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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: 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".
Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2019 15:12:32 +0200

Vilnius, June 13, 2019 (AFP) - Lithuanian temperatures have hit record June highs, meteorologists said Thursday, as a heatwave forced school closures and threatened to reduce harvests in the draught-hit Baltic region.   Kaisiadorys in central Lithuania was the hottest place at 35.7 degrees Celsius (96.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, the highest-ever temperature recorded for June in the country, weather forecaster Paulius Starkus told AFP.   Six people drowned in the Baltic EU state on Wednesday, the deadliest day of the year to date, while some schools put classes on hold or cut lessons short due to the heatwave.

Scientists say the extreme weather is in part a result of climate change.   "Lithuania used to have heatwaves but now they occur more often and are more intense due to climate change," Vilnius University climatologist Donatas Valiukas told AFP.   Starkus said a downpour with thunder and hail could follow in some areas on Thursday afternoon.   Agriculture Minister Giedrius Surplys told lawmakers that some areas were experiencing "a real climatic draught" threatening harvests, while hydrologists warned that river water levels posed a threat to fish.   Demand for air-conditioning has also soared in recent weeks.   Lithuania's hot weather is expected to last through the week, then temperatures may ease below 30 degrees Celsius starting Monday.   Fellow Baltic state Latvia is also experiencing unusual heat for June, with temperatures over 32 degrees Celsius.

In recent days, Latvia's western region of Kurzeme saw thunderstorms with hail damaging buildings, smashing greenhouses and tearing power lines.   Two people have been hospitalised in the northern Latvian town of Cesis after a tree fell on their camper van while they were inside.    Fellow Baltic state Estonia had a heatwave last week and is now experiencing rainy and windy weather.   Poland has also been experiencing high temperatures this month, which has resulted in increased air-conditioner use. The power transmission system operator PSE said that on Wednesday there was record electricity demand for a summer morning at nearly 24.10 gigawatts (GW).   Forty-two people have already drowned in Poland this month, according to the government security centre RCB.
Date: Sat 30 Mar 2019
Source: PM News Nigeria [abridged, edited]

Measles in Lithuania is up to 310 cases this year [2019] compared to 30 cases for 2018 in total. The number of measles cases is projected to increase further in Lithuania, as people have lost their collective immunity to this highly contagious viral disease, Director of Lithuania's Centre for Communicable Diseases and AIDS (ULAC), Saulius Caplinskas, said on Fri [29 Mar 2019].  "The collective immunity has been lost, as a 95 per cent measles vaccination coverage rate is considered as minimum to prevent an outbreak. There are new suspected cases of measles; blood samples are being examined. I have no doubt that in the nearest future, there will be new cases,'' Caplinskas was quoted as saying by local news website lrt.lt.

Recent data from ULAC shows that the proportion of children vaccinated against measles in the country has decreased from 97 per cent in 2009 to 92.2 per cent in 2018 due to parents' reluctance to vaccinate their kids.  According to ULAC, every year, some 5000 children are not vaccinated in Lithuania. "Measles outbreaks feature certain upswings and descents, yet we will have to live under the threat of measles for a while,'' Caplinskas said.

In total, 310 cases of measles have been registered as of Fri [29 Mar 2019] in Lithuania this year [2019], compared to 30 cases for the whole of 2018, ULAC data showed.  The largest number of cases, 149, was registered in Kaunas, Lithuania's 2nd largest city. In Vilnius, the capital, 39 measles cases have been registered to date. Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus, says the World Health Organization.
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
********************************************
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: 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.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 06:34:10 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - The Australian military will help enforce the quarantine of travellers returning to the country, with the prime minister unveiling strict new measures and door-to-door checks Friday to rein in the spread of COVID-19.   With some two-thirds of Australia's 3,000 COVID-19 cases still linked to overseas travel, Scott Morrison said 14-day home quarantines would now be actively policed with the help of the military.

Thousands of citizens and residents are still arriving in Australia every day and there have been instances of return travellers repeatedly breaking a promise to stay at home.   Morrison said all returnees arriving after midnight Saturday would now be kept in hotels in the city of arrival for the duration of their quarantine.   Those already on Australian soil and under orders to self-quarantine for two weeks will face active checks, he said.

Quarantine measures will be getting "a lot tougher and a lot stricter," Morrison said, adding the Australian Defence Force would "assist in the compliance with these arrangements."   Police in New South Wales this week said they found a 65-year-old woman breaking quarantine twice after returning from Bali. She was slapped with two $1,000 (US$610) fines.

Australia has struggled in particular to deal with returning cruise ship passengers.   Around 200 of the 2,700 passengers who were allowed to disembark one ship in central Sydney without testing have subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. The presence of three other cruise ships off the coast of Western Australia has sparked an intense debate about whether they should be allowed to dock.

Tens of thousands of Australians are still believed to be overseas and Morrison said it would become harder for them to come home.   He indicated efforts would be made to return some trapped in locations like Peru, but those who departed after the government advised against all foreign travel may be on their own.
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2020 00:52:08 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, March 18, 2020 (AFP) - Australia's biggest airline Qantas said Thursday it would halt all international flights and suspend 20,000 staff in response to the coronavirus pandemic, days after the island nation's other main carrier Virgin shut its overseas routes.   Qantas said all of its international flights would be suspended by late March for at least two months after the government told citizens Wednesday to forego all overseas travel in a bid to halt the spread of novel coronavirus.

"The efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus have led to a huge drop in travel demand, the likes of which we have never seen before," Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said, adding that the airline would suspend 20,000 of its 30,000 staff during the shutdown.   The move also affected Qantas' budget offshoot, Jetstar. A number of foreign airlines also service Australian routes.   Qantas announced earlier this week a 90 percent cut in overseas flights while Virgin Australia grounded its entire international fleet.   Qantas is maintaining 60 percent of its domestic flights and Virgin Australia 50 percent.

Australia has reported more than 700 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with the increase in infections accelerating daily. There have been six deaths.   Officials say the majority of new cases involve people arriving from overseas or those who have been in contact with them.   On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an unprecedented decision to advise all Australians to forego foreign travel.   He has also ordered a halt to all cruise ship activity into and out of the country, banned outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people and indoor groups of more than 100.   But he stopped short of ordering the kind of lockdown seen in some pandemic hotspots or closing the nation's schools.

Meanwhile, the island state of Tasmania announced Thursday than any non-essential travellers arriving in the island from Saturday would have to self-quarantine for 14 days.   The move, the first by any Australian state to restrict domestic travel, excludes health workers and essential personnel dealing with trade.   Tasmania, off Australia's southern coast, has a population of around 500,000 and has reported just 10 cases of coronavirus.
Date: Tue, 17 Mar 2020 23:30:07 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, March 17, 2020 (AFP) - Australia told its citizens Wednesday to halt all overseas travel in an unprecedented move designed to choke off the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.   Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced what he called an "indefinite ban" on foreign travel at a press conference, saying, "If we slow the spread, we do save lives."   "Do not go overseas. That is very clear, that instruction," he said.
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 08:13:16 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Feb 13, 2020 (AFP) - Australia on Thursday announced a ban on travellers from China would extend for at least a week beyond Saturday's planned deadline, as the death toll from the coronavirus soared.    Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would maintain "entry restriction on foreign nationals who have recently been in mainland China" for further week "to protect Australians from the risk of coronavirus".   A decision to extend the ban further will be taken week-to-week, he said.   The decision is a blow to Australian tourism operators who have seen business from Chinese visitors dry up, as well as for tens of thousands of Chinese students hoping to return to Australia for the new academic year.

