WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Andorra

General
************************************
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
**************
*********************
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
***************************************
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
************************************
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
************************************
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
************************************
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
************************************
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]
=====================
[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]
More ...

Puerto Rico

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Svalbard

General:
**********************************
Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
the northern parts of the country. Temperatures of between 20C to 35C are fairly standard throughout the year. Generally the winter effects of the American continent only last for short periods.
Safety & Security:
**********************************
The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Road Safety:
**********************************
Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
**********************************
When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.

Currency:
**********************************
Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Health Facilities:
**********************************
Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
**********************************
The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
***********************************************
Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
************************************
The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
**********************************
This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
**********************************
There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
**********************************
Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 23 Apr 2019 13:01:09 +0200
By Ron LOPEZ

Porac, Philippines, April 23, 2019 (AFP) - Philippine rescuers raced Tuesday to reach some two dozen people still feared buried under a building near Manila that collapsed a day earlier in a deadly earthquake, as a powerful second tremor hit the nation.   The US Geological Survey put the second quake -- on the central island of Samar -- at 6.4 magnitude, stronger than the one that wrought significant damage Monday near the capital in the north.

The latest quake sent terrified locals fleeing into the streets, with images on social media showing cracked roads, crumbling church walls and shattered glass.   "No one started crying, but of course some panicked because it was really strong," said Rey Estrobo, a supervisor at a hotel in Borongan town, near the epicentre.   At the same time, the toll in Monday's quake rose to 16, with most of the fatalities in the worst-hit northern province of Pampanga, national disaster officials said.   More than 100 others were injured by falling rubble on Monday, including in Manila, according to police.

However, initial reports indicated relatively minor destruction in Samar given the strength of Tuesday's quake, which could be down to differences in ground composition.   "The damage is more pronounced if the houses and buildings are built on a foundation of soft soil," seismologist Myla Advincula told AFP, referring to Pampanga's soft sediment. "It enhances the shaking effect."

Scores of rescuers in the northern town of Porac spent Tuesday using cranes and jackhammers to peel back the pancaked concrete structure of a four-storey market building where the Red Cross said 24 people were unaccounted for.   "Every minute, every second is critical in this rescue," Cris Palcis, a volunteer rescue dog handler, told AFP. "Time is short for the people under the rubble so we have to be quick."

Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda told journalists that rescuers could still hear at least one person trapped beneath the rubble, but the digging was proceeding delicately to avoid accidentally crushing the survivor.   Rogelio Pacelo was shopping with his wife and child when the market building collapsed around them, but they incredibly made it out almost without a scratch.   "I thought this only happens in movies. I thought that was the end of the world, it's our end," he told journalists. "I looked for a way out."   The quake also damaged several centuries-old churches which were crowded with worshippers in recent days as the majority-Catholic Philippines marked the Easter holiday.

- 'Ring of Fire' -
Father Roland Moraleja, who is based in Porac, said the 18th-century belfry of the Saint Catherine of Alexandria church collapsed in the quake.   "It was the only part left from the old church," he told AFP. "The historical value is now gone, but we are hopeful that it will rise again."   High-rise buildings in the capital swayed after the tremor struck Monday evening, leaving some with large cracks in their walls.

Thousands of travellers were stranded after aviation authorities shut down the secondary Clark Airport, which is located on the site of the former US military installation that lies about an hour's drive north of the capital.   It was still closed on Tuesday as officials assessed the heavy damage to the terminal building and some cracking on the air traffic control tower.

The quake was centred on the town of Castillejos, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) northwest of Manila, local geologists said.   Seismologists put Monday's tremor at 6.3 initially, but subsequently downgraded it to a 6.1 magnitude.   The Philippines is in the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from quake-prone Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.
Date: Tue, 23 Apr 2019 10:08:27 +0200

Johannesburg, April 23, 2019 (AFP) - At least five people died early Tuesday in South Africa's coastal city of Durban after torrential rains triggered mudslides that crushed homes, emergency services said.   Among those killed were a six-month-old baby, a child of about 10 and two adults.   "Torrential rains damaged peoples houses (and) there were mudslides," Garrith Jamieson, spokesman for Rescue Care, told AFP.

"I can confirm five (deaths) but there are many more casualties," he said, adding there were unconfirmed reports of "multiple" deaths in other parts of the KwaZulu-Natal province.   Victims were either crushed to death by the mudslides or drowned in flood waters.   It was not immediately clear how many people were missing, but search and rescue operations continued on Tuesday.

