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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:54:19 +0100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 16:37:27 +0200
By Ricardo ARDUENGO, con Nelson DEL CASTILLO en San Juan y Leila MACOR en Miami

Utuado, Puerto Rico, Oct 19, 2017 (AFP) - It's been a month since Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico and Samuel de Jesus still can't drive out of his isolated, blacked-out town.   In fact, much of the US territory in the Caribbean is still a crippled mess four weeks after that fierce Category Four storm.

The bridge connecting Rio Abajo to the rest of the island was swept away when Maria slammed the island on September 20. For two weeks Rio Abajo, located in a mountainous region in central-western Puerto Rico, was cut off and forgotten, without power or phone service.   "We didn't know what to do. We were literally going crazy," said de Jesus, 35.   "Those were difficult, desperate days. We could not find a way out, and the hurricane caused extensive damage," he told AFP.

During the two long weeks following Maria, the 27 families living in Rio Abajo saw their supplies quickly deplete.   De Jesus, who has diabetes, needed to keep his insulin refrigerated. The storm blew away the island's already decrepit power grid, so people resorted to emergency generators.   "But I was running out of gasoline to run the generator," he said.   A helicopter now makes regular deliveries of food, water and medicine because with the bridge washed out, there is no other way in or out of town.

People can't wade across the river because it is contaminated with human waste after a pipe broke when the bridge went.   Some brave souls use a precarious ladder rigged to get across the water, but for most people it is too dangerous.   We need a bridge "to take out our vehicles and leave in case of emergency, or if there is a landslide," he said.   Where the bridge once stood, residents set up a system of ropes, pulleys and buckets to move supplies over the river, which has been contaminated with sewer water since the hurricane.   Over the remains of the bridge locals hung the single-star, red, white and blue flag of Puerto Rico and a sign that reads "the campsite of the forgotten."

- Desperate need for electricity -
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello visited the surrounding municipality of Utuado on Wednesday to deliver supplies, but he did not stop in Rio Abajo.   "Utuado is certainly one of the most severely affected municipalities in all of Puerto Rico," Rossello said.   "Our commitment is to give it support and aid during the whole road to recovery."   Eighty-one percent of Puerto Rico remains blacked out one month after Maria struck. Clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing is scarce, too.

Puerto Ricans' main obstacle to getting back to some semblance of normality is the slowness of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in getting the power grid back up and running.   The lack of power has paralyzed a key industry -- pharmaceutical production -- and most businesses including restaurants are closed or operating at great cost through the use of diesel powered generators.

This nightmare comes about a year after the US government established an external fiscal control board for the island after it declared bankruptcy because of 73 billion dollars in debt.   Economist Joaquin Villamil told AFP that damage from Hurricane Maria is estimated at 20 billion dollars -- four times that of Hurricane Georges in 1998, when measured in 2016 dollars.

Villamil said reconstruction money provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from insurance companies will have a positive impact on the island's economy in the second half of fiscal 2018 and in fiscal 2019, but this boost will just be temporary.   "From an economic point of view there is not much net gain," said Villamil, who works for a consulting firm called Estudios Tecnicos.   He said the economy has been shrinking since 2006 and Maria will delay any prospect of recovery.   It will take at least until 2026 to get back to the GDP level of 2006, he added.

Making things worse, people are leaving the island for the mainland US. Forecasts are that the population now at 3.4 million will go down to 3.1 million or even less by 2026, said Villamil.   The government of Florida estimates that since October 3 -- the day a state of emergency to deal with an influx of Puerto Ricans was declared -- more than 36,000 people from the island have poured in.
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North Korea

Democratic People's Republic of Korea US Consular Information Sheet
April 29, 2008
Prior to departing the United States, U.S. citizens planning to transit China on their visit to North Korea are encouraged to register on line with the U.S. Emba
sy in Beijing; U. S. citizens transiting South Korea to take the Mount Kumgang or Kaesong City tours should register with the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
U. S. citizens visiting North Korea should also register with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang (U.S. Protective Power).
Please see the Registration/Embassy Location section below.

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea or the DPRK) is a highly militaristic Communist state located on the Korean Peninsula between northeast China and the Republic of Korea (South Korea or ROK), with land borders with China, Russia and South Korea.
The DPRK is one of the world’s most isolated countries.
The continuing dispute over North Korea’s development of nuclear programs and nuclear weapons has resulted in tensions in the region and between the United States and the DPRK.
North Korea limits trade and transportation links with other countries and tightly restricts the circumstances under which foreigners may enter the country and interact with local citizens.
Telephone and fax communications are unavailable in many areas of the country and foreigners can expect their communications to be monitored by DPRK officials.
In the past few years, North Korea has experienced famine, flooding, fuel and electricity shortages, and outbreaks of disease.
Many countries, including the United States, have contributed to international relief efforts to assist the people of North Korea.

Foreign tourists are a means for North Korea to earn much needed foreign currency, but an underdeveloped service sector, inadequate infrastructure, and political tensions with surrounding countries have stymied any significant tourist flow.
North Korean efforts to expand tourism have focused primarily on group tours from China, as well as from South Korea primarily to the Mount Kumgang tourist area and the city of Kaesong.

The United States does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations with the DPRK.
The Swedish Embassy located in Pyongyang acts as the United States’ interim consular protective power and provides basic consular services to U.S. citizens traveling in North Korea.
Please refer to Special Circumstances for additional information.