China's official death toll and infection numbers from a new coronavirus spiked dramatically on Thursday after authorities changed their counting methods, fuelling concern the epidemic is far worse than being reported.   The virus has now officially killed more than 1,350 people in China and the World Health Organisation has warned the disease has not yet peaked.   "I just want to assure all Australians, that we are doing everything we can to keep Australians safe at this time, and to ensure that we are mitigating everything that is possible to address any of the threats," Morrison said.
More ...

Malaysia

General
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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
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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.
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Montserrat

Montserrat US Consular Information Sheet
June 04, 2007
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Montserrat is a British overseas territory and part of the British West Indies.
The island rises in a series of mountain slopes to a high point of over 3,000 feet
t the Soufriere Volcano in the exclusion zone.
Montserrat is a highly active volcanic island.
The Government of Montserrat has issued several recent proclamations and warnings urging residents and visitors to be vigilant and to be prepared to move at short notice.
For further information, see "Special Circumstances" in this Information Sheet.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Proof of citizenship and identity, in addition to an onward/return ticket and sufficient funds to cover the expected stay, are required for entry into Montserrat.
However, U.S. citizens are now required to present a valid passport to travel by air between the United States and the Caribbean.
As early as January 1, 2008, a valid passport will also be required for travelers by sea.There is a departure tax payable upon leaving Montserrat.

See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Montserrat and other countries.
For further information, travelers may contact the British Embassy, 19 Observatory Circle N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008; telephone (202) 588-7800; or the nearest consulate of the United Kingdom in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Seattle, or San Francisco.
Visit the British Embassy's web site at http://www.britainusa.com/ for the most current visa information.

See Entry and Exit Requirements for more information pertaining to dual nationality and international child abduction.
Please refer to our Customs Information to learn more about customs regulations.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found.

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

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

CRIME: The crime rate in Montserrat is low.
However, travelers should take normal, common sense precautions.
Travelers should avoid carrying large amounts of cash and displaying expensive jewelry.
Travelers should also use hotel safety deposit facilities to safeguard valuables and travel documents.

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: St. John’s Hospital, Montserrat’s main hospital, can handle most routine and surgical emergencies.
However, there is no hyperbaric chamber in Montserrat.
Doctors in private practice are also available.
Arrangements can be made quickly to transfer more serious problems off island by helicopter to Antigua or Guadeloupe.

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 internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

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

In Montserrat, vehicles are operated on the left-hand side of the road.
There is no organized government roadside assistance, but local residents are often willing to aid those with car trouble.
Roads are narrow, winding and steep.
For specific information concerning Montserrat driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Montserrat Tourist Board in Montserrat at tel. 1 (664) 491-2230 or 491-8730.
You may also email them at info@montserrattourism.ms.
The web address for the Tourist Board is http://www.visitmontserrat.com/.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Ongoing volcanic activity from the Soufriere Hills Volcano has led to the evacuation and relocation of residents from the southern half of the island’s so called ‘exclusion zone' since 1995.
Additional evacuations occurred as recently as early 2007, when volcanic activity increased.
Because the volcano is still active and dangerous, access to the southern part of the island and a surrounding maritime exclusion zone is restricted.
Persons entering restricted areas without authorization are subject to fine and/or imprisonment.

In early 2007, Montserrat government authorities warned residents and visitors of volcanic activity and an increase of pyroclastic flows in Tyres Ghaut, Gages Valley and behind Gages Mountain.
Authorities also evacuated people living in the potential impact areas in and near the Belham Valley - Isles Bay Hill, Old Towne (south of Loblolly Lane), Isles Bay Plantation, lower Happy Hill, Water Works junction and Water Works Estate - due to the volcano’s activity.

When in Montserrat, citizens are advised to monitor Radio Montserrat (Radio ZJB) for the latest official guidance.
In addition to the hazards posed by the Soufriere Hills Volcano as outlined above, Montserrat can be affected by hurricanes.
The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

The official Montserrat Volcano Observatory website, http://mvo.ms/, is helpful for updates on volcanic activity.
Updates on volcano activity can also be found on the website of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency at http://www.cdera.org/.
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 offences.
Persons violating Montserrat's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Montserrat 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 on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Montserrat are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Montserrat.
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 in the Wildey Business Park, Wildey, St. Michael, telephone 1-246-436-4950, web site http://bridgetown.usembassy.gov.

Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, except Barbados and U.S. holidays.
Assistance may also be provided by the U.S. Consular Agency in Antigua, located at Suite #2, Jasmine Court, Friars Hill Rd, St. John’s, Antigua.
Contact information is as follows: telephone 1-268-463-6531, cellular 1-268-726-6531, or e-mail ANUWndrGyal@aol.com.
The mailing address is P.O. Box W-1562, St. John’s, Antigua.
The Consular Agent is available by appointment only.
The office is closed for local and U.S. Holidays.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated January 9, 2007, to update the Entry/Exit Requirements, Aviation Safety Oversight and Embassy Location sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 13 Feb 2010 21:42:24 +0100 (MET)
by Colin James

ST JOHN'S, Feb 13, 2010 (AFP) - Resilient residents of the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat Saturday shrugged off clouds of ash spewing out of a volcano, and donned masks to go about their daily business.   "It is makes you sneeze a lot," Gregory Willock, the president of the Montserrat Cricket Association, told AFP in the nearby island of Antigua by telephone.

Life has continued as normal since the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted Thursday, throwing up a plume of smoke and volcanic ash 10 kilometers (six miles) into the air, he said.   "All I know is it can create problems for people who have sinus" problems, Willock added, saying many residents had taken to wearing masks while schools and government offices have been operating as normal.   Thursday's eruption came almost 15 years after the volcano, which had lain dormant throughout recorded history, first rumbled into life in July 1995.

The 1995 eruption threw up a huge plume of ash and molten lava into the sky, which in coming weeks rained down on the British overseas territory.   The island's capital city Plymouth was buried in ash and volcanic debris in a further massive eruption a month later and destroyed. Two-thirds of the island's population were forced to flee abroad.   This time islanders are praying for rain to clear away the blanket of dust, which has even stopped the cricket team practicing.   "We cannot practice because Salem Park is not accessible. We need rain to get rid of ash on the ground," Willcock said Saturday.

Another resident, who asked not to be named, said his only complaint so far had to do with his medical condition. He's asthmatic.   "It has not worried me but because of my complaint I'm being ultra-careful. I'm talking to you with a mask over my mouth," he told AFP.   "However, life goes on beautifully. It is just like normal life. We are a resilient people," he said.   Many flights around the Caribbean remained cancelled Saturday due to clouds of ash spewed up into the skies.   "The continued ash hanging in the atmosphere presents a risk to planes and to the security of passengers," the police in the nearby island of Guadeloupe said in a statement.

