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

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

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

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

Recently, island residents were irate when two warehouses were found to be filled with abandoned supplies, apparently never used after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.   The storms' one-two punch left Puerto Ricans without power for months and killed nearly 3,000 people, according to the local government's official numbers.   President Donald Trump has accused the Puerto Rican government of incompetence and siphoning off hurricane relief money.   The Puerto Rican leaders accused Trump of treating the population of the island like second class citizens.
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:45:27 +0100 (MET)
By Ivelisse RIVERA, con Leila MACOR en Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An alert issued by the Tsunami Warning Center immediately following the earthquake was later cancelled.   Tuesday's quake was the strongest of a series of tremors that have shaken the island since December 28, topping Monday's 5.8 quake.   That earthquake toppled houses and caused power outages, but there were no reports of casualties.
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Lithuania

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

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

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Lithuania is a relatively safe country. Visitors should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Large amounts of cash and expensive jewelry should be secured in a hotel safe or left at home. Crimes against foreigners, while usually non-violent, do occur. Pickpocketing and thefts are problems, so personal belongings should be well protected at all times. Theft from cars and car thefts occur regularly. Drivers should be wary of persons indicating they should pull over or that something is wrong with their car. Often, a second car or person is following, and when the driver of the targeted car gets out to see if there is a problem the person who has been following will either steal the driver’s belongings from the vehicle or get in and drive off with the car. Drivers should never get out of the car to check for damage without first turning off the ignition and taking the keys. Valuables should not be left in plain sight in parked vehicles, as there have been increasing reports of car windows smashed and items stolen. If possible, American citizens should avoid walking alone at night. ATMs should be avoided after dark. In any public area, one should always be alert to being surrounded by two or more people at once. Additionally, criminals have a penchant for taking advantage of drunken pedestrians. Americans have reported being robbed and/or scammed while intoxicated.
Following a trend that has spread across Eastern and Central Europe, racially motivated verbal, and sometimes physical, harassment of foreigners of non-Caucasian ethnicity has been reported in major cities. Incidents of racially motivated attacks against American citizens have been reported in Klaipeda and Vilnius.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on these serious problems is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. For more information about assistance for victims of crime in Lithuania, please visit the Embassy’s web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/service/crime-victim-assistance.html.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Lithuania has improved in the last 15 years, but medical facilities do not always meet Western standards. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services that nearly equal Western European or U.S. standards. Most medical supplies are now widely available, including disposable needles, anesthetics, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. However, hospitals and clinics still suffer from a lack of equipment and resources. Lithuania has highly trained medical professionals, some of whom speak English, but their availability is decreasing as they leave for employment opportunities abroad. Depending on his or her condition, a patient may not receive an appointment with a specialist for several weeks. Western-quality dental care can be obtained in major cities. Elderly travelers who require medical care may face difficulties. Most pharmaceuticals sold in Lithuania are from Europe; travelers will not necessarily find the same brands that they use in the United States. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, particularly if immigration status in Lithuania is unclear.

Tick-borne encephalitis and lyme disease are widespread throughout the country. Those intending to visit parks or forested areas in Lithuania are urged to speak with their health care practitioners about immunization. Rabies is also increasingly prevalent in rural areas.
The Lithuanian Government does not require HIV testing for U.S. citizens. However, sexually transmitted diseases are a growing public health problem.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. All foreigners of non-European Union countries seeking entry into Lithuania must carry proof of a medical insurance policy contracted for payment of all costs of hospitalization and medical treatment in Lithuania (please see entry/exit requirements above). Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Lithuania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The Police allow Americans to drive in Lithuania with an American driver’s license for up to 90 days. Americans who reside in Lithuania for 185 days or more in one calendar year and who wish to continue driving in Lithuania must acquire a Lithuanian driver's license. The foreign license must be given to the Lithuanian Road Police to be processed by the Consular Department of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in turn sends it to the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section, where the owner is expected to claim it.
Roads in Lithuania range from well-maintained two- to four-lane highways connecting major cities to small dirt roads traversing the countryside. Violation of traffic rules is common. It is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles, traveling at high speed, even in crowded urban areas. Driving at night, especially in the countryside, can be particularly hazardous. In summer, older seasonal vehicles and inexperienced drivers are extra hazards. Driving with caution is urged at all times. Driving while intoxicated is a very serious offense and carries heavy penalties. The speed limit is 50 km/hr in town and 90 km/hr out of town unless otherwise indicated. The phone number for roadside assistance is 8-800-01414 from a regular phone and 1414 from a GSM mobile phone.
Seatbelts are mandatory for the driver and all passengers except children under the age of 12. During the winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. Winter or all-season tires are required from November 10th through April 1st. Studded tires are not allowed from April 10th through October 31st. Drivers must have at least their low beam lights on at all times while driving. Public transportation is generally safe.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at www.tourism.lt and at www.lra.lt/index_en.html.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Lithuania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lithuania’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Lithuanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary importation into or export from Lithuania of items such as firearms and antiquities. Please see our Customs Information.
Telephone connections are generally good. American 1-800 numbers can be accessed from Lithuania but not on a toll-free basis; the international long distance rate per minute will be charged. Local Internet cafes offer computer access. ATMs are widely available. Most hotels and other businesses accept major credit cards.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Lithuanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lithuania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or possessing or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. For more information about arrest procedures in Lithuania, please visit the Embassy’s web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/arrests.html. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web page.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Lithuania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Lithuania. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Akmenu Gatve 6, tel. (370) (5) 266-5500 or 266-5600; fax (370) (5) 266-5590. Consular information can also be found on the Embassy Vilnius web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated November 5, 2007 to update sections on Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2020 16:49:12 +0200 (METDST)

Vilnius, April 15, 2020 (AFP) - The Lithuanian government said Wednesday it would relax some lockdown measures to help the economy as the number of new coronavirus infections slows.    The Baltic EU member has allowed retailers with a separate outdoor entrance to re-open starting Thursday, though non-food stores in shopping malls, sports clubs and restaurants remain closed for now.

Some services, including repair shops, cleaning and key making, will also resume but direct contact with the customer must not exceed 20 minutes.   Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said the shops will have to limit the number of customers at any one time to enforce social distancing rules.    "It is a small step in removing business restrictions. We will follow the situation closely," Skvernelis told reporters.

The eurozone nation of 2.8 million people had moved quickly to enforce lockdown as it closed all shops except for pharmacies and grocery stores on March 16.   As a result the virus has largely been kept under control in Lithuania, which has reported 1,091 confirmed cases, including 29 deaths.    The number of new cases has dropped to below 50 per day over the last 10 days.   Schools and universities are not expected to fully re-open until the next academic year in September.
Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2020 21:57:28 +0200 (METDST)

Vilnius, April 10, 2020 (AFP) - Lithuanian police set up hundreds of checkpoints nationwide on Friday to enforce an Easter travel ban imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.    "Police set up around 300 checkpoints across the country," spokesman Ramunas Matonis told AFP.    The Baltic EU state banned travel between municipalities from Friday evening to Monday to deter people from visiting their relatives and friends to celebrate Easter.   There are exceptions for people returning home, going to work or attending funerals.    Fines for breaking the rules start at 250 euros ($230).

