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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]
More ...

Samoa

General:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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;
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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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:
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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

Date: Tue 4 Feb 2020
Source: Samoa News [abridged, edited]

While there are no new laboratory-confirmed measles cases for American Samoa as of 1 Feb [2020], health officials are awaiting results of one suspected case sent to the Hawaii state lab. This was the latest update provided by the health department and LBJ Medical Center during a cabinet briefing late on Sunday afternoon [2 Feb 2020] on the new coronavirus and measles outbreaks.

Based on data shared by the Samoa Ministry of Health, the department of health [DoH] informed cabinet members that numbers remain the same for measles cases in the independent state since the last briefing on 26 Jan [2020], with 5707 total cases and 83 deaths.

For American Samoa, DoH's Dr Saipale Fuimaono said that as of 2 Feb [2020], the total number of confirmed laboratory cases remain at 15, which is the same from the 26 Jan [2020] briefing. He added that there is one pending case, for which a sample was sent to the Hawaii laboratory for testing.

Data provided by LBJ shows that the suspected case is a female, 24, from Falenui, who was born in American Samoa with no travel history outside of the territory. The person has had the 1st MMR shot. She was seen at the hospital with a rash on her forehead accompanied by a fever and cough. She was treated and released the same day while swabs were taken and sent to Hawaii.

LBJ's Dr Annie Fuavai said if the results come back negative, the person will be given the 2nd MMR shot. As with previous suspected and confirmed cases, DoH carried out the usual contact tracing, checking on those who came in contact with the individual.

DoH also provided the latest update on its MMR overall coverage for both public and private schools as well as day-care centres. As of 1 Feb [2020], a total of 99.7% of children 12 years and older have been given the 1st MMR dose, leaving only 0.3% -- or 44 children -- needing shots.

For students 14 years and older who have received the 2 MMR shots, the percentage has reached 98.4%, leaving 1.6% -- or 208 [students] -- needing the 2nd MMR dose. Of those needing to complete the 2 MMR doses, 83 students are in public elementary schools and 72 attend private elementary schools. For high schools, 34 students in the public education system and 12 in private schools still need to get the 2nd MMR shot.

Education director Dr Ruth Matagi-Tofiga requested that DoH re-check their records for public schools, saying there may be cases of students who have already received both doses but are not properly recorded, as well as students who moved off island.

Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga reiterated what he had said in previous briefings: ensure all students get their required immunization shots, especially the 44 who are required to get the 1st MMR dose. According to DoH, medical staff will carry out school visits again this week from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to update immunization records. DoH this week also continues vaccinations at the same 5 sites as last week.

DoH data on border control for the Pago Pago International Airport shows that 15 passengers were denied entry between 27 Jan and 1 Feb [2020]. There was no explanation on whether the denied entries were passengers from Samoa or Hawaiian Airlines. At the conclusion of the briefing, Lolo said there are no changes to current policies implemented to address both the measles and coronavirus.  [byline: Fili Sagapolutele]
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[This is good news, as the outbreak appears to be basically over, and the vaccination campaign is continuing. - ProMED Mod.LK]
Date: Thu 30 Jan 2020
Source: Kealaka'i [abridged, edited]

Measles continues to spread like wildfire through Samoa, with about 50 cases being reported per day, according to the official Government of Samoa Twitter. The number of dead, as of 14 Dec [2019] is 72, with more than 5200 people sick. Most of the dead are children. BYU-Hawaii professors said much of the problem comes from low vaccination rates, caused by fear and misinformation being spread throughout the Pacific.

Colby Weeks, assistant professor of science, added, "There are thousands of people who are horribly sick and going to the hospitals, putting a massive strain on the healthcare system. This is imminently avoidable because of the healthcare system. Headlines always say deaths, but there is a lot more going on than those individuals. Pick the easiest route and get vaccinated."

Line Kruse, a special instructor, explained the situation is occurring all across Oceania, but it is worst in Samoa. "There is an epidemic in Samoa. There have also been measles reported by the World Health Organization and UNICEF in New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, and Fiji.

"It has been declared a state of emergency in the Kingdom of Tonga, the Republic of the Fiji Islands, and Samoa. Samoa, however, is the only country in Oceania, as of this entire year [2019], that has this many reported deaths."

Akanoa shared the death toll is so high in Samoa because their vaccination rate is much lower than the other Pacific Islands. "This is due to a lack of understanding with parents about how important it is to vaccinate your children. There are still people out there who don't believe in vaccination. With this outbreak, we know it is the only solution."

According to one NPR article, the vaccination rate dropped from 58% in 2018 to 31% in 2019. The situation has become urgent, and unvaccinated homes are being marked with red flags as part of a mass door-to-door vaccination campaign by the government.

"People also rely heavily on their faith," shared Akanoa. "When things like this happen, they have this really great faith Heavenly Father will not let anything worse happen. When children started dying, they finally realize that maybe God wants them to do something about it."

Kruse said, "The government of Samoa has gone through several series of responses to the measles epidemic. They started to mandate vaccinations, but as of 5 and 6 Dec [2019], they have shut down the government. They have shut down roads. They have shut down public gatherings."

One purpose of the government shutdown, said Akanoa, is because "all the government workers in the public sector are going out to help with vaccinations and to assist families."

