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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making things worse, people are leaving the island for the mainland US. Forecasts are that the population now at 3.4 million will go down to 3.1 million or even less by 2026, said Villamil.   The government of Florida estimates that since October 3 -- the day a state of emergency to deal with an influx of Puerto Ricans was declared -- more than 36,000 people from the island have poured in.
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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: 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.
Date: Tue, 29 Aug 2017 11:52:52 +0200
By Marielle VITUREAU

Vilnius, Aug 29, 2017 (AFP) - Behind a heavy wooden door next to a Vilnius church, a couple of dozen Lithuanian men are talking about their dependence on alcohol. The moderator is Kestutis Dvareckas, a priest and a decade sober.   The World Health Organization ranks Lithuanians as the world's heaviest drinkers.   WHO estimates published in May pegged average annual consumption at 18.2 litres (4.8 gallons) of pure alcohol per person in 2016, putting the small EU Baltic state ahead of Belarus, Moldova and Russia.   "Drinking on the job had been tolerated on various occasions since the Soviet era. Today, you still see alcohol at baptisms and burials," Father Dvareckas, 37, told AFP.

Rather than being social, drinking on these occasions is often excessive to the point of passing out.   Poor mental health and coping skills play a role, especially among Lithuanian men. WHO statistics from 2014 show that 16.7 percent of them abused alcohol or were dependent on it.    Largely at fault is "Lithuanian pessimism", according to Visvaldas Legkauskas, a psychologist at Vytautas Magnus University in the central city of Kaunas.   "Life isn't too bad here, but we have this character trait and we drown our sorrows in alcohol or we commit suicide," he told AFP.

- Curbing consumption -
Dvareckas says he managed to quit drinking and get his life back thanks to a 12-step programme similar to the one used by Alcoholics Anonymous and the support of friends and family.    Wanting to pass on what he learnt, he created the free programme As Esu ("I am" in Lithuanian) in 2009, whose combination of group meetings, prayer, therapy and work opportunities help alcoholics get back on their feet.    An association created this year forged a network allowing 20 such communities to share resources. Other initiatives such as Alcoholics Anonymous are also afoot.

Burdened by the high social costs of heavy drinking, the government is taking action to curb consumption, including tax hikes and a blanket ban on alcohol advertising.   Fighting alcoholism was among the key campaign promises that gave the Lithuanian Peasants and Greens Union (LPGU) a surprise victory in 2016 elections. Its leader has been organising a booze-free cultural festival in his village for a decade.     Although parliament raised the tax on alcohol in March, consumption did not fall in the eurozone state of nearly three million residents.    Lawmakers then voted by a large margin in June to raise the legal drinking age to 20 from 18 and introduce a blanket ban on alcohol ads next year.    Whether these measures will work is another matter.   "Already back in 1998, Lithuania had adopted a strategy to curb consumption by 25 percent. But the reality is that it went up by 130 percent instead," Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga told AFP.

- Medical care -
For Father Dvareckas, the new legislation is not enough: "Why do I still have to pass the alcohol shelf at stores before reaching the one with dairy products?"   At a local store in the village of Semeliskes, located 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Vilnius, a saleswoman named Ona is sceptical.    "Prices may have gone up, but no one really cares. People will continue to buy as long as they have money, and they'll buy five bottles instead of one to make sure they're stocked," she told AFP.    Many believe that to really be effective, the restrictions affecting sales must be coupled with other forms of help.    Medical treatment of alcoholics is still spotty in Lithuania, where the necessary medication is not paid for by the state, according to the national health insurance fund.    There are only five state-run alcohol rehab centres across Lithuania.    For Veryga, the health minister, it is critical "to ensure equal access to everyone concerned in the various regions".
Date: Thu, 1 Jun 2017 20:28:08 +0200

Vilnius, June 1, 2017 (AFP) - Lithuania on Thursday banned alcohol advertising and raised the legal drinking age to 20 from 18 as part of efforts to curb consumption in one of the world's hardest-drinking nations.    The measures, which also include a ban on alcohol sales between 8pm to 10am, were approved by 101 lawmakers in the 141-seat parliament. Ten MPs were opposed, and another ten abstained.

The blanket ban on alcohol ads, which includes billboards, TV, radio, the printed press and the internet, will come into force on January 1, 2018.    Fighting alcoholism was among the key campaign promises that gave the Lithuanian Peasants and Greens Union (LPGU) a surprise victory in elections last October.   LPGU party chairman Ramunas Karbauskis said the EU nation of some 2.8 million people was taking its cue from several Nordic countries that have strict rules on alcohol sales.   "We need changes so that fewer people become dependent on alcohol and kids are not affected by this industry," Karbauskis said Thursday.

The average Lithuanian over the age of 15 consumed the equivalent of 13.2 litres of pure alcohol last year, the country's statistics agency reported this week, down by nearly a litre per person compared with a year ago.   But Gauden Galea, a senior World Health Organization official, last month pegged average annual consumption at 16 litres per person, making Lithuanians the world's "top" drinkers, according to the Baltic News Service.   Critics said the measures were unlikely to be effective.   "We're preventing adults from buying alcohol and we think that this will solve all social ills. This is a short-sighted approach," said liberal lawmaker Ausrine Armonaite.
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Lesotho

