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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
**************************************
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
**************************************
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
**************************************
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.
*
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
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 ...

Estonia

Estonia US Consular Information Sheet
October 28, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Estonia is a stable democracy with an economy that has developed rapidly in recent years.
Tourist facilities in Tallinn are comparable to other western Europe
n cities, but some amenities may be lacking in rural areas.
Some goods and services may not be available outside of major cities.
Please read the Department of State Background Notes on Estonia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport is required.
Estonia is a party to the “Schengen” –Agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Estonia for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen Fact Sheet.
For further information concerning entry requirements and residency permits, contact the Estonian Embassy, located at 2131 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202)588-0101, or the Consulate General of Estonia in New York City, telephone (212) 883-0636. Visit the Embassy of Estonia web site at http://www.estemb.org for the most current visa information. American citizens who wish to reside in Estonia (e.g. for work, studies, retirement, etc.) can also consult with the Estonian Citizenship and Migration Board at http://www.mig.ee
Information about dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Civil unrest generally is not a problem in Estonia, and there have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Large public gatherings and demonstrations may occur on occasion in response to political issues, but these have been, with few exceptions,
without incident in the past.

During periods of darkness, (roughly October through April), reflectors must be worn by pedestrians.
Violators of this law may be subject to a fine of up to 600 EEK (Estonian Kroon), or up to 6,000 EEK if the pedestrian is under the influence of alcohol. Reflectors are inexpensive and are available at most supermarkets and many smaller shops.
To meet legal requirements, the reflector’s packaging must include a reference to European safety standard EN13356.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.

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 others callers, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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

CRIME:
Estonia is a relatively safe country, although crime in Tallinn’s “Old Town” is an ongoing concern, particularly during the summer tourist season.
Travelers should exercise the same precautions with regard to their personal safety and belongings they would take in major U.S. cities.
The most common crimes encountered by foreign tourists are purse snatching, pick-pocketing, and mugging.
Tourists are often targeted by individuals and small groups of thieves working together.
In public places such as the “Old Town,” in particular the Town Hall Square (“Raekoja Plats”), as well as the airport, train stations, bus stations and the Central Market, one must exercise special care in safeguarding valuables against purse-snatchers and pickpockets.
Valuables should never be left unattended in vehicles and car doors should be kept locked at all times.
Some violent crime does occur, mainly at night and often in proximity to nightlife areas.
Public drunkenness, car theft and break-ins also continue to be a problem in Tallinn.

The Estonian Police agencies are modern, well-equipped law enforcement entities on a standard comparable to most Western European police, with only isolated instances of corruption. However, large-scale reductions in the police force are scheduled for this year, which may decrease some of their capabilities. Many police officers speak only very limited English.

Credit card fraud is an ongoing concern, as is internet-based financial fraud and “internet dating” fraud.
Travelers should take precautions to safeguard their credit cards and report any suspected unauthorized transaction to the credit card company immediately.
Racially motivated verbal harassment and, on occasion, physical assault of Americans and other nationals of non-Caucasian ethnicity has occurred.
If an incident occurs, it should be reported to the police and to the Embassy.

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

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Estonia is: 112. The level of English spoken by the operator answering may be minimal.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
The quality of medical care in Estonia continues to improve but still falls short of Western standards.
Estonia has many highly trained medical professionals, but hospitals and clinics still suffer from a lack of equipment and resources.
Elderly travelers and those with health problems may be at increased risk.
Visitors to forest areas in warm weather should also guard against tick-borne encephalitis.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Estonia.
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.
In recent years, a number of American citizens have been disembarked from cruise ships and hospitalized due to serious medical problems. Holding a policy providing for medical evacuation coverage can be critical to ensure access to timely emergency medical care. 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 is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Driving in Estonia can be more dangerous than in much of the United States.
Many roads, especially in rural areas, are poorly lit and are not up to Western standards.
Some drivers can be aggressive, recklessly overtaking vehicles and traveling at high speed, even in crowded urban areas.
Despite strict Estonian laws against driving under the influence of alcohol, accidents involving intoxicated drivers are very frequent. It is not uncommon for the police to set up checkpoints on major streets and highways; drivers should pull over when asked.
Drivers should always remain alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians.

Estonian traffic laws require drivers to stop for all pedestrians in marked crosswalks.
Nevertheless, Estonian motorists do not always comply with this regulation, and pedestrians should always be careful when crossing the streets.
In rural areas, wild animals, such as deer and moose, and icy road conditions can create unexpected hazards.
Dark-clothed or drunken pedestrians walking along unlit roads or darting across dimly-lit streets or highways pose a risk to unsuspecting drivers.
Winter roads are usually treated and cleared of snow, but drivers should remain vigilant for icy patches and large potholes.