The government also made wearing face masks mandatory in public.   Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said his cabinet could ease the coronavirus lockdown measures for small businesses from next week if the situation remains stable over the weekend.    Lithuania has been in lockdown since March 16, including the closure of all pubs, restaurants, schools, universities, kindergartens and most shops.    The Baltic country of 2.8 million people currently has 999 confirmed COVID-19 infections, with 22 deaths.
Date: Sat, 14 Mar 2020 21:41:50 +0100 (MET)

Vilnius, March 14, 2020 (AFP) - Lithuania said Saturday it would shut its borders to most foreign visitors while fellow Baltic EU members Estonia and Latvia imposed security measures of their own to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.   Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said the country of 2.8 million people has decided to reinstate checks on its borders with Latvia and Poland, becoming the fifth nation to do so within the bloc's zone of free travel.

Foreigners will be banned from entering the country starting 1000 GMT on Sunday, with the exception of individuals with a residence permit, diplomatic workers and NATO troops.   Freight transport will not be affected, he added.   "Our goal is to delay the spread of the virus as long as possible inside the country and to reduce the negative consequences," Skvernelis said.

Lithuania, which has eight confirmed COVID-19 cases, has been on partial lockdown since Friday after the government shut down all schools, kindergartens and universities and banned large public events.   From Monday, the ban will also cover most shops, restaurants and pubs, although food delivery will be allowed. The measure does not concern grocery stores and pharmacies.   Skvernelis said his cabinet will approve an economic stimulus plan on Monday worth "at least one billion euros".

Fellow Baltic states Estonia and Latvia also imposed movement restrictions on Saturday but stopped short of border shutdown.   Latvia, which has a population of 1.9 million people and 26 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, said it will suspend all international flights, ferries, buses and trains from Monday.   "Border crossings by private car will continue, as well as international freight and cargo flow," Latvian Transport Minister Talis Linkaits told reporters.

Estonia, the northernmost Baltic state with 1.3 million people and 115 confirmed cases of COVID-19, banned travel to six of its islands for all but their permanent residents.   The government also decided to close down all leisure centres, sports clubs, spas and swimming pools.    Most of the measures will apply for a couple of weeks but will likely be prolonged according to Baltic authorities.
Date: Wed 7 Aug 2019 01:17:58 EEST
Source: Xinhua News Agency [edited]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australia

Travelling to Australia
===========================
Introduction
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Travelling to Australia for business or pleasure can be a most memorable experience and each year many Europeans travel this
route to experience something of life ‘down-under’. Staying healthy and well is essential if you want to enjoy your trip to its fullest extent. Australia is a huge continent and the climatic conditions vary considerably throughout. The main southern cities have a temperate climate similar to North West Europe, Perth enjoys a Mediterranean climate while Queensland and the Northern Territories have a sub-tropical weather pattern.
Preparation
********************************************
It is important that all travellers are in good general health before undertaking any long-haul trip. Patients who tire easily on light exercise or who have a significant underlying medical condition will need to take extra care. If you are concerned about this aspect of your proposed trip arrange for a meeting with a doctor at an early stage in your preparations.
Long Haul Flights
********************************************
On these long flights you will be travelling across many time zones. You will lose or gain hours depending on the direction of your flight. Your body will take time to adjust to the new time zone and so it is important to allow this to occur naturally. If you arrive during the daylight hours try to stay out in the sun for a period of time as this will help your body release a hormone which counteracts jet lag. (Watch you don’t get sun burnt!) Don’t plan to be too energetic during the first day or two after you arrive. Be sensible. If this is a business trip try not to make any major decisions over the first 24 hours. Even the relatively short flight from South East Asia down to Australia crosses time zones and again it will be important to allow your body to settle.
Stop-Overs in SE Asia
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Frequently travellers will stop-over in Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong or Bangkok on their way to or from Australia. During these short stops it is essential that travellers take all possible precautions to ensure that they rest and are careful about what they eat or drink as contaminated food or water is more common in some of these regions.

Mosquito protection in SE Asia
********************************************
Mosquito borne diseases are present depending on the location (Malaria, Dengue Fever, Japanese B Encephalitis etc) One of particular concern is Dengue Fever, which is a viral disease transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. These mosquitoes tend to bite during the day time. This is in contrast to the mosquitoes which transmit malaria which mainly bite at night. Many of the main tourist destinations throughout SE Asia are malaria free and so tablets to protect against the disease are not usually required. Those going off the usual routes will need to talk this through in depth before leaving.
Road Traffic Accidents
********************************************
Frequently, cars are purchased by tourists to Australia for the duration of their stay. Often the cost is low and the maintenance and safety of the vehicle may be somewhat questionable! Long monotonous driving associated with a lack of concentration can cause serious accidents. Car breakdown in the middle of ‘nowhere’ may lead to the risk of dehydration and potential animal attack (kangaroo, dingos, snakes etc). Make sure you always have sufficient food and water and some means of communication (fully charged mobile phone) before leaving to travel across the continent. Make sure other responsible friends or relations back home know of your intended route and inform them of any changes. Get contact numbers for essential services for your journey.

Health Concerns in Australia
********************************************
Many travellers feel that Australia is the same as at home in Europe and so little care with personal health needs be taken. This is not always the case as there are many local health variations throughout the country which should be considered.
Sun Exposure
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The northern European skin is usually unaccustomed to intensity of the sun exposure experienced in many parts of Australia. Unfortunately this regularly leads to sun burn among tourists but, more seriously, it also significantly increases the risk of potentially fatal skin cancers. Always use plenty of adequate sun block, cover exposed areas of your body where possible (especially by wearing a wide brimmed hat) and drink plenty of water. (You may also need to replace salt lost through increased perspiration ~ assuming no underlying blood pressure problem)
Northern Australia
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As mentioned previously, the northern parts of Australia are sub-tropical and mosquito borne diseases are more common. Malaria transmission does not occur and many of the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes or other insects cause mild discomfort. Unfortunately some are which are much more severe and can cause long term difficulties.
Ross River Fever
This viral disease is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes a severe arthritic type condition. The disease is often short lived but in some patients the disease may continue to cause arthritis for months and even years. There is no specific treatment and travellers need to be careful about avoiding bites.
Typhus
This disease occurs in isolated parts of Northern Australia through the bite of infected ticks. The disease can cause a skin rash, fever and general unwellness. Antibiotics can help to ease the symptoms but avoiding bites is essential at all times.
Dengue
This mosquito borne disease also occurs in parts of Northern Australia usually by day-biting mosquitoes. (See Dengue leaflet - TMB)
Other Risks
********************************************
The sea waters in parts of Australia are infested by sharks and jelly fish. Always take competent local advice before undertaking any sea activities. Drowning occurs regularly each year among tourists who disregard some of the basic rules of water safety. If in desert regions, take care with disturbing rocks in case you awaken a peaceful snake or scorpion.
Medical Care for Travellers
********************************************
If travellers have stopped in South East Asia and then become ill on arrival in Australia, they should make contact with a medical centre dealing with Tropical Medicine. Details of the centres in the major cities throughout Australia are available from the Tropical Medical Bureau.
Vaccinations for Stop-Overs
********************************************
Usually travellers will have vaccination cover for Typhoid, Poliomyelitis, Tetanus and Hepatitis A. Malaria prophylaxis may not be required depending on your actual itinerary. There is a higher risk of Hepatitis B in central Australia and so this may need to be considered if the risk of contact (mainly blood following accidents) is thought to be higher than usual. Rabies risk in Australia is almost non existent though obviously contact with all warm blooded animals should be avoided at all times.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 4 May 2020 08:34:04 +0200 (METDST)
By Neil Sands, with Holly Robertson in Brisbane

Wellington, May 4, 2020 (AFP) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will join an Australian leaders' meeting on Tuesday to discuss establishing a "trans-Tasman bubble" that allows the neighbours to lift bilateral coronavirus travel bans.   With both nations seeing significant drops in new infections, Ardern accepted Australian counterpart Scott Morrison's invitation to join a virtual meeting of the National Cabinet, which brings together Australia's regional and federal leaders.   "The meeting will discuss a number of matters relating to the COVID response on both sides of the Tasman (Sea), including the creation of a trans-Tasman travel bubble," she told reporters, describing her presence at the meeting as unprecedented.   "Both our countries' strong record on fighting the virus has placed us in the enviable position of being able to plan the next stage in our economic rebuild."

