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Afghanistan

Afghanistal US Consular Information Sheet March 03, 2009


COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:


Afghanistan has made significant progress since the Taliban were deposed in 2001, but still faces daunting challenges, including de

eating terrorists and insurgents, recovering from over three decades of civil strife, dealing with years of severe drought and rebuilding a shattered physical, economic and political infrastructure. Coalition and NATO forces under ISAF work in partnership with Afghan security forces to combat Taliban and al-Qa’ida elements who seek to terrorize the population and challenge the government. Violence in 2008 reached unprecedented levels, as both ISAF/Afghan forces and the Taliban initiated more battles than ever before. President Hamid Karzai was sworn in as President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on December 7, 2004 and the Afghan Parliament was subsequently convened in late 2005. The government is working to develop a more effective police force, a more robust legal system, and sub-national institutions that work in partnership with traditional and local leaders to meet the needs of the population. The U.S. works closely with the international community to provide coordinated support for these efforts. An Afghanistan-hosted Peace Jirga with Pakistan resulted in a commitment to cooperate in combating terrorism, facilitate the return of Afghan refugees, and support regional economic activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Afghanistan for additional information.


ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:


 A passport and valid visa are required to enter and exit Afghanistan. Afghan entry visas are not available at Kabul International Airport or any other ports of entry in Afghanistan. American citizens who arrive without a visa are subject to confiscation of their passport and face heavy fines and difficulties in retrieving their passport and obtaining a visa, as well as possible deportation from the country. Americans arriving in the country via military air usually have considerable difficulties if they choose to depart Afghanistan on commercial air, because their passports are not stamped to show that they entered the country legally. Those coming on military air should move quickly after arrival to legalize their status if there is any chance they will depart the country on anything other than military air. Visit the Embassy of Afghanistan web site at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org for the most current visa information. The Consular office of the Embassy of Afghanistan is located at 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 216, Washington, DC 20007, phone number 202-298-9125. Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.


SAFETY AND SECURITY:


The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan emphasizes that the security situation remains critical for American citizens. The Taliban and associated insurgent groups, al-Qaida network terrorist organizations, and narco-traffickers oppose the strengthening of a democratic government. These groups aim to weaken or bring down the Government of Afghanistan and to drive Westerners out of the country. They do not hesitate to use violence, including targeting civilians. Terrorist activities may include, but are not limited to bombings -- including improvised explosive devices and car bombs -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults and kidnappings. There were over 120 suicide attacks in 2008. There is an ongoing threat to attack and kidnap U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers throughout the country. In 2008,, more than 30 NGO workers were killed (six foreigners) and at least 78 NGO staff members (seven foreigners) were abducted. Over 25 other foreign civilians, including journalists, were kidnapped. Kabul continues to experience suicide bombings against Afghan government personnel and installations, Afghan and coalition military assets, and international civilians. Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political or other issues. Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem. Official Americans' use of the Kabul-Jalalabad, Kabul-Kandahar highways and other roads throughout the country is often restricted or completely curtailed because of security concerns. Insurgents continue to use roadside and car bombs to conduct attacks and abductions along major highways. Millions of unexploded land mines and other ordinance present a constant danger. The country faces a difficult period in the near term, and American citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events. Americans should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns. The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder. Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property, or Americans coming to the country to engage in business, have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death. Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated, with few roads, mostly in poor condition, irregular cell phone signals, and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or the larger cities. Americans traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may not even have a way to communicate their difficulties to the outside world. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.


CRIME:


 A large portion of the Afghan population is unemployed, and many among the unemployed have moved to urban areas. Basic services are rudimentary or non-existent. These factors may directly contribute to crime and lawlessness. Diplomats and international relief workers have reported incidents of robberies and household burglaries as well as kidnappings and assault. Any American citizen who enters Afghanistan should remain vigilant for possible banditry, including violent attacks.


INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:


The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for assistance. The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to provide a list of attorneys if needed. The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Afghanistan is: 119 Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.


CRIMINAL PENALTIES:


While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Afghanistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. During the last several years, there have been incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens. Arrested Americans have faced periods of detention—sometimes in difficult conditions—while awaiting trial. Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Another sensitive activity is proselytizing. Although the Afghan Constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing is often viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society. Proselytizing may lead to arrest and/or deportation. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.


SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:


Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is limited and unreliable. Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions. Credit card transactions are not available. International bank transfers are limited. Some ATM machines exist at Standard Charter Bank and Afghan International Bank (AIB) in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, but some travelers have complained of difficulties using them. International communications are difficult. Local telephone networks do not operate reliably. Most people rely on satellite or cellular telephone communications even to make local calls. Cellular phone service is available locally in Kabul and some other cities, but can be unreliable. Injured or distressed foreigners could face long delays before being able to communicate their needs to family or colleagues outside of Afghanistan. Internet access through local service providers is limited. In addition to being subject to all Afghan laws, U.S. citizens who are also citizens of Afghanistan may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Afghan citizens. U.S. citizens who are also Afghan nationals do not require visas for entry into Afghanistan. The Embassy of Afghanistan issues a letter confirming your nationality for entry into Afghanistan. However, you may wish to obtain a visa as some Afghan-Americans have experienced difficulties at land border crossings because they do not have a visa in their passport. For additional information on dual nationality in general, see the Consular Affairs home page for our dual nationality flyer. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. As stated in the Travel Warning, consular assistance for American citizens in Afghanistan is limited. Islam provides the foundation of Afghanistan's customs, laws and practices. Foreign visitors -- men and women -- are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts. Women in particular, especially when traveling outside of Kabul, may want to ensure that their tops have long sleeves and cover their collarbone and waistband, and that their pants/skirts cover their ankles. Almost all women in Afghanistan cover their hair in public; American women visitors should carry scarves for this purpose. Afghan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Afghanistan of items such as firearms, alcoholic beverages, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and printed materials. American travelers have faced fines and/or confiscation of items considered antiquities upon exiting Afghanistan. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers en route to Afghanistan may transit countries that have restrictions on firearms, including antique or display models. If you plan to take firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy and those that you will be transiting to learn about their regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling. Please consult http://www.customs.gov for information on importing firearms into the United States. Please see our Customs Information sheet.


MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:


Well-equipped medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan. European and American medicines are available in limited quantities and may be expensive or difficult to locate. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, and India are available, but their reliability can be questionable. Several western-style private clinics have opened in Kabul: the DK-German Medical Diagnostic Center (www.medical-kabul.com), Acomet Family Hospital (www.afghancomet.com), and CURE International Hospital (ph. 079-883-830) offer a variety of basic and routine-type care; Americans seeking treatment should request American or Western health practitioners. Afghan public hospitals should be avoided. Individuals without government licenses or even medical degrees often operate private clinics; there is no public agency that monitors their operations. Travelers will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country outside of Kabul, although there are some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages. For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance. Commercial medical evacuation capability from Afghanistan is limited and could take days to arrange. Even medevac companies that claim to service the world may not agree to come to Afghanistan. Those with medevac insurance should confirm with the insurance provider that it will be able to provide medevac assistance to this country. There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza in poultry in Afghanistan, to include the areas of Nangahar, Laghman, and Wardak provinces, and in the city of Kabul, however, there have been no reported cases of the H5N1 virus in humans. Updates on the Avian Influenza situation in Afghanistan are published on the Embassy’s web site at http://kabul.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html. For additional information on Avian Influenza, please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_1181.html Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Afghanistan. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB. http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx| The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Afghanistan. However, if one has questions, please inquire directly with the Embassy of Afghanistan at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org before you travel. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site. Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.


MEDICAL INSURANCE:


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


SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:


 While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Afghanistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering improvised-explosive devices and land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways. An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordinance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Robbery and kidnappings are also prevalent on highways outside of Kabul. The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads. Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced. Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit. Rural roads are not paved. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.


AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:


As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa. U.S. Government personnel are not authorized to travel on Ariana Afghan Airlines or any other airline falling under the oversight of the Government of Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, owing to safety concerns; however, U.S. Government personnel are permitted to travel on international flights operated by airlines from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet international aviation safety standards for the oversight of their air carrier operations under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.


CHILDREN'S ISSUES:


 For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction. R


EGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:


Americans living or traveling in Afghanistan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Afghanistan. Americans without internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Kabul on Great Massoud (Airport) Road, local phone number 0700-108-001 or 0700-108-002, and for emergencies after hours 0700-201-908. The web site is http://kabul.usembassy.gov/ * * * * * This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 16, 2008 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Criminal Penalties, Special Circumstances, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun 1 Sep 2019
Source: MENAFN - Afghanistan Times [edited]

Two new polio cases have surfaced separately in capital city of Tirinkot and Chora district of southern Uruzgan [Oruzgan] province, a statement from the relevant ministry said [Sun 1 Sep 2019].

A 30-month-old child and another 6-month-old infant were permanently paralyzed as a result of the polio virus.

According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), the total number of polio cases in 2019 reached 15 with the 2 new cases, saying all of these cases had been reported from inaccessible areas.

"Of the 15 polio cases this year [2019], 14 have been reported from the southern region of Afghanistan,' the statement said, adding "7 positive cases came from [Oruzgan], 5 from Helmand, and 2 other from Kandahar."

Only 1 out of 12 polio cases was reported from eastern Kunar province while the rest happened in the southern zone.

"Access to health services is the right of every citizen of the country," said Dr Ferozuddin Feroz, the Minister of Public Health. "We are deeply concerned about the increasing polio cases and the number of children who still don't have consistent and proper access to vaccination," he added.

He said the virus could spread further in the country and more children would be affected and paralyzed by polio virus.

He called upon people to 'work together and protect innocent children against polio and facilitate a safe and secure environment for our frontline workers in order to enable them administer vaccine drops to children in every nook and cranny of the country."

Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease. There is no cure and the vaccine is the only safe and effective way to protect children.

The polio vaccine is safe and harmless for new-born children whether they are sick or not. It is very important that new-borns and sick children get the vaccine because they may have lower immunity which makes them more susceptible to the virus.

Polio vaccination has also been strongly endorsed by national and global Islamic scholars.
========================
[As I mentioned in the moderator comment of the last post (Poliomyelitis update (71): global (Pakistan, Congo DR) http://promedmail.org/post/20190901.6651501), "While there have been no newly confirmed cases reported from Afghanistan this week nor have there been positive environmental samples reported from either Pakistan or Afghanistan, it doesn't mean the virus is not still circulating, just that there aren't new confirmations." Unfortunately there were cases under investigation.

As correctly stated in the media report above, the addition of these 2 newly confirmed cases brings the number of confirmed WPV1 cases reported by Afghanistan during 2019 to date to 15.

Oruzgan is located in the central part of Afghanistan, sharing southern and southwestern borders with Kandahar and Helmand provinces where other polio cases have been reported this year (2019) as well (<http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/afghanistan_admin-2009.jpg>).

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Afghanistan:
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 13:26:06 +0200 (METDST)

Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - Scores of people including children were wounded Monday after a series of explosions shook the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, as the country's independence day was marred by bloodshed.

As many as 10 blasts were reported in and around the city in Nangarhar province, authorities said, and casualty numbers rose as the day wore on.   "The explosions were caused by IEDs in different parts of the city and as groups of people were celebrating independence day," the Nangarhar governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said, referring to improvised explosive devices.   Jalalabad is the scene of frequent bomb attacks, and the surrounding terrain is home to both Taliban fighters and the Islamic State group's local affiliate.

At least 52 people were wounded, Khogyani said. Zaher Adel, a spokesman for a local hospital, said 66 wounded people had been brought in. An AFP correspondent saw children among the victims.   This year's August 19 celebrations mark 100 years of Afghan independence from British influence.   The day was supposed to be one of national pride and unity, but was overshadowed by an IS suicide attack Saturday on a crowded Kabul wedding hall that killed at least 63 people.

In Kabul, locals took to the streets to wave the black-red-and-green Afghan flag, but several public events to commemorate the date were scrapped as Kabul mourns and due to fears of a fresh attack.    "We postponed the celebrations to honour the victims, but we will definitely take revenge for our people," Afghan President Ahraf Ghani said.   "We will avenge the blood of our people, every drop of it."

Mayhem from Afghanistan's war continues to wreak havoc on Afghans every day, even though the US and the Taliban are in final negotiations for a deal that would see US troops begin to quit Afghanistan and could potentially lead to a reduction in violence.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 11:47:26 +0200 (METDST)
By By Emal Haidary and Mushtaq Mojaddidi

Kabul, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Joy and celebration turned into horror and carnage when a suicide bomber targeted a packed Afghan wedding hall, killing at least 63 people in the deadliest attack to rock Kabul in months, officials and witnesses said Sunday.   The massive blast, which took place late Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban finalise a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan and hopefully build a roadmap to a ceasefire.   The groom recalled greeting smiling guests in the afternoon, before seeing their bodies being carried out hours later.