Estonian laws against driving under the influence are strict and follow a policy of zero tolerance. Penalties are severe for motorists caught driving after consumption of even a small amount of alcohol. Local law requires that headlights be illuminated at all times while driving.
Use of a seatbelts by all passengers is required, and children too small to be secure in seatbelts must use child car seats.
The speed limit is 50 km/h in town and 90 km/h out of town unless otherwise indicated.
A right turn on a red light is prohibited unless otherwise indicated by a green arrow.
According to Estonian law vehicles involved in accidents should not be moved to the side of the road until the police reach the scene. Americans planning to drive in Estonia must obtain an international driving permit prior to arrival.

For information about international driving permits, contact AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance.
The Eesti Autoklubi (Estonian Auto Club – www.autoclub.ee), which is affiliated with AAA, provides emergency roadside assistance.
Drivers do not need to be a member to receive assistance; however, the fees charged are higher for non-members.
The number to call for roadside vehicle assistance and towing service is 1888.
For ambulance, fire or police assistance the number is 112.
Please note that for both numbers, the level of English spoken by the operator answering may be minimal.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
You may also visit the website of Estonia’s national tourist office at http://www.visitestonia.com.
For specific information concerning Estonian driving permits, vehicles inspections and road tax mandatory insurance, contact the Estonian Motor Vehicle Registration Center at http://www.ark.ee/atp.
Additional information may be obtained from the website of the Estonian Road Administration at http://www.mnt.ee/atp, or from Baltic Roads at http://www.balticroads.net
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Estonia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Estonian 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:
Commercial and financial transactions in Estonia are increasingly automated and on-line.
Cash is almost always acceptable. The national currency is the Estonian Kroon (EEK), the value of which is pegged to the Euro (15.65 EEK= 1 Euro). Most credit cards are widely recognized throughout the country.
ATM machines are common and many U.S.-issued bankcards are compatible with them. Bank checks are virtually unknown, and checks drawn on a U.S. bank are of little use in the country.

Estonia’s customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes.
ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States.
For additional information call (212) 354-4480, send and email to acarnet@uscib.org, or visit http://www.uscib.org for details.

Please see our information on Customs Regulations.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Estonian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Estonia 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 both in Estonia as well as in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

DUAL NATIONALITY:
Estonian law requires that individual with dual nationality must choose between Estonian citizenship and his of her other citizenship at age 18. After that time, Estonian law does not permit the individual to carry passports of two (or more) different countries. However, the Estonian government reportedly has not regularly enforced this law in the past with respect to persons of Estonian background, and thus a number of individuals have continued to carry both Estonian and American passports. Any American citizen who also carries an Estonian passport should be aware that the Estonian government may not recognize the person as an American citizen in certain circumstances, thus limiting the consular services that can be provided by the U.S. Embassy (e.g. in case of arrest, etc.).

Please note that this discussion of dual nationality relates only to person who have a claim to Estonian citizenship, and not to persons who merely acquire an Estonian “residence” permit. For more information on citizenship and dual nationality, please see our web page.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Estonia are encouraged to register with the U.S Embassy in Tallinn through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Estonia.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn by visiting in person.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The latest security information is available from the Embassy, including on its web site, http://estonia.usembassy.gov.

The U.S. Embassy is available 24 hours a day for emergency assistance for American citizens visiting or residing in Estonia. The Embassy is located approximately 1 km outside of Tallinn’s “Old Town.” The address is: Kentmanni 20, 15099 Tallinn, Estonia.
The Embassy’s main switchboard number is telephone (372) 668-8100.
The Consular Section can be reached directly at (372 668-8128, 8111, 8197 or 8129. The Consular Section’s fax number is (372) 668-8267. The Consular Sections’ email address for American Citizen Services is ACSTallin@state.gov. For after-hours emergencies, an Embassy Duty Officer may be contacted by mobile phone at (372) 509-2129, if dialing from the U.S., and 509-2129 if dialed from within Estonia.
The Embassy’s web site is http://estonia.usembassy.gov.
The American Citizen Services Unit email address is ACSTallinn@state.gov
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 26, 2008 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Medical Insurance, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, Criminal Penalties, Dual Nationality, and Registration/Embassy location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 15 May 2020 15:00:11 +0200 (METDST)
By Imants Liepinsh

Grenctale, Latvia, May 15, 2020 (AFP) - Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania reopened their shared borders on Friday, allowing citizens to move freely for business and pleasure in a travel bubble after two months of coronavirus restrictions.    The sister countries, which are members of the European Union and the passport-free Schengen zone, had been closed since mid-March to all traffic except commercial cargo and returning citizens.