Lesotho US Consular Information Sheet
May 28, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with a democratically elected lower house of parliament.
The upper house, the Senate, is comprised of appointed hereditary ch
efs and politicians.
A Prime Minister is the head of the government.
Geographically, Lesotho is an extremely mountainous developing nation completely surrounded by the country of South Africa.
The capital, Maseru, is at 5,000 feet (1,500M) above sea level, and the mountains reach to 11,400 feet (3,500M). Facilities for tourism are limited.
A limited number of restaurants are available in Maseru.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Lesotho for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport is required, but no visa for U.S. citizens is needed for visits of 180 days or less.
Vaccination for yellow fever is a common requirement and travelers should carry their international vaccination cards with them.
For more information concerning entry requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Kingdom of Lesotho, 2511 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 797-5533.
Visit the Embassy of Lesotho’s web site at http://www.lesothoemb-usa.gov.ls/ for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Lesotho held a general election in February 2007, which international and local observers considered peaceful and independent.
Opposition parties disputed the allocation of parliamentary seats following the election, leading to a protracted political impasse, massive rallies, and several work stoppages in 2007 which disrupted public transportation and some commercial activity.
Although the Southern African Development Community (SADC) undertook a mediation effort aimed at achieving dialogue and reconciliation, senior political and government figures were targeted in a spate of armed attacks in June 2007.
These attacks, including the kidnapping of Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) guards and the seizure of military weapons, resulted in a government-imposed daily curfew from June 15 to June 22, 2007, and reports of harassment at security checkpoints and roadblocks.
Efforts by the Maseru City Council to disperse unlicensed street vendors in the central business district led to confrontations between police and vendors.
U.S. citizens should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

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

CRIME:
U.S. citizens should remain vigilant about their surroundings at all times.
Lesotho has a high level of crime and foreigners are frequently targeted, robbed and sometimes killed.
American citizens reported an increased number of incidents in the first half of 2008, including armed and unarmed confrontations, carjackings, and home invasions.
However, there are no indications that U.S. citizens are being specifically targeted or that there is an increase in the overall crime rate.

The Lesotho Mounted Police Service reported the presence of a number of armed gangs.
Lesotho’s high unemployment rate, aggravated by the return of large numbers of unemployed miners from South Africa, and the ongoing effects of social upheaval due to high HIV/AIDS rates of infection, continue to contribute to an increasing number of reported crimes.
These types of crimes occur primarily in the capital city of Maseru, but can occur elsewhere in Lesotho.
Crime scenes have included popular restaurants, pedestrian overpasses, unlit or poorly lit roads, and other locations foreigners are known to frequent.
Victims have included foreign diplomats, volunteer workers, employees of non-governmental organizations, and nationals of Lesotho.
U.S. citizens are advised to avoid large groups and demonstrations, walking and driving at nighttime if possible, and walking in the capital city of Maseru even during daylight.
Personal crime is more likely to occur at night, but there have been numerous recent incidents in the middle of the day.
Traveling alone or at night is particularly dangerous.
The Lesotho Mounted Police Service handles policing duties.
Police resources are limited and response time varies widely.
U.S. citizens should report crime to the police and to the Embassy consular section.

There is a serious baggage pilferage problem at Johannesburg International Airport, also known as Oliver Tambo International Airport, in South Africa.
Persons traveling by air to Lesotho must travel via Johannesburg.
The pilferage problem particularly affects travelers changing airlines and those flying on smaller airlines.
Passengers flying on major international carriers may not be affected to the same degree.
Travelers are encouraged to secure their luggage, use an airport plastic wrapping service, and avoid placing currency, electronics, jewelry, cameras or other valuables in checked luggage.
Make an inventory of items in checked baggage to aid in claims processing if theft does occur.
The claims processing procedure can be time-consuming.

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Lesotho are limited.
Good medical service is available in Bloemfontein, South Africa, 90 miles west of Maseru.
There is no reliable ambulance service in Lesotho.
The Embassy maintains a list of physicians and other health care professionals in Lesotho who may see U.S. citizen patients.
The Embassy does not guarantee their services or provide recommendations.
Many medicines are unavailable at facilities in Lesotho; travelers should carry with them an adequate supply of needed medicines and/or prescription drugs, along with copies of prescriptions.
Lesotho has a very high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, currently estimated at over thirty percent of the adult population.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Lesotho is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic moves on the left, with right-hand drive vehicles.
Never assume right-of-way, as aggressive and undisciplined local driving habits result in frequent collisions.
Lesotho has a high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries given its small size.
The previous king died in a road accident in 1996.
Driving after dark is dangerous due to the absence of street lighting, livestock on the roads, and the prevalence of crime, including incidents of carjacking.
American citizens may encounter roadblocks manned by unauthorized or off-duty police officers soliciting cash payments for alleged traffic violations.
Travel is best done by private car.
Rental cars are available, and cars rented in neighboring South Africa may be brought into Lesotho with written permission from the rental company.
Although bus and public taxi services exist, chronic overloading combined with inadequate vehicle maintenance and lack of driver training make them unsafe.
Some private taxi service exists in the capital, but roving mini-bus taxis should be avoided.
There is no passenger train service in the country.
Although the number of paved roads is gradually increasing, the majority of Lesotho’s 5,000 miles of roads are unpaved.
A few main rural highways are comparable to U.S. two-lane rural roads, but lane markings, signs, shoulders and guardrails are not to U.S. standards, and unfenced livestock pose a particular danger.
Lesotho's mountainous terrain makes driving on secondary roads hazardous.
Unpaved roads in the interior, often narrow, twisty and steep, are poorly maintained. For travel in the interior, especially in wet or snowy weather, a high ground clearance or four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended.
Four-wheel-drive is required for entering Lesotho through the Sani Pass on the eastern border.
The authority for road safety issues rests with the Lesotho Mounted Police Service.
There are no auto clubs or reliable ambulance services.
Drivers should contact the police in emergencies.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.lesothoemb-usa.gov.ls/tourism.htm.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Lesotho, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lesotho’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

The only scheduled air service is between Maseru and Johannesburg on a South African Airways subsidiary. There is no scheduled service among towns within Lesotho.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Tap water is not reliably potable.
Visitors to the interior of Lesotho should bring clothing and equipment suitable for cold weather during the winter months (June - October).
In the mountains, weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly.
In winter snow often closes mountain passes and temperatures often drop below freezing during the night, even in the lowlands.