Ardern said the two-week quarantine periods both Australia and New Zealand currently impose on international arrivals would be mutually waived under the proposal.   She was reluctant to speculate on when it could take effect but warned: "Don't expect this to happen in a couple of weeks time."   "We need to ensure that we're locking in the gains that all New Zealanders have helped us achieve and make sure we have health precautions in place to make sure we do this safely," she said.   Ardern confirmed the meeting will discuss the countries' respective approaches to battling the novel coronavirus, including contact tracing apps such as Australia's COVIDSafe.   "We continue to do work in this space, but we are not relying on it because there is simply no silver bullet here," she said.

- Integrated economies -
New Zealand, which eased a strict five-week lockdown last week allowing people to return to work, has confirmed 1,137 cases and 20 deaths.   Parts of Australia also began relaxing lockdown rules over the weekend, with some regions allowing more outdoor activities and small gatherings as the country inched past 6,800 cases and recorded 96 deaths.   Most Australian states have gone several consecutive days with few or no new cases, while New Zealand confirmed just one new case on Monday.

New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said a travel exemption granted to rugby league side Warriors, who arrived in Australia on Sunday ahead of a resumed NRL competition, showed a trans-Tasman bubble could work.   "Australia and New Zealand are two of the most integrated economies in the world," he said.   "The idea of a bubble with Australia was floated two weeks ago, and this is an example of the sort of action that could happen within it, while always ensuring the protection of public health."   Morrison had said last week that the "only exception" to an international travel ban was "potentially with New Zealand, and we have had some good discussions about that".

However, some state borders still closed in Australia would likely need to be reopened before the two countries could allow free movement.   Ardern was cautious about the prospect of allowing Pacific island nations which are free of COVID-19 into the bubble due to the inability of their health systems to deal with even a minor outbreak of the virus.   "That's a conversation we'd need to have directly with them," she said. "There's a huge risk if COVID finds its way into Pacific island nations that are currently untouched."
Date: Fri, 1 May 2020 08:49:27 +0200 (METDST)

Sydney, May 1, 2020 (AFP) - Australia will consider early easing of coronavirus restrictions next week, officials announced Friday, as the number of local cases dwindled and the economic impact of the crisis fell into painful relief.   Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the national cabinet would meet on May 8 -- a week earlier than expected -- to weigh loosening social distancing measures that have kept millions of Australians at home, barred almost all travel and slowed business to a crawl.    "We need to restart our economy. We need to restart our society. We can't keep Australia under the doona," Morrison said, using a local term for a duvet.    "We need to be able to move ahead."    Australia has detected almost 7,000 COVID-19 infections, but new daily ases are now close to single figures. Some parts of the country have not seen
a case in more than a week.

Meanwhile millions of Aussies have seen their work hours cut, an estimated one-in-three have been hurt financially and the unemployment rate is set to roughly double to 10 percent.   Even if businesses are allowed to reopen and restrictions on movement are lifted, the authorities are warning a quick return normal is unlikely.   "There'll continue to be limits on gathering," said chief medical officer Brendan Murphy.   "Wherever you go, however you interact, you'll need to practice distancing, and that is just a long-term adjustment that we all have to make."   Morrison said that any easing would also require more people to download an app that can help track new clusters of the virus.

So far 3.5 million Australians have downloaded the COVIDsafe app since it was launched Sunday evening, an impressive number Morrison said was still not enough.   "That is the ticket to opening up our economy," he said, adding that any decision on easing restrictions would have to be carefully calibrated to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 and the need to reimpose a lockdown.    "We've got to be like the emblems on our coat of arms, the kangaroo and the emu, they only go forward, and we only want to go forward," Morrison said.   It was less clear whether travel restrictions -- including a virtual ban on international travel -- will be lifted.    Morrison said that he expected net migration to fall by a third this year and 85 percent next year -- delivering a significant hit to an economy that was already expected to go into recession.
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2020 13:22:37 +0200 (METDST)

Brisbane, Australia, April 20, 2020 (AFP) - Troubled airline Virgin Australia on Monday moved toward voluntary administration, a source and local media said, making the carrier the largest yet to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.   The cash-strapped airline had appealed for an Aus$1.4 billion ($894 million) loan to continue operations, but the federal government refused to bail out the majority foreign-owned company.

The source said staff learned of the decision late Monday, leaving about 10,000 pilots, flight attendants and ground crew in limbo.   Local media reported the decision was taken at a board meeting on Monday.   Administrators are now expected to be appointed to try to find a buyer for the company and manage creditors.

Virgin had stood down 8,000 staff, suspended all international routes and scrapped all bar one domestic route after Australia shut its borders to limit the spread of COVID-19 and imposed tough restrictions on movement.   The aviation sector -- dominated by Virgin and flag carrier Qantas -- had received a Aus$715 million bailout from the Australian taxpayer and funding to resume a limited number of flights.

Queensland's government had offered Virgin an additional Aus$200 million on the condition the airline kept its headquarters in the state capital, Brisbane.   New South Wales also tried to lure the airline to Sydney with promises of a cash injection.   However, those offers do not appear to have been enough to keep the airline from collapsing underneath more than Aus$5 billion in debt.   Virgin was already struggling before the crisis, posting an underlying before-tax loss of Aus$71.2 million last year.

The airline is yet to make an official announcement and did not respond to a request for comment.   The Transport Workers' Union urged the government to work with any administrators to save thousands of jobs.   "It is a viable and much-needed business and without it Australia will struggle to get its economy back on track once the crisis abates," said union national secretary Michael Kaine.   There are already concerns about what Virgin's troubles could mean for Australian travellers.

In March, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims told AFP it was vital for the country to have a rival to Qantas.   "Australia went into this crisis with two full-service airlines and it's really important that we come out the other end with two full-service airlines," he said.   Public broadcaster ABC and the Australian Financial Review reported that accounting firm Deloitte has been appointed administrator of the company.   Deloitte said it would not "comment on speculation regarding potential appointments".
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 2020 04:18:07 +0200 (METDST)

Sydney, April 14, 2020 (AFP) - Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday brushed aside calls for an easing of tough restrictions on travel and public gatherings despite their success in curbing the spread of COVID-19.   The number of new coronavirus cases in the neighbouring nations has fallen dramatically in the last two weeks, raising hopes that difficult social distancing measures may be relaxed.

But Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was still "many weeks away" from lifting any restrictions.   "Patience has got to be our virtue here," he said, noting that countries like Singapore and South Korea had initial success against COVID-19 but saw a surge in new cases after travel and other restrictions were eased.   Australia registered just 63 new infections on Sunday and Monday, bringing the total number of cases to 6,366 for a population of 25 million.   It was the lowest two-day increase in a month.