The biggest argument of anti-vaccination supporters in Oceania, or anti-vaxxers, according to Kruse, is that vaccinations made in India, which is where most Oceanic countries get their vaccinations, are lower quality than European-made vaccines.

"The anti-vaxxers are trying to create this false narrative that [vaccines] from India are bad for you, which is very Eurocentric and downright racist ... It is reckless because there are no scientific journals that validate any deaths attributed to manufacture vaccines from India," she explained.

One anti-vaxxer on Twitter wrote, "Talking with friends. Most are pro-vax, but none of them want to harm their children with this Indian vaccine. People are really going to be hiding their children in the attic to protect them from the government." He attached a screenshot of a text saying, "I'd rather infect my kids with measles than inject them with those cheap Indian vaccines."

The anti-vaccination sentiment came right on the heels of a tragic mix-up in vaccines in Samoa in 2018, said both Akanoa and Kruse. The vaccine, which is supposed to be mixed with water, was combined with muscle relaxer by 2 nurses in Samoa, explained Kruse. Two young children were killed.

"Parents were afraid to take their kids to get the vaccination," shared Akanoa. "[Parents] hear horror stories and freak out."

According to Kruse, another unfortunate side effect of disasters like this is that charlatans, or people who use deception to obtain money from people, begin to appear. One such man, Fritz Alai'asa, showed up during the measles epidemic.

"A man has come into Samoa and set up shop," she shared. "Kangen water is what he had said is going to cure them. 'Pay me 10 tala [WST 10 / USD 3.68]. Bring your family,' he says. So, the family comes, and hegets this Kangen water, this alkaline water, and he sprinkles it on them."  [Byline: Haeley van der Werf]
Date: Tue 7 Jan 2020
Source: Xinhuanet [abridged, edited]

Samoa's Ministry of Health confirmed on Tuesday [7 Jan 2020] 2 more deaths in the island nation's measles epidemic, bringing the death toll to 83 since the measles outbreak in mid-October [2019]. The Samoan Ministry of Health said that the 2 fatalities, an infant and [an] adult, died between 29 Dec last year [2019] and 5 Jan this year [2020].

A total of 5697 measles cases have been reported to the Disease Surveillance Team so far, with 30 new cases recorded during the same period. A total of 16 people with measles are currently hospitalized in the island nation, including 4 critically ill children.

Currently, there are no travel restrictions or vaccination requirement for those travelling to Samoa.

With the latest measles case, the reopening of day-care centres in Samoa has now been delayed until next week, but public schools will resume on Tuesday [7 Jan 2020] as planned. Death may occur in up to 5-10% of infected young children in developing countries.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 00:51:07 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa entered a two-day lockdown Thursday as authorities launched an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign to contain a deadly measles outbreak that has devastated the Pacific island nation.   Officials ordered all businesses and non-essential government services to close, shut down inter-island ferry services and told private cars to keep off the roads.

Residents were advised to stay in their homes and display a red flag if they were not yet immunised as hundreds of vaccination teams fanned out across the nation of 200,000 in the early hours of the morning.   The operation, carried out under emergency powers invoked as the epidemic took hold last month, is a desperate bid to halt an inexorably rising death toll that reached 62 on Thursday, most of them young children.   "I've seen mass mobilisation campaigns before, but not over an entire country like this," UNICEF's Pacific island chief Sheldon Yett told AFP.   "That's what we're doing right now. This entire country is being vaccinated."

Immunisation rates in Samoa were about 30 percent before the outbreak and have risen to more than 55 percent since a compulsory mass vaccination campaign began a fortnight ago.   Yett said the aim of this week's two-day drive was to push the rate above 90 percent, which should help curb the current outbreak and stop future epidemics.   He said the normally busy streets of the capital Apia were almost deserted early Thursday.   "It's very, very quiet out here. I can just hear a few barking dogs. The streets are empty. There are no cars," he said.   "People are staying at home waiting for the vaccination campaign. The teams are getting their supplies together and getting ready to go out."   Even Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi's residence had a red flag fluttering outside it, with the leader saying his nephew had recently arrived from Australia and needed a measles shot.

Malielegaoi said he was angered by anecdotal reports that some parents were encouraging their children to hide from the vaccination teams to avoid the mandatory immunisation injection.    "The message is that we have vaccinated a lot of people and they are OK," he told reporters.   "The only cure for this is vaccination... having your children vaccinated is the only way."   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.

The latest figures show that 54 of the 62 dead were aged four or less and infants account for most of the 4,217 cases recorded since the outbreak began in mid-October.   There have also been measles epidemics in neighbouring Fiji and Tonga, but higher immunisation rates mean they have been more easily contained, with no fatalities.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:07:45 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - The World Health Organisation warned of a "slide back" in global efforts to eliminate measles Tuesday, as the death toll from an outbreak that has killed dozens of children in Samoa continued to climb.   A total of 55 people have died since the epidemic began in mid-October, 50 of them children aged four or under, officials in the Pacific nation said Tuesday.   Another 18 infants are critically ill in hospital and the crisis shows no sign of slowing, with 153 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the national total to 3,881 in a population of 200,000.   Emergency measures including compulsory mass immunisations and school closures have so far done little to stop the virus spreading in a country that was particularly vulnerable to measles due to low vaccination rates of about 31 percent.