The attack "changed my happiness to sorrow", the young man, who gave his name as Mirwais, told local TV station Tolo News.   "My family, my bride are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting," he said.   "I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again."   Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 63 people had been killed and 182 injured.   "Among the wounded are women and children," Rahimi said. Earlier he stated a suicide bomber carried out the attack.

Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating for hours inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.   "The wedding guests were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened," recounted Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured and whose cousin was among the dead.   "Following the explosion, there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones," he told AFP from his bed in a local hospital, where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds.

Images from inside the hall showed blood-stained bodies on the ground along with pieces of flesh and torn clothes, hats, sandals and bottles of mineral water. The huge blast ripped parts of the ceiling off.   The wedding was believed to be a Shia gathering. Shia Muslims are frequently targeted in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, particularly by the so-called Islamic State group, which is also active in Kabul but did not immediately issue any claim of responsibility.

Wedding guest Hameed Quresh told AFP the young couple were saying their vows when the bomb went off.    "We fainted following the blast, and we don't know who brought us to the hospital," sobbed Quresh, who lost one brother and was himself wounded.   Another guest told Tolo that some 1,200 people had been invited. With low security, weddings are seen as easy targets.   The attack sent a wave of grief through a city grimly accustomed to atrocities. President Ashraf Ghani called it "barbaric", while Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a "crime against humanity".

- Withdrawal deal expected -
The attack underscores both the inadequacy of Afghanistan's security forces and the scale of the problem they face. While the police and army claim they prevent most bombings from ever happening, the fact remains that insurgents pull off horrific attacks with chilling regularity.   On July 28, at least 20 people were killed when attackers targeted Ghani's running mate Amrullah Saleh as he campaigned in presidential elections.    The incident showed how even amid tight security and known threats, insurgents can conduct brazen attacks.   The issue also goes to the heart of a prospective deal between the US and the Taliban that would see Washington begin to withdraw its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan.

The deal relies on the Taliban providing guarantees they will stop jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and IS from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Saturday's attack suggests any such promise would be tough to keep.   The "Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists," Ghani said.   Few believe such a deal will bring quick peace.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban could return, eroding hard-won rights for women in particular and leading to a spiralling civil war.   Meanwhile, in the northern province of Balkh, 11 members of the same family were killed when their car hit a roadside bomb, officials said. The provincial governor blamed the Taliban for planting the device.
Date: Mon, 1 Jul 2019 11:19:17 +0200

Kabul, July 1, 2019 (AFP) - At least one person was killed and dozens wounded in a Taliban-claimed attack which saw a powerful car bomb rock Kabul early Monday, followed by gunmen who battled special forces in an area housing military and government buildings.   Many children were among the wounded, according to a hospital statement, after the rush-hour explosion sent a plume of smoke into the air above the Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of the Afghan capital and shook buildings up to two kilometres (1.2 miles) away.

AFP reporters could hear gunshots and multiple smaller explosions as fighting between the gunmen and special forces continued more than four hours after the attack began.   "At first, a car bomb took place and then several attackers took over a building. The area is cordoned off by the police special forces and (they) are bringing down the attackers," interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.    He later said that at least one attacker had been killed.   Health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said that at least one person had been killed and 65 wounded -- including nine children -- and warned that casualties could rise.   "Among the wounded, many children who were going to school," said the Twitter account of the Emergency Hospital in Kabul, where many victims were taken.   Some social media images purportedly taken at the hospital showed wounded, stunned children in school uniforms, still clutching books as they arrived for treatment.

The Taliban claimed the attack, which came just two days after the insurgents began a seventh round of talks with the US in Qatar as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan's September presidential election.   Militant spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid released a statement saying the insurgents had targeted a defence ministry building in the area, which was quickly blocked off by Afghan forces and ambulances, with helicopter gunships seen overhead as firing continued.   Authorities have not confirmed the target.    "We were sitting inside the office when the world turned upside down on us," Zaher Usman, an employee at a branch of the culture ministry, which he said stands just 150 metres (yards) from the blast.

- Brief lockdown -
"When I opened my eyes, the office was filled with smoke and dust and everything was broken, my colleagues were screaming," Usman told AFP by telephone.   Shams Amini, a spokesman for the Afghan Football Federation, told AFP that the blast occurred near their HQ gates, and said some colleagues had been injured.   Nearby Shamshad TV station, which was attacked in 2017, aired images of broken glass and damage to its offices. "I was terrified," Shamshad anchor Hashmat Stanikzai told AFP.

The explosion came as the US was set to begin a third day of negotiations with the militants in Doha. There was no immediate confirmation if they would go ahead after the blast.   With the attack still ongoing, the Taliban spokesman in Doha again insisted that the insurgents will not negotiate with Kabul.   "Once the timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is set in the presence of international observers, then we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government," Suhail Shaheen tweeted. 

The insurgents have long refused to negotiate with the Western-backed government, whom they deem puppets.   The talks have so far centred on four issues -- counter-terrorism, the foreign troop presence, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.   A potential deal would see the US agree to withdraw its troops after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, igniting deep concerns among Afghans who fear Washington will rush for the exits and allow the militants to return to some semblance of power.   In return, the Taliban would guarantee the country would never again become a safe haven for violent extremism, as happened with Al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks.   However, US officials have insisted that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", including intra-Afghan talks.
Date 24 Jun 2019
Source: Mena FN [edited]

The number of polio positive cases in Afghanistan has reached 10 so far in 2019, with 4 cases reported from Uruzgan [Oruzgan] province and 1 new case detected in the Mehr Abad area of Tirinkot, the provincial capital.

According to Ministry of Public Health, a 21-month-old girl is permanently paralyzed in Tirinkot, making 10 cases of polio in Afghanistan so far [in 2019].

The Health ministry in a statement said that last week, another polio case was reported from Trinkot, which paralyzed a 30-month-old boy [see Poliomyelitis update (50): Afghanistan (OZ) http://promedmail.org/post/20190619.6528976].

House-to-house polio campaigns have been banned in this area since May 2018. This means children under [5 years of age] living in the area have not been vaccinated and protected from the virus since then, the ministry added.

Only one out of 10 polio cases were reported from Eastern Kunar province, while the rest have been reported from the southern region: 4 cases in Urozgan [Oruzgan], 3 in Helmand and 2 cases in Kandahar.

