WORLD NEWS

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

Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puerto Rico

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: 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.
More ...

Gibraltar

United Kingdom and Gibraltar (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) US Consular Information Sheet
June 03, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a highly developed constitutional monarc
y comprised of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on the United Kingdom for additional information.
Gibraltar is a United Kingdom Overseas Territory bordering Spain and located at the southernmost tip of Europe at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.
It is one of thirteen former British colonies that have elected to continue their political links with London.
Tourist facilities are widely available.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A visa is not required for tourist or business visits to the UK of less than six months in duration.
Visitors wishing to remain longer than one month in Gibraltar should regularize their stay with Gibraltar immigration authorities.
Those planning to visit the UK for any purpose other than tourism or business, or who intend to stay longer than six months, should consult the website of the British Embassy in the United States at http://britainusa.com for information about current visa requirements.
Those who are required to obtain a visa and fail to do so may be denied entry and returned to their port of origin.
The British government is currently considering reducing the visa-free period from six months to 90 days.
Travelers should be alert to any changes in legislation.
The U.S. Embassy cannot intervene in UK visa matters.
In addition to the British Embassy web site at http://britainusa.com, those seeking current UK visa information may also contact UK consular offices via their premium rate telephone service at 1-900-656-5000 (cost $3/minute) or 1-212-796-5773 ($12 flat fee).
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:
The United Kingdom is politically stable, with a modern infrastructure, but shares with the rest of the world an increased threat of terrorist incidents of international origin, as well as the potential, though significantly diminished in recent years, for isolated violence related to the political situation in Northern Ireland (a part of the United Kingdom).
On July 7, 2005, a major terrorist attack occurred in London, as Islamic extremists detonated explosives on three underground trains and a bus in Central London, resulting in over 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
Following the attacks, the public transportation system was temporarily disrupted, but quickly returned to normal.
A similar but unsuccessful attack against London’s public transport system took place on July 21, 2005.
UK authorities have identified and arrested people involved in these attacks.
Similarly, those involved in terrorist incidents in London and Glasgow during the summer of 2007 were identified and arrested.
Like the US, the UK shares its national threat levels with the general public to keep everyone informed and explain the context for the various increased security measures that may be encountered. UK threat levels are determined by the UK Home Office and are posted on its web site at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/security/current-threat-level/.
Information from the UK Security Service, commonly known as MI5, about the reasons for the increased threat level and actions the public can take is available on the MI5 web site at http://www.mi5.gov.uk/.
On August 10, 2006, the Government of the United Kingdom heightened security at all UK airports following a major counterterrorism operation in which individuals were arrested for plotting attacks against US-bound airlines.
As a result of this, increased restrictions concerning carry-on luggage were put in place and are strictly enforced.
American citizens are advised to check with the UK Department for Transport at http://www.dft.gov.uk/transportforyou/airtravel/airportsecurity/ regarding the latest security updates and carry-on luggage restrictions.
The British Home Secretary has urged UK citizens to be alert and vigilant by, for example, keeping an eye out for suspect packages or people acting suspiciously at subway (called the “Tube” or Underground) and train stations and airports and reporting anything suspicious to the appropriate authorities.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
For more information about UK public safety initiatives, consult the UK Civil Contingencies Secretariat web site at http://www.ukresilience.gov.uk.
The political situation in Northern Ireland has dramatically improved since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the announcement by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on July 28, 2005, that it would end its armed campaign, and the agreement to set up a power-sharing government on May 8, 2007.
The potential remains, however, for sporadic incidents of street violence and/or sectarian confrontation. American citizens traveling to Northern Ireland should therefore remain alert to their surroundings and should be aware that if they choose to visit potential flashpoints or attend parades sporadic violence remains a possibility. Tensions may be heightened during the summer marching season (April to August), particularly during the month of July around the July 12th public holiday.

The phone number for police/fire/ambulance emergency services - the equivalent of "911" in the U.S. - is “999” in the United Kingdom and “112” in Gibraltar.
This number should also be used for warnings about possible bombs or other immediate threats.
The UK Anti-Terrorist Hotline, at 0800 789 321, is for tip-offs and confidential information about possible terrorist activity.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution can be found.
Recent communications from U.S. Embassy London to the local American citizen community, called Warden Messages, can be found on the U.S. Embassy's American Citizens' Services web site at http://london.usembassy.gov/cons_new/acs/index.html.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
The United Kingdom and Gibraltar benefit from generally low crime rates and rates decreased slightly in 2007 in significant categories, including violent crime.
The crime situation in the UK is similar to the United States, with typical incidents including pick-pocketing; mugging; “snatch and grab” thefts of mobile phones, watches and jewelry; and theft of unattended bags, especially at airports and from cars parked at restaurants, hotels and resorts.
Pickpockets target tourists, especially at historic sites, restaurants, on buses, trains and the London Underground (the “Tube,” or subway).
Thieves often target unattended cars parked at tourist sites and roadside restaurants, looking for laptop computers and hand-held electronic equipment, especially global positioning satellite equipment.
Walking in isolated areas, including public parks, especially after dark, should also be avoided, as these provide advantageous venues for muggers and thieves.
At night or when there is little foot traffic, travelers should be especially careful using the underground pedestrian tunnels.
As a general rule, either walk the extra distance to use a surface crossing or wait until there are other adult pedestrians entering the tunnel.

In London, travelers should use only licensed “black taxi cabs,” or car services recommended by their hotel or tour operator.
Unlicensed taxis or private cars posing as taxis may offer low fares, but are often uninsured and may have unlicensed drivers.
In some instances, travelers have been robbed and raped while using these cars.
You can access 7,000 licensed “Black Cabs” using just one telephone number – 0871 871 8710. This taxi booking service combines all six of London’s radio taxi circuits, allowing you to telephone 24 hours a day if you need to “hail a cab.” Alternatively, to find a licensed minicab, text “HOME” to 60835 on your mobile phone to get the telephone number to two licensed minicab companies in the area. If you know in advance what time you will be leaving for home, you can pre-book your return journey.
The “Safe Travel at Night” partnership among the Metropolitan Police, Transport for London, and the Mayor of London maintains a website with additional information at http://www.cabwise.com/.
Travelers should not leave drinks unattended in bars and nightclubs.
There have been some instances of drinks being spiked with illegal substances, leading to incidents of robbery and rape.
Due to the circumstances described above, visitors should take steps to ensure the safety of their U.S. passports.
Visitors in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar are not expected to produce identity documents for police authorities and thus may secure their passports in hotel safes or residences.
Abundant ATMs that link to U.S. banking networks offer an optimal rate of exchange and they preclude the need to carry a passport to cash travelers’ checks.
Travelers should be aware that U.S. banks might charge a higher processing fee for withdrawals made overseas.
Common sense personal security measures utilized in the U.S. when using ATMs should also be followed in the UK.
ATM fraud in the UK is becoming more sophisticated, incorporating technologies to surreptitiously record customer ATM card and PIN information.
Travelers should avoid using ATMs that look in any way “temporary” in structure or location, or that are located in isolated areas.
Travelers should be aware that in busy public areas, thieves use distraction techniques, such as waiting until the PIN number has been entered and then pointing to money on the ground, or attempting to hand out a free newspaper.
When the ATM user is distracted, a colleague will quickly withdraw cash and leave.
If distracted in any way, travelers should press the cancel transaction button immediately and collect their card before speaking to the person who has distracted them.
If the person’s motives appear suspicious, travelers should not challenge them but remember the details and report the matter to Police as soon as possible.
In addition, travelers should not use the ATM if there is anything stuck to the machine or if it looks unusual in any way.
If the machine does not return the card, report the incident to the issuing bank immediately.

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 at the opening of the next business day.
The U.S. Embassy or Consulate only issues replacement passports during regular business hours.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, report it to local police.
The nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate will also be able to assist by helping you to find appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and explaining 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.

Visit the “Victim Support” web site, maintained by an independent UK charity to helps people cope with the effects of crime: http://www.victimsupport.org.uk/
See our information for Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
While medical services are widely available, free care under the National Health System is allowed only to UK residents and certain EU nationals.
Tourists and short-term visitors will be charged for medical treatment in the UK.
Charges may be significantly higher than those assessed in the United States.
Hiking in higher elevations can be treacherous.
Several people die each year while hiking, particularly in Scotland, often due to sudden changes in weather.
Visitors, including experienced hikers, are encouraged to discuss intended routes with local residents familiar with the area, and to adhere closely to recommendations.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.

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.
If your medical insurance policy does not provide overseas coverage, you may want to purchase a short-term policy for your trip.
The Department of State provides a list of travel insurance companies that can provide the additional insurance needed for the duration of one’s trip abroad in its online at medical insurance overseas.
Remember also that most medical care facilities and medical care providers in the UK do not accept insurance subscription as a primary source of payment.
Rather, the beneficiary is expected to pay for the service and then seek reimbursement from the insurance company.
This may require an upfront payment in the $10,000 to $20,000 range

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 the United Kingdom is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

UK penalties for driving under the influence of even minimal amounts of alcohol or drugs are stiff and often result in prison sentences.
In contrast to the United States and continental Europe, where traffic drives on the right side of the road, in the UK, it moves on the left.
The maximum speed limit on highways/motorways in the UK is 70MPH.
Motorways generally have a hard shoulder (breakdown lane) on the far left, defined by a solid white line.
It is illegal to stop or park on a hard shoulder unless it is an emergency.
In such cases, you should activate your hazard lights, get out of your vehicle and go onto an embankment for safety.
Emergency call boxes (orange telephone booths with “SOS” printed on them) may be found at half-mile intervals along the motorway.
White and blue poles placed every 100 yards along the motorway point in the direction of the nearest call box.
Emergency call boxes dial directly to a motorway center.
It is best to use these phones rather than a personal cell phone, because motorway center personnel will immediately know the location of a call received from an emergency call box.
Roadside towing services may cost approximately £125.
However, membership fees of automotive associations such as the RAC or AA (Automobile Association) often include free roadside towing service.
Visitors uncomfortable with, or intimidated by, the prospect of driving on the left-hand side of the road may wish to avail themselves of extensive bus, rail and air transport networks that are comparatively inexpensive.
Roads in the UK are generally excellent, but are narrow and often congested in urban areas.
If you plan to drive while in the UK, you may wish to obtain a copy of the Highway Code, available at http://www.highwaycode.gov.uk.
Travelers intending to rent cars in the UK should make sure that they are adequately insured.
U.S. auto insurance is not always valid outside the U.S., and travelers may wish to purchase supplemental insurance, which is generally available from most major rental agents.
The city of London imposes a congestion charge of £8 (eight pounds sterling, or approximately U.S. $16.00) on all cars entering much of central London Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Information on the congestion charge can be found at http://www.cclondon.com.
Public transport in the United Kingdom is excellent and extensive.
However, poor track conditions may have contributed to train derailments resulting in some fatalities.
Repairs are underway and the overall safety record is excellent.
Information on disruptions to London transportation services can be found at http://www.tfl.gov.uk and information about the status of National Rail Services can be found at http://www.nationalrail.co.uk.
Many U.S. pedestrians are injured, some fatally, every year in the United Kingdom, because they forget that oncoming traffic approaches from the opposite direction than in the United States.
Extra care and alertness should be taken when crossing streets; remember to look both ways before stepping into the street.
Driving in Gibraltar is on the right-hand side of the road, as in the U.S. and Continental Europe.
Persons traveling overland between Gibraltar and Spain may experience long delays in clearing Spanish border controls.
Please refer to our Road Safety Overseas page for more information.
For specific information concerning United Kingdom driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, refer to the United Kingdom’s Department of Environment and Transport web site at http://www.dft.gov.uk, the Driving Standards Agency web site at http://www.dsa.gov.uk or consult the U.S. Embassy in London’s web site at http://london.usembassy.gov/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of the UK’s air carrier operations.
For further information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
The legal drinking age in the UK is generally lower than in the U.S. and social drinking in pubs is often seen as a routine aspect of life in Britain. Parents, organizers of school trips, and young travelers should be aware of the impact that this environment may have when combined with the sense of adventure that comes with being abroad.
Please see our Students Abroad web site as well Studying Abroad to help students plan a safe and enjoyable adventure.
The UK has strict gun-control laws, and importing firearms is extremely complicated. Travelers should consider leaving all firearms in the United States.
Restrictions exist on the type and number of weapons that may be possessed by an individual.
All handguns, i.e. pistols and revolvers, are prohibited with very few exceptions.
Licensing of firearms in the UK is controlled by the Police.
Applicants for a license must be prepared to show 'good reason' why they require each weapon.
Applicants must also provide a copy of their U.S. gun license, a letter of good conduct from their local U.S. police station and a letter detailing any previous training, hunting or shooting experience. Background checks will also be carried out.
Additional information on applying for a firearm certificate and/or shotgun certificate can be found on the Metropolitan Police Firearms Enquiry Teams web site at http://www.met.police.uk/firearms-enquiries/index.htm.
A number of Americans are lured to the UK each year in the belief that they have won a lottery or have inherited from the estate from a long-lost relative.
Americans may also be contacted by persons they have “met” over the Internet who now need funds urgently to pay for hospital treatment, hotel bills, taxes or airline security fees.
Invariably, the person contacted is the victim of fraud.
Any unsolicited invitations to travel to the UK to collect winnings or an inheritance should be viewed with skepticism.
Also, there are no licenses or fees required when transiting a UK airport, nor is emergency medical treatment withheld pending payment of fees.
Please see our information on International Financial Scams. Please read our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating British law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the UK 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.
Many pocketknives and other blades, and mace or pepper spray canisters, although legal in the U.S., are illegal in the UK and will result in arrest and confiscation if detected.
A UK Metropolitan Police guide to items that are prohibited as offensive weapons is available at http://www.met.police.uk/youngpeople/guns.htm.
A UK Customs Guide, detailing what items visitors are prohibited from bringing into the UK, is available at http://customs.hmrc.gov.uk/channelsPortalWebApp/downloadFile?contentID=HMCE_CL_001734.
Air travelers to and from the United Kingdom should be aware that penalties against alcohol-related and other in-flight crimes (“air rage”) are stiff and are being enforced with prison sentences.
Please also see our information on customs regulations that pertain when returning to the US.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in the United Kingdom are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the United Kingdom.
By registering, Americans make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency, and to relay updated information on travel and security within the United Kingdom.
The Embassy and Consulates regularly send security and other information via email to Americans who have registered.
As noted above, recent communications from U.S. Embassy London to the local American citizen community, called Warden Messages, can be found on the embassy’s web site.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
The Consular Section also disseminates a newsletter every month.
Those wishing to subscribe to the monthly consular newsletter in London should send a request by email to SCSLondon@state.gov.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE; telephone: in country 020-7499-9000; from the U.S. 011-44-20-7499-9000 (24 hours); Consular Section fax: in country 020-7495-5012; from the U.S. 011-44-20-7495-5012, and on the Internet at http://london.usembassy.gov.
The U.S. Consulate General in Edinburgh, Scotland, is located at 3 Regent Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 5BW; Telephone: in country 0131-556-8315, from the U.S. 011-44-131-556-8315.
After hours: in country 01224-857097, from the U.S. 011-44-1224-857097.
Fax: in country 0131-557-6023; from the U.S. 011-44-131-557-6023.
Information on the Consulate General is included on the Embassy’s web site at http://london.usembassy.gov/scotland.
The U.S. Consulate General in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is located at Danesfort House, 228 Stranmillis Road, Belfast BT9 5GR; Telephone: in country 028-9038-6100; from the U.S. 011-44-28-9038-6100.
Fax:
in country 028-9068-1301; from the U.S. 011-44-28-9068-1301.
Information on the Consulate General is included on the Embassy’s web site at: http://london.usembassy.gov/nireland.
There is no U.S. consular representation in Gibraltar.
Passport questions should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, located at Serrano 75, Madrid, Spain, tel (34)(91) 587-2200, and fax (34)(91) 587-2303.
The web site is http://madrid.usembassy.gov.
All other inquiries should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in London.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated December 12, 2007, to update the sections on Entry Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities, Medical Insurance, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 24 Aug 2017
Source: Gibraltar Chronicle [edited]
<http://chronicle.gi/2017/08/tiger-mosquito-found-in-gibraltar-but-no-cause-for-concern-officials-say/>

