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Andorra

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 14 Mar 2020 21:41:50 +0100 (MET)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over the last week, firefighters have fought wildfires triggered by the heat in peat bogs in western Lithuania and neighbouring Latvia.   Elsewhere in Central Europe, Polish authorities said this week that varying degrees of drought have put grain crops at risk in 14 of the EU country's 16 regional districts.   The Czech Academy of Sciences said it expects drought to affect the entire country, with 80 percent of the territory facing "exceptional to extreme drought".
Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2019 15:12:32 +0200

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

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

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

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

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

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

Libya

Libya - US Consular Information Sheet
August 13, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Officially known as the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Libya has a developing economy. Islamic ideals and beliefs provide the conservative foundat
on of the country's customs, laws, and practices. Tourist facilities are not widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Libya for more information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Passports and visas are required. The restrictions on the use of U.S. passports for travel to, in, or through Libya were lifted in February 2004. Please see the section below on Special Circumstances.
Without prior notice, the Libyan government on November 11, 2007 “reinstated” a requirement that all foreign travelers must have an Arabic translation of their personal biographic data added to their passport in order to apply for a Libyan visa, or to enter Libya. This requirement includes foreigners who already received visas before the requirement was put into place, including those foreigners currently resident in Libya. Since that date, foreign travelers whose passports do not have Arabic translations have been denied entry into Libya or refused boarding by airlines on flights into Libya.
The U.S. passport is a U.S. travel document that meets all generally recognized international standards. While the Libyan government has the right to impose its own requirements for travelers in connection with obtaining a Libyan visa, it also has the responsibility to give travelers information on where and how to meet these requirements. Travelers should be aware that in some cases, Libyan officials may ask that U.S. citizens obtain translations from U.S. Government-approved translation services. However, U.S. consular officers have no authority to designate or certify private translations; nor do they have authority to place a consular authentication stamp over a privately-obtained translation.

American citizens who hold Libyan visas or who intend to apply for a visa are advised to contact the nearest Libyan embassy or consulate for information on how to obtain an acceptable translation. Information from Libyan embassies and consulates may differ from country to country. American citizens may also contact the Consular Section at the U.S. embassy or consulate for additional information.
The Government of Libya does not allow persons with passports bearing an Israeli visa or entry/exit stamps to enter the country. At this time, neither Libya nor the U.S. provides visa services to the general public in each other’s countries; U.S. visitors to Libya should therefore plan to obtain a visa via a third country. Libyan visas require an invitation or sponsor, can take up to several months to process, and should be obtained prior to travel. All visas are vetted and approved by immigration departments in Tripoli and only issued by the appropriate Libyan Embassy upon receipt of that approval. There may be another wait for actual visa issuance once approval has been received. For tourists, the visa application procedure in most cases requires a letter of invitation from an accredited tour company in Libya; for business travelers, a letter of invitation is needed from the Libyan business entity. Americans who apply for Libyan visas are experiencing significant delays, often waiting several weeks or months if their applications are approved at all. Inconsistent Libyan visa practice is subject to change without notice and visa service to American citizens is often blocked without warning. With few exceptions, Libya has stopped issuing tourist visas to Americans. It is recommended that Americans always obtain individual Libyan visas prior to travel, rather than group visas. Americans who expected to enter on group tour visas or individual airport visas arranged by Libyan sponsors have routinely been denied entry at the air and sea ports and have been forced to turn back at the airport or remain onboard ship at the port while other nationals disembark. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli cannot provide assistance to American citizens seeking Libyan visas.
Inquiries about obtaining a Libyan visa may be made through the Libyan Embassy in Washington, D.C. The Embassy is located at 2600 Virginia Avenue NW – Suite 705, Washington, DC 20037, phone number 202-944-9601, fax number 202-944-9606, website www.libyanbureau-dc.org. Neither the Libyan Mission to the UN in New York nor the Libyan Embassy in Washington, DC accepts visa applications from the general public. The closest Libyan visa-issuing office to the continental United States is the Libyan People’s Bureau in Ottawa, Canada; however, that office frequently declines to accept visa applications from American citizens. The land borders with Egypt and Tunisia are subject to periodic closures even to travelers with valid Libyan visas. Short-term closures of other land borders may occur with little notice. Within three days of arrival, visitors must register at the police station closest to where they are residing or they may encounter problems during their stay or upon departure.
Women and children in Libya are often subject to strict family controls.
This can be a particular problem for young single women of marriageable age. Although a woman does not need her father’s or husband's explicit consent every time she wishes to leave Libya, a Libyan husband may take legal action to prevent his wife from leaving the country, regardless of her nationality. While not illegal, it is unusual for women and children to travel alone. Children under 18 whose fathers are Libyan must have the father's permission to depart Libya, even if the mother has been granted full custody by a Libyan court.
The Libyan Government requires all its citizens, including dual nationals of Libyan descent, to enter and depart Libya on Libyan documents. In some cases American citizens of Libyan descent have entered Libya on old or expired Libyan identity document and then discovered that they cannot depart Libya without obtaining a valid Libyan passport, which can be a cumbersome process.
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: As Libya has taken steps to cooperate in the global war on terrorism, the Libyan Government’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism was rescinded on June 30, 2006. Recent worldwide terrorist alerts have stated that extremist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in the region. Therefore, any American citizen who decides to travel to Libya should maintain a strong security posture by being aware of surroundings, avoiding crowds and demonstrations, keeping a low profile, and varying times and routes for all required travel.
Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under observation. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be inspected. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with the authorities.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime against foreigners is a growing problem in Libya. The most common types of crime are property crimes of opportunity, to include vehicle burglaries. Pick-pocketing and residential burglaries are also on the increase. Women routinely face verbal harassment. While physical violence is not common, there have been instances of assault against women. These assaults can range from sexual groping or assault/battery, to attempted rape.

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 this serious problem 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.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Libya is: 193.
This number is generally monitored only in Arabic.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
While some health care providers have been trained in the United States or Europe, basic modern medical care and/or medicines may not be available in Libya. Many Libyan citizens prefer to be treated outside of Libya for ailments such as heart disease and diabetes. A representative list of healthcare providers is available at the U.S. Embassy Tripoli’s web site at http://libya.usembassy.gov/medical_information.html.

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 website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Libya.
All positive HIV/AIDS tests made in country must be reported to the government.

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

Paved roads in rural areas are satisfactory; however, many rural roads are unpaved (i.e. dirt roads). Also, major highways along the seacoast and leading south merge into single-lane highways once they are outside the cities. These roads are heavily trafficked and precarious to navigate, especially at night and during the winter rainy season. The presence of sand deposits, and domestic and wild animals that frequently cross these highways and rural roads, makes them even more hazardous.

Availability of roadside assistance is extremely limited and offered only in Arabic. In urban areas and near the outskirts of major cities there is a greater possibility of assistance by police and emergency ambulance services, although they are usually ill equipped to deal with serious injuries or accidents.

Driving in Libya may be hazardous, and there is a high accident rate. Police enforcement of traffic signs and laws is rare. As a result, it is often difficult to anticipate the actions of other drivers on Libyan streets and highways. Wind-blown sand can reduce visibility without warning. Road conditions are poor, and public transportation, which is limited to occasional bus service, is poor. Taxis are available, but many taxi drivers are reckless and untrained, and English-speaking drivers are extremely rare.
The sidewalks in urban areas are often in bad condition and cluttered, but pedestrians are able to use them.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Libya's economy operates on a “cash-only" basis for most transactions, even though U.S. law now permits the use in Libya of credit cards and checks drawn on U.S. banks. Some hotels, restaurants, and major airlines are the only businesses known to accept credit cards (Visa more often than MasterCard). It is recommended that travelers consult their credit card entity prior to travel to ensure that transactions from Libya can be accepted by that entity. A very limited number of ATM machines are being put into service at a few large hotels, major office complexes, the airport, and one or two markets. Service is sporadic and sometimes unreliable. Foreign visitors should be aware that the penalties for use of unauthorized currency dealers are severe. Foreign visitors should also be aware that their passports might be confiscated in business disputes and/or they may not be permitted to depart Libya until the dispute has been settled. The workweek is Sunday-Thursday. Most U.S. economic sanctions against Libya were terminated effective September 21, 2004. For further information, please contact the Office of Foreign Assets Control at http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/.
On June 30, 2006, the U.S. Department of State officially rescinded Libya’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. On August 31, 2006, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) published an amendment to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) in the Federal Register. This amendment updated BIS’ license requirements for Libya under the EAR due to its removal from the State Sponsors’ List. For further information specific to Libya, contact BIS’ Office of Nonproliferation and Treaty Compliance/Foreign Policy Controls Division at (202) 482-4252. Libya-related information is also found on the BIS web site: http://www.bis.doc.gov/PoliciesAndRegulations/regionalconsiderations.htm.
Libyan customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning the introduction into Libya or removal from Libya of firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and currency. Importation of pornographic materials is illegal. The importation and consumption of alcohol and pork products are illegal in Libya. At times, passengers arriving in Libya have been required to bring varying amounts of convertible currency into Libya.
This requirement is subject to a border check, and the passenger faces possible deportation if this requirement is not met. It is advisable to contact any Libyan Embassy abroad for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our Customs Information.
In addition to being subject to all Libyan laws, U.S. citizens of Libyan origin may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Libyan citizens.
The Government of Libya considers all children born to Libyan fathers to be Libyan citizens even if they were not issued a Libyan birth certificate or a passport. Dual Libyan-American nationals may not enter and leave Libya on their U.S. passports, and must obtain a Libyan travel document before traveling to Libya.
Persons with dual nationality who travel to Libya on their Libyan passports are normally treated as Libyan citizens by the local government.
The ability to provide U.S. consular assistance to those traveling on Libyan passports is extremely limited.
For additional information, please see our dual nationality flyer.

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 Libyan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Libya 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 Libya are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Libya.
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 Consular Section of U.S. Embassy is located in the Seraj District of Tripoli.
Their phone number is (+218) 91-220-0125.
This number may also be used for emergencies after-hours by American citizens. General information, including forms, is available on the U.S. Embassy’s web site at http://libya.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Libya dated January 16, 2008, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2019 20:35:51 +0100 (MET)

Tripoli, Dec 26, 2019 (AFP) - An air strike Thursday on a shopping area during rush hour near Libya's capital killed at least two civilians and wounded 20 others, a local official said.   The air strike on the town of Zawiya, 45 kilometres (30 miles) west of Tripoli, hit a pharmacy, a bakery and cars parked on the street, the mayor of the town, Jamal Baher, told AFP.   "Two people were killed and 20 others were wounded," he said.   The air strike took place as the area was busy with shoppers ahead of the weekend, which starts Friday in the North African country.   It comes amid fighting between the Tripoli-based, UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and rival forces answering to strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the country's east.

Tensions have further spiked in recent weeks as Turkey said it could deploy troops in Libya to support the GNA.   Earlier on Thursday, GNA Interior Minister, Fathi Bashaga, said his government may officially seek Turkish military support to counter an offensive on Tripoli launched by Haftar in April.   Haftar has "provided foreign forces with military bases in Libya," Bashagha told journalists in the Tunisian capital Tunis.   "If this position continues, we have the right to defend Tripoli and we will officially ask the Turkish government for its military support," he added.   Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is in Tunisia to discuss the conflict in Libya, said his country's parliament will vote in January on a motion to send troops to Libya to support the GNA.   "God willing, we will pass it in parliament on January 8-9 and thus respond to an invitation" from the GNA, said Erdogan.

His comments come after the Turkish parliament on Saturday ratified a security and military cooperation deal with the GNA.   Libya was plunged into chaos with the toppling and killing of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.    It has since become divided between two main camps: the GNA and a rival administration in the country's east, backed by Haftar.   The GNA on Thursday accused Haftar's forces of carrying out the deadly air strike on Zawiya.   There was no immediate comment from Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army.   At least 284 civilians have been killed and 363 wounded since Haftar launched his offensive to seize Tripoli, according to UN figures. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes.
Date: Sun 13 Oct 2019
Source: Libya Observer [edited]

150 persons with leishmaniasis disease arrived in Tawergha hospital on Friday [11 Oct 2019], and the number of affected people is increasing, the hospital said.

On Facebook, the hospital called on all medical staffers from all across Libya to provide assistance to the hospital in Tawergha to treat the patients with leishmaniasis.

Member of Tawergha local council Abdelnabi Abu Araba said Saturday [12 Oct 2019] that 500 leishmaniasis cases have been registered in the city since last July [2019]. He told reporters that the leishmaniasis cases started after the people of Tawergha returned to their city in July 2018, saying 410 cases were registered since last year [2018] and 500 from July to October 2019, adding that sewage water across the city is behind the disease.

Abu Araba called on the residents not to take heed of media reports that urge them to leave the city, saying fighting this disease needs the people to remain in their locations to get treatment.

He indicated that public service companies are removing garbage to terminate the rodents that cause leishmaniasis, calling on the Health Ministry to speed up repairing the hospitals in Tawergha so people can receive medical care.

Last Sunday, the Anti-Disease National Center said it had started distributing medical treatment for leishmaniasis across Libya.  [Byline: Abdulkader Assad]
==================
[We assume that these are cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis [CL].  CL is caused by the protozoan leishmania parasite, which is transmitted by sandflies. Outbreaks occur when vector and reservoir control activities break down, as is the case in Tawergha (see sections below).