Their borders with Belarus and Russia remain sealed however, with military patrols reinforcing regular guards.    "The reopening of Baltic borders is an important milestone. Hotels and restaurants are looking forward with renewed hope," said Janis Pinnis, head of Latvia's hospitality association.   "We're already seeing the first reservations come in," he told public broadcaster Latvijas Radio.

Ticket sales for international bus travel between Baltic cities are back up and running, while flights between the countries are expected to resume at the end of the month.    Also happy to see borders reopen are Latvia's "alco supermarkets" which have sprung up in recent years to cater to Estonians and Lithuanians crossing over for cheaper, lower-taxed alcohol.   "Let's hope that reopening the borders brings back our neighbours, starting today," said the cashier at the Alko 1000 Market warehouse just a short distance from the border in the Latvian village of Grenctale.    Over the last couple months, "only locals had been coming in. Our liquor store's income has gone down tenfold," she told AFP.

- Time for ice-cream -
Before the time of coronavirus, Estonians had enjoyed going over to Latvia for dessert.   "Cross-border shopping was very popular before COVID-19. Our border town of Rujiena was full of Estonians on weekends. They love our ice cream," said Ilona Dukure, editor of the Latvian regional weekly Rujienas Vestnesis.    "However, people on this side of the border are concerned that Estonia's epidemic is a bit worse than ours," she told AFP.    To date 19 people have died from coronavirus in Latvia, a country of 1.9 million people. Estonia has a lower population of 1.3 million but a higher death toll of 63, while Lithuania has reported 54 fatalities out of population of 2.8 million   Not all the Baltic border posts are yet up and running.

In the Latvian border village of Skaistkalne, the bridge over the river will be out of commission until next week because of unremoved roadblocks on the Lithuanian side.    "We were hoping to cross the border here and finally get to Lithuania, but it looks like we'll have to find another entry point," said Valeriy, a construction worker driving over Thursday with his friend.    "We're working in Norway and are returning home to Vilnius after months of hard work," he told AFP.

They were redirected some 50 kilometres (30 miles) west to Grenctale, where an abandoned checkpoint has been manned by border guards since March.    On Thursday, around 20 large trucks could still be spotted in line there, as Lithuanian border guards checked the temperature of their drivers.   But by Friday, both sides of the border post were free of queues.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:58:42 +0100 (MET)

Tallinn, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Estonia reported its first coronavirus case on Thursday, a day after the man returned to the Baltic nation of just 1.3 million people from his homeland Iran.    "The person, a permanent resident of Estonia who is not a citizen, arrived in Estonia on Wednesday evening," Social Affairs Minister Tanel Kiik told public broadcaster ERR.   He said the Iranian citizen is currently hospitalised.

Local media said the man arrived in Tallinn by bus from the Latvian capital Riga.   "For now, there are no plans of putting cities in quarantine following this one case," Kiik said.    "The patient is isolated, there is no risk of the disease spreading, now we have to identify all the people the patient was in contact with."   Iran has announced a total of 19 deaths and more than 130 infections, including the country's deputy health minister.   Iran's coronavirus death toll is the highest after that of China, where more than 2,700 people have died from the disease.
Date: Sat 14 Apr 2018 09:35
Source: Err [edited]

A man who had returned from an overseas trip and a woman with whom he came in contact were diagnosed with measles in Saaremaa this week [week of Sun 8 Apr 2018].

This year [2018], 4 cases of measles have been diagnosed in Estonia, which in 2016 had been listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as among the countries which had eliminated endemic measles. Last month [March 2018], an unvaccinated child contracted the disease on an overseas trip; their mother caught it in turn upon their return to Estonia.

It is not currently known whether the woman to contract measles this week [week of Sun 8 Apr 2018] was vaccinated or not; the man had been vaccinated with only 1 of 2 doses of the measles vaccine.

In the course of the Health Board's epidemiological study, persons who have been in contact with the 2 individuals as well as their vaccination status were determined. Those who have come in contact with them were also advised regarding the nature of the disease, prevention measures as well as vaccination.

Last week [week of Sun 1 Apr 2018], a case of rubella was diagnosed in Rapla County as well. The previous 2 instances of rubella in Eesti were recorded in 2013.

Measles and rubella are considered highly contagious diseases, but the modern measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is over 95 percent effective in preventing measles and rubella.

According to the immunization schedule in Estonia, children are administered the 1st dose of the MMR vaccine at 1 year of age and the 2nd dose at age 13. The MMR vaccine is free for children in Estonia.

Measles symptoms
Some of the earliest symptoms in the onset of measles include fever, malaise, cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis and light sensitivity. A few days later, the signature rash appears, which begins behind the ears and spreads to the face and neck before covering the entire body. A measles patient is contagious beginning 4 -- 5 days before and for up to 5 days following the onset of the rash.