The airport in Guadeloupe, which lies just 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Montserrat, would remain closed until Sunday, it said.   "The dispersion of these ashes will depend on today's weather conditions," it added in a statement, after fire engines were deployed late Friday to try clear the airport's runways of a thick layer of ash.   Some 300 people were stranded on Guadeloupe waiting to leave, the director of the islands' tourism office Thierry Gargar told AFP. He added they were all being accommodated in hotels on the islands.

Flights to other Caribbean tourist hotspots including Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Maarten also remained disrupted.   The ash has also forced LIAT, the region's biggest airline, to temporarily suspend flights in and out of the V.C. Bird International airport in nearby Antigua, although flights resumed Saturday to Dominica.

Montserrat, settled by English and Irish colonizers in 1632, has been dubbed "The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean" for its lush vegetation. It has been trying to rebuild its tourism industry since the 1995 eruption.   The buried capital Plymouth, which has been compared to a modern-day Pompeii, now lies in an exclusion zone, but can be visited with organized tours.
Date: Sat, 13 Feb 2010 03:16:13 +0100 (MET)

ST. JOHN'S, Feb 12, 2010 (AFP) - Ash from a volcanic eruption on the Caribbean island of Montserrat hung in the air around Antigua and Barbuda Friday, causing difficult driving conditions and forcing flight suspensions.   Montserrat's Soufriere Hills volcano erupted Thursday, sending a plume of ash 10 kilometers (six miles) high into the sky, the Montserrat Volcano Observatory said.

The ash forced LIAT, the region's biggest airline, to temporarily suspend flights in and out of Antigua's V.C. Bird International airport.   The airline said in a statement late Friday it had resumed flights to and from Antigua, but added that the "continued presence of airborne ash clouds over Dominica and Guadeloupe has forced LIAT to suspend all remaining flights to both destinations."   Flights to other Caribbean islands including Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Maarten were also disrupted on Thursday.

Montserrat is about 35 kilometers south of Antigua and Barbuda, but residents on the southern side of Antigua said heavy ash had fallen on their homes and made driving conditions difficult at times.   Yvonne McMillan, a resident of the southern village of Jennings, told an Antiguan radio station that "it was pretty rough" on Friday morning.   "Visibility was extremely poor. Coming off a hill you don't see what's below. I had to switch (my lights) to low beam all the time because high beam confused me even more," she said.   Meteorological officials described the ash fall as "quite bad."   Senior forecaster Lorne Salmon said cooling meant the air had become heavier, sinking into valley and low-lying areas.   "When this happens a lot of the ash becomes more concentrated," she said.
Date: Fri, 12 Feb 2010 16:08:48 +0100 (MET)

POINTE-A-PITRE, Guadeloupe, Feb 12, 2010 (AFP) - Ash from a volcano that has erupted on the Caribbean island of Montserrat has spread to neighbouring islands, forcing authorities to close schools in the French territory of Guadeloupe.

The Soufriere Hills volcano on Montserrat erupted on Thursday sending ash 10 kilometers (six miles) high into the sky, according to French weather experts, and forcing other islands to take precautions.   Montserrat is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Guadeloupe.   Point-a-Pitre airport on Guadeloupe was closed straight away and French state representative Jean Fabre ordered schools to close on Friday. He said there was a risk of eye irritation and breathing problems.

Buildings and cars were covered in a layer of grey ash on Friday while flights to Guadeloupe were still diverted to Martinique about 250 kilometers (160 miles) to the south.   The Soufriere volcano has been active since 1995 when a major eruption buried half of Montserrat's capital, Plymouth. Two thirds of the island's 12,000 people have since left.
January 10, 2007 This Public Announcement is being issued to alert American citizens of increasing volcanic activity on the island of Montserrat, and to provide new information from the Government of Montserrat regarding sections of the island that are prohibited to visitors. Travelers are strongly advised to thoroughly consider the risks of travel to Montserrat, and to take adequate precautions to ensure their safety if they do travel. This Public Announcement expires April 9, 2007. U.S. citizens traveling to and residing in Montserrat should be aware that renewed volcanic activity at the Soufriere Hills Volcano has led to evacuations from certain areas of the island. The Government of Montserrat has identified unsafe restricted areas, which include the south and eastern parts of Montserrat adjacent to the active volcano. Remaining or attempting to enter these zones is prohibited by the Government of Montserrat. All Americans currently living or traveling in Montserrat are advised to make arrangements to depart on short notice if requested to do so by the Government of Montserrat. U.S. citizens in affected regions should immediately head to safe ground and/or identify shelter, monitor local media reports, and follow the instructions of local emergency officials. Visitors should be familiar with their hotel evacuation plans. U.S. citizens should carry their travel documents (i.e. U.S. Passport, Birth Certificate, picture IDs, etc.) with them at all times or secure them in a safe location. Additionally, all American citizens in the area are reminded to stay in contact with friends and family in the United States to keep them apprised of their current whereabouts. Lastly, residents and travelers can obtain official guidance and information by monitoring Radio Montserrat (Radio ZJB) or by checking the status of the volcano's activity at the Global Volcanism Program's website located at http://www.volcano.si.edu/reports/usgs. Americans living or traveling in Montserrat are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy Bridgetown, Barbados, through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov. 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. For additional information on Montserrat, please consult the Department of State's latest Consular Information Sheet for Montserrat at http://travel.state.gov. American citizens may also obtain up-to-date information on the situation in Montserrat by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States or Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from overseas. The duty officer at the U.S. Embassy Bridgetown, Barbados, can be reached at 246-823-2675.
5 February 2003 The vast majority of visits to Montserrat are trouble free. However, because of ongoing volcanic activity, entry into the southern part of the island and the southern coastal waters is prohibited. Life and commercial activity, including tourism continue as normal in the central and northern regions. There is no history of terrorism in the territory. Though the crime rate is very low you should take sensible precautions against petty crime, including tourism continue as normal in the central and northern regions. To view the article in full, visit the page below: http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029390590&a=KCountryAdvice&aid=1013618386244
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Ireland

Ireland US Consular Information Sheet
December 2, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Ireland is a highly developed democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Irela
d for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport is necessary, but a visa is not required for tourist or business stays of up to three months.
Visit the Embassy of Ireland web site (www.irelandemb.org/) for the most current visa information, or contact the Embassy at 2234 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
20008, tel: 1-202-462-3939, or the nearest Irish consulate in Boston, Chicago, New York or San Francisco.

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:
Ireland remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
While the 1998 ceasefire in Northern Ireland is holding, there have been incidents of violence in Northern Ireland associated with paramilitary organizations.
These have the potential for some spillover into Ireland.
Travelers to Northern Ireland should consult the Country Specific Information sheet for the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.

Several Americans have reported incidents of verbal abuse, apparently in reaction to U.S. policy on the war on terrorism.
As elsewhere in Europe, there have been public protests, which for the most part were small, peaceful and well policed.
Americans are advised, nonetheless, to avoid public demonstrations in general and to monitor local media when protests occur.
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 United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Ireland has a low rate of violent crime.
There have been a limited number of incidents in which foreigners and tourists have been victims of assault, including instances of violence toward those who appear to be members of racial minority groups.
In addition, there have been several reported assaults in Dublin by small, unorganized gangs roaming the streets in the early morning hours after the pubs close.
There is a high incidence of petty crime – mostly theft, burglary and purse snatching – in major tourist areas.
Thieves target rental cars and tourists, particularly in the vicinity of tourist attractions, and some purse and bag snatching incidents in these areas have turned violent, especially in Dublin.
Travelers should take extra caution to safeguard passports and wallets from pickpockets and bag snatchers.