World Health Organisation (WHO) medical officer for the western Pacific, Jose Hagan, said it was a grim reminder of the danger posed by "probably the most infectious disease that we know of".   "Unfortunately the case (to) fatality rate of measles is much higher than people realise," he told Radio New Zealand.   "This is quite a severe disease and we just aren't used to seeing it, so it comes as quite a surprise when we see how fatal it can be."   He said the fatality rate in Samoa was less than two percent but had been known to reach five percent in developing countries.

Hagen said increased access to measles vaccines was estimated to have saved 21 million lives over the past 20 years.   "But we are starting to have a slide back and there are outbreaks happening all over the world in all WHO regions and it's leading to the virus being exported through international travel," he said.   Cases have skyrocketed in Europe, leading to Britain, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania all losing their measles-free status in August.   The United States narrowly maintained its "measles eliminated" status a few months later, despite experiencing its worst outbreak since 1992.   The WHO has pointed to various reasons for declining immunisation rates including lack of access to healthcare and complacency about the need to vaccinate.

Another major factor, which has been cited by the WHO as a reason for the severity of the Samoa outbreak, is misinformation about immunisation from anti-vaccine campaigners.   Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi this week said vaccination was the only answer to the epidemic.   He has ordered the government to cease non-essential operations on Thursday and Friday so public servants can help a mandatory vaccination campaign that aims to give anti-measles jabs to everyone aged below 60.
More ...

Russia

General Information
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Russia is one of the largest land masses throughout the world covering an expanse of 6,592,849 sq. miles. The country stretches from the Baltic sea in Europe to the Pacific Ocean in the
east and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea in the south. Moscow, the capital city, is situated in the western region of the country. The nation is undergoing profound political and economic changes. There have been Bank closures and this can make access to funds more difficult for travellers.
Safety & Personal Security
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Certain regions of the country are closed to travellers and it is important to confirm your itinerary before leaving. Entry to the Caucasus region is restricted. Kidnapping of tourists is well reported in some outlying regions. Good tourist facilities are present in Moscow, St Petersburg and many of the other large cities but many shortages can occur at times. Crime against foreigners can be a problem and it is essential not to flaunt personal wealth and to take care if you need to travel at night. The underground walkways, subway, train stations and airports are particular risk locations. Don’t share a taxi with strangers.
Customs Regulations
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On entry you will need to complete a form declaring all items of value. Keep this form safe as it will be required on leaving. Take care to obtain receipts for any expensive items to purchase while in Russia.
Stringent controls at Customs when leaving the country may cause significant delays if it is felt that the traveller is trying to export items of historical value.
General Health Precautions
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The medical services available throughout Russia may not reach Western European standards. Severe shortages of even basic medical supplies are regularly reported. It is wise for travellers to ensure that they are in good general health and that dental work should not be required while abroad. Carry an adequate supply of any medications which you normally take, as these may not be available in many parts of Russia. Adequate travel insurance is essential for your trip.
Diphtheria in Russia
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Again, according to press reports, over 4000 cases of diphtheria were reported during the outbreak in the early 1990’s. Approximately 104 deaths occurred. At that stage the disease was mainly found in St Petersburg, Moscow and Krasnodar and in the eastern parts of Valdivostok and Saratov. Vaccination (with Tetanus) is usually recommended for all travellers. As Diphtheria is mainly an airborne disease it is usually wise to avoid local public transport if possible.
AIDS risk in Russia
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The blood supply throughout Russia may not be fully screened against blood borne pathogens and so blood transfusion should be avoided where at all possible. The most common reason that a traveller requires blood is following a road accident. Take special care crossing roads etc. The actual extent of the AIDS problem throughout Russia is uncertain with inaccurate reporting of statistics at this time. Obviously all care should be taken to avoid possible infection. AIDS testing is required for persons staying 3 months or longer.
Hiking in Russia
***************************************
Tick-borne encephalitis has been reported in the vicinity of Novosibirsk, Vladivostok and in the Sverdlovsk Oblast.
Pre-exposure vaccination against this disease is recommended for anyone who will be spending prolonged periods outdoors in the infested areas of Russia. Hikers should wear protective clothing and insect repellent against tick bites throughout rural Russia. Any bite should be reported to competent medical personnel as soon as possible.
Insect Bites
***************************************
Mosquitoes do occur during the summer months. Though there is thought to be no risk of malaria in Russia itself, though there are reports from some of the surrounding CIS countries. Sandflys may also be found during the summer months in the hotter southern areas.
Food Precautions
***************************************
Eat only well cooked foods while they are still hot or fruit that you peel yourself. Always avoid roadside stands and street vendors as the level of hygiene is usually far below acceptable standards. Only purchase ice-cream products from established shops and never from the street side seller. Only pasteurised dairy products should be consumed. Outbreaks of a parasitic disease known as Trichinellosis has been reported from some regions of Russia. This disease is transmitted through eating undercooked meat so all food should never be rare when consumed.
Water Precautions
***************************************
Smell the tap water for a distinct chlorine odour. In many regions the water supply may not be potable and so travellers should where possible drink bottled beverages or beverages made from boiled water (tea/coffee). Do not use ice-cubes in your drinks and never use the mains tap water for drinking or brushing your teeth.
Occasional outbreaks of Typhoid, Cholera are reported and the St Petersburg mains water supply has been closely linked with an intestinal parasite, Giardia lambia.
General Vaccine Information
***************************************
Due to the general economic situation throughout Russia it is reported that there has been a significant shortage of vaccines to combat diseases such as measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. This has led to a worsening of the risk for the local population and the possibility that travellers may be more exposed.
Vaccines for Travellers
***************************************
Most travellers to Russia will need to consider routine vaccination cover against the following;
Poliomyelitis, Typhoid,
Tetanus & Diphtheria and Hepatitis A.
Longer term travellers or those trekking may also need to consider vaccination cover against Rabies, Hepatitis B, Meningococcal Meningitis and Tick Borne Encephalitis.
Summary
***************************************
The majority of travellers to Russia who exercise due caution will remain in good health. Special care must be taken regarding your food and water consumption. Care against accidents and sensible precautions to avoid petty crime are also essential. If trekking about the country check your itinerary carefully and keep those at home in touch with your plans.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 12 May 2020 11:23:54 +0200 (METDST)