Read the Department of State Background Notes on North Korea for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: North Korean visas are required for entry.
The U.S. Government does not issue letters to private Americans seeking North Korean visas, even though in the past such letters have sometimes been requested by DPRK embassies.
Prospective travelers entering and departing North Korea through China must also obtain a two-entry visa for China, as a valid Chinese visa is essential for departing North Korea at the conclusion of a visit or in an emergency.
While the ROK government is attempting to open direct travel routes to the DPRK, routine travel from the ROK to the DPRK is currently prohibited.
Travel across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) is allowed only infrequently for official and government-authorized cultural and economic exchanges, or aid shipments, and for tours limited to Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong City.
There are no regularly operating direct commercial flights from South Korea to North Korea.
U.S. citizens who arrive in North Korea without a valid U.S. passport and North Korean visa may be detained, arrested, fined or denied entry.
Travelers to North Korea report that fees for local travel costs (taxi, tolls, permits and the cost for security personnel assigned to escort foreigner visitors) can be high and arbitrary.

Where to obtain a North Korean visa: There is no DPRK embassy in the United States.
U.S. citizens and residents planning travel to North Korea must obtain DPRK visas in third countries, for example in Beijing, China.
For information about entry requirements and restricted areas, contact the DPRK Mission to the United Nations in New York.
Address inquiries to:

The Permanent Representative of the Democratic
People’s Republic of Korea to the United Nations
820 Second Avenue
New York, NY
10017
Tel: (212) 972-3105
Fax: (212) 972-3154

Americans living abroad can contact the DPRK embassy, if any, in their country of residence.
U.S. citizens traveling to North Korea may obtain their visas at the DPRK Embassy in Beijing, China, which will issue visas only after receiving authorization from the DPRK Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang.
Prior to traveling to the region, travelers may wish to confirm that authorization to issue their visa has been received from Pyongyang.
Americans can call the North Korean Embassy in Beijing prior to their travel by telephone at (86-10) 6532-1186 or (86-10) 6532-1189 (fax: (86-10) 6532-6056).

Information on dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
Please see those sections below under Special Circumstances.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: DPRK government security personnel closely monitor the activities and conversations of foreigners in North Korea.
Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Photographing roads, bridges, airports, rail stations, or anything other than designated public tourist sites can be perceived as espionage and may result in confiscation of cameras and film or even detention.
DPRK border officials routinely confiscate visitors’ cell phones upon arrival, returning the phone only upon departure.
Foreign visitors to North Korea may be arrested, detained or expelled for activities that would not be considered criminal outside the DPRK, including involvement in unsanctioned religious and political activities, engaging in unauthorized travel, or interaction with the local population.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site
at where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on worldwide security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States 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 North Korean government does not release statistics on crime.
Violent crime is rare and street crime is uncommon in Pyongyang.
Petty thefts have been reported, especially at the airport in Pyongyang.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the Swedish Embassy.
If you are a victim of any crime while in North Korea, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the Swedish Embassy for assistance (address and phone number below).

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Persons with medical problems should not travel to North Korea.
For decades, medical facilities in the DPRK have suffered from a lack of resources and electricity, as well as inadequate and often outdated skills among the medical staff.
Hospitals in Pyongyang can perform basic examinations and lifesaving measures but functioning x-ray facilities are not generally available.
Surgery should be avoided.
For accidents outside Pyongyang, transport back to the capital can be a lengthy trip without medical assistance.
Persons requiring regular medication are encouraged to bring sufficient stocks of drugs for personal use since most drugs are impossible to obtain locally.
Hospitals will expect immediate U.S. dollar cash payment for medical treatment.
Credit cards and checks have not been honored in the past, according to diplomatic personnel stationed in the DPRK.
Local DPRK hosts are often not aware of available evacuation options and might claim that no such options exist.
In case of serious medical problems, it is important to insist on immediate contact with the Swedish Embassy.
The Swedish Embassy can arrange a medical evacuation to Beijing within approximately 5-10 hours.

Vaccinations.
All necessary vaccinations should be received prior to traveling to North Korea.
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 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.
Travelers with special dietary requirements are advised to bring food with them to North Korea, as the restaurants available to foreigners may have limited menus that lack variety and nutritional adequacy.

Medical Vaccinations. In the case of a critical illness or accident, the Swedish Embassy will attempt to arrange flight clearances for air ambulances performing emergency medical evacuations.
Medical air evacuation costs vary, but average approximately $40,000 to $50,000 for medical, personnel, aircraft and clearance costs.
Clearances can usually be arranged within one day.
Medical evacuation by regularly scheduled airlines can be arranged, but is limited to the very few flights that operate from Pyongyang to Beijing, Dalian, Shenyang and Macau.
Chinese visas for injured foreigners and any escorts must be obtained prior to the evacuation from North Korea in order to transit China.
Even in the case of a medical emergency, transit visas may take several days to arrange.
Evacuation across the DMZ to South Korea is not allowed.

If an American citizen falls ill or is injured while traveling in the DPRK, accompanying travelers or family members should immediately contact the Swedish Embassy using the phone numbers listed below.