Crimes involving credit and debit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) are also a concern.
Travelers should protect their PIN numbers at all times and avoid using ATM machines that appear to have been tampered with.
There has been an increase in Ireland of the use of “skimmers” on ATM machines, especially in tourist areas.
Skimmers are usually small electronic devices that are attached to the outside of an ATM machine in order to “skim” the ATM or credit card data for later criminal use.
Most ATMs in Ireland now have electronic warnings about their use and advise customers to look closely at the ATM before using it.


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 in Ireland, in addition to reporting to local police (Gardai), please contact the U.S. Embassy in Dublin for assistance.
The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and learning how funds can be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are 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 Irish Tourist Assistance Service (ITAS) is a free nationwide service offering support and assistance to tourists who are victimized while visiting Ireland. If you are a tourist victim of crime, report the incident to the nearest Garda Station (police station), which will contact ITAS.
All tourist victims of crime are referred to ITAS by the Gardai. To learn about possible compensation in the United States if you are a victim of a violent crime while overseas, see our information on Victims of Crime
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Ireland is 999 or 122.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Modern medical facilities and highly skilled medical practitioners are available in Ireland.
Because of high demand, however, access to medical specialists can be difficult and admissions to hospitals for certain non-life-threatening medical conditions may require spending significant periods of time on waiting lists.
Those traveling to or intending to reside in Ireland who may require medical treatment while in the country should consult with their personal physicians prior to traveling.
Over-the-counter medication is widely available.
Irish pharmacists may not be able to dispense medication prescribed by your U.S. physician and may direct you to obtain a prescription from an Irish doctor before providing you with your required medication.
A list of Irish general practitioners in each area of Ireland may be obtained from the web site of the Irish College of General Practitioners at http://www.icgp.ie/go/find_a_gp. Emergency services usually respond quickly.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Ireland.

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’s) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE: The Irish Department of Agriculture and Food advises all incoming passengers to Ireland that the current foot and mouth situation in Great Britain represents a high risk of the spread of disease to Ireland.
If you are traveling from Great Britain to Ireland and have visited a farm with cattle, sheep, goats or pigs on your travels, you must report to the Irish Department of Agriculture and Food office at the port of entry.
Fresh meat or unpasteurized milk products purchased in Great Britain may not be brought into Ireland.
If you are carrying any of these products, they must be disposed of in the bins provided at the port of entry.
For further information, please visit the Irish Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at www.agriculture.gov.ie.
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 following information concerning Ireland is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
As driving is on the left side of the road in Ireland, motorists without experience in left-drive countries should be especially cautious.
Tourists driving on the wrong side of the road are the cause of several serious accidents each year.
Turning on red is not legal in Ireland.
The vast majority of rental cars are manual transmission; it can be difficult to find automatic transmission rental cars.
Road conditions are generally good, but once travelers are off main highways, country roads quickly become narrow, uneven and winding.
Roads are more dangerous during the summer and on holiday weekends due to an increase in traffic. As in the United States, police periodically set up road blocks to check for drunk drivers.
Penalties for driving under the influence can be severe.
More information on driving in Ireland can be found on the U.S. Embassy in Dublin‘s web site at http://dublin.usembassy.gov/service/other-citizen-services/other-citizen-services/driving.html.

For specific information concerning Irish driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please visit the official tourism guide for Ireland at http://www.tourismireland.com.

Taxis are reasonably priced but availability varies with time of day and where you are in the country.
Bus service in the cities is generally adequate, although many buses are overcrowded and frequently late.
Intercity bus and train services are reasonably good.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Ireland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Ireland’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Most Irish banks will not accept U.S. $100 bills.
ATMs are widely available, but some, particularly in rural areas, may not accept cards from U.S. banks.
Credit cards are widely accepted throughout Ireland.
A number of travelers have been told by their airline that their passport must remain valid for six months after their entry into Ireland.
The Government of Ireland has advised that this is a recommendation of the airline industry and is not an Irish legal requirement. Travelers must be in possession of a valid passport to travel.
Please see 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 Ireland’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ireland 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 Ireland 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 Ireland.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the Embassy in Dublin.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 42 Elgin Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.
The Embassy can be reached via phone at 353-1-668-8777, after hours number 353-1-668-9612, fax 353-1-668-8056, and online at http://dublin.usembassy.gov
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Ireland dated May 12, 2008, and updates sections on Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 22:49:49 +0100 (MET)

Dublin, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland is to impose a lockdown in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday.   "Everybody must stay at home, in all circumstances," he said of the new measures to come into force at midnight (0000 GMT) on Saturday and last until 12 April.   Exceptions will be made for essential workers, medical appointments and the purchase of food.   Travel for "vital family reasons", for farming and exercise within two kilometres (one mile) of homes will also be allowed.

All public or private gatherings "of any number of people" outside a single household are also prohibited.   "These are radical actions aimed at saving as many people's lives as possible," said Varadkar at a press conference.   "I'm asking us for a time to forego our personal liberties and freedoms for a greater cause."   There have been 22 COVID-19 related deaths and 2,121 confirmed cases of the virus in Ireland, according to department of health figures released earlier Friday.   Earlier this month the Irish government ordered schools, universities and pubs to close nationwide.   Swathes of non-essential businesses were also ordered shut earlier this week as Ireland braced for an uptick of COVID-19 cases within its borders.

Emergency coronavirus legislation passed through the final stages of Irish parliament and was signed into law by president Michael D. Higgins earlier Friday.   The bill enacts a rent freeze and a moratorium on evictions for the duration of the crisis.   It also streamlines the registration of healthcare and defence forces staff returning to the workforce, and enables the Irish government's financial supports to those laid off as a result of COVID-19 business closures.   "The legislation is emergency legislation for a time of crisis," said Higgins in a statement.   "These are difficult times, but our difficulties will come to an end."
Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2020 18:14:49 +0100 (MET)

Dublin, March 24, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland's prime minister Leo Varadkar on Tuesday announced that all non-essential businesses will shut from midnight  as part of the country's latest measures to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.   "These are unprecedented actions to respond to an unprecedented emergency," he said, adding the measures would remain in place until at least April 19.   "All non-essential retail outlets are to close to members of the public, and all other retail outlets are to implement physical distancing," Varadkar added.

Theatres, clubs, gyms, leisure centres, hairdressers, markets, casinos, bingo halls and "similar outlets" are to shut under the sweeping orders.   Restaurants and cafes will be shut to the public but allowed to operate delivery or takeaway services.   All indoor or outdoor organised events are to be cancelled and hotels must limit occupancy to "essential non-social and non-tourist reasons".   Scheduled cruise ship travel to the Republic has also been ordered to cease.

Varadkar said the order will not necessarily close factories or construction sites but that authorities would be available to help enact "physical distancing" where possible.   He also said there would be an "increased presence" of police in public places to ensure compliance with physical distancing guidelines designed to stem the spread of the virus.   Schools, universities, childcare facilities and pubs across Ireland were already shut by the government earlier this month, and will remain closed until 19 April also.