An aggressive species of mosquito known to transmit viral diseases has been detected in Gibraltar, but public health officials insist there is no cause for alarm. Public Health Gibraltar and the Environmental Agency confirmed that the mosquito of the species _Aedes albopictus_, also known as the tiger mosquito, has been found in Gibraltar.

Last June [2017] after 9 months of intensive surveillance, officials said no tiger mosquito had been found in Gibraltar. But this has now changed after the 1st tiger mosquito was found in the urban dome   stic environment within Gibraltar. "This finding alone does not however materially alter any health risks in Gibraltar and there is no immediate cause for public concern," the government said in a statement. Public Health Gibraltar was first alerted in January 2016 to the discovery of the mosquito in Malaga and Algeciras [in Andalusia, Spain]. Since then, together with the Environmental Agency, it began working with international experts to mount surveillance in Gibraltar.

World Health Organization experts visited Gibraltar and gave advice on setting traps and monitoring locations, but no tiger mosquito had been detected until now. The tiger mosquito is not native to Gibraltar and has not been previously found here. It is common in other countries where it transmits viral diseases like Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. It is a domestic species, breeds in water in urban areas -- water butts, blocked drains, rainwater gullies -- and is able to reach high abundance around residential areas.

It is also a day-time mosquito, that aggressively bites humans. "Health risks to the public only arise if the virus causing these diseases is also present, which is not the case in Gibraltar," the government said.  "The virus can, however, be imported by travellers returning from an overseas country and if this happens, there is a risk of spread, but only if the mosquito bites within a small window period of about a week after the fever starts."

Public Health Gibraltar has been raising awareness of travel risk amongst travellers through its publication A Factsheet for Travellers and recommends the following precautions:
- before travelling to affected areas, consult your doctor or seek advice from a travel clinic, especially if you have an immune disorder or severe chronic illness;
- if you are pregnant or are considering pregnancy, consider postponing non-essential travel;
- when staying in a mosquito-prone area, wear mosquito repellents and take mosquito bite prevention measures;
- if you have symptoms within 3 weeks of return from an affected country, contact your doctor;
- if you have been diagnosed with any of the diseases Zika, dengue, or chikungunya, take strict mosquito bite prevention measures for 10 days after the fever starts.
========================== 
[The appearance of _Aedes albopictus_ in Gibraltar is not surprising. A map of the distribution of this species as of April this year (2017) shows it present around the Mediterranean Basin and up to Gibraltar on the west (<https://ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/aedes-albopictus-current-known-distribution-europe-april-2017>).

Now it has been found in Gibraltar. The concerns are real about transmission of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika viruses should populations of _Ae. albopictus_ become established. In 2015 there were a few locally acquired cases of dengue in the south of France. This also happened on a larger scale in Emilia Romagna, Italy, when a viraemic man introduced chikungunya virus into Italy and sparked an outbreak.

One hopes that mosquito surveillance will continue in Gibraltar, perhaps be intensified, and help guide vector control efforts. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/517>.]
Date: Wed, 1 Jun 2011 01:46:48 +0200 (METDST)

GIBRALTAR, June 1, 2011 (AFP) - A fuel tank exploded and caught fire near a cruise ship in the British territory of Gibraltar Tuesday, injuring at least 15 people, most of them on the vessel, local officials and the ship's owners said. The blast was probably caused by a spark from welding operations, Chief Minister Peter Caruana told Radio Gibraltar. But police were not ruling out any possibility including that of an attack, he added. Flames several metres high could be seen coming out of the tank with dense black smoke billowing across the port as firefighters directed jets of water at the blaze from tugboats. The fire continued late into the night, with Radio Gibraltar reporting more explosions were heard. The tank was close to the giant cruise ship, Independence of the Seas, which had arrived in Gibraltar Tuesday morning. The ship made an emergency departure immediately after the blast Tuesday afternoon.

The Gibraltar government and the ship's owners, Royal Caribbean International, both said 12 people on the ship had been hurt. Gibraltar officials said one of the passengers had suffered a fractured arm. Two Spanish welders working on the tank were injured, including one who was in critical condition in a burns unit at a hospital in the southern Spanish city of Seville, Radio Gibraltar said. A police officer was also slightly injured in the rescue attempt, police said. "The lid of the tank was blown off by the blast," a police spokesman said. The statement from Royal Caribbean International said: "Immediately after the explosion, the ship retracted the gangway and moved a safe distance from the dock. "Twelve guests sustained minor injuries and have received medical treatment onboard." The boat was on a two-week cruise, having left the southern English port of Southampton on Saturday, the company added.

Air services to Gibraltar were suspended and offices in the port area evacuated. The police spokesman said the possibility of adjacent tanks overheating and exploding could not be ruled out. Caruana described it as a serious incident but said there was "no cause for concern". "Once it was established that there were welding operations going on, on top of the very tank at the time it exploded, (that) makes that a frontrunner for a likely explanation, but all possibilities are being kept open," he told Radio Gibraltar. "The police are obviously keeping their minds open to the possibility of maybe a security incident. It's looking unlikely but all possibilities are being looked into if only to be excluded."

"The plan is to allow it to carry on burning itself off," he said later Tuesday, but warned that the wind was due to change during the night, which could bring the smoke over land. Spanish tugs from a private company were helping the local fire services, he added. One witness said he was in his office nearby when he heard three loud explosions. "We started running out and saw one of the main tanks set alight. My concern was the poor people who were working there," he told Radio Gibraltar. The public was being advised to keep away from the area and keep windows closed due to the smoke. Gibraltar is a 6.5-square-kilometre (2.6-square-mile) British territory of around 30,000 people off the tip of southern Spain. Madrid ceded it to London in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht, but it has long fuelled tensions between the two countries.
Date: Tue, 10 Aug 2010 20:08:15 +0200 (METDST)

GIBRALTAR, Aug 10, 2010 (AFP) - Gibraltar on Tuesday condemned as "illegal" a proposal by the neighbouring Spanish town of La Linea to impose a tax on cars entering or leaving the tiny British territory by road.   The decision comes amid thorny relations between Madrid and London over the disputed British possession off the tip of southern Spain.

La Linea mayor Alejandro Sanchez on Monday announced the "congestion charge" of no more than five euros (6.5 dollars) on cars crossing into and out of Gibraltar, saying the measure will be imposed in October once it is passed by the town council.   He said lorries carrying debris and other materials used in Gibraltar to reclaim land from the sea will pay more, but the exact amount has not yet been determined.   Sanchez, a member of Spain's conservative opposition Popular Party, said the tax is needed partly to compensate the municipality for austerity measures imposed by the socialist government in Madrid.   La Linea residents would be exempt, but it was not clear if Gibraltarians would also have to pay.

The Gibraltar government reacted angrily and said it has contacted the Spanish authorities over the decision.   "The confused statements by the mayor of La Linea in respect of the proposed toll describe a litany of illegalities under EU Law and probably also under Spanish law," it said in a statement.   "The mayor of La Linea is clearly engaged in a political manoeuvre with his central government, which is unlikely to allow the proposal.

"The mayor's proposals are wholly unacceptable both legally and politically and in the unlikely event that these measures should be introduced, the (Gibraltar) government will take appropriate steps."   Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht but has retained first claim on the tiny peninsula should Britain renounce sovereignty.

"The Rock" has long fuelled tensions between Spain and Britain, with Madrid arguing the 6.5-square-kilometre (2.6-square-mile) territory that is home to roughly 30,000 people should be returned to Spanish sovereignty.   But its people overwhelmingly rejected an Anglo-Spanish proposal for co-sovereignty in a referendum in 2002.   In recent months British and Spanish naval and police boats have engaged in a series of cat and mouse games in the waters off Gibraltar, which lies at the strategic western entrance to the Mediterranean.
Date: Thu 23 Oct 2008
Source: Panorama.gi [edited]
---------------------------------
During the last 10 weeks, Gibraltar has experienced an outbreak of measles. "We have so far been notified of over 250 cases and notifications are still coming in at around 4-6 cases per day," said the Gibraltar Health Authority [GHA], who believe that the actual numbers are greater as many people with mild attacks have chosen not to report them. While the majority of infections in the outbreak have been mild, some have been severe and a few patients including babies have needed intensive care.  Measles is an unpleasant disease with fever, sore throat, streaming eyes, diarrhoea, and rash. Most people recover within a week or so, but complications like fits, bacterial infection, or pneumonia can develop. Long-term complications can also arise in very young children.

Says the GHA: It is important that all persons with symptoms suggestive of measles should report the illness to their doctor to enable complications to be detected at an early stage. In addition to medical advice, persons with the illness should follow general hygiene practices such as limiting contact with other people, carefully discarding soiled tissues, and washing their hands. Anyone who has had measles infection is immune for life and cannot get measles again. There is no basis for the rumour that some people have had measles twice. It is possible that infection with rubella (German measles, a different disease) may have caused the confusion. Vaccination with the MMR [measles, mumps, and rubella] vaccine is the only way to prevent measles infection.