The Embassy of Sweden,
Munsu-Dong District,
Pyongyang, DPRK

Telephone and fax numbers for the Swedish Embassy (U.S. Protective Power) are:
Tel:
(850-2) 3817 485 (Reception)


(850-2) 3817 904, 907(First Secretary)


(850-2) 3817 908, 905 (Ambassador)
Fax:
(850-2) 3817 663
Email:
ambassaden.pyongyang@foreign.ministry.se
Notification also should be made to the U.S. Embassy’s American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit in Beijing, China, using the phone numbers listed below:

U.S. Embassy, Beijing
American Citizen Services
2 Xiushui Dong Jie
Beijing, China 100600
Telephone: (86-10) 6532-3431
Fax: (86-10) 6532-4153.

After hours, please call (86-10) 6532-3431 and ask for the Embassy duty officer.
Americans who wish to contact U.S. consular officials in China can e-mail amcitbeijing@state.gov
Companies that may be able to arrange evacuation services include, but are not limited to those listed below.
Travelers may wish to contact these or other emergency medical assistance providers for information about their ability to provide medical evacuation insurance and/or assistance for travelers to North Korea.

SOS International (www.intsos.com)
U.S. telephone:
(1-800) 468-5232
China telephone:
(86-10) 6462-9111/9118

Medex Assistance Corporation (www.medexassist.com)
U.S. telephone:
(410) 453-6300 / 6301
Toll free:
108888-800-527-0218 (call from China)
China telephone:
(86-10) 6595-8510)

Global Doctor (www.globaldoctor.com.au/default.php)
China telephone: (86-10) 83151914).









(86-24) 24330678 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad , available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.

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 if it will cover emergency expenses such as 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 North Korea is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or situation.

Foreigners not holding a valid DPRK driver’s license are not allowed to drive in North Korea.
Foreigners generally are not allowed to use public buses or the subway.
North Korea has a functioning rail transport system; however delays occur often, sometimes for days.
On occasion, service may cease altogether before a traveler reaches his/her final destination.
Bicycles are unavailable for rental or purchase.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and North Korea, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed North Korea’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

Interim Consular Protecting Power: The United States does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations with the DPRK.
The U.S. Government therefore cannot provide normal consular protective services to U.S. citizens in North Korea.
On September 20, 1995, a consular protecting power arrangement was implemented, allowing the Swedish Embassy in the DPRK capital of Pyongyang to provide basic consular protective services to U.S. citizens traveling in North Korea who are ill, injured, arrested or who have died while there.

Consular Access:
There is no United States diplomatic or consular presence in the DPRK.
Americans traveling in the DPRK may receive limited consular services from the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang.
Please see section above on “Medical Insurance” for address and contact information for the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry photocopies of their passport data and photo pages with them at all times so that, if questioned by DPRK officials, evidence of their U.S. citizenship is readily available. The U.S.- DPRK Interim Consular Agreement provides that North Korea will notify the Swedish Embassy within four days of an arrest or detention of an American citizen and will allow consular visits within two days after a request is made by the Swedish Embassy.
However, consular access has not been readily granted in cases where American citizens have been reported as being detained or held against their will by DPRK officials.
Moreover, delegations with ethnic Korean individuals, or delegations representing Korean-affiliated organizations in the U.S., are handled by DPRK structures that are well beyond the reach of diplomatic missions in Pyongyang.
Hence, in case of a situation requiring consular assistance, the Embassy’s access is even more limited.

Customs Regulations:
DPRK authorities may seize documents, literature, audio and videotapes, compact discs and letters deemed by North Korean officials to be pornographic, political or intended for religious proselytizing.
Persons seeking to enter North Korea with religious materials in a quantity deemed to be greater than that needed for personal use can be detained, fined and expelled.
It is advisable to contact the DPRK Mission to the United Nations or a DPRK embassy or a DPRK consulate in a third country for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our information on customs regulations.

Dual Nationality:
The DPRK does not recognize dual nationality.
U.S. citizens of Korean heritage may be subject to military obligations and taxes on foreign source income.
For further information see our dual nationality flyer.
Additional questions on dual nationality may be directed to Overseas Citizens Services, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC
20520 or by telephone at 1-888-407-4747.

U.S. Government Economic Sanctions Against North Korea:
At this time, goods of North Korean origin may not be imported into the United States either directly or indirectly without prior notification to and approval of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Exports to North Korea may be subject to licensing requirements.
Check with the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security.
Most financial transactions between U.S. and North Korean citizens are authorized, provided they meet the criteria outlined in the June 19, 2000, and subsequent amendments to OFAC regulations.
All transactions ordinarily incident to travel to, from and within North Korea and to maintenance within North Korea are authorized, and U.S. travel service providers are allowed to organize group travel to North Korea.
Commercial U.S. ships and aircraft carrying U.S. goods are allowed to call at North Korean ports with prior clearance.
In May 2006, OFAC began prohibiting U.S. persons from “owning, leasing, operating or insuring any vessel flagged by North Korea.”
Full text of the regulation can be found in the Federal Register at http://www.fas.usda.gov/info/fr/2000/061900-a.txt.

The U.S. maintains various export controls and other sanctions on North Korea for counter- terrorism, nonproliferation and other reasons.
Exports of military and sensitive dual-use items are prohibited, as are most types of U.S. economic assistance.
The U.S. also abides by multilateral restrictions and sanctions with respect to North Korea, including those contained in recent United Nations Security Council Resolutions in response to the North Korean missile launches and nuclear test in July and October 2006.

For additional information, consult the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page on the Internet at http://www.treasury.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/.