A set of financial supports for those unable to work owing to coronavirus or made unemployed by the fallout was also announced Tuesday.   The "unprecedented" measures are estimated to cost 3.7 billion euros ($4 billion) over a 12-week period.   "We're in this for the long haul, and this could go on for weeks, perhaps even months," Varadkar said.   "No matter what happens, we'll always put your life and your health ahead of any other concern.   "All of our resources are being deployed in this great national effort."

Ireland has so far suffered six deaths from COVID-19 with 1,125 confirmed cases nationwide, according to department of health figures released Monday.   Varadkar has previously predicted there will be some 15,000 cases by the end of March and that the crisis could last until the summer months.
Date: Tue, 17 Mar 2020 14:23:11 +0100 (MET)
By Joe STENSON

Dublin, March 17, 2020 (AFP) - Pubs were shuttered and pints left unpoured on St. Patrick's Day in Dublin Tuesday, as the Irish capital swapped its annual riot of celebration for "social distancing" designed to stem the spread of coronavirus.   The cobbled streets of Temple Bar -- usually the epicentre of celebrations -- were deserted.   "This place would be just swarming with people, the whole town would be," said Dubliner Anthony Whyte.  "It's like a ghost town. It's like armageddon," the 49-year-old told AFP.

Last week, Ireland's government cancelled St Patrick's parades nationwide, asked pubs to close and curbed gatherings of more than 100 individuals until March 29.   "Social distancing" -- remaining apart from others in public -- has also been strongly advised.   "On a day like St. Patrick's Day, you can really feel it," said Justin Sinnott, 44, strolling through abandoned streets with his young son on his shoulders.   Two people have died from coronavirus in Ireland, which has 223 confirmed cases so far.   Prime minister Leo Varadkar said he expected 15,000 cases in the country by the end of March.

- Lost jobs -
In central Dublin, St Patrick's Day decorations featuring brimming pints of Guinness, leprechauns and pots of gold found no customers to tempt.   In one open corner shop, staff wore face masks.   "Coronavirus/COVID-19 -- we are closed. Government + HSE (health service) advice," read a handwritten sign on one of the area's most popular drinking spots.   While most Irish citizens have lost a night on the town, others have felt the blow more dearly.

State broadcaster RTE estimated 140,000 hospitality and childcare workers have been laid off over government coronavirus measures.   "We're preparing for the worst," said tourism transport worker John Gately, cycling through central Dublin wearing protective blue rubber gloves.   The 30-year-old has not yet joined those laid off as a result of the coronavirus.   "It's a case of just battening down the hatches and trying to recover," he said. "This is totally unprecedented in my lifetime.   "I'm kind of fascinated and terrified at the same time -- it's like being in a horror movie and we're just waiting to see what happens next week."

- Tourist attraction -
Last year an estimated 500,000 people attended Dublin's St Patrick's festival. Irish media reported around 100,000 attendees were overseas visitors.   But with pubs closed and various foreign governments banning flights from European nations, many tourists had already begun to filter home.   Some US travellers had brought forward their flights home before Washington's travel ban on European countries was extended to include Ireland and the UK from 0400 GMT Tuesday.   "It just escalated so quickly in the last several days," Travis Mino told AFP at Dublin Airport as he prepared to board a flight to Washington.

Others were determined to soldier on with efforts to celebrate Ireland's patron saint on Tuesday.   "Strange times," said cheerful Russian tourist Aleksei Vishtibeev, sporting a shamrock green novelty leprechaun hat and a fake ginger beard.   "No parade, no holiday. But a holiday is in the head and in the heart, not only in the street."   "I'm ready and going on my single parade," the 45-year old said before setting off on a solo route around the eerie streets of the capital.
Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2020 13:45:26 +0100 (MET)

Dublin, March 12, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland on Thursday announced the closure of all schools and colleges, and recommended the cancellation of mass gatherings as part of measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus.   Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said "schools, colleges and childcare facilities will close from tomorrow (Friday)", as would state-run cultural institutions.   Indoor events of more than 100 people and those outdoor involving over 500 "should be cancelled", Varadkar said in a statement in Washington, where he was on an official visit.

Ireland has 43 confirmed cases of the disease and on Wednesday announced the country's first death.    Varadkar said more cases and deaths were expected as the world moved into "uncharted territory".   The premier said the new measures were part of the government's "duty to protect" the public and the restrictions would be in place until March 29.   He said people could still go to work, as public transport was not affected, but recommended home-working, staggered working and break times wherever possible, to minimise contact.

The new guidance follows a meeting between the prime minister and the government's National Public Health Emergency Team on Wednesday night.    In Dublin, foreign minister Simon Coveney told a news conference: "This is a phase that we have been planning for some time."   He called them "the right measures, at the right time" that were based on best public health advice.   He added: "In order to pull together as a country now we are asking Irish people to stay apart."

Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said there had been a "significant increase" in the number of cases detected in recent days, and urged people to be socially distant.   Varadkar travelled to Washington for St Patrick's Day celebrations on March 17 for Ireland's patron saint.   The annual parades in Ireland, which attract hundreds of thousands of people, have been cancelled because of fears about the spread of COVID-19.   Similar parades in Boston and New York have also been called off.
Date: Mon, 9 Mar 2020 21:07:55 +0100 (MET)

Dublin, March 9, 2020 (AFP) - The Irish government on Monday cancelled this year's St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin and around the country on medical advice because of the coronavirus outbreak.    The annual parade celebrating the country's patron saint regularly attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the Irish capital and was to have been held on March 17.

Last year an estimated 500,000 people attended the event. Irish media reported around 100,000 attendees were overseas visitors.   But the government moved to cancel the festivities because of fears over the spread of COVID-19.   Ireland currently has 24 confirmed cases according to department of health figures released Monday night.   "On the advice of NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team) today (Monday), the Saint Patrick's day festival across the country has been cancelled," said Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.    "This is nationwide, not just in Dublin," he told a news conference.

The government said in a separate statement the decision was based "on the unique nature and scale" of the festivities, as well as continued transmission of the virus.   "The situation in relation to other events and mass gatherings remains under review," it added.   "There's a lot about this virus that we don't yet know, but it is possible that we're facing events that are unprecedented in modern times," warned Varadkar at the press conference.    "We have no treatments, no vaccine, and no immunity, so this is as much going to be a society response... as it is going to be a medical response."

Earlier, Ireland's second city, Cork, announced the cancellation of its St Patrick's Day Parade after conducting a risk assessment based on World Health Organization recommendations.   Cork City Council said it was "not in a position to provide the necessary assurances in relation to current WHO guidelines".   St Patrick's Day parades were previously cancelled in 2001 during an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Ireland's Six Nations rugby union fixture with France in Paris was postponed earlier on Monday, after the French government banned all public gatherings of more than 1,000 people.   Another scheduled fixture in the tournament between Ireland and Italy in Dublin was cancelled last month on public health grounds.   Irish budget airline Ryanair meanwhile announced the suspension of internal flights to and from virus-hit areas of northern Italy and a reduction in international flights to the zone.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 08:29:09 +0200 (METDST)

Hanga Roa, Chile, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Inhabitants of Easter Island are leaning on a traditional form of ancestral discipline to overcome a coronavirus-imposed lockdown that threatens the Pacific island's vital tourism sector, and consequently their livelihoods.   Situated 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) off the coast of Chile, the island of 7,750 people is renowned for its giant humanoid monoliths called moais that were sculpted from basalt more than 1,000 years ago.