There is no treatment for the disease itself; only symptoms can be treated. Complications can include pneumonia, middle ear infections and inflammation of the brain.  [Byline editor: Aili Vahtla]
====================
[According to <https://news.err.ee/591626/number-of-unvaccinated-children-in-estonia-on-rise>, despite the fact that a number of serious infectious diseases have been beaten due to vaccination [in Estonia], there has been a steady increase in the number of parents refusing vaccination and number of children being left unprotected from various diseases.

"While the percentage of refusals in relative to the total number of vaccinations isn't high -- 3-3.9 percent in 2016 -- the steady increase of those refusing and the steady growth in the number of children being left unprotected from a number of infectious diseases is worrisome," said Director General of the Health Board Tiiu Aro.

For example, at the end of 2016, 95.4 percent of children ages 1-14 were vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

"Considering the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommended level of vaccination for halting the spread of diseases, which is 95 percent, we should be satisfied, however the coverage level among children up to 2 years of age was 93.2 percent, which means that we did not achieve the recommended level of coverage," Aro noted.

As of the end of 2016, a total of 7481 children were unvaccinated against MMR, over 60 percent of whom live in Tallinn.

A Healthmap/ProMED of Estonia can be found at
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2013 13:51:13 +0100 (MET)

TALLINN, Feb 13, 2013 (AFP) - Officials in Estonia raised the alarm Wednesday after a report into drug use in Europe found that the small Baltic nation had the highest incidence of deaths from drug overdoses in the EU. Last year, 160 people died from overdoses, data from the Europe Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions (EMCDDA) showed, an increase of 21 percent from last year. Most of the deaths were caused by taking a highly addictive form of synthetic heroin known as China White, which is often smuggled in from Russia.

"More people per million inhabitants perish in Estonia than in any other EU country due to drug overdoses, and most of these deaths are related to drugs called 'China White'," Ave Talu, head of Estonia's Drug Monitoring Centre, told AFP. While the average number of deaths from overdoses across the 27-member EU bloc stands at up to 20 people per million, in Estonia the figure is five times higher, at over 100 per million. In 2011, 132 people died from overdoses in the former Soviet nation of 1.3 million people.

Most of the people who died in 2012 were ethnic Russian men, the EMCDDA data showed. Using a new antidote to synthetic heroin, naloxone, could "cut the death rates from overdose nearly in half," Talu said. But the drug is not yet available on a community outreach basis, she said. "In Estonia, naloxone is used only by medical staff and unlike some other countries like the US, we do not yet have community-based naloxone distribution and training programmes, but they are urgently needed."
Date: Fri, 21 Dec 2012 16:42:17 +0100 (MET)

TALLINN, Dec 21, 2012 (AFP) - Pilots at the struggling Baltic carrier Estonian Air announced on Friday they would go on strike from January 7, demanding a return to a collective pay deal that was voided by the company.   The Estonian Airline Pilots Association, which represents all of the carrier's 75 pilots, warned that it could not accept plans to end a five-year-old agreement from February.   "We expect most of the pilots to be on strike," Rauno Menning, chairman of the association's board, told AFP.   In a statement, Estonian Air said the strike call was a surprise.

"Estonian Air has offered pilots a collective agreement that is line with the market and competitive situation and follows all EU flight safety requirements," the carrier's chief executive Jan Palmer was quoted as saying.   Menning faulted that stance.   "We are surprised that the company is surprised by the strike news, because we made the decision in November to go strike if needed, so Estonian Air knew this was a possibility," he told AFP.   Estonian Air had just warded off industrial action by other employees through a deal last week with the Estonian Air Cabin Crew Union, which is valid to the end of 2013.   State-controlled Estonian Air has made repeated efforts to cut its losses.   In November, the airline said it would slash staff numbers by half, from 318 to 146.   Estonian Air operates a small fleet of 10 planes.

Created in 1991, the year the Baltic republic of 1.3 million regained its independence from the Soviet Union, the airline has had mixed fortunes.   It was privatised in 1996, and from 2003 to 2010 was almost evenly split between the state, which owned 51 percent, and Scandinavian carrier SAS, with 49 percent.   Since then, the state has gradually raised its holding to the current 97 percent, but says its wants to find a new strategic investor.   Estonian Air's revenues in the first nine months of 2012 were 70.4 million euros ($93 million), compared with 58.7 million euros in the same period of 2011.   But nine-month losses reached 20.2 million euros, up from 11.2 million euros in the same period a year earlier.
More ...

