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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: 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.
Date: Mon, 6 Jan 2020 18:04:21 +0100 (MET)

Miami, Jan 6, 2020 (AFP) - A 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook Puerto Rico Monday, toppling houses and causing power outages and small landslides but there were no reports of casualties, the US Geological Survey said.   The quake, just off the US territory's southern Caribbean coastline, was felt throughout much of the island, including the capital San Juan.

Some 250,000 customers were hit by electric power outages after the quake, which struck at 6:32 am local time (1032GMT).   Images posted on social media showed houses tumbled from their supporting pillars, cracks in walls, cars crushed under collapsed houses and small scale landslides.   The quake was the strongest of a series that have rippled through the island since December 28, and it was followed by at least eight aftershocks, officials said.   No tsunami alerts were issued.
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Lithuania

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 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.
Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2018 13:38:41 +0200

Vilnius, Oct 11, 2018 (AFP) - Lithuania's parliament on Thursday passed a law that will allow doctors to prescribe marijuana-based medicine in the Baltic EU state.   The lawmakers voted 90-0 with three abstentions in favour of the legislation that will now go to President Dalia Grybauskaite to be signed into law.   "It is a historic decision to ensure that patients can receive the best possible treatment," said lawmaker Mykolas Majauskas who tabled the bill.

Other European countries have legalised cannabis for medical purposes including Austria, Britain, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece and Italy among them.   "Of course, it does not mean cannabis will be available to get at a drugstore to smoke before going to a nightclub," Majauskas said.   The law will come into force in May next year. Selling the drugs will require a licence from the state regulator.    Recreational use of marijuana remains illegal in Lithuania, a Baltic state of 2.8 million people.
More ...

Brazil

General

 Brazil is the largest country in South America and extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean to the depths of the Amazon basin. The climate varies throughout the country but generally it experiences a humid

tropical climate.

Safety & Security

The level of crime in many of the main urban centres is certainly rising and tourists need to be aware of the risks involved in travelling particularly in the evening hours. It is wise to use an official taxi for any journeys after dark. It is sensible not to flaunt any personal wealth and to use the hotel safety boxes for any valuables and your travel documents. The amount of crime against tourists tends to be greater in areas surrounding hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs and other similar establishments that cater to visitors, especially at dusk and during the evening hours. There are frequent reports of theft on city buses and such transportation should be avoided. A number of the main cities have established specialised tourist police units to patrol areas frequented by tourists. Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia all continue to experience a high incidence of crime.

Road Safety

Throughout this huge country the state of the roads varies greatly. In many regions the roads are dirt tracks and assistance would be hard to obtain for those travelling off from the main tourists routes. Bag snatching from traffic lights occurs in the main cities. If considering hiring a car make certain that your travel insurance is sufficient.

Jet Lag

After your flight you will experience a degree of jet lag. Travelling from Europe this will be less than when you travel home but nevertheless it will still cause your body to complain for 24 to 48 hours. Try to have a more relaxing time for the first few days (and also after returning home if possible!). Be careful not to fall asleep by the pool and then awaken with sunburn which could ruin your time abroad.

Medical Facilities

In any country of this size the level of medical care will vary greatly. This is particular true out side the main tourist resorts. English speaking doctors should be available but the level of hospital care can be worrisome. Make certain you carry sufficient supplies of any medication you may require for your entire holiday. Essential drugs (asthma, diabetes, epilepsy etc) should be divided for security.

Sun Exposure and Dehydration

The hot humid tropical climate often leads to quite significant problems for the Irish traveller. Make sure you cover your head when out in the sunlight and drink plenty of fluids to replenish that lost through perspiration. Replace the salt you loose by eating crisps etc orby putting salt on your meal (providing there is no contraindication).

Visiting the Iguassu Falls

These huge waterfalls border Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. There is only minimal risk of malaria and so malaria prophylaxis is not generally recommended. Also, Yellow fever is not transmitted in this area but mosquitoes can abound. Sensible insect bite precautions should be followed at all times.

Food & Water

Many tourists who visit Brazil stay in the main resorts along the southern coast. The food and water preparation in the hotels is normally excellent but eating food from street vendors is generally unwise. Shell fish (bivalve oysters, mussels, clams etc) are unwise even in a five star hotel. Check the water from the cold water tap in your room. If you can’t easily smell chlorine (swimming pool style) don’t use it even for brushing your teeth. If travelling around the country (Caribbean coast or into the Amazon regions) take significantly more care.

Rabies 

This viral disease occurs throughout Brazil and it is usually transmitted through the bite from an infected warm-blooded animal (eg dogs, cats & monkeys). Any contact should be avoided but if it occurs treat it very seriously and seek competent medical attention immediately after you wash out the area and apply an antiseptic.

Malaria

The risk of malaria is significant all year throughout the Amazon regions. There is insignificant risk for those staying along the coast up as far as Fortaleza and for those remaining in this region prophylaxis is not usually recommended. The risk in the region of Brasilia is also thought to be minimal though this is an area which has unusually experience an outbreak of Yellow Fever recently, and so the situation will require review.

Mosquito Borne Diseases  Apart from malaria the other two main diseases transmitted by mosquitoes which cause problems in Brazil are Dengue Fever (mainly along Caribbean Coast but has been reported much further south) and Yellow Fever (mainly in the Amazon Basin but thought to be spreading to other regions). Avoidance techniques are important at all times throughout the day. Swimming **************************************** Most of the main tourist swimming pools will be well maintained and the smell of chlorine will be evident. If sea swimming is on your agenda make sure you go where there are plenty of others and never swim alone. Look for warning signs and pay attention to local advice. Be very careful of local currents which can be dangerous. Vaccinations **************************************** The Brazilian Embassy is advising all travellers to Brazil to have vaccination cover against Yellow Fever. Also for your personal protection it is wise to consider some further vaccines. Generally we would recommend the following vaccination cover; * Yellow Fever (mosquito borne) * Tetanus (childhood booster) * Typhoid (food & water borne) * Hepatitis A (food & water borne) For those travelling more extensively or staying in the country for longer periods we would usually suggest that further vaccines are considered including Hepatitis B, Meningitis and Rabies. Summary **************************************** Many travellers to Brazil will remain perfectly healthy and well providing they follow some sensible precautions. Further information is available from either of our centres regarding any recent disease outbreaks.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 21 Jan 2020
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

For the 1st time in 20 years, Brazil health authorities are reporting a confirmed case of Brazilian haemorrhagic fever.  During this 20-year period, there were 4 cases in humans, 3 cases acquired in a sylvan environment in the state of Sao Paulo, and one due to infection in a laboratory environment in Para. The disease is considered to be extremely rare and highly lethal, and treatment is according to the patient's clinical condition and symptoms.

The disease incubation period is long (on average 7 to 21 days) and begins with fever, malaise, muscle pain, a rash on the body, sore throat, stomachache, and soreness behind the eyes, headache, dizziness, sensitivity to light, constipation, and bleeding from mucous membranes such as mouth and nose. As the disease progresses, there may be neurological impairment (drowsiness, mental confusion, changes in behavior and convulsion).

Between the onset of symptoms (30 Dec 2019) and death (11 Jan 2020), the current patient passed through 3 different hospitals in the municipalities of Eldorado, Pariquera-Acu and Sao Paulo, the last being the Hospital das Clinicas of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Sao Paulo (HCFM USP). There was no history of international travel.

During his hospitalization, tests were carried out to identify diseases such as yellow fever, viral hepatitis, leptospirosis, dengue and Zika. However, the results were negative for these diseases. Complementary tests were carried out at the Special Techniques Laboratory of the Albert Einstein Hospital, which identified an arenavirus which causes Brazilian hemorrhagic fever. This result was confirmed by the Medical Research Laboratory of the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Hospital das Clinicas, USP Medical School, and Adolfo Lutz Institute.

In addition, SVS/MS has already communicated the fact to the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization (WHO/PAHO), in accordance with established international protocols.

At this time, the source of the patient's infection has not been confirmed. What is known is that people contract the disease possibly through the inhalation of particles formed from the urine, feces and saliva of infected rodents. Transmission of arenaviruses from person to person can occur when there is very close and prolonged contact or in hospital environments, when personal protective equipment is not used, through contact with blood, urine, feces, saliva, vomit, semen and other secretions or excretions.

The employees of the hospitals through which the patient passed are being monitored and evaluated, as well as the family members of the confirmed case in Sao Paulo.