So far, there have been just two confirmed coronavirus cases on Easter Island, with two or three more under observation. But the local population can ill afford the outbreak to spread with just one hospital and three ventilators on the island.   Faced with this crisis, the locals have turned to the Tapu, an ancient tradition based on taking care of oneself that has been passed down through generations of the native Rapa Nui people.   "To accompany this self-care concept, we're applying the Rapa Nui tradition, an ancestral rule based on sustainability and respect," said the island's mayor Pedro Edmunds.   "It's called Tapu. You can hear about this concept in all the Polynesian islands."

Tapu is a complex concept related to secrecy, rules and prohibitions from which the English word "taboo" derives.   "If you say the word Tapu to a Polynesian, they will immediately tell you why we have to do Tapu. That's precisely because they know and understand what it signifies," said Edmunds.   It means that the island's lockdown has been diligently respected, leading to the virus being prevented from spreading far and wide.   "We've applied the Tapu concept for all Rapa Nui and the acceptance has been incredible," said Edmunds.   "The virus is contained in two families in the same area, so we know where they are, who they are, and they've been respecting the (isolation) protocols since the beginning," Edmunds told AFP.

- Tourism impact -
But now, there are greater worries about the pandemic's impact on tourism.   On average, 100,000 people visit the volcanic Polynesian island each year, mostly attracted by the mysterious moais.   The local government was quick to react to the spreading pandemic in Latin America, closing the island's borders on March 11 -- a week before Chile's government in Santiago did likewise -- with the apparition of its first positive case.   Throughout Chile, there have now been more than 3,000 cases with 16 deaths.   A week ago, Easter Island was put under total lockdown with a nighttime curfew from 2:00 pm to 5:00 am. On Tuesday, these were extended for a further two weeks.

- Plan B planting -
With streets, beaches and parks deserted, the indigenous inhabitants have turned to the knowledge passed down through generations to deal with the crisis.   Some indigenous Rapa Nui inhabitants have already adapted to their new circumstances and started to cultivate their land, like their ancestors did, said Sabrina Tuki, who has worked in tourism for 20 years.   "Our family and many families are already applying a Plan B and we've already started planting," said Tuki, whose regular work has completely ground to a halt.

Everyone is worried about the coming months. Edmunds says the island's inhabitants can last for a month with the borders closed.   But at the end of April, 3,000 people "will be seen begging in the streets for food from some local or national authority, because they won't be able to eat," said Edmunds.   It won't be the Rapa Nui, though, according to Edmunds, because the community has begun to rally together behind its concept of Tapu.   But the island's other inhabitants, who make up around half the population and mostly work in the service industry, will be in trouble.

- Taken by surprise -
The mayor doesn't expect the recovery to come until August, when tourists would return to the islands.   When it does restart, he's expecting a reduced capacity compared to the two flights a week the island was welcoming until three weeks ago.   Only one airline, Latam, operated the five-hour flights from the continent, but like many airlines its business has been hard hit by the virus.   "We're all affected; the whole chain, from the biggest agency to the craftsman," said Samuel Atan, a hiking guide who says the crisis caught everyone unawares.

The pandemic has highlighted the fragility of such a remote location. Without state subsidies, many could not survive, Edmunds says.   The challenge for the future will be to improve infrastructure and "re-enchant people to come back," said Tuki.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 04:05:11 +0200 (METDST)

New York, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - New York mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday urged all of the city's residents to cover their faces when outside and near others to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.   "Let's be clear. This is a face covering. It could be a scarf. It could be something you create yourself at home. It could be a bandana," de Blasio told reporters.   "It doesn't need to be a professional surgical mask. In fact, we don't want you to use the kind of masks that our first responders need, that our health care workers need. Don't use those," he added.   New York is the epicenter of America's deadly COVID-19 outbreak.   The city has recorded almost 50,000 confirmed cases, including 1,562 deaths, according to the mayor's office.   As of Thursday evening, the United States had a total of more than 243,000 declared cases and over 5,900 fatalities, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

President Donald Trump told reporters at his daily White House briefing on the coronavirus that he was not considering making it mandatory for all Americans to cover their faces.   "For example on the masks, if people wanted to wear them they can. If people wanted to use scarves, which many people have them, they can.   "In many cases, scarves are better. It's thicker. Depending on the material, it's thicker," he said.   Vice President Mike Pence added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would release official guidelines on masks in the coming days.   But Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator at the White House, said it is important people do not think masks replace social distancing or hand-washing.     "We don't want people to get an artificial sense of protection," she said. "They're an additive."

California Governor Gavin Newsom made similar recommendations as de Blasio on Thursday, but stressed that masks were "not a substitute" for social distancing.   "Individuals (who) want to have face coverings... that is a good thing and a preferable thing, in addition to the physical distancing and the stay-at-home order," he said.   More than three-quarters of Americans are currently living under various forms of lockdown, including New Yorkers who have been told not to leave their residences unless absolutely necessary.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 02:16:41 +0200 (METDST)

Lima, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra announced on Thursday a new measure restricting public movement by gender, as the country tries to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.   Men will only be allowed to leave their homes on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, while women are authorized to step outdoors on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.   No one is allowed out on Sundays.   "We have 10 days left, let's make this extra effort to control this disease," said Vizcarra.   He said the restrictions would apply until April 12, the original end date to a lockdown he imposed on March 16.   Panama announced a similar measure on Monday that went into effect two days later and will last for 15 days.

By Thursday, Peru had recorded just over 1,400 coronavirus cases and 55 deaths.   Vizcarra said the new measure aims to reduce by half the number of people circulating in public at any one time.   "The (existing) control measures have given good results, but not what was hoped for," said Vizcarra.   These restrictions will not apply to people employed in essential services, such as grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and hospitals.   Vizcarra added that security forces tasked with patrolling the streets have been told to be respectful toward the gender identities of homosexual and transgender people.   "The armed forces and police have been instructed not to have homophobic attitudes," said the president.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 00:55:21 +0200 (METDST)
By Samir TOUNSI

Kinshasa, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Lack of resources, a muddle over confinement and incipient panic are hobbling the response to coronavirus in DR Congo, fuelling fears especially for Kinshasa, one of Africa's largest and most chaotic cities.

Almost all of the infections in the vast central African nation have occurred in the capital, along with a handful in the east -- a deeply-troubled region hit by Ebola and militia attacks.   "The coming week will be the most difficult for Kinshasa. The numbers will quickly double or triple," Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who is leading DRC's fight against the pandemic, warned in an interview with Jeune Afrique magazine.   According to official figures released late Wednesday, there have been 123 confirmed cases, 11 of them deaths, in a nation of some 80 million people.

Kinshasa, which has been isolated from the rest of the country, has 118 cases but this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg giving the paucity of testing.   "On average, 50 tests are carried out each day at the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB)," said a health official, speaking on condition of anonymity.   Five cases have been recorded in six days in the Democratic Republic of Congo's volatile east, destabilised by 25 years of rebel and militant attacks.   Two of them emerged in Goma, the capital of the eastern North Kivu province, which is officially due to declare an end to the Ebola outbreak on April 12 if no more cases of haemorrhagic fever emerge.

