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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]
=====================
[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: Sun, 15 Mar 2020 23:58:27 +0100 (MET)

San Juan, March 15, 2020 (AFP) - The US territory of Puerto Rico on Sunday ordered a 9:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, the strongest measure yet taken on American soil.   It took effect immediately and lasts until March 30.   "Faced with the possibility of transmission and propagation of the virus, I have ordered the imposition of a curfew for all residents of Puerto Rico," Governor Wanda Vazquez announced in a video message.   "We must take every precaution to ensure that we do not become potential carriers," Vazquez said.

The Caribbean territory of 2.9 million, whose residents are US citizens, also will close many businesses from Sunday until the end of the month, she said.   That includes malls, movie theaters, concert venues, gyms, bars and other businesses that bring together large crowds on the island popular with tourists.   The exceptions will be businesses in the food supply chain, and in the medical care system, as well as drugstores, gas stations, banks and senior citizens' group homes.

At night, only those who are providing or receiving medical care, or carrying out essential duties, will be allowed to be on Puerto Rico's streets.   Anyone defying the curfew faces a six-month jail term and a fine of up to $5,000.   The island declared a state of emergency when its first cases were reported March 12. The island has reported five cases.   On Friday, Vazquez accepted the resignation of Health Secretary Rafael Rodriguez Mercado, who was under fire for his handling the coronavirus emergency.

Recently, island residents were irate when two warehouses were found to be filled with abandoned supplies, apparently never used after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.   The storms' one-two punch left Puerto Ricans without power for months and killed nearly 3,000 people, according to the local government's official numbers.   President Donald Trump has accused the Puerto Rican government of incompetence and siphoning off hurricane relief money.   The Puerto Rican leaders accused Trump of treating the population of the island like second class citizens.
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.
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Gabon

Gabon - US Consular Information Sheet
August 15, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Gabon is a developing nation on the western coast of central Africa.
French is the official language; few Gabonese speak English.
Facilities for tourism o
tside the capital city, Libreville, are available, but they are often limited and can be expensive.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Gabon for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required for entry.
Visas must be obtained in advance, as airport visas are no longer available.
Travelers should obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of Gabon, 2034 20th Street NW, Washington, DC
20009, telephone: (202) 797-1000, fax: (202) 332-0668.
Travelers may also contact the Gabonese Consulate at 18 East 41st St., Ninth Floor, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 683-7371.
Overseas, inquiries should be made to the nearest Gabonese embassy or consulate.
All non-Gabonese citizens, with the exception of those bearing diplomatic or official passports, are required to obtain exit visas from the Direction Générale à la Documentation et l’Immigration (DGDI, formerly known as CEDOC) before departing Gabon.

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:
Americans should maintain security awareness at all times.
There have been isolated incidents of civil unrest within the past year, both in the capital city and in the interior.
Large gatherings such as sporting events or any other event where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest should be avoided.

Americans may contact the U.S. Embassy in Gabon for the most up-to-date information on safety and security.
The Embassy informs the registered resident American community of security matters through a warden system (please see the Registration/Embassy Location section below for more information).

In the event of a fire, dial 18.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website 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:
In Gabon, petty thievery is common.
Violent crime is more common in urban areas, and there have been cases of armed robberies in homes and in restaurants frequented by foreigners.
Occasionally Americans or Europeans have been victims of crime.

The U.S. Embassy encourages Americans to take extra precautions when traveling in Libreville.
To prevent carjacking, citizens are encouraged to travel with their automobile windows up and doors locked.
Marginal neighborhoods, poorly lit streets, and unfamiliar areas of the city should be avoided, especially at night.
Walking or running on the beach alone at night should be avoided.
When dining in restaurants or visiting markets, it is recommended that one carry only minimal amounts of cash and avoid wearing excessive amounts of jewelry.
If involved in an attempted robbery or carjacking, Americans are encouraged to comply with the attacker to avoid injury and to report all incidents to the police and the U.S. Embassy.
Police response time to reports of crime can be slow.

Scams or confidence schemes do occur in Gabon.
For general information on scams, see our Financial Scams webpage.
Credit cards are not widely accepted except at hotels, and because of the high rates of credit card fraud, their use outside major chain hotels is not recommended.

There have been incidents of sexual assault against foreigners.

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.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Gabon to reach the police is 177.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Gabon's major cities are limited, but they are generally adequate for routine or basic needs.
Medical services in rural areas are generally unavailable.
Additionally, some medicines are not available; travelers should carry necessary, properly labeled medications with them.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Gabon.

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

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Gabon is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Travel by road in Gabon can be hazardous.
It is recommended that you drive with your car windows up and the doors locked.
Travelers are routinely stopped at police checkpoints within cities and on roads to the interior.
Americans should comply politely if stopped, but avoid encouraging bribery if possible.
Travelers should use extreme caution when driving after dark.
Two-lane roads are the norm throughout Gabon.
Roads to outlying cities have visible and hidden dangers that are profuse, including large potholes, absence of road signs, poor to non-existent streetlights, and the presence of pedestrians and animals.
Construction work is often poorly indicated.
Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for travel beyond the paved road to Lambarene, especially during the rainy season.

Roadside assistance and emergency medical services are available in Libreville, but they may not be dependable.
Such services are nonexistent outside of the city.
Service stations are available along main roads, but vehicle repair facilities are not always available.
Drivers must have a valid international driver's license (available from AAA and the American Automobile Routing Alliance) when driving in Gabon.

Use of taxis is generally safe but does pose added risks.
It is recommended that one use a hotel taxi when possible.
Before riding in a taxi, check that the taxi has seatbelts and agree on a fare.
Riding in a taxi alone or during late hours of the evening is not recommended and creates additional risk of becoming a victim of crime.
Rail services are available, but infrequent, and travelers should be prepared for delays.

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 Gabon, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Gabon’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Gabon is a francophone country; travelers who do not speak French will face difficulties associated with the language barrier.

Americans should always carry identification with them in the event they are stopped at a police checkpoint.