On Mon 20 Jan 2020, the Ministry of Health convened a meeting with representatives of all parties involved in the case: Secretariat of Sao Paulo, Hospital das Clinicas, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sao Paulo, Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein and the National Councils and State Health (Conass and Conasems). The purpose of the meeting was to verify the current scenario and the search and monitoring actions of people who had direct contact with the patient.

The Ministry of Health also offered support to the Sao Paulo Department of Health by sending a team of technicians to actively search for people who had contact with the patient and for environmental investigation.
--------------------------------
Communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap Alerts
<promed@promedmail.org>
and
Barry Atkinson <Barry.Atkinson@phe.gov.uk>
via Mary Marshall
==================
[These are the 1st documented cases of Sabia virus infection in a long time. This confirmed case was an adult who lived in Sorocaba, Sao Paulo state.

The genome of the virus responsible for the disease was about 90% similar to the Sabia arenavirus according to Epidemiological Bulletin 03 (see below). One hopes that the environmental investigation will provide information about the circumstances under which the infection was acquired. A rodent reservoir was doubtless the direct or indirect source of the virus, as it is for other arenaviruses such as Machupo virus that causes Bolivian hemorrhagic fever. The rodent reservoir of the virus has not been identified.

The above report is a machine translation of an official report from the Brazil Ministry of Health

The Brazil Ministry of Health in its Epidemiological Bulletin No. 03 published an extensive overview of Sabia virus with a helpful epidemiological diagram (<http://portalarquivos2.saude.gov.br/images/pdf/2020/janeiro/20/Boletim-epidemiologico-SVS-03.pdf> in Portuguese). The bulletin provided the following references that report the original Sabia virus cases:

References:
Coimbra, Terezinha Lisieux M. et al. New arenavirus isolated in Brazil. The Lancet, v. 343, n. 8894, p. 391-392, 1994.
Gonzalez, Jean Paul J. et al. Genetic characterization and phylogeny of Sabia virus, an emergent pathogen in Brazil. Virology, v.221, n.2, p. 318-324, 1996. - Mod.TY

HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Sun 19 Jan 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

With the arrival of summer when the occurrence of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, such as yellow fever, increases, the Brazilian Ministry of Health is alerting the population to get vaccinated against the disease.  The alert is mainly focused on the population that lives in the South and Southeast regions of the country due to the confirmation of 38 monkey deaths in the states of Parana (34), Sao Paulo (3), and Santa Catarina (1). In total, 1087 reports of suspected monkey deaths were recorded in the country.

The alert is given because the regions have a large population and a low number of people vaccinated, which directly contributes to the cases of the disease.

The target public for vaccination is people from 9 months of age and 59 years of age who do not have proof of vaccination.

Regarding human cases, 327 suspected yellow fever cases were reported in the same period, of which 50 remain under investigation and one has been confirmed.

The yellow fever vaccine is offered in the National Vaccination Calendar and distributed monthly to the states. In 2019, more than 16 million doses of the yellow fever vaccine were distributed throughout the country. Despite this availability, there is a low demand from the population for vaccination. For 2020, the portfolio acquired 71 million doses of the vaccine, enough to serve the country for more than 3 years.

In 2020, the Ministry of Health will gradually expand yellow fever vaccination to 1101 municipalities in the Northeast states that were not yet part of the vaccination recommendation area. Thus, the whole country now has a vaccine against yellow fever in the routine of services.

Another change in the calendar was that the children started to have a booster vaccine at the age of 4. The decision came because recent scientific studies have shown a decrease in the child's immune response, which is vaccinated very early, at 9 months, as predicted in the child's National Vaccination Calendar. Since 2017, the Ministry of Health has followed the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) to offer only one dose of the yellow fever vaccine in a lifetime.
=========================
[The current expansion of yellow fever in South America raises concern for public health and also about potential conservation problems for susceptible non-human primate species in the continent. Yellow fever virus was introduced into the Americas approximately 400 years ago, yet the complex interactions that were established after its introduction are far from being elucidated. There is a need for more research on the eco-epidemiology of the disease in the continent, especially in the presence of the persistent anthropogenic global environmental change. - ProMED Mod.PMB]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Brazil:
Date: Wed 15 Jan 2020
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

Seventeen people are suspected to have been poisoned and one person has died in Brazil after drinking beer. Sixteen males and one female aged 23-76 years old are thought to have suffered diethylene glycol poisoning. Four cases have been confirmed, and the remaining 13 are under investigation as they have showed similar symptoms, according to the Minas Gerais State Department of Health.

The 1st person was admitted to a hospital on 30 Dec 2019 suffering from acute renal failure and neurological issues such as facial paralysis, blurred vision, and sensory alteration. For suspected cases, the earliest onset of symptoms is 19 Dec 2019. The average number of days between onset of symptoms and hospitalization was 2.5 days.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (Mapa) has told Cervejaria Backer to recall all products manufactured from October 2019 to the current date. The company has challenged this as it believes only Belorizontina branded beers could be affected.

Analyzes on samples of Belorizontina and Capixaba products made by the brewery have confirmed presence of the contaminants monoethylene glycol and diethylene glycol. The latter substance has also been found in the blood of some of those sick. Both substances are used as antifreeze in the brewing industry.

Mapa has stopped Cervejaria Backer's Tres Lobos unit in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, for precautionary reasons. A total of 139,000 l [36,720 gal] of bottled beer and 8480 l [2240 gal] of draft beer has been seized, and tanks and other production equipment were also sealed.

Only monoethylene glycol is used in the production process, according to the company.

However, tests on a cooling tank used in the production of Belorizontina beer batch L2 1354 came back positive for diethylene glycol. The substance had been detected in samples of 2 beers from batches L1 1348 and L2 1348 provided by family members of patients. Capixaba beer from batch L2 1348 was positive for monoethylene glycol and diethylene glycol.

Bottles from the families of victims and the company were found to be intact and showed no signs of tampering.

Officials believe the beer was contaminated sometime between the 2nd half of November [2019] and the start of December 2019. Several lines of enquiry are being followed including accidental contamination and possible adulteration by a former employee.

A statement from the company said it was focused on patients and their families.

Brewery officials said the firm was collaborating with official enquiries and internally investigating to find out how the lots identified by police were contaminated. Results of independent tests are pending.
======================
[Diethylene glycol (DEG) is a colorless, virtually odourless, hygroscopic liquid with a sweet taste typically used in antifreeze solutions and as a solvent for many products. When consumed, DEG causes severe systemic and neurologic complications, including coma, seizures, peripheral neuropathy, and hepatorenal failure. A patient in an acute condition appears inebriated but has no alcohol on his or her breath. DEG is commonly used in the commercial preparation of antifreeze, brake fluid, cigarettes, and some dyes. It is an excellent solvent for many relatively insoluble substances. DEG is also commonly used in human medications, such as acetaminophen and sulfanilamide, either intentionally or accidentally, leading to episodes of human poisoning, several being fatal.

Pathologic examination has demonstrated severe demyelination, with lesser axonal damage, of virtually all cranial and peripheral nerves sampled (Rollins, Filley, McNutt, Chahal, & Kleinschmidt-DeMasters, 2002). DEG ingestion is often associated with limb weakness, multiple cranial neuropathies including hearing loss and optic nerve involvement, areflexia, and CSF cytoalbuminologic dissociation, mimicking GBS [Guillain-Barre syndrome] (Baldwin and Sran, 2010; Rollins et al., 2002; Zhou, Zabad, and Lewis, 2002). The neurophysiological pattern seen was not thought to be typical for GBS in which conduction velocity slowing and distal latency prolongation are commonly seen in subsequent studies several days after the onset of symptoms.

Additionally, DEG has been used as an illegal adulterant in wine. Because of its toxicity, DEG is not allowed in food and drugs. DEG affects the CNS, heart, respiratory system, liver, pancreas, and kidneys. Biochemical changes associated with toxicity include elevated hepatic enzyme levels, as well as increased serum BUN and creatinine levels. The clinical presentation is characterized by a nonspecific febrile prodromal illness, and within 2 weeks, followed by anuric renal failure, pancreatitis, hepatitis, and neurologic dysfunction, progressing to coma. Histopathology of kidney tissue demonstrates acute tubular necrosis with regeneration and interstitial edema. DEG poisoning shows extensive tubular necrosis; however, the oxalate deposition is of EG (ethylene glycol) poisoning, which causes renal and cerebral damage, and has not been observed in DEG poisoning. Similar to EG, DEG is not toxic, but its metabolites are.