Zoonotic CL is endemic in Libya, with sporadic outbreaks. In 2006, over 7000 cases were recorded in 8 districts, with an outbreak of 3961 cases in Misratah, and the disease spread to non-endemic areas (el-Buni AA et al. (2000). "Cutaneous leishmaniasis in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya: a study of the Yafran area. East Mediterr Health J 2000;6:884-7).

In 2009, the prevalence of CL was 7.1 per 10,000 population. There is a vector control program that involves insecticide spraying, and regular rodent control is performed (Alvar J. et al. Leishmaniasis Worldwide and Global Estimates of Its Incidence. PLoS One. 2012; 7(5): e35671, supporting file S54).

From other reports about the Tawergha displaced populations, it appears that the residents have been returning only sporadically to Tawergha since 2018 due to a blockade and intimidation by Misratah militias and that the local infrastructure has been destroyed (<https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/24/libya-displaced-population-cant-go-home>).

Tawargha is, as of August 2011, a ghost town in Libya that is under administrative jurisdiction of the city of Misratah, which is 38 km away. It was the site of intense fighting during the Libyan Civil War before its capture and ethnic cleansing by anti-Gaddafi forces in August 2011. By the end of the war in October 2011, the town was largely cleared of its population by NTC militias (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tawergha>). - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Misratah District, Libya: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/5116>]
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2019 15:36:40 +0200 (METDST)

Tripoli, Aug 15, 2019 (AFP) - Flights at the Libyan capital's sole functioning airport were suspended Thursday after deadly overnight rocket fire, a spokesman for the country's unity government said.   Wednesday night's rocket fire "killed a guard and wounded several security agents tasked with protecting the airport," said Moustafa al-Mejii, spokesman for the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).   He blamed the attack on "the militias of (Khalifa) Haftar" whose forces launched an offensive on the Libyan capital in April.   Arrivals and departures at Mitiga airport were suspended as a result, Mejii said.   Located east of Tripoli, Mitiga is a former military airbase that has been used by civilian traffic since Tripoli international airport suffered severe damage during fighting in 2014.

Mitiga is in a zone under the control of forces loyal to the GNA and has often been targeted, leading to repeated suspensions of flights.   United Nations envoy Ghassan Salame, in a report to the UN Security Council last month, urged "authorities in Tripoli to cease using the (Mitiga) airport for military purposes and for the attacking forces to halt immediately their targeting of it."   The GNA protested at what it said were "untruths" in the envoy's report.   Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) has encountered fierce resistance from pro-government forces in the battle for Tripoli.   A stalemate on the ground in the capital's southern outskirts has led to a greater reliance on air strikes by both sides.

The fighting since April has killed 1,093 people and wounded 5,752 others, according to the World Health Organization.   More than 120,000 people have been displaced.   The LNA said Thursday its air force carried out a strike against an airfield in Zuwara, a town west of Tripoli, and destroyed two hangars allegedly used to house Turkish drones.   "The runway and terminals were spared" at the airfield, which is not open to commercial flights, LNA spokesman General Ahmed al-Mesmari wrote on Facebook.   The GNA, however, posted pictures of a huge crater and debris on the tarmac.   Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.
Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2019 21:54:46 +0200

Tripoli, July 3, 2019 (AFP) - The Libyan capital's only functioning airport suspended flights on Wednesday after an air raid claimed by strongman Khalifa Haftar's forces, airport authorities said in a statement.   The attack did not cause casualties or damage, a security source at Mitiga airport said.   But Ahmad al-Mesmari, a spokesman for Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army, said that a "command centre for drones at Mitiga" was destroyed in the raid.

Haftar launched an offensive in early April to take the capital Tripoli, seat of the rival Government of National Accord.   The GNA is recognised by the international community.   Over the past three months his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) has repeatedly targeted Mitiga airport.   It says it is targeting "Turkish drones" which it claims take off from Mitiga to carry out strikes on LNA forces south of Tripoli.

On Sunday the LNA said it had destroyed a Turkish drone in a strike on Mitiga, which prompted aviation authorities to temporarily suspend flights there.   Haftar's forces, which hold much of eastern and southern Libya, last month lost a key town to forces loyal to the unity government in an operation the strongman has accused Ankara of backing.   Afterwards Haftar ordered his forces to target Turkish companies, ban flights and arrest Turkish nationals in Libya, his spokesman said Friday.
WorldHealthOrganizationNews@who.int
Thu 09/05/2019 12:26
http://www.emro.who.int/lby/libya-news/who-denounces-attack-on-health-workers-and-ambulance-in-libyan-capital.html

Tripoli, 9 May – The World Health Organization today condemned in the strongest terms an attack on an ambulance in Tripoli, Libya, on Wednesday 8 May, that left 3 health workers injured, one severely.

“This attack on an ambulance with visible logos is a shocking and intolerable violation of international humanitarian law,” said Dr Syed Jaffar Hussain, WHO Representative in Libya. “Not only did this attack injure key personnel, but the ambulance itself was taken away, thereby depriving patients of future care.”

Since the conflict in Libya escalated in early April, 11 additional ambulances have been impacted or suffered collateral damage. In April, 3 health workers were killed in Tripoli, and numerous first-line responders have struggled to reach the wounded without being injured themselves. As the conflict continues into its second month, more than 400 people have died and over 2000 have been wounded.

WHO has been supporting field hospitals and field ambulance teams in Libya since the beginning of the conflict. The Organization has also deployed emergency medical teams to key referral hospitals to perform surgeries in hospitals in and around Tripoli. WHO is also providing health facilities with medical supplies, including trauma kits with medicines for war injuries.

“This flagrant breach of the basic rules of warfare could jeopardize the operations of field hospitals and ambulance teams, and deter dedicated health staff from performing their life-saving duties,” said Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean. “WHO cannot accept any actions that put health workers in harm’s way. Health staff in Libya are working to save lives and must be allowed to work without additional risk to their safety or well-being.”
More ...

Bulgaria

Bulgaria US Consular Information Sheet
September 20, 2007
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Bulgaria is a quickly developing European nation undergoing significant economic changes.
Tourist facilities are widely available, although conditions vary and
ome facilities may not be up to Western standards.
Goods and services taken for granted in other European countries may not be available in many areas of Bulgaria.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Bulgaria for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A United States passport is required for U.S. citizens who are not also Bulgarian nationals.
As of September 1, 2006, U.S. citizens who enter the country without a Bulgarian visa are authorized to stay for a total of 90 days within a six-month period.
This law is strictly enforced.
An application to extend one’s stay beyond the original 90 days can be filed for urgent or humanitarian reasons, but must be submitted to regional police authorities no later than five days prior to the end of the original 90-day period.
Travelers who have been in the country for 90 days, and then leave, will not be able to reenter Bulgaria before the six-month period expires.
Travelers using official or diplomatic passports must secure visas prior to arrival.
Upon entering the country, Bulgarian immigration authorities request that all foreigners declare the purpose of their visit and provide their intended address.
U.S. citizens intending to live or work in Bulgaria for more than 90 days within six months (or more than six months within a year) must obtain a “D” visa prior to arrival.
The practice of switching from tourist status to long-term status when already in Bulgaria is no longer allowed.
Those wanting to do so must leave Bulgaria and apply for a “D” visa at a Bulgarian embassy or consulate.
This procedure takes from two to four weeks.
American citizens who marry Bulgarian nationals and want to switch to long-term status must also leave the country, present their marriage license at a Bulgarian embassy or consulate in a neighboring country, and apply for a “D” visa.

The Bulgarian authorities do not consider presentation of a copy of the passport sufficient for identification purposes.
Visitors should carry their original passports with them at all times.
For further information concerning entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria at 1621 22nd St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008; http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org; tel. (202) 387-7969 (main switchboard (202) 387-0174), or the Bulgarian Consulate in New York City at 121 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10021; http://www.consulbulgaria-ny.org; tel. (212) 935-4646.
See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Bulgaria and other countries.
Visit the Embassy of Bulgaria web site at http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org for the most current visa information.
Traveling with Bulgarian minors: Bulgarian authorities are particularly strict in matters involving the travel of Bulgarian children.
Adults, other than a child’s parents, departing Bulgaria with a Bulgarian national (including dual or multi-national Bulgarian) child, must present to authorities a certified/legalized declaration signed by the child’s parents authorizing custody for travel purposes.
This holds true even if the adult is otherwise related to the child.
If the declaration is signed in Bulgaria, certification by a Bulgarian notary public is required.
If signed in the U.S., the declaration must be certified by a notary public and the court in the jurisdiction where the notary is licensed.
The declaration must then be legalized with an apostille issued by the individual state's Department of State or the Governor’s office.
Please note Bulgarian authorities do not require such documentation for minors who are not Bulgarian.
Find more information about dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union has enhanced the overall security environment for tourist and business travelers.
However, the country still suffers from many of the ills of a former Eastern Bloc country in transition.
Organized crime groups and criminals who specialize in petty crimes and credit card fraud are highly prevalent in Bulgaria’s largely cash economy.
Petty criminals such as pick-pockets and purse snatchers operate in crowded public areas and on public transportation.
Also, technology exists in Bulgaria to clone credit cards and trap ATM cards for later retrieval.
Suspected organized crime members often travel in convoys of late-model SUVs and luxury sedans, accompanied by armed men, and frequent expensive restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements 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:
Petty street crime, much of which is directed against persons who appear to have money or to be foreign, continues to be a problem.
Pocket picking and purse snatching are frequent occurrences, especially in crowded markets and on shopping streets.
Con artists operate on public transportation and in bus and train stations.
Credit cards and ATMs should be used with caution.
Be wary of people who approach you at an ATM and offer assistance.
Do not give your PIN number to anyone under any circumstances. (See the Special Circumstances section below.) Travelers should be suspicious of "instant friends" and should also require persons claiming to be government officials to show identification.
There have been incidents in which tourists have been drugged or assaulted and robbed after accepting offers of coffee or alcoholic beverages from "friendly” individuals met by “chance” at hotels, the airport, or at bus or train stations.
Travelers should be wary of unfamiliar individuals who encourage them to drink or eat products, as these may be tainted with strong tranquilizers (such as valium) that can lead rapidly to unconsciousness.
Reporting a crime immediately to the police has helped recover money and valuables on more than one occasion and is recommended.
To avoid becoming a victim of more serious crimes, one should use the same personal safety precautions that they would use in large urban areas of the United States.

Travelers should pay special attention to the drink prices at high-end bars and nightclubs.
There have been instances of travelers being charged exorbitant prices, especially for champagne and hard alcohol.
Bills have been as high as several thousand dollars for drinks, and in some establishments the management may use force to assure payment.

On occasion, taxi drivers overcharge unwary travelers, particularly at Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station.
We recommend travelers use taxis with meters and clearly marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield.
Travelers should be aware that there is no official commission that sets taxi cab rates.
Taxi drivers are within their full rights to charge passengers any price they want, provided that it corresponds with the price shown on the windshield sticker.
At the airport, there is a clearly marked booth within the arrivals terminal, which arranges for metered taxis at a fair rate.
Finding reputable taxis at the Central Train Station is more difficult.
It is recommended to inquire about the fare first, to avoid excessive payment if a metered taxi cannot be found.
Always ensure that you have and account for all luggage, packages and hand-carried items before you pay and release a taxi.
The likelihood of retrieving articles left behind in a taxi is remote.
Because pilferage of checked baggage may occur at Sofia Airport, travelers should not include items of value in checked luggage.
Automobile theft is a concern, with four-wheel-drive vehicles and late model European sedans the most popular targets.
Very few vehicles are recovered.
Thieves smash vehicle windows to steal valuables left in sight.
Break-ins at residential apartments occur as frequently as in major cities everywhere.
Persons who plan to reside in Bulgaria on a long-term basis should take measures to protect their dwellings.
Long-term residents should consider installation of window grilles, steel doors with well-functioning locks, and an alarm system that alerts an armed response team.