Please see our Customs Information.

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

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Lesotho are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Lesotho.
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 254 Kingsway, Maseru West; the mailing address is PO Box 333, Maseru 100, Lesotho.
The telephone number is 266-22-312-666. The Embassy’s e-mail address is infomaseru@state.gov and the URL is http://maseru.usembassy.gov/.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Lesotho dated December 19, 2007 to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Crime, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon 27 May 2019
Source: The Post [edited]

Over 50 people were taken ill this week after they ate meat from cattle that died of anthrax in Qeme last Saturday [18 May 2019]. About 55 were rushed to nearby clinics while 18 of them were given prophylaxis and treated as outpatients. Most of the victims developed blisters and had swollen limbs while others suffered from severe stomach-aches and diarrhoea. So far more than 20 cattle have died from anthrax.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security this week declared that there had been an anthrax outbreak in Qeme area. The disease was 1st noticed in the villages of Ha-Tseka and Ha-Au in Qeme last Saturday [18 May 2019] after the villagers informed the ministry that their cattle were dying. The minister of agriculture, Mahala Molapo, told the post that they ensured that the carcasses were buried and those who ate meat of dead cattle were rushed to health centres for treatment.

A rapid response team comprising the Ministries of Agriculture and Health has since responded to the outbreak in the district. The team is comprised of experts from the Disease Control Unit, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the epidemiologists who swiftly moved to contain the disease. "Our main focus is treating those who ate the infected animals and how to properly bury the carcasses," Molapo said. "We are also testing water sources in the area." He said they are also going to hold public gatherings where they are going to sensitize the communities about the disease. Molapo said they have also banned the movement of animals in and out of the Qeme area, and next week they are going to embark on vaccination campaigns.

The minister said no one has died so far as a result of eating the contaminated meat. He said neighbouring countries have been notified and no movement of animals will be allowed between Lesotho and its neighbours until the disease is contained. He added the country's export of animal products such as skins and meat has also been banned until the crisis is addressed. "We are also planning to provide vaccines countrywide to prevent other diseases like Black Quarter," he said. The minister maintained they have put in place control measures to contain the disease in the affected areas to prevent more cattle from dying.

Meanwhile, the district administrator of Maseru, Mpane Nthunya, said they will start the vaccination campaigns next week. Nthunya said their work will be to meet the community leaders in the affected areas to sensitize them about the outbreak.  [byline: Tokase Mphutlane]
-----------------------------------------------
communicated by:
Sabine Zentis
Castleview English Longhorns
Gut Laach
D-52385 Nideggen
Germany
===========================
[These human cases are in relation to the same villages reported in the previous OIE report (See: ProMED-mail. Anthrax - Lesotho: (MS) cattle, OIE http://promedmail.org/post/20190524.6485405.] With 3 villages affected a human case load of 50 is not unexpected in spite of the optimistic response of the local authorities. To locate the affected area go to the OIE report to see their map. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Fri, 9 Sep 2016 05:27:46 +0200
By Julie JAMMOT

Semonkong, Lesotho, Sept 9, 2016 (AFP) - Across the rough grasslands of Lesotho, jockeys wearing wool balaclavas and scruffy old helmets urge their horses towards the finishing post as hundreds of spectators cheer from a nearby hillside.

Horseracing in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho is not like at Ascot or Longchamp, but it is still highly competitive, involves lots of gambling and is a major social occasion.   The course at Semonkong, in the centre of the landlocked nation, hosts races once a month in the winter, with the most prestigious days marking King Letsi III's birthday in July and independence day in October.   Before each race, the horses are paraded in front of a crowd that expertly assesses breeding, formation and fitness of runners with such exotic names as "4x4", "Cain" and "Jerusalem".   Then the gambling begins.

Most bets are head-to-head wagers over which of two selected horses will be faster, rather than the overall race winner.   "It's an entertainment but it's also our culture, and it refreshes the mind," Mohale Mpapa, 45, a leading racehorse owner and farmer, told AFP.   "It's important to me because I get money if my horse wins, and for the country it's very important because we teach kids how to ride horses.   "If you take care of someone, if you respect him, you make them a good jockey. It's the same with a horse, you need to treat it well."   The horses are either cross-breeds, thoroughbreds from neighbouring South Africa or local "Basotho" ponies, which are better suited to the terrain and climate, and are still used for everyday transport.

- The will to win -
Mpapa's current jockey is Modikeng Tladi, 16, who also works for him as a shepherd.   Tladi -- wearing bright earrings -- rises at dawn and looks after racehorses and sheep that all live in one small, corrugated-iron shed.   "I will be very excited if I win, and very proud, because I will have won a professional race in front of everyone," he said before a recent race meeting.

"In my first race, I was so scared, now I'm used to it. I feel comfortable and excited when I ride the horse, I want to win all the time."   Tladi takes the patchwork blanket off a horse called "Kodi-a-Malla" and walks him over the hills to the racecourse -- a difficult job as the animal is twice his size and full of energy.   When race time finally comes, tensions mount as Mpapa checks the small saddle and issues last-minute instructions to Tladi before helping him on board.