Moscow, May 12, 2020 (AFP) - Russia reported another surge in coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to more than 230,000 cases as authorities began to gradually ease restrictions.   A government tally on Tuesday showed 10,899 infections over the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 232,243.   Russia is now among the top four countries with the most coronavirus cases and is on track to have the second-highest number of infections after the United States.

Despite reporting more than 10,000 new cases a day for over a week, President Vladimir Putin on Monday announced that a "non-working" period in place for six weeks would be lifted from Tuesday.   A lockdown in Moscow, the epicentre of the crisis in Russia, remains in place until the end of May, but even in the capital some restrictions were being lifted.   Some 500,000 employees of companies involved in industry and construction were allowed to resume work, though authorities made it mandatory to wear masks and gloves in shops and on public transport.

Russia's reported mortality rate is much lower compared to other European countries hit hard by the pandemic, with 107 new deaths and 2,116 dead from the coronavirus as of Tuesday.   Authorities say this is because Russia moved quickly to close its borders and isolate those at risk, convert hospitals to treating virus patients and launch a vast campaign to test and quarantine those infected.   Critics have cast doubt on the numbers, accusing authorities of under-counting by blaming virus-related deaths on other causes.
Date: Fri, 8 May 2020 10:34:25 +0200 (METDST)

Moscow, May 8, 2020 (AFP) - Russia on Friday registered more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases for the sixth day in a row, after emerging as a new hotspot of the pandemic.

A government tally showed 10,669 new cases over the last 24 hours, fewer than Thursday's record of 11,231 and bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 187,859.   The country also recorded 98 new deaths from the virus, for a total of 1,723.    Russia now ranks fourth in Europe in terms of the total number of cases, according to an AFP tally, behind countries where the epidemic hit considerably earlier: Britain, Italy and Spain.

On Thursday Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced an extension of a lockdown in the capital, where most cases are concentrated, to May 31.   He also brought in a rule that people will have to wear masks and gloves in public transport and shops or face fines from Tuesday.   Residents of the capital are only allowed to leave their homes for brief trips to a shop, to walk dogs or to travel to essential jobs with a permit.

Russia has a national non-working period until May 11 that so far has not been extended.   On Saturday, when the country usually marks Soviet victory in World War II with large-scale military parades, there will only be fly-pasts and fireworks.    For the first time, President Vladimir Putin will give a speech by the Eternal Flame memorial beside the Kremlin walls instead of during a parade on Red Square.
Date: Thu, 7 May 2020 18:05:23 +0200 (METDST)

Moscow, May 7, 2020 (AFP) - Moscow authorities extended coronavirus lockdown measures until the end of May on Thursday as Russia reported another record increase in daily coronavirus infections, with more than 11,000 new cases.   A government tally showed 11,231 infections over 24 hours, bringing the total to 177,160.    Russia now ranks fourth in the number of reported cases in Europe and fifth in the world, according to an AFP tally.   Coronavirus cases have been registered in all of Russia's 85 regions, with Moscow the worst affected by far with 92,676.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced the lockdown extension and also said Muscovites would now be required to wear masks and gloves on public transport.   "The self-isolation regime of citizens will be extended until May 31," Sobyanin said on his blog.    "It's still too early to open restaurants, theatres, and sport facilities."   Sobyanin reiterated that companies in Moscow involved in industry and construction would be allowed to resume work on May 12.   Moscow has been under lockdown since March 30 and a non-working overall quarantine period is in place in Russia until May 11.   Residents of the capital are only allowed to leave their homes for brief trips to a shop, to walk dogs or to travel to essential jobs with a permit.

- '300,000 infected' -
Citing results of screening tests, Sobyanin said that some 300,000 people in Moscow -- or up to 2.5 percent of the city's population -- have in fact been infected.   He warned Muscovites they needed to "get used to the idea" of having to use protective masks and gloves.   "We understand that the number of people moving on transport will increase, one way or another, (and) the number of people communicating with each other will increase," he said separately in televised remarks.

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that regional governors must develop plans to gradually lift lockdown restrictions but he also cautioned against acting too hastily so as to avoid a new wave of infections.   The number of infections in Russia has been rising by more than 10,000 a day since Sunday, in contrast to countries in western Europe that are taking steps to ease lockdown measures as their numbers fall.   Officials attribute the increase to mass testing and detecting asymptomatic cases not always counted in other countries.   Health officials said on Thursday they had carried out more than 4.8 million tests.