Acute kidney injury is usually the main cause of death, appearing between 8 and 24 hours after exposure to lethal doses of diethylene glycol. Diethylene glycol poisoning can also result in hepatic disease, pancreatitis, and neurologic abnormalities, which appear up to a few days after exposure. Laboratory findings in clinical assessment of diethylene glycol can include an elevated osmolar gap, elevated anion gap, elevated creatinine, and acidosis. Direct quantitation of diethylene glycol and HEAA in serum, urine, and CSF has also been reported, but there is limited clinical guidance on how to use this information beyond confirming exposure.

Extracted from

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Minas Gerais, Brazil: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/4517>]
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 21:55:41 +0100 (MET)

Rio de Janeiro, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Widespread complaints over foul-smelling drinking water in Rio de Janeiro have triggered a run on supermarket bottled water, though the public utility denied any health risk Wednesday.   Rio governor Wilson Witzel set alarm bells ringing in a Twitter post on Tuesday, saying the situation -- fuelled by social media rumours -- was "unacceptable" and calling for a "rigorous investigation."

Moving to calm growing fears, public water utility Cedae attributed the problems to the presence of geosmin, a harmless organic compound, insisting the resulting earthy-tasting tap water was safe to drink.   "The results of the analyses show the presence of geosmin, at a rate sufficient to change the taste. But there is no risk to health," Sergio Marques, the official in charge of water quality, told a press conference.   Cedae later said it had fired the head of the Guandu treatment plant, which supplies nearly 80 percent of Rio's drinking water.   It said the supply from Guandu would be treated with carbon in the coming days to get rid of the geosmin.

According to O Globo newspaper, nearly 70 districts of the capital have been affected.   It reported that more than 1,300 cases of gastroenteritis were recorded over the last 15 days in Santa Cruz in the west of Rio, where water quality complaints were rife.   Cedae's president Helio Cabral apologized "to the whole population for the problems in the water supply," which began earlier this month.

The problem has been exacerbated by false rumours circulating on social media that the water was toxic.   Despite assurances, many Rio citizens were taking no chances. In supermarkets, mineral water stocks have been selling out and long queues are formed as soon as they are replenished.   Geosmin is also responsible for the earthy taste in some vegetables.
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2019 03:09:17 +0100 (MET)
By Allison JACKSON

Sao Paulo, Dec 10, 2019 (AFP) - Gripping the deadly snake behind its jaws, Fabiola de Souza massages its venom glands to squeeze out drops that will save lives around Brazil where thousands of people are bitten every year.   De Souza and her colleagues at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo harvest the toxin from hundreds of snakes kept in captivity to produce antivenom.    It is distributed by the health ministry to medical facilities across the country.

Dozens of poisonous snake species, including the jararaca, thrive in Brazil's hot and humid climate.    Nearly 29,000 people were bitten in 2018 and more than 100 died, official figures show.   States with the highest rates of snakebite were in the vast and remote Amazon basin where it can take hours to reach a hospital stocked with antivenom.   Venom is extracted from each snake once a month in a delicate and potentially dangerous process.

Using a hooked stick, de Souza carefully lifts one of the slithering creatures out of its plastic box and maneuvers it into a drum of carbon dioxide.    Within minutes the reptile is asleep.    "It's less stress for the animal," de Souza explains.    The snake is then placed on a stainless steel bench in the room where the temperature hovers around 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit).    De Souza has a few minutes to safely extract venom before the snake begins to stir.      "It's important to have fear because when people have fear they are careful," she says.

- Antivenom 'crisis' -
The snakes are fed a diet of rats and mice that are raised at the leafy institute and killed before being served up once a month.   After milking the snake, de Souza records its weight and length before placing it back in its container.    The antivenom is made by injecting small amounts of the poison into horses -- kept by Butantan on a farm -- to trigger an immune response that produces toxin-attacking antibodies.

Blood is later extracted from the hoofed animals and the antibodies harvested to create a serum that will be administered to snakebite victims who might otherwise die.   Butantan project manager Fan Hui Wen, a Brazilian, says the institute currently makes all of the country's antivenom -- around 250,000 10-15 millilitre vials per year.

Brazil also donates small quantities of antivenom to several countries in Latin America.    There are now plans to sell the life-saving serum abroad to help relieve a global shortage, particularly in Africa.    About 5.4 million people are estimated to be bitten by snakes every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Between 81,000 and 138,000 die, while many more suffer amputations and other permanent disabilities as a result of the toxin.   To cut the number of deaths and injuries, WHO unveiled a plan earlier this year that includes boosting production of quality antivenoms.   Brazil is part of the strategy. It could begin to export antivenom as early as next year, Wen says.   "There is interest for Butantan to also supply other countries due to the global crisis of antivenom production," she says.
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Vanuatu

Vanuata US Consular Information Sheet
February 10, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Vanuatu consists of more than 80 islands in a Y-shaped archipelago, 1300 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia.
It is an independent parliamentary democracy a
d a member of the British Commonwealth, with a primarily agricultural economy.
Tourist facilities are limited outside the capital, Port Vila, which is located on the Island of Efate.
The National Tourism Office of Vanuatu can be contacted at PO Box 209, Port Vila, Vanuatu, telephone (678) 22515, 22685, 22813, fax (678) 23889, e-mail: tourism@vanuatu.com.vu.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Vanuatu for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport and onward/return ticket and proof of sufficient funds are required.
Visas are not required for stays up to 30 days after which an extension of the stay of up to 120 days is possible.
For further information on entry requirements, particularly for those persons planning to enter by a sailing vessel, please contact the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Vanuatu to the United Nations,
800 Second Avenue, Suite 400B, New York, N.Y. 10017, Telephone: (212) 661-4303; fax: (212) 422-3427, (212) 661-5544, e-mail: vanunmis@aol.com
Travelers who plan to transit or visit Australia must enter that country with an Australian visa or, if eligible, through Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). The ETA replaces a visa and allows eligible travelers a stay of up to three months in Australia. An ETA may be obtained for a small service fee at http://www.eta.immi.gov.au/. Airlines and many travel agents in the United States are also able to issue ETA’s.
Travelers may obtain more information about the ETA and Australian entry requirements from the Australian Embassy at 1601 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC
20036, tel. (202) 797-3000.
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:
Civil disorder is rare; however, U.S. citizens are advised to avoid public demonstrations and/or political rallies if they occur.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Although violent crime is rare in Vanuatu, the level of criminal activity has increased in the past year. Typical crimes in Vanuatu are theft, burglary and sexual harassment/assault. Tourists, therefore, should take reasonable precautions to avoid exposing themselves to undue risk especially in Luganville (Espiritu Santo island), Lakatoro (Malekula island), and Lenakel (Tanna island).
Women have sometimes been victims of sexual assault or harassment in Vanuatu; therefore, it is advisable that women travelers not travel alone.
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 U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby for assistance.
The Embassy staff can assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney, if needed.The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Vanuatu is 112.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than those in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Vanuatu’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Vanuatu 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.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Vanuatu and Australian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Vanuatu of items such as firearms, certain prescription drugs, wooden artifacts, exotic animals, food, and sexually explicit material.
Other products may be subject to quarantine.
It is advisable to contact the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Vanuatu to the United Nations,
800 Second Avenue, Suite 400B, New York, N.Y. 10017, Telephone: (212) 661-4303; fax: (212) 422-3427, (212) 661-5544, e-mail: vanunmis@aol.com and the Australian Embassy for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information sheet.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and proof of U.S. citizenship are readily available.

Natural Disasters:
=====================
Vanuatu is prone to sudden tidal movements, tropical storms, and cyclones. The Pacific cyclone season lasts from November through April.
Local media and hotels will convey cyclone alerts issued by local authorities, and detailed weather information is published by the Naval Pacific Meteorology and Oceanography Center, Météo-France in New Caledonia and the Fiji Meteorological Service.
Volcanoes/Earthquakes: Vanuatu is situated on in active seismic zone, and prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, sometimes followed by tsunamis.
The risk level of Vanuatu’s many active volcanoes can change on a daily basis. Travelers to areas where there are volcanoes can contact the Department of Geology and Mines at 22423 to obtain information about the activity of a volcano.
Please contact the Vanuatu Tourism Office prior to traveling to areas where volcanic activity may occur.
Detailed information about earthquakes is available from the National Earthquake Information Center of the United States Geological Survey.
If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) and from the Naval Pacific Meteorology and Oceanography Center.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are limited.
The nearest reliable medical treatment is in Australia or New Zealand.
There are two hyperbaric recompression chambers in Vanuatu; one in Luganville, on Espiritu Santo Island, and the other in Port Vila, on Efate Island.
Please note, however, that diving-related injuries may require medical evacuation to Australia or New Zealand.
There is a paramedic service in Vanuatu called ProMedical, which is manned by Australian and New Zealand personnel. They also handle any medical evacuations.
Serious injuries requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States or elsewhere can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for their services.
Pharmacies in Vanuatu are found only in urban centers and at missionary clinics.
They are small and may be inadequately stocked.
Travelers should bring adequate supplies of their medications for their stay in Vanuatu.