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.
Local laws also may not afford the protections available to U.S. citizens under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking local laws can be more severe than those in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders often face long jail sentences and heavy fines.
North Korean security personnel may view unescorted travel inside North Korea by Americans who do not have explicit official authorization as espionage, especially when the U.S. citizens are originally from South Korea or are thought to understand the Korean language.
Security personnel may also view any attempt to engage in unauthorized conversations with a North Korean citizen as espionage.
Foreigners are subject to fines or arrest for unauthorized currency transactions or for shopping at stores not designated for foreigners.
It is a criminal act in North Korea to show disrespect to the country's current and former leaders, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung, respectively.
Foreign journalists have been threatened when questioning the policies or public statements of the DPRK or the actions of the current leadership.

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 additional 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: There is no U.S. embassy or consulate in North Korea.

U.S. citizens planning to visit North Korea are encouraged to register prior to departing the United States with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing if entering North Korea from China.
U.S. citizens planning to visit the Mount Kumgang tourism area or Kaesong from South Korea should register with the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
Registration can be done on line through the State Department's travel registration web site
or in person, by telephone or fax, at the U.S. Embassy.

The Embassy of Sweden (U.S. Protective Power).
Americans who have a medical or consular emergency and who wish to contact the Swedish Embassy are reminded first to communicate this need to their North Korean escorts or guides.
Do not attempt to travel to the Swedish Embassy unescorted.
The Swedish Embassy (U.S. Protective Power) is located at Munsu-Dong District, Pyongyang.
The telephone and fax numbers for the Swedish Embassy (U.S. Protective Power) are:

Tel:
(850-2) 3817 485 (reception)
Tel:
(850-2) 3817 904, (850-2) 3817 907 (First Secretary)
Tel:
(850-2) 3817 908, (850-2) 3817 905 (Ambassador)
Fax:
(850-2) 3817 663

U.S. Embassy Beijing.
The American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, is located at:
2 Xiushui Dong Jie, Beijing.
The Embassy is located near Ritan Park.
Telephone: (86-10) 6532-3431.
Fax: (86-10) 6532-4153.
Email: amcitbeijing@state.gov.
The Embassy Beijing web site is http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/.

For after-hours emergencies please call (86-10)6532-3431 and ask for the Embassy duty officer.
U.S. Embassy Seoul.
The American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, is located at:
32 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu, Seoul.
The Embassy is located across the street from Sejong Cultural Center and next to the Ministry of Information and Communication/KT Building.

Telephone: (82-2) 397-4114.
Fax: (82-2) 2-397-4101.
E-mail: seoul_acs@state.gov.
The Embassy Seoul web site is http://seoul.usembassy.gov/.

For after-hours emergencies please call (82-2) 721-4114 and ask for the Embassy duty officer.
*
*
*
*
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated October 15, 2007, to update the sections on Country Description, Medical Insurance, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 7 Apr 2019 11:11:12 +0200

Pyongyang, April 7, 2019 (AFP) - Twice as many foreigners as last year gathered in Pyongyang Sunday for the city's annual marathon, tour firms said, as reduced tensions see visitor numbers rise in isolated North Korea.    The event -- part of the celebrations for the anniversary of founder Kim Il Sung's birth in 1912 -- is the highlight of the North's tourism calendar and offers the chance to run or jog through the streets of the tightly controlled city.

Around 950 Westerners entered the event, according to market leader Koryo Tours, compared to some 450 last year when numbers slumped.   That brought participation almost back to the levels of 2017, before tensions soared as the North carried out a series of missile launches and leader Kim Jong Un traded threats and personal insults with US President Donald Trump.   The same year, Washington also banned its citizens from visiting the North following the death of Otto Warmbier, a US student jailed for trying to steal a propaganda poster who died in a mysterious coma days after his release.

Several other countries subsequently raised their travel warnings, a combination of events that dealt a significant blow to the North's tourism industry.   The US ban remains in place but more Western tourists signed up for the marathon this time, tour operators said, following a year of high-level diplomacy between Trump and Kim.   "As political tensions have subsided, tourism demand has increased," said Elliott Davies, director at Uri Tours, another operator, adding: "You could plot a graph in this direct relationship."

- 'Marathon chasers' -
The vast majority of tourists to the North are Chinese and some 5,000 Westerners a year used to visit the North -- with about 20 percent of those from the US -- seeking unique adventures in one of the most closed countries in the world.   The annual race also attracts so-called "Marathon Chasers" who tick off runs around the world, said Matt Kulesza, a senior tour guide at Young Pioneer Tours.   Angel Arnaudov, a 34-year-old engineer from Macedonia, said Pyongyang came onto his "radar" after finishing more than 30 marathons in cities ranging from Tokyo, New York and Copenhagen.   "I want to experience the life in North Korea myself and see if it is like they say on TV or different," he said, adding he would be posting videos on his YouTube channel.

For third-time participant Jasmine Barrett, the Pyongyang Marathon was an opportunity to interact with ordinary North Koreans who line the streets to cheer on the runners, offering high-fives and posing for selfies.   "I keep coming back because I love to see the smiles on the children's faces," the Australian entrepreneur told AFP.   "I'd definitely recommend it to others because it's a great way to see the city and the people who live there," she added.   Tour operators advise visitors to take extra precautions about "what to do and what not to do" when travelling in the North.   Simon Cockerell, Koryo Tours' general manager, said: "This is vital when visiting North Korea and anyone wanting to travel shouldn't go without a briefing."
Date: Thu, 17 Jan 2019 07:33:49 +0100

Seoul, Jan 17, 2019 (AFP) - A giant beach resort in North Korea is nearing completion, a US monitor said Thursday, with satellite pictures showing rapid progress on the sprawling development, now equipped with a water slide and cinema.   The seaside strip known as the Wonsan-Kalma Coastal Tourist Area is squeezed between a new airport and the country's east coast, in an area that has previously been used for artillery drills and ballistic missile launches.