Travelers should also be cautious about making credit card charges over the Internet to unfamiliar websites.
As recent experience has shown, offers for merchandise and services may be scam artists posing as legitimate businesses.
A recent example involves Internet credit card payments to alleged tour operators via Bulgaria-based web sites.
In several cases, the corresponding businesses did not actually exist.
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:
While Bulgarian physicians are trained to a very high standard, most hospitals and clinics, especially in village areas, are generally not equipped and maintained to meet U.S. or Western European standards.
Basic medical supplies and over-the-counter and prescription medications are widely available, but highly specialized treatment may not be obtainable.
Pediatric facilities are in need of funding and lack equipment.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States may cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s Internet site at http://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.
All foreign citizens traveling to Bulgaria should be prepared to present valid evidence of health insurance to the Bulgarian border authorities in order to be admitted into the country.
The insurance should be valid for the duration of the traveler’s stay in Bulgaria.
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 Bulgaria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped.
There are few sections of limited-access divided highway.
Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes.
Rockslides and landslides may be encountered on roads in mountainous areas.
Livestock and animal-drawn carts present road hazards throughout the country, especially during the agricultural season.
Travel conditions deteriorate during the winter as roads become icy and potholes proliferate.
The U.S. Embassy in Sofia advises against driving at night because road conditions are more dangerous in the dark.
Some roads lack pavement markings and lights, and motorists often drive with dim or missing headlights.
Driving in Bulgaria is extremely dangerous.
Aggressive driving habits, the lack of safe infrastructure, and a mixture of late model and old model cars on the country’s highways contribute to a high fatality rate for road accidents.
Heavy traffic conditions have led to a significant increase in “road-rage” accidents.
Motorists should avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers in Bulgaria.
In particular, drivers of late-model sedans (BMW, Mercedes, Audi) are known to speed and drive dangerously.
Motorists should exercise caution and avoid altercations with the drivers of such vehicles, which may be driven by armed organized crime figures.
In some cities traffic lights late at night blink yellow in all directions, leaving rights-of-way unclear and contributing to frequent accidents.
Heavy truck traffic along the two-lane routes from the Greek border at Kulata to Sofia and from the Turkish border at Kapitan Andre to Plovdiv creates numerous hazards.
Motorists should expect long delays at border crossings.
A U.S. state driver's license is valid in Bulgaria only when used in conjunction with an International Driving Permit.
For information on how to obtain a permit, please see our road safety information.
If pulled over by a police officer, motorists should remember that, under Bulgarian law, police officers may not collect fines on the spot; they may only issue a ticket with the fine to be paid at the motorist’s local regional tax office.
Buses, trams, and trolleys are inexpensive, but they are often crowded and of widely varying quality.
Passengers on the busiest lines have reported pick pocketing, purse slashing, and pinching. The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women.
Children under 10 years of age may ride in the front seat only if seated in a child car seat.
In practice, these rules are often not followed.
Speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 90 km/h out of town, and 130 km/h on the highways.
For motorcycles, speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 80 km/h out of town, and 100 km/h on the highways.
Motorcyclists must drive with helmets and with lights on at all times.
At crossings that are not regulated, the driver who is on the right has the right-of-way, but this rule, too, is frequently ignored.
Drivers may be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood level as low as 0.05 percent.
Right turns on red lights are not permitted unless specifically authorized.
The penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death range from a 25 U.S. Dollar fine up to imprisonment for life.
A new law requires the use of headlights day and night from November 1st through March 31st.
The most generally encountered local traffic custom is a driver flashing high beams, which usually means that a traffic police post is ahead.
In case of emergency, drivers should contact the police at telephone number 166 and/or Roadside Assistance at telephone number 146.
For an ambulance, please call 150.
The fire department can be reached at 160.
For specific information concerning Bulgarian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please contact the Bulgarian Embassy via the Internet at http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.bulgariatravel.org/eng/index.php and the web site of the Bulgarian national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.kat.mvr.bg.
[Note: the latter web site is available in the Bulgarian language only.]
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Bulgaria’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Bulgaria’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy.
Due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity, credit cards should be used sparingly and with extreme caution.
There have been reports of false ATM fronts on bona fide machines that capture cards and PINs for later criminal use, including unauthorized charges or withdrawals.
In connection with such scams, travelers should be extremely wary of friendly bystanders near ATMs who offer assistance.
Any time a card is not returned the traveler should immediately report the card as lost/stolen to the card-issuing company.

Visitors may exchange cash at banks or Exchange Bureaus, but they should know that Exchange Bureaus sometimes post misleading rate quotations that confuse travelers.
People on the street who offer high rates of exchange are usually con artists intent on swindling the unwary traveler.
Damaged or very worn U.S dollar bank notes are often not accepted at banks or Exchange Bureaus.
Major branches of the following Bulgarian banks will cash travelers' cheques on the spot for Leva, the Bulgarian currency, or another desired currency:
Bulbank, Bulgarian Postbank, Biochim, First Investment Bank, and United Bulgarian Bank (UBB).
UBB also serves as a Western Union agent and provides direct transfer of money to travelers in need.
There are also many Western Union branches in major towns and cities.
Most shops, hotels, and restaurants, with the exception of the major hotels, do not accept travelers' cheques or credit cards.
Only some local banks can cash U.S. Treasury checks and the payee may need to wait up to a month to receive funds.
Corruption remains an important concern of the Government.
The Commission for Coordinating of the Activity for Combating Corruption manages the efforts of each government agency’s internal inspectorate in fighting public corruption and engages in public awareness campaigns.
Complaints of public corruption can be made to it at the Ministry of Justice, 2A Knyaz Dondukov Blvd., 1055 Sofia, Bulgaria, email: acc@government.bg, 359-2-980-9213, 359-2-923-7595, 359-2-940-3630 or to the Ministry of Finance hotline: 0800180018.
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 Bulgaria’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bulgaria 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 Bulgaria are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Bulgaria.
Americans without Internet access may use a public computer at the U.S. Embassy to register.
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 16, Kozyak St., Sofia1407; tel.: (+359 2) 937-5100; fax (+359 2) 937-5209; web site: http://sofia.usembassy.gov/.
Questions regarding consular services may be directed via email to: niv_sofia@state.gov (for non-immigrant visa matters); iv_sofia@state.gov (for immigrant visa matters) and acs_sofia@state.gov (for American Citizen Services matters).
*

*

*
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 28, 2007, to update the sections on Entry and Exit
Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Children’s Issues, and Registration/Embassy.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 6 Mar 2020 14:42:37 +0100 (MET)

Sofia, March 6, 2020 (AFP) - Bulgaria declared a nationwide influenza epidemic, closing schools and banning planned surgeries from Friday as the country -- so far spared any novel coronavirus infections -- grapples with a rise in flu cases.   Members of the national task force set up to address the new coronavirus warned hospitals were already full of flu patients, potentially jeopardising preparedness to respond to an expected virus arrival and spread.

Doctors in the EU's poorest member say the country of 7 million people has seen an unusual rapid spread of type B flu.   "Such rapid growth of type B flu has not happened in Bulgaria for the past ten years," said Todo Kantardzhiev, director of the national centre for contagious diseases.   Almost 5,000 people contracted type B flu in the last week of February, according to National Centre of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases data with babies and children aged under 14 most affected.

Schools will remain closed until March 11, the health ministry said, recommending universities cancel classes in order to contain the outbreak.   Local authorities were also advised to cancel sports or cultural events likely to draw large numbers of people.   Hospitals were meanwhile ordered to postpone all planned surgeries and ban patients' visits.

Pharmacies in the Balkan country have already run out of protective face masks and disinfectants as people rushed to stock themselves amid a coronavirus panic.   "The health system is already overburdened even before a first case of coronavirus has been detected," said health ministry official Angel Kunchev.
Date: Fri 23 Aug 2019
Source: Ekathimerini [edited]

Two cases of the West Nile Virus [WNV] have been confirmed in Bulgaria, with one of the patients said to have lived in Cyprus during a part of the summer.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bulgaria has not issued an update as of [Thu 22 Aug 2019] morning, but according to Philenews, the health ministry in Bulgaria had issued a statement regarding a 48-year-old Bulgarian man who was diagnosed with WNV [infection]. The man, said to be from Pazardzhik in southern Bulgaria, is a construction worker who had been living for the last 2 months in Cyprus.

Upon his return to his country, according to Bulgarian officials, the worker started running a fever and generally feeling unwell. He was then immediately admitted to hospital with a known WNV infection.

Other towns were also on alert in Bulgaria, with an official statement saying clinics for infectious diseases in Belgrade and Nis have reported infected people. Most cases were associated with summer flu symptoms while the nervous system was affected in a number of other cases.

Based on additional media reports, there were other places besides Cyprus on the radar of Bulgarian officials regarding possible WNV infections.

According to State Medical Services of the Republic of Cyprus, 9 WNV cases have been confirmed in the south this year up until [16 Aug 2019]. All cases involved the neuroinvasive disease of the virus, with 2 patients remaining critical and 4 others being discharged from hospital.

Earlier this week, one confirmed WNV death was recorded in greater Nicosia with officials saying the patient was very senior.
Date: Mon 5 Aug 2019, 11:33 AM
Source: Novinite.com [edited]

Mosquitoes carry viral meningitis in Bulgaria. There are nearly 1/3 more cases of meningitis since the beginning of the year [2019] than the previous year [2018]. The state has allocated another BGN 2 million [USD 1 783 680] to deal with mosquitoes.

The disease is not typical for Bulgaria's latitudes, but has started to manifest itself with climate change, said Prof. Dr. Tatyana Chervenyakova of the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Bulgaria. The infection is transmitted through mosquitoes, and if there are complications, hospitalisation may be needed. However, the complications are only about 1% of the cases, said Prof. Chervenyakova.

Most of the cases pass the disease slightly - with fever and general malaise. It usually goes away after 2-3 days.

"It is very difficult to control the mosquitoes in these rainfalls. After every rainfall it must be sprayed. We shouldn't think that all mosquitoes are infected with the virus. The individual protection is the availability of repellents, the other is within the reach of the state " Dr. Tatiana Chervenyakova, said in an interview for Bulgaria ON ON AIR.
=======================
[This report deals with mosquito-borne virus infections, but does not indicate which one, nor is the number of cases to date given. There are 2 possible arboviruses involved as the etiological agents of these cases: West Nile virus or Usutu virus. Both have been found in Central Europe. As noted in a previous ProMED-mail post, "West Nile virus (WNV) and Usutu virus (USUV) are phylogenetically closely related mosquito-borne members of the family _Flaviviridae_, and belong to the Japanese encephalitis antigenic complex of the _Flavivirus genus_ (1,2). Both viruses have been isolated from numerous ornithophilic mosquito species, mainly _Culex_ spp. (1,2). In the enzootic cycle of WNV and USUV, avian species are also involved and serve as amplifying hosts. Mosquitoes facilitate virus transmission to humans and equids which then remain incidental hosts as they are not able to produce a level of viraemia sufficient for further virus transmission by mosquito bites (2)." (see  <https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2019.24.28.1900038>  for complete reference list, including those cited here).

ProMED-mail would appreciate a response indicating which virus or viruses are involved in these cases in Bulgaria. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: 30 Aug 2018
Source: Euro Surveillance [summarized, edited]

In June 2018, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) was diagnosed in a Greek construction worker who returned home after becoming ill with fever and haemorrhagic symptoms in south-western Bulgaria. Here, we describe the case along with the epidemiological investigation and phylogenetic analysis.

On 30 May 2018, a Greek male in his late 40s returned to Greece after spending 23 days in a forested area in Blagoevgrad province, south-western Bulgaria, where he was working in bridge construction. Three days earlier (27 May 2018, day 1), while in Bulgaria, he developed fever, severe headache, myalgia (mainly in the lower extremities), malaise and loss of appetite; on 28 May 2018 he visited a local hospital and received symptomatic treatment as an outpatient. As his condition deteriorated (onset of photophobia and abdominal pain) he returned to his permanent residence in northern Greece. On 31 May 2018 (day 5), the patient was admitted to a local hospital.

He was transferred to the university hospital in Alexandroupolis the next day because he presented severe thrombocytopenia and leukopenia; elevated levels of liver enzymes, creatine phosphokinase (CPK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH); and prolonged activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT) (Table). On day 6, his headache was resolved, but his fever (38.2 C [101 F]), malaise and myalgia were ongoing. The main laboratory findings were thrombocytopenia, prolonged aPTT (82 s) and increased level of aminotransferases. His laboratory parameters indicated rhabdomyolysis (CPK 1739 U/L) and slightly elevated urea and creatinine levels (Table). A bone marrow biopsy showed haemophagocytosis. ...

Based on the patient's clinical presentation, and as he was bitten by a tick in an area of Bulgaria where CCHF cases have been reported previously, CCHF was highly suspected. Typically, the incubation period of CCHF after a tick bite is short (1-3 days), but the exact date of the bite was unknown in this case. The treating physician contacted the National Reference Centre for Arboviruses and Haemorrhagic Fever Viruses in Thessaloniki, and the suspected case was immediately notified to the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (HCDCP). ...

The HCDCP investigated the case immediately after the diagnosis of CCHF (through telephone interviews with a close family member and with the patient, after recovery, to confirm the dates) and his contacts while he was ill (household members, co-workers, roommates in Bulgaria and relatives who visited him in the hospitals). Close contacts were tested for CCHF and monitored for 14 days for any symptom development. The risk for further transmission was also assessed. The HCDCP promptly informed the Bulgarian health authorities about the case; they also informed the patient's Greek co-workers in Bulgaria about prevention and proper management of tick bites (informative material in Greek was sent to them) advising them to seek medical care in case they develop symptoms.

No other cases were reported among the patient's co-workers in Bulgaria, up to the end of July 2018. The regional and local public health authorities were also informed about the case, and they performed further contact investigation in Greece. No secondary cases were detected. The HCDCP raised awareness for CCHF among health professionals working in local health centres and hospitals in northern Greece, especially in areas with populations travelling to Bulgaria for occupational reasons.