Travelers who anticipate the possible need for medical treatment in Australia should obtain entry permission for Australia in advance.
Entry permission for Australian can be granted by the Australian High Commission in Port Vila, but it may be easier to obtain a visa or ETA prior to leaving the United States (See the section above on Entry/Exit Requirements).
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC web site.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site. Malaria is prevalent in some areas.
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
The Government of Vanuatu does not impose any entry restrictions for persons with the HIV/AIDS virus, as long as they include the information on the arrival form.
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 Vanuatu is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Vehicular traffic in Vanuatu moves on the right.
Travel on highways outside of major towns can be hazardous.
Drivers and passengers are advised to wear seatbelts.
There is no country-wide road network; roads are generally in poor repair.
Because Vanuatu is a chain of islands and atolls, most long-distance travel is by air or sea.
Only the capital city of Port Vila (on Efate Island) and the town of Luganville (on Espiritu Santo Island) have consistently paved roads, which have a maximum speed limit of 50 kilometers per hour.
These paved roads can be quite narrow in spots; drivers should take care, especially at night or along unfamiliar routes.
The roads in all other areas are mostly unpaved or dirt tracks.
Drivers on all roads should give way to traffic coming from the right, and to traffic coming from the left at a round-about.
Travelers must take care when driving off main roads to avoid trespassing on communal land.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Vanuatu driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the National Tourism Office of Vanuatu or the Vanuatu Mission to the United Nations at vmsnyc@attglobal.net
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Vanuatu, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Vanuatu’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.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
The U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea
provides primary assistance for U.S. citizens in Vanuatu.
The Embassy is located on Douglas Street, adjacent to the Bank of Papua New Guinea, in Port Moresby.
Use that address for courier service deliveries.
The mailing address is PO Box 1492, Port Moresby, N.C.D. 121, Papua New Guinea; the telephone number is (675) 321-1455; after hours duty officer telephone number is (675) 683-7943; fax (675) 321-1593.
American citizens may submit consular inquiries via e-mail to ConsularPortMoresby@state.gov.

Americans living or traveling in Vanuatu are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby through the State Department’s travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Vanuatu.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Vanuatu dated July 18, 2008, to update sections on Crime, Special Circumstances and Medical Facilities.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 31 Jul 2019 17:52:50 +0200 (METDST)

Wellington, July 31, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck near the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu Thursday, the US Geological Survey said, but no tsunami warning was issued.   USGS said the quake hit about 178 kilometres (110 miles) northwest of the capital Port Vila at 2:02 am (1502 GMT Wednesday) at a depth of 179 kilometres.   The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no tsunami threat from the quake.   USGS said there was a low likelihood of casualties and damage.   Vanuatu is part of the "Ring of Fire," a zone of tectonic activity around the Pacific frequently subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Date: Wed 19 Dec 2018
Source: BBC [edited]

A baby on a small Pacific island has become the 1st person given a vaccine delivered by a commercial drone. UNICEF arranged for the drone to be flown some 40 km (25 mi) across rugged mountains in Vanuatu that otherwise take hours to cross. About 20% of children in Vanuatu don't receive important vaccinations because the supply is too difficult. The UN children's organisation hopes that drone delivery will in the future be of vital importance in remote areas.

"Today's small flight by a drone is a big leap for global health," UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said. "With the world still struggling to immunize the hardest-to-reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child."

While drones have been used before to deliver medicine, UNICEF says this was the 1st time globally that a country had contracted a commercial drone company to get vaccines to remote areas.

Two companies competed for the project on Vanuatu, and it was Australia's Swoop Aero that won the bid after successful trials earlier this month [December 2018]. Its drone carried the vaccines in a Styrofoam box with ice packs and a temperature logger to a remote village on the island of Erromango, from Dillon's Bay on the west of the island to Cook's Bay on the east. The medicine was then used by local nurse Miriam Nampil to vaccinate 13 children and 5 pregnant women.

Without the drone, Cook's Bay is only accessible on foot or by boat; both of those options take hours compared to the 25 minutes it took for the drone to reach the village. Medical supplies also have to be kept at a cold temperature.

"It's extremely hard to carry ice boxes to keep the vaccines cool while walking across rivers and mountains, through the rain, and across rocky ledges," Ms Nampil said. "As the journey is often long and difficult, I can only go there once a month to vaccinate children. But now, with these drones, we can hope to reach many more children in the remotest areas of the island."
Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2018 09:43:37 +0100

Sydney, Dec 18, 2018 (AFP) - A one-month-old on a remote island in the Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu became the first child to be immunised in a commercial trial of drone-delivered vaccines, the UN children's fund UNICEF said Tuesday.   Aid agencies hope the successful run in the country, where one in five children is not fully immunised, could eventually help governments and organisations reach others in far-flung places around the world.  "Today's small flight by drone is a big leap for global health," UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.   "With the world still struggling to immunise the hardest to reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child."

While this is not the first time that drones have been used to deliver vaccines, it is the first time such a method has been deployed in Vanuatu, which has 83 islands, most only accessible by boat.   It is also the first time a commercial contract is being used for routine immunisations, UNICEF said.   A key requirement for the deliveries is maintaining the temperatures at which the vaccines are carried.   In warmer places such as Vanuatu, transportation across limited roads has its challenges.   In the trial, the drone travelled across almost 40 kilometres (25 miles) of rough and mountainous terrain from the west of the southern island of Erromango to its east, arriving at the remote Cook's Bay.

The vaccines were kept in styrofoam boxes that carried ice-packs and a temperature sensor that would be triggered if it exceeded the required range. A total of 13 children and five pregnant women were vaccinated by a registered nurse, UNICEF added.   "As the journey is often long and difficult, I can only go there once a month to vaccinate children. But now, with these drones, we can hope to reach many more children in the remotest areas of the island," the nurse, Miriam Nampil, told UNICEF.   The agency said Vanuatu's government was considering incorporating drone deliveries of vaccines into their national immunisation programme, and with the supply of other health aids.
Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2018 01:34:08 +0200

Sydney, Aug 21, 2018 (AFP) - A 6.7-magnitude earthquake hit the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on Wednesday morning, the US Geological Survey said, but no tsunami warning was issued.   The quake struck at a moderate depth of 30 kilometres (19 miles) with the epicentre just off the northern tip of Vanuatu's sparsely-populated Ambrym island.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no tsunami risk.    "Shaking would have been felt throughout the whole of Vanuatu," Geoscience Australia senior seismologist Eddie Leask told AFP.   "But it's hard to tell whether it will cause damage. It's reasonably shallow but it all depends on the buildings, soil type and so on."

On its website, Geoscience put the potential damage radius at 63 kilometres.   The nearest city, Lakatoro, is 78 kilometres away, with the capital Port Vila 187 kilometres north of the epicentre.   "We get a lot of five and six magnitude quakes coming through Vanuatu," added Leask.   "We'd expect to see smaller aftershocks, and even a bigger one."   The Vanuatu Disaster Management Office told AFP it was not aware of any immediate damage.

Vanuatu, with a population of about 280,000 spread over 65 inhabited islands, is regarded as one of the world's most disaster-prone countries.   It sits on the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire," making it vulnerable to strong earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, while powerful cyclones also regularly lash the islands.   A 7.0-magnitude quake struck in 2017, but no damage was reported.
Date: Fri, 27 Jul 2018 05:34:13 +0200

Wellington, July 27, 2018 (AFP) - Vanuatu renewed a state of emergency on the volcano-hit island of Ambae Friday and ordered the compulsory evacuation of all residents.   A series of eruptions at the Manaro volcano that began last September intensified this week, sending a 12 kilometre (7.5 mile) column of ash spewing into the atmosphere.

The Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-hazards department has described the volcano as a "danger to direct safety to life" and warned people to stay three kilometres from its vent.   "The local population from Ambae and from neighbouring islands will continue to hear rumbling, volcanic explosions (and) smell volcanic gases," it said.

The Red Cross reported that a thick cloud of ash had covered the Pacific island, choking crops and cutting visibility to two metres in some areas.   Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said the government had decided to order the island's population to be evacuated.   "Cabinet has reimposed the state of emergency and ordered the compulsory evacuation of the entire population of Ambae," he tweeted.