New Zealand, a nation of five million, saw just eight new cases on Tuesday for a total of 1,072, its lowest daily increase in more than three weeks.   "We've been relatively successful -- I don't want to squander that success or the sacrifices New Zealanders have made," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded Tuesday when asked when the lockdown will be eased.   "Our goal has to be go early and go hard, so that we get into a position where we can ease up restrictions with confidence," she said, adding that no action would be taken for at least another week.   Both countries have closed their borders to foreigners and imposed 14-day quarantines on returning residents.

New Zealand has enforced a strict stay-at-home lockdown while Australia imposed tight restrictions on movement, gatherings and public activities.   "Australians are doing magnificently, we've seen real progress," Health Minister Greg Hunt said Tuesday, linking the slowdown in new cases to people honouring lockdown rules.   "The rest of the world would, overwhelmingly in a heartbeat, swap positions with Australia."  But the clampdowns have caused significant economic damage, with Australian officials Tuesday predicting unemployment will double to 10 percent despite a massive government spending spree to counter the impact of the pandemic.
Date: Wed, 1 Apr 2020 10:00:47 +0200 (METDST)

Sydney, April 1, 2020 (AFP) - Australian health officials set up a coronavirus testing clinic on Sydney's Bondi Beach Wednesday, as concern grew that COVID-19 was spreading among backpackers in the popular tourist destination.   More than 100 cases of coronavirus have reportedly been identified in the area -- many linked to two massive club parties held in mid-March before the country shut down bars, pubs and other non-essential services.   Photos shared online last week also showed mostly young beachgoers packed together on the sand after outdoor gatherings were curtailed, drawing howls of protest.

That led to sunbathers, surfers and tourists being banned from the beach, with police enforcing the prohibition.   New South Wales Health said the Waverley Council area, which encompasses Bondi, had the highest number of confirmed cases in Sydney.   "A plausible explanation is they have come in contact with an infected backpacker before that backpacker was aware they had COVID-19," said chief health officer Kerry Chant.   Australia has recorded almost 5,000 coronavirus infections and 20 deaths, with almost half of those in New South Wales.
More ...

Malaysia

General
**************************************
Malaysia consists of two separate components; peninsular Malaysia (which is situated between Thailand and Singapore) and Borneo (which has the states of Sabah and Sarawak.) The total population is o
er 20 million and it has a very diverse cosmopolitan culture. Bahasa Malaysia is the official language though English is very widely spoken. The entire country has an equatorial climate with rainfall throughout most of the year. However there are two distinct rainy seasons – March to May and September to November. The costal regions may also experience monsoon conditions. Info: http://www.visitmalaysia.com
Safety & Security
**************************************
Violent crime against tourists is rare though petty incidents like bag snatching, burglaries and car break-in crimes are increasing. It is wise to take special care of your personal belongings when walking through some of the crowded market places or along the curb. Credit card fraud is becoming a serious problem so don’t let your card out of your sight at any time. Travelling out from the main tourist destinations on Borneo may lead to a higher risk of personal danger. Kidnapping from Pandanan Island and Sipadan (both diving resorts) show how there is a need for increased vigilance when visiting parts of coastal Sabah near to the islands. Drug offences of any kind are treated very seriously in Malaysia and may result in disruption of travel plans or imprisonment. Never carry drugs for another individual unless you are certain that there is no risk involved whatsoever.
Climate
**************************************
All over Malaysia the climate tends to be very humid though this can vary from location to location and throughout the year. Being so close to the equator, the sun is strong and proper care against sun burn must be constantly taken. Dehydration and loss of salt through perspiration are two other common problems for the unprepared traveller. Drink plenty of fluids and replace your salt loss. Make sure you pack clothing suitable for a warm humid climate.
Long Haul Flight & Jet Lag
**************************************
On the plane make sure you exercise your calf muscles and drink plenty of fluids. Female travellers on the contraceptive pill should be aware of the higher risk of venous clotting. After your long haul flight it is essential to allow your body catch up and so try to ensure that you have sufficient time to rest on the first day after arrival. (Make sure you don’t fall asleep beside the pool after arrival and then awaken with sunburn.)
Food & Water
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Generally the level of food hygiene throughout the country is high. Nevertheless avoidance of bivalve shellfish meals is a wise precaution. Food from street vendors should also be treated with suspicion though unpeeled fresh fruit or various well-cooked foods should be fine. Adding ice to your drinks is probably unnecessary and potentially harmful and should be avoided. The menus will usually be in English so that should make meal selection somewhat easier!
Mosquitoes
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Due to the constant humid climate mosquitoes tend to be present throughout the year. In Malaysia there are a number of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and so care to avoid their bite is to be encouraged at all times. The three most significant diseases transmitted by mosquitoes are Malaria, Dengue Fever and Japanese B Encephalitis. In the case of Dengue Fever the mosquito responsible tends to prefer to live in the towns and cities throughout both Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia. This mosquito usually bites during the day-light hours. The transmission of Japanese B is usually in the rural regions of the country seldom visited by tourists. Most cases occur in Sarawak. Both of these viral diseases can be very serious and even life threatening and so avoidance of mosquito bites is essential.
Malaria Risk
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The risk of malaria for most tourists visiting Peninsular Malaysia is extremely small. There is insignificant risk in Kuala Lumpur, Penang etc and so many tourists opt not to use prophylaxis. However in Sarawak and Sabah the risk of malaria is present throughout the year. Even in these regions the risk is mainly off the coastal plains and towards the border areas. Generally prophylaxis is recommended for those visiting Sabah or Sarawak.
Water Sports in Malaysia
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Many tourists will undertake some water sports while in Malaysia and so make sure your insurance policy will cover this eventuality. Before you agree a contract with a provider check that their equipment appears to be well maintained and that they have good safety instructions. If you are unsure do not take part. Never swim alone or after a heavy meal (or excess alcohol intake) and always listen to local advice regarding sea currents etc.
Vaccinations for Malaysia
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Travelling directly from Ireland there are no vaccines which are essential for entry into Malaysia. However for most tourists the following vaccines are recommended for personal protection.
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Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those undertaking a more adventurous trip further vaccines may need to be considered such as Hepatitis B, Rabies, Japanese B Encephalitis and Meningitis. The need for Malaria prophylaxis will depend on your proposed itinerary.
Summary:
**************************************
Malaysia is becoming a more common destination for holidays and also as a stop-off for those travelling on to Australia. With commonsense and care you should be able to have a very enjoyable safe time. If you do develop any unusual health problem after your trip (skin rash, bowel disturbance, influenza symptoms etc) make sure you attend for urgent medical attention.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 11 Jan 2020, 6:38 AM
Source: The Borneo Post [edited]

Two more children have been confirmed infected with polio virus in Sabah after a 3-month baby boy was recorded having the disease in Tuaran in December last year [2019].  Health director-general Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah said the 2 boys, aged 8 and 11 were foreigners. "The 8-year-old boy who is from Sandakan was found not vaccinated against polio. On [Thu 9 Dec 2019], he had fever and 3 days later, he could not walk.

"Another boy in Kinabatangan who was also not vaccinated, had fever on [Sun 17 Nov 2019] and was treated at a clinic. On [Sun 1 Dec 2019], he was admitted to the hospital after complaining of back pain and was unable to walk. The patient is now able to walk with a walking stick," he said in a statement here yesterday [Fri 10 Jan 2020].

