseptic meningitis or encephalomyelitis. The case fatality rate is 1-5 percent and about 20 percent of survivors have neurological sequelae. Residual motor defects are rare." - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Lithuania:
Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2019 15:49:43 +0200

Vilnius, July 3, 2019 (AFP) - Lithuania declared an emergency on Wednesday as a severe drought hit the Baltic EU state, threatening to slash this year's harvest by up to half.   Apart from jeopardising crops, scant rainfall has also drastically reduced water levels in some rivers, threatening fish stocks and shipping activities.

The formal declaration of an "emergency situation" will allow the government to compensate farmers for some losses as well as help them to avoid EU financial sanctions should they fail to reach production goals.   "Farmers believe their harvest can be slashed by 40 percent or 50 percent, while fish stocks are also endangered," environment minister Kestutis Mazeika told AFP.

Mazeika said "nobody has any doubt" that global climate change is behind the prolonged and more intensive dry spells and heatwaves in recent years.   He also appealed to neighbouring Belarus to increase the water level in the Neris river by allowing more water to flow from its reservoirs.   Last month was the hottest June ever recorded with soaring temperatures worldwide capped off by a record-breaking heatwave across Western Europe, satellite data showed Tuesday.   Lithuania also registered its hottest-ever June, with a peak of 35.7 degrees Celsius (96.2 degrees Fahrenheit) recorded on June 12.

Over the last week, firefighters have fought wildfires triggered by the heat in peat bogs in western Lithuania and neighbouring Latvia.   Elsewhere in Central Europe, Polish authorities said this week that varying degrees of drought have put grain crops at risk in 14 of the EU country's 16 regional districts.   The Czech Academy of Sciences said it expects drought to affect the entire country, with 80 percent of the territory facing "exceptional to extreme drought".
Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2019 15:12:32 +0200

Vilnius, June 13, 2019 (AFP) - Lithuanian temperatures have hit record June highs, meteorologists said Thursday, as a heatwave forced school closures and threatened to reduce harvests in the draught-hit Baltic region.   Kaisiadorys in central Lithuania was the hottest place at 35.7 degrees Celsius (96.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, the highest-ever temperature recorded for June in the country, weather forecaster Paulius Starkus told AFP.   Six people drowned in the Baltic EU state on Wednesday, the deadliest day of the year to date, while some schools put classes on hold or cut lessons short due to the heatwave.

Scientists say the extreme weather is in part a result of climate change.   "Lithuania used to have heatwaves but now they occur more often and are more intense due to climate change," Vilnius University climatologist Donatas Valiukas told AFP.   Starkus said a downpour with thunder and hail could follow in some areas on Thursday afternoon.   Agriculture Minister Giedrius Surplys told lawmakers that some areas were experiencing "a real climatic draught" threatening harvests, while hydrologists warned that river water levels posed a threat to fish.   Demand for air-conditioning has also soared in recent weeks.   Lithuania's hot weather is expected to last through the week, then temperatures may ease below 30 degrees Celsius starting Monday.   Fellow Baltic state Latvia is also experiencing unusual heat for June, with temperatures over 32 degrees Celsius.

In recent days, Latvia's western region of Kurzeme saw thunderstorms with hail damaging buildings, smashing greenhouses and tearing power lines.   Two people have been hospitalised in the northern Latvian town of Cesis after a tree fell on their camper van while they were inside.    Fellow Baltic state Estonia had a heatwave last week and is now experiencing rainy and windy weather.   Poland has also been experiencing high temperatures this month, which has resulted in increased air-conditioner use. The power transmission system operator PSE said that on Wednesday there was record electricity demand for a summer morning at nearly 24.10 gigawatts (GW).   Forty-two people have already drowned in Poland this month, according to the government security centre RCB.
Date: Sat 30 Mar 2019
Source: PM News Nigeria [abridged, edited]

Measles in Lithuania is up to 310 cases this year [2019] compared to 30 cases for 2018 in total. The number of measles cases is projected to increase further in Lithuania, as people have lost their collective immunity to this highly contagious viral disease, Director of Lithuania's Centre for Communicable Diseases and AIDS (ULAC), Saulius Caplinskas, said on Fri [29 Mar 2019].  "The collective immunity has been lost, as a 95 per cent measles vaccination coverage rate is considered as minimum to prevent an outbreak. There are new suspected cases of measles; blood samples are being examined. I have no doubt that in the nearest future, there will be new cases,'' Caplinskas was quoted as saying by local news website lrt.lt.