[So far], the 250 cases have been in persons who are unvaccinated or partly vaccinated (one dose only). Not a single case has occurred in a person who has had a full course of MMR vaccine. MMR vaccine has been available free to children [from] Gibraltar's health service since 1989, although the boosters were only introduced in 2002. It is also a very safe and effective vaccine, with an impressive track record," they say. Gibraltar Health Authority adds that it is continuing to advise all parents of children who have not had the MMR vaccine to immunise their children. There had been some difficulties in obtaining vaccine recently due to an international shortage, but fresh supplies have now been received. The course consists of 2 injections, approximately 3 months apart. Please note that BOTH the doses are needed for adequate immunity. They add: If your child has received only one dose, either now or in the past, he or she could still be at risk. Arrangements have been made to offer additional  vaccination to all unimmunised children as follows: During October and November [2008], the Child Welfare Clinics (primary care centre) will be open on Mondays (2:00 pm to 4:00 pm), Wednesdays (9:00 am to 11:00 am) and Fridays (9:00 am to 11:00 am) for immunisations. Appointments are not necessary.
-------------------------------
[The Rock of Gibraltar is located at the entrance of the Mediterranean. Gibraltar is connected to Spain by a sandy isthmus, by a ferry to Morocco, and by flights to London. By virtue of its geographical position and political status Gibraltar is vulnerable to introduction of infectious disease from diverse sources. No information has been provided regarding the source of the measles virus responsible for this outbreak. In this respect it will be relevant to determine the genotype of the measles virus involved (see comment in ProMED-mail "Measles - Gibraltar 20080814.2529"). The outbreak has escalated from the 17 cases reported on 14 Aug 2008 to the current 250 cases. Despite the availability of free MMR vaccination it is clear that there is an appreciable number of unimmunised individuals in the community who remain susceptible to measles virus infection. It is encouraging that efforts are underway to expand vaccine coverage.


and the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at <http://healthmap.org/promed?g=2411586&amp;v=36.133,-5.35,7>. - ProMed Mod.CP]
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 2008 14:56:40 +0200 (METDST) GIBRALTAR, April 16, 2008 (AFP) - Animal rights groups have expressed outrage over a plan by Gibraltar's government to cull its famous Barbary Apes, which are posing a hazard as they roam the town in search of food. The government of the tiny British territory off Spain's southern coast plans to cull 25 of the simians, whose population has exploded to around 200. The mischievous primates climb over cars and pull out antennas, open rubbish bags and rifle through handbags left unattended in the popular tourist destination. Officially, the management of the apes is the responsibility of the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS), on contract from the government. But the society said it has not approved the cull. "Our policy is that culling can be a population management solution but only in extreme cases when there is no other more suitable option," GONHS general secretary Dr. John Cortes said on Tuesday. "We would only ever recommend a cull after very careful assessment of the situation from a veterinary and a genetic point of view." However, Environment Minister Ernest Britto said a licence has been issued for the cull and two of the apes have already been given lethal injections. Helen Thirlway, the head of Britain's International Primate Protection League, said the government was failing to manage the apes "in a responsible manner." "There have been many advances and pilot studies in recent years on different methods of controlling free-roaming monkeys," she was quoted as saying in the local media Wednesday. "We are more than happy to work with the government of Gibraltar and with GONHS to help them develop more efficient, alternative solutions, but this needless slaughter has to stop." According to legend, if the apes disappear, Britain will lose control of Gibraltar. When wartime British prime minister Winston Churchill heard their population was low, British consuls in North Africa -- from where the apes originally came -- were tasked with sending new young simians to the Rock. At one time, the apes were looked after by the British army stationed in Gibraltar, which selected a place up the Rock where they were fed daily to keep them from loitering downtown. Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, but has retained a constitutional claim should Britain renounce sovereignty. The vast majority of the 30,000 people want to retain their links with Britain.
More ...

New Zealand

New Zealand US Consular Information Sheet
September 22, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
New Zealand is a highly developed, stable parliamentary democracy, which recognizes the British monarch as sovereign. It has a modern economy, and tourist fa
ilities are widely available. The New Zealand Tourist Board, which has a wide range of information of interest to travelers, can be contacted via the internet at http://www.newzealand.com/USA/.
Read the Department of State Background Note on New Zealand for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
U.S. citizens eligible for a visa waiver do not need a visa for tourist stays of three months or less. For more information about visa waivers and entry requirements, contact the Embassy of New Zealand: 37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 328-4800; or the Consulate General of New Zealand in Los Angeles: 2425 Olympic Blvd Suite 600E, Santa Monica, CA 90404, telephone (310) 566-6555.
Visit the Consulate of New Zealand web site at http://www.nzcgla.com 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:
U.S. citizens in New Zealand should review their personal security practices, be alert to any unusual activity around their homes or businesses, and report any significant incidents to local police.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for other callers, 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 personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves overseas, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Crime rates in New Zealand are low but have increased in recent years. The most prevalent crime is theft or attempted theft from cars, camper vans and hostels. To help protect against theft, do not leave passports, or other valuable items in unattended vehicles. Violent crime against tourists is unusual; however, visitors who are traveling alone should be especially vigilant, and avoid isolated areas that are not frequented by the public.

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.
In New Zealand, a private organization called Victim Support works both independently and with the NZ Police to assist victims of crime. Victim Support is available 24 hours per day on 0800-842-846, 0800-Victim, by email at victim@xtra.co.nz.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in New Zealand is 111.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Quality medical care is widely available, but waiting lists exist for certain types of treatment.
High-quality medication (both over-the-counter and prescription) is widely available at local pharmacies, though the products’ names may differ from the American versions.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

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); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of New Zealand.
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 New Zealand is provided for general reference only.

All traffic travels on the left in New Zealand, and drivers should exercise extra caution if accustomed to driving on the right. Driving on the wrong side of the road is a leading cause of serious injury and death for American tourists.
Cars turning left must yield to oncoming cars that are turning right.
Proceed carefully through intersections.
Red means “stop”—do not turn at a red light.

New Zealand has only 100 miles of multilane divided motorways. Most intercity travel is accomplished on two lane roads.
While these are in good condition, New Zealand's rugged terrain means motorists often encounter sharper curves and steeper grades than those found in the U.S. interstate highway system. Renting a car or camper is a popular way to enjoy New Zealand's natural beauty, but visitors unfamiliar with local conditions should drive particularly conservatively.
Posted speed limit signs should be observed. Drivers should use caution to avoid animals when driving in rural areas.

Pedestrians are advised to look carefully in all directions before crossing a street or roadway, and to use crosswalks.
Pedestrians do not have the right of way except in crosswalks.
New Zealand law requires that cars yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, and that cars stop at least two meters (approximately 6 feet) from a crosswalk that is in use.

Traffic circles are common throughout New Zealand.
When approaching a traffic circle, always yield to traffic coming from the right –noting that traffic already in the circle has the right-of-way-- and merge to the left into the circle.

Public transportation, including buses, trains and taxis, is for the most part reliable and safe.
In case of emergency, phone the local police at 111.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning the operation and rental of motor vehicles, contact the New Zealand Tourist Board via the Internet at http://www.newzealand.com/USA/ or the Land Transport Safety Authority at http://www.ltsa.govt.nz.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of New Zealand’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Some heavily populated parts of New Zealand are in areas of very high seismic activity. General information regarding disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

Many tourists come to New Zealand to participate in extreme adventure sports, such as bungee jumping, sky diving, hiking, rappelling, climbing, motorcycling, and kayaking.
All too often, injuries and even death result from participation in such activities.
Travelers are advised to employ caution and common sense when engaging in adventure sports.
Never participate in such sports alone, always carry identification, and let someone else know where you are at all times.
Before kayaking, check the river conditions and wear a life jacket.
When hiking, rappelling, or climbing, carry a first aid kit, know the location of the nearest rescue center, and bring a friend along.

New Zealand is an island nation, and the government is serious about preserving its delicate ecosystem.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) imposes strict regulations regarding what can be imported into New Zealand.
People failing to declare goods that could be quarantined can be fined up to $100,000 NZ and/or face up to five years in prison. People failing to declare risk goods such as fresh fruit, seeds, and plants can receive an instant fine of $200 NZ.
When importing a pet, thorough veterinary documentation and a quarantine period are required.
Unfinished wood products, used hiking shoes and gardening tools, fresh food items, and items such as used pet carriers may be seized and destroyed by MAF.
More information can be found at http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz/personal-travel-belongings-and-mail/arriving-by-air/what-you-cannot-bring
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 those in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating New Zealand laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in New Zealand 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 New Zealand 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 New Zealand.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the embassy or consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy in Wellington is located at 29 Fitzherbert Terrace, Thorndon, Wellington.
The telephone number is (64) (4) 462-6000.
The fax number is (64) (4) 471-2380.
The Embassy’s web site is http://wellington.usembassy.gov.
The U.S. Embassy in Wellington does not have a consular section and thus cannot provide consular services to American citizens.
All consular services for American citizens are provided by the Consulate General in Auckland.
The U.S. Consulate General in Auckland is located on the third floor of the Citigroup Centre, 23 Customs Street East, between Commerce and Queen Streets. The telephone number is (64) (9) 303-2724. The fax number is (64) (9) 366-0870.
See information on services to Americans at http://wellington.usembassy.gov/service.html.
The Consulate General in Auckland handles all consular matters in New Zealand.

For after-hours emergencies anywhere in New Zealand, a duty officer can be contacted by telephone. Persons seeking after-hours assistance may call (64) (4) 462-6000; after listening to a brief recording, the caller may leave a message on the voice mail system, describing the nature of the emergency and giving a point of contact. The phone system will automatically call the duty officer in Wellington or in Auckland, who will listen to the message and take the appropriate action .
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated January 31, 2008, to update the Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 28 Apr 2020 05:31:55 +0200 (METDST)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, April 28, 2020 (AFP) - New Zealanders satisfied their cravings for hamburgers and coffee as a five-week lockdown eased on Tuesday, as hopes swelled that the country's coronavirus outbreak was under control.   Lines of cars snaked along drive-thru lanes at McDonald's outlets around the country, with the fast-food chain reporting 50 vehicles queued before dawn in the North Island town of Hastings.

Coffee lovers also indulged in barista-brewed beverages after more than a month of strict quarantine measures that banned any form of takeaway or restaurant food.   "It's thrilling and exciting after a long haul," said Roop Kaur, owner of the Mulberry Tree cafe in central Wellington, as she hurried to fill a brisk trade in online orders from office workers.   "I'm looking forward to some good business because hospitality has suffered a lot."   Aside from allowing takeaways, the move from a maximum Level Four alert -- where only essential services operated -- means Kiwis can now fish, hunt, surf, swim and play golf.

Retail business can also open, provided transactions do not involve physical contact, while gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed for events such as weddings or funerals.   Schools will also reopen from Wednesday, but authorities said attendances were expected to remain extremely low with the vast majority of students in the South Pacific nation staying at home.   The government predicted 400,000 people in the nation of five million would return to work under the more relaxed regime.   However, the capital Wellington was slow to flicker back to life, with rush hour traffic in the normally bustling Willis Street so quiet that a lone skateboarder had two lanes to himself.

Downtown resident Cheryl Robertson, taking her regular walk with guide dog Pebbles, said it felt like a quiet weekend morning in the city, not a regular working day.   Robertson, who planned to celebrate with a curry from her favourite Indian restaurant, praised the way "small" and uncrowded New Zealand reacted to the crisis.   "We see the difference in other countries and I don't envy them, that's for sure," she said. "We pull together."   Nearby, construction crews gathered in fluorescent vests and facemasks to resume work on projects mothballed because of the virus, and double-decker buses again rumbled along city streets, most of them empty.

- 'Threedom' -
The noise from even such modest traffic was too much for local Aaron White, who complained of "sensory overload" after so long in lockdown.   While the New Zealand Herald trumpeted the downgrade to Level Three restrictions with the headline "Threedom", he was cautious about prematurely declaring victory.

"I'm nervous. I feel this is the time when we should be most vigilant," he told AFP.   "I get the sense over the weekend that (people think) we've done it and we can go back to normal. I suspect that's not the case."   Health authorities on Tuesday reported New Zealand had only two new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 1,124 with 19 deaths.

Despite the looser rules, the government has emphasised that social distancing must be maintained and illuminated roadside signs still flash the message "Stay Home, Save Lives".   Level Three restrictions will be in place for at least two weeks, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying they would only be downgraded again if circumstances were right.   For coffee-shop owner Kaur, the restoration of some freedoms, however limited, was cause for celebration.   "It (lockdown) was traumatising for me. It was being lazy, sitting on the couch with nothing much to do," she said.   "It's really great to come back and start with more energy and enthusiasm."
Date: Mon, 27 Apr 2020 07:10:53 +0200 (METDST)

Wellington, April 27, 2020 (AFP) - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday claimed New Zealand had scored a significant victory against the spread of the coronavirus, as the country began a phased exit from lockdown.   "There is no widespread, undetected community transmission in New Zealand," Ardern declared. "We have won that battle."    After nearly five weeks at the maximum Level Four restrictions -- with only essential services operating -- the country will move to Level Three late on Monday. That will allow some businesses, takeaway food outlets and schools to reopen.

But Ardern warned there was no certainty about when all transmission can be eliminated, allowing a return to normal life.   Everyone wants to "bring back the social contact that we all miss", she said, "but to do it confidently we need to move slowly and we need to move cautiously."   "I will not risk the gains we've made in the health of New Zealanders. So if we need to remain at Level Three, we will."   The easing of restrictions came as New Zealand, a nation of five million people, reported only one new case of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 1,122 with 19 deaths.
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2020 07:34:02 +0200 (METDST)

Wellington, April 20, 2020 (AFP) - New Zealand will ease a nationwide coronavirus lockdown next week after claiming success in stopping "an uncontrolled explosion" of the disease, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday.   "We have done what very few countries have been able to do," Ardern said. "We have stopped a wave of devastation."

She said New Zealand would move its maximum Level Four COVID-19 alert to Level Three from late evening on Monday, April 27, and remain there for two weeks to assess the situation.   The announcement means businesses deemed safe can reopen, along with some schools, while limits on local travel are also relaxed and gatherings of up to 10 people allowed for events such as weddings or funerals.

While restrictions will be loosened slightly, social distancing rules will remain.   "I couldn't feel prouder of the start we have made together but I also feel a huge responsibility to ensure that we do not lose any of the gains we have made either," she said.   New Zealand entered a four-week lockdown in late March, which included closing the island nation's borders, countrywide stay-at-home orders and shuttering all non-essential businesses and services.   The draconian measures made the country one of the most successful in containing the virus, with around 1,100 known cases among the five-million population, including 12 deaths and 974 recovered patients.   It had seven confirmed new infections on Monday.