He said all patients are still being treated at the hospital and are in stable condition. Dr. Noor Hisham added that tests at the World Health Organization Polio Regional Reference Laboratory (WHO Polio RRL) in Melbourne, Australia found the polio virus which infected all 3 patients have genetic links with the polio case in Philippines. And that detailed investigations conducted to identify the source of infection in the 2 new cases found they were having acute flaccid paralysis (AFP).

To date, 705 residents from the villages of the 2 boys had been screened and there were no AFP cases recorded. The Health Ministry is calling on Sabahans especially parents to pay attention to their children's vaccination requirements by getting 2 dosages of oral polio vaccine during an ongoing campaign. He also reminded the people to obtain early treatment at the clinic and hospital if there were symptoms of polio and take the preventive measures as advised by the Health Ministry.

Earlier during the ceremony, Noor Hisham stressed that it was vital for parents to immunize their children. "For parents out there with children under 5, please make sure your children have complete immunization and immediately take their children to a nearby health care if their child has polio symptoms," he said. "There is no cure for paralysis, however, we can prevent it by ensuring that children under the age of 5 receive polio immunization. Immunization is your child's rights, do not ignore their rights and health," he emphasized.

The director general also proposed for MOH or the Sabah State Health Department to come up with the best sewage system for residents living in water villages such as Pulau Gaya.

Two polio immunization posts were opened at Kampung Kesuapan and Lok Urai here yesterday [Fri 10 Jan 2020] as part of an initiative for Malaysia to regain its polio-free status from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2019 14:43:06 +0100 (MET)

Kuala Lumpur, Dec 8, 2019 (AFP) - Malaysia has reported its first polio case in 27 years, health authorities said Sunday, announcing a three-month-old baby had been diagnosed on Borneo island.   The Malaysian health ministry's director-general, Noor Hisham Abdullah, said the baby from Tuaran in eastern Sabah state had been admitted into intensive care after experiencing fever and muscle weakness.   "The patient is currently undergoing treatment in an isolation ward and is in a stable condition but needs respiratory support," Noor Hisham said, adding that the infant was diagnosed on Friday.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease which has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines. It affects the nervous system and spinal cord and can be fatal in rare cases.   Over the past three decades the world has made great strides in the battle against polio. The World Health Organization said only 33 cases were reported worldwide last year.   Malaysia was declared polio free in 2000. The last case in the country occurred in 1992.

The diagnosis comes after the Philippines, which shares a close sea border with Sabah, was hit in September by its first polio case in nearly two decades.   Noor Hisham said test results showed that the Malaysian child was infected with a strain that shared genetic links to the virus detected in the Philippines.   Public health expert  T. Jayabalan told AFP that he was not surprised by the polio outbreak because immunisation was not mandatory in Malaysia.   "This first case probably is the tip of the iceberg. There is a very high possibility of a rising trend," he warned.   Jayabalan said there was a small group of people who refuse vaccination on account of misinformation.

In recent years, Malaysia had recorded a number of deaths among children from diphtheria, a vaccine-preventable disease, because they did not receive immunisation.   Noor Hisham said investigations found that 23 children under the age of 15 who lived close to the infected baby had also not received the polio vaccine.   "This is a frustrating situation because the spread of the disease... can only be stopped with polio immunisation."   Vaccination activities and monitoring will be carried out to try and contain the spread of the disease, he added.
Date: 8 Dec 2019
Source: The Star [edited]

A polio case has been confirmed in the country, the 1st in Malaysia in 27 years.  The Health Ministry confirmed that a 3-month-old Malaysian boy from Tuaran, Sabah had been admitted into a hospital's Intensive Care Unit after experiencing fever and weakness of limbs. Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the last polio case in Malaysia occurred in 1992, and in 2000, the country was declared as being polio-free.

In the recent case, the child was confirmed to be infected with the vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1) on [6 Dec 2019] this year.  "The patient is currently undergoing treatment in an isolation ward and is in stable condition but needs respiratory support," he said in a statement Sunday [8 Dec 2019]. He added that the VDPV1 is classified as a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) type 1.

"The cVDPV originates from a poliovirus that has been weakened by the orally-administered polio vaccine. Those who have been vaccinated will be protected from infection. The weakened virus has been excreted from the body through the faeces. However, in unsanitary environments, the virus can infect others who have not been immunised against polio and will thus spread in communities whose polio immunisation rates are less than 95%. The longer the virus spreads in the community, it will undergo genetic mutation until it once again becomes an active virus," he said.

Dr Noor Hisham said test results showed that the virus has genetic links to the polio virus that was detected in a recent outbreak in the Philippines. The Philippines in September this year [2019] declared an outbreak of polio, caused by VDPV1.

He added that up until [5 Dec 2019], investigations at the vicinity of the polio-infected child's residence found that 23 out of 199 people aged between 2 months to 15 years have not received the polio vaccine.  "This is a frustrating situation because the circulation of a cVDPV can only end with a polio immunisation. "After explaining the importance of polio immunisation, the parents of the children have agreed to have them vaccinated," he said.

He added that surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) -- a clinical syndrome which is characterised by weakness of the muscles of respiration and swallowing -- will be conducted in the area. "As of [5 Dec 2019], as many as 646 people have been checked, and symptoms of AFP have not been detected. "To ensure that the polio virus does not continue to spread in Malaysia and infect those who are not immunised, vaccination activities will be continued in the area of this case and will be expanded to other risk areas," he said.

He urged members of the public to immediately seek treatment if they have AFP symptoms or to inform the Health Ministry if they know of other cases.  "The success in eradicating the disease previously was due to prevention efforts through the polio vaccination, which was introduced in the National Immunisation Programme in 1972. The programme was made even more effective when the vaccine was changed from being administered orally to being administered through injection," he said.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a potentially deadly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus and can cause paralysis by invading a person's brain and spinal cord. The disease has no cure and can only be prevented through vaccination.  [Byline: Clarissa Chung]
===================
[As the media report states, this is the 1st case of polio reported from Malaysia since 1992, 27 years ago. According to the genetic profile of the isolated cVDPV1, it is related to the cVDPV1 identified in the Philippines. It is not mentioned whether this is related to the cVDPV1 identified from environmental samples in the Manila metropolitan region or whether it is related to the paralytic case confirmed with VDPV1 in the Mindinao region (see below for details).

It is curious that cVDPV1 seems to be affecting mostly countries in Eastern Asia (Myanmar, Malaysia) and Western Pacific (Papua New Guinea and Indonesia) this year (2019). Since 2015, the countries reporting cVDPV1 associated AFP cases include Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Laos, Madagascar and Ukraine  (<http://polioeradication.org/polio-today/polio-now/this-week/circulating-vaccine-derived-poliovirus/>).

This now brings the total number of cVDPV associated acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) cases in the past 2 years to 24.

Tuaran, Sabah state is located on the northwest coast of Borneo island (<https://www.mapsofworld.com/malaysia/malaysia-political-map.html>). Of interest is that Basilan island, where the VDPV1 case has been reported, is one of the southernmost islands of the Philippines.

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Malaysia:
Date: Thu 3 Oct 2019
Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) News & events [edited]

[Authorities in] Denmark has reported a travel-related case of malaria caused by _Plasmodium cynomolgi_ in a Danish traveller returning from a visit to forested areas in peninsular Malaysia and Thailand during August-September 2018.

_P. cynomolgi_ is a parasite causing disease among macaque monkeys across Southeast Asia but rarely infects humans.