Downpours have caused flooding in the southern and eastern parts of the country.   The military has been dispatched to help in rescue and evacuation efforts in some of the affected areas.   The South African Weather Services warned that more heavy rain was expected until Wednesday which could lead to more flooding and pose a threat to low-lying bridges and roads.
Date: Tue, 23 Apr 2019 06:03:52 +0200

Colombo, April 23, 2019 (AFP) - The toll from a string of deadly suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka has risen to 310, with several people dying of their injuries overnight, a police spokesman said Tuesday.   Around 500 people were wounded in the blasts, Ruwan Gunasekera said in a statement.   He added that 40 people were now under arrest in connection with the attacks, which Sri Lanka's government has blamed on a previously little-known local Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama'ath.
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2019 06:22:23 +0200

Melbourne, April 22, 2019 (AFP) - A father and son lifesaving team drowned while trying to save a tourist swept out to sea near one of Australia's most famous sights off the south coast, officials said Monday.   Ross Powell, 71, and his son Andrew, 32, died on Sunday after their lifesaving boat overturned in the surf during the rescue of a 30-year-old man near the Twelve Apostles, a set of 12 limestone stacks off the Victoria state coast.

The tourist, whose nationality or name has not been released, had been wading at the mouth of a river when he got into trouble.   He was winched from the water alongside a third lifesaver from the boat, who was seriously injured, by a rescue helicopter and taken to hospital, Victoria Police said. The bodies of the Campbells were found in the water shortly after.   The tragedy has rocked the small tourist town of Port Campbell where the two men came from, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison leading the tributes.   "Surf lifesavers are selfless & brave. We thank them all for their service & extend our deepest sympathies to Ross & Andrew's family & friends," Morrison tweeted Monday.

Surf Lifesaving Victoria president Paul James hailed the pair as heroes, and said the conditions had been rough and "not the place to be swimming".   "It's just terrible, it's heart-breaking," he told reporters in an emotional press conference of the death of the dairy farmers and experienced volunteer lifesavers.   "I understand the boat was operating in a two-metre (6.5 feet) swell, so a very high swell, and we know that it is very treacherous down there... These brave people, these heroes, have gone out to try and help."   Amber Griffiths, the partner of Andrew Campbell and who local media reported was pregnant with their second child, wrote about her heartbreak on Facebook.   "Today we lost two of the most beautiful people to ever exist -- always putting others first," she wrote.   "The love of my life, light of my life, father of my baby girl. My heart is broken. I miss you Andrew Powell."

Australia's beaches are among the island continent's biggest tourist drawcards, but can have strong rips and tides. Swimmers are advised to keep between areas bounded by flags and patrolled by lifesavers.   The area where the tourist was rescued is near high cliffs and said to have wild and treacherous seas.   The Twelve Apostles are giant rock stacks of varying heights in the Southern Ocean which began forming 20 million years ago when erosion gradually began whittling away the limestone cliffs of Port Campbell.
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2019 01:55:28 +0200

Montreal, April 21, 2019 (AFP) - Flooding in eastern Canada forced the evacuation of more than 1,500 people while over 600 troops have been deployed in response, authorities said Sunday.   Warming weather over the Easter weekend has brought spring floods due to heavy rains and snowmelt from Ontario to southern Quebec and New Brunswick.

Authorities, who initially feared a repeat of catastrophic 2017 floods in Quebec, the worst in half a century, appeared more confident about the situation on Sunday.   "We are optimistic about the coming days," civil security spokesman Eric Houde told AFP.   "There will be significant floods but overall not at the level of 2017, except in certain areas like Lake St Pierre," a widening of the St Lawrence River in Quebec, he added.   "The big difference from 2017 is the level of preparation of municipalities and citizens."

Over the past several days, towns have mobilized volunteers and distributed hundreds of thousands of sandbags to erect barriers or protect houses in threatened areas.   The areas most affected were around Ottawa, and Beauce, a region south of Quebec City where nearly 800 people were evacuated. More than 1,200 homes had been affected by the flooding in Quebec by late Sunday.