Taking photographs of the Presidential Palace, military or other government buildings is strictly forbidden.
Official corruption is common, but offering bribes is not recommended.
Gabon is largely a cash economy.
Credit cards are accepted at only a few major hotels.
Travelers’ checks can be cashed or dollars exchanged for Central African Francs (CFA) at hotels and banks.
ATMs are available in major urban centers, and dispense CFA.

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 Gabonese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Gabon 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 Gabon 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 Gabon.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, Americans make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located downtown on the Boulevard du Bord de Mer.
The mailing address is Centre Ville, B.P. 4000, Libreville, Gabon.
The telephone numbers are (241) 76-20-03 or (241) 76-20-04.
The fax numbers are (241) 74-55-07 or (241) 76-88-49 and the web site is http://libreville.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information dated November 5, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 27 Apr 2020 21:02:20 +0200 (METDST)

Libreville, April 27, 2020 (AFP) - Gabon said Monday it was relaxing a two-week-old coronavirus lockdown in the capital Libreville and three neighbouring areas.   With three deaths and 176 cases among its two-million population, half of whom live in the capital, Prime Minister Julien Nkoghe Bekale said some restrictions would be scaled back.

Some shops and hair salons would be allowed to reopen, he said, but travel beyond the city and its environs would remain prohibited to avoid contagion to other provinces.   "We are approaching the peak of the epidemic, which could come between the end of May and mid-June," Bekale said.

Schools, restaurants and places of worship will remain closed, wearing masks will be compulsory and a curfew will remain in place from 6.00 pm to 6.00 am.    Borders are also closed -- a source of concern for Gabonese as the country imports the bulk of its foodstuffs.   Bekale said the partial lifting of the lockdown took into account concern over potential  "social destabilisation" if people could not earn a living.
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2020 21:14:14 +0200 (METDST)

Libreville, April 13, 2020 (AFP) - Gabon on Monday began confinement measures in the capital and three nearby municipalities in restrictions enforced by security forces to contain the spread of coronavirus.   Libreville on Monday was mostly idle, with shops and markets empty and police roadblocks set up at many crossroads as the measures came into force.   Prime Minister Julien Nkoghe Bekale on Friday asked residents of the capital and three surrounding areas to stay at home after Gabon, with two million inhabitants, reported 57 cases and one death from the virus.

Under the restrictions, drivers cannot leave their neighbourhoods without being able to prove that they are exercising a profession deemed essential by the government.    While food stores are authorized to operate, many of them did not open on Monday, leaving some residents without stocks.   "To see them closed is tough. There are moms who can't get out, it's complicated," said Levy, a 22-year-old student.

Traders of the largest market in the capital, Mont-Bouet, claim they are struggling to get supplies as Gabon depends heavily on food imports, especially from Cameroon. Already last month, Gabon restricted international flights, closed schools and banned gatherings of more than 30 people in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 21:56:23 +0200 (METDST)

Libreville, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Gabon on Friday banned the sale and eating of bats and pangolins, which are suspected of sparking the novel coronavirus in China where they are highly prized in traditional medicine.   President Ali Bongo Ondimba also announced the government was planning to lock down the capital Libreville and unveiled an emergency package for those hard hit by the pandemic.   The novel coronavirus is believed to have come from bats, but researchers think it might have spread to humans via another mammal.   Pangolins are critically endangered and have long been protected, but they are sold in the markets of the capital Libreville, as are bats, and their meat is popular.

The central African nation is 88 percent covered in forest and hunting and bush meat have long been a way of life.   The water and forest ministry said the novel coronavirus was a "combination of two different viruses, one close to bats and the other closer to pangolins", and claimed to be quoting a scientific study published in Nature.   Gabon has declared 21 COVID-19 infections, but none from animals, the ministry said.   "A similar decision was taken by the authorities when our country was affected by the Ebola virus -- a ban on eating primates," Forestry Minister Lee White said.

The national parks agency ANPN announced in mid-March that tourists would no longer be allowed to interact with great apes to avoid any risk of contamination by the coronavirus.   The pangolin, the world's most heavily trafficked mammal, also called the scaly anteater, is believed to have possibly been a vector in the leap of the novel coronavirus from animal to human at a market in China's Wuhan city last year.   Its body parts fetch a high price on the black market as they are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, although scientists say they have no therapeutic value.

Gabon has also put in place a raft of measures such as grounding international flights, closing schools and ordering a night curfew to stop the spread of the coronavirus.   On Friday, Bongo said Libreville would be put under lockdown "in the coming days" but gave no precise date.   All but one of Gabon's reported 21 cases are in the city, where a large proportion of the country's two million residents live.   Bongo also announced an aid package of 250 billion CFA francs (380 million euros) to help both individuals and businesses whose livelihoods have suffered because of the crisis.
Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2020 18:55:52 +0100 (MET)

Libreville, March 16, 2020 (AFP) - Gabon, a forest-covered haven for gorillas and chimpanzees, will stop allowing tourists to see its great apes fearing that humans could give the novel coronavirus to the animals, the country's forest agency said Monday.   The Central African nation has one only confirmed COVID-19 case so far, but fears linger after an Ebola epidemic in 1995 wiped out more than 90 percent of the gorillas in the verdant north.   "We have decided to close tourist activities for viewing the great apes in our parks to avoid any risk of transmissions between humans and the animals," said Christian Tchemambela of the country's National Agency for National Parks (ANPN).   "The respiratory viruses that affect humans are easily transmitted to great apes because the two species are so closely related," he told AFP.

Gabon has taken drastic measures to counter the spread of the virus, closing schools, bars and nightclubs since Friday, a day after the country confirmed its first case -- a 27-year-old man who had recently returned from France.   Almost 80 percent of Gabon is covered by forests, and primate habitation programmes have been set up in its parks in recent years to attract tourism and use the income to further finance wildlife protection.   "Because of the new coronavirus, humans being in contact with gorillas pose a threat," said Tchemambela.   He added that staff working in the parks will be placed in quarantine for 14 days before being able to enter areas near the gorillas.
Date: Sat 16 Dec 2017 16:00 SAST
Source: News 24, Agence France-Presse (AFP) report [edited]

The World Health Organisation has declared Gabon a "polio-free country", given the lack of new reported or suspected cases in the central African country.