It is intended as a centrepiece of the isolated country's nascent tourism industry as Pyongyang seeks to develop its economy despite international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons programmes.   North Korea receives an estimated 100,000 foreign tourists a year, the vast majority of them Chinese, according to industry sources, but Pyongyang issues no official figures itself.   The site's construction has been closely overseen by leader Kim Jong Un and plans have been announced for a grand opening in October, when the country marks the 74th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

The respected 38 North website released satellite images taken as recently as December showing that most buildings previously under construction were "nearing external completion and several new or redesigned buildings were in advanced stages".   Kim, who reportedly spent his childhood summers in the area, visited the site at least three times last year according to state media, sometimes berating officials in charge of the works and issuing detailed orders.

Kim "found that the whole street was not perfect in the artistic aspect", the official KCNA news agency reported after his October inspection.   "He instructed officials to envisage the construction of more hotels and inns with over 30 floors," it added, along with more games arcades, movie theatres and an "all-event stadium", plus a "large water park and funfair".   Satellite photos from December 28 indicated the resort was growing into a "vast beach complex", 38 North said.

- 'Great beaches' -
US President Donald Trump, a former real estate developer turned billionaire, applauded North Korea's tourism potential last year following his landmark summit with Kim in Singapore.   After a four-minute screening of a bizarre Hollywood-style trailer -- apparently part of an overall pitch that the US could help the North advance technologically and economically -- Trump pointed to potential property projects in the cash-strapped nation.   "As an example, they have great beaches," he told reporters.    "You see that whenever they are exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, 'Boy, look at that view. Wouldn't that make a great condo?'"

Kim mentioned the Wonsan-Kalma project in his key New Year speech and 38 North said the push on the development showed "a desire to demonstrate that North Korea, despite the economic sanctions in place, has an economy that is moving forward and showing signs of prosperity.   "It may also reflect an expectation that as the country improves its external political relations, tourism will follow," it added.

At present the US bans its own citizens from tourism in the North.   Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans used to visit Mount Kumgang near the inter-Korean border every year, travelling to a Seoul-funded tourist resort that was the first major cooperation project between the neighbours.   The trips came to an abrupt end in 2008 when a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean tourist who strayed off the approved path and Seoul suspended travel.
Date: Thu, 6 Sep 2018 14:08:01 +0200

Pyongyang, Sept 6, 2018 (AFP) - Severe flooding in North Korea has killed at least 76 people with another 75 missing, many of them children, the Red Cross said Thursday.   Thousands of people have been left homeless after heavy rains triggered floods and landslides, toppling more than 800 buildings including houses, clinics and schools in North and South Hwanghae provinces, leaving Red Cross volunteers scrambling to find survivors.   "Thousands have lost their homes and are in urgent need of health services, shelter, food, safe drinking water and sanitation," said John Fleming of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) North Korea country office.   "With the cold season around the corner, we are also concerned this disaster will increase the risk of health problems and food insecurity for some communities."

Impoverished North Korea is vulnerable to natural disasters. More than 130 people died after floods struck North Hamgyong province in 2016, bringing down buildings and leaving hundreds of thousands in urgent need of food and shelter.   The country's territory is largely composed of mountains and hills that have long been stripped bare for fuel or turned into terraced rice fields, allowing rainwater to flow downhill unchecked.   A series of floods and droughts was partially responsible for a famine that killed hundreds of thousands between 1994-98, with economic mismanagement and the loss of Soviet support exacerbating the situation.
Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2018 07:21:10 +0200

Seoul, Aug 21, 2018 (AFP) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has denounced his own country's health services, state media reported Tuesday, criticising officials for being "very idle and irresponsible".   Impoverished and isolated North Korea, which is subject to multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its pursuit of nuclear weapons, suffers from chronic food shortages and inadequate health services according to international aid agencies. 

Hospitals lack medicines, equipment, and trained staff.   While Pyongyang regularly proclaims its desire to provide its people with a better life, Kim roundly condemned its health system on a visit to a medical devices factory.   Some sectors "have made remarkable leaps forward in recent years" Kim said according to the official Korean Central News Agency, "but the public health sector has never done so and become more and more passive".   "There is no unit keeping its environment well in the public health sector, to say nothing of equipment modernisation," he added at the Myohyangsan Medical Appliances Factory.

Such "field guidance" visits by the leader are the mainstay of the North's state media output, and a key part of the authorities' domestic messaging, sometimes lauding the quality of projects and sometimes criticising officials.   The ruling Workers' Party had stressed the need to improve health services, but "officials are very idle and irresponsible in doing so", Kim said according to KCNA.

In the Korean-language version, he berated them for "hibernating for a long time", adding: "Animals only hibernate once a year but the health sector has been holed up and hibernating for years and shouting empty slogans."   Since his summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, Kim has stressed a focus on economic development, visiting industrial sites and factories across the nation.