Ghana

Ghana US Consular Information Sheet
23rd September 2008
DESCRIPTION:
Ghana is a developing country on the West Coast of Africa. The capital is Accra. Facilities for tourism are available in the population centers of the greater Accra regio
, Kumasi in the Ashanti region, and in the Cape Coast area of the Central region, but they are limited in the more remote areas of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Ghana for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required, as is evidence of a yellow fever vaccination. Travelers should obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of Ghana, 3512 International Drive NW, Washington, DC
20008; telephone (202) 686-4520. Consular services are also available at the Ghana Permanent Mission to the UN at 19 East 47th Street, New York, NY
10017, telephone (212) 832-1300, and the Honorary Consulate of Ghana, 3434 Locke Lane, Houston, TX, telephone (713) 960-8806. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Ghanaian embassy or consulate. Visit the Embassy of Ghana web site at www.ghanaembassy.org for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Due to the potential for violence, U.S. citizens should avoid political rallies and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times. There will be frequent political rallies across Ghana in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections on December 7, 2008.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for other callers, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their 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:
Pick-pocketing, purse snatching, and various types of scams are the most common forms of crime confronting visitors. U.S. travelers have reported these types of theft at crowded markets, beaches, parks, and tourist attractions. Incidences of violent crime, such as armed robbery, are on the rise, including reports of armed robberies in expatriate residential areas. Victims who resist attackers run a high risk of serious physical injury. Take security measures, such as traveling in groups and avoiding travel at night. Avoid travel in communal taxis. Travelers who limit their display of jewelry and handle their cash discreetly reduce their vulnerability to crime. Travelers are advised to carry limited amounts of cash and only photocopies of key documents.

Use of credit cards in Ghana should be avoided if possible, as a growing number of travelers have been victims of credit card fraud.

In recent years, U.S. citizens have reported substantial financial losses from questionable transactions involving gold and other precious metals. The Government of Ghana maintains strict regulations on these natural resources. All agents must be licensed and all transactions must be certified. (See Special Circumstances below).

Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. Such fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Ghana.
Please refer to the Country Commercial Guide for Ghana at http://www.buyusa.gov/ghana/en/doing_business_in_ghana.html, for further information.

American citizens frequently consult the Embassy regarding questionable business offers sent by people in Ghana. These are scams and typically begin with an unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from an unknown individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by assisting in the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of the country.
A series of “advance fees” must be paid in order to conclude the transaction, such as fees to open a bank account or to pay certain taxes.
In fact, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scams is simply to collect money from the victim.
The Embassy has also received reports of fraudulent charities soliciting contributions through the Internet or direct mail. If you receive such business offers or charity requests, carefully check them out before you commit any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel. Check with the U.S. Embassy in Ghana at telephone (233-21) 741-100 for an assessment of the offer’s credibility.

Another type of fraud is committed by persons claiming to live in Ghana or who claim to be traveling to Ghana on business, and who profess friendship or romantic interest over the Internet. Once a relationship has been established, the correspondent typically asks the American to send money for living expenses, travel expenses, or visa costs. Sometimes a “hospital” or “doctor” telephones to say that the friend has suffered an “accident” and needs immediate financial assistance to cover medical bills. There are other variations of this scam, but the common goal is to fraudulently obtain as much money as possible from the victim.
Americans have reported losing thousands of dollars through such scams. The anonymity of the Internet means that the victim cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent. In most cases reported to the Embassy, the correspondent turned out to be a fictitious persona created to lure Americans into sending money.

Visitors to Ghana should also be wary of overly-friendly locals offering tours, discounted lodging or other services that seem too good to be true.
Tourists are often targeted by touts and scam artists.
Some Americans have been the victims of false criminal accusations and have found themselves separated from time, money and trust as they seek to resolve these difficult situations.

For additional information, please see the Department of State brochure International Financial Scams.

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.
Ghana maintains a specialized Domestic Violence Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) within the Ghana Police Service to assist victims of domestic violence, especially women and children. In addition to its law enforcement responsibilities, the Unit can refer victims to medical providers and counselors, as well as to community support services. Further information is available by following the DOVVSU link at www.ghanapolice.org
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Ghana is: 191
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Ghana are limited, particularly outside Accra, the capital. Travelers should carry adequate supplies of any needed prescription medicines, along with copies of their prescriptions, the generic name of the drugs, and a supply of preferred over-the-counter medications. For information on avian influenza (bird flu), please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.
Documentation of Yellow fever vaccination is required upon arrival from all countries.
There are no HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Ghana.

Motor vehicle accidents, drownings and water-related accidents due to Ghana’s rough surf, muggings and other violent attacks, and the development of sexually transmitted diseases—including HIV—are
health and safety concerns that have been reported by U.S. citizens and can be at least partially mitigated by using common-sense safety precautions.