Without stalls, the horses line up chaotically and -- after several false starts -- set off at a furious pace when an official waves his white flag and just avoids being trampled.   Tladi only manages fourth, but the team is happy enough.   "During training my horse got injured, so I didn't train him very hard, and next time it will be better," said Mpapa, who owns 15 horses in total.

- Unique heritage -
The Lesotho races are growing as a cultural event, and have received government sponsorship to boost visitor numbers to a nation that boasts stunning landscapes and a unique heritage independent from surrounding South Africa.

The owners of the first four horses in each race win between $20 and $70, with more than $1,000 on offer during the day.   "I have loved horses since I was very young, and they're part of my business," said Jonathan Hales, 46, who owns the nearby Semonkong Lodge that caters for tourists.   "The future of the horses of Lesotho comes out of these races, where all the breeders and owners can analyse and look at them.   "Tourism is also connected to the horses, so we promote them and care for them -- it's all about fun, not about winning and losing."

Jockeys such as Tladi may not agree.   After riding in several races and making some small bets, he made about $60 during the day -- 10 days of normal pay.   While the owners of victorious horses celebrate with joyful dancing, the jockeys barely manage a smile as they quickly ride over to collect their cash.   For the spectators, many of them wearing traditional blankets, racing combines their passion for animals with a chance to test their luck and judgement.   "The horse I bet on just lost, but I will keep gambling, I just love horses," said 50-year-old Motseki Pakela.
Date: Sat, 13 Aug 2016 05:04:53 +0200
By Julie JAMMOT

Sephareng, Lesotho, Aug 13, 2016 (AFP) - For farmer Mohlakoane Molise, the view of the enormous Katse dam from his smallholding high in the mountains of Lesotho taunts him daily.   His country is suffering through its worst drought in 35 years, but the vast and vital water reserves remain out of reach, destined instead for export to neighbouring South Africa.   "I am very angry about that water, because it could benefit us, we could use it to water the crops when there is a drought. But that's not happening," the 65-year-old widower told AFP.

Kneeling in front of his round, thatch-roofed hut, he sorted through his maize, examining each grain, one-by-one.   The operation didn't take long. His total annual harvest filled just two large sacks, in place of the usual dozen.   According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the 2016 harvest for Lesotho's primary crop maize is estimated at 25,000 tonnes, a dramatic drop from last year's 78,000-tonne haul.

Instead, the mountainous kingdom -- entirely landlocked by South Africa -- must import food from its larger neighbour.   But it too has been hit by the drought after the El Nino weather phenomenon wreaked havoc on the region's rainfall patterns, and maize prices have sky-rocketed by 60 percent in the last year.   According to the United Nations, 40 million people across southern Africa risk malnutrition by next year's harvest.   "From September, we'll have nothing left and we'll struggle to buy maize from the shop," said Molise.   Below, the immense dark blue of the dam stood out in stark contrast to the bare, brown mountains.

- 'It's like a desert' -
The valley here was flooded in the nineties to make way for Katse. The deal: hydroelectricity for impoverished Lesotho in exchange for a reliable water supply to the bustling cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.   "There were fields around the river before the dam was built, and there were trees, but they are covered by water," said Molise.   "Since the dam is here, it's difficult to get water. The crops are very poor, even the grazing land. It's like a desert."   In Sephareng, the village tap has run dry for months. Residents must instead make their way up the mountain -- a good half-hour walk along a rocky trail -- to a communal pump. There, a feeble trickle of water fills their buckets, while their cows and donkeys drink from the small puddles left behind by a vanishing stream.

For its part, Africa's second-largest dam is fulfilling its mandate, despite the drought.   "The level today is about 63.4 percent, which is quite low," said Tatuku Maseatile, Katse acting branch manager for the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA).   "We are still able to meet our annual targets in terms of both generation and water transfer."   From his office high up on the soaring dam wall, he had an unparalleled view of the waters below.   "I do think people are benefiting from the dam," he said, ticking the projects off: a water supply system, construction jobs, two industrial fishing projects, schools.   "And roads in the mountains, tarred roads brought by the project -- another direct spin-off -- and a clinic built and transferred to the government."

- Disastrous consequences -
Along those tarred roads, women trudged uphill for hours to reach the clinic for the WFP's monthly food distribution.   "We give them four packs each," explained Mamakase Grace Sello, 21, a nutrition student interning with the WFP.   "It's for lactating or pregnant mothers, and infants below the age of two. But we know that often the whole family eats some, including the fathers, even if they should not. The nutrients are for the babies."   In a country where the overwhelming majority of families depend on their own crops for food and where nearly a quarter of the population is affected by AIDS, charities are predicting disastrous consequences by next year's harvest.

Earlier this year, the Lesotho government declared the drought a natural disaster.   "I've never seen a drought like this," said shepherd Ntoaesele Mashongoane, 32.   "This drought is really terrible, especially for the pregnant sheep. They don't have enough grass and there's no water."   His flock moved down the steep mountainsides to the water's edge for a drink -- a small consolation -- and the deep blue of the dam reflected the skies above, not a raindrop in sight.
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2012 17:33:42 +0100 (MET)

MASERU, Lesotho, Nov 01, 2012 (AFP) - The Lesotho government fears it may not raise enough cash to avert a pending food crisis caused by two successive crop failures, the head of the country's disaster management authority said Thursday. "We are far from reaching the amount required to bail the country out of the food crisis it's facing, we may not even get half of that money and we strongly appeal for more donors to assist us," said Mats'eliso Mojaki. The tiny mountainous country is trying to raise 1.8 billion maloti, or around $200 million it believes is needed to avert disaster caused by unfavourable weather. "We are in a dire situation and can only appeal to the international community to assist."