The traveller was admitted to hospital with the suspicion of malaria. Routine initial tests for malaria (rapid diagnostic test and microscopy) and more in-depth tests (malaria-specific loop-mediated isothermal amplification test and Sanger sequencing) were required to diagnose malaria caused by _P. cynomolgi_. After receiving treatment, symptoms resolved on the 2nd day and the patient recovered fully.

ECDC wants to raise awareness about the possibility of more human cases due to the presence of _P. cynomolgi_ in macaques across Southeast Asia and the volume of tourists visiting these areas, including national parks. Since the diagnosis is challenging, advanced detection and identification techniques should be performed when all other tests show negative results.

Travellers to the region are advised to apply preventive measures against malaria such as taking chemoprophylaxis and using mosquito nets and insect repellents, wearing long sleeved shirts and trousers, and sleeping in air-conditioned rooms.
=====================
[It is well known that _P. cynomolgi_ can be transmitted from monkeys to humans just as it is seen for _P. knowlesi_ (Eyles DE, Coatney GR, Getz ME. _Vivax_-type malaria parasite of macaques transmissible to man. Science. 1960; 131: 1812-3; Coatney GR et al. Transmission of the M strain of _Plasmodium cynomolgi_ to man. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 1961; 10: 673-8). Thus, it is not surprising that _P. cynomolgi_ is seen in humans visiting areas where the simian host is abundant and the _Anopheles_ vectors are present, as is the case for _P. knowlesi_. As far as we know, neither _P. cynomolgi_ nor _P. knowlesi_ can be transmitted between humans. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Tue, 17 Sep 2019 15:38:37 +0200 (METDST)

Jakarta, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Massive forest fires in Indonesia that have caused a toxic haze to spread as far as Singapore and peninsular Malaysia are also seriously affecting endangered orangutans and their habitat, a rescue foundation said Tuesday.   Jakarta has deployed thousands of troops as temporary fireman and deployed dozens of water-bombing aircraft to battle blazes that are turning pristine forest into charred landscape in Sumatra and Borneo islands.   The fires -- usually started by illegal burning to clear land for farming -- have unleashed a choking haze across parts of southeast Asia.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation said Tuesday that the haze was affecting hundreds of great apes in its care at rescue centres and wildlife re-introduction shelters.   "The thick smoke does not only endanger the health of our staff... but also it affects the 355 orangutans we currently care for", the foundation said in a statement, referring to just once cetre in Kalimantan   "As many as 37 young orangutans are suspected to have contracted a mild respiratory infection," it added.   Conditions were so bad at their Samboja Lestari facility in East Kalimantan that outdoor activities for the animals had been restricted to a few hours a day.

Orangutans have been particularly vulnerable to commercial land clearances and have seen their natural habitat shrink dramatically in the last few decades.   The population of orangutan in Borneo has plummeted from about 288,500 in 1973 to about 100,000 today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.   The toxic smoke caused by the forest fires is an annual problem for Indonesia and its neighbours, but has been worsened this year by particularly dry weather.   On Borneo island, which Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei, pollution levels were "hazardous", according to environment ministry data.   Hundreds of schools across Indonesia and Malaysia were shut.
More ...

Central African Republic

Central African Republic US Consular Information Sheet
April 01, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Central African Republic is one of the world’s least developed nations and has experienced several periods of political instability since inde
endence from France in 1960.
Despite an on-going peace process and the presence of a democratically-elected government in the capital, Bangui, rebels still control large portions of the northern provinces in the country, and highway bandits prey on civilians and travelers in much of western CAR. In the country’s Dzanga-Sangha National Park in the southwest, facilities for tourists are being developed but remain limited. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the CAR at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/4007.htm for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport, visa, and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required for entry. Travelers should obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of the Central African Republic, 1618 22nd Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone: (202) 483 – 7800/7801, fax: (202) 332 – 9893. Overseas, inquiries should be made to the nearest Central African Republic Embassy or Consulate. NOTE: In any country where there is no Central African Republic diplomatic mission, the French Embassy has authorization to issue a visa for entry into the Central African Republic.
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:
See the Department of State’s Travel Warning for the CAR.
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:
Crime remains a significant problem in the capital, Bangui, though it has decreased notably in recent years. Americans should exercise caution while traveling around the city and immediate environs. Petty theft remains a problem in large market areas, particularly in the crowded markets near KM 5 on the outskirts of the city. Armed gangs may operate in outlying residential areas. During previous periods of civil unrest and civil conflict, including most recently in 2002 and 2003, foreign mercenaries and citizens engaged in widespread looting and damaged much of the city’s infrastructure. In the northern and western parts of the country, there are consistent reports of armed robbery and kidnapping by highway bandits (called “coupeurs de routes” or “zaraguinas”), especially during the December to May dry season. When a crime does occur in Bangui, the victim may have to pay to send a vehicle to pick up police officers due to the shortage of police vehicles and fuel.

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 are extremely limited in the CAR, and the quality of acute care is unreliable. Sanitation levels are low. Many medicines are not available; travelers should carry properly labeled prescription drugs and other medications with them.
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 CAR is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
In Bangui, road conditions vary, and many roads have large holes and degraded points that prevent the normal flow of traffic. Only a small portion of the roads in the country, including in the capital, are paved, and many of the compacted dirt roads have been degraded. Drivers tend to prefer to drive on the smoothest portion of the road and ignore basic traffic laws, thus slowing the flow of traffic and increasing the risk of collision. The city of Bangui does have a public transportation system consisting of green buses and yellow taxis, though these vehicles are often dangerously overcrowded and very badly maintained.
Due to the risk of armed attacks on motorists in the northern and western regions of the country, overland travel in these areas should be avoided.
Any driving outside the capital should be only during daylight hours.
Most remote areas in the CAR that are frequented by tourists are accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles, although some roads are not passable at all during the rainy season, from May to October.
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 the Central African Republic, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the CAR’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:
Taking photographs of police or military installations, or any other government buildings, is prohibited. Unauthorized photography may result in the seizure of photographic equipment by CAR authorities. Police or other government authorities can provide information and grant permission for photographing a particular subject or location.
Corruption remains a serious problem among CAR security forces, some members of which have harassed travelers for bribes and small amounts of money. At night, the roads in the capital are often manned with impromptu checkpoints, at which police or other military members ask motorists and travelers for money.
Banking infrastructure remains limited in the CAR, and facilities for monetary exchange exist only in the capital. There are no ATMs in the CAR, and exchange bureaus normally accept dollars and euros but not West African Francs (CFA).

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Central African laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the CAR 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:
The U.S. Embassy in Bangui resumed operations in January 2005, following the evacuation of all American staff in 2002 during the civil conflict and looting in Bangui in 2002. The Embassy’s American presence increased in 2006, and a new American Ambassador to the CAR presented his credentials to President Bozize in 2007. Nonetheless, the Embassy continues to operate with limited staffing, and can only provide basic services to American citizens in the CAR.

Americans living or traveling in the CAR are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within the CAR. 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 Avenue David Dacko, B.P. 924, Bangui, tel: 2161-0200; fax: 2161-4494.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Cameroon dated December 21, 2007, to update sections on Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 11 Apr 2020 04:01:52 +0200 (METDST)
By Camille Malplat, with AFP bureaus in Africa

Libreville, April 11, 2020 (AFP) - Desperately needed aid for millions of people across sub-Saharan Africa is under threat as the deadly coronavirus pandemic sweeps a continent already facing a volley of crises.    In some cases social distancing measures and border closures are preventing workers from distributing aid.    In others, funding is under threat as agencies scramble to pool resources to fight the fast-ballooning COVID-19 outbreak on the continent.