Ardern said easing the lockdown would help the economy, which has been paralysed by the virus response as companies close and job losses mount, with forecasts that unemployment could skyrocket to almost 26 percent.   The initial lockdown period was due to end on Wednesday night but Ardern said it was extended slightly to help ensure New Zealand would not need to return to Level Four again.   "The worst thing we can do for our country is to yo-yo between levels, with all of the uncertainty that this would bring," she said.
Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2020 06:08:27 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, March 24, 2020 (AFP) - Police were called in as huge crowds swamped a New Zealand ferry terminal on Tuesday with people rushing to get home before a four-week coronavirus lockdown begins, as panic buying stripped supermarket shelves bare.   Tensions rose as hundreds of desperate travellers tried to secure spots on the roll-on, roll-off ferries that link the country's South and North Islands in Picton.   "An influx of people who don't have tickets for a crossing are turning up," police said, advising those without bookings to stay away.    Air New Zealand, which is running a skeleton international service, laid on extra domestic flights to get people home before the initial lockdown deadline begins at 11:59 pm (1059GMT) Wednesday.   In response to the chaos at ferry terminals and airports, the government granted a two-day extension until Friday for those returning home to self-isolate.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged many people were facing difficulties getting home but called for patience.    "Never before have we sought to shut down our country in 48 hours... I know it's stressful, particularly for those at ferry terminals, but we will work through these issues," she told reporters.   "We will clear people to get home."   Police were also monitoring huge queues at supermarkets across the country amid panic buying, despite assurances from authorities that supplies remain plentiful.   Countdown, one of the country's largest supermarket chains, said three weeks of unprecedented demand peaked with a shopping frenzy after Ardern announced the lockdown on Monday.   "It's got to stop guys," Countdown spokeswoman Kiri Hannifin told Radio New Zealand "It's not our fault the shelves are empty, it's the way people are shopping, and it really isn't necessary."

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters told tens of thousands of New Zealanders who had been holidaying internationally and were now stranded overseas to stay where they are for the moment.    "It has become very difficult to return to New Zealand from all around the world," he said in a statement.    "We are reaching a point where the best option for most New Zealanders offshore is to shelter in place, by preparing to safely stay where they are."   New Zealand has 142 confirmed COVID-19 cases and Ardern said numbers would continue to rise until the lockdown took effect.   "I wouldn't expect to see a slowdown for 10-12 days, so people should not be alarmed if they see the numbers continue to grow," she said.   "They should not believe that means we are not being successful."
Date: Mon, 23 Mar 2020 04:00:58 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, March 23, 2020 (AFP) - New Zealand will impose a four-week lockdown in a bid to smother coronavirus infection rates and avoid the mass fatalities seen elsewhere in the world, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday.   Ardern said the South Pacific nation was fortunate its infection numbers remained relatively low, with 102 cases and no fatalities in the population of about five million.   But she said the latest data showed COVID-19 was now being transmitted between New Zealanders, rather than just being brought in by overseas arrivals, meaning radical action was needed.

Otherwise, she warned the number of cases would double every five days.   "If that happens unchecked, our health system will be inundated and tens of thousands of New Zealanders will die," Ardern told reporters.   "The worst-case scenario is simply intolerable," she said. "It would represent the greatest loss of New Zealand lives in our history and I will not take that chance."   She said a nationwide lockdown was "a simple but highly effective way to constrain the virus that gives it no place to go and will give our healthcare system a fighting chance".

Ardern said that New Zealand over the next 48 hours would move into COVID-19 alert level four, the top rung of the government's emergency response plan unveiled Saturday.   It means schools and non-essential businesses will shut down and New Zealanders will be ordered to stay at home for the next four weeks.

The declaration also gives the government sweeping powers to impose rationing and requisition facilities, as well as mobilising the military to help enforce the lockdown.   Ardern acknowledged the move would create massive economic and social disruption but responded "this will save lives".   She urged New Zealanders to follow self-isolation rules and support each other.   "Please, be strong and be kind," she said.
More ...

Cayman Islands

CAYMAN ISLANDS US Consular Information Sheet
October 02, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Cayman Islands are a British dependent territory consisting of three main islands with a total area of approximately 100 square miles and located a
out 500 miles west of Jamaica. There is an international airport located in Grand Cayman, and facilities for tourists are widely available. The U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, has consular responsibility for the Cayman Islands. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Cayman Islands for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All Americans traveling by air outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed-loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009. Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S. Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.
Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted and have been in full production since July 2008.The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on passport cards is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html. We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel. American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.
Visas are not required for U.S. citizens traveling to the Cayman Islands for short-term visits. U.S. citizens traveling to the Cayman Islands for work must obtain a temporary work permit from the Department of Immigration of the Cayman Islands, telephone (345) 949-8344. There is a departure tax for travelers age 12 and older, which is regularly included in airfare. For further information travelers may contact Cayman Islands Department of Tourism offices in Miami at (305) 599-9033, New York (212) 889-9009, Houston (713) 461-1317 and Chicago (630) 705-0650; or via the Internet at http://www.caymanislands.ky.

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:
The Cayman Islands are considered politically stable and enjoy a high standard of living. There have been no reported incidences of terrorism or threats made against Americans or American interests in the Cayman Islands.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for other callers, 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 pamphletA Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: The crime threat in Cayman Islands is generally considered low, although travelers should always take normal precautions when in unfamiliar surroundings. Petty theft, pick-pocketing and purse snatchings occur. A few cases involving sexual assault have been reported to the Embassy. Police in the Cayman Islands rigorously enforce laws against illegal drugs. The majority of arrests of American citizens in the Cayman Islands over the past two years have been for possession, consumption, or intent to sell marijuana, cocaine or other illicit drugs. American citizens should avoid buying, selling, holding or taking illegal drugs under any circumstances.
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 the Cayman Islands is “911.”
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: The quality of medical care in the Cayman Islands is generally comparable to that available in the United States; however, some procedures and cases requiring critical care may require medical evacuation to the United States. Several American citizens each year drown or suffer cardiac arrest while snorkeling or scuba diving in the Cayman Islands. These deaths may be attributed in part to tourists attempting to do more than they are trained to do or to poor physical conditioning or preexisting medical conditions that are exacerbated when snorkeling or diving. A hyperbaric chamber is available for treatment of decompression illness. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate payment for health services.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

Although there are no express HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to the Cayman Islands, persons suffering from HIV/AIDS can be denied permission to land if a Health Officer certifies that their entry to the Islands would be dangerous to the community pursuant to Section 82 (c) of the Cayman Immigration Law (2007 Revision), which states:

“The following persons, not being Caymanian or permanent residents, are prohibited immigrants – a person certified by a Health Officer to be suffering from a communicable disease that makes his entry into the Islands dangerous to the community.”
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 the Cayman Islands is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
As in Great Britain and its other colonies, vehicles in the Cayman Islands travel on the left-hand side of the road (the opposite side compared with driving in the United States). Due to their size, the Caymans have little highway infrastructure to maintain. Local driving standards, the risk of accidents, the availability of emergency roadside service, quality and frequency of signage, and enforcement of traffic laws, generally meet the standards of the United States. Visitors must obtain a temporary driver's license, easily granted upon presentation of a valid state driver's license and payment of a small fee, at a car rental agency or a police station. Laws against driving while intoxicated are strictly enforced, with a legal maximum blood alcohol level set at 100 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood. Seatbelt laws are also enforced and require the driver and all passengers to wear seatbelts while in motion. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at www.caymanislands.ky
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the Cayman Islands’ Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of the Cayman Islands’ air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Cayman Islands customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the Cayman Islands of items such as firearms of any kind, spear guns (or pole spears or Hawaiian slings), live plants and plant cuttings. Raw fruits and vegetables are also restricted. Visitors from the United States should be aware that products made from farmed green sea turtles at the Cayman Turtle Farm Ltd. are offered for local consumption; however, the importation of genuine sea turtle products is strictly prohibited by the United States, as well as other countries that have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. In addition, U.S. Customs prohibits the transshipment of turtle products through the United States and any products discovered will be confiscated. It is advisable to contact the Collector of Customs (345) 949-2473 for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our Customs Information.

The Cayman Islands, like all Caribbean countries, can be affected by hurricanes. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 each year. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) has put measures in place in the event of an emergency or disaster. General information is available on the subject via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

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 the Cayman Islands’ laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Cayman Islands 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 the Cayman Islands are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the Cayman Islands. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Consular Agency in George Town, Grand Cayman or the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consular Agency to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Consular Agency in the Cayman Islands is located at 222 Mirco Center, North Sound Road, Georgetown, Grand Cayman. Its phone number is (345) 945-8173. Office hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 08:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

American citizens requiring assistance in Cayman may also contact the American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica at (876) 702-6000. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located at 142 Old Hope Road,, Kingston 6. Office hours are Monday through Friday (except Jamaican and U.S. holidays), 7:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with window services 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Both the Consular Agency and Embassy may provide updated information on travel and security within the Cayman Islands. The Embassy web site is http://kingston.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for the Cayman Islands dated December 3, 2007, to update sections on entry/exit requirements, crime, and medical facilities.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon 19 Feb 2018
Source: Cayman Compass [edited]

An outbreak of hand-foot-mouth disease that surfaced a few weeks ago is still affecting some schools on Grand Cayman.

The disease is not uncommon on the island and typically affects children under 10 and especially those aged 5 and younger. Children with the virus typically have a fever, sore throat, a red rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, mouth sores, and loss of appetite. There is no specific treatment other than to let the illness run its course. The best prevention is practicing good sanitation and hygiene.

Tim McLaughlin, an epidemiologist with the Public Health department, said the 14 cases reported from 4-10 Feb 2018 were the most he has seen in a single week. Figures for last week [week of 12 Feb 2018] are not yet available, but Mr McLaughlin said it looked as though the spread of the disease had slowed down. Most children were out of school last week and that may be a factor, he said

"14 in a week is a lot," Mr. McLaughlin said. "It also tells me there are more cases out there."

As a consequence, he said, he is more closely monitoring the spread of the disease, which is not uncommon this time of year. If need be, he said, "We'll sound the alarm."

At the Department of Education Services, director Lyneth Monteith said she was unaware of any public schools currently being affected by the disease. But preschools are seeing the problem.

Bri Bergstrom, the owner of the Montessori School of Cayman, said 3 of her students came down with the illness 3.5 weeks ago. It was the 1st such outbreak at the school, she said, adding that no other students have since been affected.

"It seems to be going around," Ms Bergstrom said. "It's almost impossible to avoid sometimes, things coming into the school."

She and others operating schools and preschools said that they have increased their efforts to keep classrooms and play areas sanitary by cleaning more often and doing thorough deep cleaning.

"Even when the flu is going around, we always amp up the sanitation," Ms Bergstrom said.

At the Treasure Garden, a preschool with 35 students, teacher Tonie-Ann Broomfield said 6 pupils have contracted the disease over the past 2-3 weeks. Some of the students, she said, showed no outward symptoms, such as a fever, before breaking out in a rash. She said the staff is being more vigilant.

"As soon as we check their temperature and it's above 100 deg F [37.8 deg F], we call the parents and ask them to take them to the doctor," Ms Broomfield said, adding that the child is kept isolated from other children until they are picked up.  [Byline: Mark Muckenfuss]
========================
[Hand-foot-mouth disease is caused by viruses that belong to the _Enterovirus_ genus (group), which includes polioviruses, coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, and other enteroviruses. - Coxsackievirus A16 is typically the most common cause of hand-foot-mouth disease in the United States, but other coxsackieviruses can also cause the illness. - Enterovirus 71 has also been associated with cases and outbreaks (<https://www.cdc.gov/hand-foot-mouth/outbreaks.html>) of hand-foot-mouth disease, mostly in children in East and Southeast Asia. Less often, enterovirus 71 has been associated with severe disease, such as encephalitis.  - Several types of enteroviruses may be identified in outbreaks of hand-foot-mouth disease, but most of the time, only 1 or 2 enteroviruses are identified.

Generally, a person with hand-foot-mouth disease is most contagious during the 1st week of illness. People can sometimes be contagious for days or weeks after symptoms go away. Some people, especially adults, may become infected and not develop any symptoms, but they can still spread the virus to others. This is why people should always try to maintain good hygiene, such as frequent handwashing, so they can minimize their chance of spreading or getting infections. (Excerpted and edited from <https://www.cdc.gov/hand-foot-mouth/about/transmission.html>). - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/7955>]
Date: Fri 2 Feb 2018
Source: Cayman News Service [edited]

The [Cayman Islands] Public Health Department is issuing an alert for travellers after at least 2 cases of measles were confirmed in the Caribbean and Central America that appear to have been imported from Europe. There have been no cases of measles in the Cayman Islands since 1990. Local immunisation coverage against the disease is around 90% among 15-month-old children and about 97% by the time they reach school age. But officials are urging anyone who becomes unwell after returning from the UK and Europe as well as parts of the US to visit a doctor.

People who are experiencing a sudden high fever accompanied by a rash should seek medical attention immediately and provide their travel history to the doctor for necessary investigation.

"If you are travelling to any of the affected areas where measles has been confirmed, safeguard yourself and your family by ensuring that your and your children's immunisations against measles are up to date," advised Nurse Angela Graham, manager of the Health Services Authority's Expanded Programme on Immunisation. "Unprotected children are at the greatest risk of contracting this virus, should a case be imported to the Cayman Islands. It is the responsibility of parents and guardians, alike, to ensure that their children are protected."