"Access to health services is the right of every citizen of the country," said Dr. Ferozuddin Feroz, the Minister of Public Health of Afghanistan. "We are deeply concerned about the increasing polio cases and the number of children who still don't have consistent access to vaccination. The virus could spread, and more children will be affected and paralyzed by polio virus in Afghanistan. I ask everyone to work together and protect innocent children against polio, to provide a safe and secure environment for our frontline workers to vaccinate children in every corner of the country."

The polio vaccine is safe, even for sick and new-born children. It is very important that new-borns and sick children get the vaccine, because they may have lower immunity, which makes them more susceptible to the virus.

Polio vaccination has also been strongly endorsed by national and global Islamic scholars, the statement added.
======================
[In last week's report on the 30-month-old male child from Oruzgan, there was mention that the vaccination teams were unable to enter the zone where the child lived due to security concerns. The media report above mentions there haven't been vaccinations provided through household visits in this zone since May 2018.

Oruzgan is located in the central part of Afghanistan, sharing southern and southwestern borders with Kandahar and Helmand provinces where other polio cases have been reported this year (2019) as well (<https://www.afghana.com/GetLocal/Afghanistan/Provinces.htm>).

With the addition of this newly confirmed case, there have now been 10 cases of confirmed poliomyelitis reported from Afghanistan since the beginning of 2019. Add these to the 27 cases confirmed in Pakistan, and there are now 37 cases reported this year (2019), 4 more than the total number of cases reported during 2018.

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/1257>  - ProMED Mod.MPP]
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Belarus

Belarus - US Consular Information Sheet
November 25, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Belarus became an independent republic in 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
In 1996, a constitutional referendum, not recognized by the internat
onal community, centralized power in the executive branch (president), headed by Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Economic and political reform in Belarus has stalled or is being reversed under his authoritarian government.
The Belarusian Government’s human rights record remains very poor.
President Lukashenka gained a third five-year term as president in March 2006, in an election that international observers judged to be seriously flawed.
Democratic nations, including the United States and the members of the European Union, condemned the subsequent governmental crackdown on peaceful protests in Minsk, and imposed visa restrictions and other sanctions on senior Belarusian officials. As a result of the release of political prisoners in August 2008, the EU lifted its visa restrictions, but those of the United States remain in effect.
Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages, and Russian is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in the cities.
Tourist facilities are not highly developed, but food and lodging in the capital and some regional centers are adequate.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Belarus for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Travelers must obtain a visa in advance to visit or transit through Belarus.
Travelers who do not have a visa cannot register at hotels.
U.S. citizens visiting or residing in Belarus are required to register with the local office of the Citizenship and Migration Department of the Ministry of Interior (formerly OVIR) within three business days after arrival.
The registration fee is one National Minimum Tariff Unit (currently about $17).
Failure to register can result in fines and difficulties when departing.
U.S. citizens staying in hotels are automatically registered at check-in.
Visa validity dates are strictly enforced; travelers should request visas of sufficient length to allow for changes in arrival and departure plans, and should carefully review the beginning and ending dates of their visas before traveling.
A valid exit visa is necessary to depart Belarus.
Generally, the visa issued by a Belarusian Embassy or Consulate is valid for both entry and exit.
Photocopies of visas may be helpful in the event of loss, but note that a copy of a visa will not be sufficient for entry or departure, as Belarusian border officials always require original travel documents.

Travelers who overstay their visa’s validity -- even for one day -- will be prevented from leaving until they have been granted an extension by the Department of Citizenship and Migration.
United States citizens without valid visas face delays in leaving Belarus and may have trouble finding adequate accommodation.
By Belarusian law, travelers with an expired visa may not check in at any hotel or other lodging establishment.

U.S. citizens traveling through Belarus to other countries are strongly advised that there is a transit visa requirement for entering and leaving Belarus.
Transit visas are required even for travelers transiting on direct overnight trains with no stops or transfers on Belarusian territory. Transit visas should be obtained prior to any journey that requires travel through Belarus.
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Russian visas are no substitute for this transit visa.
Most travel agencies, including those in Russia and CIS countries, as well as train ticket sales personnel, are often not aware of this visa requirement and may not seek a transit visa for a traveler unless instructed by the traveler to do so.

U.S. citizens attempting to transit Belarus without a valid Belarusian transit visa have been denied entry into the country and forcibly removed from trains.
In some instances, local border and railway authorities have threatened passengers who did not possess a valid transit visa with jail or extorted “fines.”
American citizens are advised not to pay any border or railway officials for transit visas or “transit visa fines,” as these officials are not authorized to issue such visas.
Americans finding themselves in Belarus without transit visas, if confronted by border or train personnel, should request to be put in contact with consular officials at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk.
U.S. citizens traveling to Belarus via Russia are reminded that they must possess a Russian transit visa in addition to their Belarusian visa. Russian Embassies outside of the United States, including the Russian Embassy in Belarus, generally do not issue transit or tourist visas to Americans.
Russian transit visas are not normally obtainable at Russian airports.

The Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons in the Republic of Belarus states that all foreign citizens may be granted permission for a temporary stay (up to 90 days within a chronological year), temporary residence (up to one year), or permanent residence.
Belarusian Embassies and Consulates will issue visas for temporary stays.
A temporary stay visa will allow the bearer to be present physically in Belarus for a maximum of 90 days within the 365-day period for which the visa is issued.
Once an individual has spent 90 days in Belarus, at one time or through a combination of visits, he or she will not be eligible to receive another visa until the original 365-day period has passed.

Individuals who receive visas for a temporary stay, but wish to remain in Belarus for longer than 90 days, must apply for temporary or permanent residence with the Ministry of Interior.
Individuals must make the application in Belarus within the 90 days allotted for a temporary stay.
Permission for temporary residence can be granted to students, spouses, or close relatives of Belarusian citizens, or for “work, business, or other activities.”
Travelers may contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk for information about application procedures for temporary or permanent residence.
Every foreigner entering Belarus is required to fill out a migration card.
This card should be retained for the whole period of stay and should be presented to the border authorities when exiting Belarus.

Foreign citizens without a valid Belarusian visa, migration card, or proper registration with the Department of Citizenship and Migration as a temporary visitor or resident can be subject to sanctions up to and including deportation under the provisions of the Code of Administrative Violations.
Depending on the circumstances, deportees also can be banned from returning to Belarus for a period from one to ten years.