The island has already undergone two evacuations since September. In the first one, just after the volcano started rumbling, authorities scrambled to temporarily remove all 11,000 residents using ferries and small private boats.   The second evacuation in May was better organised, with thousands of people shipped to camps set up on neighbouring islands.   However, it was not compulsory and many villagers indicated they wanted to stay.   It is unclear whether the government is planning to make the latest compulsory evacuation permanent.
More ...

Thailand



*****
Travel in Health in Thailand
*****
General Introduction:
Irish travellers are going to Thailand in great numbers. The relatively cheap cost and also the contrast in culture has captured many hearts. Some are travelli
g for a once off 2 week trip and for others the exploration of Thailand will take longer. It is truly a beautiful country and the people have a charm all of their own but nevertheless your journey can be so very easily ruined by taking health risks.
Water-Borne Disease:
In most of the major cities of Thailand the water supply is well chlorinated and so the risks associated with drinking mains tap water are limited. However many of the bedrooms will not be supplied with mains water so take care. Smell the water and if there is a distinct chlorine odour then it should be safe. Also remember that when you travel around the country, especially around the northern regions, the water supply may be grossly contaminated and so never drink the water or use it for brushing your teeth. Also no ice in your drinks under these circumstances.
Food-Borne Disease:
There is a good selection of food in Thailand and you should have no great difficulty in finding food to suit your taste. In the majority of the restaurants the food is well cooked and maintained in a healthy sterile fashion. These are the places to eat. As you walk around the cities you will see many street traders selling food stuffs from their carts. The level of hygiene is very low and frequently the food will be contaminated. Never indulge yourself by eating from street vendors.
Mosquito-Borne Disease:
Under this title most travellers will only consider the possibility of developing malaria. This is of course one of the most important illnesses transmitted via mosquitoes but by no means the only one in Thailand. For most travellers to Thailand there will be no need to take malarial prophylaxis as the cities are deemed to be free of malaria. This does not mean that you will not be bitten by mosquitoes and develop some of the other diseases such as Dengue Fever or perhaps Japanese Encephalitis. Many travellers also develop a very severe reaction to the mosquito bite and so for all these reasons it is prudent to avoid being bitten whenever possible.
Entertainment-Borne Disease:
It would be wrong not to emphasize the very high risk which travellers face if they are unwise enough to indulge in any form of sexual activity in Thailand. The percentage of street girls with the Aids virus is rising each year and is now thought to be over 80%. This figure may be an underestimate. Be especially careful if you have taken any alcohol. The cities of Bangkok and Pattaya are thought to be among the main centres of HIV transmission throughout the world and within the next few years the extent of the Aids problem in S.E. Asia will have exceeded Africa. There is limited availability of condoms.
Road-Borne Disease:
The traffic situation in Thailand is severe. The motorbikes have no insurance as they are too often involved in accidents. Use only regular taxi cabs and fix your price before you leave.
Vaccination Schedule:
There are no compulsory vaccines for entry into Thailand from Ireland. Nevertheless the usual recommended vaccines include Polio, Typhoid, Tetanus and Hepatitis A cover. For those trekking or staying for longer periods then cover against Hepatitis B and Rabies would be worth discussing.
Most travellers should start their vaccines about 4 to 5 weeks before they leave Ireland.
Note:
For the vast majority of Irish travellers a holiday in Thailand will be a time of great pleasure and, later, fond memories of the people, their customs and the countryside. Just remember that illness can occur so follow some good common sense rules and so you can enjoy yourself
and Travel in Health.

Thailand

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2020 16:12:29 +0100 (MET)
By Nina LARSON

Geneva, Jan 13, 2020 (AFP) - A new virus from the same family as the deadly SARS disease has spread beyond China's borders for the first time with a case emerging in Thailand, UN and Thai officials said on Monday.   Thai doctors diagnosed a Chinese traveller with mild pneumonia on January 8 later confirmed to have been caused by the so-called novel coronavirus -- which has already given rise to 41 pneumonia-like cases and one death in China.   The outbreak has caused alarm because of the link with SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

The UN health agency (WHO) confirmed that the outbreak in the city of Wuhan was caused by a previously unknown type of corona virus, a broad family ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like SARS.   "Laboratory testing subsequently confirmed that the novel coronavirus was the cause," WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told AFP in an email, referring to the case in Thailand.   WHO said it might soon host an emergency meeting on the spread of the new virus.   Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul stressed to reporters in Bangkok Monday that a 61-year-old Chinese woman who had travelled from Wuhan "was infected with the virus from outside Thailand".   Thai health officials said on Monday she was recovering.   Authorities in Wuhan said a seafood market in the city was the centre of the outbreak. It was closed on January 1.   There is so far no indication of human-to-human transmission of the virus.

- 'Not unexpected' -
Scientists in Hong Kong's Department of Health said on Saturday that genetic sequencing of the virus from a Wuhan patient, published online by a Chinese expert, indicated it was 80 percent similar to SARS found in bats.   WHO said on Monday it was not surprising that the virus had spread beyond China.   "The possibility of cases being identified in other countries was not unexpected, and reinforces why WHO calls for ongoing active monitoring and preparedness in other countries," it said in a statement.   Thai authorities have been on high alert, with airport officials checking all passengers coming from Wuhan to the kingdom's major airports.   An official from the Public Health Emergency Operation Center told AFP the infected woman travelling from Wuhan had been intercepted on arrival in Thailand, after airport officials determined she had a fever.

WHO said it had issued guidance on how to detect and treat people with the new virus and stressed that China's decision to rapidly share the genetic sequencing of the virus made it possible to quickly diagnose patients.   WHO has not recommended any specific measures for travellers or restrictions on trade with China, but stressed on Monday it was taking the situation seriously.   "Given developments, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will consult with Emergency Committee members and could call for a meeting of the committee on short notice," it said in a statement.   During such meetings, experts determine whether the UN health agency should declare an international health emergency -- a designation used only for the gravest epidemics.
Date: Mon, 23 Dec 2019 04:22:26 +0100 (MET)
By Sophie DEVILLER and Jonathan KLEIN

Ban Ta Klang, Thailand, Dec 23, 2019 (AFP) - Separated from their mothers, jabbed with metal hooks, and sometimes deprived of food -- many Thai elephants are tamed by force before being sold to lucrative tourism sites increasingly advertised as 'sanctuaries' to cruelty-conscious travellers.   Balanced precariously on hind legs, two-year-old Ploy holds a ball in her trunk and flings it towards a hoop, e of many tricks she is learning in Ban Ta Klang, a traditional training village in the east.   Here young elephants are "broken" to interact with tens of millions of tourists who visit Thailand every year, many eager to capture social media-worthy encounters of the kingdom's national animal playing sports, dancing and even painting.

Villagers in Ban Ta Klang who have been working with the large, gentle animals for generations say taming is necessary for safety reasons and that the force is not excessive.       "We do not raise them to hurt them... if they are not stubborn, we do nothing to them," said mahout Charin, as he stroked Ploy's head affectionately and spoke of her as part of his family.   Charin makes about $350 a month in a profession that was handed down from his father and grandfather.    "I have always lived with them," he added.   But animal welfare advocates argue the taming technique -- where babies are removed from the care of fiercely devoted mothers at the age of two -- is cruel and outdated.   It is also little-known, one of many murky aspects of an evolving elephant tourism trade often kept from view of tour operators and travellers.

- Big business -
Elephants were phased out of the logging industry about 30 years ago, leaving their mahouts unemployed.   So they turned to Thailand's flourishing tourism industry, a burgeoning sector of amusement parks offering elephant rides and performances.    A tamed elephant can now fetch up to $80,000, a colossal investment that then requires gruelling hours of work and increasingly bizarre stunts to be recouped.    Mae Taeng park in the northern city of Chiang Mai receives up to 5,000 visitors per day and charges an entrance fee of about $50.   Many come to see Suda, who holds a brush in her trunk and paints Japanese-style landscapes for visitors who can later buy the prints for up to $150 before taking an elephant ride through the hills.    As tourists become more aware of the potential cruelty of such activities, a growing number of places have opted to use the term 'sanctuary' or 'refuge'.

Many do not permit rides or animal performances. Instead tourists are encouraged to feed, groom and care for elephants, gaining an unforgettable experience with one of nature's most majestic creatures.   But charities warn that even seemingly benign options, like bathing them, could still be problematic.    "Bathing with elephants...is often stressful for elephants and mahouts especially when dealing with groups of excited young people," Jan Schmidt-Burbach of World Animal Protection told AFP.   "The best option is to leave it to the elephant to decide if and how to bath and ask tourists to stand back to observe and enjoy this moment without interference."   But even this may not be enough.    Some animal rights experts warn it can be hard to discern the treatment of the animals after the crowds have gone home. Some reported cases of elephants at so-called sanctuaries being chained for long hours, forced to sleep on concrete, and malnourished.