Russia's mortality rate however is low compared to European countries hit badly by the pandemic, with health officials registering 88 new deaths and a total of 1,625.   Russia cites a series of measures taken early in the pandemic for its low mortality rate, including closing its borders and ordering the elderly and those at risk to self-isolate.    Some say however that the discrepancy is due to how the death count is calculated.   According to official figures on Wednesday, Russia's death rate was just 0.9 percent, compared with Germany, which is lauded for its virus response, with a fatality rate of 4.2 percent.

Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova this week became the latest top official to test positive for coronavirus, after Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and his construction minister were hospitalised.   The government has announced a number of measures to buttress the economy but has been accused of not doing enough to support ordinary Russians in the face of what is likely to be a long economic downturn.    Since the start of the crisis, Putin's approval rating has dropped to a historic low, according to independent pollster Levada, which said this week it hit 59 percent in April after 63 percent in March.
Date: Tue, 5 May 2020 11:30:52 +0200 (METDST)

Moscow, May 5, 2020 (AFP) - Russia cemented its place as the European country reporting the highest number of new coronavirus infections Tuesday as its total cases soared passed 155,000.   Health officials reported 10,102 new infections over the last 24 hours, a decrease of 531 cases from Sunday's record surge, bringing Russia's total to 155,370.

Russia has emerged as a new coronavirus hotspot as many European countries unveil plans to ease lockdown measures after their numbers of new infections and deaths began to fall.   The number of new cases in Russia is significantly higher compared to other European countries, with the United Kingdom in second place reporting just under 4,000 new infections on Monday.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, the highest ranking official to contract the infection, is now "feeling normal" spokesperson Boris Belyakov, said Tuesday   He said Mishustin, who announced he tested positive last week, was continuing treatment under health ministry guidance, adding the prime minister is "actively talking with colleagues by phone."

The authorities say they have carried out more than four million coronavirus tests and Russia's fatality rate has remained low compared to other countries hit badly by the pandemic including Spain, Italy and the United States.   According to the government's daily coronavirus update, Russia has 1,451 total deaths, after reporting 95 new fatalities over the last 24 hours.

The country ranks 18th overall in terms of coronavirus deaths, according to an AFP tally, despite being seventh in the world in overall coronavirus cases.   Infections have been registered in all 85 regions of Russia with Moscow emerging as the epicentre of the pandemic in the country where around half of the total infections are located.
Date: Mon, 4 May 2020 12:05:42 +0200 (METDST)

Moscow, May 4, 2020 (AFP) - Russia registered a near record in new daily coronavirus cases on Monday as total infections surpassed 145,000, cementing its position as the top reporter of new cases in Europe.   Health officials reported 10,581 new infections over the last 24 hours, only 52 less than Sunday's record, and bringing Russia's total to 145,268 cases and 1,356 deaths.

Russia is emerging as a new hotspot for the coronavirus as many countries in western Europe begin steps to ease lockdown measures after their rates of new infections and deaths dropped.   Despite the sharp rise in cases, Russia's official fatality rate has remained low in comparison to countries including Italy, Spain and the United States.   Officials credit quick moves to close the country's borders, as well as widespread testing and tracking of infections, but critics have cast doubts on the numbers.

Authorities have extended a non-working quarantine period until May 11 but have also indicated they could then gradually lift confinement measures which vary from region to region.   Moscow has emerged as the epicentre of the pandemic in Russia, with around half the total coronavirus cases. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has warned that "the threat is apparently on the rise" and urged residents to respect confinement rules and anti-virus measures over the May holidays.

Russia marks several public holidays in early May, including for Victory Day on May 9 to celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany.   President Vladimir Putin had planned a major celebration for this year's 75th anniversary, with world leaders in attendance as thousands of troops and tanks paraded through Red Square.   The coronavirus forced him to cancel the parade and the day will now be marked with military aircraft flying over major cities.   Fighter jets roared over Moscow on Monday as they rehearsed for the event.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 19 May 2020 16:23:23 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 19, 2020 (AFP) - This year's Dublin marathon scheduled for October 25 was cancelled on Tuesday despite Ireland's move to lift coronavirus lockdown measures, indicating potential long-term disruption caused by the outbreak.   Ireland plans to have fully lifted restrictions well before October, in a staggered process that began on Monday.   But organisers indicated the race -- which had 22,500 entrants last year -- would still not go ahead because of safety fears.   "We made the difficult decision in the best interest of the health and well-being of all those involved in making our events such a success from runners, supporters, volunteers, sponsors, to suppliers," said race director Jim Aughney.   "We explored many alternatives for running the events safely but ultimately none were viable."    Ireland's five-stage "roadmap" to reopen the nation is due to be completed in August, when the current ban on mass gatherings of more than 5,000 people is set to expire.   The cancellation suggests coronavirus fallout may last longer than suggested by official plans and could hit similar events.

The London Marathon, which attracts tens of thousands of runners, has been postponed until October 4.    "We need to be aware that we will continue to be in the acute emergency phase of this crisis for some time with further waves an ever present danger," the health department Secretary-General Jim Breslin told a special parliamentary committee on the crisis.   "This is not a one, a two or even a three-day storm, after which we move to a recovery phase. The acute phase of this crisis will definitely be measured in months and most probably in years."   Ireland has suffered 1,547 deaths from COVID-19, according to the department of health.   On Monday the number of daily deaths had fallen from a peak of 77 to just four.   "We have suppressed the virus and limited its impact on public health," said chief medical officer Tony Holohan on Monday.   "We need to sustain this in the weeks and phases ahead."
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 18:54:14 +0200 (METDST)

Paris, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Air France said Monday it hoped to double the number of cities it serves, including over 40 European destinations, by the end of June as nations begin to lift coronavirus travel restrictions.   "Between now and the end of June and subject to travel restrictions being lifted, Air France plans to gradually resume its flights,"  the airline said.   Like other airlines, Air France grounded most of its planes as governments imposed stay-at-home orders and demand for travel evaporated. 