Foreign citizens visiting and transiting Belarus also should be prepared to demonstrate sufficient financial means to support their stay.
For individuals staying in Belarus for less than one month, this amount is equal to approximately $15/day/person.
For those staying for longer than one month, the requirements call for $375/month/person.
Belarusian officials may request this proof of funds at the time of visa application, at the border, or during registration.
According to the Ministry of Interior, cash, credit cards, paid hotel reservations, or a letter from an inviting party pledging full financial support are sufficient means to demonstrate financial wherewithal.

Belarus requires all foreign nationals (other than accredited diplomats) entering the country to purchase medical insurance at the port-of-entry, regardless of any other insurance they might have.
Costs for this insurance will vary according to the length of stay.
(Subject to change, current information puts costs at approximately $1 for a one or two day stay, $15 for a stay of up to 31 days, and $85 for a stay of one year.)

Travelers entering Belarus by air with more than 35 kilograms of luggage (77 pounds) will be charged 2 Euros per kilogram in excess of that limit.
The fee must be paid in dollars or Euros.
In accordance with current customs regulations, foreigners may enter Belarus with up to $10,000 and exit the country with up to $3,000 without submitting a written declaration.
For additional information on customs rules for Belarus please see the Belarusian State Customs Committee official web site.
The Belarusian Government enforces a requirement for special permits to travel in “protected border zones.”
The Government of Belarus has not provided information defining the parameters of those zones.
Travelers should be alert for warning signs, road barriers, and/or border guard posts, and are advised not to cross into such areas without permission.

Foreign missionaries may not engage in religious activities outside the institutions that invited them unless they have a religious worker visa.
One-year validity, multiple-entry, "spiritual activities" visas, which are required of foreign missionaries, can be difficult to get, even for faiths that are registered with the government and have a long history in the country.
Approval often involves a difficult bureaucratic process.

A law enacted in 2002 required all religious groups and organizations, including recognized “traditional” religions such as Russian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism, Sunni Islam, and Lutheranism, to re-register; most organizations have done so.
Unregistered religious groups may not legally gather for religious purposes.
Many unregistered groups continue to meet, however, leaving them vulnerable to selective implementation of the law by authorities.
The law also stipulates that only Belarusian citizens can head religious organizations in Belarus.
In recent years, authorities have harassed, warned, fined, and briefly detained members of some unregistered and so-called "non-traditional" faiths for engaging in unsanctioned worship or proselytism. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that any U.S. citizen who chooses to attend a religious service of an unregistered religious group do so only after consulting with members of the group about the risk of harassment or possible arrest by local law enforcement authorities.
U.S. citizens are also urged to contact the U.S. Embassy should they encounter any problems with authorities due to their participation in such services or events.

Naturalized U.S. citizens originally from Belarus do not automatically lose Belarusian citizenship upon naturalization.
Such individuals retain Belarusian citizenship unless they take specific steps to renounce it.
The Belarusian authorities will allow naturalized U.S. citizens from Belarus to enter the country without a valid Belarusian passport on a “certificate of return” issued by Belarusian Embassies and Consulates, but please note that a valid Belarusian passport will be required to leave the country.
It can take two to four weeks to receive a new Belarusian passport.
For additional information please consult with the Embassy of Belarus at http://www.belarusembassy.org.
Belarusian citizens, including dual nationals, are subject to Belarusian laws requiring service in Belarus’ armed forces, as well as other laws pertaining to passports and nationality.
American-Belarusian dual nationals of military age who do not wish to serve in the Belarusian armed forces should contact the Embassy of Belarus in Washington, D.C. to learn more about an exemption or deferment from Belarusian military service before going to Belarus.
Without this exemption or deferment document, they may not be able to leave Belarus without completing military service, or may be subject to criminal penalties for failure to serve.

Children born to Belarusian parent(s) before August 15, 2002, even if born in the United States and in possession of a U.S. passport, may not be issued a Belarusian visa for travel to Belarus.
The Belarusian government considers these children to be Belarusian citizens until age 16, when they may choose to accept or reject that claim to citizenship.
Instead of a visa, a "certificate of return" is issued that will allow the child to enter Belarus.
It is imperative that parents of such children understand that, in order to leave the country, the child will be required to have a Belarusian passport if he/she does not already have one.
It can take anywhere from two to four weeks to complete the application procedures and receive a new Belarusian passport.
(Note: if the parent left Belarus on a series PP passport, given to Belarusians who reside abroad and have cancelled their local registration, then Belarus would not require the child to reject his/her claim to citizenship).
For children born to one Belarusian parent and one foreign parent after 2002, the parents must by mutual consent agree to Belarusian citizenship for the child, regardless of the place of birth.
If the parents cannot reach consensus, Belarus would only force Belarusian citizenship on a child in cases where the child would be left stateless.
Visit the Embassy of Belarus web site at http://www.belarusembassy.org/ for the most current visa information, or contact the Embassy of Belarus at 1619 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel: 202-986-1606, fax: 202-986-1805, consul@belarusembassy.org.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Both organized and spontaneous demonstrations occur in Belarus.
Localized street disturbances relating to political events occur most frequently in Minsk or larger cities.
In some instances, authorities may use force to disperse protesters; bystanders, including foreign nationals, may face the possibility of arrest, beating, or detention.
Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can sometimes become confrontational and escalate into violence.
For this reason, it is recommended that American citizens avoid all demonstrations and protest gatherings.

Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.
These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation.

For the latest security information, Americans living or traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Belarus has a moderate incidence of street crime. Though violent crime against foreigners is rare, criminals have been known to use force if met with resistance from victims.
Common street crime, such as mugging and pocket picking, occurs most frequently near public transportation venues, near hotels frequented by foreigners, and/or at night in poorly lit areas.

American citizens and other foreigners in Belarus have also been the victims of car theft, car vandalism, and hotel and residential break-ins.
Foreigners visiting nightclubs should pay particular attention to their surroundings, as criminal elements may rob unsuspecting patrons after surreptitiously drugging their drinks.
Travelers should keep a copy of their passport in a separate location from their original passport.

As in many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available in Belarus. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends and explaining how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
To see if you can be compensated in the U.S. as a victim of violent crime overseas, see our information on Victims of Crime.