Dr Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, Acting Medical Officer of Health, said that while there has been great progress in the fight against measles regionally, there is a risk of spread and sustained transmission in areas with susceptible populations.

"Vaccination with at least 2 doses remains the most effective measure," he said. "I emphasise that measles can be reintroduced as we have many residents and visitors travelling to and from the Americas and European countries. We should therefore remain vigilant."

He added, "The 1st sign of measles is usually a high fever which begins about 10-12 days after exposure to the virus. A runny nose, cough, along with red and watery eyes and small white spots inside the cheeks, can develop in the initial stage followed by a rash on the face and upper neck, eventually reaching the hands and feet."

Measles is caused by a virus which grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs. It is a human disease and is not known to occur in animals. Close contact with other people following the onset of rash must be avoided 7 for days.

For complete protection, children older than 12 months should have 2 doses of MMR (measles mumps and rubella) vaccine. Children between 6 and 11-months, who are travelling abroad, are recommended to have one dose of MMR vaccine.
====================
[Maps of the Caribbean and Central America can be found at
Date: Thu 17 Apr 2014
Source: cayCompass.com [edited]

More than 400 feral chickens in Bodden Town have died of botulism, according to a post-mortem examination carried out by the Department of Agriculture. The birds began dying more than 2 weeks ago, residents in the area said. Brian Crichlow of the Department of Agriculture said a post-mortem exam on one of the birds revealed botulism. The bird was also tested for avian flu, with negative results. Mr Crichlow said botulism is not spread by direct contact with affected chickens, but there is a "low potential for spreading to humans and other animals through consumption of dead chickens" contaminated with the botulism toxin.

Botulism is a micro-organism that occurs naturally in the soil and in decaying flesh. Since chickens are scavengers, they likely ate a dead animal and got sick, said Mr. Crichlow.

The Department of Environmental Health was expected to begin removing the birds from the site, near the Bodden Town Mission House, on Wednesday afternoon [16 Apr 2014], according to the department's director, Roydell Carter. "We are aware of the situation. We were notified by the Department of Agriculture about it. We went on site today [Wed 16 Apr 2014] and we will be assisting them in getting the birds removed and disinfecting the area," he said. "We're putting together the resources we need -- there are so many [dead chickens] all over the place ... We will go in and help. There could probably be public health implications as well [if the carcasses are not removed]. We don't want all these dead birds lying around ... where other animals might feed on their carcasses," he added.

On Wednesday [16 Apr 2014], many of the dead chickens could be seen around the Mission House and Harry McCoy Park, and under the home of an elderly couple nearby. Mr Crichlow advised that if the dead or dying birds are not removed and disposed of properly, other chickens will feed on the carcasses and the maggots from the dead chickens, leading to more chickens contracting botulism. Botulism is also known as "limberneck," he said, reflecting the neck paralysis typically seen in affected birds. [The son] of the couple under whose home many of the decaying carcasses were seen, said he had picked up as many as he could, but those under the house would have to stay there until he had help removing them.

"The chickens just get crippled, lie down and die," said [the man], who often fed the chickens. For the past 2 weeks, the chickens have been "dropping off like flies," he said.

The feral chickens roam the neighborhood and are considered pests by many in the area. Mr Crichlow said there had been no reports of domestic flocks of chickens owned by local farmers being affected by botulism. However, he said the department had seen similar episodes before of local wild chickens dying, adding that botulism is common in feral chickens in Cayman and elsewhere. Over the past 2 years, his department has responded to deaths of feral chickens in George Town, West Bay and Bodden Town districts, he said.

Karen Rosenthal, a St. Matthews Veterinary School veterinarian who studies birds, said, "It is not so easy for people to get botulism the same way chickens do. But you would never eat the eggs or meat from a chicken with botulism," she said. "What we should worry about is if the people are using the same water source as the dead birds."

Kiran Kumar, medical officer of health at the public health department, said botulism from dead chickens does not spread to human beings through the air, and there is also no evidence of it spreading to humans by consumption of chickens with botulism. However, he advised against eating infected chickens to "prevent any rarest possibility of such occurrence."   [Byline: Jewel Levy]
========================
[Avian botulism is much more often seen in wild ducks and other water birds. But we do have a prior report of an Australian incident which is very similar to this Cayman report. The Australians ascribed it to a buildup of the causative organism, _Clostridium botulinum_, in the soil. - ProMed Mod.MHJ]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/38613>.]
Date: Fri 17 Jan 2014
Source: Businessweek [summ., edited]

The 1st known outbreak of the chikungunya virus in the western hemisphere has Caribbean governments working to prevent the disease from spreading and damaging the region's tourism-dependent economies.

About 280 cases of chikungunya [virus infection; many more cases than this, see other reports - ProMed Mod.TY], which can cause severe joint pain, fever and headaches, have been reported since early December [2013] in Dutch and French Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, the British Virgin Islands, and French Guiana. Officials from Venezuela to the Cayman Islands have warned of the potential for the mosquitoborne virus, 1st identified from a patient in Tanzania in 1953, to spread. There is no treatment, and the illness is rarely fatal.

"The worst case scenario would be that the impact would be significant and slow down the whole economy in the Caribbean," James Hospedales, the executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency, said by telephone. "The Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world, so if it spreads like wildfire you could scare away tourists."   [byline: Isabella Cota and Elizabeth Lopatto]
=====================
[This report is a good illustration of potential adverse economic effects when a new disease appears in a major tourist destination. Although dengue fever poses greater health risks, the addition of a 2nd virus disease to the area increases concern on the part of the traveling public. - ProMed Mod. TY]
Date: Mon 17 Sep 2012.
Source: Cay Compass [edited]

The Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit and Oxitec have cited an 80 per cent reduction in the numbers of _Aedes aegypti_ mosquitoes in Grand Cayman after introducing genetically modified mosquitoes into the environment as a control measure. This finding, which was officially published in a report in Nature Biotechnology, was previously reported in the 17 Jan 2012 edition of the Caymanian Compass.

One of the main reasons the report said led to the Cayman Islands "having a need the need for alternative measures of control" was the high level of resistance to insecticide shown by _Aedes aegypti_ mosquitoes in Grand Cayman. The report references research done by MRCU Entomologist Angela Harris and Hilary Ranson of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who in their findings, "Pyrethroid Resistance in Aedes Aegypti," stated: "The Grand Cayman population of _Aedes aegypti_ is highly resistant to DDT and pyrethroid insecticides."

In an interview with the Caymanian Compass, Dr. Harris said, "For our experiments regarding the issue of resistance to insecticides we used mosquitoes that have been in a secure environment for over 30 years in a colony that was bred repeatedly over time and then compared those with the mosquitoes from the Grand Cayman. The results indicated that those found here are much more resistant and could be exposed to DDT for up to 8 hours."

Ms Harris added that the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito has only been in the Cayman Islands since 2002 and could have likely acquired its resistance from its places of origin, which have not been determined. She also surmised that their resistance level could be as a result of cross-resistance from a pyrethroid resistance. In any event, much of Dr. Harris' research going forward will be to substantiate the theory that the mosquitoes came to the Cayman Islands with the resistance as opposed to developing it here. The Cayman Islands has never used DDT in its mosquito control efforts.

However, the Mosquito Research and Control Unit of the Cayman Islands was scrutinised in the foreign press for using genetically modified _Aedes aegypti_ mosquitoes to combat the spread of dengue fever. It was the 1st time the method was being used in a real world test area.

At the time, Bill Petrie, director of MRCU, said the initiative was essentially a new spin on an old technique in which males that were made sterile were released. He added that the difference here is that the male mosquitoes' genes were altered, as opposed to their sterility being chemically induced by radiation.

"MRCU along with Oxitec of Oxford University ran the trial for 6 months," Mr. Petrie said. "We chose a small isolated area in East End. This was done in 3 blocks; one block was where the method was introduced, while nothing was done in another block and the 3rd block was used to monitor the natural population of the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito.

"Once the team perfected the technique, monitoring was done by traps. The final statistical analysis has shown a significant reduction in the population of this potential dengue carrier," he added.

Mr. Petrie said the male _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito cannot bite and lives a short life-span and since their eggs will not survive using this new method of control, the population of the species has decreased, as did the probability of dengue fever transmission.  Since the Cayman Islands' success using the genetic modification technique, several other jurisdictions are following suit.

"Dengue is a dangerous and debilitating disease, which affects up to 100 million people each year. The incidence of dengue has grown very rapidly in recent years: it is now a serious threat to global health, and the only means of prevention is to target the mosquitoes which carry it. We need new tools in the fight against these dangerous pests, and today's publication shows that Oxitec's approach can provide that," Mr. Petrie said.   [Byline: Stuart Wilson]
======================
Reference:
Harris AF, Nimmo D., McKemey AR, Kelly N, Scaife S, Donnelly CA, Beech C, Petrie WD, Alphey L. Field performance of engineered male mosquitoes. Nat Biotechnol 2011 Oct 30;29(11):1034-7.

[This is an interesting field experiment that produced an 80 per cent reduction in the _Aedes aegypti_ population through release of genetically modified mosquitoes into a population of native mosquitoes resistant to 2 common pesticides. The release of genetically modified mosquitoes will be considered controversial and opposed by some, but alternatives such as increasing use of pesticidal chemicals have been of limited success in medium- to long-term vector population reduction efforts. It will be interesting to see how successful the release of these genetically modified mosquitoes will be in other locations. An effective, commercially available dengue virus vaccine is still several years away. Meanwhile, vector control is the only way to prevent dengue virus transmission. - ProMed Mod.TY]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean can be accessed at: http://healthmap.org/r/1IG3.]
More ...

Latvia

Latvia US Consular Information Sheet
October 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Latvia is a stable democracy with a developing economy. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in the capital city of Riga. However,
some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available in other parts of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Latvia for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Latvia is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Latvia for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. Travelers remaining in Latvia for more than 90 days, including 180 day periods that cross over two half-calendar years, must apply for temporary residence. All travelers must have a valid insurance policy, covering medical expenses while in Latvia. Repatriation costs, including funeral and disposition of remains costs also have to be covered by the policy. In addition, upon entering or exiting the country, travelers must declare cash in excess of 10,000 euros to Latvian customs. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 2306 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202)328-2840, fax (202) 328-2860. For further information, visit http://www.latvia-usa.org. Within Latvia, contact the Ministry of Interiors Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs at Ciekurkalna 1, linija 1,k,3,Riga, LV 1026. Tel. (371)67219645, (371)67219679, (371)80007657, fax (371)67219654, e-mail: pmlp@pmlp.gov.lv, web site http://www.ocma.gov.
Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a visa prior to entry into Latvia. The process of obtaining a visa at the Russian Embassy in Riga can be lengthy, and involve surrender of the passport for an undetermined period of time. Visit the Embassy of Latvia web site at http://www.latvia-usa.org 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.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga. Nonetheless, in the past, Riga has seen large, peaceful demonstrations related to internal political issues. While demonstrations have been peaceful, American citizens are nevertheless cautioned to avoid any large public demonstrations. There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare. However, instances of racially motivated verbal harassment, and on occasion, physical assaults on non-Caucasian foreigners, have occurred in Riga. There have also been reports of non-Caucasian foreigners being subjected to extra scrutiny by security guards in shops and malls in Riga. Additionally, individuals displaying alternative lifestyles have experienced harassment.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution can be found.
Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s notice A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Riga is generally non-violent. The majority of non-violent crime tends toward acts of pickpocketing, identity theft, and personal scams. However, there have been instances of serious violent assaults and robberies. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to pickpockets in all public areas, there are numerous scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants. There have been a number of reports recently of foreign tourists being charged xorbitant prices for drinks in bars. Some have then been assaulted or forced to withdraw money from an ATM to pay the bill. You can avoid situations like this by ensuring that you check the price of drinks before ordering, pay for one round at a time and seek recommendations for bars from trustworthy sources. There have also been a few cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert, particularly to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. Gangs of professional pickpockets are specifically targeting foreigners, particularly those carrying backpacks. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.
Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payments be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme, the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.
The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S. – based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular Internet job sites, a Social Security Number and other identifying information needed for the identity theft is required under the guise of conducting a background check.