Cameroon's polio vaccination campaign has been suspended, while in Chad a measles vaccination rogramme has been postponed.   In Niger and Burkina Faso, where hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by jihadist violence, flights bringing in humanitarian aid have been put on hold.

In the Central African Republic, where most of the territory is under the sway of armed groups, supplies of chlorine, needed to provide safe drinking water, are running low.   "Some programmes have slowed down or been temporarily suspended, but most humanitarian operations are continuing," said Julie Belanger, head of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for West and Central Africa.   "We are focusing on activities that are vital for survival, but we are also adapting our way of working," Belanger told AFP.

The United Nations says about 76 million people in sub-Saharan Africa need aid to survive and protect their health.    The coronavirus pandemic could further threaten populations on the continent, which so far has at least 12,700 recorded cases and more than 650 deaths, according to an AFP tally Friday.

Organisations are quickly learning to change how they work to prevent the virus from spreading further.      In Niger, for instance, food handouts are being distributed in small groups in order to keep social distancing, said Jean-Noel Gentile with the UN's World Food Programme.    "To reduce the frequency of food distribution, we are handing out two or three months of rations each time," he said.

- 'Humanitarian corridors' -
One fear that NGOs and governments have is that aid workers travelling to isolated areas could bring the coronavirus with them.   In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the first case of the virus registered in Goma was that of a Nigerian aid worker.

Masks, gloves and protective clothing are required by some organisations -- but the crucial gear is hard to find in many countries.   "This is already difficult enough in France -- you can imagine how it is in the furthest reaches of the Central African Republic," said Isabelle Robin of the French charity Action Against Hunger (ACF).   The closure of borders and restrictions on movement inside countries are additional obstacles to delivering aid.   As a result, NGOs everywhere are attempting to negotiate with authorities in Africa to allow "humanitarian corridors" or exemptions for their personnel.

- Money worry -
But of all the problems for humanitarian work right now, "the biggest is financial", said a UNICEF official in the DRC, pointing to the fact that donor attention lies elsewhere at the moment.   The United Nations has launched a $2 billion (1.83 billion euro) "global humanitarian response plan" on coronavirus, much of it earmarked for Africa.

Though Africa has not been hit as badly as most of the rest of the world, the pandemic is a growing threat, given the continent's weak healthcare systems, entrenched poverty, poor sanitation and crowded slums.   There are concerns that funds received to deal with problems existing before the outset of the pandemic may now have to be rerouted.    That could be a harmful approach.    "It's important that we don't forget other needs," said Maaike Hersevoort, head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in the Central African Republic, pointing to an outbreak of measles there.

- 'Extreme distress' -
In western and central Africa, the number of people needing aid has increased -- even before the coronavirus hit the continent.    There are 44 million people in need this year, six million more than in 2019, according to UN projections.   In the Sahel region, food insecurity levels are rising and there are fears for the next harvest following a poor rainy season.   "We are especially concerned for the children, who become more vulnerable to illness when they are malnourished," said Robin from ACF.

More generally, wellbeing in Africa could be hit by tough measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 -- lockdowns mean that millions of people are unable to work, and thus likelier to sink further into poverty.   "We must not lose sight of the mid- and long-term impact of this crisis," said Bruce Biber of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Central African Republic   "People have already been under great pressure for years, so it takes very little to push them into a state of extreme distress."
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 18:17:31 +0100 (MET)

Bangui, Central African Republic, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - The Central African Republic, a poverty-stricken state that the UN has singled out as highly vulnerable to coronavirus, has stepped up measures over fears that the disease is spreading locally.   President Faustin-Archange Touadera, in a statement received by AFP on Friday, said that after four cases of infection ad been detected, all among people coming from abroad, a fifth had now surfaced.

In this light, "there are grounds for fearing local transmission" of coronavirus, he said.   New measures unveiled by the authorities include a two-week ban on people coming in from countries where the virus is being transmitted locally, except for diplomats and NGO workers.

Schools, childcare facilities and universities are being closed, and restrictions have been placed on movement between the capital Bangui and the rest of the country.   The United Nations on Wednesday said the CAR "is one of the least prepared countries to face a COVID-19 outbreak, with 2.2 million people already in need of health assistance and about 70 percent of health services provided by humanitarian organisations."   The country has been ravaged by three civil wars in 20 years and remains prey to violence from armed groups that control two-thirds of the country.
Date: Wed 4 Mar 2020
Source: WHO Disease outbreak news [abridged, edited]

The Central African Republic (CAR) has experienced an upsurge in measles cases as a result of outbreaks since 2019. The 1st case of measles was recorded in week 5 of 2019 (week commencing 28 Jan 2019) and the outbreak has continued through to week 7 of 2020 (week commencing 10 Feb 2020), with 18 health districts affected including 12 newly affected in 2020 (Bimbo, Begoua, Bangui I, Bangui II and Bangui III in the urban area, Bossembele, Bouar, Bozoum, Baboua-Abba, Haute-Kotto, Nangha-Boguila, and Ouango-Gambo in the rural area).

From 1 Jan 2019 through 16 Feb 2020, a total of 7626 suspected cases

including 83 deaths (case fatality rate 1.08%) were reported. A large proportion of cases (72%) were below 5 years old and 18% of cases were between 5 and 10 years old. A total of 1167 samples from suspected cases were tested at the reference laboratory of the Institut Pasteur in Bangui, of which 180 were positive for measles using Immunoglobulin M (IgM).

The low vaccination coverage for routine measles vaccine over the past 5 years (below 60% for the 1st dose at 9 months), the absence of a 2nd measles vaccine dose in the national immunization schedule, and inadequate follow-up campaigns resulted in a high proportion of people susceptible to measles, contributing to the ongoing epidemic. All 35 health districts are at risk of a measles outbreak, and without adequate response, the epidemic could spread through the entire country. The number of districts affected by the measles outbreak is increasing, and as of 1 Mar 2020, 15 health districts have been affected: Alindao, Alindao-Mingala, Baboua-Abba, Bambari, Bangui I, Bangui II, Bangui III, Begoua, Bimbo, Bococaranga-Koui, Bossembele, Bouar, Bozoum, Haute-Kotto, Nangha-Boguila, Ngaoundaye, and Ouango-Gambo.

In December 2019, outbreaks affected 8 health districts, and the country organized local measles vaccination campaigns that targeted children aged 6 -- 59 months in 7 districts (Bambari, Batangafo, Bocaranga-Koui, Grimari-Kouango, Kemo, Ngaoundaye, and Nana-Gribizi). Despite vaccination coverage of more than 95%, as confirmed by the vaccination coverage survey, new cases are being recorded in these districts and neighboring health districts in children aged from 5 -- 15 years old. Based on the age distribution of cases as indicated by epidemiological investigations, the proposed vaccination strategy is to target the risk group from 6 months -- 10 years to help stop transmission.