- Ethical tourism? -
Of the 220 elephant parks identified across the country, even if many promise ethical tourism, "only a dozen ensure truly satisfactory living conditions", according to WAP.   It is working with ChangChill, a small organisation near Chiang Mai, bordered by a river in the middle of rice terraces.    In a few months, it changed its methods to give elephants more space, fewer interactions, and an environment resembling life in the wild.     "We don't force them to do what they wouldn't instinctively do," says director Supakorn Thanaseth.    As a result, they are "less sick, calmer". 

The risk of accidents with tourists has decreased as the animals are less stressed, though mahouts still have a hook in a bag for emergencies.    ChangChill hopes to become profitable in the current high season, but it will only be able to receive around 40 tourists a day to visit its six elephants as part of its aim to put the creatures first.    That is a drop in the bucket when Thailand has nearly 4,000 "domesticated" elephants.   Thai authorities are reluctant to reintroduce them into natural habitats, as advocated by some NGOs, because of a lack of space and potential conflict with humans.

The compromise, some argue, is to better regulate the sector and improve standards.   But there is little impetus to enact more stringent rules that would cut into the Thai tourism industry, which welcomed more than 38 million visitors this year.    A committee of several animal welfare associations submitted recommendations to the government last year advocating stricter controls for elephants in captivity.   But according to activist Sovaida Salwala from Friends of the Asian Elephants, an NGO who helped compile the report, their requests "remain unanswered so far".   In fact, there is some evidence the animals' situation is getting worse.    Schmidt-Burbach said their last research in 2015 found some 1,771 elephants whose welfare was in question.    He explained: "There are 357  more elephants in poor conditions compared to our 2010 study."
Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2019 09:12:36 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, Nov 21, 2019 (AFP) - A shallow 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit north-western Laos near the Thai border early Thursday, the United States Geological Survey reported, alarming locals who felt buildings shake as far away as Bangkok.  The quake hit at 6:50am (2350 GMT Wednesday), roughly three hours after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake in the same region triggered an immediate suspension to Laos' largest-capacity power plant located near its epicentre.    Tremors could be felt more than 700 kilometres (435 miles) away in the Thai capital, where Pope Francis is currently on a four-day visit.    "The shaking... was the main shock from a quake in Laos at 6:50 am and was felt in northern and northeastern Thailand and Bangkok and suburbs," said Sophon Chaila, an official at the Thai Meteorological Department.

The department said the quake affected nine provinces in Thailand and there were four lesser aftershocks.    It also became a top trending topic on Twitter in Thailand, as locals shared videos of swaying overhead lights and rattling window blinds in office buildings.    Residents in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi also felt buildings sway.    "The ceiling lights were shaking quite strongly. I felt dizzy and scared," said Hanoi resident Tran Hoa Phuong, who felt the earthquake in her 27-storey apartment building.    After the first quake, the 1,878-megawatt Hongsa Power Plant -- Laos' largest-capacity thermal energy generator -- immediately suspended operations according to a statement from the Thai-owned company.

No "fundamental" damages or injuries have been found so far, "merely damages to the external texture of the buildings", it said, adding that Hongsa is expected to take 24 hours to complete its inspection.    Photos shared by Thai news showed portions of the power plant's walls had collapsed, and debris littered its premises.    Nearby Xayaburi dam project, one of Laos' largest hydropower dams, has seen "no impact" so far, and is continuing to generate electricity "as normal", said a statement from CK Power.   Information is slow to trickle out of the closed communist state, and there were similarly no official reports of injuries after the twin quakes hit early Thursday.

Impoverished Laos has ploughed ahead with ambitious dam-building projects that critics say lack transparency and stringent safety measures.   The cost was laid bare last year when a massive hydropower project collapsed in southern Laos, killing dozens and leaving thousands homeless.   Pope Francis arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday and has a busy agenda Thursday meeting officials and the Thai king before he leads a mass in the evening.    There was no word from his team on whether he felt the quake.    Powerful earthquakes occasionally strike hard in Southeast Asia.   In 2016 a 6.8-magnitude quake struck Myanmar, killing at least three people and damaging temples in the ancient temple town of Bagan.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 05:28:34 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - A French tourist has died after falling from a waterfall while trying to take a selfie in Thailand, police said Friday.   The accident happened Thursday afternoon on the tropical island of Koh Samui, whose palm-fringed, white-sand beaches are a magnet for both backpackers and high-end tourists.   The 33-year-old man fell from Na Mueang 2 waterfall, the same spot where a Spanish tourist died in a fall in July, Lieutenant Phuvadol Viriyavarangkul of the island's tourist police told AFP.

"It took several hours to retrieve his body because the waterfall is slippery and steep," he said by phone, adding that the spot is roped off and there is a sign warning tourists of the danger.   "His friend said he was trying to take a selfie and then he slipped and fell."   Thailand is largely considered a safe destination for tourists and typically draws more than 35 million visitors each year.    But the industry took a hit in 2018 after a ferry carrying Chinese visitors in the country's south sank last year, killing 47 people.   The accident highlighted lax safety rules in the tourism sector and authorities have been scrambling to restore the country's image since.
Date: Sat, 26 Oct 2019 11:56:37 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, Oct 26, 2019 (AFP) - Hundreds of dead fish washed ashore on a luxury tourist resort on Thailand's south coast, officials said Saturday, blanketing a long stretch of pristine white sands in a rotting stench.   Some 300 metres (950 feet) of beach on Naka Yai island was littered with dead ponyfish, Phuket provincial fisheries chief Siripong Panasonthi told AFP, adding authorities were working to determine the cause of the deaths but had ruled out pollution in the water.   "We have checked the water quality... It cannot cause the fish to die en masse," Siripong said.   He said he believed the catch of ponyfish -- which, when caught alive are sold to make animal feed but are worthless when dead -- had been dumped by local fishing trawlers.
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Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 17:37:27 +0100 (MET)
By Helen ROXBURGH

Beijing, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - A new SARS-like virus has killed 17 people in China, infected hundreds and reached as far as the United States, with fears mounting about its spread as hundreds of millions travel for Lunar New Year celebrations, which start Friday.   Many countries have stepped up screening of passengers from Wuhan, the Chinese city identified as the epicentre, and the World Health Organization has called an emergency meeting.   Here's what we know so far about the virus:

- It's entirely new -
The pathogen appears to be a never-before-seen strain of coronavirus -- a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003.   Arnaud Fontanet, head of the department of epidemiology at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, told AFP the current virus strain was 80 percent genetically identical to SARS.   China has already shared the genome sequencing of this novel coronavirus with the international scientific community.   It has been named "2019-nCoV".

- It's being passed between humans -
The WHO said Monday it believed an animal source was the "primary source" of the outbreak, and Wuhan authorities identified a seafood market as the centre of the epidemic.   But China has since confirmed that there was evidence the virus is now passing from person to person, without any contact with the now-closed market.

The virus has infected more than 400 people across the country, with most cases in Wuhan, according to officials. Li Bin of China's National Health Commission on Wednesday said 1,394 people were still under medical observation.   Doctor Nathalie MacDermott of King's College London said it seems likely that the virus is spread through droplets in the air from sneezing or coughing.   Doctors at the University of Hong Kong published an initial paper on Tuesday modelling the spread of the virus which estimated that there have been some 1,343 cases in Wuhan -- similar to a projection of 1,700 last week by scientists at Imperial College, London.   Both are much higher than official figures.

- It is milder than SARS -
Compared with SARS, the symptoms appear to be less aggressive, and experts say the death toll is still relatively low.   "It's difficult to compare this disease with SARS," said Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at China's National Health Commission at a press conference this week. "It's mild. The condition of the lung is not like SARS."   However, the milder nature of the virus can also cause alarm.

The outbreak comes as China prepares for the Lunar New Year Holiday, with hundreds of millions travelling across the country to see family.   Professor Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, told AFP that the fact that the virus seems milder in the majority of people is "paradoxically more worrying" as it allows people to travel further before their symptoms are detected.   "Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high," said Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust.

- International public health emergency? -
The WHO will hold a meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a "public health emergency of international concern" and if so, what should be done to manage it.   Cases have so far been confirmed in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau and the United States.

The WHO has only used the rare label a handful of times, including during the H1N1 -- or swine flu -- pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.   The Chinese government announced Tuesday it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as the SARS outbreak, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel.   But if the WHO decides to take this step, it would put the Wuhan virus in the same category as a handful of very serious epidemics.