The local equivalents to the “911” emergency line in Belarus are: 111 Fire and Rescue Squad, 102 Police, 103 Ambulance (Medical Emergency)
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care in Belarus is limited.
There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including anesthetics, vaccines and antibiotics.
Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Travelers are encouraged to ensure that they bring an adequate supply of prescription medications in the event that there are delays in departing Belarus.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Belarus.
For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to Belarus on a 30 day visit.
Long-term residents or students must obtain an HIV/AIDS test in Belarus and submit the results to the Department of Citizenship and Migration.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Belarus is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
American citizens on short-term visits to Belarus (up to 90 days) are permitted to drive with a valid U.S. state driver’s license.
U.S. citizens should, therefore, always carry their passports with them to prove date of entry into the country in the event that police stop them.
If residing in Belarus for more than 90 days, one should apply for a Belarusian driver’s license.
Drivers will be required to successfully complete a two-part test in Russian; the first part is a computer-based multiple-choice test on local driving rules, and the second part is a driving test.
To receive a local driver’s license, drivers will also need to complete a medical exam at a special medical clinic, which will include a general physical, a chest x-ray, and an eye exam.

Radar traps and road construction sites, often unlit at night, are widespread.
Except for a stretch of the main east-west highway, where the speed limit is 100 km/h (60 mph), the maximum speed limit on divided highways or main roads outside village, town or city limits is 90 km/h (55 mph).
Speed limits in cities are 60 km/h unless marked and will usually range between 40 km/h and 70 km/h, with frequent radar traps.
Visible and hidden dangers exist, including potholes, unlit or poorly lit streets, inattentive and dark-clothed pedestrians walking on unlit roads, drivers and pedestrians under the influence of alcohol, and disregard for traffic rules.
Driving in winter is especially dangerous because of ice and snow.
Driving with caution is urged at all times.

Radio-dispatched taxi services are generally reliable, arrive promptly once called and usually offer the lowest fare.
Most radio-dispatched taxis are metered, although fares can vary greatly and are considerably higher in the late evening and overnight hours.
The use of informal taxis or "gypsy cabs" is not recommended.

Minsk has a clean, safe, and efficient subway system that easily reaches most of the city center. Service is stopped briefly during the early morning hours, but otherwise runs regularly throughout the day.
Ticket prices are extremely low by western standards.
Though their routes are extensive, buses and trolleys lack heating or cooling capabilities and are usually crowded.

Travelers on all public transportation should be wary of pickpockets and other petty crime.
For travelers interested in car rental, only one major western rental agency currently operates in Minsk.
In general, rental car networks in Belarus are not well developed.

Travelers may experience significant delays (of several hours) in crossing the border by road into neighboring countries.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Also visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at: http://siteks.com/sites/touragency/.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Belarus, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Belarus’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Traveler's checks are normally not accepted in Belarus as a means of payment, but can be freely exchanged for cash at any bank.
Most hotels, restaurants, and stores accept major credit cards.
All Belarusian banks provide cash from major credit cards.
All payments in Belarus are made in Belarusian rubles.
Authorized currency exchange centers are widely available throughout major cities.


ATMs are also available for use, and it has become easier to use credit cards and debit cards in Belarus, especially in Minsk; however, this does not mean that it is safer to do so.
There have been reports of instances in which U.S. citizens have had their card numbers “skimmed” and the money in their debit accounts stolen or their credit cards fraudulently charged.
(“Skimming” is the theft of credit card information by an employee of a legitimate merchant or bank, manually copying down numbers or using a magnetic stripe reader.)
In addition to skimming, the risk of physical theft of credit or debit cards also exists.
To prevent such theft, the Embassy recommends that travelers keep close track of their personal belongings and only carry what is needed when out.
If travelers choose to use credit cards, they should regularly check their account status to ensure its integrity.
Persons seeking to marry in Belarus should consult the information located on the Embassy web site at http://minsk.usembassy.gov/marriage.html.
Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Belarusian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belarus are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Access for U.S. consular officers to U.S. citizens in detention is often limited and/or delayed.
Although U.S. citizens are able to obtain legal representation, there has been at least one case of delayed notification, hindered consular access, limited medical treatment, and trial behind closed doors. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Belarus are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Belarus.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Minsk at 46 Starovilenskaya Ulitsa; telephone (375 17) 210-1283 or after hours (375 29) 676-0134, fax (375 17) 334-7853 or (375 17) 17-217-7160 (consular section).
The Consular Section may also be reached by email at ConsularMinsk@state.gov
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Belarus dated December 7, 2007, and updates the sections on Exit/Entry Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Criminal Penalties.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 2 Aug 2018 06:04:14 +0200
By Tatiana Kalinovskaya

Minsk, Aug 2, 2018 (AFP) - A massive corruption scandal has rocked the health service of ex-Soviet Belarus, leading even officials in the country dubbed "Europe's last dictatorship" to call for an overhaul of the system.   Authorities have arrested dozens of medics, drug company representatives and bureaucrats on suspicion of siphoning off millions of dollars in state funding.   Valery Vakulchik, head of the powerful KGB state security service, in televised comments last month denounced what he called a vast system of procurement of drugs and medical equipment at inflated prices.   Prices were habitually hiked by up to 60 percent and in some cases even doubled, he said.   Following his announcement, 37 top health officials were arrested and criminal investigations were opened involving 60 people including local representatives of international pharmaceutical companies.

The KGB chief acknowledged that the Soviet-style bureaucracy in the country bordering the European Union, ruled by strongman Alexander Lukashenko, helped promote corruption.   "The existing system of procuring medical equipment and drugs created the conditions for corrupt practices," he said.    "Bona fide suppliers could not rely on a positive outcome," he added, while procurements were made not directly from producers but "via numerous middlemen (and) finance companies."   Those detained in the scandal include deputy health minister Igor Lositsky, doctors at reputed clinics and leading business figures involved in producing and importing medicines.   One of the arrested businessmen is Sergei Shakutin, director of Iskamed group, who is the brother of one of Lukashenko's close associates.   Belta state news agency has published photos of searches at the home of a medical centre director that uncovered $500,000 in cash.   Officers also found $620,000 in the garage of the director of a public enterprise that imported medical equipment.

The KGB chief said bribes paid to corrupt officials amounted to millions of dollars.   "There will be further arrests since the people detained so far are just the perpetrators," Sergei Satsuk, editor of news site Yezhednevnik, who is familiar with the case, told AFP.   The chief beneficiaries in such schemes were retired law enforcement officials who set up companies to enter the lucrative medical equipment market, Satsuk said.   "In 10 years they drained all the juice out of the country's medical system," he said.   He said this involved supplying equipment that was not just over-priced but also often lacked the necessary certification or came with faked documentation.    Some equipment was imported as second-hand but re-sold as new.