The patient and his laboratory samples, apparel, waste and cleaning procedures were managed in accordance with the national guidelines for viral haemorrhagic fevers (available in Greek from HCDCP website: <http://www.keelpno.gr/>). In particular, upon the suspicion of CCHF (day 8), the patient was immediately isolated, and strict barrier precautions were utilised (waterproof gowns, gloves, FFP3 respiratory masks, goggles), and personal protective equipment was used by healthcare workers (HCWs) and visitors; however, visitors were discouraged from entering the isolation room. The HCDCP sent guidelines for contact tracing and active surveillance of symptoms in HCWs possibly exposed to CCHFV. Patients who were hospitalised in the same room with the patient before the suspicion of CCHF (2 patients in the 1st hospital (days 5-6), and 3 patients in the 2nd hospital (days 6-8)), were also monitored for symptoms for 14 days after their last contact with the patient. No secondary cases were observed. ...

Discussion
---------
CCHF was 1st recognised in Bulgaria in 1952; since then, several cases have been reported. Genetic characterisation of the Bulgarian strains showed that they cluster into the clade Europe 1. Our patient was infected in an area that was considered at low risk for CCHF outbreaks up to 2008, when a cluster of cases was observed in the region. Although the seroprevalence in the human population in Blagoevgrad province is low (1 percent), a seroprevalence of 41.9 percent in livestock was reported recently. Since CCHFV is transmitted mainly by bites of infected Ixodid ticks, persons living in rural areas are at increased risk for acquiring the infection. This was the reason that information about preventive measures was sent to our patient's Greek co-workers in Bulgaria, and all related public health authorities were informed about the case.

Regarding Greece, no other imported cases have been reported so far, and the only autochthonous CCHF case was observed in 2008. A review of travel-associated CCHF cases published during 1960-2016 reported 21 cases; 2 imported cases have been reported within Europe: Bulgaria to Germany in 2001 and Bulgaria to the United Kingdom in 2014.

Due to the high pathogenicity of CCHFV, the absence of a specific drug treatment or vaccine, and the risk of person-to-person transmission, rapid diagnosis is crucial to ensure that appropriate infection control measures (e.g. isolation of patient and barrier precautions) can be implemented in a timely manner. A detailed medical history of the patient, including travel history and possible risk factors, is important for the timely diagnosis of the disease. In our case, information regarding the tick bite was not provided immediately, and this, in combination with the non-specific initial symptoms, meant that CCHF was 1st suspected on day 8 of illness. Despite this delay, the patient fully recovered, and no secondary cases of CCHF have been reported. Since the northern part of Greece is close to CCHF-endemic countries, HCWs in this region should be made aware of CCHF, including the provision of training to better help them address questions from patients about travel history (to identify potential risk of exposure). Physicians should include CCHF in the differential diagnosis for patients with haemorrhagic syndromes, especially if patients report a tick bite, outdoor activities, or occupation in rural areas and recent travel to an endemic area.
=======================
[The above report provides an excellent example of CCHF transmission in a case with no history of conventional professional contact with infected cattle, such as cattle rearing or butchering. History of travel to a location that has reported human cases, presence of the vector, and the clinical picture should raise suspicions in health care providers, with appropriate diagnostic tests conducted as soon as possible. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2018 12:10:48 +0100
By Diana SIMEONOVA

Bansko, Bulgaria, March 8, 2018 (AFP) - "Unlimited Ski and Fun!" promises a pamphlet touting the Bansko ski resort, a magnet for bargain-hunting holidaymakers in southwest Bulgaria.   But nature lovers are demanding limits to the growth of the bustling resort carved into the majestic pine forests of Pirin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983.

The clearance of more than 160 hectares (400 acres) of centuries-old forest to build the ski zone already prompted UNESCO in 2010 to remove the area from the World Heritage designation, labelling it a "buffer zone".   Now a much larger area could come under threat after a government decision in December opened 48 percent of the park's 40,000 hectares for construction, sparking weekly protests attended by thousands across the country.

Protestors accuse the government of favouring business interests in a country ranked by watchdog Transparency International as the EU's most graft-prone, with one huge banner at a recent rally in the capital Sofia reading: "Corruption! Save Pirin".   But the resort is the area's biggest employer and locals have responded with their own demonstrations in favour of expansion.   At issue in particular is a plan to build a second ski lift to ease persistent queues at the sole six-person lift, which currently takes 2,200 skiers per hour up to the 75 kilometres (46 miles) of runs.

- 'Horrific' queue -
British holidaymaker Carolyn Bennett, 30, is among the skiers who come in droves to Bansko from Britain, Russia and Bulgaria's Balkan neighbours, attracted by the cheap food and lift passes as well as budget flights.   But even on a supposedly quiet day, she was among scores of people at the foot of the ski lift, where queues form from early morning and waits can last up to three hours.

"Another gondola is going to have a huge impact environmentally but I imagine coming here in peak season, that queue would probably be horrific," she shrugged in the crammed gondola cabin.    "With a daily lift pass costing 28 euros ($34), Bansko is the cheapest resort of its capacity in Europe, and even if our queues have become notorious, people keep pouring in," Bansko's marketing chief Ivan Obreykov told AFP.   Daily lift passes at ski resorts in France and Austria typically cost twice as much.

Bansko hosts some 35,000 to 40,000 visitors per month during the winter season. On a busy day, up to 7,000 people could hit the ski lift at the same time in the mornings.   Booming construction in the once quiet town of 9,500 inhabitants has seen its two-storey houses and cobbled streets surrounded by hotels and luxury apartments with space for 18,000 guests.   While ugly concrete skeletons of a number of hotel projects abandoned after the 2008 financial crisis mar the landscape, pressure is mounting to expand both the town and the ski zone.

- Trojan horse claim -
Obreykov praised the government's green light for the second ski lift, adding that its construction was the resort's "first and most pressing task".   But those opposed to the plan say it is a Trojan horse to cover up previous unauthorised building and encourage even more expansion.   "If they wanted to do just a second gondola, they would not have opened almost half of the territory of Pirin National Park for construction," WWF's Konstantin Ivanov said at a rally in Sofia.   "We don't buy their promises that nothing more will be built there," he added.   WWF claims the ski zone has already grown to cover 60 percent more territory than initially agreed and points to as yet unapproved plans for huge expansion of the resort.    Obreykov denied the charge, adding that new ski runs could be built only within the current area of the ski zone.

A recent study for the WWF concluded that the resort has already inflicted "irreparable damage" on the reserve, calling for UNESCO to inscribe Pirin on its List of World Heritage in Danger if new construction begins.    A report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in November also said the conservation outlook for Pirin National Park -- home to bears, chamois and wolves -- was of "significant concern" and just one step away from the final "critical" stage.   IUCN also underlined the "threats of disturbance and fragmentation of the site associated with the exclusion of the skiing areas as incompatible with its World Heritage status."

- 'Deepening mistrust' -
For economist Petar Ganev, of the Sofia-based Institute for Market Economics, the row is an example of "deepening mistrust in Bulgaria's institutions".   On the one hand, Ganev said Bansko is "a positive example of a very poor place which grew into a prosperous resort" and that building a second ski lift could be justified for that reason.   But, he added, suspicions that development is not being regulated fairly will "continue to bring people out on the streets".   "The problem is not the second gondola but the corruption in the country," Ganev said.
More ...

Lebanon

Lebanon - US Consular Information Sheet
August 20, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Republic of Lebanon is a parliamentary republic. Political power is concentrated in the office of the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament, eac
representing one of Lebanon's three largest religious sects (Maronite Christians, Sunni and Shi'a Muslims). Since 1973, Lebanon has been in a state of war with Israel. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Lebanon for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Passports and visas are required.
American citizens coming to Lebanon for tourism can purchase a short-term visa at the border.
Travelers holding passports that contain visas or entry/exit stamps for Israel will likely be refused entry into Lebanon.
Travelers whose passports contain Israeli stamps or visas and who also hold an "Arab nationality" may be subject to arrest and imprisonment.
Travelers who have overstayed their entry visa validity in Lebanon have to adjust their status with the Central Department of Surete General (Department of Passport and Immigration) prior to their departure.

Further information on entry/exit requirements can be obtained from the Embassy of Lebanon, 2560 28th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20008, tel. (202) 939-6300.
Travelers may also contact one of the following Consulates General:
1959 E. Jefferson, Suite 4A
Detroit, MI 48207
(313) 567-0233
2400 Augusta, Suite 308
Houston, TX 77057
(713) 268-1640
7060 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 510
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 467-1253
6600 S.W. 57th Avenue, Suite 200
Miami, FL 33143
(305) 665-3004
(Honorary Consul, for Florida residents only)
9 E. 76th Street
New York, NY 10021
(212) 744-7905
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:
A Department of State Travel Warning advises U.S. citizens against travel to Lebanon.
Recent events underscore the need for caution and sound personal security precautions.
U.S. citizens who are in Lebanon despite this Travel Warning should exercise particular caution when traveling in parts of the southern suburbs of Beirut, portions of the Bekaa Valley and areas south of the Litani River in South Lebanon.
Hizballah maintains a strong presence in many of these areas, and there is the potential for action by other extremist groups.
The situation remains tense and a resumption of sporadic violence remains a possibility.
On May 7, 2008, Hizballah militants blocked the road to Rafiq Hariri International Airport.
The action rendered the airport inaccessible and travelers were unable to enter or leave the country via commercial air carriers.
Armed Hizballah and other opposition members proceeded to enter areas of Lebanon not traditionally under their control resulting in heavy fighting and a number of casualties.
While there is now full access to the airport, widespread hostilities have subsided, and the government of Lebanon has successfully elected a president and formed a cabinet, the United States remains concerned about Hizballah's willingness to use violence to achieve political ends with little or no warning.
Since the May hostilities there have been violent outbreaks in Tripoli that left over ten dead and dozens wounded.

Americans have been the targets of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the past.
The perpetrators of many of these attacks are still present and retain the ability to act.
On January 15, 2008, a U.S. Embassy vehicle was involved in a bomb attack that killed three Lebanese bystanders.
American citizens should thus keep a low profile, varying times and routes for all required travel.
Americans should also pay close attention to their personal security at locations where Westerners are generally known to congregate, and should avoid demonstrations and large gatherings.
Unofficial travel to Lebanon by U.S. Government employees and their family members requires prior approval by the Department of State.
Palestinian groups hostile to both the Lebanese government and the U.S. operate largely autonomously inside refugee camps in different areas of the country.
Intra-communal violence within the camps has resulted in violent incidents such as shootings and explosions.
Travel by U.S. citizens to Palestinian camps should be avoided.
Asbat al-Ansar, a terrorist group with apparent links to Al-Qaida, has targeted Lebanese, U.S. and other foreign government interests.
It has been outlawed by the Lebanese government but continues to maintain a presence in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp.
Americans traveling to Lebanon should also be aware that personnel from the U.S. Embassy are not able to travel in all areas of Lebanon.
In the case of an emergency involving a U.S. citizen in areas where it is unsafe for Embassy personnel to travel, the Embassy may not be able to render assistance.
In addition, dangers posed by landmines and unexploded ordnance throughout south Lebanon are significant and also exist in other areas where civil war fighting was intense.
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, including the Travel Warning for Lebanon, 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 overseas callers, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: The crime rate in Lebanon is moderate, but both car theft and home break-ins occur.
Violent crime and sexual assault are rare, although petty theft -- such as pick pocketing and purse snatching -- is common in crowded public areas.
Police are responsive but often unable to effect a positive outcome.
There are no special concerns with regard to targeted victimization of Americans or to scams or confidence schemes.
There have, however, been recent kidnappings of Lebanese-American women by their Lebanese relatives in an effort to force these women into marriage.

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 this serious problem 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, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Lebanon is 112.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: In Beirut and the surrounding areas, modern medical care and medicines are widely available.
Such facilities are not always available in outlying areas, although no location in the country is more than three hours from the capital.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for services, and without such payment, may deny service even in emergency cases.
A list of doctors who speak English and a list of hospitals are available from the U.S. Embassy and at the Embassy's web site at http://lebanon.usembassy.gov/
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.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Lebanon.

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 Lebanon is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Drivers in Lebanon often maneuver aggressively and pay little regard to traffic lights and stops signs.
Lanes are generally unmarked and roads outside of the capital may be poorly lit.
Pedestrians, especially, should exercise great caution.
Inter-city directional signs are improving throughout the country, but side roads are often not signposted at all.
Public transportation is generally safe.
Emergency services in Lebanon are adequate.
In case of a road accident, emergency numbers are “140” for the Red Cross and “125” for the emergency civil police.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of Lebanon's national tourist office at http://www.destinationlebanon.gov.lb.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Lebanon, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lebanon’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: In addition to being subject to all Lebanese laws, U.S. citizens who also possess Lebanese nationality may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on them as Lebanese citizens.
Lebanese citizens who are discovered to have associated with or traveled through Israel, are subject to arrest and detention.