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 Ghana is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Primary roads are generally paved and well maintained. However, some side roads within major cities and roads outside of major cities are in poor condition. The road from Accra to the central region tourist area of Cape Coast continues to be the site of many accidents. Travel in darkness, particularly outside the major cities, is extremely hazardous, due to poor street lighting and the unpredictable behavior of pedestrians, bicyclists and farm animals, particularly goats and sheep. Aggressive drivers, poorly maintained vehicles and overloaded vehicles pose serious threats to road safety.

The safety standards of the small private buses that transit roads and highways are uncertain. Travelers are encouraged to consider this when making travel arrangements.

Travelers are routinely stopped at police checkpoints throughout Ghana, and vehicles and passengers may be searched. Drivers must possess an international driver’s license (available from AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance). Foreign nationals should carry documentation of their status, such as a passport and visa.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Ghana’s national tourist office at http://www.touringghana.com/default.asp and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mrt.gov.gh/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Ghana’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Ghana’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

Service provided by a number of regional air carriers is reported to be unreliable. The airlines may alter scheduled stops, cancel or postpone flights on short notice, and regularly overbook flights. Travelers may experience unexpected delays even after checking in. Passengers should get the required seat reconfirmation stamped on the ticket, have enough emergency funds for food and lodging in case of unexpected delays, and arrive at the airport at least two hours before the scheduled departure time.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Effective July 1, 2007, the Government of Ghana redenominated the local currency, the cedi, introducing new banknotes (Ghana Cedi) and coins (Ghana Pesewa). 10,000 cedis = 1 Ghana Cedi = 100 Ghana Pesewas. The old cedi was taken out of circulation on December 31, 2007, and as of January 1, 2008, can be converted only at commercial banks or the Bank of Ghana. Travelers should be alert to persons who may try to defraud them with the old and new bills. The Government of Ghana established a web site in 2007, www.ghanacedi.gov.gh, to inform the public about the redenomination exercise. The web site includes a useful currency converter.

Visitors arriving or departing Ghana with more than $5,000 in cash are required to declare the amount at the border. Currency exchange is available at most banks and at licensed foreign exchange bureaus, but currency transactions with private citizens are illegal. The Government of Ghana also prohibits departing travelers from carrying more than 5,000,000 cedis (500 Ghana Cedis) out of the country. Ghanaian currency must either be spent or exchanged before departure, or it will be confiscated.

Strict customs regulations govern temporary importation into or export from Ghana of items such as gold, diamonds and precious natural resources. Only agents licensed by the Precious Metals and Mining Commission, telephone (233-21) 664-635 or 664-579, may handle import-export transactions of these natural resources. Any transaction without the commission’s endorsement is illegal and/or fraudulent. All transactions must be completed through the commission at the price set daily by the London exchange. Any transaction that discounts this price, or includes a previously negotiated price, is either illegal or fraudulent. Export of gold dust is rare as it encourages dangerous and environmentally destructive practices, and transactions involving the export of gold dust are probably fraudulent. Attempts to evade regulations are punishable by imprisonment. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Ghana in Washington, DC, or one of the Ghanaian consulates in the United States, for specific information regarding customs requirements.

In rare instances, visitors arriving in Ghana with sophisticated electronic equipment (video cameras and laptop computers) may have to deposit 17.5 per cent of the item's value with the Customs and Excise office at the airport. To get the deposit refunded, visitors must apply to the Customs and Excise Office in central Accra 48 hours before departure.

Taking pictures near sensitive installations, including military sites and some government buildings, is prohibited. These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation. Permission may be obtained from Ghanaian security personnel. Permission should also be obtained before photographing anyone in uniform (e.g., police officers and military officers). In some cases, film and cameras have been confiscated. For security reasons, taking photographs of the U.S. Embassy is also prohibited.

It is strictly prohibited to wear any military apparel such as camouflage jackets or trousers, or any clothing or items that may appear military in nature.

Please see our Customs Information.

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

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Ghana are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Ghana. 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 No. 24 Fourth Circular Road, Cantonments, Accra; telephone (233-21)741-000. The public entrance to the Consular Section is No. 19 Fifth Link Road, Cantonments, Accra; telephone (233-21) 741-100; fax (233-21) 741-362 or 741-426; after-hours (233-21) 741-775.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Ghana dated February 21, 2008, to update sections on safety and security, crime, information for victims of crime, and medical facilities and health information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2020 09:41:12 +0200 (METDST)

Accra, April 20, 2020 (AFP) - Ghana on Monday ended a three-week lockdown on two key regions as the west African nation's leader said testing had improved and the measures were having a "severe" impact on the poor.    President Nana Akufo-Addo announced the lifting of restrictions on movement around the capital Accra and second region Kumasi in a televised address.   He said the move was being taken "in view of our ability to undertake aggressive contact tracing of infected persons, the enhancement of our capacity to test, the expansion in the numbers of our treatment and isolation centres".