- Powerful temptation -
This is one of the biggest corruption scandals in the history of Belarus, which is wedged between Russia and Poland and has been led by Lukashenko since 1994.   "Bureaucracy has privatised the state. We need to reform the whole system of state management, otherwise corruption schemes will spring up wherever budget funds are being spent," independent economist Yaroslav Romanchuk told AFP.

Other smaller corruption scandals have in recent years hit the sports, forestry and energy ministries as well as large companies, factories and banks.   Three ministers have been sacked and senior bureaucrats and regional officials have been arrested.   "Even if you clean out the state structures of bribe-takers, corruption won't die in Belarus for a single day," said Romanchuk.   "The very next day new people in old posts in the old system will relaunch the old corruption schemes."   The system "creates the most powerful temptation to set up schemes with kickbacks, bribes, swindling and abuses of office," Romanchuk said.
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2018 18:11:12 +0200

Minsk, July 24, 2018 (AFP) - Belarus on Tuesday announced that it is extending visa-free travel for tourists from five days to 30 days in a move that could attract more visitors to the ex-Soviet state on the European Union's doorstep.

Strongman ruler Alexander Lukashenko signed a decree allowing visitors from 80 countries including 39 in Europe, as well as the United States, Australia and Japan to stay for 30 days.   The ruling will enter force when the decree is published in one or two days.   The decree says the move is aimed at "promoting further development of the Belarusian tourism sector" as well as making the country more attractive as a host for sports events and festivals and improving its connectedness to the global economy.

Belarus said it is keen to promote itself as a medical tourism venue and for people keen to recuperate and undergo spa procedures at its sanatoriums.   The visa-free rule requires visitors to fly in and out of Minsk's main airport.    As before, the visa exemption does not apply to foreigners arriving or leaving from Russia because of a lack of border controls betweeen the neighbours.

Minsk has close ties to former Soviet master Moscow, with Belarus part of an economic union with Russia.   Chinese people will also be covered by a separate visa agreement that comes into force in August.   Ties between Belarus and the European Union have improved since the 28-nation bloc began lifting most of its sanctions on the country in 2015 after Lukashenko released high-profile political prisoners.
Date: Tue, 17 May 2016 07:34:10 +0200

Belmopan, Belize, May 17, 2016 (AFP) - Belize has joined the growing number of Latin American nations grappling with the Zika virus, after the health ministry confirmed the country's first known case.    Authorities said Monday the infected person resides in Belize City, adding that efforts would be taken to prevent the virus from spreading.

"An immediate investigation was launched and several actions were simultaneously initiated to minimize and contain a potential outbreak," a health ministry statement said.   The mosquito-borne Zika virus can cause the birth defect microcephaly, which can cause babies to be born with unusually small heads and deformed brains.
Date: Fri 17 Jul 2015
Source: Rusnovosti [in Russian, trans. ProMED Mod.NP, edited]

The deceased patient was infected in Belarus
-----------------------------------------------
Rospotrebnadzor [Federal Service for Consumer Protection and Human Welfare] reported that the 1st death from tick-borne encephalitis has been registered in Moscow. The tick-borne disease was imported.

Rospotrebnadzor reports, "Infections in the capital are not registered this year [2015] and have never been registered previously. The patient was infected in Belarus."

According to Infectious clinical hospital No. 1 of the Department of Health of Moscow, 10 imported cases of viral encephalitis were identified in the 1st half of 2015; 2 cases of infection occurred in the Altai region and in the Republic of Karelia. One [imported] case was brought from the Kostroma region, the Yaroslavl region, the Volgograd region and the Republic of Udmurtia, as well as from Belarus and Mongolia.

Rospotrebnadzor also reports that the rise of the biological activity of _Ixodes_ ticks was noted. These ticks are considered the main vectors of infections such as tick-borne spring-summer encephalitis, tick-borne borreliosis (Lyme disease), granulocytic anaplasmosis, and monocytic ehrlichiosis.
=====================
[Nearly 10,000 people sought medical aid after tick bites in Moscow for the period April-June of this year (2015), among them there are more than 1900 children up to 17 years. Last year (2014) for the same period it was recorded that around 8000 people sought medical aid after tick bites. The ticks attacked people mainly in the territory of the Moscow region.

This is the season of tickborne encephalitis virus (TBEV) transmission in Russia and neighboring countries. Russia, especially western Siberia, has the largest number of reported TBE cases. For additional details on TBE, see Mod.LL's extensive comments drawn from the US CDC (<http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/chapter-3-infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/tickborne-encephalitis>). The CDC information notes that in Russia, 2 inactivated TBE vaccines are available: TBE-Moscow (Chumakov Institute, Russia) and EnceVir (Microgen, Russia). The European and Russian vaccines should provide cross-protection against all 3 TBEV subtypes. Vaccine failures have been reported, particularly in people aged over 50 years.

In the previous post on TBE, ProMED Corr.BA noted, "According to weekly monitoring, from 1 Apr-15 Jul [2015] in Russia, more than 412,000 cases of tick bites were registered, including 94,270 children. Compared with the same period of last year (2014), the number of people affected by the tick bites increased by 19 per cent. In 2015, 947 cases of tick-borne encephalitis have registered in Russia. The largest number of cases was reported in the Krasnoyarsk region, followed by Novosibirsk [Siberia], Irkutsk, Tyumen, Kirov, Sverdlovsk, Vologda, Leningrad, Kemerovo, Pskov, and Kostroma regions, the Republic of Khakassia, the Perm and Primorye regions, St Petersburg [city], Moscow (importations from Yaroslavl, Vologda, Karelia, Altai, and Mongolia, Belarus)." - ProMED Mod.TY]

[The locations mentioned in this posting can be seen on the map at

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: 15 Jul 2015
Source: Evening Brest [machine translation & edited]

Belarus has 1 imported case of measles. The Ministry of Health of Belarus does not rule out the possibility of other imported cases of measles. This is especially true during the summer holidays and vacations.

According to the deputy chief doctor of the "National Center for Hygiene, Epidemiology and Public Health," Lyudmila Naroychik, other European countries often record measles. In 2014 Belarus recorded 5 imported cases of measles. So far in 2015, Belorus has already record 1 imported case. The infections have been from Russia, Israel, Spain, Turkey, according to BelTA  [unclear whether this refers just to 2014, or other years as well].