Recent data from ULAC shows that the proportion of children vaccinated against measles in the country has decreased from 97 per cent in 2009 to 92.2 per cent in 2018 due to parents' reluctance to vaccinate their kids.  According to ULAC, every year, some 5000 children are not vaccinated in Lithuania. "Measles outbreaks feature certain upswings and descents, yet we will have to live under the threat of measles for a while,'' Caplinskas said.

In total, 310 cases of measles have been registered as of Fri [29 Mar 2019] in Lithuania this year [2019], compared to 30 cases for the whole of 2018, ULAC data showed.  The largest number of cases, 149, was registered in Kaunas, Lithuania's 2nd largest city. In Vilnius, the capital, 39 measles cases have been registered to date. Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus, says the World Health Organization.
Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2018 13:38:41 +0200

Vilnius, Oct 11, 2018 (AFP) - Lithuania's parliament on Thursday passed a law that will allow doctors to prescribe marijuana-based medicine in the Baltic EU state.   The lawmakers voted 90-0 with three abstentions in favour of the legislation that will now go to President Dalia Grybauskaite to be signed into law.   "It is a historic decision to ensure that patients can receive the best possible treatment," said lawmaker Mykolas Majauskas who tabled the bill.

Other European countries have legalised cannabis for medical purposes including Austria, Britain, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece and Italy among them.   "Of course, it does not mean cannabis will be available to get at a drugstore to smoke before going to a nightclub," Majauskas said.   The law will come into force in May next year. Selling the drugs will require a licence from the state regulator.    Recreational use of marijuana remains illegal in Lithuania, a Baltic state of 2.8 million people.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 09:54:04 +0100 (MET)
By Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - A nationwide strike shut down public transport, schools and other services across France on Thursday as unions kicked off an open-ended strike against President Emmanuel Macron's plans for a "universal" pension system they say will force millions of people to work longer.

Parents scrambled to organise daycare as teachers walked off the job or were unable to get to work, and many employees were working from home or forced to take the day off as trains, metros and buses were cancelled.   Union leaders have vowed to keep up their protest unless Macron drops the pension overhaul, the latest move in the centrist president's push to reform wide swathes of the French economy.   "The idea of social concertation that Macron says is so important in fact doesn't exist," the head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said on BFM television Thursday.

Around 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains as well as regional lines were cancelled, and Air France has axed 30 percent of domestic flights and 15 percent of short-haul international routes.   In Paris, 11 of the 16 metro lines were shut down and others had just bare-bones service during the morning rush hour, and the Eiffel Tower turned away tourists because of the strike.   "There are not enough employees to open the monument in secure conditions," the tower's operator said in a statement.

The strike -- which is open-ended and could last several days -- has drawn comparisons with the showdown between government and unions over pensions in November-December 1995, when the country was paralysed for around three weeks.   Unions won that battle, and are banking on widespread support from both public and private-sector workers against Macron's reform.   The government has yet to unveil the details of the project, but officials have conceded that people will have to work longer for the system to remain financial viable.

- Outcome uncertain -
The strikes will be a major test of whether Macron, a former investment banker who came to power on the back of a promise to transform France, has the political strength to push through one of his key campaign pledges.   He has already succeeded in controversial labour and tax reforms aimed at encouraging hiring, as well as an overhaul of the state rail operator SNCF, long seen as an untouchable union bastion.

He has also largely seen off the "yellow vest" protests against declining living standards that erupted a year ago, but that anger could feed into the latest protest.   "The moment of truth for Macron," the Le Monde daily wrote in Thursday's edition. "The next days are a decisive test for the head of state."   The SNCF said international lines including the Eurostar and Thalys services were severely disrupted, and Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Wednesday that he expected just three in 10 schools would be able to open.

- 'Special regimes' -
The strike is the latest in a series of protests against Macron this year by the "yellow vests" as well as police, firefighters, teachers, hospital workers and lawyers.   Macron wants to implement a "universal" retirement system that would do away with 42 "special regimes" for sectors ranging from rail and energy workers to lawyers and Paris Opera employees, which often grant workers higher pensions or early retirement.