"This decision to restrict movement has occasioned a number of severe difficulties for all of us across the country, especially for the poor and vulnerable," he said in the speech late Sunday.   Ghana has so far confirmed 1,042 infections, with nine deaths, from the novel coronavirus.    The country of around 30 million has ramped up testing and checked over 68,000 samples.

Measures including the closure of the country's border, shuttering of schools and limiting of public gatherings remain in force.    Akufo-Addo said people were encouraged "to wear a mask wherever you go" to help contain the spread of the virus.    Countries around Africa have imposed a range of restrictions to try to curb the disease -- ranging from curfews to total lockdowns.    Enforcing draconian limits on movement can be difficult in states where a large number of people living in poverty depend on daily earnings to survive. 
Date: Sat, 28 Mar 2020 09:41:43 +0100 (MET)

Accra, March 28, 2020 (AFP) - Ghana has announced a two-week lockdown in the country's two main regions starting Monday to curb the spread of coronavirus.   The move came as the authorities reported 137 confirmed cases, including four deaths.   President Nana Akufo-Ado said there would be "restrictions on movement of persons in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area and the Greater Kumasi Metropolitan Area and contiguous districts for a period of two weeks."

He said residents would only be allowed to go out to buy food, water and medicines and to use public toilets.   "There shall be, during this period, no inter-city movement of vehicles and aircrafts for private or commercial purposes.. except for vehicles and aircrafts providing essential services and those carrying cargo," he said.   Ghana has already closed schools, suspended public events and banned large gatherings.
Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2020 11:02:11 +0100 (MET)

Accra, March 16, 2020 (AFP) - Ghana on Monday closed all schools and universities and suspended public events to stop the spread of coronavirus as a string of African nations imposed tighter restrictions to stem the spread of the global pandemic.    President Nana Akufo-Addo announced in an address to the west African nation that the authorities were shutting schools and universities "until further notice".   Public gatherings -- including conferences, religious services, sports matches and political rallies -- have also been suspended for four weeks, he said.

Ghana on Sunday announced it would start barring entry to the country from Tuesday for any non-Ghanaian citizen or resident "who, within the last 14 days, has been to a country that has recorded at least 200 cases".   The move came as the authorities reported a rise in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 from two to six, with the new cases all arrivals from abroad.   Numerous nations in sub-Saharan Africa -- including Senegal, Kenya and South Africa -- have begun imposing entry restrictions or closing schools as the continent scrambles to halt the spread of the virus.
Date: Thu 9 Jan 2020
Source: All Africa/Ghanaian Times [edited]

A total of 3 cases of poliomyelitis with 2 deaths have been recorded in the Bono, Bono East and Ahafo regions.

The 1st case reported, in the Bono Region, was a 24-month-old girl from Asiri in Goka, a subdistrict in the Jaman North District. The 2nd case was a 33-month-old girl resident in Sissala line in the Techiman West submunicipality in the Bono East Region, and the 3rd case was a 37-month-old boy from Kwasuso in the Asutifi South District of the Ahafo Region.

Poliomyelitis is highly infectious viral disease that mainly affects young children. The virus is transmitted from person to person, spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or less frequently by a common vehicle (via contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis.

According to the Bono Regional Health Directorate of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), the cases were detected in October and November last year [2019] with the latest one in January 2020.

The Deputy Regional Director of Public Health, Dr. John Ekow Ottoo, who briefed journalists here in Sunyani yesterday [8 Jan 2020], said the 3rd victim, in a critical and paralysed condition, was being treated.

According to Dr. Ottoo, initial symptoms of polio include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting and stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs, saying the disease had no cure but could only be prevented by immunisation.

The Deputy Public Health Director stressed the need for the general improvement of sanitation across the country, noting that the virus was in the system due to poor sanitary condition in the affected areas. He said the GHS had deployed staff and volunteers to the affected areas, including the various borders within the jurisdiction for the immunisation exercises.

Dr. Ottoo urged the public to cooperate with the GHS as the immunisation began on Wednesday [8 Jan 2020].  [Byline: Daniel Dzirasah]
====================
[According to the most recent GPEI (Global Polio Eradication Initiative) update, during 2019, Ghana reported 11 cases of cVDPV2 associated disease, with most recent date of onset recorded as 7 Nov 2019 (see Poliomyelitis update (03): global (WPV1 Afghan., Pak., cVDPV2 Zambia), Pakistan http://promedmail.org/post/20200110.6881006). While it is unclear if all 3 of the cases reported in the above media report are newly confirmed cases, this is the 1st report we've seen of a case with onset in January 2020.