According to a WHO statement obtained by AFP on [Sat 16 Dec 2017], the UN health agency nonetheless recommended taking the necessary steps to continue monitoring for possible signs of the disease.

Gabon's Health Minister Denise Mekam'ne Edzidzie also urged families on [Sat 15 Dec 2017] to "continue to immunise children and prevent a resurgence of this disease."

Polio is a highly-infectious viral disease which mainly affects young children and can result in permanent paralysis. There is no cure and it can only be prevented through immunisation.

Cases of polio have decreased by 99 percent since 1988, when polio was endemic in 125 countries and 350 000 cases were recorded worldwide.
==================
[Positive news as another country in Africa is declared polio-free. The most recent confirmed case of WPV associated disease in Gabon was reported in 2011 (<https://extranet.who.int/polis/public/CaseCount.aspx>) when there was an outbreak associated with an importation from Angola (see ProMED post Poliomyelitis - worldwide (07): update http://promedmail.org/post/20110512.1462). Of note, reviewing the surveillance data available, since 2000, there has only been one confirmed WPV associated case in Gabon (in 2011), with "compatible" cases reported in 2000 (3 cases), 2001 (3 cases), and 2015 (3 cases).

Maps of Gabon:
More ...

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan US Consular Information Sheet
January 27, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Azerbaijan is a constitutional republic with a developing economy.
Western-style amenities are found in the capital, Baku, but they are generally not avail
ble outside that city.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Azerbaijan for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Travelers may obtain single-entry visas for USD 131 by mail or in person from either the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington, DC or any other Azerbaijani embassy offering consular services.
Travelers may also obtain single-entry, 30-day visas at the airport upon arrival for USD 131.
Visas are not available at the land borders with Georgia or Russia.
Double-entry, 90-day visas (cost: USD 131) and one-year multiple-entry visas (cost: USD 250) are only available through an Azerbaijani embassy or through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A letter of invitation from a contact in Azerbaijan is required, and travelers who expect to travel in the region should request a one-year, multiple-entry visa.
According to Azerbaijani law, foreign nationals intending to remain in Azerbaijan for more than 30 days must register with local police within three days of their arrival. Foreign citizens should approach the passport section of the local district police office and fill out an application form. The registration fee is AZN 9.90 (approximately USD 12).

American citizens of Armenian ancestry should be aware their visa applications may be denied by the Government of Azerbaijan on the grounds that their safety cannot be guaranteed.
U.S. citizens who obtain a single-entry visa at the port of entry are permitted to remain in Azerbaijan for up to one month, after which an extension of stay must be requested (cost: USD 131).
For persons already in Azerbaijan, visa applications, extensions or renewals are made at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Shikhali Gurbanov St., 4, Baku; tel. (9-9412) 492 34 01, or the State Migration Service, Ataturk Avenue 53, Baku; tel (9-9412) 498-9464.
For additional information, please contact the Embassy of Azerbaijan, 2741 34th Street NW, Washington, DC
20008 (tel. 202-337-3500); e-mail: azerbaijan@azembassy.com.
American citizens should ensure their visas and/or local identification cards, for stays of longer than 30 days, are current and valid, and they carry local identification cards, if applicable, at all times. It is advisable to carry a photocopy of your current passport and valid visa if you do not normally carry your passport as well.
Visit the Embassy of Azerbaijan web site at http://www.azembassy.us/ for the most current 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:
As a result of continuing conflict, travelers are cautioned to avoid travel to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied areas.
Because of the existing state of hostilities, consular services are not available to Americans in Nagorno-Karabakh.
American citizens of Armenian ancestry considering travel to Azerbaijan should remain particularly vigilant when visiting the country, as the Government of Azerbaijan has claimed that it is unable to guarantee their safety.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State‘s Bureau of Consular Affairs web site, 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.

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Baku has experienced a trend away from casual stealth street crime, such as pick-pocketing, towards more targeted and aggressive attacks.
These attacks tend to be against males, usually involve alcohol, and usually occur late at night.
The attacks typically involve multiple attackers on a lone victim using overwhelming numbers and a quick, violent attack to end resistance or flight.
Violent crimes tend to be more frequent in the winter, despite the presence of fewer tourists and foreigners in general at this time of year.
Many recent attacks have resulted in injuries.
There are also reports of foreigners being held up at knife- or gunpoint at or near ATMs during hours of darkness. Visitors should not walk alone at night.

All incidents of crime should be reported to the local police and U.S. Embassy.
The Police Office of Crimes By and Against Foreigners has an English-speaking officer available at all times who may be reached at (994 12) 490-95-32 or, after hours, at 490-94-52.
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.

The local equivalents of the “911” emergency lines in Azerbaijan are: 101-Fire Brigade; 102-Police; 103-Ambulance; 104-Gas services; and 112-Ministry of Emergency Situations.

Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

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 Azerbaijan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Azerbaijan 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.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
The Republic of Azerbaijan's economy is mostly cash-only.
Traveler’s checks and credit cards are accepted only in some hotels and a few restaurants and supermarkets.

Azerbaijani customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Azerbaijan of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities including carpets, medications, and caviar, and any amount of currency over USD 1000.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
A few Western-type medical clinics, the quality of which is comparable to those in Western countries, are operating in Baku.
However, medical facilities outside the capital remain inadequate, unsanitary, and unsafe.
There is often a shortage of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles and vaccines. Bring adequate amounts of prescription medicines for the duration of your visit, as pharmacies often do not carry all brands or doses.

Tuberculosis (TB) is an increasingly serious health concern in Azerbaijan.
For further information, please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Travel Notice on TB http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx.