But unions say the changes would effectively require millions of private-sector workers to work beyond the legal retirement age of 62 if they want to receive the full pension they have been promised.   Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who has acknowledged French workers will gradually have to work longer, is set to unveil details of the reform on December 12.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Wednesday that some 250 demonstrations are expected nationwide, warning that a radical fringe of protesters could cause trouble.   Paris police chief Didier Lallement said around 6,000 members of the security forces would be deployed in the capital alone, with 180 motorbikes used to respond fast to any rioting.   Two major demonstrations are planned for Paris that will converge on the Place de la Nation, with officials ordering Paris businesses along the routes to close on Thursday.   British low-cost carrier EasyJet has cancelled 223 domestic and short-haul international flights and warned others risk being delayed.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 08:13:04 +0100 (MET)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

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

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

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

Business practitioners were set to be appointed "in the near future" to oversee the process, they added.   Unions did not immediately respond to AFP's requests for comment.   They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding.   SAA had initially refused any pay rise.    The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March.   "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board.   "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time."
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 07:01:49 +0100 (MET)

Manila, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - The number of people killed by Typhoon Kammuri's pounding of the Philippines this week has hit 13, officials said Thursday, as authorities confirmed reports of storm-related deaths.   Kammuri's fierce winds toppled trees and flattened flimsy homes across a swathe of the nation's north on Tuesday, and forced a rare 12-hour shutdown of Manila's international airport.   Authorities said on Wednesday one person had drowned while three died after being hit by trees and flying objects.

Disaster officials did not offer details on how the other victims died, but local police reports indicated some may have drowned or been crushed by trees.   Mark Timbal, spokesman for the national disaster agency, said no new bodies have been found but the death toll could rise as reports on the ground are verified.    "There is the possibility of an increase in the number, but we are hoping against it," Timbal told AFP.    Hundreds of thousands of people living in exposed or low-lying areas were evacuated from their homes before Kammuri made landfall late Monday, which authorities said had saved lives.

Still the storm damaged 135 schools and destroyed nearly 1,200 homes, with crop damage in the hardest hit areas estimated to reach nearly $16 million.   The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.    President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to visit on Thursday the Bicol region, a peninsula south of Manila which was hit hard by the typhoon.     Ninoy Aquino International Airport was closed half of Tuesday as a precaution, affecting over 500 flights, while roughly half the day's programme at the Southeast Asian Games, hosted by Manila and nearby cities, had to be postponed.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 05:14:37 +0100 (MET)

Bogota, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of protesters took part in anti-government demonstrations in Colombia's capital Bogota and other cities Wednesday during the country's third general strike in two weeks.   Strike leaders say they intend to maintain pressure on right-wing President Ivan Duque's government, after brushing aside his appeals to cancel the strike on the grounds its effects were crippling the economy.   But crowds were smaller than previous demonstrations as protests took place for a 14th consecutive day.   Some roads were blocked in the capital and in the northeastern city of Cali, but many businesses remained open.   Around 250,000 people took part in the first demonstration against Duque's 15-month-old government on November 21, when the initial general strike brought the country to a standstill.

Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez estimated that 40,000 people took part in demonstrations across the country on Wednesday, but organizers said the number of participants was much higher.   "The Colombian people have woken up!" shouted Paola Jiminez, a 41-year-old lawyer taking part in a pot-banging "cacerolazo" demonstration in Bogota.   "Colombians are finding it more and more difficult financially," she said.   A student taking part in one of several peaceful protests in Bogota, who gave his name as Nicolas, held up a banner saying: "The state lies more than my ex."

Police were deployed in nearby streets, but there were no confrontations of the kind that have marred some protests over the last two weeks, during which four people died. Some 500 have been injured.   On Tuesday, the Colombian National Strike Committee -- comprising unions, students and teacher organizations, indigenous groups and the opposition -- met directly with Duque's advisors for the first time, but reached no agreement.    Another meeting was scheduled for Thursday.

Under fire for his economic policies and corruption in the country, Duque launched a national dialogue with mayors and other officials 10 days ago.   The strike committee has presented Duque with a list of 13 demands, including the withdrawal of his proposed tax reforms, and full compliance with the 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas.   Among them is a call to dismantle the feared ESMAD riot police, widely criticized for its heavy handed response to protesters.   Duque has yielded to some of the demands on tax reform, announcing the return of Value Added Tax to the poorest 20 percent of the population and benefits for companies that hire young people.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 00:51:07 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa entered a two-day lockdown Thursday as authorities launched an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign to contain a deadly measles outbreak that has devastated the Pacific island nation.   Officials ordered all businesses and non-essential government services to close, shut down inter-island ferry services and told private cars to keep off the roads.