Military Service:
Mandatory military service in Lebanon was abolished on February 4, 2007.
However, travelers with questions about prior military service, desertion, or failure to register in the past should contact the Military Office of the Embassy of Lebanon, 2560 28th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, or call (202) 265-2335 or fax (202) 667-0063 for details prior to traveling to Lebanon. Information about military service can also be found at the Lebanese government web site at http://www.lebarmy.gov.lb/English/FlagService.asp
Lebanese Customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning import and export of such items as firearms or antiquities.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Lebanon in Washington, D.C., or one of Lebanon's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our information on customs regulations.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Lebanese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lebanon 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.
For more information 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 Lebanon are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Lebanon.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Awkar, near Antelias, Beirut, Lebanon.
Public access hours for American citizens are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 am for regular consular services.
Consular Report of Births Abroad (birth certificates for newborns) are handled Wednesdays only from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
The telephone numbers are (961-4) 542-600, 543-600, and fax 544-209, and American citizens who require emergency services outside of these hours may contact the Embassy by telephone at any time.
American citizens registering at the embassy can receive updated information and warden messages via e-mail by subscribing to join-wardenmessagebeirut@mh.databack.com.
Information on consular services and registration can be found at http://lebanon.usembassy.gov or by phone at the above telephone numbers between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday local time.
* * * * * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated December 27, 2007 to update the sections on Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information and Aviation Oversight.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 22:17:01 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - Lebanese authorities said Tuesday they would allow expatriates to return despite a lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a move that could affect up to 20,000 people.   The cabinet gave its initial approval for the proposal, which could be put in motion "in principle" from Sunday, a government statement said, without giving details of how it would be implemented.

An estimated 20,000 people "want to return to Lebanon", Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti told local television.  Beirut's international airport has been closed for nearly two weeks, along with schools, universities, restaurants and bars, and Lebanese have been urged to stay at home to stem the spread of COVID-19.   Lebanon has reported 463 official cases of the virus and 12 deaths.
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2020 14:55:57 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Feb 21, 2020 (AFP) - The first case of the novel coronavirus in Lebanon was confirmed on Friday, the health minister said, adding that two other suspected cases were being investigated.   "We confirmed the first case today," Hassan Hamad said at a press conference in Beirut.

The COVID-19 virus was found in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had travelled from Qom in Iran, he said.   A medical source at the hospital where the woman is being treated told AFP that she returned from Iran with a high fever, but that her immunity was good and her condition stable.

Hamad said that all the people who were on the same flight from Iran had been contacted by the health authorities.   He said that anyone returning from Iran would be asked to observe a two-week home quarantine.   The COVID-19 outbreak first appeared in Iran on Wednesday.

Tehran has now confirmed a total of four deaths and 18 infections by the SARS-like virus, which first emerged in China in late December.   Thousands of Lebanese travel to Iran every year to visit Shiite holy sites in Qom and other cities.   China on Friday raised the death toll to 2,236 -- most of them in the province of Hubei, where the virus was first detected. More than 75,000 have now been infected in China and over 1,100 abroad.
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2019 12:29:06 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Dec 26, 2019 (AFP) - Flooding at Beirut's only Jewish cemetery has swept away entire graves after heavy rainfall hit the Lebanese capital.   The floodwater destroyed a retaining wall at the graveyard in the Ras al-Nabaa district overnight into Thursday, dragging sarcophagi and large chunks of rubble onto the pavement below.

Nagi Georges Zeidan, an expert on Lebanon's tiny Jewish community and a volunteer at the graveyard, said at least four graves were damaged, all in part of the cemetery for people buried in the 1940s.   Zeidan said the skeletons of the deceased remained concealed but have yet to be removed from beneath the rubble. He urged authorities to intervene to make sure they are preserved.   The cemetery has 3,407 graves, according to Zeidan, who keeps a record of all the names of the deceased.   It is owned by the Lebanese Jewish Community Council and dates back to the 1820s, he added.

Lebanon was once home to thousands of Jews but they left steadily for Israel, Brazil, Europe and the United States after the State of Israel was established.   According to Zeidan, only 29 Jews remain in Lebanon.   A handful of buildings that were once synagogues still stand, including one in the northern city of Tripoli that has been turned into a fabric dye shop, and one in the southern city of Sidon.   A severe downpour overnight led to floods across Lebanon, blocking roads and damaging homes.
Date: Fri, 29 Nov 2019 18:52:20 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Nov 29, 2019 (AFP) - Angry Lebanese blocked main roads Friday as petrol stations across the country went on strike for the second day in a row, an AFP photographer and local media said.   Filling station owners announced the walkout from Thursday over mounting losses due to a dollar liquidity crunch.   More than a month into unprecedented anti-government protests, Lebanon is facing a dual political and economic crisis.

In Beirut and several other major cities on Friday, drivers briefly stopped their cars in the afternoon, blocking some main roads, the national news agency and the AFP photographer said.   In the capital, most stations had closed their pumps and blocked off their entrances with a barrier or yellow tape, but a handful had remained open, the photographer said.

Clutching empty one-gallon (four-litre) bottles, dozens clustered around pumps in the few still operating to fill up on fuel.   "My motorbike ran out of petrol, and I've been waiting outside the petrol station for three hours in vain," Yahya al-Shami said as he queued up for his fill in the capital's Cola neighbourhood.    "People are very worried because they all need petrol to work," he told AFP.   "The station is opening for half an hour, then closing again because all the drivers are fighting amongst each other as they wait."

On local television, a woman complained she had to abandon her car in the middle of the road as she looked for petrol.   "I've been to ten different stations looking for gas and I haven't found any," she said.   The Lebanese pound is pegged at around 1,500 pounds to the dollar, and both are used interchangeably in everyday transactions.

But banks in Lebanon have been rationing dollar withdrawals, forcing those in need to resort to money-changers and pushing the unofficial exchange rate above 2,000 pounds to the greenback.   The central bank last month said it would help fuel importers with access to the dollar at the lower official exchange rate.   But petrol stations say they are making losses because they are forced to buy dollars at the higher rate to pay importers demanding the foreign currency.

The government stepped down on October 29, less than two weeks after the first demonstration, but the country's deeply divided political parties have failed to form a new one.   The protesters have demanded a new technocratic cabinet made up of independent experts, rather than representatives of the country's traditional political parties divided along sectarian lines.

On Friday, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis said he had met several officials including central bank governor Riad Salameh.   "We discussed measures urgently needed to stop the further deepening of the economic crisis," Kubis wrote on Twitter.   "Formation of a credible and competent government that can regain the trust of the people and of the international partners of Lebanon is the priority."
Date: Sat, 9 Nov 2019 14:18:27 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Nov 9, 2019 (AFP) - Several petrol stations in protest-hit Lebanon stopped services Saturday, as reserves ran dry due to a shortage of US dollars to pay suppliers, a syndicate head said.   The shuttering of petrol stations came as demonstrators again took to the street across the country, keeping up their three-week-long movement against a political class regarded as inefficient and corrupt.    "The petrol stations that opened today are the ones that still have reserves. They will close down as soon as supply runs out," said Sami Brax, the head of the Syndicate of Gas Station Owners.   He said if officials do not facilitate access to dollars by Tuesday, "we will be forced to stop imports and close down all petrol stations."

Petrol stations receive payment from customers in Lebanese pounds but have to pay importers and suppliers in dollars.    For two decades, the Lebanese pound has been pegged to the US dollar, with both currencies used interchangeably in daily life.   But banks have been reducing access to dollars since the end of the summer, following fears of a shortage in central bank dollar reserves.   In recent days, banks halted all ATM withdrawals in dollars and severely restricted conversions from Lebanese pounds.   Many Lebanese have had to instead buy dollars from money changers at a higher exchange rate, in what amounts to a de-facto devaluation of the local currency that has sparked price hikes.

The official exchange rate has remained fixed at 1,507 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, but the rate in the parallel market has surpassed 1,800.   "The banks are under pressure from people, both inside Lebanon and abroad," said economist Naseeb Ghabreel, after many rushed to withdraw their dollar savings or convert Lebanese pound accounts.   Since September, petrol station owners have accused banks of failing to provide them with the dollars they need and threatened strikes.    In response, the central bank last month pledged to facilitate access to the greenback for importers of petroleum products, wheat and medicine.   But the measure has not yet gone into effect.

Lebanon has since October 17 witnessed an unprecedented popular uprising against everything from power cuts and poor social security to alleged state corruption.   The government yielded to popular pressure and stepped down last month, with the World Bank urging for the quick formation of a new cabinet to prevent the economy from further deteriorating.
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Falkland Islands

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Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 06:20:31 +0200 (METDST)

London, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - The Falklands Islands government has confirmed the territory's first case of the new coronavirus.   A patient tested positive after being admitted to hospital with symptoms on March 31, according to a statement released on Friday that said they were in isolation and in "stable condition".   Located in the southern Atlantic Ocean, the British overseas territory had been among a dwindling number of remote places that have reported no COVID-19 cases during the pandemic.

Health authorities in the Falklands -- home to 3,400 people -- have been sending samples to the UK for testing, the statement said.   "In some respects we are fortunate that we have been COVID-19 free until now, as we have taken this time to plan our approach," Chief Medical Officer Dr Rebecca Edwards said.   "We have reorganised the hospital and staffing arrangements, and put our supplies and pharmaceuticals in place, which many countries were not in a position to do before they identified their first cases."

The disparate group of places to officially remain untouched by the pandemic include Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica.   Argentina, which invaded and briefly occupied the territory in 1982, claims sovereignty over the islands and calls them Las Islas Malvinas.
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2019 02:46:41 +0100 (MET)
By Barnaby CHESTERMAN

Stanley, Falkland Islands, Oct 30, 2019 (AFP) - Waddling up the beach in single file, their heads held high with an almost self-important demeanor, king penguins are a major draw in the Falkland Islands' tourism industry.   Their fluffy brown chicks are nearly fearless of humans, meaning tourists at Volunteer Point, a peninsula on East Falkland Island, might get almost close enough to touch one.    "We're the furthest location north in the world that you can see king penguins," said Tony Heathman, a former sheep farmer who has spent the last 16 years taking tour groups to Volunteer Point, where a thousand pairs of the islands' signature species go to breed.   "We get lots and lots of people who... love to come here and get as close to the king penguins as they possibly can," the 70-year-old told AFP.

Kings are just one of five penguin species in the Falklands, alongside the wacky-looking rockhoppers which have yellow tassels sprouting from the side of their heads, gentoos, macaronis and the burrowing magellanics.    The Falklands have incredibly rich biodiversity, including more than 25 species of whales and dolphins, but it is the guaranteed ability to get up close with penguins that makes it a particularly enticing destination.  Tourism is a growing industry in the Falklands despite their remote location in the South Atlantic some 480 kilometers (300 miles) off Argentina and occasional political and economic hostility from Buenos Aires.

In 2018, there was a 6.3 percent increase in tourist arrivals and a 29.4 percent surge in tourist expenditure to almost £8.8 million ($11.3 million).    "One of the key attractions for us was the king penguins at Volunteer Point, so we saw plenty of those," said Flavia Tang, 29, from London, who came for a week with her partner.    Volunteer Point is one of the islands' most popular destinations, accessible from the capital Stanley by a three-hour ride in a four-wheel drive vehicle, including 11 miles of bumpy, boggy, off-road track.   The peninsula is also home to gentoos and magellanic penguins -- known locally as jackasses because of their braying-like call -- as well as oystercatchers, South American terns and ruddy-headed geese.

- Like a Hitchcock film -
Another of the Falklands' stunning locations for wildlife watching is Kidney Island, where rockhoppers use their claws and beaks to help them get to the top of cliffs where they will mate.   In order to see the birds, visitors must trek a half hour through tall, three-meter (10-foot) tussac grass while avoiding ground bird nests.   But a bird called the sooty shearwater is what makes the island truly unique.   "Kidney Island is home to 140,000 breeding pairs of sooty shearwaters that are just rafting off the coast here ready to come in," Denise Blake, the Falklands government's environmental officer, told AFP during a visit to the outlying island.  "So as night falls you really see them swooping in over the heads a bit like the Hitchcock movie where all the birds start circling in: It's incredible for that."

While many nature-lovers head to places such as Antarctica and South Georgia, an island in the South Atlantic, Sally Ellis, the manager at International Tours and Travel, feels the Falklands are a better option.   "Antarctica and South Georgia are nothing compared to the variety and accessibility of wildlife in the Falkland Islands and it costs about a quarter," she said, adding that there was nearly a "guarantee" to see whatever wildlife is desired.   Beyond birds the endangered sei whale is found off the coast of the Falklands while the distinctive black and white Commerson's dolphins swim near Yorke Bay and Gypsy Cove.