Avian Influenza:
In 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Azerbaijani authorities confirmed several human cases of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, commonly known as "bird flu."
Travelers to Azerbaijan 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.
For the most current information and links on avian influenza in Azerbaijan, see the State Department’s Avian Influenza Fact Sheet or visit the web site of the U.S. Embassy in Baku at http://azerbaijan.usembassy.gov/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the CDC’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 WHO web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Azerbaijan.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The U.S. 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 Azerbaijan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving hazards such as open manholes, debris, sinkholes, and potholes are common in Baku.
Most drivers do not pay attention to traffic regulations, signals, lane markings, pedestrians, or other drivers.
Drivers often travel at extremely high speeds, and accidents are frequent and often serious.
Driving in Baku should be considered extremely hazardous.
Outside the city, even where roads are present, conditions are similar.
Roads are often in poor repair and unlighted, and lack lane markings, traffic signs, and warnings.
Many rural roads are largely unpaved.
Public transportation throughout the country is overcrowded and poorly maintained.
The U.S. Embassy strongly discourages use of the Baku Metro.
Train travel in the Caucasus region is not secure.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the Azerbaijan’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://azerbaijan.tourism.az/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Azerbaijan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Azerbaijan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

Travelers on regional airlines among the countries of the Caucasus may experience prolonged delays and sudden cancellations of flights.
In addition to frequent delays, flights are often overcrowded, with passengers without seats standing in the aisle along with excess unsecured cabin luggage.
Even basic safety features such as seat belts are sometimes missing.
Air travel to Azerbaijan on international carriers via Europe is typically more reliable.

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 Azerbaijan are encouraged to register with the U.S. embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Azerbaijan.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the embassy or consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Azadlig Prospekt 83; tel. (9-9412) 498-03-35, 36, or 37; (9-9412) 490-66-71; email: ConsularBaku@state.gov; web site at http://azerbaijan.usembassy.gov.
Travelers are encouraged to notify the Embassy before their permanent departure from the country.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Azerbaijan dated June 19, 2008 to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements; Safety and Security; and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2019 03:13:16 +0200
By Andrea PALASCIANO

Naftalan, Azerbaijan, April 19, 2019 (AFP) - Immersed up to her neck in a dark viscous liquid, Sulfiya smiles in delight, confident that the fetid substance will cure her painful condition.   Sulfiya, a Russian woman in her 60s, has travelled to Azerbaijan's north-western city of Naftalan in the hope that crude oil baths at a local sanatorium will end her years of suffering from polyarthritis, a disease affecting the joints.   "This is so pleasant," she enthuses, despite the reek of engine oil.

Her naked dip in oil heated to just above body temperature lasts 10 minutes, after which an attendant scrapes the brown oil off her skin and sends her into a shower.   The native of Russia's Tatarstan region said she and her friends "have long dreamed of coming" for treatment in Naftalan.   The petroleum spa resort in the oil-rich Caucasus country is a draw for visitors despite its proximity to Nagorny Karabakh, a region disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia in a long-running armed conflict.

After 10 days of bathing in crude oil Sulfiya says she now feels "much better" and has even reduced her medication for the polyarthritis that she has had for 12 years.   "It is a gift from God," agrees 48-year-old Rufat, an Azerbaijani journalist and opposition party member who is undergoing treatment in the sanatorium called Sehirli, or "magic" in Azerbaijani.   Azerbaijan's vast oil deposits were discovered in the mid-19th century, making what was at the time part of the Russian Empire one of the first places in the world to start commercial oil production.

Oil exports to markets all over the world are the largest sector of Azerbaijan's economy, but the crude that comes from subsoil reservoirs in Naftalan is not suitable for commercial use.   Instead the local oil is used to treat muscular, skin and bone conditions as well as gynaecological and neurological problems.   According to a legend, which spa staff readily tell clients, the healing properties of Naftalan's "miraculous oil" were discovered by accident when a camel left to die near a pool of oil was cured.

The small town of Naftalan some 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the capital Baku became a popular health resort for Soviet citizens in the 1920s.   "In the past, when there weren't any hotels or sanatoriums, people would come to Naftalan and stay with locals," said one of the doctors at the Sehirli sanatorium, Fabil Azizov, sitting in her office under a portrait of strongman President Ilham Aliyev.   "But as time passed, sanatoriums were built and treatment methods developed."

- Controversial benefits -
Some specialists warn the method has dangerous side effects.   "Despite the stories of past cures, the use of crude oil for medicinal purposes has been condemned by Western doctors as potentially carcinogenic," former journalist Maryam Omidi wrote in a 2017 book published in Britain about Soviet-era sanatoriums.

In fact, the oil at Naftalan is almost 50 percent naphthalene, a carcinogenic substance found in cigarette smoke and mothballs that in large amounts can damage or destroy red blood cells.   But doctors and patients at Naftalan brush aside any misgivings and the sanatorium even has a small museum displaying crutches that once belonged to patients who have recovered from their illnesses.

- 'We heard gunshots' -
During its heyday in the 1980s, Naftalan would host more than 70,000 visitors a year.    But in 1988, a bloody war began with neighbouring Armenia for the control of Azerbaijan's separatist Nagorny Karabakh region, which unilaterally proclaimed independence from Baku in 1991.

The conflict claimed the lives of some 30,000 people from both sides and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.   A 1994 ceasefire agreement ended hostilities, but the arch foes have yet to reach a definitive peace deal and there are frequent skirmishes along the volatile frontline.   During the war, the sanatoriums in Naftalan -- a few kilometres from the frontline -- were converted into hospitals for wounded soldiers and temporary accommodation for refugees.

Over the last two decades, the Azerbaijani authorities have worked hard to re-establish Naftalan's reputation as a health resort.    They resettled refugees in other regions, demolished decrepit Soviet-era sanatoriums and built brand-new tourist facilities.   Modern Naftalan is a blend of kitsch-looking high-end spas where a week's treatment costs some 1,000 euros, and modest sanatoriums where a week's treatment costs around 100 euros.   The simmering Karabakh conflict may be out of sight, but guests can still feel uncomfortably close to the military action.   During one of the deadliest recent bouts of fighting in April 2016, "we heard gunshots," said a member of staff at Naftalan's luxurious Garabag spa, adding quickly that "everyone stayed on."
Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2019 05:49:56 +0200
By Andrea PALASCIANO

Naftalan, Azerbaijan, April 12, 2019 (AFP) - Immersed up to her neck in a dark viscous liquid, Sulfiya smiles in delight, confident that the fetid substance will cure her painful condition.   Sulfiya, a Russian woman in her 60s, has travelled to Azerbaijan's north-western city of Naftalan in the hope that crude oil baths at a local sanatorium will end her years of suffering from polyarthritis, a disease affecting the joints.   "This is so pleasant," she enthuses, despite the reek of engine oil.