Residents were advised to stay in their homes and display a red flag if they were not yet immunised as hundreds of vaccination teams fanned out across the nation of 200,000 in the early hours of the morning.   The operation, carried out under emergency powers invoked as the epidemic took hold last month, is a desperate bid to halt an inexorably rising death toll that reached 62 on Thursday, most of them young children.   "I've seen mass mobilisation campaigns before, but not over an entire country like this," UNICEF's Pacific island chief Sheldon Yett told AFP.   "That's what we're doing right now. This entire country is being vaccinated."

Immunisation rates in Samoa were about 30 percent before the outbreak and have risen to more than 55 percent since a compulsory mass vaccination campaign began a fortnight ago.   Yett said the aim of this week's two-day drive was to push the rate above 90 percent, which should help curb the current outbreak and stop future epidemics.   He said the normally busy streets of the capital Apia were almost deserted early Thursday.   "It's very, very quiet out here. I can just hear a few barking dogs. The streets are empty. There are no cars," he said.   "People are staying at home waiting for the vaccination campaign. The teams are getting their supplies together and getting ready to go out."   Even Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi's residence had a red flag fluttering outside it, with the leader saying his nephew had recently arrived from Australia and needed a measles shot.

Malielegaoi said he was angered by anecdotal reports that some parents were encouraging their children to hide from the vaccination teams to avoid the mandatory immunisation injection.    "The message is that we have vaccinated a lot of people and they are OK," he told reporters.   "The only cure for this is vaccination... having your children vaccinated is the only way."   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.

The latest figures show that 54 of the 62 dead were aged four or less and infants account for most of the 4,217 cases recorded since the outbreak began in mid-October.   There have also been measles epidemics in neighbouring Fiji and Tonga, but higher immunisation rates mean they have been more easily contained, with no fatalities.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 22:05:06 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Wednesday it was pulling its non-local staff from an eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo after it said an armed group tried to enter its compound.    The NGO becomes the latest aid agency to withdraw its staff from the Biakato region after an unclaimed attack last week saw three Ebola workers killed at an accommodation camp in Biakato Mines in Ituri province, causing the World Health Organization to withdraw its staff from the area.     MSF and an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC), which is treating two people with confirmed cases of Ebola and nine suspected cases, decided to stay in the Biakato region despite last week's incident.

The NGO said that on Tuesday night a group wielding machetes and sticks broke into the Biakato Health Centre, which houses the ETC, but did not cause any casualties and did not enter the Ebola facility.   A separate group with the same weapons then tried but failed to enter the MSF facility in Biakato Mines. The NGO said they threw stones but did not do any damage.   "Due to a deterioration in the security situation, MSF made the difficult decision to withdraw all non-local staff from the Biakato region," MSF said in a statement.    According to local authorities, the attackers from last week's incident are likely to be members of the Mayi-Mayi militia group.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is undergoing its 10th Ebola epidemic, which is the second deadliest on record.    An outbreak of the much-feared haemorrhagic virus has killed 2,206 people mainly in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri, according to the latest official figures.   Insecurity has complicated the epidemic from the outset, compounding resistance within communities to preventive measures, care facilities and safe burials.   On November 4, the authorities said more than 300 attacks on Ebola health workers had been recorded since the start of the year, leaving six dead and 70 wounded, some of them patients.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 15:50:07 +0100 (MET)
By Ish MAFUNDIKWA, with Zinyange AUNTONY in Bulawayo

Harare, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - The floor is dusty, the walls filthy and the furniture decrepit, but for two weeks last month a tiny flat in a Harare township was transformed into a maternity clinic where scores of babies were born.   Its owner, 69-year-old Esther Gwena, says she helped to deliver 250 infants as Zimbabwe's health sector tottered -- a feat that earned comparisons to Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing.

Hundreds of junior medics at state hospitals began a strike three months ago because their salaries -- less than $200 a month -- are not enough to live on in a country gripped by 500 percent inflation.   Nurses are only working two days a week.   Those who can't afford private care -- the majority of the 14 million people reeling under an economic crisis compounded by acute food shortages -- suffer at home or seek help from people like Gwena.   Senior doctors, in a letter last week, said state hospitals had become a "death trap" and warned of a "slow genocide".   Gwena, a widow and member of the local Apostolic Faith sect, is a self-taught midwife.   When the health services strike peaked last month, she came to the rescue.