- 'Leap of faith' -
In addition to nature watching, adventure tourism is also growing on the islands, where enterprising locals are branching into the industry.   Tom and Jane Chater recently launched a business offering helicopter trips and tours.    The married couple is hoping to attract some of the 60,000 people a year who arrive in the Falklands from cruise ships by offering the chance to explore the islands from their four-seater Robinson R-44 helicopter.    "It's been a very busy and exciting time for us," said Tom Chater, 43.    "It's something we thought about for a long time," added 46-year-old Jane. "It's a leap of faith but we're keen to see how it works out."
Date: Mon, 25 Nov 2013 09:47:39 +0100 (MET)

WASHINGTON, Nov 25, 2013 (AFP) - A powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck in the south Atlantic ocean 314 kilometers (195 miles) southeast of Stanley, the main city on the Falkland Islands, the US Geological Survey said early Monday.  The underwater quake struck at 0627 GMT at a depth of 10 kilometers in the lightly populated area, the USGS said. The epicenter was also 877 kilometers east of Ushuaia, Argentina, the USGS said.   There were no initial reports of damage or casualties.   The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a bulletin stating that, despite the power of the quake, "a destructive widespread tsunami threat does not exist."   The Tsunami Warning Center however did say that there was a "small possibility of a local or regional tsunami" that could affect coastlines "located usually no more than a few hundred kilometers from the earthquake epicenter."   The USGS initially said that it was a magnitude 6.6 earthquake, but later revised the quake's strength.
Date: Sun, 13 Jan 2013 00:01:52 +0100 (MET)

LONDON, Jan 12, 2013 (AFP) - British-American owned cruise firm P&O on Saturday announced it would not be stopping at three Argentinian ports due to the continuing row over the Falkland Islands. "As a British cruise company we cannot allow ourselves to be the subject of any political dispute or put our customers and crew into any situation where their enjoyment may be compromised," said a spokesman for the company. "With this in mind, we have had to take the difficult decision to remove all Argentinian ports of call from the itinerary." Its Arcadia and Adonia vessels will now not dock in Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn or Ushuaia during their round-the-world cruises.

Argentinian port officials have previously turned away liners that have been to the Falklands. President Cristina Kirchner said earlier this month that Argentina was forcibly stripped of the Falklands by Britain in "a blatant exercise of 19th-century colonialism" and demanded they be handed over to Argentina. British Prime Minister David Cameron replied that the 3,000 residents of the Falklands had a strong desire to remain British and would have a chance to express their views in a referendum on their political status to be held in March. The islanders are expected to vote strongly in favour of continued union with Britain.

Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982, prompting Britain's then prime minister Margaret Thatcher to send a naval taskforce to successfully reclaim the islands in a war that claimed the lives of 255 British and 649 Argentinian soldiers. British defence officials have prepared plans for dealing with aggressive action by Argentina towards the disputed islands, according to a report on the Sunday Telegraph website. A senior defence source told the paper: "Britain needs to be in a situation to respond very quickly to a whole series of threats -- that is why we have contingency plans. Our posture has not changed but neither are we complacent."
Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2012 01:19:14 +0100 (MET)

BUENOS AIRES, Feb 27, 2012 (AFP) - Two British cruise ships that visited the Falkland Islands were refused entry to an Argentine port on Monday, amid tension over the disputed archipelago.  The Adonia, owned by P&O cruises, and the Princess Cruises vessel Star Princess were both blocked from entering Ushuaia in southern Argentina after both ships stopped at the Falklands on Saturday. "We are very concerned to hear the Adonia and Star Princess have been refused access to the port of Ushuaia," a spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office said in London. "There can be no justification for interference in free and legitimate commerce. "British diplomats in Argentina are urgently seeking to clarify the circumstances surrounding this incident, and we are in contact with the company concerned." Tensions are running high between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands, which London controls but Buenos Aires claims, ahead of the 30th anniversary in April of the start of the war between the two nations over the South Atlantic islands.

Argentina has also reacted angrily to the deployment of Prince William to the Falklands as part of his job as a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot, and to a planned fact-finding trip by British lawmakers next month. The Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego said they "applied the law" in denying port access to the Carnival Corporation ships the Star Princess and the Adonia.  "The Governor of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and the South Atlantic Islands, Fabiana Rios, decided not to allow the docking in the port of Ushuaia (3,200 km south of Buenos Aires)" of the two ships, Tierra del Fuego authorities said in a statement. "We've never had a ship stopped from coming into an Argentine port before," Julie Benson, spokeswoman for Carnival affiliate Princess Cruises, told AFP.

Carnival UK, which owns both P&O and Princess Cruises, said in a statement the Adonia was now sailing towards Punta Arenas in Chile, its next port of call on an 87-night tour of South America. The Star Princess was on a 14-night South America cruise which started in Rio de Janeiro on February 18. The Falklands, located off the southern coast of Argentina, have been under British control since 1833. A brief 74-day war in 1982 cost the lives of 649 Argentine troops, 255 British troops and three Falkland Islanders, with Britain retaining control. The United Nations has called on Britain to start talk on decolonization, but London has refused to do so.
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Hungary

Hungary US Consular Information Sheet
April 07, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Hungary is a stable democracy with a market economy. Tourist facilities outside Budapest are widely available, if not as developed as those found in Western Europe.
isitors considering a trip are encouraged to read the Embassy’s consular web site at http://budapest.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html.
Please read the Department of State Background Notes on Hungary.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport is required. A visa is not required for tourist stays of up to ninety (90) days as of May 1, 2004. American citizen tourists may remain in Hungary for up to ninety days during any six-month period from the date of first entry. If you plan to reside or study in Hungary for a period of more than ninety days, a visa must be obtained from the Embassy of the Republic of Hungary at 3910 Shoemaker Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 362-6730. More information can be found on the Hungarian Embassy’s web site, http://www.huembwas.org, or at the nearest Hungarian Consulate in Los Angeles or New York.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Prior police approval is required for public demonstrations in Hungary and police oversight is routinely provided to ensure adequate security for participants and passersby. Nonetheless, situations may develop which could pose a threat to public safety. This has been the case several times since 2006, as large demonstrations continue to occur in protest of various domestic political issues. While demonstrations have occurred throughout the country, demonstrations often occurred at Budapest’s Kossuth Lajos ter, outside the Hungarian Parliament Building and very close to the U.S. Embassy. On several occasions the demonstrations turned violent, resulting in local law enforcement response that included the use of water canons and tear gas. Domestic politics also appears to be the impetus behind a recent rash of Molotov cocktail and “white powder” incidents across the country. While Americans and U.S. interests are not specifically targeted by these incidents, many take place in areas popular with tourists. As a result, U.S. citizens are advised to avoid areas in which public demonstrations are taking place.

While Hungary does not appear to be experiencing the wave of race or ethnic-based violence associated with other countries in East and Central Europe, there has been an increase in the profile of a number of small groups espousing religious, ethnic and social intolerance. One such group, calling itself the Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard), gained prominence in 2007 due to its radical nationalist message of intolerance and its efforts to intimidate opponents by adoption of imagery reminiscent of Hungary’s fascist regime of the 1940’s. Although such groups are not avowedly anti-American, their targeting of people based on their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation should be noted by Americans traveling in Hungary, and steps should be taken to avoid confrontations with the group and its members.

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 Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found.

Up to date information on 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:
Hungary has a low rate of violent crime. However, street crime occasionally involving violence has been reported, especially near major hotels and restaurants and on public transportation. Theft of passports, currency, and credit cards is a frequent problem, especially in train stations and on public transportation.

The U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section offers an informational brochure for tourists in Hungary, including a section on crimes and scams that have been encountered by other tourists. To consult the advisory, please visit the Embassy’s consular web site at http://budapest.usembassy.gov/tourist_advisory.html.

Drivers should be cautious when stopping at gas stations and highway parking lots, or fixing flat tires or other mechanical problems, especially at night. There have been reports of scams perpetrated on unsuspecting victims while traveling the highways. One reported scam involves someone who attracts the driver’s attention by saying that there is something wrong with his/her car (e.g. a smoking hood or flat tire) in order to encourage the driver to pull over to the side of the road. Once pulled over, the people participating in the scam will remove purses, passports, etc., from the car and drive away. Luggage and valuables should not be left unattended inside any vehicle.

A common scam involves young women asking foreign men to buy them drinks. When the bill arrives the drinks cost hundreds of dollars each. Americans should avoid bars and restaurants promoted by cab drivers or people on the street. Every bar and restaurant should provide a menu with prices before ordering.

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 this serious problem 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 or Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
Tourists who become victims of a crime in Hungary are strongly encouraged to call a 24-hour multilingual crime reporting telephone number. The number from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. is 01-438-8080; from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., the number is 06-8066-0044. There is also a 24-hour police Tourist Information office that provides service in English and German and is located in one of downtown Budapest’s busiest tourist area: 1051 Budapest.

For more information, see Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical treatment in Hungary is adequate, but hospital facilities and nursing support are not comparable to those in the United States. Physicians are generally well trained, but there is a lack of adequate emergency services. Some doctors, particularly in Budapest, speak English. Doctors and hospitals usually expect immediate cash payment for health services.

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.

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

In Hungary, fatal traffic accidents number approximately 1,200 per year, with about 7,000 traffic accidents per year resulting in serious injuries. While this may seem low compared to the United States, Hungary has a much higher rate of accidents per mile driven. Americans should drive with caution and always be alert for other vehicles that may be violating traffic laws. Road travel is more dangerous during the Christmas season, summer months, and at night. Roadside assistance, including medical and other services, is generally available. English is usually spoken at the emergency numbers listed below. In case English is not spoken, dial 112.

Ambulance: 104 or 350-0388
Police: 107
Fire: 105
24-hour English speaker: 112

Bus, train and taxi services are readily available for inter-city travel.
Hungarian motorways and highways are generally in good condition.
Urban roads and road maintenance are also good although areas under construction are not always adequately marked or blockaded. In Budapest, many roads are often under construction. In rural areas, however, roads are often narrow, badly lit, and can be in a state of poor repair in some areas. Pedestrians, agricultural machinery, and farm animals often use these small rural roads. This requires increased caution on the part of drivers. Additional information on road conditions is available from “Utinform” at phone number (38) (1) 336-2400.

Hungary has a policy of zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol. Police often conduct routine roadside checks where breath-analyzer tests are administered. Persons found to be driving while intoxicated face jail and/or fines. Possible penalties for a car accident involving injury or death are one to five years in prison. Police have instituted a widespread practice of stopping vehicles, particularly in Budapest, to check driver identity documents in a search for illegal aliens and residents in Hungary, and to check vehicle registration and fitness documentation. It is against the law to use a hand-held cell phone while driving anywhere in Hungary.

Hungary recognizes international driver’s permits (IDP) issued by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance when presented in conjunction with a state driver’s license. American driver’s licenses will be accepted in Hungary for one year after arrival provided that a certified Hungarian translation has been attached to the license. Those with IDPs do not need to have the license translated, but must present both IDP and state driver’s license together. After one year in Hungary, U.S. citizens must obtain a Hungarian driver’s license. For further information on this procedure visit the embassy’s consular web site at http://budapest.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html.

The speed limit for cars and motorcycles on the motorway is 130 km per hour (approximately 80 mph); on highways, the limit is 110 km per hour (approximately 65 mph);
and in town and village areas, the speed limit is 50 km per hour (approximately 30 mph). Many drivers, however, do not observe the speed limits, and extra care should be taken on two-way roads.
Special seats are required for infants. Children under age 12 may not sit in the front seat of an automobile. Seats belts are mandatory for everyone in the car. Unless another instruction sign is displayed, yielding the right of way to cars approaching from the right is the general rule. Turning right on a red light is prohibited. The police write up tickets for traffic violations and levy any applicable fine(s) on the spot. The police will give the offender a postal check (money order) on which the amount of the fine to be paid is written, and this postal check may be presented and paid at any Hungarian post office. Sometimes in disputes about fines or the offense, the police will confiscate the person’s passport and issue a receipt for the passport with an “invitation letter” to appear at the police station the ext day or day after to resolve the dispute. The passport is returned after resolution and/or the payment of the fine.

For specific information about Hungarian driver’s permits, vehicle inspection, road taxes and mandatory insurance, visit the Hungarian National Tourist Organization Office in New York web site at http://www.gotohungary.com.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for information.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: The acceptance of traveler’s checks is not universal in Hungary. The presence of ATMs is increasing in Budapest and other major cities.

Hungary’s custom authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Hungary of items such as firearms, antiquities, and prescription medications. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Hungary in Washington or one of Hungary’s consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Please see our information on 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 Hungarian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Hungary are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit 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 AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS:
Americans living in Hungary are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Hungary.
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 in Budapest is located at 1054 Budapest 12; telephone (36) (1) 475-4703 or (36) (1) 475-4929. The Consular Section’s fax is (36) (1) 475-4188 or (36) (1) 475-4113, and the Consular Section’s web site is located at http://hungary.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated August 23, 2007 with updated information on Safety and Security.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 10:46:26 +0100 (MET)

Budapest, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday ordered a nationwide lockdown for two weeks to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.   "We are introducing curfew restrictions throughout Hungary between March 28 and April 11," he told public radio.   "For two weeks we can all leave our homes or places of residence only for work or for managing basic needs."

Exemptions include trips to shops and pharmacies for necessities, with infringements liable to police fines of up to 500,000 forints (1,400 euros, $1,550).   Shops will be open exclusively for those aged over 65 between 9 am and 12 noon to "separate youth from elderly in a bearable way," said Orban.   The move is the latest in a series of government decrees including school closures introduced after a state of emergency was announced March 11.

Hungary closed its borders to non-nationals from March 17, which led to chaos for travellers and freight hauliers at border crossings and Budapest airport.   Parliament is set Tuesday to grant Orban sweeping powers of decree until the government declares an end to the state of emergency.   Hungary, which has a population of almost 10 million, has so far recorded 300 infections from the virus and 10 deaths.
Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2020 12:44:48 +0100 (MET)

Budapest, March 16, 2020 (AFP) - Hungary became the latest European country to announce drastic restrictions on public life Monday, closing its borders and curtailing movement in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.   "We are closing Hungary's borders to passenger traffic," Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a speech in parliament on Monday.   "The international talks to coordinate this are taking place now, this means that in future only Hungarian citizens will be able to enter Hungary," he said.