- Global precautions -
As the number of confirmed deaths and infections has risen, so has concern worldwide about the disease spreading to other countries.   In Thailand, authorities have introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving at airports in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi from high-risk areas in China.

In Hong Kong, where hundreds died during the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003, authorities have said they are on high alert, carrying out scans at the city's airport -- one of the world's busiest -- and at other international land and sea crossing points.

The United States also ordered the screening of passengers arriving on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan, including at airports in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.   Taiwan has issued travel advisories, and went to its second-highest alert level for those travelling to or from Wuhan. Vietnam has also ordered more border checks on its border with China.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 16:53:32 +0100 (MET)
By Beiyi SEOW

Beijing, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - The death toll from a new SARS-like virus that has infected hundreds in China rose to 17 on Wednesday, as authorities urged people to steer clear of the city at the centre of the outbreak.   The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   With hundreds of millions of people travelling across China this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, the National Health Commission announced measures to contain the disease -- including sterilisation and ventilation at airports and bus stations, as well as inside planes and trains.

In Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, large public events were cancelled and international football matches were moved to a new location. Visitors were urged to stay away, while residents were advised to not to leave the central city, which is home to 11 million people.   "If it's not necessary we suggest that people don't come to Wuhan," Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV.    The illness is mainly transmitted via the respiratory tract and there "is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease", health commission vice minister Li Bin told a news conference in Beijing.   More than 500 cases have now been reported, with the majority in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province.

The virus has now infected at least 444 people in Hubei province alone, said provincial officials at a press conference, adding that the death toll had risen from nine to 17.   Major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing have also reported cases, as well as provinces in northeastern, central, and southern China.   The World Health Organization started an emergency meeting Wednesday to decide whether or not to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has now been detected in the United States, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Macau.

The Chinese government has classified the outbreak in the same category as the SARS epidemic, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the illness and the potential to implement quarantine measures.   But they still have not been able to confirm the exact source of the virus.   "We will step up research efforts to identify the source and transmission of the disease," Li said, adding that "the cases are mostly linked to Wuhan".   Countries have intensified efforts to stop the spread of the pathogen -- known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).   Passengers are facing screening measures at five US airports and a host of transport hubs across Asia. Britain and Italy on Wednesday also announced enhanced monitoring of passengers from Wuhan.

- Virus source -
A prominent expert from China's National Health Commission confirmed this week that the virus can be passed between people.   However, animals are suspected to be the primary source of the outbreak.   A Wuhan market is believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak.

A price list circulating online in China for a business there lists a menagerie of animals or animal-based products including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies and rats. It also offered civets, the animal linked to SARS.   "We already know that the disease originated from a market which conducted illegal transaction of wild animals," said Gao Fu, director of the Chinese centre for disease control and prevention.   He said it was clear "this virus is adapting and mutating".   Hong Kong and British scientists have estimated that between 1,300 and 1,700 people in Wuhan may have been infected.

- Containment -
Health authorities are urging people to wash their hands regularly, avoid crowded places, get plenty of fresh air and wear a mask if they have a cough.   Anyone with a cough or fever was urged to go to hospital.   In Wuhan, city authorities made it mandatory to wear a mask in public places on Wednesday, according to state-run People's Daily.

In response to skyrocketing demand for masks -- which were starting to sell out at pharmacies and on some popular websites -- China's industry and information technology ministry said it would "spare no effort in increasing supply", state media reported.   "These days, I wear masks even in places that are not too crowded, although I wouldn't have done so in the past," said Wang Suping, 50, who works at a Beijing arts school.   At the capital's main international airport, the majority of people were wearing masks.

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it had agreed to allow staff to wear surgical masks on mainland China flights, and that passengers from Wuhan would be offered masks and antiseptic wipes.   In Wuhan, police were conducting vehicle spot checks for live poultry or wild animals leaving and entering the city, state media said.   Officials also screened people on roads, the airport and the train station for fever.   The local government has cancelled major public activities and banned tour groups from heading out of the city.   Women's Olympics football qualifiers scheduled for February 3-9 in Wuhan have been moved to the eastern city of Nanjing.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 15:49:25 +0100 (MET)

Montreal, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - A Canadian guide died and five French tourists were missing after at least one snowmobile plunged through ice in northern Quebec, police said Tuesday.   The group were riding close to where a river exits the Saint-Jean lake, and were outside the approved area for snowmobiles, police spokesman Hugues Beaulieu told AFP.   Nine people, including the guide, were on the trip on Tuesday evening when the ice broke underneath them.   Police said they were alerted by two of the tourists who had rescued a third tourist from the freezing water.

The 42-year-old guide was pulled out by emergency response teams and taken to hospital, but he died overnight, Beaulieu said, adding "five French tourists are still missing."   The police and army were searching the area on Wednesday, assisted by divers.   "This sector was not part of a marked trail, they were off-piste," said the spokesman.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 04:55:57 +0100 (MET)

Hong Kong, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - Macau on Wednesday reported its first confirmed case of the new SARS-like coronavirus as authorities announced all staff in the city's bustling casinos had been ordered to wear face masks.   The former Portuguese colony is a huge draw for mainland tourists as the only place in China that allows gambling.

With the Lunar New Year approaching this weekend, a huge influx of mainland tourists is expected in the city.   Asian countries have ramped up measures to block the spread of the new virus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has so far killed at least nine people.

On Wednesday, Macau announced its first confirmed case -- a 52-year-old businesswoman from Wuhan who arrived in the city by high-speed rail on Sunday, via the neighbouring city of Zhuhai.    "A series of tests found that she was positive for the coronavirus and had symptoms of pneumonia," Lei Chin-lon, the head of Macau's health bureau, told reporters.    The woman had been staying at the New Orient Landmark Hotel with two friends who were being monitored since her admission to hospital on Tuesday.

Ao Ieong Iu, Macau's Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, said staff in all casinos would be required to wear masks while anyone arriving at entry ports along the city's border with the mainland would need to fill out health declaration forms.    "We have not banned tourism groups from Wuhan but we are not encouraging them," Ao Ieong said.    "We will stay in close contact with tourism agencies and require them to notify us of all groups going to and coming from Wuhan," she added.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 22:23:22 +0100 (MET)
By Issam Ahmed with Helen Roxburgh

Washington/Beijing, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - The United States on Tuesday announced its first case of a new virus that has claimed six lives in China and sickened hundreds, joining countries around the world in ramping up measures to block its spread.   The man, a US resident in his 30s who lives near Seattle, is in good condition, according to federal and state officials, and approached authorities himself after reading about the SARS-like virus in news reports.   He is "currently hospitalized out of an abundance of precaution, and for short term monitoring, not because there was severe illness," said Chris Spitters, a Washington state health official.  "This is an evolving situation and again, we do expect additional patients in the United States and globally," added Nancy Messonier, a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but stressed that the overall risk to Americans remained low.

The man entered the country on January 15 after traveling to Wuhan, two days before the US began deploying health officials at major airports to screen passengers arriving from that central Chinese city which is at the heart of the outbreak. The efforts are to be extended now to a total of five US airports.   It came as countries ramped up measures to block the spread of the virus -- known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus or 2019-nCoV -- as the number of cases surpassed 300, raising concerns in the middle of a major Chinese holiday travel rush.

Fears of a bigger outbreak rose after a prominent expert from China's National Health Commission confirmed late Monday that the virus can be passed between people.   That conclusion is shared by the CDC, which said "person-to-person spread is occurring, although it's unclear how easily the virus spreads between people," even as the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a more cautious approach, saying it is still investigating.   The UN agency will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to determine whether to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has also been detected in Thailand, Japan and South Korea and Taiwan.

- Holiday rush -
Authorities previously said there was no obvious evidence of person-to-person transmission and animals were suspected to be the source, as a seafood market where live animals were sold in Wuhan was identified as the center of the outbreak.   Hundreds of millions of people are criss-crossing China this week in packed buses, trains and planes to celebrate the Lunar New Year with relatives.

More than 80 new cases have been confirmed, bringing the total number of people hit by the virus in China to 315, with the vast majority in Hubei, the province where Wuhan lies, according to officials.   But cases have also been confirmed around the country, including Beijing and Shanghai.   The first case on the self-ruled island of Taiwan was also confirmed Tuesday, with a woman taken to hospital on arrival at the airport from Wuhan.   Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV Tuesday that the death toll had risen from four to six.   The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

- Fever checks -
At four airports in Thailand, authorities introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving from high-risk areas of China.   In Hong Kong, authorities said they were on "extreme high alert," with passengers from Wuhan required to fill out health declarations and face possible jail time if they do not declare symptoms.   Enhanced screening measures have also been set up at airports in Australia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore and Russia, Malaysia and Vietnam.   A man showing symptoms of the disease who had travelled to Wuhan has been put in isolation in Australia as health officials await test results, authorities said Tuesday.   In China, the government announced it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as SARS, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed ith the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel.