- 'I had to do something' -
"A man came to me and said there were two women in advanced labour at (a nearby clinic) but the place was closed because the nurses were on strike," she told AFP in her two-room flat in Mbare township.   She rushed there and found that one of the women had a baby which had died.   "I took the other one to my place, where I helped her. The baby survived. From that time, I knew I had to do something," she said.   Word that she was helping deliver babies for free spread quickly.

The state-owned television ZBC described her as "a modern Zimbabwean version of Florence Nightingale" and First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa visited Gwena and donated food, detergents and blankets.   A funeral services company chipped in with a mobile water tank and pitched a tent outside to serve as a waiting room for women before they went into advanced labour.   "I helped to deliver 250 babies ... (they) are alive and kicking and at home with their mothers," Gwena said.   Two weeks later, the government asked her to stop after a nearby maternity clinic reopened.   Winnie Denhere, 35, cradled her two-day-old baby boy outside the clinic, where she had taken him for an immunisation injection.   "Everything went very well, she didn't ask us for money," she said, speaking of Gwena, who brought her child into the world.

- 'People dying' -
But while some laud Gwena as a selfless do-gooder, doctors worry that she exposed herself, the mothers, the babies to infection.   "We need to do something about our facilities so no one goes to her," Harare's director of medical services Prosper Chonzi, said.   Medicines have been in short supply and broken machines go unrepaired.   The government has fired 448 junior octors for striking.    Senior doctors last week also stopped work in protest over the sacking of junior colleagues. Dozens marched in Harare on Monday.   "People dying has become the order of the day in our hospitals," said the vice-president of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association Raphael Magota.

He told AFP machines were breaking down and that intensive care units were only able to treat two or three people "due to lack of equipment".     A senior doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the situation has become untenable.   "There is no public health in Zimbabwe at the moment; everything has come to a standstill," he said.   Even the scarce equipment is often not right.   "One needs gloves that fit just right when performing delicate operations, but we get old gloves that are too big," said another doctor.   A UN special rapporteur on food security, Hilal Elver, last week spoke of "disturbing information" that public hospitals had exhausted food stocks, forcing them to seek humanitarian aid and that medical equipment in some cases was "no longer operational".

In the second largest city of Bulawayo, Zimbabweans living abroad are helping in a small way by crowdfunding and sending money back home to offer health care for the vulnerable.   One such initiative is Citizwean Clinic, which opened its doors last month and attended to hundreds of patients in the first five days -- providing free consultation and drugs.   "We go to the hospital these days it's bad, there are no doctors. We heard that there were doctors here," said hypertensive patient Elina Dzingire, 63.    "We've really been helped here," she told AFP from the clinic in the city's Cowdray Park township.    Health Minister Obadiah Moyo admitted the situation in hospitals is constrained but says the government will soon advertise the posts left vacant by the sacked doctors.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 13:55:04 +0100 (MET)
By Ron LOPEZ

Manila, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - Typhoon Kammuri killed at least two people in the Philippines on Tuesday as it tore roofs off houses and forced the international airport in Manila to shut down.   The storm roared ashore late Monday and passed south of Manila -- home to 13 million people -- and thousands of athletes at the regional Southeast Asian Games.   Just before it exited into the South China Sea, the typhoon killed two people in the central island of Mindoro, where one man was crushed by a falling tree and another killed by a flying piece of lumber, police said.    Ahead of the storm's arrival a 33-year-old man was electrocuted on Monday while securing a roof against the winds, which by late Tuesday weakened to a maximum of 130 kilometres (81 miles) per hour.

Authorities were still assessing the storm's impact, but a small local airport was seriously damaged, many power poles toppled and homes were battered.   "A lot of trees fell... There were a lot of roofs flying during the typhoon too," said Junie Castillo, a disaster officer in one of the areas first hit.   Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport was "closed for operations" due to high winds, leaving nearly 500 flights cancelled, general manager Ed Monreal told AFP.   Flights would resume at 11:00 pm (1500 GMT), Monreal later told a news conference.   One of the terminals AFP visited, which would normally be bustling with morning departures, was occupied by a handful of staff and stranded passengers.