Mojaki indicated that the country has not developed alternative plans in case they fail to get the entire amount. "At the present moment we do not have a plan B, but are however devising a long term prevention and adaptation plan. UNICEF Deputy Representative Naqib Safi described the situation as "dire". "More than two thirds of the country's population is facing a serious food crisis and we need assistance." Around 725,000 people out of a population of 1.8 million are said to be at serious risk this year and next. The kingdom relies on subsistence agriculture for income.
Date: Fri, 28 Sep 2012 15:15:28 +0200 (METDST)

GENEVA, Sept 28, 2012 (AFP) - More than 725,000 people face a food crisis in the tiny southern African nation of Lesotho after successive disastrous harvests cut production by 70 percent, the World Food Programme said Friday.   "Lesotho is facing the devastating effects of two successive crop failures due to drought and late rainfall," WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.

More than one third of the country's nearly two million people were at risk because of the poor harvests, Byrs said, describing the crop deficit as a "catastrophe for this little country".   Production of maize, the main staple food in Lesotho, has declined by 77 percent compared with last year, the food agency said.

Levels of other cereals such as sorghum and wheat were down by 80 percent and 52 percent respectively, meaning that the country will have less than 10 percent of its requirements for 2012/13, the WFP added in a statement.   Among those facing the food crisis, 230,000 people were "particularly vulnerable" to hunger, the agency said, especially the very poor, orphans and those with HIV/AIDS, an illness that affects 25 percent of the population.

Announcing an appeal for $38 million (29.3 million euros) in association with other humanitarian partners, the WFP said it aimed to provide life-saving help to 118,000 "of the most deprived".   It would also meet the needs "of all 725,000 food-insecure people" by boosting crop production and improving food security, health and nutrition.   The development follows Lesotho's declaration of an emergency food crisis on August 9, Byrs said.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue 18 Jun 2019
Source: The Namibian [edited]

Oyster and black mussel production at Walvis Bay has been halted due to another outbreak of diarrheal shellfish poisoning (DSP), which can be harmful to humans. The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources issued a notice yesterday [17 Jun 2019], warning people not to eat oysters or mussels from Walvis Bay. This comes 3 months after the last outbreak, which was cleared shortly thereafter.

According to the fisheries biologist, contamination is a seasonal occurrence -- mainly during summer from October to April. The recent outbreak could put a dent in the shellfish industry's economy as most exports are to Asia.

The worst affected area is at Walvis Bay's central production sector called "aquaculture production area 1", which is situated near Pelican Point. Once 2 negative results of tested samples are issued, the alert would be withdrawn, and harvesting, consumption and exports would be cleared again. The samples should be taken at 48-hour intervals, the statement from the ministry noted. Marine biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing.

The statement indicated that DSP symptoms in humans who may have been poisoned might include, as the name suggests, diarrhea, although nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps are also common. These symptoms could manifest themselves after about half an hour of eating the infected shellfish, and could last a day. No deaths have been recorded from DSP to date, the statement indicated. People who show such symptoms should immediately consult a doctor or healthcare centre.  [Byline: Adam Hartman]
=======================
[It is not clear if the term outbreak refers to in the shellfish or in humans.  Diarrheal shellfish poisoning (DSP) (<http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20020>) is a gastrointestinal illness caused by the consumption of shellfish contaminated with algal toxins produced by marine dinoflagellates belonging to the genera _Dinophysis_ spp. (_D. fortii_, _D. mitra_, _D. rotundata_, _D. tripos_, _D. acuta_, _D. norvegica_, and _D. acuminata_) and _Prorocentrum_ spp. (_P. lima_, _P. maculosum_, _P. concavum_, and _P. hoffmannianum_).

The DSP toxins, including okadaic acid (OA) and its analogues dinophysistoxin-1 (DTX-1), dinophysistoxin-2 (DTX-2), and dinophysistoxin-3 (DTX-3), belong to the larger group of lipophilic toxins that also includes the azaspiracid, yessotoxin, and pectenotoxin group toxins.

The term diarrhectic (usually diarrhetic) shellfish poisoning (DSP) was used in this report, but this moderator prefers to use diarrheal shellfish poisoning to avoid any confusion between the almost homophones of diarrhetic and diuretic.

DSP is often mistaken for norovirus-like disease. It is treated with rehydration, and affected individuals usually recover in 1 to 2 days. DSP is most commonly found in shellfish in Europe and Japan but can appear anywhere and bears consideration with the appropriate epidemiology. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Wed 19 Jun 2019 [date accessed]
Source: WHO/EMRO Epidemic and pandemic-prone diseases [edited]

MERS situation update, May 2019
--------------------------
- At the end of May 2019, a total of 2442 laboratory-confirmed cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), including 842 associated deaths (case fatality rate: 34.5%), were reported globally; the majority of these cases were reported from Saudi Arabia (2051 cases, including 765 related deaths with a case fatality rate of 37.3%). During the month of May [2019], a total of 14 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS were reported globally. All 14 cases were reported from Saudi Arabia with 4 associated deaths.

- This month [May 2019], Saudi Arabia has not reported any new cases related to the Al-Khafji city outbreak. The outbreak has presumed to have stopped due to the effective response measures taken by Saudi Arabia. This month [May 2019], one household cluster was reported from Al-Kharj city, including 2 symptomatic national females aged 22 and 44. One 23-year-old national female healthcare worker was also infected this month [May 2019] in Riyadh. All 4 cases that died this month [May 2019] were symptomatic males with one or more co-morbidities.

- The demographic and epidemiological characteristics of reported cases, when compared during the same corresponding period of 2013 to 2019, do not show any significant difference or change.