More information on these cases would be greatly appreciated with clarification of the situation in Ghana.

A map of Ghana showing new regions after the referendum:

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Mon 17 Dec 2019
Source: Peace FM Online [edited]

There has been a surge in the number of polio cases across the country [Ghana] since July this year [2019], and this has been an issue of concern for both the Government and other health partners. Government and donor partners, are therefore, making frantic efforts at addressing the issue while the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and its partners have embarked on a number of measures to contain the situation. In some few years back, the country was nearly declared polio-free as it had chalked a lot of success in eradicating the disease, and so the current trend is disturbing phenomenon for most stakeholders in the health sector.

Briefing journalists on the status of the Polio disease in the country, Dr. Franklin Asiedu-Bekoe, Director, Diseases Control, GHS, "said the new virus started as a case from the environment seen in Tamale and later some cases was seen in humans". He said at now there have been 10 cases reported in humans while some viruses from the environment have been isolated.

Dr. Asiedu-Bekoe was speaking on the side-lines of the 2nd Ghana Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Trainings Programme (GFELTP) and Scientific Conference and Competency Graduation held in Accra where 58 health professionals involving Frontline, Intermediate and Advanced level trainees graduated after going through various levels of training.

He said following the Tamale outbreak, "as an intervention, we have had a number of vaccination exercises in several regions and districts. We have vaccinated the whole of Northern Region, Upper East and Greater Accra and we are going to do some vaccination in Oti and Bono Ahafo Regions come next week." He said hopefully, early next year [2020], the GHS would start a nationwide Polio vaccination campaign to cover the whole country, adding that a lot of work was also being done by the health partners to ensure that there was no complications or minimal effects with the current vaccines. "We are using both the oral and injectable polio vaccines in the country currently."

Explaining the seemingly upsurge in Polio cases, Dr. Asiedu-Bekoe said the world has been polio-free for most countries excerpt for Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but until recently, there had been surge of the disease in some African countries including Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, and Togo. "Apparently, there was a gap that has arisen because some children who were supposed to be vaccinated were not. The thinking was that we thought the global immunity was huge enough to protect us against the disease. Unfortunately some of the children were prone, and they are those who have gotten the disease. And that is why we are going to do this nationwide vaccination campaign to protect all the children who were left out from an earlier planned vaccination exercise, so that the protection will be assured".

He said children from 9 months up to 4 years would be covered in the nationwide campaign while those under 5 would be involved in the oral polio vaccine. He explained that Ghana was now doing a multiple-prone approach to address the threat of Polio, which included "ensuring that our vaccination is intact".

There was also the surveillance system, which was being made very sensitive to be able to comb all the communities and health facilities to detect if the disease was present anywhere while the third approach was ensuring a clean environment.

According to Dr. Asiedu-Bekoe, keeping a clean environment was very important as Polio was a faecal-oral disease and so "we need to make sure that our environment is clean so that children will not go and pick the Polio virus from the soil and put them in their mouths.

"So these are the approach we are to use to make sure that the Polio menace does not get out of hands. But we are certain that we will actually be able to get Polio eradicated globally. He gave the assurance that the combined effort of government and other partners like UNICEF, WHO, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Rotary Club were all on board in the fight against Polio.

Mr. Fred Osei Sarpong, Immunisation Focal Person, World Health Organisation, said with Polio cases being reported in Angola, Nigeria, Benin and other neighbouring countries, "Ghana isn't safe. The virus is in the sub-region that is why we have to make sure everyone is protected, that is why we will call on all caregivers to make sure they send their kids for vaccination. Once your child is protected you don't have a cause to worry". He said children without protection were going down with the disease so all parents should avail their children to ensure that they were all vaccinated and protected from the virus that was in circulation.
===================
[First, congratulations to Ghana and the FELTP Groups in Ghana for graduating 58 Health Professionals from their Field Epidemiology Training Program initiatives this year (2019).

According to the most recent Global update from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative / WHO data, there had been 9 cases of cVDPV2 associated disease, with a virus genetically related to the Jigawa Nigeria outbreak (Poliomyelitis update (99): global (WPV & cVDPV), Pakistan (KP), Afghanistan (BL) http://promedmail.org/post/20191212.6837355). The above media report mentions there were 10 cases. No further information was provided. More information from knowledgeable sources would be greatly appreciated including verification of this additional case and demographics including age and geographic location of case, and vaccination history as well as virus type.

HealthMap/ProMED map of Ghana: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/53> - ProMED Mod.MPP]
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World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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