- Fears of looting -
Kinshasa, home to at least 10 million people, was meant to go into lockdown on Saturday for four days under an announcement made unilaterally by the region's governor.   But officials delayed the measure after the announcement triggered fears of a rise in the prices of basic goods and the risk of unrest.   The national intelligence agency "warned the presidency of the threat of looting," an informed source said.   The city witnessed pillaging, led by security forces, in 1991 and 1993.

A day after the lockdown U-turn, President Felix Tshisekedi held an emergency meeting but there have been no announcements since.   "They want to decide on something that works. They can't afford to make mistakes," an observer said.   Later on Thursday, governor Gentiny Ngobila announced that Kinshasa's government district, which is also home to a number of embassies and banks, will be "put in quarantine" for two weeks starting from Monday.   Two globally-renowned names have been enlisted in the campaign against coronavirus: Dr. Muyembe, who helped discover the Ebola virus in 1976, is national coordinator, while the 2018 Nobel Peace laureate, gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, is overseeing the response in the east.

- 'General panic' -
Despite these reassuring appointments, preparations to deal with large numbers of coronavirus cases in Kinshasa are a mess, according to experts.   "The medical facilities are unequipped to take in sick people, apart from a hospital run by the Chinese," a health expert said.   There are only 65 ventilators in all of Kinshasa's hospitals, a researcher said. The INRB has no vehicles or fuel and foreign NGOs are pitching in to help, other sources said.   The problems have been experienced first-hand by some of Tshisekedi's entourage.    The president's special adviser, Vidiye Tshimanga, tested positive on March 23, after spending two days at home during which medical teams failed to arrive.

Tshimanga, who was diagnosed with a mild forum of coronavirus and is on the mend, told AFP that when he went for a lung scan on Monday, he was met by a hospital official "who refused to let me get out of the ambulance."
   One of his friends and a close aide of the president has meanwhile died, he told AFP.   "The medical teams were ill-informed and fearful of COVID-19 and hardly took care of him," Tshimanga said of his deceased colleague.   "I have heard of other cases like this," he said.  "A kind of general panic has set in. COVID-19 patients are being left to one side without receiving care. There is a lack of information... something that we (the government) are going to have to tackle as soon as possible."
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 22:32:53 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Troops and police in Ecuador have collected at least 150 bodies from streets and homes in the country's most populous city Guayaquil amid warnings that as many as 3,500 people could die of the coronavirus in the city and surrounding province in the coming months.   A joint military and police task force sent out to gather corpses in the horror-struck port city had  collected 150 in just three days, government spokesman Jorge Wated said late Wednesday.

Residents had published videos on social media showing abandoned bodies in the streets in the Latin American city worst hit by the pandemic.   Some left desperate messages for authorities to take away the corpses of people who had died in their homes.   Authorities have not confirmed how many of the dead were victims of the coronavirus.

Rosa Romero, 51, lost her husband Bolivar Reyes and had to wait a day for his body to be removed from their home.    A week later, amid the chaos of the city's mortuary system, she does not know where it is.   "In the forensic bureau they told us that they had taken him to the Guasmo Hospital. We went there to find him but he was not registered anywhere," Romero told AFP.   A 15-hour curfew imposed in the city makes further searching difficult.

- Government apology -
The government's spokesman apologized in a message broadcast on state television late Wednesday.   He said mortuary workers had been unable to keep up with the removal of bodies because of the curfew.   "We acknowledge any errors and apologize to those who had to wait days for their loved ones to be taken away," Wated said.    Mortuary workers in masks and protective clothing were seen carrying plastic-wrapped coffins in the city on Wednesday as authorities tried to cope with the backlog of dead.

Work at cemeteries and funeral homes has stalled, with staffers reluctant to handle the dead over contagion fears.   Ecuador is the Latin American country worst hit by the virus after Brazil, with more than 3,160 infections and 120 deaths by Thursday morning.

Guayaquil has Latin America's highest mortality rate from COVID-19 with 1.35 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants -- higher than the 0.92 per 100,000 registered in Brazil's epicenter Sao Paulo -- according to Esteban Ortiz from Ecuador's University of the Americas.    Guayaquil's surrounding province of Guayas has 70 percent of the country's COVID-19 infections.   Ecuador's first reported case of COVID-19 was a 71-year-old Ecuadoran woman who arrived in Guayaquil from Spain on February 14.

- 'Difficult days ahead' -
Wated said the government is preparing for even more difficult days ahead.   "The medical experts unfortunately estimate that deaths from COVID in these months will reach between 2,500 and 3,500 -- in the province of Guayas alone, and we are preparing for that," he said.   Autopsies have been restricted and the government, which has banned usually crowded funeral services, initially insisted that COVID-19 victims be cremated but was forced to relent after a public backlash.   "We are working so that each person can be buried with dignity in one-person spaces," Wated said, referring to a government-run cemetery being made available with capacity for around 2,000 bodies.

Last month, the city's mayor Cynthia Viteri sent municipal vehicles to block an Iberia plane sent to repatriate stranded foreigners from landing at the city's international airport.    But Viteri was unapologetic as the number of cases spiraled in her city.   "I take responsibility for protecting my city," she said.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 20:58:06 +0200 (METDST)

Blantyre, Malawi, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Malawi on Thursday announced its first three coronavirus infections, one of the last African countries to report the potentially deadly disease.   The southern African country was one of the few without any confirmed cases along with the Comoros, Lesotho, Sao Tome and Principe and South Sudan.      President Peter Mutharika said the infections were in the capital Lilongwe.

The first was detected in an elderly woman who had recently travelled to India to visit her relatives.   "Upon arrival in Malawi, she placed herself in self-quarantine for 14 days but later became symptomatic within the quarantine period," said Mutharika in an address to the nation.   Two of her contacts also tested positive.   Mutharika said the government would provide medical care for the three patients and track down their immediate contacts.   To date coronavirus has infected more than 6,720 people across Africa and killed at least 273.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 17:06:55 +0200 (METDST)

Port Louis, Mauritius, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Residents of the Indian Ocean island nation Mauritius rushed to supermarkets on Thursday after they had been shut for 10 days under a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.   Mauritius, usually a paradise holiday destination known for pristine beaches and coral reefs, has the most cases in eastern Africa with 169 infected and seven deaths -- including a 20-year-old woman with no prior health issues who died on Thursday.   The country was one of the first in Africa to impose a lockdown on March 20 -- when cases still stood at seven -- going so far as to shut supermarkets, bakeries and other shops often kept open in other nations.

Aware that people's stocks were starting to run low, the government decided to re-open under strict rules which divide people into three alphabetical groups to decide on which days they are allowed to shop.   Prakash Beeharry, a primary school teacher, told AFP he was lucky his surname starts with a 'B'.   "My neighbour, Mr Jayen Veerasamy, has to wait two more days before he can access the supermarket," he said.   Like many other mask-wearing shoppers, Beeharry stood in line from 6am to 10am before he was allowed in the supermarket.   "We only had 30 minutes to get all the groceries. Quite a challenge. I'm 45 years old and I've never experienced this... I hope things don't get worse."