Her naked dip in oil heated to just above body temperature lasts 10 minutes, after which an attendant scrapes the brown oil off her skin and sends her into a shower.   The native of Russia's Tatarstan region said she and her friends "have long dreamed of coming" for treatment in Naftalan.   The petroleum spa resort in the oil-rich Caucasus country is a draw for visitors despite its proximity to Nagorny Karabakh, a region disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia in a long-running armed conflict.

After 10 days of bathing in crude oil Sulfiya says she now feels "much better" and has even reduced her medication for the polyarthritis that she has had for 12 years.   "It is a gift from God," agrees 48-year-old Rufat, an Azerbaijani journalist and opposition party member who is undergoing treatment in the sanatorium called Sehirli, or "magic" in Azerbaijani.   Azerbaijan's vast oil deposits were discovered in the mid-19th century, making what was at the time part of the Russian Empire one of the first places in the world to start commercial oil production.

Oil exports to markets all over the world are the largest sector of Azerbaijan's economy, but the crude that comes from subsoil reservoirs in Naftalan is not suitable for commercial use.   Instead the local oil is used to treat to cure muscular, skin and bone conditions as well as gynaecological and neurological problems.   According to a legend, which spa staff readily tell clients, the healing properties of Naftalan's "miraculous oil" were discovered by accident when a camel left to die near a pool of oil was cured.

The small town of Naftalan some 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the capital Baku became a popular health resort for Soviet citizens in the 1920s.   "In the past, when there weren't any hotels or sanatoriums, people would come to Naftalan and stay with locals," said one of the doctors at the Sehirli sanatorium, Fabil Azizov, sitting in her office under a portrait of strongman President Ilham Aliyev.   "But as time passed, sanatoriums were built and treatment methods developed."

- Controversial benefits -
Some specialists warn the method has dangerous side effects.   "Despite the stories of past cures, the use of crude oil for medicinal purposes has been condemned by Western doctors as potentially carcinogenic," former journalist Maryam Omidi wrote in a 2017 book published in Britain about Soviet-era sanatoriums.

In fact, the oil at Naftalan is almost 50 percent naphthalene, a carcinogenic substance found in cigarette smoke and mothballs that in large amounts can damage or destroy red blood cells.   But doctors and patients at Naftalan brush aside any misgivings and the sanatorium even has a small museum displaying crutches that once belonged to patients who have recovered from their illnesses.

- 'We heard gunshots' -
During its heyday in the 1980s, Naftalan would host more than 70,000 visitors a year.    But in 1988, a bloody war began with neighbouring Armenia for the control of Azerbaijan's separatist Nagorny Karabakh region, which unilaterally proclaimed independence from Baku in 1991.  The conflict claimed the lives of some 30,000 people from both sides and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.   A 1994 ceasefire agreement ended hostilities, but the arch foes have yet to reach a definitive peace deal and there are frequent skirmishes along the volatile frontline.

During the war, the sanatoriums in Naftalan -- a few kilometres from the frontline -- were converted into hospitals for wounded soldiers and temporary accommodation for refugees.   Over the last two decades, the Azerbaijani authorities have worked hard to re-establish Naftalan's reputation as a health resort.    They resettled refugees in other regions, demolished decrepit Soviet-era sanatoriums and built brand-new tourist facilities.

Modern Naftalan is a blend of kitsch-looking high-end spas where a week's treatment costs some 1,000 euros, and modest sanatoriums where a week's treatment costs around 100 euros.   The simmering Karabakh conflict may be out of sight, but guests can still feel uncomfortably close to the military action.   During one of the deadliest recent bouts of fighting in April 2016, "we heard gunshots," said a member of staff at Naftalan's luxurious Garabag spa, adding quickly that "everyone stayed on."
Date: Sun, 27 Aug 2017 12:33:14 +0200

Baku, Aug 27, 2017 (AFP) - Six people were injured Sunday when a fire at a military base in Azerbaijan set off explosions of weapons at a storage depot, officials in the Caucasus nation said.   Residents were evacuated from two villages Gilezi and Shitalchai nearest to the base, about 70 kilometres north of capital Baku, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said there was a fire at the base "which caused the explosions," without giving details of damages or cause of the fire.   A spokeswoman of the health ministry, Liya Bairamova, told AFP that six people were injured in the fire and blasts, though without clarifying if they were soldiers or civilians.   Earlier emergencies authorities said that first response vehicles could not get close to the base because of ongoing explosions.   A major road from Baku north to the city of Guba and the Russian border was closed due to the incident.
Date: Fri 8 Jul 2016, 14:46
Source: Azeri Press Agency (APA) [edited]

A 10-year-old boy has died of rabies after being bitten by a dog in his head, face, and mouth 20 days ago in the Dayikend village of Azerbaijan's Salyan. Rita Ismayilova, head of the department of epidemiology of especially dangerous infectious diseases of the Republican Anti Plague Station under the Health Ministry, told APA that the boy was admitted to the Salyan district central hospital the same day he was attacked by the dog. However, the child's body failed to create immunity as the incubation period of the disease was short, so it developed into rabies. The child was transferred to Baku and received symptomatic treatment in the children infectious diseases hospital No.1.