Air France said it was currently operating between three and five percent of its usual schedule and serving 43 destinations for essential passenger traffic as well as cargo.   The airline, which received a 7-billion-euro rescue package from the French government, listed more than 90 destinations it hopes to serve by the end of June.   That would be equivalent to 15 percent of its normal schedule, and use 75 of its fleet of 224 aircraft.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 18:20:03 +0200 (METDST)

Abuja, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Nigeria's government on Monday extended a coronavirus lockdown on the northern region of Kano after it became a hotspot for new infections.    The head of the country's coronavirus taskforce, Boss Mustapha, said the lockdown on the economic hub -- which includes Nigeria's second biggest city -- would be prolonged for two weeks.    The authorities will also start to impose "precision" lockdowns in any other areas that report a "rapidly increasing number of cases, when the need arises", he said.    The outbreak in Kano has become a major cause of concern after medics and residents last month began reporting a spike in deaths.

Regional officials at first put the "unexplained" fatalities down to other ailments, but government investigators later said coronavirus was suspected in most cases.    Neighbouring states to Kano have also begun reporting suspicious surges in death tolls that authorities are scrambling to investigate.    Nigeria has confirmed 5,959 infections and 182 deaths from the novel coronavirus across the country.    Kano is the second hardest hit region with 825 confirmed cases and 36 fatalities.   The region has already been under lockdown for a month but enforcement has been lax and measures have been eased sporadically for people to buy food during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Testing has been a key problem across Nigeria and only 35,345 samples have so far been screened in Africa's most populous nation of 200 million people.    Mustapha insisted there had been a slowdown in the transmission rate of the virus, "elongating the doubling time" from seven to 11 days.    But he announced that measures would remain in place limiting businesses and restricting crowds across the rest of the country despite earlier plans to gradually roll them back.     "Nigeria is not yet ready for full opening of the economy and tough decisions have to be taken for the good of the greater majority," he said.   The government has also imposed a night-time curfew and made mask wearing mandatory in all regions.     Mustapha complained that "non-compliance was rampant" with social distancing measures.     "The fight against COVID-19 is long-term as the virus is not likely to go away very soon," he said.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 17:21:58 +0200 (METDST)

Stockholm, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Sweden, whose softer approach to the new coronavirus pandemic has garnered worldwide attention, recorded its deadliest month in almost three decades in April, according to statistics released on Monday.   Sweden has stopped short of introducing the restrictive lockdowns seen elsewhere in Europe, instead opting for an approach based on the "principle of responsibility".

The Scandinavian country has kept schools open for children under the age of 16, along with cafes, bars, restaurants and businesses, and urged people to respect social distancing guidelines.   A total of 10,458 deaths were recorded in the country of 10.3 million inhabitants in April, Statistics Sweden said.   "We have to go back to December 1993 to find more dead during a single month," Tomas Johansson, population statistician at Statistics Sweden, said in a statement.

In total, 97,008 deaths were recorded in Sweden during the whole of 1993, which in turn was the deadliest year since 1918, when the Spanish flu pandemic ravaged the country.   Johansson told AFP there was no official breakdown explaining the high death toll in December 1993 but said there was a flu epidemic at the time.   According to preliminary data, the number of deaths has been on the decline since the end of April, including in Stockholm -- the epicentre of the Swedish epidemic -- where the highest number of deaths were recorded in early April.

The Swedish approach to the novel coronavisrus has come under criticism both at home and abroad, particularly as the number of deaths has far exceeded those in neighbouring Nordic countries, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures.   On Monday, Sweden reported a total of 30,377 confirmed cased of the new coronavirus and 3,698 deaths.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 16:52:05 +0200 (METDST)

Helsinki, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Finland's national airline will restart routes between Europe and Asia in July once countries begin to lift coronavirus restrictions on travel, the company announced on Monday.   Beijing and Shanghai will be the first long-haul destinations to reopen, alongside Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok and three Japanese routes, Finnair said in a statement.

Flights to Delhi and New York will follow in August.    The move makes Finnair one of the first European carriers to restart intercontinental flights, after the Lufthansa Group announced on Friday it would resume 19 long-haul routes by early June.   "We expect aviation to recover gradually, starting in July," Finnair chief commercial officer Ole Orver said in a statement, adding that the company intends to bring its operations back to one-third of normal capacity.

Finnair cut 90 percent of its flights on April 1 and issued a profit warning as coronavirus restrictions brought international passenger travel almost to a standstill.     Facemasks will be mandatory on all Finnair flights "until at least the end of August," Finnair spokeswoman Paivyt Tallqvist told AFP.     "We have also taken a number of steps to avoid unnecessary movement on board," Tallqvist said, including having passengers disembark in smaller groups, and limiting capacity of shuttle bus transport between aircraft and the terminal to 50 percent.