Public health response
----------------------
Since the official declaration of the outbreak by Ministry of Health on 24 Jan 2020, the following public health actions have been conducted:
- COUSP (Center for Emergency Operations in Public Health) and the Local Crisis Committee have been activated to coordinate the response.
- The Ministry of Health with support from WHO and other partners are developing a comprehensive response plan, which includes the vaccination campaigns.
- Epidemiological surveillance in the affected areas has been strengthened.
- Referral system of severe measles cases to the district health hospital has been set up with free care being offered to measles cases.
- Distribution of drugs and medical supplies to support provision of free medical care is ongoing.
- Isolation units have been established at the district hospital.
- The routine immunization program is being strengthened.
- Health promotion and risk communication activities are ongoing.
- Efforts are underway to mobilize resources to respond to the outbreak.

WHO risk assessment
-------------------
WHO estimates the overall risk for the CAR from the current measles outbreak to be "high" due to the following reasons:
- The geographic expansion of the epidemic into new health districts.
- The large number of districts with high risk for measles outbreaks, due to low vaccination coverage.
- An increase in the number of cases reported in 2019 compared to 2018.
- The security context of the country which limits access to set up rapid response measures in affected health districts.
- The lack of infrastructure, inputs and resources to ensure free health care.
- The lack of trained staff available for the clinical management of complications of measles.
- Suboptimal measles-containing-vaccine first-dose (MCV1) vaccination coverage of 49% for the past 5 years according to joint WHO / UNICEF estimates, and administrative coverage of 71% in 2019.
- Large population movements between vaccinated and unvaccinated localities.
- Risk at the regional level is assessed as moderate given the large cross border movements of populations to and from neighboring countries including Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon, both for security reasons and commercial activities.
Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2019 11:56:44 +0100 (MET)

Bangui, Central African Republic, Oct 29, 2019 (AFP) - The worst flooding in two decades in the Central African Republic has left at least 28,000 people homeless, the country's Red Cross said Tuesday, with the government calling the disaster a "huge natural catastrophe".   Torrential rains have pounded the country for several days, causing the Oubangui River and its tributaries to overflow.   "The latest toll is 28,000 people made homeless" across the former French colony, Central African Red Cross president Antoine Mbao-bogo told AFP, adding that entire neighbourhoods are "underwater".

In the capital Bangui, with a population of about one million, mud homes have literally dissolved in the floods.   "Today our country, and not just the city of Bangui, faces a huge natural catastrophe," government spokesman Ange-Maxime Kazagui said in a television address late Monday.   "The Oubangui River has burst its banks, and its tributaries can no longer flow into it, creating a phenomenon of massive overflow."   The country's main river overflows about once a decade, with a 1999 disaster causing major destruction -- but Mbao-bogo said the current flooding is even worse.   "Add to that the deep poverty of our compatriots," he said.

The country of some 4.7 million people, which faces brutal violence from armed groups despite a peace pact signed this year, is one of the world's poorest countries.    With more than two-thirds of the country controlled by militias fighting the government or each other, about a quarter of the population have fled their homes.   Kazagui said Bangui residents living on the banks of the Oubangui had been hit especially hard.   "Drinking water is lacking. There are problems with latrines, mosquitos, cold and the risk of epidemics such as cholera," he said.   "We don't have the infrastructure to shelter people, but we expect that NGOs will provide tents and shelters," Kazagui said.
Date: Sun 1 Sep 2019
Source: WHO Weekly Bulletin on Outbreaks and Other Emergencies, Week 35 [edited]

On 19 Aug 2019, the Institut Pasteur of Bangui (IPB), Central Africa Republic, reported a confirmed case of Rift Valley fever (RVF) in Bossembele health district, Boali sub-prefecture. The case-patient is a 45-year-old male farmer from Bogoin village who initially fell ill on 5 Aug 2019 and presented, on 8 Aug 2019, to the local health facility with fever, chills, headache, nausea, asthenia, myalgia, arthralgia and retro-ocular pain. As part of influenza surveillance, a blood specimen was collected on 9 Aug 2019 and transported to the IPB. Test results released on 19 Aug 2019 confirmed RVF infection by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. As of 24 Aug 2019, the case-patient remained in admission in good clinical condition.

Outbreak investigations carried out by the rapid response team identified 7 additional suspected RVF cases from the same health district, 5 through records review in the local health facility and 2 by active case search in the affected community. A total of 12 blood specimens (5 from suspected cases and 7 from healthy control cases) were collected and are being analysed at the IPB; the test results are pending. The suspected cases, with ages ranging from 5 to 45 years, are being followed as outpatients.

Additionally, animal health investigations carried out in the affected community reportedly identified sick domestic animals (mainly cows and sheep), manifesting symptoms such as runny nose, cough and diarrhoea. A total of 21 blood specimens were collected from the sick animals (cows and small ruminants) and taken for laboratory analysis and the test results are pending.

Further epidemiological and entomological investigations are ongoing, and updates will be provided as new information becomes available.

Public health actions
The Ministry of Health is coordinating the response to the RVF outbreak through the emergency operations centre, with support from the health partners.

A multisectoral national rapid response team, comprising of both public and animal health specialists, and entomologists was deployed from 21-24 Aug 2019 to conduct in-depth outbreak investigation.

The epidemiological and laboratory surveillance have been enhanced, and healthcare workers have been oriented on the standard case definition for RVF to facilitate early case detection. Data collection and reporting tools have been distributed to the health facilities.

Case management is ongoing in the affected health district, with some suspected cases being managed as outpatients.

Risk communication activities using various channels are ongoing in the affected communities, however this needs to be enhanced.

Situation interpretation
Health authorities in Central African Republic have reported a new outbreak of RVF, the 1st time such an event has been formally reported in the country. Information on the circulation of RVF virus (RVFV) in Central African Republic is limited, partly due to gaps in the surveillance system, and specifically due to limited surveillance for RVF disease. Literature indicates that RVFV was 1st isolated in Central African Republic in 1969 from a pool of _Mansonia africana_ mosquitoes. However, a recent study in Central African Republic detected RVFV-specific antibodies in humans, and 15 strains [isolates] of RVFV were isolated from humans and sylvatic mosquitoes.

The current confirmation of RVF in the country should alert health authorities to strengthen surveillance for the disease and other zoonoses. Additionally, in-depth epidemiological and entomological investigations should be undertaken to properly understand the epidemiology of the disease and identify all potential vectors species in the country. The ongoing rainy season, running from May to October 2019, may result in increased [mosquito] vector density, constituting another risk factor for escalation of RVF.
======================
[It is interesting that this year (2019) it was a human case that signaled the presence of Rift Valley fever virus RVFV) in the country. The results of the subsequent field studies by the multidisciplinary rapid response team found additional human cases and evidence that the virus is being transmitted to livestock.

Finding evidence of RVF virus in the Central African Republic (CAR) is not surprising. Last year (2018), human and animal cases occurred in neighboring South Sudan (see Valley fever - South Sudan (09): (EL) human, animal, WHO http://promedmail.org/post/20180410.5735975). If focal geographic areas of transmission are identified in this CAR situation, increased surveillance of people and livestock should be initiated and livestock vaccination considered. RVF-infected livestock can pose a significant risk to humans in contact with them, often livestock owners and veterinarians. Abortions in livestock with a loss in productivity present an economic problem for many ethnic groups that depend on them for livelihoods. Apparently, this RVF outbreak did not result in an abortion storm that could have had serious economic, social and public health consequences. It is likely that RVF virus will persist in this area in transovarially infected eggs of _Aedes_ mosquito vectors. These eggs can remain viable for long periods of time and hatch when flooded during future rain events, with subsequent emergence of infected females ready to transmit the virus. This risk provides justification for maintaining livestock of the area well vaccinated into the future. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Central African Republic: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/66>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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