Nevertheless, the child could not be saved and he died on 7 Jul 2016. It's well known that there's no treatment for a person who is infected with rabies; it results in death", she said. She added that about 17 000 people bitten by animals every year are healed [see comment]. On rare occasions, the incubation period is very short. "This child's incubation period was 14 days and symptoms had already manifested. The treatment didn't help because the child's body failed to create immunity. Moreover, he had been bitten in dangerous parts -- his face, head, fingers, upper body. These areas are close to the brain and therefore death occurs earlier", she said. Note that this is the 2nd such [event] recorded in 2016. The 1st incident took place in Zagatala in May; P.T. (b. 1969) did not go to hospital after being bitten and died of rabies in Zagatala [See item 2].  [Byline: Konul Kamilqizi]
=====================
[The term "healed" may mislead, suggestive of remedying established rabies disease. The 17 000 people bitten by animals in Azerbaijan have, rather likely, undergone a "post exposure prophylaxis" treatment, preventing the development of disease (which, unfortunately, cannot be healed...). - ProMED Mod.AS]
************************
Azerbaijan, fatal human case
Date: Tue 24 May 2016, 12:31 GMT
Source: News.AZ [edited]

Azerbaijan's Health Ministry on Tue [24 May 2016] confirmed its 1st recorded human rabies case in the country in 2016. Liya Bayramova, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told APA that P.T., 47, a resident of the Faldar village of the country's Zagatala district, was hospitalized with symptoms of rabies on 22 May 2016. "The woman was bitten by a dog on 1 Apr 2016, but she didn't admit to hospital immediately," Bayramova said.

She noted that in fact, in animal bite cases, people must be vaccinated against rabies within 14 days. "Turajova went to the hospital after 52 days when signs of rabies appeared. Her treatment continued in a hospital in Zagatala, and doctors from Minghachevir and Baku were sent for consultation," she added.

Rita Ismayilova, head of the department of epidemiology of especially dangerous infectious diseases of the Republican Anti Plague Station under the Health Ministry, told APA that a dog bit the index finger of that woman's right hand 2 months ago. "As she was slightly injured, she didn't seek medical aid. The wound healed, but 2 months later she began to exhibit signs of rabies. Symptoms begin with fear of light, water and air. Though the woman was hospitalized, human rabies case often results in death," Ismayilova noted.

She added that it is the 1st case of human rabies recorded in Azerbaijan in 2016. The last case of human rabies was recorded 3-4 years ago.
====================
[The statement of the spokesperson that "in fact, in animal bite cases, people must be vaccinated against rabies within 14 days" does not comply with WHO guidelines for the "post exposure prophylaxis (PEP)" procedures. Such cases require "immediate" post-exposure-prophylaxis treatment. Subscribers are referred to the following WHO's "Top 10 General Considerations in Rabies PEP", updated 2014:

1. Wounds must be immediately washed/flushed for 15 minutes and disinfected.
2. Rabies PEP should be instituted immediately. PEP consists of a course of potent, effective rabies vaccine that meets WHO recommendations and administration of rabies immunoglobulin.
3. PEP must be applied using vaccine regimens and administration routes that have been proven to be safe and effective.
4. PEP does not have contraindications if purified rabies immunoglobulin and vaccine are used. Pregnancy and infancy are not contraindications to PEP.
5. If rabies immunoglobulin is not available on 1st visit, use can be delayed by up to 7 days from the date of the 1st vaccine dose.
6. Initiation of PEP should not await the results of laboratory diagnosis or be delayed by dog observation when rabies is suspected.
7. When suspect rabid animal contacts (excluding bats) occur in areas free of carnivore-mediated rabies and where there is adequate surveillance in place, PEP may not be required. The decision must be based on expert risk assessment.
8. Patients presenting for rabies PEP even months after having been bitten should be treated as if the contact had recently occurred.
9. PEP should be administered even if the suspect animal is not available for testing or observation. However, vaccine and immunoglobulin administration may be discontinued if the animal involved: is a vaccinated dog (cat or ferret) that following observation for 10 days, remains healthy or is humanely killed and declared negative for rabies by a WHO prescribed laboratory test. 10. In areas enzootic for (canine and wildlife) rabies, PEP should be instituted immediately unless adequate laboratory surveillance and data indicates that the species involved is not a vector of rabies.

For the above and further information, see WHO "Guide for Rabies Pre and Post Exposure Prophylaxis in Humans at

The recent case, in a child (item 1), was a "Category III" case ("Bites to the head, neck, face hand and genitals") requiring special treatment.

Subscribers are referred to the excellent paper
"Things-you-may-not-know-about-rabies-but-should", available at
Date: Wed 18 Feb 2015
Source: Azer News [edited]

We are accustomed to hear about food poisoning in summertime and may neglect winter's main danger -- botulism -- which may strike us down. In January 2015, 64 cases of food poisoning were registered in Azerbaijan. The total number of victims of these poisoning cases reached 92 people, said Imran Abdullayev, Head of Hygiene and Epidemiology Center Department of the Health Ministry. Moreover, cases of botulism were registered in January 2015, which harmed 9 people, leaving 1 dead. The poisoning was due to homemade pickled tomatoes.

The Centre of Hygiene and Epidemiology urges people to follow hygiene rules at home and buy food from reliable catering outlets and grocery stores to avoid food poisoning. Special attention should be paid to children's nutrition.

To avoid food poisoning, one must simply follow hygiene rules at home and buy food in reliable catering outlets and grocery stores.

Prevention of botulism is simple: combining a refrigeration temperature with salt content and acidic conditions. This combination stops the growth of the bacterium and production of toxin.  [Byline: Nigar Orujova]
====================
[Pickling food in an acidic medium such as vinegar is one way of preserving the food and minimizing the risk of botulism, since the spores do not germinate below pH 4.6. Inadequate acidification, therefore, may be the issue here, and this has occurred before related to human botulism, as an example, from homemade pickled eggs (CDC: Foodborne botulism from eating home-pickled eggs -- Illinois, 1997. MMWR 2000;49:778-780). - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 09:15:57 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after more than two months of stringent curbs.   Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the ministry said in a series of measures announced on the official Saudi Press Agency.   The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday.   From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added.   The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21.   "Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing," Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday.   Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.

In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities.   That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said.   Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 05:52:24 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chile registered a new high for coronavirus cases on Monday, with nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours, including two ministers in President Sebastian Pinera's government.   Health authorities announced 4,895 new infections in the South American country and 43 deaths.

Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno and Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet said they were among those with the disease.   "I have been informed that the COVID-19 test I had a few days ago was positive," Moreno said on Twitter, adding that he had no symptoms so far.   The 63-year-old minister had placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff tested positive.  Jobet also tested positive after starting to quarantine preventatively on Saturday, "when he experienced mild symptoms, which could be associated with the disease," a statement from the Energy Ministry said.