One traveller, 23-year-old Canadian Constance Benoit, was hit with a nearly day-long delay to her flight back home.   She had arrived in Manila on a typhoon-buffeted flight Monday morning from the central island of Cebu.   "It was the most turbulent flight I ever took in my life," she told AFP. "I just discovered what airsickness is."   About 340,000 people had been evacuated from their homes in the central Bicol region, disaster officials said.   The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.   The country's deadliest cyclone on record was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

- Games rescheduled -
Kammuri had already snarled some plans for the SEA Games, which opened Saturday and are set to run through December 11 in and around Manila.   The typhoon forced organisers to reschedule about half of the events set for Tuesday, but they pledged the competition would finish on time.   Kammuri wrought particular havoc on water-based and outdoor competitions, causing more than a dozen events to be postponed.   The storm is another difficulty for the Games, which suffered from a string of logistical glitches and a rush of last-minute construction in the run-up to Saturday's opening.    The competition, which is spread across three main sites that are hours' drive apart, includes a Games-record 56 sports and dozens of venues.   Around 8,750 athletes and team officials are expected at this year's 30th edition -- the biggest ever -- along with another 12,000 volunteers.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:24:08 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - A man and woman have been rescued after surviving two weeks in Australia's arid outback on little more than vodka, groundwater and biscuits, but a third person is still missing, police said Tuesday.   The three friends set out to explore the country's vast sun-baked interior near Alice Springs on November 19 when their car became bogged down in a river bed.   After three days staying put and waiting for a rescue, the group feared supplies were dwindling and two of them decided to walk along a property fence line in the hope of finding help.   Police said Tuesday that a local rancher had found the man, 40-year-old Phu Tran, "slightly disorientated" but in a "good condition" a two-day walk from the vehicle.

His discovery came after Tamra McBeath-Riley, 52, was found on Sunday less than two kilometres from the same vehicle suffering from dehydration.   McBeath-Riley told public broadcaster ABC that the trio -- accompanied by their blue Staffordshire terrier Raya -- had survived by drinking pre-mixed vodka drinks and water from a hole dug for cattle, eating biscuits and sheltering in a hole dug under her car.   But the third person, 46-year-old Claire Hockridge, has not been seen since splitting from Phu two days ago.   "She was still fine when he left but we obviously are now focusing our search to identify where she is," police superintendent Pauline Vicary said.   Police were "hopeful that she's still in that condition," Vicary added, as her colleagues resumed an aerial search.   McBeath-Riley and Hockridge live in Alice Springs, while Phu was visiting from elsewhere in Australia.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:07:45 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - The World Health Organisation warned of a "slide back" in global efforts to eliminate measles Tuesday, as the death toll from an outbreak that has killed dozens of children in Samoa continued to climb.   A total of 55 people have died since the epidemic began in mid-October, 50 of them children aged four or under, officials in the Pacific nation said Tuesday.   Another 18 infants are critically ill in hospital and the crisis shows no sign of slowing, with 153 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the national total to 3,881 in a population of 200,000.   Emergency measures including compulsory mass immunisations and school closures have so far done little to stop the virus spreading in a country that was particularly vulnerable to measles due to low vaccination rates of about 31 percent.

World Health Organisation (WHO) medical officer for the western Pacific, Jose Hagan, said it was a grim reminder of the danger posed by "probably the most infectious disease that we know of".   "Unfortunately the case (to) fatality rate of measles is much higher than people realise," he told Radio New Zealand.   "This is quite a severe disease and we just aren't used to seeing it, so it comes as quite a surprise when we see how fatal it can be."   He said the fatality rate in Samoa was less than two percent but had been known to reach five percent in developing countries.

Hagen said increased access to measles vaccines was estimated to have saved 21 million lives over the past 20 years.   "But we are starting to have a slide back and there are outbreaks happening all over the world in all WHO regions and it's leading to the virus being exported through international travel," he said.   Cases have skyrocketed in Europe, leading to Britain, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania all losing their measles-free status in August.   The United States narrowly maintained its "measles eliminated" status a few months later, despite experiencing its worst outbreak since 1992.   The WHO has pointed to various reasons for declining immunisation rates including lack of access to healthcare and complacency about the need to vaccinate.

Another major factor, which has been cited by the WHO as a reason for the severity of the Samoa outbreak, is misinformation about immunisation from anti-vaccine campaigners.   Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi this week said vaccination was the only answer to the epidemic.   He has ordered the government to cease non-essential operations on Thursday and Friday so public servants can help a mandatory vaccination campaign that aims to give anti-measles jabs to everyone aged below 60.