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 or Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. For more information, see Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, because of the lack of equipment and resources, most major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended. Hospital services have shown good progress but are still not equal to Western standards. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally produced in Europe or Latvia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are present. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. For further information, please consult the CDC’s Travel notice on TB at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, response time is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive and require advance payment before the patient is transported.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. 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 Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit. These may be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee. A U.S. state driver’s license is not sufficient. These requirements apply to those operating rental cars as well, whether or not the rental company chooses to enforce the requirement as a condition of rental. Individuals driving without an International Driving Permit may have their vehicle confiscated by the police. Americans resident in Latvia for more than six months are required to apply for a Latvian driver’s license. Upon receipt of a Latvian driver’s license, American citizens are required to surrender their US driver’s license to the Latvian authorities. The licenses are then returned to their respective states of issuance. For more information, visit the Latvian Road and Traffic Safety Department at http://www.csdd.lv
Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. While recent reports show a decrease in the number of traffic accident fatalities, there are still a number of hazards to watch out for. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common, and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles traveling at high speeds, even in crowed urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serous offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering on the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair but improving (See section on Medical Facilities above); response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for ambulance service.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for information. Visit the website of Latvia’s national tourist office at http://latviatourism.lv/info.php and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.csdd.lv/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen stokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in major towns. For security purposes, it is recommended that visitors use ATMs located inside major hotels or shopping malls, versus those located on the street, in high-volume tourist areas. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafés offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.
Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of the Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements at http://www.latvia-usa.org.
Please see our information on Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit 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 web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located at 7 Raina Blvd. Riga, LV-1510, and may be reached by dialing +371-703-6200. The fax number for the Consular American Citizen Services section is+371-781-4088. You can find the ACS section online at http://riga.usembassy.gov/
* * * * * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 12, 2008 with updated information on Entry Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

6th December, 2019
HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre

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

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

No cases of illegally exported pets as the potential source of infection were identified in the relation to this rabies case. According to the literature in rare cases a long (more than one year) incubation period of rabies is observed. Taking into account the epidemiological data and the result of the rabies virus sequencing, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control of Latvia believes that this human rabies case is not epidemiologically linked to Latvia.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 17:11:10 +0100 (MET)

Riga, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of doctors and nurses rallied Thursday in front of the Latvian parliament in Riga calling for better pay in what was the Baltic state's largest protest in over a decade.   Police said more than 5,000 people, including patients, turned out for the protest, which featured coffins and signs with slogans such as "United for health", "I only want to work one job" and "Patients supporting doctors and nurses".   The LVSADA medical labour union organised the rally to condemn lawmakers for planning to increase their own salaries next year while reneging on a promise to boost wages in the chronically underfunded medical profession.   "We won't allow the healthcare system to be starved again," LVSADA chief Valdis Keris said at the rally, which state hospital employees attended by taking a day of unpaid leave.

Some doctors also participated in the protest by only performing emergency surgery and tending to emergency patients on Thursday while rescheduling everything else.    "The average monthly wage for a doctor at a Latvian public hospital is only between 1,000-3,000 euros ($1,100-$3,300)," protester and doctor Roberts Furmanis said in a statement sent to media.    "I work my daily shift at one hospital, at night I also work overtime driving around in an ambulance, plus sometimes I lecture at medical schools on my rare days off," he added.   "I get less than 3,000 euros a month for those jobs combined. How am I supposed to support my family?"   Last year, lawmakers voted to raise wages for almost all employees of the government-run healthcare system, but now say that they are unable to find the necessary funds in the 2020 state budget.    "I express deep regret for last year's promise, which we cannot carry out," speaker of parliament Inara Murniece told the rally.

Those protesting, however, point out that the 2020 state budget exceeds 10 billion euros for the first time ever in the country of just 1.9 million people -- or 700 million more euros than this year.    Medical workers are upset that while there is no room for better healthcare wages in the new budget, the country's lawmakers and ministers plan to increase their own salaries next year and have also earmarked taxpayer money for their respective political parties.    Thursday's rally was Latvia's largest since some 10,000 people attended a January 2009 protest against government cuts, which grew violent and resulted in dozens of arrests.
Date: Sat 21 Sep 2019
Source: Food Safety News [edited]
<https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2019/09/latvian-officials-investigate-salmonella-and-e-coli-illnesses/>

Officials in Latvia are investigating 40 _Salmonella_ and Shiga toxin-producing _E. coli_ illnesses with mostly children affected. A total of 36 children and 4 employees of educational institutions are ill, according to the Latvian Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (SPKC). Salmonellosis has been laboratory confirmed in 9 children with symptoms of acute intestinal infection thought to have occurred from [9 to 11 Sep 2019]. Patients have been recorded at Levina and Tornisi kindergartens. Shiga toxin-producing also called enterotoxigenic _E. coli_ (EHEC) infections have been linked to schools identified as Levina, Saulite and Piladzitis in Sigulda, a town in the country.

At least 4 children aged 3 to 6 years old have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) after EHEC infection from early September 2019 in Sigulda. HUS is a type of kidney failure associated with EHEC infection. It can occur in people of any age but is most common in children under 5 years old. The SPKC has surveyed parents of sick children, visited preschools to obtain information on absent children and staff and the cause, analysed food menus and possible risk factors. A total of 19 infections at 3 other pre-school facilities in Ikskile, Garkalne and Ogre are not thought to be related to those ill in Sigulda.

The Latvian Food and Veterinary Service (PVD) has been investigating catering units at the 3 sites linked to _E. coli_ infection where catering comes from one company. Initial suspicions pointed to contaminated watermelons. Inspections at the catering units did not reveal violations of hygiene requirements that could contribute to the spread of infection. The sites also underwent cleaning and disinfection. PVD suspended operations of a vegetable processing firm called "Jelgavas Augļi" due to violations of hygiene requirements, product traceability and inadequate storage temperature for pre-packed vegetables that were stored at 13 deg. C [approx. 55 deg. F] instead of the required 6 deg. C [approx. 42 deg. F].

The company, through Baltic Restaurants Latvia, supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to Sigulda educational institutions but a connection to the outbreak has not been established. Testing at the firm so far has not found _E. coli_. Other results are pending but the company will be allowed to resume operations if they are negative and when it corrects the deficiencies identified by authorities. Authorities have also found issues with transportation of food by the company "Point to Point" Ltd between educational institutions.
=================
[These are two outbreaks of enteric pathogens that appear to be related to food supplied to schools. The EHEC outbreak has been possibly linked to watermelon. With 9 cases of EHEC and 4 of them developing HUS, it is possible that the strain is a hyperproducer of Shiga toxin but most likely related to use of antimicrobials early in the infection which increases the risk of HUS. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at: Latvia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/119>]
Date: Wed, 15 May 2019 19:20:02 +0200

Riga, May 15, 2019 (AFP) - A second Albanian soldier has died of his injuries from a World War II landmine blast last week during a NATO exercise in Latvia, the Baltic state's defence minister said Wednesday.   Klodian Tanushi, who held the rank of major, died following surgery at a Riga hospital over the weekend, days after the landmine explosion that also killed another soldier.    "I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the soldiers' relatives and friends, to their fellow service members and to the people of Albania," Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks told AFP.    "Latvia is very grateful to our ally Albania for contributing to NATO's expanded presence in Latvia."

In 2016, NATO deployed four multinational battalions to Poland and the Baltic states to guard against possible Russian adventurism.   The defence group's rotating battalion in Latvia is led by Canada and also includes soldiers from Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.   Tanushi, a father-of-three, was the commanding officer of the Albanian contingent stationed at the NATO base in the central village of Adazi.    Both world wars left Latvia littered with many unexploded sea and landmines as well as artillery shells, which continue to be found on a daily basis.    Clearing areas of such explosives is a frequent focus of NATO military exercises in the region.
Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2018 18:58:20 +0200

Riga, July 22, 2018 (AFP) - Fires raging for five days have destroyed more than 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of western Latvia, authorities said Sunday, with continuing extreme temperatures hampering firefighters' efforts.   Satellite images showed the fires have wiped out 170 acres of forest, 257 hectares of scrubland and nearly 400 hectares of peatland.

A peat fire in the Courland region broke out last Tuesday and spread eastwards, with the smoke noticeable in the resort town of Jurmala, more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) away in the neighbouring Riga region.   "Peatland fires burn downward, but when there's wind, which brings oxygen, the fires can erupt into flames," Latvian fire services spokesman Inta Palkavniece told reporters.   "The main goal is to prevent the fires from spreading," he added.   The fire services said on its website that firefighting efforts would be "long and troublesome".    "The weather is unfavourable to firefighting and will remain so over the next days," it said.

The Courland region is sparsely populated, with few roads and many areas inaccessible because of its vast marshes.   Residents of Stikli, a village that was evacuated because of the fire, began to return home after the wind changed "of their own accord", the mayor of its municipality Ventspils, Aivars Mucenieks, told reporters.   Pupils of a school for disabled children in Stikli will not return until the situation is fully under control, he added.

Meteorologists warned that the high temperatures are persisting and no rain is expected for the next two weeks.   Latvia has experienced severe drought over the last few months, prompting authorities to declare a natural catastrophe in the agricultural sector.   The Baltic country has not yet asked for help from other European countries and has no proposals to do so for the time being.   But other countries in Europe have been in the grip of an unusually long heatwave for recent weeks with little prospect of rain for the time being.

In Sweden, where temperatures are the highest for a century, farmers are even sending their animals to slaughter because there is no hay left to feed them.   It has asked for help from other European countries, because of the lack of manpower and capacity to tackle such natural catastrophes.   Poland has asked the EU for financial aid after more than 91,000 farms were affected by an unusual spring drought, according to the agriculture ministry.   In Germany, which suffered a drought in May and June, agricultural producers warned the harvest this year will be down by between 20 and 50 percent.
More ...

Laos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lebanon

Lebanon - US Consular Information Sheet
August 20, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Republic of Lebanon is a parliamentary republic. Political power is concentrated in the office of the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament, eac
representing one of Lebanon's three largest religious sects (Maronite Christians, Sunni and Shi'a Muslims). Since 1973, Lebanon has been in a state of war with Israel. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Lebanon for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Passports and visas are required.
American citizens coming to Lebanon for tourism can purchase a short-term visa at the border.
Travelers holding passports that contain visas or entry/exit stamps for Israel will likely be refused entry into Lebanon.
Travelers whose passports contain Israeli stamps or visas and who also hold an "Arab nationality" may be subject to arrest and imprisonment.
Travelers who have overstayed their entry visa validity in Lebanon have to adjust their status with the Central Department of Surete General (Department of Passport and Immigration) prior to their departure.

Further information on entry/exit requirements can be obtained from the Embassy of Lebanon, 2560 28th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20008, tel. (202) 939-6300.
Travelers may also contact one of the following Consulates General:
1959 E. Jefferson, Suite 4A
Detroit, MI 48207
(313) 567-0233
2400 Augusta, Suite 308
Houston, TX 77057
(713) 268-1640
7060 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 510
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 467-1253
6600 S.W. 57th Avenue, Suite 200
Miami, FL 33143
(305) 665-3004
(Honorary Consul, for Florida residents only)
9 E. 76th Street
New York, NY 10021
(212) 744-7905
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:
A Department of State Travel Warning advises U.S. citizens against travel to Lebanon.
Recent events underscore the need for caution and sound personal security precautions.
U.S. citizens who are in Lebanon despite this Travel Warning should exercise particular caution when traveling in parts of the southern suburbs of Beirut, portions of the Bekaa Valley and areas south of the Litani River in South Lebanon.
Hizballah maintains a strong presence in many of these areas, and there is the potential for action by other extremist groups.
The situation remains tense and a resumption of sporadic violence remains a possibility.
On May 7, 2008, Hizballah militants blocked the road to Rafiq Hariri International Airport.
The action rendered the airport inaccessible and travelers were unable to enter or leave the country via commercial air carriers.
Armed Hizballah and other opposition members proceeded to enter areas of Lebanon not traditionally under their control resulting in heavy fighting and a number of casualties.
While there is now full access to the airport, widespread hostilities have subsided, and the government of Lebanon has successfully elected a president and formed a cabinet, the United States remains concerned about Hizballah's willingness to use violence to achieve political ends with little or no warning.
Since the May hostilities there have been violent outbreaks in Tripoli that left over ten dead and dozens wounded.

Americans have been the targets of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the past.
The perpetrators of many of these attacks are still present and retain the ability to act.
On January 15, 2008, a U.S. Embassy vehicle was involved in a bomb attack that killed three Lebanese bystanders.
American citizens should thus keep a low profile, varying times and routes for all required travel.
Americans should also pay close attention to their personal security at locations where Westerners are generally known to congregate, and should avoid demonstrations and large gatherings.
Unofficial travel to Lebanon by U.S. Government employees and their family members requires prior approval by the Department of State.
Palestinian groups hostile to both the Lebanese government and the U.S. operate largely autonomously inside refugee camps in different areas of the country.
Intra-communal violence within the camps has resulted in violent incidents such as shootings and explosions.
Travel by U.S. citizens to Palestinian camps should be avoided.
Asbat al-Ansar, a terrorist group with apparent links to Al-Qaida, has targeted Lebanese, U.S. and other foreign government interests.
It has been outlawed by the Lebanese government but continues to maintain a presence in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp.
Americans traveling to Lebanon should also be aware that personnel from the U.S. Embassy are not able to travel in all areas of Lebanon.
In the case of an emergency involving a U.S. citizen in areas where it is unsafe for Embassy personnel to travel, the Embassy may not be able to render assistance.
In addition, dangers posed by landmines and unexploded ordnance throughout south Lebanon are significant and also exist in other areas where civil war fighting was intense.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings, including the Travel Warning for Lebanon, 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 overseas callers, 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: The crime rate in Lebanon is moderate, but both car theft and home break-ins occur.
Violent crime and sexual assault are rare, although petty theft -- such as pick pocketing and purse snatching -- is common in crowded public areas.
Police are responsive but often unable to effect a positive outcome.
There are no special concerns with regard to targeted victimization of Americans or to scams or confidence schemes.
There have, however, been recent kidnappings of Lebanese-American women by their Lebanese relatives in an effort to force these women into marriage.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to 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 Lebanon is 112.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: In Beirut and the surrounding areas, modern medical care and medicines are widely available.
Such facilities are not always available in outlying areas, although no location in the country is more than three hours from the capital.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for services, and without such payment, may deny service even in emergency cases.
A list of doctors who speak English and a list of hospitals are available from the U.S. Embassy and at the Embassy's web site at http://lebanon.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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

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

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 Lebanon is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Drivers in Lebanon often maneuver aggressively and pay little regard to traffic lights and stops signs.
Lanes are generally unmarked and roads outside of the capital may be poorly lit.
Pedestrians, especially, should exercise great caution.
Inter-city directional signs are improving throughout the country, but side roads are often not signposted at all.
Public transportation is generally safe.
Emergency services in Lebanon are adequate.
In case of a road accident, emergency numbers are “140” for the Red Cross and “125” for the emergency civil police.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of Lebanon's national tourist office at http://www.destinationlebanon.gov.lb.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Lebanon, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lebanon’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.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: In addition to being subject to all Lebanese laws, U.S. citizens who also possess Lebanese nationality may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on them as Lebanese citizens.
Lebanese citizens who are discovered to have associated with or traveled through Israel, are subject to arrest and detention.