Flights along the so-called "shorter northern route" between Helsinki and Asia, bypassing the Middle East, have been a key part of the Finnish carrier's growth strategy in recent years, with passenger numbers on its Asian routes doubling between 2010 and 2018.    On Monday, Finnair also announced it would restart 26 European routes in July, including to Brussels, Moscow, Prague and Paris.    Destinations including Rome, Madrid and Warsaw would be added in August, the firm said.     Finnair said it would open further routes on a monthly basis depending on demand and how travel restrictions change over the summer.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 10:28:18 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland launched the first tentative step in its plan to lift coronavirus lockdown on Monday, with staff returning to outdoor workplaces as some shops resumed trade and sports facilities unlocked their doors.   The modest tweaks to the restrictions in place since 28 March start a staggered process set to stretch until August.

"I'm both pleased and nervous," health minister Simon Harris told state broadcaster RTE.    "I'm pleased that we've gotten to this point because of the incredible efforts of the Irish people in suppressing this virus."   "I'm nervous because the virus hasn't gone away, there still isn't a vaccine, there's still people in our country getting very sick, and there's still people dying every day."

Shops such as garden centres, hardware stores and farmers markets were permitted to open their doors whilst outdoor staff such as builders and gardeners returned to workplaces.   Football pitches, tennis courts and golf courses were also allowed to resume business whilst maintaining strict social distancing.

Meanwhile citizens were permitted to meet in small gatherings outside of people from different households.   But Harris urged caution as the republic took its first step in trying "to live successfully and safely alongside the virus".   "Just because somewhere is open doesn't mean we need to go," he said.   There have been 1,543 deaths from COVID-19 in Ireland according to the department for health.

Reported daily deaths peaked at 77 on 20 April, but by Sunday the figure had fallen to just 10.   As with other nations officials remain fearful a second wave of infections could inundate the healthcare system.   But Prime minister Leo Varadkar confirmed on Friday that Ireland would press ahead to the first of its five step plan to reopen the nation.   "This gives us reason to hope, but it is not a cause for celebration.  We have a long way to go yet," Varadkar said in a statement.

The fallout of the lockdown changes will be monitored for three weeks before the government decides whether to move to the next stage in the "roadmap" to reopening.   "Coronavirus is an inferno that is raging around the world", said Varadkar.   "In Ireland it is now a fire in retreat but it's not defeated -- we must extinguish every spark."
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 22:46:20 +0200 (METDST)
By Román ORTEGA, Iván DUARTE y Germán CAMPOS

Puebla, Mexico, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Scores of Mexicans are dying from drinking adulterated liquor, a consequence of the shortage of mainstream alcoholic beverages during the coronavirus pandemic, authorities say.   The first of at least 121 deaths in recent weeks occurred at the end of April in the western state of Jalisco, almost exactly a month after the government declared a health emergency over the spread of COVID-19.   Much of Mexico has run out of beer after factories producing liquor and beer were shut down, along with other non-essential firms.

Beer stocks were practically depleted within a month, and in some areas the prices of what was left doubled, according to industry sources.    Many of the 53 deaths in central Puebla province have been linked to a wake where people drank moonshine containing methanol -- a wood alcohol that in non-lethal doses can cause blindness and liver damage.    Twenty-three people died in the hours following the gathering in the town of Chiconcuautla, according to authorities.   The town's mayor said the popular "refino" drink, made from sugarcane, had been adulterated.

German Hernandez said his father died after being poisoned by drink known locally as "tejon" -- a blend of brandy with tejocote fruit (a type of hawthorn), in the Puebla town of Cacaloxuchitl.   "They sell it in the stores, and you can buy it and take it out. My father began trembling and feeling weak. He told us he felt bad, and we took him to the hospital," Hernandez told AFP.   "This has never happened before."    Deaths have also been recorded in the central state of Morelos and Yucatan and Veracruz in the east.

- Mafia trade -
Gangs specializing in bootleg booze are trying to take advantage of the lack of alternative alcohol sources during the shutdown.    "They usually have very well-structured mafias, and some escape the surveillance of the authorities," Ricardo Cardenas of the Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risks told AFP.   "We presume that, as a result of this shortage and demand being very high, some people are offering or trying to sell methanol instead of ethyl alcohol," said Denis de Santiago, head of Sanitary Risks in Jalisco.

Methanol is used in fuel, solvents and antifreeze.   The country's largest beer producers, Grupo Modelo -- which makes the popular Corona beer -- and Heineken, which makes Sol, halted production in early April.   Alcohol sales have been banned in some states, including Yucatan. In others, alcoholic beverages can only be purchased at certain times.   Some drinks companies have switched production to antibacterial gel that they are donating to the federal government and health workers.

- 'Who would have thought?' -
In Yucatan, where 38 people have died so far, victims unknowingly drank methanol in their usual "pajaretes" -- a common cocktail that includes milk, coffee, vanilla and brand-name sugarcane alcohol.   Humberto Macias, 36, said he saw three of his relatives die within days of each other after drinking a pajarete cocktail, made using a trusted brand of alcohol.   "We had always drunk it, including myself, many people. Who would have thought it was like this?" Macias said.