In this year's "needs and priorities" assessment of North Korea, the UN Development Programme described its healthcare services as "inadequate", with a "lack of essential medical equipment, pharmaceutical remedies, appropriate referral systems, therapeutic equipment and assistive devices, as well as limited professional capacity".   "Furthermore, health infrastructure is poor with many [facilities] having inconsistent water, electricity and heating," it added.

North Korea has called for an end to sanctions against it, while the US has urged the international community to maintain a tough approach until its complete denuclearisation.   Following several ballistic missile launches and by far the North's most powerful nuclear test last year, Kim declared the development of its atomic capabilities complete and said economic development was the new priority.
Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2018 07:41:24 +0200

Seoul, Aug 14, 2018 (AFP) - North Korea has stopped processing tourist visas for foreigners ahead of a high profile anniversary next month, according to a China-based tour operator.   The measure follows reports that Pyongyang had suspended visits by Chinese tour groups as it prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as the country is officially known.

Koryo Tours, a popular agency among Western tourists seeking to visit the North, said on its website it had been "informed on 13 August by our partners in Pyongyang that they had been instructed from above that all tourist visa applications currently underway are to be frozen".   It was not given a reason for the freeze, the company said, but was told it would apply until the anniversary on September 9.   "This suggests to us that... a higher power in the country is simply pressing pause on tourism until it is clear to them who is coming in such delegations and how many people," it added.   Pyongyang has previously lavishly celebrated the date with military parades or mass games involving thousands of people performing acrobatic choreography in unison, and is expected this time to hold its first mass games for five years.

Speculation has also mounted that the nuclear-armed North could be preparing to mount a parade -- at which it normally shows off some of the weapons that have earned it multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions.   Chinese President Xi Jinping is speculated to be on the guest list, as officials in the North told South Korean journalists that he was invited to the event.   In his New Year speech in January, leader Kim Jong Un said North Korean people would "greet the 70th founding anniversary of their Republic as a great, auspicious event".

The occasion comes during a rare diplomatic detente on the Korean peninsula which has seen the South's president Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un meet twice, with a third summit planned for September.   The rapprochement also led to a landmark summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, where the two leaders signed a vague agreement on denuclearisation.   Although Trump touted his summit with Kim as a historic breakthrough, the North has since criticised Washington for its "gangster-like" demands of complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament.   The US has urged the international community to maintain tough sanctions on the isolated regime.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2019 04:57:44 +0200
By Fran BLANDY

Udier, South Sudan, April 19, 2019 (AFP) - By the time he was brought into the remote clinic in northeastern South Sudan, two-year-old Nyachoat was already convulsing from the malaria attacking his brain.   After being given medication he lies fast asleep, naked and feverish, attached to a drip, his anxious mother sitting on the bed next to him.   Nyachoat could be saved, but others are not so lucky.   In South Sudan mind-bending horrors abound of war, ethnic violence, rape, hunger and displacement.

But for civilians living in the shadow of conflict, the greatest danger is often being cut off from health services, whether due to violence or lack of development in the vast, remote areas that make up much of the country.   According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which supports the tiny clinic where Nyachoat is recovering in Udier village, 70 percent of all illness deaths are due to easily treatable malaria, acute watery diarrhoea and respiratory infections.   In case of more serious illness there is "no place" to go, said Nyachoat's 22-year-old mother Buk Gader.

A study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) last year showed almost 400,000 people had died as a result of South Sudan's nearly six-year war.   Half of these were due to violent deaths, and half because of the increased risk of disease and reduced access to healthcare as a result of the conflict.   ICRC health field officer Irene Oyenya said the Upper Nile region was particularly affected.   "There were (aid) organisations which were supplying primary healthcare, but then during the war, most of the organisations got evacuated" and pulled out of the country, she said.

- Blocked by swamps -
Udier is a village with a dirt airstrip whose sun-baked sand, which when not used by twice weekly ICRC flights bringing medicine and supplies, serves as a football pitch for youths. It is also a pedestrian highway for those who come from far flung huts and cattle camps to market.   In the tiny market, there is little fresh food available. Villagers can buy red onions or sit for a strong Sudanese coffee, infused with ginger, while in the dry season nomadic Falata herdswomen in flowing dresses sell milk from their cattle.   A brick building next to the airstrip, its roof long blown off in a storm, is the village school, but for several days in a row no teacher shows up.   In the surrounding villages, women are hard at work mudding their huts and re-thatching the roof in anticipation of the rains to come within weeks.

When they do come, swelling the swampy marshlands and rivers for miles around, roads will become impassable.    It becomes "difficult for young children to swim or women or men to carry patients to reach here," said Oyenya.   Marginalised for decades prior to independence from Sudan in 2011, and engulfed in war since 2013, South Sudan has seen little development. The healthcare sector is one of many propped up by international aid organisations.   However, the country is also the most dangerous for humanitarian workers with around 100 killed over the past five years, according to United Nations figures. Dozens of organisations have been forced to pull out of areas they served due to the conflict.

The Upper Nile region, where Udier is situated near the borders of Sudan and Ethiopia, was wracked by conflict in 2017 as government forces waged a major offensive to seize the opposition-held town of Pagak.   The ICRC was forced to evacuate patients and staff from its hospital and health centre in the village of Maiwut which was looted, leaving "not even a needle on the ground", according ICRC's Oyenya.   Many relocated to Udier, which was spared from fighting.   A year later in 2018, angry protesters looted around 10 humanitarian agency compounds in the town of Maban, 72 kilometres (44 miles) north of Udier.   ICRC's head of delegation in South Sudan, James Reynolds, said a peace deal signed in September 2018 "has improved security, mobility, and access for humanitarian workers".   But fresh fighting in the southern Equatorias region "has made access to certain areas very difficult."