Military Service:
Mandatory military service in Lebanon was abolished on February 4, 2007.
However, travelers with questions about prior military service, desertion, or failure to register in the past should contact the Military Office of the Embassy of Lebanon, 2560 28th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, or call (202) 265-2335 or fax (202) 667-0063 for details prior to traveling to Lebanon. Information about military service can also be found at the Lebanese government web site at http://www.lebarmy.gov.lb/English/FlagService.asp
Lebanese Customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning import and export of such items as firearms or antiquities.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Lebanon in Washington, D.C., or one of Lebanon's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our information on customs regulations.
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 Lebanese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lebanon 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.
For more information 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 Lebanon are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Lebanon.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Awkar, near Antelias, Beirut, Lebanon.
Public access hours for American citizens are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 am for regular consular services.
Consular Report of Births Abroad (birth certificates for newborns) are handled Wednesdays only from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
The telephone numbers are (961-4) 542-600, 543-600, and fax 544-209, and American citizens who require emergency services outside of these hours may contact the Embassy by telephone at any time.
American citizens registering at the embassy can receive updated information and warden messages via e-mail by subscribing to join-wardenmessagebeirut@mh.databack.com.
Information on consular services and registration can be found at http://lebanon.usembassy.gov or by phone at the above telephone numbers between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday local time.
* * * * * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated December 27, 2007 to update the sections on Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information and Aviation Oversight.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 12 May 2020 16:50:04 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, May 12, 2020 (AFP) - Lebanon on Tuesday ordered a four-day-long lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus after recording an uptick in infections in recent days amid eased restrictions.    The "total lockdown" -- which will start at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) on Wednesday and end at 5:00 am (0200 GMT) on Monday -- excludes the health, agriculture, food and manufacturing industries, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said after a cabinet meeting.

But "citizens should stay home and avoid going out except for urgent cases," she told journalists.    Lebanon has officially announced 870 cases of COVID-19, including 26 deaths.    Last month the crisis-hit country started to slowly emerge from a weeks-long lockdown that has aggravated its worst economic crisis since 1975-1990 civil war.

Restaurants and cafes have reopened at 30 per cent capacity, mosques have resumed prayers, and many people are back at work.   But "the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading from one person to the other has accelerated in our community in the past three days," Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Tuesday, explaining why his government is tightening lockdown measures.

He said the country has recorded more than 100 new infections over four days, accusing some of "negligence and lack of responsibility" for violating government measures to stem the coronavirus.    The new virus cases include repatriated Lebanese nationals who have returned to the country en mass in recent weeks.
Date: Tue, 21 Apr 2020 14:23:30 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, April 21, 2020 (AFP) - Hundreds of Lebanese demonstrators on Tuesday reclaimed streets emptied by the coronavirus-induced lockdown to revive a moribund protest movement but stayed in their cars to respect social distancing.   Joyous convoys of honking cars decked out with Lebanon's cedar-emblazoned flag converged on Martyr's Square, the epicentre of the protest movement born almost exactly half a year ago.   "It's so good to be back, there's no better feeling," said Hassan Hussein Ali, a 22-year-old protester who came equipped with a loudspeaker and a protective mask.   "Corona has killed everything but it hasn't stopped the corruption of our politicians, so it will not stop us either," he said, standing outside Beirut's landmark Mohammad al-Amin mosque.

The noisy procession of protesters leaning out of their cars, wearing colourful face masks, and in some cases visors and disposable gloves, drove across town and along the seafront.   The demonstration stopped near a venue where lawmakers were discussing several hot button issues, including a divisive general amnesty, the legalisation of cannabis and lifting of immunity for ministers and MPs suspected of graft.

An unprecedented nationwide and cross-sectarian protest movement erupted on October 17 last year, rattling Lebanon's reviled hereditary political class but failing to touch off radical change.   Protest fatigue and a severe economic crisis that set Lebanon on course to default had already led the protest movement to peter out before confinement measures kicked in.   Observers predict however that crippling capital controls imposed by the banks and a defacto devaluation could spark a second wave of protests once the lockdown is lifted.

Protesters who turned out in their cars on Tuesday were keen to remind the newly-installed government that the street was still a force to be reckoned with.   Leaning out of her car in central Beirut before the convoy set off, 54-year-old Lina al-Adawi said she was there to protest ever-worsening living conditions.   "I came out because the state still hasn't done anything so far. We haven't seen any reforms," she said, wearing a face mask and red headscarf.    "The coronavirus has made the economic and living situation even worse -- unemployment, the spike in the exchange rate, poverty and hunger."
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 15:46:57 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Millions in Lebanon risk food insecurity due to a coronavirus lockdown unless the government provides urgent assistance, Human Rights Watch warned Wednesday.   Lebanon in mid-March ordered residents to stay at home and all non-essential businesses to close to halt the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 575 people and killed 19 nationwide.   Before the pandemic erupted, Lebanon was struggling with its worst economic crisis in decades, with 45 percent of the population facing poverty according to official estimates.   Lockdown measures to slow the spread of the virus have made matters worse with "millions of Lebanon's residents... at risk of going hungry", HRW said in a statement.

Lebanon is home to 4.5 million people, and also hosts around 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the nine-year war next door, most of whom rely on aid to survive.   "The lockdown... has compounded the poverty and economic hardship rampant in Lebanon before the virus arrived," said HRW senior researcher Lena Simet.    "Many people who had an income have lost it, and if the government does not step in, more than half the population may not be able to afford food and basic necessities."

The economic crisis since last year had already caused many people to lose their jobs or take salary cuts, and stay-at-home measures to counter the virus have now prevented even more from earning a wage.   Media has carried reports of a taxi driver who set his car on fire after security forces fined him for breaking the lockdown rules.   And an unemployed Lebanese construction worker unable to afford rent offered to sell his kidney, in an image widely shared online.   HRW Lebanon researcher Aya Majzoub said many families are struggling due to a lack of savings.

The government has said it will pay out 400,000 Lebanese pounds (less than $150 at the market rate) to the most vulnerable.   HRW said the government should also consider suspending rent and mortgage payments throughout the lockdown.   Majzoub said Syrian refugees were also affected.   "Many of them were seasonal workers -- they worked in agriculture, they worked in the service industry -- and they're not able to do that anymore," she said.   But their ability to cope will depend largely on international aid, as before the pandemic.

The World Bank last week said it had re-allocated $40 million from its support to Lebanon's health sector to fight the virus, including for tests and ventilators.   And it has also been discussing "assistance to help mitigate the impact of the economic and financial crisis on the poor through emergency social safety nets", World Bank spokeswoman Zeina El-Khalil told AFP in March.    On Monday, Lebanon's President Michel Aoun urged the international community to provide financial assistance to back economic reforms.
Date: Sun, 5 Apr 2020 22:20:37 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, April 5, 2020 (AFP) - Lebanon on Sunday started repatriating nationals who were stranded abroad in its first flights in weeks since it closed its international airport to stem the novel coronavirus.   Many Lebanese work abroad, in the Gulf or in Africa, while thousands of youth study in Europe.   The first of four planes touched down at the Beirut international airport late in the morning bringing in 78 passengers from Riyadh, local television reported.

A second carrying 79 passengers from Abu Dhabi followed in the afternoon, the National News Agency said.   Local television showed health personnel in protective gear taking the temperature of disembarking passengers.   The Mediterranean country announced a lockdown and closed its airport from March 19 as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 527 people and killed 18 nationwide.   An AFP photographer saw a dozen buses outside the airport, which the health ministry said were to transport the passengers to their homes to self-quarantine or to a hotel to await the results of tests on arrival.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan said at a news conference Sunday evening that all the tests carried out on passengers arriving from Saudi Arabia were negative.    But he added the passengers will still have to self-quarantine.    Prime Minister Hassan Diab had arrived earlier amid heavy deployment of the Lebanese army.   Authorities said more than 20,000 people had signed up to be repatriated in total this week or at the end of the month.   Lebanese carrier Middle East Airlines said flights would land in Beirut later on Sunday from Lagos and Abidjan.   It has also announced return trips to Paris, Madrid and Kinshasa on Tuesday.

- Steep fares -
Lebanese returning home must either test negative for the virus no longer than three days before their return, or be tested immediately upon arrival, according to government guidelines.   They must pay for their own ticket and their families are not allowed to meet them at the airport.   The government has said priority will be given to those with critical health conditions such as diabetes or cancer, those aged over 60 and under 18, and families.   But critics have complained of steep ticket fares, while a financial crisis has severely restricted transactions from Lebanese bank accounts.

Coronavirus is the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, which is already reeling under a crumbling economy.   Due to an acute liquidity crisis, banks have since September increasingly been restricting access to dollars and have halted money transfers abroad.   On Monday, however, the banking association agreed to allow dollar transfers to Lebanese students outside the country to help them face the coronavirus pandemic, the finance ministry said.   Diab on Sunday told reporters the government was studying the possibility of supporting returning Lebanese students with a ticket.

The public transport minister said the MEA would offer half-price tickets to students in need, while the foreign and health ministers said Lebanese donors would cover the other half, according to the NNA.   Lebanese expatriates and activists have clamoured online for MEA to lower the price of its tickets and help those who cannot afford it.   The airline on Friday claimed tickets were more expensive -- $650 for an economy class seat from Riyadh and $1,800 for a cheaper fare from Abidjan for example -- because planes would be empty on the way out to evacuations.
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 22:17:01 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - Lebanese authorities said Tuesday they would allow expatriates to return despite a lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a move that could affect up to 20,000 people.   The cabinet gave its initial approval for the proposal, which could be put in motion "in principle" from Sunday, a government statement said, without giving details of how it would be implemented.

An estimated 20,000 people "want to return to Lebanon", Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti told local television.  Beirut's international airport has been closed for nearly two weeks, along with schools, universities, restaurants and bars, and Lebanese have been urged to stay at home to stem the spread of COVID-19.   Lebanon has reported 463 official cases of the virus and 12 deaths.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2020 10:23:53 +0200 (METDST)

Yerevan, June 1, 2020 (AFP) - Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his family have tested positive for the coronavirus, he said Monday, as the rate of new infections soared in the Caucasus nation.   "My coronavirus test was positive yesterday," Pashinyan said in a self-recorded video message on Facebook, adding that his family were also infected.   He said he had no "viable symptoms" of the virus and would be working from home.   The prime minister and his wife Anna Hakobyan, who is a journalist, have four children.   The ex-Soviet republic of some three million has so far reported 9,492 cases of the coronavirus and 139 deaths.

Coronavirus patients have overwhelmed Armenia's hospitals and last week health officials said that intensive care treatment could be soon restricted to patients with the best chance of survival.   Pashinyan's announcement came nearly one month after Armenia on May 4 lifted a state of emergency imposed in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The prime minister acknowledged his government had failed to enforce anti-virus measures and there had been widespread quarantine violations.   Pashinyan was elected prime minister in the wake of mass popular protests he led two years ago against veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian and his Republican Party.   He has since led a relentless crusade against graft and initiated sweeping judicial reforms.
Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2020 09:17:15 +0200 (METDST)

San Salvador, June 1, 2020 (AFP) - Tropical Storm Amanda triggered flash floods, landslides and power outages as it barrelled through El Salvador and Guatemala Sunday, killing 14 people, authorities said, warning of further heavy rain to come.   El Salvador President Nayib Bukele declared a 15-day state of emergency to cope with the effects of the storm, which he estimated to have caused $200 million in damage, but which weakened later in the day as it moved into Guatemala.

Amanda, the first named storm of the season in the Pacific, unleashed torrents of floodwater that tossed vehicles around like toys and damaged about 200 homes, the head of the Civil Protection Service William Hernandez said.   The fatalities were all recorded in El Salvador, Interior Minister Mario Duran said, warning that the death toll could rise.   One person is still missing, senior government official Carolina Recinos added.   "We are experiencing an unprecedented situation: one top-level emergency on top of another serious one," San Salvador mayor Ernesto Muyshondt said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.

He added that half of those killed died in the capital, and that 4,200 people had sought refuge in government-run shelters after losing their homes or being forced to leave because they were in high-risk areas.   In some flooded areas, soldiers worked alongside emergency personnel to rescue people.   "We lost everything, we've been left with nowhere to live," said Isidro Gomez, a resident of hard-hit southeastern San Salvador, after a nearby river overflowed and destroyed his home.

Another victim, Mariano Ramos, said that at dawn residents of his San Salvador neighborhood were slammed by an avalanche of mud and water. An elderly man died in the area, officials said.   El Salvador's environment ministry warned residents of the "high probability" of multiple landslides that could damage buildings and injure or kill people.