In the Yucatan peninsula town of Acanceh, seven people have died from alcohol poisoning.   "It's the first time I've heard of a case like this. I don't remember anything similar," the town's mayor Felipe Medina told AFP.   In Veracruz, Morelos and Yucatan, investigators are still trying to determine what drinks the victims consumed.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 19:55:15 +0200 (METDST)
By Gregory WALTON

Doha, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Qatar on Sunday began enforcing the world's toughest penalties of up to three years' in prison for failing to wear masks in public, in a country with one of the highest coronavirus infection rates.   More than 32,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the tiny Gulf country -- 1.2 percent of the 2.75 million population -- although just 15 people have died.   Only the micro-states of San Marino and the Vatican have had higher per-capita infection rates, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.   Violators of Qatar's new rules will face up to hree years in jail and fines of as much as $55,000.

Drivers alone in their vehicles are exempt from the requirement, but police erected checkpoints across the capital Doha on Sunday evening to check compliance by motorists.   Most customers gathered outside money lenders on Banks Street wore masks, while others produced a face covering when asked.   "From today it's very strict," said Majeed, a taxi driver waiting for business in the busy pedestrian area, who wore a black mask.   Heloisa, an expat resident, saw the steep penalties as "a bit of a scare tactic".   Wearing a mask is currently mandatory in around 50 countries, although scientists are divided on their effectiveness.

Authorities in Chad have made it an offence to be unmasked in public, on pain of 15 days in prison. In Morocco, similar rules can see violators jailed for three months and fined up to 1,300 dirhams ($130).   Qatari authorities have warned that gatherings during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan may have increased infections.   Abdullatif al-Khal, co-chair of Qatar's National Pandemic Preparedness Committee, said Thursday that there was "a huge risk in gatherings of families" for Ramadan meals.   "(They) led to a significant increase in the number of infections among Qataris," he said.   Neighbouring Saudi Arabia will enforce a round-the-clock nationwide curfew during the five-day Eid al-Fitr holiday later this month to fight the coronavirus.

- Labourers at risk -
Mosques, along with schools, malls, and restaurants remain closed in Qatar to prevent the disease's spread.   But construction sites remain open as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, although foremen and government inspectors are attempting to enforce social distancing rules.    Officials have said workers at three stadiums have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus. Masks have been compulsory for construction workers since April 26.   A 12-strong team of masked labourers kept their distance from one another as they worked under baking sun on a road project in Doha's blue-collar Msheireb district on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers were quarantined in Doha's gritty Industrial Area after a number of infections were confirmed there in mid-March, but authorities have begun to ease restrictions.   Khal said that most new cases were among migrant workers, although there has been a jump in infections among Qataris. He said the country had not yet reached the peak of its contagion.   Rights groups have warned that Gulf labourers' cramped living conditions, communal food preparation areas and shared bathrooms could undermine social distancing efforts and speed up the spread of the virus.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 13:43:50 +0200 (METDST)

Tehran, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Iran said Friday it had recorded nearly 7,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus, warning of infection clusters in new regions after it partially eased lockdown measures.   Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the COVID-19 illness had claimed a further 51 lives over 24 hours into Sunday.   The ministry raised the overall death toll to 6,988 since Iran announced its first fatalities in the Shiite pilgrimage city of Qom in February.   Jahanpour warned that cases were rising "in the province of Lorestan, and to some extent in Kermanshah, Sistan and Baluchistan".   "Khuzestan province is still in a critical situation," he added.

The southwestern province has become Iran's new coronavirus focal point, with the most critical "red" ranking on the country's colour-coded risk scale.   It is the only region so far where authorities have reimposed business lockdowns after a country-wide relaxation in April.   Iran stopped publishing provincial figures for the coronavirus last month, but the health ministry's latest report said there is a "rising trend or the beginning of a peak" in eight provinces, including Khuzestan.   The country on Friday reported its highest number of new infections in more than a month.   A virus taskforce official said Sunday that the increase was due to a surge in testing, not just of COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms.

Early in the outbreak "our focus was on severe cases that had to be hospitalised, but as we started to manage the disease we looked at those infected and not hospitalised," said Ali Akbar Haghdoost, head of the taskforce's epidemiology committee.   "It is possible that the reported number of infections have gone up, but this in no way means more have been infected with COVID-19," he told ISNA news agency.   According to Jahanpour, 1,806 new cases had been confirmed across Iran in the past day, bringing the total to 120,198.   Over 1,460 of the new cases were "outpatients, including those who had been in close contact with the infected," he said.

The ministry said 94,464 people hospitalised with the virus have recovered and been discharged.   Experts both at home and abroad have voiced scepticism about Iran's official figures, saying the real toll could be much higher.   Iran also cancelled rallies held annually in solidarity with the Palestinians, set for Friday next week.    President Hassan Rouhani had said Saturday that the Qods (Jerusalem) Day parades would go ahead with some measures against the virus.    But organisers said Sunday the event could not be held "decently" and would be scrapped apart from a televised speech by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 13:31:10 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar on Sunday reported the first death of a patient suffering from novel coronavirus nearly two months after it was first detected in the country, official statistics showed.   The Indian ocean island which has reported 304 cases has hit the headlines over a home-grown herbal concoction that President Andry Rajoelina claims can cure people infected with the virus.

Several African countries have ordered or expressed interest in the purported remedy, which is known as Covid-Organics.   The tonic drink is derived from artemisia -- a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment -- and other indigenous herbs.   But the World Health Organization has warned against "adopting a product that has not been taken through tests to see its efficacy".