The 44-year-old minister "has had no direct contact with President Sebastian Pinera or other cabinet members in recent days," the statement said, without specifying how he became infected.   Three other ministers, who had self-quarantined after being in contact with infected people, all tested negative and resumed work.

Chile suffered a surge in infections last week, prompting the government to order the lockdown of Santiago.   The capital is the main focus of the pandemic in Chile, with 90 percent of the country's 74,000 cases.   Last week, the Senate was closed after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus. Sessions were held by video conference.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 01:15:01 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Demonstrators defied coronavirus restrictions to march in cities across Ecuador on Monday in protest against President Lenin Moreno's drastic economic measures to tackle the crisis.   Moreno last week announced public spending cuts including the closure of state companies and embassies around the world, but trade unions Monday said workers were paying a disproportionate price compared to Ecuador's elite.   "This protest is because the government is firing workers to avoid making the rich pay," Mecias Tatamuez, head of the county's largest union, the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), told reporters at a march in Quito.

Around 2,000 people marched in the capital, waving flags and banners and shouting anti-government slogans.   The protesters wore masks and respected distancing measures recommended against the spread of the coronavirus that has caused at least 3,200 deaths in the country, making it South America's worst hit nation per capita. Authorities say more than 2,000 further deaths are likely linked to the virus.

Demonstrations took place in several other cities, including Guayaquil, the epicentre of Ecuador's health crisis, where union leaders said hundreds marched through the city.   Moreno ordered the closure of Ecuadoran embassies, a reduction in diplomatic staff and scrapped seven state companies as part of measures designed to save some $4 billion.    He also announced the liquidation of the TAME airline, which has lost more than $400 million over the last five years.

The government says the pandemic has so far cost the economy at least $8 billion.   Public sector working hours have been cut by 25 percent, with an accompanying 16 percent pay cut.   Moreno said on Sunday that 150,000 people had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.   Ecuador was struggling economically before the pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil.   The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by 6.3 percent this year, the sharpest drop of any country in South America.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 22:20:46 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland recorded no new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 21.   Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it a "significant milestone", adding on Twitter: "This is a day of hope. We will prevail."

The announcement came one week after Ireland, which has suffered 1,606 deaths from 24,698 infections, began to ease lockdown measures that had been in place for nearly two months.   Ireland entered lockdown in late March, recording a peak of 77 deaths on a single day on April 20.   "In the last 24 hours we didn't have any deaths notified to us," chief medical officer Tony Holohan said at a daily press briefing.   He warned that the zero figure could be a result of a lag in reporting of deaths over the weekend, but he added: "It's part of the continued trend that we've seen in (the) reduction in the total number of deaths."

Ireland has announced a five-step plan to reopen the nation by August and took the first steps last Monday -- allowing outdoor employees to return to work, some shops to reopen and the resumption of  activities such as golf and tennis.   While the news of no fresh deaths was greeted as progress, officials remain concerned there will be a "second wave" as the lockdown is loosened.   "The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed COVID-19 as a country," Holohan added in a statement.   "It will take another week to see any effect on disease incidence that might arise from the easing of measures."
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 21:59:40 +0200 (METDST)

Luxembourg, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Luxembourg will ease its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, reopening cafes and restaurants and allowing civil and religious ceremonies under strict conditions, the government announced.   The tiny country has so far registered only 3,993 COVID-19 cases, of which 110 have been fatal. Four people are in intensive care and shops were closed on March 18 to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told a news conference on Monday that eateries could reopen terraces with a maximum of four people at a single table.   Indoor dining in cafes and restaurants will resume on Friday, he said, with social distancing of 1.5 metres (five feet) between groups.   Marriages and funerals will also be allowed if the attendees wore face masks and kept two metres distance from each other.   Bettel however said cafes and restaurants would have to close at midnight.

Francois Koepp, the general secretary of the Horeca federation grouping hotels, restaurants and cafes, welcomed the announcement, saying the sector had "greatly suffered from the confinement".   He said it provided employment to some 21,000 people in this nation of 620,000 inhabitants.   Cinema theatres and gyms will open at the end of the week but children's parks will remain closed.   The government has pledged to give every citizen over 16 a voucher worth 50 euros ( $54) to spend in hotels to provide a boost to the sector.   The vouchers will also be given to some 200,000 cross border workers from Belgium, France and Germany.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 20:36:16 +0200 (METDST)

Prague, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - The Czech Republic and Slovakia will reopen their border this week for those travelling to the other country for up to 48 hours, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Monday.   "This will be possible without tests or quarantine" starting Wednesday, he added in a message posted on Twitter.   The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a single country until 1993. Babis himself was born in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

Both countries have fared well in the current pandemic, with Slovakia posting the lowest death toll per capita in the EU and the Czech Republic keeping its COVID-19 figures down as well.   The Czech government will also open border crossings with Austria and Germany on Tuesday but will still require negative COVID-19 tests from those entering the country.   "We have negotiated similar conditions on the other side of the border with our German and Austrian colleagues," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said.   The interior ministry said blanket border checks would be replaced by random ones and added it would still not allow tourists into the country.

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government was working on other measures to ease the travel restrictions adopted in mid-March.   "We would like to introduce them next week," he added.   Vojtech said EU citizens could now come to the Czech Republic "on business or to visit their family for a maximum of 72 hours if they submit a negative coronavirus test."

The country is also accessible to non-EU citizens who do seasonal jobs there, on condition they have tested negative.   Czech restaurants, bars, hotels, castles, zoos and swimming pools have been open since Monday, when the government lifted many anti-virus measures.   Czechs also no longer have to wear face masks outside their homes, except in shops and on public transport.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 17:45:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shafiqul ALAM

Dhaka, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Some 15,000 Rohingya refugees are now under coronavirus quarantine in Bangladesh's vast camps, officials said Monday, as the number of confirmed infections rose to 29.   Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped settlements, housing almost a million Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar, and officials had restricted movement to the area in April.