Summaries:
- Laboratory-confirmed cases reported since April 2012: 2442
- Deaths reported since April 2012 globally: 843
- Number of countries that have reported cases since April 2012: 27
- Number of countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region that have reported cases since April 2012: 12
- 13 laboratory-confirmed cases reported linked to an outbreak in Saudi Arabia in April [2019]
- The age group 50-59 years continues to be at highest risk for acquiring infection of primary cases. The age group 30-39 years is most at risk for secondary cases. The number of deaths is higher in the age group 50-59 years for primary cases and 70-79 years for secondary cases.
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2019 06:40:09 +0200
By Sebastien BERGER

Pyongyang, June 18, 2019 (AFP) - On a grey stone column in Pyongyang, a mural shows Chinese and North Korean soldiers rushing into battle against US-led forces in the Korean War. Decades later, the monument is a regular stop for new waves of Chinese going to the North, this time as tourists.   Hundreds of soldiers and workers have been sprucing up the obelisk and its grounds in recent days ahead of a state visit to Pyongyang by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.   An inscription on it lauds "the Chinese People's Volunteer Army, who fought with us on this land and smashed down the common enemy".   Their "immortal exploits" will "last forever", it proclaims, as will "the friendship forged in blood between the peoples of the People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea".   Nearly 70 years after Mao Zedong sent millions of soldiers to save Kim Il Sung's troops from defeat as General Douglas MacArthur's men marched up the peninsula, China remains the isolated, nuclear-armed North's key diplomatic backer and main provider of trade and aid.

Now the Friendship Tower, as the monument is known, attracts growing hordes of Chinese tourists -- and the renovations suggest it may also be on Xi's itinerary.   Ordinary Chinese pay travel companies around 2,500 yuan ($360) for a standard three-day trip, arriving overland by train in Pyongyang to tour the capital's highlights, from the Arch of Triumph to Kim Il Sung Square.   The following day they head south to the Demilitarized Zone that has divided the peninsula since the two sides fought each other to a stalemate in 1953, before returning home.   "I'm very interested in North Korea and wanted to come to see what North Korea looks like," said Yu Zhi, a retiree from Anhui province visiting Pyongyang, telling AFP that she had a "special feeling" for the country.   "China is very friendly with North Korea," added her fellow traveller, a woman surnamed Jin. "We have been friends for generations."

- Lips and teeth -
It was not always so. Mao -- whose eldest son Mao Anying was among those killed in what China still calls the "War to Resist US Aggression and Aid the DPRK" -- described the neighbours as "as close as lips and teeth".   Ties then waxed and waned during the Cold War, when founder Kim Il Sung was adept at playing his Soviet and Chinese allies off against each other, and his grandson, the current leader Kim Jong Un, did not visit Beijing to pay his respects for more than six years after inheriting power.   But as he embarked on a flurry of diplomacy last year he made sure that Chinese President Xi Jinping was the first foreign head of state he met, and he has since done so three more times -- more often than Kim has seen any other leader.    Now Xi is going to reciprocate.

At the same time Chinese tourism to the North has reached record highs, according to travel industry sources -- so much so that Pyongyang has imposed a limit on arrivals.   No official figures are available from authorities on either side, but Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, the market leader for Western visitors, said there had been "a huge increase in Chinese tourists".   At peak times 2,000 people a day had been arriving in Pyongyang, he said. "That's far too many because there is no infrastructure to accommodate that many tourists, so problems with train tickets, with plane tickets, hotel space."   As a result North Korean authorities had themselves set a 1,000-a-day cap, he added, although it was unclear whether this applied across the industry or solely to Chinese, who make up the vast majority of arrivals.   "There are issues with just hundreds of people showing up at the same time."

- 'Choices being made' -
China has a proven willingness to use tourism as a geopolitical negotiating weapon -- it banned group tours to South Korea after it deployed a US anti-missile system, THAAD.   With nuclear negotiations at a stalemate the North remains subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions, and the US imposed a travel ban on its own citizens visiting following the death of student Otto Warmbier, who had been jailed after trying to steal a propaganda poster.   But tourism is not among the sectors targeted by the UN, potentially enabling Beijing to use it as an incentive for its sometimes wayward ally.

The Chinese travel phenomenon is market-driven, rather than prompted by state order -- as well as the market offered by China's huge population, the two countries' border enables cheap overland journeys.   But simply enabling it to take place, said John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul, meant "We can infer some choices are being made" by Beijing.   "We know it's a lever they can turn on and off," he said.   Even with the diplomatic process at a standstill, he added, "The Chinese think you have to use this window of opportunity to move things forward. There has to be a path on both sides and so something like opening up tourism is a good way to enable that."   At the Monument to the Three Charters for Reunification on the edge of Pyongyang, where two giant stone women form an arch over a road, a secondary school teacher from Shanghai called Peng said: "We are both socialist countries. I feel there are more Chinese coming to visit."
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2019 06:14:38 +0200

Mae Sai, Thailand, June 18, 2019 (AFP) - Tourists snap selfies by a bronze statue of the diver who died trying to save the 'Wild Boars' football team from a flooded cave, while momentos from their rescue fly off the shelves -- scooped up by the 1.3 million people who have descended on a once serene mountainside in northern Thailand.   "It's amazing what happened here. I followed everything from Australia," tourist John McGowan told AFP after taking photos at the visitor centre around 100 metres from the Tham Luang cave entrance.   "I wanted to see it with my own eyes," the 60-year-old said, adding he was a little disappointed the cave is still off limits to visitors.