Several countries in the region have already announced similar restrictions at their borders, including Hungary's neighbours Ukraine and Slovakia.  Orban also said that from midnight on Monday local time (2300 GMT) all public events would be prohibited.   "Places of entertainment, cinemas, cultural institutions must be closed," he said, adding that restaurants and cafes would be only be allowed to open up until 3pm.   People aged 70 are asked not to leave their homes, Orban said, while admitting that they could not be prohibited from doing so.   Hungary has recorded 39 cases of the novel coronavirus so far and one death.
Date: Thu, 30 May 2019 08:06:11 +0200

Budapest, May 30, 2019 (AFP) - Seven South Korean tourists died and 21 others were missing after a sightseeing boat capsized and sank on the Danube in Budapest, Hungarian and South Korean officials said Thursday.   The accident happened near the parliament building in the heart of the Hungarian capital after a collision with a larger river cruise boat during torrential rain around 09:15 pm (1915 GMT) on Wednesday, according to officials.   A total of 33 South Koreans were on board, Seoul's foreign ministry said, confirming the seven dead were Korean.   The youngest was a six-year-old girl, travel agency officials said.

The 26-metre tourist boat, called the "Mermaid," was also carrying two Hungarian crew members.   "Our services have recorded the death of seven people," Pal Gyorfi, a spokesman for Hungarian emergency services, said early Thursday morning.   "Seven people have been taken to hospital in a stable condition with hypothermia and shock symptoms," Gyorfi added.   "A further 21 people are missing," a Hungarian police spokesman Kristof Gal told AFP.   "Police are searching the river throughout the entire length of the Danube in Hungary south of where the incident took place," he said.

- All night search -
Local media reported that one of the bodies was found several kilometres south of the collision location, although Gal declined to confirm.   The temperature of the river water is between 10 and 15 degrees, according to local media.   The search for the missing with the help of divers and police shining lights continued through the night, said an AFP photographer at the scene.   A film crew working from a bridge south of the accident site also used reflector lights to help light up the water through the gloom and pouring rain, reported local media.   Heavy rainfall since the beginning of May has led to high water levels and a fast-moving river current, complicating rescue efforts.

The accident happened on a popular part of the Danube river for pleasure trips, from where passengers can view the city and parliament building illuminated at night.   The boat was regularly serviced and had no apparent technical faults, Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for Panorama Deck that owned the vessel, told the Hungarian news agency MTI.     "It was a routine sightseeing trip," said Toth.   "We know nothing about how it happened, the authorities are investigating, all we know is that it sank quickly," he said. 

- Hit by bigger cruise boat -
An eye-witness told the Index.hu news-site that the Mermaid, which could hold 60 people on board, had been hit from behind by a large cruise boat.   Web camera footage from a hotel rooftop posted on local news-sites appeared to show the bigger boat colliding with the Mermaid.     The wreckage of the Mermaid was found on the riverbed after several hours of searching near the Margaret Bridge, one of the main bridges connecting the two parts of the Hungarian capital, local media said.   Access to the river has been blocked by the authorities, according to public television.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in instructed the government to "deploy all available resources" for the rescue, the presidential office said.   Seoul planned to send a team of 18 officials to assist the authorities in Budapest, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.   The foreign ministry said minister Kang Kyung-wha would leave for Budapest later Thursday as head of a government taskforce.   Embassy staff have also been assisting the emergency services in the identification of victims.   The Hungarian interior and health ministers visited the scene and expressed condolences to the families of the victims.
Date: Thu, 30 Aug 2018 05:07:31 +0200
By Géza MOLNAR

Siófok, Hungary, Aug 30, 2018 (AFP) - With its inviting turquoise waters, white sandy banks, picturesque mountainous landscapes and resort towns, Hungary's Lake Balaton has plenty for tourists to write home about.   But a labour shortage exacerbated by low salaries and Hungary's
anti-immigration policies is making life difficult for the lake's tourism industry.   Already popular under communism, visitors still flock in increasing numbers to central Europe's largest lake to soak up its warm summer climate and enjoy the beaches, bars and eateries, as well as locally produced wines.

But that's proving a headache for restaurant and hotel owners, who struggle to find workers, as unemployment in Hungary is historically low at 3.6 percent, while nationalist firebrand Prime Minister Viktor Orban is strongly against immigration.   "It's impossible to find a gardener, or a waitress or a cook," said Balazs Banlaki, the owner of Kali-Kapocs, a restaurant nestled in the hills of Mindszentkalla on the northern shore of the lake, which lies about 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of the capital, Budapest.   Banlaki usually needs about 10 employees to run his restaurant, which he only opens during the summer months, but he has to do more and more himself.   "Before each new season, we repaint the restaurant, but even for that kind of work, it's me who takes up the brush now," he told AFP.

- 'Young people don't stay' -
With a national average salary of less than 530 euros ($610) per month and half a million people having left the country to work in western Europe over the past decade, Hungary lacks workers.   Despite having one of the lowest fertility rates in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and a population currently of less than 10 million, its government has not heeded appeals from businesses to open its borders to qualified workers.

Banlaki recalled how last year he could only offer drinks, coffee and sandwiches because he could not find a cook.    After raising salaries, he is glad to have at least a handful of workers this year.   "But even when we find someone, there is a high chance that he or she will quit again quickly. With festivals, holiday plans with friends and other occasions, young people don't stay. I don't dare to criticise our workers for fear they will just leave," he said.   On the other side of the lake -- known also for its big beach parties and discotheques -- the high-end Plazs Siofok beach complex that can hold close to 10,000 people faces similar challenges.   "We advertise (job openings) everywhere and all the time... The lack of qualified workers is a constant problem," manager Erzsebet Mazula said.

- Online check-in? -
Due to its trendy image -- with numerous restaurants, an outdoor gym, beach bars and a concert stage drawing Hungary's best DJs and singers -- Plazs Siofok can attract student workers, Mazula said.   "They are certainly not professionals, but we train them before the season starts. Being involved and friendly and smiling is more important than knowing how to make complicated cocktails," she told AFP.   "But even with this system, you can see there are not enough waiters and waitresses to serve our clients."   At Siofok, mother-of-two Petra Lisztes, 39, said they spent several weeks at the lake every year and she had noticed that many of the small food and drinks stands had remained shut this time and that service in restaurants was slower.   The problem extends far beyond Lake Balaton.

Seen as a relatively cheap holiday destination, the number of tourists to Hungary has climbed seven percent this year so far, according to official data released by the KSH Hungarian Central Statistical Office, after already reaching a record 29.5 million hotel overnight stays last year.   To compensate for a lack of workers, several Budapest hotels have started to simplify reception services inspired by airline companies' online check-in systems.   But the problem is hard to solve for jobs that require expertise, such as cooks, head waiters and waitresses or managers.   Seeking to offer a solution, the government is trying to convince pensioners to return to work by exempting them from having to pay social contributions and capping taxes at 15 percent.    Since last year, Budapest has permitted workers from neighbouring non-EU countries Ukraine and Serbia to work in Hungary for up to 90 days without a work permit.   But, so far, the measures have failed to solve the shortage.
Date: Tue 3 Jul 2018
Source: Food Poison Journal [edited]

Frozen corn and possibly other frozen vegetables are the likely source of an outbreak of _Listeria monocytogenes_ that has been affecting Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom since 2015.

Experts used whole genome sequencing to identify the food source, which initially was thought to be limited to frozen corn. As of 8 Jun 2018, 47 cases including 9 deaths had been reported.

The same strains of _L. monocytogenes_ have been detected in frozen vegetables produced by the same Hungarian company in 2016, 2017, and 2018. This suggests that the strains have persisted in the processing plant despite the cleaning and disinfection procedures that were carried out.

The available information confirms the contamination at the Hungarian plant. However, further investigations, including thorough sampling and testing, are needed to identify the exact points of environmental contamination at the Hungarian plant. The same recommendation applies to other companies belonging to the same commercial group if environmental contamination is detected.

On 29 Jun 2018, the Hungarian Food Chain Safety Office banned the marketing of all frozen vegetable and frozen mixed vegetable products produced by the affected plant between August 2016 and June 2018, and ordered their immediate withdrawal and recall. This last measure is likely to significantly reduce the risk of human infections and contain the outbreak. All freezing activity at the plant has been stopped.

New cases could still emerge due to the long incubation period of listeriosis (up to 70 days); the long shelf-life of frozen corn products; and the consumption of frozen corn bought before the recalls and eaten without being cooked properly.

To reduce the risk of infection, consumers should thoroughly cook non ready-to-eat frozen vegetables, even though these products are commonly consumed without cooking (such as in salads and smoothies). This applies especially to consumers at highest risk of contracting listeriosis -- such as the elderly, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.  [Byline: Josh Fensterbush]
======================
[When last reported by ProMED-mail in March 2018 (Listeriosis - EU: fatal, ST6, frozen corn, 2015-18, recall http://promedmail.org/post/20180325.5708506), there was a total of 32 confirmed listeriosis cases, including 6 deaths, between December 2015 and 8 Mar 2018, in a multi-country outbreak in 5 EU member states (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) linked by whole genome sequencing (genotyping) of clinical isolates of _Listeria monocytogenes_ to frozen corn that was packed in Poland and processed/produced in Hungary. As of 8 Jun 2018, there are now 47 reported cases, including 9 deaths.

Possibly other frozen vegetables produced by the Hungarian facility are also being implicated and on 29 June 2018, the Hungarian Food Chain Safety Office ordered recall and banned further the marketing of all frozen vegetable and frozen mixed vegetable products produced by the affected facility between August 2016 and June 2018. All freezing activity at the plant has been stopped.

_Listeria monocytogenes_ is widely distributed in the environment where it can form biofilms, which enables them to attach to solid surfaces and become extremely difficult to remove, especially in parts of equipment that are difficult to access. In a prior ProMED-mail report of a listeriosis outbreak in Canada, the design of a commercial meat slicer responsible for contamination of deli meat made its regular cleaning difficult and costly for the food processor (Listeriosis - South Africa (04): comment http://promedmail.org/post/20180126.5586393). The contamination occurred in parts of the machinery "well beyond the [manufacturer's] recommended sanitation process" and was "found only after the devices were completely disassembled" (<https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/maple-leaf-eyes-meat-slicers-in-outbreak/article1060898/>).  Perhaps a similar situation is responsible for this prolonged multicountry EU outbreak.

Serotyping of _L. monocytogenes_ strains, based on variations in the somatic (O) and flagellar (H) antigens, has determined that only 3 (1/2a, 1/2b, and 4b) of the 12 serotypes of _L. monocytogenes_ cause 95 per cent of human cases; serotype 4b is most commonly associated with outbreaks (<https://www.cdc.gov/listeria/pdf/listeriainitiativeoverview_508.pdf>). The serotype of the strain of _L. monocytogenes_ responsible for this multi-country European outbreak is 4b, multi-locus sequence type 6 (ST6). Whole genome sequence (WGS) analysis of _L. monocytogenes_ isolates from 2 different samples of mixed frozen vegetables and an isolate from a surface where various vegetables could have been processed closely matched that of the clinical isolates (ProMED-mail post Listeriosis - EU: fatal, ST6, frozen corn, 2015-18, recall http://promedmail.org/post/20180325.5708506).

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Europe:
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 16:10:44 +0200 (METDST)

London, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - Britain on Saturday reported 708 more deaths from COVID-19 in a new daily high, as the number of confirmed cases rose to nearly 42,000.   The health ministry said 4,313 people who tested positive for the virus in hospital had died as of 1600 GMT Friday while there were 41,903 confirmed cases as of 0800 GMT Saturday, up 3,735.   The toll has been steadily increasing at more than over 500 deaths a day this week and the country is bracing for an expected peak in the next week to 10 days.   Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is in self-isolation after developing mild symptoms of the disease, ordered a three-week lockdown of the country on March 23 to try to cut infections.

But there has been concern that warmer weather forecast for this weekend could tempt people from their homes to green spaces and public parks.   "I just urge you not to do that," Johnson said in a video message on Friday. "Please, please stick with the guidance now."   Health Secretary Matt Hancock also warned against any relaxation in social distancing. "If we do, people will die," he told a daily briefing on the government's response on Friday.   A special address on the crisis by Queen Elizabeth II is to be broadcast on Sunday evening.

Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who is advising the government, told BBC radio on Saturday a peak was expected around the Easter weekend.   "We still think things will plateau but we'll be at quite high levels of infection for weeks and weeks rather than seeing quite a rapid decline as the type seen in China," he said.   But he said that was dependent on people staying at home. If that happened, it could lead to less stringent measures in place "at least by the end of May", he added.

The announcement of another record rise in deaths came after 13 residents at a care home in Glasgow died in one week in a suspected outbreak of coronavirus.   The Burlington Court Care Home in the Cranhill area of the city said those who died had underlying medical conditions and two staff members were being treated for COVID-19.