- Women bear the burden -
In opposition-held Udier, the clinic supported by the ICRC provides crucial healthcare support to the region, where like throughout South Sudan, maternal and child mortality is sky-high.   Every day a small group of patients sits outside under a fragrant Neem tree, waiting to be helped, some from nearby while others have walked for a day or two.   Oyenya says a major challenge is that women, who do all the heavy work and take care of up to 10 children, may delay bringing them to the centre in time. That can be deadly.

Sometimes the children come alone: a nine-year-old girl in a purple polka dot dress confidently tells Oyenya she is suffering from bloody diarrhoea and, she thinks, malaria. Her parents are nowhere in sight.   For anything more serious, such as pregnancy complications, blood transfusions and operations, the nearest hospital is in government-held Maban, a five-hour drive away or a three-day walk.   The other option is a three-day walk to Gambella in Ethiopia.   "They may reach there alive, or they may not reach there alive," said Oyenya.
Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2019 03:13:16 +0200
By Andrea PALASCIANO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over the last two decades, the Azerbaijani authorities have worked hard to re-establish Naftalan's reputation as a health resort.    They resettled refugees in other regions, demolished decrepit Soviet-era sanatoriums and built brand-new tourist facilities.   Modern Naftalan is a blend of kitsch-looking high-end spas where a week's treatment costs some 1,000 euros, and modest sanatoriums where a week's treatment costs around 100 euros.   The simmering Karabakh conflict may be out of sight, but guests can still feel uncomfortably close to the military action.   During one of the deadliest recent bouts of fighting in April 2016, "we heard gunshots," said a member of staff at Naftalan's luxurious Garabag spa, adding quickly that "everyone stayed on."
Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2019 02:59:34 +0200

Montreal, April 19, 2019 (AFP) - Three world-renowned professional mountaineers -- two Austrians and an American -- were missing and presumed dead after an avalanche on a western Canadian summit, the country's national parks agency said Thursday.   American Jess Roskelley, 36, and Austrians Hansjorg Auer, 35, and David Lama, 28, went missing Tuesday evening in Banff National Park, according to media reports. Authorities launched an aerial search the next day.

The three men were attempting to climb the east face of Howse Pass, an isolated and highly difficult route, according to Parks Canada.   They were part of a team of experienced athletes sponsored by American outdoor equipment firm The North Face, the company confirmed to AFP.   Rescuers found signs of several avalanches and debris consistent with climbing equipment, Parks Canada said, leading them to presume that the climbers were dead.

Poor weather conditions have increased avalanche risks in the mountainous area on the border between Alberta and British Columbia, with the search halted for safety reasons.   It is unlikely the three men survived, John Roskelley, father of missing Jess Roskelley, told local media in the US state of Washington.   "This route they were trying to do was first done in 2000. It's just one of those routes where you have to have the right conditions or it turns into a nightmare. This is one of those trips where it turned into a nightmare," he told the Spokesman-Review.   Himself considered one of the best American mountaineers of his generation, John Roskelley climbed Mount Everest with his son in 2003, making then 20-year-old Jess Rosskelley the youngest person to have conquered the summit.
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2019 17:35:41 +0200

London, April 18, 2019 (AFP) - Climate change activists on Thursday brought parts of the British capital to a standstill in a fourth consecutive day of demonstrations that have so far led to more than 400 arrests.   Hundreds of protesters continued to rally at several spots in central London, where they have blocked a bridge and major road junctions this week as part of a Europe-wide civil disobedience campaign over the issue.   The Metropolitan Police said, as of 0830 GMT on Thursday, that 428 people had been arrested since the protests began on Monday, with reports of further detentions during the day.   Meanwhile, a judge denied bail to three people who appeared in court charged with obstructing the transport system at financial hub Canary Wharf on Wednesday.

District judge Julia Newton ordered the trio, who allegedly glued themselves to a train, be held in custody until their next court appearance on May 16.   Under pressure in the media to crackdown on the distruptive demonstrations, interior minister Sajid Javid warned "unlawful behaviour will not be tolerated" after meeting Met Commissioner Cressida Dick.   "No one should be allowed to break the law without consequence," he said in a statement, adding he expected police "to take a firm stance".   Protesters have been snaring traffic and setting up impromptu encampments at Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and at Oxford Circus in London's busy West End entertainment and shopping district.   They laid trees in pots along the bridge's length and also set up camps in Hyde Park in preparation for further demonstrations.

More than 1,000 officers were being deployed to the streets of the capital each day this week, according to the interior ministry.   The police have ordered the protesters to confine themselves to a zone within Marble Arch, a space at the junction of the park, Oxford Street and luxury hotel-lined Park Lane.   The protests are being spearheaded by the "Extinction Rebellion" activist group, which was established last year in Britain by academics and has become one of the world's fastest-growing environmental movements.   It has vowed to maintain the protests for weeks in a bid to force state action over climate change, with Heathrow Airport -- Europe's busiest flight hub -- the latest site to be targeted on Friday.