For a few dollars tourists can get framed photos at the site, pick up posters of the footballers and take home a souvenir t-shirt  -- some printed with the face of Saman Gunan the Thai diver who died in the bid to save the group.   There has been extraordinary global interest in the picturesque rural backwater of Mae Sai since 12 youngsters -- aged between 11 and 16 -- and their coach entered the Tham Luang cave on June 23, 2018.   They quickly became trapped by rising water levels and the daring, unprecedented mission to extract them through twisting flooded passageways captivated the world for 18 nail-biting days.   When they emerged -- after being heavily sedated and manoeuvered out by expert divers -- they did so into the centre of a global media frenzy.

The cave, which previously received around 5,000 visitors a year, has since been inundated by visitors both Thai and foreign.   "A miracle has happened here with these children," Singaporean tourist Cheong, giving one name, said but adding Tham Luang "must still have a spiritual side" despite the mass popularity.   - Tragedy and luck -   Mae Sai district, where the cave is located, was considered off the beaten track for foreign visitors.    But between October 2018 and April this year alone "1.3 million people visited," site manager Kawee Prasomphol told AFP.

The government now has big plans for the area around the storied cave, Kawee added, allocating a total of 50 million baht ($1.6 million) including a shopping complex, restaurants, hotels and several campsites outside the national park.   Vans disgorge streams of tourists who explore a visitor hub where the centrepiece is a mural entitled "The Heroes".   It depicts the young footballers, stars of the rescue, and junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha -- a reminder of the governmental fingerprints in aiding their cause.   At the heart of the mural is the beaming face of Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out off oxygen attempting to establish an air line to the children and their coach -- the only fatality across the near three-week rescue mission.

Laying white flowers at the foot of his bronze statue, Thai nurse Sumalee, who travelled four hours to the site, described him as "the hero of the whole country" in a sobering reminder of the risks involved in the rescue amid the blizzard of marketing opportunities now attached to the cave story.    Nearby lottery ticket vendors are capitalising on the perceived good fortune linked to the boys' survival and the folkloric appeal of a nearby shrine. The number of stalls has mushroomed from a few dozen to around 250.    Kraingkrai Kamsuwan, 60, who moved his stall to the site weeks after the rescue, sells 4,000 tickets a month ($2.5) but reckons more will visitors will arrive once the cave reopens.    He told AFP: "People want to gamble after wishing for luck from the shrine."
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 12:02:50 +0200

Patna, India, June 16, 2019 (AFP) - Severe heat has left dozens dead over a 24-hour period in India's Bihar state, as the country enters a third week of searing temperatures, officials said Sunday.   The deaths occurred in three districts of the poor northern state, where temperatures have hovered around 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in recent days, senior health official Vijay Kumar told AFP.

Forty-nine people died in three districts of the Magadh region that has been hit by drought, he said.   "It was a sudden development on Saturday afternoon. People affected by heatstroke were rushed to different hospitals," Kumar added.   "Most of them died on Saturday night and some on Sunday morning during treatment."   Kumar said about 40 more people were being treated at a government-run hospital in Aurangabad.   "Patients affected by heat stroke are still being brought, the death toll is likely to increase if the heatwave continues."

Most of the victims were aged above 50 and were rushed to hospitals in semi-conscious state with symptoms of high fever, diarrhoea and vomiting.   Twenty-seven people died in Aurangabad district, 15 in Gaya and seven in Nawada district, officials said.    State Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has announced a compensation of 400,000 rupees ($5,700) for the family of each victim.   Harsh Vardhan, India's health minister, said people should not leave their homes until temperatures fall.    "Intense heat affects brain and leads to various health issues," he said.

Large parts of northern India have endured more than two weeks of sweltering heat. Temperatures have risen above 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in the desert state of Rajasthan.   A heatwave in 2015 left more than 3,500 dead in India and Pakistan.   In 2017, researchers said South Asia, which is home to one fifth of the world's population, could see heat levels rise to unsurvivable levels by the end of the century if no action is taken on global warming.
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 01:30:52 +0200

Wellington, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - A powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake stuck near the uninhabited Kermadec islands northeast of New Zealand Sunday, the US Geological Survey said as authorities monitored for signs of a tsunami.   New Zealand's civil defence organisation said it was monitoring the situation and if a tsunami was generated it would take at least two hours to reach the country.   The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said "hazardous tsunami waves from this earthquake are possible within 300 km of the epicentre along the coasts of the Kermadec islands."   The earthquake struck at 10:55am (2255 GMT Saturday) some 928 kilometres (575 miles) north-northeast of the New Zealand city of Tauranga in North Island at a depth of 34 km.
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 00:59:42 +0200

Wellington, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - A magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck Sunday centred 97 kilometres (60 miles) north-east of Ohonua, on the Pacific island of Tonga, the US Geological Survey reported.   The quake hit at 2156 GMT Saturday with an epicentre depth of 10 kilometres, the US global quake monitor said.   The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued no alerts, and there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.   The reported epicentre lies within the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of regular seismic activity.   In February 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Papua New Guinea killed 150 people and destroyed hundreds of buildings.
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 00:19:43 +0200

Geneva, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - A woman has drowned in Lake Geneva when her sightseeing boat sank as a violent storm battered parts of Switzerland on Saturday, police said.   A man who was in the same boat was able to swim to another vessel from where he fired "two flares", Joanna Matta, police spokeswoman for the canton (region) of Geneva, told AFP.   The man told officers that the woman had been "passing through Geneva" and that the storm had taken them "by surprise", Matta said.   Three police boats and emergency services rushed to the scene. Police divers later retrieved the woman's body from the lake.