The provincial governments of Quebec and New Brunswick asked for reinforcements from the military.    About 200 soldiers had deployed in Quebec by late Saturday, and 400 others near Ottawa, in Laval north of Montreal and in Trois-Rivieres between Montreal and Quebec City.   About 120 additional soldiers stood at the ready to be mobilized in New Brunswick.   On Saturday, the flooding claimed its first victim in the municipality of Pontiac, west of Ottawa: a man in his seventies who did not see that a bridge had been washed away, and plunged his car into the stream below.
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2019 01:08:11 +0200

Montreal, April 21, 2019 (AFP) - The bodies of three world-renowned professional mountaineers -- two Austrians and an American -- were found Sunday after they went missing during an avalanche on a western Canadian summit, the national parks agency said.   American Jess Roskelley, 36, and Hansjorg Auer, 35, and David Lama, 28, of Austria went missing late Tuesday at Banff National Park. Authorities launched an aerial search the next day.   The three men were attempting to climb the east face of Howse Pass, an isolated and highly difficult route.

They were part of a team of experienced athletes sponsored by American outdoor equipment firm The North Face.   "Parks Canada extends our sincere condolences to their families, friends and loved ones," the agency said in a statement.   "We would also like to acknowledge the impact that this has had on the tight-knit, local and international climbing communities. Our thoughts are with families, friends and all those who have been affected by this tragic incident."

Roskelley was the son of John Roskelley, who was also considered one of the best mountaineers of his own generation.   Father and son had climbed Mount Everest together in 2003. At the time, the younger Roskelley was only 20 years old, and became the youngest mountaineer to climb the planet's highest mountain above sea level.   Auer and Lama, from Tyrol in Austria, were also considered among the best mountaineers of the times.
Date: Sun, 21 Apr 2019 23:36:53 +0200

Kano, Nigeria, April 21, 2019 (AFP) - Two people including a British aid worker have been shot dead and four tourists abducted in an attack by armed gunmen on a holiday resort in north-western Nigeria, police said on Sunday.   Police and aid agency Mercy Corps named the dead woman as Faye Mooney.   "Faye was a dedicated and passionate communications and learning specialist", Chief executive Neal Keny-Guyer said in a statement posted on social media, adding that colleagues were "utterly heartbroken".   Mooney had "worked with Mercy Corps for almost two years, devoting her time to making a difference in Nigeria", Keny-Guyer added.

Gunmen stormed the Kajuru Castle resort, 60 kilometres (40 miles) southeast of Kaduna City at 11.40 pm (2240 GMT) on Friday, Kaduna state police spokesman Yakubu Sabo told reporters.   The Briton "was gunned down from the hill by the kidnappers who tried to gain entrance into the castle but failed", Sabo said.   "They took away about five other locals but one person escaped," he said.   A Nigerian man believed by local residents in Kajuru to be Mooney's partner was also killed in the attack on the resort where a group of 13 tourists had arrived from Lagos, southwest Nigeria the police spokesman said.   In Kaduna and the wider northwest region, kidnapping for ransom has become an increasingly rampant, particularly on the road to the capital, Abuja, where armed attacks have thrived.

Kidnapping in Nigeria's oil-rich south, has long been a security challenge, where wealthy locals and expatriate workers are often abducted.   Yet the problem has escalated in northern areas too, like Kaduna where criminal gangs made up of former cattle rustlers have been pushed into kidnapping after military crackdowns on cattle theft.   Kajuru is also flash point in the deadly conflict over increasingly limited land resources in Africa's most populous country, between herders and farmers, predominantly across central and northern Nigeria.    The conflict has increasingly taken on ethnic and religious dimensions in the region, with the Fulani Muslim herders in conflict with Christian Adara farmers in Kajuru.

Tourists are rarely affected by the herder-farmer violence and Kajuru Castle resort has attracted many foreign and local visitors.   Yet police have struggled to thwart kidnappers in the region. The latest attack comes in a resort in northern Nigeria, particularly popular amongst foreign and well-to-do local tourists.   In January four western tourists -- two Americans and two Canadians -- were also abducted in Kaduna by gunmen in an ambush in which two of their police escorts were killed.   Earlier in April, recently re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari, ordered his most senior security chiefs to curb kidnapping in the region.
Date: Sun, 21 Apr 2019 09:55:31 +0200

Lilongwe, Malawi, April 21, 2019 (AFP) - Three people died after a landslide hit a village in the Rumphi district in northern Malawi, with at least five still missing Sunday and many others injured and hospitalised.   Rumphi police spokesperson Tupeliwe Kabwilo told AFP that incessant rains in the area led to the landslide early Saturday which washed away an entire village nestled between Mphompha Hills and Lake Malawi.   Among the dead are two boys aged 12 and 15 and a 35-year-old woman, according to police.   The missing persons, who are feared dead, include a one-year-old boy, two other boys aged six and 10 as well as two women aged 35 and 46.