Despite this, the first cases in the camps were detected in mid-May.   "None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still we have brought them in isolation centres and quarantined their families," Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the surrounding Cox's Bazar area told AFP.   He said narrow roads to three districts of the camps -- where the majority of the infections were detected -- have been blocked off by authorities.

The 15,000 Rohingya inside these so-called blocks faced further restrictions on their movement, he said.   It comes as charity workers expressed fears over being infected in the camps as they worked without adequate protection.   Two of the areas under isolation are in Kutupalong camp, home to roughly 600,000 Rohingya.   "We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts," Bhuiyan said.

Seven isolation centres with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared, he said.   Officials hope to have just under 2,000 ready by the end of May, he added.   Mahbubur Rahman, the chief health official of Cox's Bazar, said authorities hoped this week they would double the number of tests being performed daily from 188.   He said further entry restrictions have been imposed on the camp, with a 14 day quarantine in place for anyone visiting from Dhaka.   "We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun," Rahman told AFP.

- 'Very little awareness' -
Bangladesh on Monday notched up a record single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 1,975 new infections, taking the toll to 35,585 cases and 501 deaths.   In early April authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox's Bazar district -- home to 3.4 million people including the refugees -- after a number of infections.

But a charity worker with one of the many aid organisations active in the camps said Monday he and many others were "very worried".   "Fear and panic has gripped aid workers because many of us were forced to work without much protection," he told AFP without wishing to be named.   "Social distancing is almost impossible in the camps. There is very little awareness about COVID-19 disease among the refugees, despite efforts by aid agencies."

The lack of information is exacerbated by local authorities having cut off access to the internet in September to combat, they said, drug traffickers and other criminals.   More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar to Cox's Bazar, where around 200,000 refugees were already living.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 15:25:38 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar's government has announced it will dispatch troops and doctors to an eastern town after several bodies were found in the streets and where two people died from the novel coronavirus.   Madagascar's cabinet held a special meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Toamasina, the country's second largest city.   The Indian Ocean island nation has registered 527 infections and two deaths, both in Toamasina.

Since Thursday, more than 120 new cases were confirmed, and several bodies were found in the city's streets though the cause of death was not clear.   "Doctors must carry out thorough examinations to see if these deaths are caused by another illness (...) or if they are really due to severe acute respiratory problems which is the critical form of COVID-19," Professor Hanta Marie Danielle Vololontiana, spokesperson for the government's virus taskforce, said in a national broadcast on Sunday.   The government will send 150 soldiers to reinforce Toamasina, maintain order and enforce measures against the coronavirus such as mask wearing and social distancing.

The cabinet also fired Toamasina's prefect without providing any explanation.    A team was also ordered to distribute a drink based on artemisia, a plant recognised as a treatment against malaria, which the Malagasy authorities claim cures COVID-19.    The potential benefits of this herbal tea, called Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study.    The cabinet has also announced an investigation into the death of a doctor in Toamasina. According to local press, the victim was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 and was found dead hanged in his room on Sunday morning.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 09:20:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Bhuvan Bagga with Indranil Mukherjee in Mumbai

New Delhi, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Domestic flights resumed in India on Monday even as coronavirus cases surge, while confusion about quarantine rules prompted jitters among passengers and the cancellation of dozens of planes.   India had halted all flights within the country, and departing and leaving for abroad, in late March as it sought to stop the spread of coronavirus with the world's largest lockdown.   But desperate to get Asia's third-largest economy moving again, the government announced last week that around 1,050 daily flights -- a third of the usual capacity -- would resume on Monday.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said strict rules would include mandatory mask-wearing and thermal screenings, although middle seats on the aircraft would not be kept empty.   The announcement reportedly caught airlines and state authorities off-guard, with several local governments announcing that passengers would have to go into quarantine for two weeks on arrival.   Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases, capped at 50 the number of departures and arrivals in and out of its capital Mumbai.

Airlines scrapped dozens of flights on Monday while hundreds of passengers cancelled their bookings, reports said.   The NDTV news channel said 82 flights to and from New Delhi had been cancelled and nine at Bangalore airport.   Other flights from cities including infection hotspots Mumbai and Chennai were struck off, many at short notice, reports said.   At Mumbai airport social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were cancelled at the last minute.

- 'Really scary' -
At New Delhi airport, hundreds of people anxious to get home but apprehensive about the risks queued from before dawn -- all wearing masks and standing at least one metre (three feet) apart.   Security personnel behind plastic screens verified check-in documents and that passengers had the government contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, on their phones.

"While I'm looking forward (to flying home), the idea of flying is really scary," student Gladia Laipubam told AFP as she stood in line.   "Anything can happen. It's very risky. I don't really know when I'll be able to come back to Delhi now. There is no clarity from the university too at this time."   One female airline employee wearing gloves, a mask and a protective face shield said she and many other colleagues felt "very nervous" about starting work again.   "Dealing with so many people at this time is so risky. I must have interacted with at least 200 people since this morning," she told AFP, not wishing to be named.

Cabin crew on the planes had to wear full protective suits with masks, plastic visors and blue rubber gloves, and many were also confused about the rules, the Press Trust of India reported.   "There is no clarity on whether I need to go into home quarantine for 14 days after returning to my base or show up for duty on Monday," one pilot told PTI.   New coronavirus cases in India crossed 6,000 for the third consecutive day on Sunday, surging to a record single-day spike of 6,767 infections.   The country has recorded almost 140,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.   Singh has said that international flights could resume in June, although dozens of special flights have in recent weeks brought back some of the hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad.
Date: Fri, 22 May 2020 11:02:28 +0200 (METDST)

Suva, Fiji, May 22, 2020 (AFP) - A huge fire at one of Suva's largest markets blanketed the Fijian capital in thick smoke before it was brought under control Friday, firefighters said.   The blaze engulfed the Suva Flea Market, a major tourist attraction near the waterfront, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the air.   The National Fire Authority said an adjoining shop was also badly damaged but there were no reports of injuries.   "It's been stopped now and no one was injured but that's all we can say at the moment," a spokesman told AFP.   The said the cause of the fire was being investigated.