The group wants the British government to declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, halt biodiversity loss and be led by new "citizens' assemblies on climate and ecological justice".   Its protesters say they are practising non-violent civil disobedience and aim to get arrested to raise awareness of their cause.    The majority arrested this week were detained for breaching public order laws and obstructing a highway.   However, police seized three men and two women outside the UK offices of energy giant Royal Dutch Shell on suspicion of criminal damage after they allegedly daubed graffiti and smashed a window there.
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2019 07:40:27 +0200

Taipei, April 18, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.0-magnitude earthquake jolted Taiwan on Thursday, the US Geological Survey said, shaking buildings and disrupting traffic.   In the capital Taipei, highrises swayed violently while some panicked school children fled their classrooms in eastern Yilan county, according to reports.      Local media said the quake had been felt all over the island and a highway connecting Yilan and Hualien was shut down due to falling rocks.    The quake struck at 13:01 pm (0501 GMT) at a depth of 19 kilometres (11.8 miles) in eastern Hualien county. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The island's central weather bureau put its magnitude at 6.1.   The Japan Meteorological Agency warned people living near the coast could notice some effects on sea levels, but said there would be no tsunami.   "Due to this earthquake, Japan's coastal areas may observe slight changes on the oceanic surface, but there is no concern about damage," the agency said.   Hualien was hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake last year that killed 17 people.    Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is regularly hit by earthquakes.    The island's worst tremor in recent decades was a 7.6 magnitude quake in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people.
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2019 03:07:58 +0200

Canico, Portugal, April 18, 2019 (AFP) - Twenty-nine German tourists were killed when their bus spun off the road and tumbled down a slope before crashing into a house on the Portuguese island of Madeira.   Drone footage of the aftermath of the accident showed the badly mangled wreckage of the bus resting precariously on its side against a building on a hillside, the vehicle's roof partially crushed and front window smashed.

Rescue workers attended to injured passengers among the undergrowth where the bus came to rest, some of them bearing bloodied head bandages and bloodstained clothes, others appearing to be more seriously hurt.   Local authorities said most of the dead were in their 40s and 50s.   They were among the more than one million tourists who visit the Atlantic islands off the coast of Morocco each year, attracted by its subtropical climate and rugged volcanic terrain.   "Horrible news comes to us from Madeira," a German government spokesman tweeted after the crash.   "Our deep sorrow goes to all those who lost their lives in the bus accident, our thoughts are with the injured," he added.

German holidaymakers were the second largest group after British tourists to visit the islands -- known as the Pearl of the Atlantic and the Floating Garden in the Atlantic -- in 2017, according to Madeira's tourism office.    The islands are home to just 270,000 inhabitants.    Filipe Sousa, mayor of Santa Cruz where the accident happened, said 17 women and 11 men were killed in the crash, with another 21 injured.    A doctor told reporters another woman died of her injuries in hospital.   "I express the sorrow and solidarity of all the Portuguese people in this tragic moment, and especially for the families of the victims who I have been told were all German," President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told Portuguese television.   He said he would travel to Madeira overnight.

- 'Profound sadness' -
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa added on Twitter that he had contacted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to convey his condolences   "It is with profound sadness that I heard of the accident on Madeira," he wrote on the government's Twitter page.   "I took the occasion to convey my sadness to Chancellor Angela Merkel at this difficult time," he added.  The regional protection service in Madeira confirmed 28 deaths in the accident that happened at 6:30 pm (1730 GMT) Wednesday, while hospital authorities said another woman later died of her injuries.

The bus had been carrying around 50 passengers.   Regional government Vice President Pedro Calado said it was "premature" to speculate on the cause of the crash, adding that the vehicle was five years old and that "everything had apparently been going well".   Judicial authorities had opened an investigation into the circumstances of the accident, the Madeira public prosecutor's office told the Lusa news agency.   Medical teams were being sent from Lisbon to help local staff carry out post-mortems on the dead.
Tanzania - National. 11 Apr 2019

Tanzania on Thursday [11 Apr 2019] confirmed an outbreak of dengue fever, saying the business capital, Dar es Salaam, has reported 252 cases and Tanga has 55 diagnosed cases.
- La Reunion. 10 Apr 2019

From 800 confirmed cases the previous week, the dengue epidemic increased to 904 cases in the week.
<https://la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/reunion/dengue-barre-900-cas-confirmes-semaine-est-depassee-698934.html> [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB]

- La Reunion. 12 Apr 2019. Dengue La Reunion (French overseas territory): dengue cases near 5000 in Q1 2019. New transmission zones have been identified in Saint-Andre, Saint-Denis, Sainte-Marie, and Sainte-Suzanne. In addition, the number of hospitalizations is increasing with 25-30 recorded weekly.

- La Reunion. 27 Mar 2019. The circulation of the dengue virus continues at a sustained level, say the prefecture and the ARS. From 11-17 Mar 2019, 682 cases of dengue fever were confirmed. Since the beginning of the year [2019], 153 emergency room visits have been recorded and 80 patients have been hospitalized. In addition, 5 deaths have been reported since the beginning of 2019, of which 2 have been considered, after investigation, as directly related to dengue fever. The most active households are located at: the Saint-Louis River, Saint Louis, Saint Pierre, the Etang-Sale Cabris Ravine.
- Cook Islands. 12 Apr 2019

As of Wednesday [10 Apr 2019], the Ministry for Health has 18 confirmed and 12 probable dengue fever cases. This is a total of 30 cases compared to 24 previously identified.
- Taihiti (French Polynesia). 13 Apr 2019

DEN-2 confirmation of several autochthonous cases