A Rumphi district council official who was at the scene of the disaster told AFP that the affected area was inaccessible by road and it would be impossible to mount a rescue operation.   "Huge boulders rolled from the mountain and these are the ones that cause the biggest damage and if the missing victims are buried under these rocks, then we will need an excavator to move them." said council official Wakisa Mtete.    "But there is no access by road to the area so this is an impossible task. The boulders are so big that moving them by hand is not possible," Mtete said.    He added that it was also possible for some of the missing bodies to have been washed into the lake, in which case the bodies would resurface within the next two days.

Disaster management officer Alufeyo Mhango told AFP that government ministries were preparing to step in to transport heavy duty excavation equipment over the lake as soon as the weather cleared.   "We have been informed by government ministries that we should get ready to transport the equipment. But this will depend on whether we get a large boat for that and on whether the hailstorm stops because there could be a recurrence of the landslide," he said.   According to Mhango, Police officers, soldiers and emergency personnel are on site attending to the disaster.
Date: Sat, 20 Apr 2019 15:21:54 +0200

Butembo, DR Congo, April 20, 2019 (AFP) - The DR Congo army fought off an attack on a hospital by a rebel group, killing one militiaman, police said Saturday, in the latest assault on medical staff trying to rein in an Ebola outbreak in the east of the country.   Armed rebels from the Mai-Mai militia attacked Katwa hospital near the city of Butembo at around 3.40 am (0140 GMT), officers told AFP.   "We have resisted and repelled the attack even though these 'Mai-Mai' had a PKM machine gun," said Butembo police chief Colonel Paul Ngoma.   He said one rebel was killed and four captured.   The attack came a day after a WHO doctor, Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung, was shot dead in an assault by armed militiamen on Butembo University Hospital, according to the World Health Organization.   The WHO said the epidemiologist had been deployed to help combat Ebola in the region.

The attacks are the latest in a string of assaults on teams grappling with a near nine-month-old Ebola outbreak that has claimed almost 850 lives.   UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday condemned the Butembo University Hospital attack and called on Congolese authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.   DR Congo declared its tenth outbreak of Ebola last August, in north-eastern North Kivu province, before the virus spread into the neighbouring Ituri region.   Local organisations have said the number of Ebola deaths is rising.    An updated toll by the health ministry, issued on Wednesday, said there had been 843 deaths since August.

WHO data from April 9 put the number of confirmed or probable cases at 1,186, of which 751 had been fatal.   The outbreak is the second deadliest on record, after the epidemic that struck West Africa in 2014-16, which killed more than 11,300 people.    Efforts to roll back the highly contagious haemorrhagic fever in DRC have been hampered by fighting but also by resistance within communities to preventative measures, care facilities and safe burials.    On March 9, an attack on a treatment centre at Butembo left a policeman dead and a health worker wounded. It was the third attack on that centre.   On February 24, a treatment centre in Katwa was set ablaze.
Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2019 16:36:32 +0200

Khokha, Yemen, April 19, 2019 (AFP) - Oxfam has warned that war-torn Yemen risks a "massive resurgence" of cholera, with around 195,000 suspected cases of the disease recorded so far this year.   "Fears that the world's worst cholera outbreak could be set for a massive resurgence are growing," the relief organisation said Thursday.   It said aid agencies were struggling to reach suspected cases.

In a statement, Oxfam pointed to "fighting and restraints on access, including checkpoints and permit requirements imposed by the warring parties", and warned the coming rainy season was likely to accelerate the spread of the disease.   The water-borne bacterial infection has claimed more than 3,000 lives in Yemen since the outbreak began in 2016, according to Oxfam.

At a medical centre for the displaced in the government-held western town of Khokha, Qassem Suleiman had brought his son Alaa for tests after a serious case of diarrhoea.   Doctor Wadah al-Tiri told AFP that several patients had been transferred to Aden while others had been treated at the Khokha centre.   He said a tent was to be set up for suspected cases.

The doctor said Yemen badly needed international aid to combat the epidemic.   The UN's humanitarian coordination office OCHA said last month that children under the age of five make up nearly a third of this year's cases.   The spike, which comes two years after Yemen suffered its worst cholera outbreak, was concentrated in six governorates including in the Red Sea port of Hodeida and Sanaa province, both combat zones, it said.

Yemen's conflict, which pits Iran-linked rebels against a regional pro-government alliance led by Saudi Arabia, has left some 10,000 people dead since 2015 and pushed millions to the brink of famine.   Aid groups say the actual death toll could be five times as high.    The war has created the perfect environment for cholera to thrive, as civilians across the country lack access to clean water and health care.