Tests for coronavirus are currently carried out on the most serious cases that require hospital treatment, suggesting the true extent of confirmed cases and deaths is an under-estimate.   The government meanwhile announced that up to 4,000 low-risk prisoners near the end of their sentence could be release from jails in England and Wales to try to stop the spread of COVID-19.   A total of 88 prisoners and 15 prison staff have tested positive for the virus, and there is concern it could spread rapidly because of shared cells and overcrowding.   The justice ministry said those released would be electronically tagged and temporarily released on licence in stages. High-risk offenders will not be considered for early release.
Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 15:38:20 +0200 (METDST)

Madrid, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced Saturday the extension of the country's lockdown until April 25 in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.   "The cabinet on Tuesday will again ask for authorisation from parliament to extend for a second time the state of alert until Saturday April 25 at midnight,' Sanchez said in a televised speech.
Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 15:26:30 +0200 (METDST)

Istanbul, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - Turkey stepped up controls Saturday on crowded public spaces including markets and ferries in Istanbul a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan imposed the use of face masks to curb the coronavirus outbreak.    Turkey has so far recorded 425 coronavirus-related deaths and nearly 21,000 cases, most of them in the country's economic capital Istanbul, according to official figures.   From Saturday, all those going out to shops or markets must wear a face mask, Erdogan said, calling on the population to maintain a distance of "three paces" from each other when outside.

At an Istanbul bazaar in the Besiktas neighbourhood open every Saturday, police and local municipal employees handled the use of masks and hand disinfectants, while checking the temperature of incoming customers at the entrance.   Veli Yildirim, 50, who sells vegetables including tomatoes, said the measures came "too late."   "We are the latest compared to the rest of the world. Even this is not enough, there should be a complete lockdown" in Istanbul, he told AFP.    A 60-year-old customer in the bazaar, Asuman Karaman wearing a mask, agreed: "If these measures had been taken one or two months earlier, maybe the virus would not have been so widespread."   The bazaar looked quite calm -- in stark contrast to its usual noisy and crowded state.

Vendors complained their business was hit badly.    "This has a had a big impact, there is no one at the market, at this time of the day, we have nothing to do here," said Abbas Kose, who sells vine leaves.   At the ferries in Istanbul, passengers were seen wearing face masks.    The city's mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has been calling for total confinement but authorities have so far stopped short of that.    As part of the measures taken nationwide, authorities suspended international flights, issued a confinement order for everyone aged under 20 and over 65 and shut schools.   Erdogan on Friday also said vehicles would no longer be able to leave or enter 31 towns and cities, including Istanbul, for 15 days.
Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 15:22:33 +0200 (METDST)

Geneva, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - Switzerland on Saturday saw the number of cases of the new coronavirus in the country pass 20,000, as its death toll in the pandemic swelled past 500.   The health ministry said 20,201 people in Switzerland had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Saturday morning -- nearly 1,000 more than a day earlier.   The small Alpine country of some 8.5 million people is thus one of the worst hit compared to population size, now counting 236 registered infections per 100,000 people.    At the same time, an additional 76 people died over the past 24 hours, bringing Switzerland's death toll in the pandemic to 540, the health ministry said.   "We have not yet reached the peak," health ministry official Daniel Koch told reporters.

Worldwide, well over 1.1 million cases have been registered across 188 countries, while close to 60,000 people have died, according to a tally compiled by AFP Saturday from official sources.   The high incidence in Switzerland could in part be linked to the fact that it is among the countries that have administered most tests per capita.   Since the first case surfaced in the country on February 24, more than 150,000 tests have been administered with around 15 percent coming up positive.   Drive-in testing stations have been set up in several places, including in the capital Bern, to help simplify safe testing for COVID-19.   In the past 24 hours, the country has conducted nearly 7,000 tests, including 975 that were positive, the health ministry said.

Switzerland's southern canton of Ticino, which borders hard-hit Italy, has registered most cases, followed by Geneva.   As in other countries, men seemed to suffer more from the virus. Slightly more women had tested positive for the virus, but men accounted for 64 percent of the deaths, the ministry found.   Switzerland has unblocked some $60 billion to buffer the harsh blow to its economy from the pandemic and the measures taken to halt the spread of the virus.   The economic affairs ministry said Saturday some 1.3 million people, or a quarter of the country's workforce, have applied for temporary unemployment benefits since the start of the crisis.
Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 07:04:32 +0200 (METDST)

Honiara, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - At least 28 ferry passengers were swept overboard in a powerful storm off the Solomon Islands, reports said Saturday, with the captain unaware he had lost anyone until the boat docked.   The passengers were heading from the capital Honiara to West Are'are, more than 120 kilometres (75 miles) away, under a government programme to evacuate people to their home villages during the global coronavirus epidemic.

The MV Taimareho set sail on Thursday night as tropical cyclone Harold bore down on the Solomons, and with weather forecasters warning against any unnecessary voyages.   But the captain ignored advice not to sail, the nation's leader said, as survivors reported dozens of people were swept overboard by huge waves and strong winds. Local media put the death toll at 28.

But police said it was impossible to verify the number.   "Initial reports say the captain of the boat had no knowledge of the missing people until he was informed when the boat arrived at her destination at Are'are," police marine department chief Charles Fox Sau said.    "At this stage we cannot confirm how many people are missing as the investigation into this sad incident continues."

In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Manasseh Sovagare said a search and rescue operation was under way.    "It is with deep regret to learn that a number of passengers are missing at sea after being washed overboard from a passenger vessel which departed ... from Honiara, despite the several weather warnings issued," he said.    Disaster authorities in the Solomons, which has limited healthcare facilities, have been stretched as they prepared for the impact of coronavirus while the region was being battered by tropical cyclone Harold.

The island nation, with a population of just over 600,000, is one of a dwindling number of countries where there have been no reported coronavirus cases so far.   Harold, packing winds of up to 160 kilometres per hour (100 mph), downed trees and damaged homes before heading away and was expected to intensify before reaching Vanuatu late Sunday.   Although the government has not yet completed a damage assessment, Australia has donated Aus$100,000 (US$60,000) in immediate emergency funding.
Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 06:20:31 +0200 (METDST)

London, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - The Falklands Islands government has confirmed the territory's first case of the new coronavirus.   A patient tested positive after being admitted to hospital with symptoms on March 31, according to a statement released on Friday that said they were in isolation and in "stable condition".   Located in the southern Atlantic Ocean, the British overseas territory had been among a dwindling number of remote places that have reported no COVID-19 cases during the pandemic.

Health authorities in the Falklands -- home to 3,400 people -- have been sending samples to the UK for testing, the statement said.   "In some respects we are fortunate that we have been COVID-19 free until now, as we have taken this time to plan our approach," Chief Medical Officer Dr Rebecca Edwards said.   "We have reorganised the hospital and staffing arrangements, and put our supplies and pharmaceuticals in place, which many countries were not in a position to do before they identified their first cases."

The disparate group of places to officially remain untouched by the pandemic include Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica.   Argentina, which invaded and briefly occupied the territory in 1982, claims sovereignty over the islands and calls them Las Islas Malvinas.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 23:54:18 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - The Democratic Republic of Congo is prepared to take part in testing of any future vaccine against the coronavirus, the head of the country's taskforce against the pandemic said on Friday.   "We've been chosen to conduct these tests," said the head of the national biological institute, Jean-Jacques Muyembe.    "The vaccine will be produced in the United States, or in Canada, or in China. We're candidates for doing the testing here," Muyembe told a news briefing in comments that sparked controversy in DR Congo amid charges the population was being used as guinea pigs.

Muyembe suggested that clinical trials could begin in July or August.    "At some point, COVID-19 will be uncontrollable," the virologist said.   "The only way to control it will be a vaccine, just like Ebola. It was a vaccine that helped us end the Ebola epidemic."   Muyembe's comments came as two leading French doctors came under a storm of criticism after discussing on a television programme the idea of testing a vaccine for coronavirus in Africa.   Camille Locht, head of research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Lille, and Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care at the Cochin hospital in Paris, suggested that Africa offered better conditions for testing the vaccine.

Their remarks sparked furious criticism, with the French anti-racism NGO, SOS Racisme, saying, "No, Africans aren't guinea pigs".    Even former international and Ivory Coast football star Didier Drogba joined in.    "It is inconceivable that we continue to accept this. Africa is not a laboratory. I strongly denounce these very serious, racist and contemptuous words," the former Chelsea and Marseille striker wrote on his Facebook page and on Twitter.   "Help us save lives in Africa and stop the spread of the virus that is destabilising the whole world instead of seeing us as guinea pigs. It is absurd."   The tenth Ebola epidemic in DR Congo is set to be declared over on April 12, after it killed more than 2,200 people in the east of the country since its outbreak on August 1, 2018.    More than 320,000 people were given two different experimental vaccines to stop the spread.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 21:56:23 +0200 (METDST)

Libreville, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Gabon on Friday banned the sale and eating of bats and pangolins, which are suspected of sparking the novel coronavirus in China where they are highly prized in traditional medicine.   President Ali Bongo Ondimba also announced the government was planning to lock down the capital Libreville and unveiled an emergency package for those hard hit by the pandemic.   The novel coronavirus is believed to have come from bats, but researchers think it might have spread to humans via another mammal.   Pangolins are critically endangered and have long been protected, but they are sold in the markets of the capital Libreville, as are bats, and their meat is popular.

The central African nation is 88 percent covered in forest and hunting and bush meat have long been a way of life.   The water and forest ministry said the novel coronavirus was a "combination of two different viruses, one close to bats and the other closer to pangolins", and claimed to be quoting a scientific study published in Nature.   Gabon has declared 21 COVID-19 infections, but none from animals, the ministry said.   "A similar decision was taken by the authorities when our country was affected by the Ebola virus -- a ban on eating primates," Forestry Minister Lee White said.

The national parks agency ANPN announced in mid-March that tourists would no longer be allowed to interact with great apes to avoid any risk of contamination by the coronavirus.   The pangolin, the world's most heavily trafficked mammal, also called the scaly anteater, is believed to have possibly been a vector in the leap of the novel coronavirus from animal to human at a market in China's Wuhan city last year.   Its body parts fetch a high price on the black market as they are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, although scientists say they have no therapeutic value.

Gabon has also put in place a raft of measures such as grounding international flights, closing schools and ordering a night curfew to stop the spread of the coronavirus.   On Friday, Bongo said Libreville would be put under lockdown "in the coming days" but gave no precise date.   All but one of Gabon's reported 21 cases are in the city, where a large proportion of the country's two million residents live.   Bongo also announced an aid package of 250 billion CFA francs (380 million euros) to help both individuals and businesses whose livelihoods have suffered because of the crisis.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 20:36:36 +0200 (METDST)

Istanbul, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday issued a mandatory confinement order for everyone aged under 20 starting from midnight, as part of tougher measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus in Turkey.    In a television address, Erdogan also announced that vehicles would no longer be able to leave or enter 31 towns and cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, for 15 days.   People aged over 65 or those with chronic medical conditions are already subject to mandatory confinement in Turkey.    "Throughout the country, people aged under 20, that is to say born after January 1, 2000, will not be allowed to go out on the street" from midnight on Friday, Erdogan said.

Also, from Saturday, all those going out to shops or markets will be obliged to wear a face mask, the Turkish leader added, calling on the population to maintain a distance of "three paces" from each other when outside.   Turkey has registered over 20,000 coronavirus cases, 425 of which have been fatal.   Health Minister Fahrettin Koca warned on Friday that the country is just at the beginning of the outbreak, which has left over 50,000 people dead worldwide.   More than half of the Turkish cases have been in the economic capital Istanbul, which has a population of around 16 million people.

The city's mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has been calling for total confinement.    Erdogan's announcements on Friday are the latest moves to stem the spread of the virus in Turkey in recent weeks.   Schools have been closed down, flights grounded and gatherings banned.   Next week the Turkish parliament is set to consider a draft law to free 90,000 prisoners, a third of the population of the overcrowded prisons.   It will concern several categories of prisoners, among them pregnant women and older people with medical conditions.   But it excludes convicted murderers, sexual offenders and narcotics criminals, as well as political prisoners charged under Turkey's controversial anti-terrorism laws.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 11:49:00 +0200 (METDST)

Singapore, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Singapore will close schools and workplaces while people are being told to stay home, as the city-state ramps up curbs to stem the spread of coronavirus, the premier said Friday.   The country has won praise for its handling of the outbreak, and had largely kept the crisis in check by carrying out large numbers of tests and tracing close contacts of those infected.   Authorities had slowly been introducing curbs, such as closing bars and nightclubs, but had so far avoided the kind of tough restrictions seen in worse-hit nations.

However, after a jump in the number of locally transmitted cases in recent days, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it was time to apply a "circuit breaker" to halt the virus's spread.   Workplaces except for essential services, such as supermarkets and hospitals, and those deemed to be in key economic sectors will be closed from Tuesday, he said in a televised address.

Schools will also be closed from next week except for children of those who have to continue to work and cannot make alternative arrangements, he said.   People are being told to stay at home as much as possible, and only go out for essentials -- such as buying food and getting exercise.   "Looking at the trend, I am worried that unless we take further steps, things will gradually get worse, or another big cluster may push things over the edge," Lee said.   Singapore has reported 1,114 virus infections including five deaths. Globally, the number of confirmed cases has soared past one million and deaths have topped 50,000.