The victim, whose nationality remains unknown, was then taken to a hospital in Geneva where she was declared dead.   In a separate incident, the storm also damaged some of the 465 boats taking part in the 81st edition of the Bol d'Or, an annual regatta on Lake Geneva, the event's press service said.   Heavy rain and strong winds lashed the participants on Saturday afternoon, causing boats to capsize although nobody was injured.

However, the storm broke the mast of the ultra-fast "Real Team" catamaran, which had been in the lead and was forced to pull out of the race.   The bad weather struck western Switzerland on Saturday afternoon, bringing hail and winds reaching up to 110 kilometres (70 miles) per hour, according to the national forecaster MeteoSwiss.   In the neighbouring French region of Haute-Savoie the storm also caused damage and left a 51-year-old German tourist dead after a tree came down at a campsite.
Date: Sat, 15 Jun 2019 16:27:09 +0200

Windhoek, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - Drought-hit Namibia has authorised the sale of at least 1,000 wild animals -- including elephants and giraffes -- to limit loss of life and generate $1.1 million for conservation, the authorities confirmed Saturday.   "Given that this year is a drought year, the [environment] ministry would like to sell various type of game species from various protected areas to protect grazing and at the same time to also generate much needed funding for parks and wildlife management," environment ministry spokesman Romeo Muyunda told AFP.

The authorities declared a national disaster last month, and the meteorological services in the southern African nation estimate that some parts of the country faced the deadliest drought in as many as 90 years.    "The grazing condition in most of our parks is extremely poor and if we do not reduce the number of animals, this will lead to loss of an animals due to starvation," Muyunda said.

In April, an agriculture ministry report said 63,700 animals died in 2018 because of deteriorating grazing conditions brought on by dry weather.   Namibia's cabinet announced this week that the government would sell about 1,000 wild animals.   They include 600 disease-free buffalos, 150 springbok, 65 oryx, 60 giraffes, 35 eland, 28 elephants 20 impala and 16 kudus -- all from national parks.   The aim is to raise $1.1 million that will go towards a state-owned Game Products Trust Fund for wildlife conservation and parks management.

The government said there were currently about 960 buffalos in its national parks, 2,000 springbok, 780 oryx and 6,400 elephants.   The auction was advertised in local newspapers from Friday.   Namibia, a country of 2.4 million people, has previously made calls for aid to assist in the drought emergency that has already affected over 500,000 people.   In April the government announced that it will spend about $39,400 (35,200 euros) on drought relief this year to buy food, provide water tankers and provide subsidies to farmers.
Date: Fri, 14 Jun 2019 18:27:56 +0200
By Rosa SULLEIRO

Sao Paulo, June 14, 2019 (AFP) - A nationwide strike called by Brazil's trade unions disrupted public transport and triggered road blocks in parts of the country Friday, ahead of protests against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's pension reform.   Hours before the opening match of the Copa America in Sao Paulo, some metro lines in the country's biggest city were paralyzed as professors and students also prepared to take to the streets over the government's planned education spending cuts.    It will be the latest mass demonstration against Bolsonaro since he took office in January, but the timing could not be worse for the embattled president as Brazil prepares to play Bolivia in South America's showcase football tournament.

Bolsonaro was expected to attend the opener at Morumbi stadium where police sharpshooters will be deployed as part of increased security for the competition.    One of Brazil's main trade unions estimated 45 million workers had taken part in the strike.   Some 63 cities had been affected by the stoppage, with more than 80 cities recording demonstrations, G1 news site said.   The number of protesters is expected to balloon in the afternoon with demonstrations planned in Brazil's major cities.   Protesters have already blocked some roads in several cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where G1 said police had used tear gas to disperse demonstrators and clear the streets.   Brazilians were divided over the partial strike.   "This current government wants to destroy everything that we built decades ago so that's why I'm in favor (of the strike) and I am fighting against social inequality," Vania Santos, 49, told AFP in Rio.    In Sao Paulo, Flavio Moreira opposed the stoppage, however, saying it "hurts the commercial part" of the city.

- Pension savings cut -
Bolsonaro's proposed overhaul of Brazil's pension system -- which he has warned will bankrupt the country if his plan is not approved -- is seen as key to getting a series of economic reforms through Congress.    But the changes, including an increase in the retirement age and workers' contributions, have faced resistance from trade unions and in the lower house of Congress, where Bolsonaro's ultraconservative Social Liberal Party has only around 10 percent of the seats.    A pared-back draft of the reform presented to Congress on Thursday -- which reduces expected savings from 1.2 trillion reais ($300 billion) in 10 years to around 900 billion reais -- did little to appease union leaders, who vowed to go ahead with the shutdown.   Such savings are seen as vital to repairing Brazil's finances and economy, which were devastated by a 2015-2016 crisis.

Economy minister Paulo Guedes, who is spearheading the government's reform agenda, has threatened to resign if the bill is not passed or is watered down significantly.   It caps a tumultuous six months for Bolsonaro, who has seen his popularity nosedive as he struggles to push his signature reform through a hostile Congress and keep Latin America's biggest economy from sliding back into recession.   More than 13 million people are unemployed, the latest data shows, with a record number giving up looking for a job.     Fighting between military and far-right factions of Bolsonaro's government has fueled chaos in his administration where his sons and right-wing writer and polemicist Olavo de Carvalho wield enormous influence.   Bolsonaro sacked his third minister on Thursday -- retired general Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, who had been the government secretary and seen as a moderate voice.   That came on the same day Bolsonaro broke his silence to defend Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who has been accused of wrongdoing while serving as a judge in the sprawling Car Wash anticorruption investigation.