Nearly 90 percent of El Salvador's 6.6 million people are considered vulnerable to flooding and landslides due to its geography.   In neighboring Guatemala, officials said roads had been blocked by at least five landslides and some flooding was reported, but no evacuations were underway.   Even though Amanda weakened to tropical depression status, Guatemalan officials warned that heavy rain would continue, with swollen rivers and possible "landslides affecting highways ... and flooding in coastal areas."
Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2020 06:55:18 +0200 (METDST)

Lima, June 1, 2020 (AFP) - Peru on Sunday reported 8,800 new COVID-19 infections, setting a new daily record for a country that already has the second highest number of novel coronavirus cases in Latin America after Brazil.   The death toll is now at 4,506, the third highest in the region -- itself the new hotspot of the deadly disease -- after Brazil and Mexico, with President Martin Vizcarra warning the country is only halfway through the crisis.

Infections have jumped in Peru despite a months-long mandatory lockdown and a nigh time curfew and the government ordering international borders to be closed.   The spike is concentrated around the capital Lima, where one third of the population lives, and put tremendous strain on Peru's economy and healthcare system.   Four out of every ten Peruvians lost their source of income when the lockdown began, according to one study, and last week Peru secured a two-year, $11 billion credit line from the International Monetary Fund.

- 'Tremendous challenge' in Chile -
Neighbouring Chile on Sunday reported 57 more fatalities in the past 24 hours, a new record that brings the country's COVID-19 death toll to 1,054.   "We are facing the largest pandemic of the past 100 years," said Deputy Health Minister Paula Daza, as she announced the latest figures.    "It is a tremendous challenge; we are living very difficult times in our country."

In Santiago, where the 80 percent of the virus cases were reported, 96 percent of the emergency room beds were taken, officials said.   Officials reported a sharp increase in cases over the past two weeks.   In early May the government of President Sebastian Pinera said that the number of virus cases had hit a plateau, and lockdown restrictions would be loosened.
Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2020 03:38:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Anna SMOLCHENKO

Moscow, June 1, 2020 (AFP) - Shopping malls and parks are set to reopen in Moscow on Monday as the Russian capital eases coronavirus restrictions despite having the world's third-largest caseload.   The relaxation of the confinement orders in Moscow, the epicentre of Russia's outbreak with a population of more than 12 million, comes after President Vladimir Putin announced the epidemic had passed its peak in the country.

Under lockdown since March 30, residents of Europe's most populous city were until now only allowed to leave their homes for brief trips to shop, walk dogs or travel to essential jobs with a permit.   While Muscovites welcomed the opportunity to return to parks and malls after weeks of being cooped up at home, many ridiculed the Moscow mayor's "experiment" aimed at regulating people's walks and exercise.

As a two-week test measure, Sergei Sobyanin said residents of Moscow will be allowed to take walks according to a staggered schedule based on their home address.   "Regular walks are allowed between 9am and 9pm but no more than three times a week -- twice on weekdays and once on a weekend," said Sobyanin on his blog, adding that a detailed schedule would be released separately.   People can jog or exercise between 5am and 9am but must wear masks, according to the new rules.   Sobyanin said he feared that without limits on walking, people would throng the streets in scenes reminiscent of May Day outpourings in Soviet times.

- 'Sheer lunacy' -
The new regulations unleashed a flood of mockery on social media, with political commentator Alexander Golts calling them "sheer lunacy".   Critics quipped that life in Moscow was beginning to imitate dystopian fiction such as the novels of Aldous Huxley and Yevgeny Zamyatin.

Popular comedian Maxim Galkin, who has nearly eight million followers on Instagram, released a sketch in which Putin and Sobyanin discuss a "breathing schedule" for Moscow residents.   The five-minute parody has been viewed nearly six million times over the past few days.   When the restrictions are relaxed, dry-cleaners, laundry services and repair workshops will be allowed to reopen, while restaurants, cafes and cinemas will remain closed for now.

Moscow authorities also said that no mass gatherings would be allowed during the city-wide quarantine that will remain in place until at least June 14.   On Thursday authorities sentenced prominent reporter and activist Ilya Azar to 15 days in jail for staging a lone protest in central Moscow.   Dozens of his supporters have also been briefly detained over the past few days.   Rights organisations including Amnesty International and the Council of Europe have warned Moscow against using the coronavirus lockdown as a pretext to muzzle activists.

Many critics have also questioned the move to lift the restrictions as Russia reported more than 9,000 new infections on Sunday.   With more than 405,000 confirmed infections and over 4,600 deaths, the country has the world's third-largest caseload after the United States and Brazil.   Analysts say Putin is keen to open up the Russian economy and has recently ordered a World War II victory parade postponed by the contagion to be held on June 24.   The 67-year-old leader is also widely expected to announce a new date for a vote on constitutional reforms that could pave the way for him to potentially stay in power until 2036.
Date: Sun, 31 May 2020 11:16:20 +0200 (METDST)

Mogadishu, May 31, 2020 (AFP) - At least 10 people died and 12 were wounded when an explosive device ripped through a minibus outside the Somali capital Mogadishu on Sunday, the government said.   The deadly explosion occurred near Lafole village along the Afgoye-Mogadishu where the passenger bus was travelling early in the day.   "At least 10 civilians were killed in an explosion at Lafole area this morning, those who died were all civilians," the information ministry said in a statement, adding that the victims were on their way to a funeral.

Witnesses said the minibus was completely destroyed, and described an horrific scene with everyone on board either dead or wounded and many bodies ripped apart or burned beyond recognition.   "This was a horrible incident this morning, the explosive device went off as the bus was passing by the area and destroyed it completely," said Daud Doyow, a witness.   "Bodies of civilians were strewn in pieces and most of the people died," he added.   "There were more than 20 people on board and 10 of them were confirmed dead while the rest are seriously wounded and taken to hospital, this is a horrible scene here," said another witness, Abdirisak Adan.   No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Somalia's al Qaeda-aligned Shabaab group carries out regular attacks in and around the capital, often killing civilians.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 17:58:12 +0200 (METDST)

Nairobi, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - Kenya said Wednesday it had documented a record 123 cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, a "staggering" figure although one also explained in part by wider testing.   "Today, I come to you with sombre news," Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said.   "Our figures today are staggering. Out of the 3,077 samples tested, we have 123 positive cases. For the first time we have hit a triple digit.    "This is the highest number of positive cases we have ever recorded in a single day since we recorded the first case on March 13."

A total of 1,471 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Kenya since the start of the epidemic. Of these, 55 have been fatal.   The tally of infections has doubled since mid-May but the country has also tripled its number of daily tests, from less than 1,000 to nearly 3,000, which has helped unearth more cases.

Kagwe sounded a warning about the vulnerability of crowded slums in the capital Nairobi, which leads the list of new cases followed by the port city of Mombasa.   "There is a raging number of infections in these areas," he said, adding: "No-one should have a false sense of security about their immunity to COVID-19."   Among its anti-coronavirus measures, Kenya has a national 7pm-5am curfew, which is currently in force until June 6, and has a ban on entering or exiting the cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale and Mandera.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 16:38:21 +0200 (METDST)

Nicosia, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - Cyprus hopes to attract tourists after its coronavirus lockdown by paying the medical costs of anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 while holidaying on the island, officials said Wednesday.   The plan was outlined in a letter to tour operators and airlines detailing the measures Cyprus is taking to ensure the safety of its tourism sector.   The letter was made public Wednesday and signed by the ministers of foreign affairs, transport, and tourism.

The Mediterranean island is marketing itself as a safe holiday destination during the global pandemic.   The Republic of Cyprus has reported 939 novel coronavirus cases and only 17 deaths.   The government said it is "committed to taking care of all travellers who test positive during their stay, as well as their families and close contacts".   It pledged to cover accommodation, dining and medical care if a tourist falls ill with the virus.   The "traveller will only need to bear the cost of their airport transfer and repatriation flight," it said.

- 'Quarantine hotels' -
A 100-bed hospital will be available exclusively for tourists who test positive, with more beds available "at very short notice if required".   An additional 112 beds in intensive care units with 200 respirators will be reserved for critically ill patients.   Designated "quarantine hotels" will have 500 rooms available for family members and close contacts of patients.

Other hotels on the island will be allowed to remain open if a guest tests positive, but their room will "undergo a deep clean".   Authorities have forecast a 70 percent decline in tourist arrivals in 2020.    Tourism earned Cyprus EUR2.68 billion ($2.94 bn) in 2019 -- about 15 percent of gross domestic product -- down one percent from the previous year, which was bolstered by a record 3.97 million arrivals.   Cyprus plans to reopen its airports on June 9 to arrivals from 13 countries considered low risk.   These include Israel, Greece, Germany, Austria and Malta but the island's two biggest markets Britain and Russia are not on the approved list.

hose arriving between June 9-19 will need to provide a health certificate proving they do not have the virus.   That requirement will be dropped from June 20, when another six countries will be added to the approved list, including Switzerland and Poland.   Cyprus says it will update the list of approved countries on a weekly basis based on scientific advice.

Officials will administer temperature checks and free random testing of arrivals.   Having tested over 10 percent of its population, Cyprus says it has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in Europe.   "Very few countries worldwide, especially in the Mediterranean, can boast about such statistics," the letter said.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 14:45:11 +0200 (METDST)

Stockholm, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - Airline SAS said Wednesday it would resume flights on several domestic and international routes in June, over two months after the operator grounded most of its fleet over the new coronavirus' impact on travel.   "This primarily includes domestic flights within and between the Scandinavian countries, but flights to New York, Chicago and Amsterdam from Copenhagen are also set to resume," SAS said in a statement.

The Scandinavian airline announced in mid-March it was halting most of its traffic and furloughing around 90 percent of its staff.   In late April the airline, whose two largest shareholders are the Swedish and Danish states, announced it was laying off about 5,000 people, representing 40 percent of the company's workforce.

In early May the company secured a state-guaranteed credit line of 3.3 billion Swedish kronor ($344 million or 313 million euros) to help it navigate the impact of the new coronavirus.   Even with the resumption of some flights, the airline continues to operate at a reduced capacity, but the added routes means an effective doubling of the aircraft in use from 15 to 30, according to SAS.   Finnair, of Nordic neighbour Finland, announced early last week it would start resuming its long-haul flight to Asia in July.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 14:25:21 +0200 (METDST)

Yerevan, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - Virus cases have overwhelmed Armenia's hospitals, officials said Wednesday, raising the prospect that intensive care treatment could be restricted to patients with the best chance of survival.   The tiny Caucasus nation of some three million has so far reported 7,774 coronavirus cases and 98 deaths.   At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said "the situation with the coronavirus pandemic is very severe in Armenia."

Health ministry spokeswoman Alina Nikoghosyan told AFP: "if the current situation persists, in the coming days, intensive care will only be available for the patients with the best survival chances."   Health Minister Arsen Torosyan said Sunday that out of the country's 186 intensive care beds for coronavirus patients, only 32 remained empty and would soon be filled.

The prime minister called for stricter enforcement of measures aimed at containing the outbreak such as the wearing of face masks in public spaces.   This comes after the country lifted a state of emergency on May 4 which it had declared in March because of the pandemic.   Pashinyan said his government had failed to enforce anti-virus measures and there had been widespread quarantine violations.   "Our mistake was that we put too much trust in our citizens' sense of responsibility," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan said he did not rule out that the government could have to impose a fresh nationwide lockdown.   Analysts have criticised the government's handling of the crisis, saying a decision to close borders was taken too late and officials sent the public "confusing messages."   "Officials were calling for the wearing of face masks, but they themselves didn't wear them until recently," said analyst Tatul Hakobyan.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 09:53:01 +0200 (METDST)

New Delhi, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - India is wilting under a heatwave, with the temperature in places reaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and the capital enduring its hottest May day in nearly two decades.   The hot spell is projected to scorch northern India for several more days, the Meteorological Department said late Tuesday, "with severe heat wave conditions in isolated pockets".   As global temperatures rise, heatwaves are a regular menace in the country -- particularly in May and June. Last year dozens of people died.

Met officials said Churu in the northern state of Rajasthan was the hottest place on record on Tuesday, at 50 Celsius, while parts of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh sweltered in the high 40s.   Parts of the capital, New Delhi, recorded the hottest May day in 18 years with the mercury hitting 47.6 Celsius.   No deaths have been reported so far this year, but last year the government said the heat had killed 3,500 people since 2015. There have been fewer
fatalities in recent years.

The country of 1.3 billion people suffers from severe water shortages with tens of millions lacking running water -- to say nothing of air conditioning.   Parts of Delhi and elsewhere regularly see scuffles when tankers arrive to deliver water. Last year Chennai made international headlines when the southern city ran out of water entirely.   The heatwave adds to problems the country already has dealing with the spread of coronavirus.   India now has the 10th highest number of coronavirus cases globally, climbing above 150,000 on Wednesday with almost 4,500 deaths.

Last week cyclone Amphan killed more than 100 people as it ravaged in eastern India and Bangladesh, flattening villages, destroying farms and leaving millions without power.   Huge swarms of desert locusts, meanwhile, have destroyed nearly 50,000 hectares (125,000 acres) of crops across western and central India, and may enter Delhi in coming days.   The north-eastern states of Assam and Meghalaya are also currently experiencing floods, with more heavy rainfall forecast in the coming days.