In Wuhan, authorities banned tour groups and police were conducting spot checks for animals in vehicles leaving and entering the city, state media said.   It added that city health authorities had scheduled 800 beds to be made available in three hospitals and 1,200 more would soon be ready, and passengers were being screened for fever at the airport, railway stations and bus terminals.   Doctors at the University of Hong Kong released a study on Tuesday estimating that there have been 1,343 cases of the new virus in Wuhan.   The WHO has only called a global public health emergency a handful of times, including during the H1N1 -- or swine flu -- pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 20:58:18 +0100 (MET)

Lima, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Peru is installing security cameras at its world renowned Machu Picchu site after it was damaged earlier this month by foreign tourists, authorities said Tuesday.   "We are going to strengthen security at Machu Picchu by installing high-tech cameras," Jose Bastante, head of the archaeological park, told AFP.   Bastante said 18 cameras will be located at three strategic points of the citadel as well as access points from surrounding mountains.   "This will allow us to better control visitors and avoid any action or infraction to the regulations, also any type of risk," he said, adding that drones were also being used for security.

Five tourists accused of damaging the iconic site were deported to Bolivia last week and barred from returning to the country for 15 years.    A sixth, from Argentina, was fined $360 and must pay $1,500 to the culture ministry for repairs after he admitted to damaging the Temple of the Sun at the ancient Inca sanctuary.

The Argentine, 28-year-old Nahuel Gomez, also received a suspended sentenced of three years and four months, but can leave the country once the fines are paid.   Gomez admitted to causing a stone slab to fall from a temple wall. It was chipped when it fell, causing a crack in the floor.   "The damaged caused is significant. The integrity of Machu Picchu has been broken," Bastante said.   Members of the group were also suspected of defecating inside the 600-year-old temple.

The Machu Picchu complex -- which includes three distinct areas for agriculture, housing and religious ceremonies -- is the most iconic site from the Inca empire, which ruled over a large swath of western South America for 100 years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.   Machu Picchu, which means "old mountain" in the Quechua language indigenous to the area, is at the top of a lush mountain and was built during the reign of the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438-1471).
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 17:28:23 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Beleaguered national airline South African Airways (SAA) announced on Tuesday it was cancelling 10 domestic and one international flight in an effort to streamline services and save cash.   The cash-strapped airline was last month placed under a state-approved business rescue plan to avoid total collapse following a costly week-long strike by thousands of its workers.   SAA said in was dropping 10 domestic flights between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, while canning its direct route between Johannesburg and Munich.

Passengers on cancelled domestic flights will be accommodated on its budget sister airline, Mango, while international travellers would be re-routed via its flights between Johannesburg and Frankfurt, and London Heathrow.   "These decisions are in line with SAA's usual policy of reviewing flights and consolidating services with low demand," it said in a statement.   "Furthermore, during the current process of business rescue, these cancellations represent a responsible strategy to conserve cash and optimise the airline's position ahead of any further capital investment."

The company said there might be further flight schedule changes over the coming days.   Aviation analyst Phuthego Mojapele said a spate of cancellations by clients were exacerbating problems for SAA.   "At the moment SAA's perception out there ... it's not really looking good because there is negative news that is being perpetuated on the wires every single day," Mojapele told local television station, eNCA.   "However, SAA's records in terms of safety, in terms of the service has always been excellent," he added.

The debt-ridden carrier, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts, has been awaiting a two-billion rand ($138 million) payout from the Treasury to fund a rescue plan announced in December.   Finance Minister Tito Mboweni last week told journalists that the government was still trying to "find a solution to finance the airline".    Local media have reported that SAA is selling nine older aircraft to make way for new planes, part of a separate plan to rid itself of its most costly aircraft.   SAA, Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines, employs more than 5,000 workers. It has a fleet of more than 50 aircraft flying to more than more 35 domestic and international destinations.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 12:26:16 +0100 (MET)

Taipei, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Taiwan on Tuesday reported its first confirmed case of the new SARS-like coronavirus as the government warned the public against travelling to Chinese city where it emerged.    The patient is a Taiwanese woman in her fifties, living in Wuhan, who returned to the island on Monday with symptoms including fever, coughing and a sore throat.   Asian countries have ramped up measures to block the spread of the new virus as the death toll in China rose to six and the number of cases jumped to almost 300 since it first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The Taiwan patient reported her symptoms to quarantine officials on arrival at Taoyuan airport and was immediately taken to a hospital for treatment, said the island's Centers for Disease Control (CDC).    The woman told officials that she had not visited any local markets or had contact with birds or wild animals while in Wuhan.    Authorities are monitoring some 46 passengers and crew from the same flight, the agency said.

The CDC raised its alert on Wuhan to the highest level, urging the public against travelling to the city unless necessary.    "We ask the public not to panic as the individual was taken to hospital directly from the airport and did not step into the community," it said in a statement, adding that it reported the case to the World Health Organization and China authorities.   The coronavirus has spread to Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 12:08:14 +0100 (MET)

Kathmandu, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Eight Indian tourists, including four children, have died after they were found unconscious in their room at a hill resort in Nepal on Tuesday, police said.   The eight -- two couples and their children -- had slept in one room at a hotel in Daman, a popular tourist destination in Makwanpur district about 55 kilometres (34 miles) from Kathmandu.   "They were found unconscious this morning and airlifted to Kathmandu but died during treatment," police spokesman Shailesh Thapa Chettri told AFP.

The families, from the south-eastern state of Kerala, used a gas heater in their room to keep warm, a district official told AFP.   "We suspect they died of suffocation, but autopsy reports will confirm the cause," Chettri added.   India is Nepal's biggest source of tourists, making up some 16 percent of visitors to the Himalayan nation.
Date: Sun, 19 Jan 2020 14:17:42 +0100 (MET)

Kathmandu, Jan 19, 2020 (AFP) - Avalanches, heavy snow and poor visibility hampered the search Sunday for four South Koreans and three Nepalis caught in an avalanche in the popular Annapurna region of the Himalayas, officials said   Relatives of the missing Koreans have arrived in Kathmandu alongside several officials sent by Seoul to help with the emergency rescue efforts, Ang Dorjee Sherpa of the Korean Alpine Federation told AFP.

The missing group was near the Annapurna base camp around 3,230 metres (10,600 feet) above sea level when the avalanche struck after heavy snowfall on Friday.   "Our team reached the area but could not proceed with their search because of more avalanches. We are exploring ways to move the operation forward," said Mira Acharya from Nepal's tourism department.

Rescuers were working with Korean officials to deploy drones in the search on Monday, said Dilip Gurung of the tourism management committee in Chhomrong, which lies on the trekking route.   "It is difficult for people to go. We will try to fly drones to help find something," Gurung said.   Helicopters were sent out on Saturday to rescue about 200 people stranded around Annapurna and other nearby mountains after the incident.

Guesthouses and the trekking route were blanketed in a thick layer of snow.   "The snow was very deep and it took us more than double the time to dig through and walk," said Jeevan Dahal, a guide who was rescued by helicopter.   "We saw the avalanche-hit area from the helicopter. Everything was white."   Tek Gurung, a guesthouse owner aiding the search operation, said more than two metres of snow (6.6 feet) had fallen on the trekking trails and it was "extremely difficult" to search the snow-covered area on foot.

Six of the missing were part of the same expedition, while one Nepali porter was escorting a different group.   The four foreigners -- two men and two women -- were part of an 11-member team of South Korean nationals. Others have safely descended.    Education officials in Seoul said they were part of a team of volunteer teachers working with children in Nepal.

Two more South Koreans were due to arrive in Nepal on Sunday to help with the search, the country's foreign ministry said.   Sherpa said it had snowed heavily around Annapurna in recent days, making the trek risky.   "The weather and snow got worse and, feeling it was becoming dangerous and difficult, they decided to turn. As they were heading back the avalanche hit," Sherpa told AFP on Saturday.

Annapurna is an avalanche-prone and technically difficult mountain range with a higher death rate than Everest, the world's highest peak.    Thousands of trekkers visit the route every year for its stunning views of the Himalayas.   A snowstorm killed about 40 people on the circuit in 2014, in one of the biggest trekking tragedies to hit Nepal.