Snaking long lines spread out from different supermarkets on the island, where shoppers kept a safe distance from each other and had their temperatures taken as they entered the stores.   "I feel relieved now that I have some supplies," said retired citizen Joseph who was one of the first at the Intermart in central Curepipe.   Other rules put in place allow only one member of a family in the store at a time, and masks are obligatory. The purchase of basics such as rice, flour, milk or oil are subject to restrictions.   Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth had initially shut the supermarkets because the situation was "extremely serious" and he saw the move as "the only way to stop the spread of the virus".

The decision was widely criticised, as while the middle and upper classes were able to prepare and stock food, the poor were not -- and many had yet to receive their salaries.   Tourism Minister Joe Lesjongard explained Tuesday that the government was "aware the population is starting to lack supplies".   "We should never have shut the supermarkets," said former prime minister and prominent opposition leader Paul Berenger.   In a bid to assist the poorest members of society, the government has distributed basic necessities to some 30,000 people.

A solidarity fund has also been created by government officials, with all lawmakers donating ten percent of their annual salaries.   Hotels on the island are now mostly empty, aside from a handful used as quarantine centres, while the renowned smiles of tourism staff have been replaced by the exhausted, defeated expressions of health workers.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 15:40:59 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Thailand will introduce a six-hour night curfew in a bid to control the spread of coronavirus, authorities said Thursday, warning anyone who breached the order faced a two-year jail term.   The curfew from 10 pm to 4 am (1500 to 2100 GMT) will begin on Friday and bars everyone in the country from leaving their homes.    Exemptions will be made for essential staff, including medical workers, food and fuel transport staff, and postal services.    The number of infections in Thailand has soared past 1,800 -- up more than 80 percent from a week ago -- and the death toll has nearly quadrupled to 15 as of Thursday.

The government has come under criticism for not acting soon enough to curb the spread of the virus -- introducing incremental measures despite being the first country outside China to confirm a case, which happened in January.   In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha urged citizens not to panic.   "You can buy things in the daytime," he said.   Penalties for hoarding essential supplies such as face masks carry penalties of up to seven years in prison and a 140,000 baht ($4,200) fine, he said.

The stepped-up measures also include an entry ban on all arrivals -- including Thais -- for two weeks.   Thais who insist on returning will be placed under state quarantine, though Prayut implored them to defer travel plans.    On Thursday, Bangkok's popular markets were shuttered, while parks that were ordered to close were empty of joggers.   Thailand's economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus, especially those employed in the informal sector.   The Bank of Thailand expects the economy to shrink by 5.3 percent this year -- a 22-year low -- and nearly 22 million people have registered for cash handouts.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 13:02:41 +0200 (METDST)

Seoul, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - North Korea remains totally free of the coronavirus, a senior health official in Pyongyang has insisted, despite mounting scepticism overseas as confirmed global infections near one million.   The already isolated, nuclear-armed North quickly shut down its borders after the virus was first detected in neighbouring China in January, and imposed strict containment measures.

Pak Myong Su, director of the anti-epidemic department of the North's Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Headquarters, insisted that the efforts had been completely successful.   "Not one single person has been infected with the novel coronavirus in our country so far," Pak told AFP.   "We have carried out preemptive and scientific measures such as inspections and quarantine for all personnel entering our country and thoroughly disinfecting all goods, as well as closing borders and blocking sea and air lanes."

Nearly every other country has reported coronavirus cases, with the World Health Organization saying on Wednesday that there were nearly one million confirmed infections globally.   Aside from China, South Korea endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the virus, which has claimed more than 45,000 lives around the world.   Experts have said the North is particularly vulnerable to the virus because of its weak medical system, and defectors have accused Pyongyang of covering up an outbreak.

The top US military commander in South Korea, General Robert Abrams, said Thursday that Pyongyang's assertion it had no cases was "untrue".   "I can tell you that is an impossible claim based on all of the intel that we have seen," Abrams told VOA News.   The North's military was "locked down" for 30 days in February and early March over the epidemic, he said.   "They took draconian measures at their border crossings and inside their formations to do exactly what everybody else is doing, which is to stop the spread," he added.

US President Donald Trump said previously North Korea "is going through something" and offered "cooperation in the anti-epidemic work", in a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.   And Choi Jung-hun, a former North Korean doctor who fled to the South in 2012, told AFP: "I heard there are many deaths in North Korea but the authorities are not saying that it's caused by the coronavirus."

-- 'Strict control' --
As part of its anti-virus efforts Pyongyang put thousands of its own people and hundreds of foreigners -- including diplomats -- into isolation and mounted disinfection drives, with state media constantly exhorting citizens to obey health directives.   Published images have shown universal face mask use, with the exception of leader Kim, who has never been seen wearing one, even though for several weeks the officers alongside him when he supervised firing exercises donned black coverings.

More recently his aides have also been seen without face masks, although defector Choi said that did not signal the North's containment efforts had been widely successful.   Pyongyang -- which is subject to multiple international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes -- has sought virus-related aid.   In February, Russia's foreign ministry said it provided Pyongyang with 1,500 coronavirus diagnostic test kits at its request "due to the persisting risk of the new COVID-19".

The United Nations has granted sanctions exemptions to relief groups including Doctors without Borders and UNICEF on items such as diagnostic kits, face masks, protective equipment and disinfectants.   Both Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF -- whose shipments were requested by North Korean authorities -- said that their supplies had arrived overland from China.   "DPRK has an overall lack of medical supplies and the latest diagnostic equipment," a Doctors Without Borders spokesperson told AFP, using the initials of the country's official name.   The World Health Organisation plans to spend $900,000 to support Pyongyang's coronavirus response activities, according to data posted on the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs website.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 12:24:14 +0200 (METDST)

Dubai, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Emirates Airline said Thursday it is to resume a limited number of outbound passenger flights from April 6, less than two weeks after its coronavirus-enforced stoppage.   "Emirates has received approval from UAE authorities to restart flying a limited number of passenger flights," its chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, said on Twitter.   "From April 6, these flights will initially carry travellers outbound from UAE," he said, adding that details would be announced soon.      Dubai-owned carrier Emirates, the largest in the Middle East with 271 wide-body aircraft, grounded passenger operations last week as the UAE halted all passenger flights to fight the spread of coronavirus.

The UAE, which groups seven emirates including Dubai, has declared 814 coronavirus cases along with eight deaths.   It has imposed a sweeping crackdown, including the flight ban and closure of borders.   Sheikh Ahmed said Emirates, which owns the world's largest fleet of Airbus A-380 superjumbos with 113 in its ranks, was looking to gradually resume passenger services.   "Over the time, Emirates looks forward to the gradual resumption of passenger services in line with lifting of travel and operational restrictions, including assurance of health measures to safeguard our people and customers," he said.

When Emirates suspended flights, it cut between 25 percent and 50 percent of the basic salary of its 100,000-strong staff for three months, saying it wanted to avert layoffs.   Dubai's crown prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum said Tuesday that Dubai will support the airline by injecting new capital.   Tourism, aviation, hotels and entertainment are key contributors to Dubai's mostly non-oil economy.