Measles is included in the national immunization schedule, and if vaccination is carried out, even in adulthood the person retains immunity. In this regard, it is important to get vaccinated before traveling abroad.
==================
[The HealthMap/ProMED map of Belarus can be found at:
More ...

Yemen

Yemen - US Consular Information Sheet
July 21, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Republic of Yemen was established in 1990 following unification of the former Yemen Arab Republic (North) and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South). I
lamic and traditional ideals, beliefs, and practices provide the foundation of the country's customs and laws. Yemen is a developing country and modern tourist facilities are widely available only in major cities. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Yemen for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Passports and visas are required for travel to Yemen. Visas may be obtained at Yemeni Embassies abroad; all travelers to Yemen can also potentially obtain entry visas at ports of entry. Travelers to Yemen are no longer required to have an affiliation with and arrange their travel through a Yemeni-based individual or organization to enter Yemen. However, individuals may be asked for supporting evidence of their character, purpose of visit and length of stay. Upon arrival at ports of entry, travelers may be issued a visa valid for a maximum of three months.
Yemeni law requires that all foreigners traveling in Yemen obtain exit visas before leaving the country. In cases of travelers with valid tourist visas and without any special circumstances (like those listed below), this exit visa is obtained automatically at the port of exit as long as the traveler has not overstayed the terms of the visa.
In certain situations, however, foreigners are required to obtain exit visas from the Immigration and Passport Authority headquarters in Sanaa. These cases may include, but are not limited to, foreigners who have overstayed the validity date of their visa; U.S.-citizen children with Yemeni or Yemeni-American parents who are not exiting Yemen with them; foreigners who have lost the passport containing their entry visa; foreign residents whose residence visas are based on their employment or study in Yemen, marriage to a Yemeni citizen, or relationship to a Yemeni parent; or foreign residents who have pending legal action (including court-based "holds" on family members' travel). The loss of a passport can result in considerable delay to a traveler because Yemeni law requires that the traveler attempt to recover the passport by placing an advertisement in a newspaper and waiting a week for a response. All minor/underage U.S. citizens should be accompanied by their legal guardian(s) and/or provide a notarized letter in Arabic of parental consent when obtaining exit visas to depart Yemen. In all of these more complex cases, obtaining an exit visa requires the permission of the employing company, the sponsoring Yemeni family member, the sponsoring school or the court in which the legal action is pending. Without this permission, foreigners -- including U.S. Citizens -- may not be allowed to leave Yemen.
American women who also hold Yemeni nationality and/or are married to Yemeni or Yemeni-American men often must obtain permission from their husbands for exit visas. They also may not take their children out of Yemen without the permission of the father, regardless of who has custody (see Special Circumstances section below).
For more details, travelers can contact the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen, Suite 705, 2600 Virginia Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037, telephone 202-965-4760; or the Yemeni (Mission to the U.N., 866 United Nations Plaza, Room 435, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 355-1730. Visit the Yemeni Embassy home page for more visa information at http://www.yemenembassy.org/.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The Department of State is concerned that al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates are actively engaged in extremist-related activities in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula. The Department remains concerned about possible attacks by extremist individuals or groups against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses and perceived interests.

On March 18, 2008, three mortar rounds landed in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa. Yemeni students at a nearby school and Yemeni government security personnel posted outside the embassy were injured in the attack. On April 6, 2008, an expatriate residential compound in the Hadda neighborhood of southwestern Sanaa was attacked by mortar fire, and on April 30, 2008, suspected extremists fired two mortar rounds that exploded near the Yemen Customs Authority and the Italian Embassy. No injuries were reported in either incident. A group calling itself al-Qa'ida in Yemen may be responsible for all three attacks. Following the attacks against the Embassy and the residential compound, the Department of State ordered the departure of all American non-emergency embassy staff and family members on April 7, 2008.
On January 18, 2008, suspected al-Qa’ida operatives ambushed a tourist convoy in the eastern Hadramout Governorate, killing two Belgians. On July 2, 2007, suspected al-Qa’ida operatives carried out a vehicle-borne explosive device attack on tourists at the Belquis Temple in Marib, which resulted in the deaths of eight Spanish tourists and two Yemenis. The targeting of tourist sites by al-Qa’ida may represent an escalation in terror tactics in Yemen. On February 3, 2006, 23 convicts, including known affiliates of al-Qa’ida, escaped from a high-security prison in the capital city, Sanaa. Among the al-Qa’ida associates were individuals imprisoned for their roles in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and the 2002 attack on the French oil tanker Limburg. In the weeks following the escape, some prisoners voluntarily turned themselves in to authorities; to date, however, some escapees remain at large. Two of the escapees were killed in vehicle-based suicide attacks on oil facilities near Mukalla and Marib on September 15, 2006. Those attacks were followed by the arrest the next day in Sanaa of four suspected al-Qa’ida operatives, who had stockpiled explosives and weapons. On December 5, 2006, a lone gunman opened small arms fire outside of the Embassy compound during the early morning hours. The assailant, wounded by host-nation security personnel and subsequently arrested, was the sole casualty. It appears that, although the gunman was influenced by extremist ideology, he worked alone in planning and executing the attack.
Americans should avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place. A 2005 demonstration against an increase in the fuel price led to two days of widespread demonstrations and rioting throughout Sanaa and other cities. Those demonstrations resulted in a large amount of property damage, looting, and several roadblocks.
In late 2007 and throughout 2008, there has been an increase in anti-government demonstrations in southern Yemen, including the cities of Aden, Taizz, Ibb, and Mukalla, as well as surrounding regions. Some of these demonstrations have resulted in injuries and deaths. Americans should be aware of the potential for further demonstrations when traveling in these areas.
Throughout the country, U.S. citizens are urged to exercise particular caution at locations where large groups of expatriates have gathered. From time to time, the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa may temporarily close or suspend public services as necessary to review its security posture and ensure its adequacy.
In addition, U.S. citizens are urged to avoid contact with any suspicious, unfamiliar objects, and to report the presence of such objects to local authorities. Vehicles should not be left unattended and should be kept locked at all times. Americans in Yemen are urged to register and remain in contact with the American Embassy in Sanaa for updated security information (see section on Registration/Embassy location below).
Yemeni government security organizations have arrested and expelled foreign Muslims, including Americans, who have associated with local Muslim organizations considered to be extremist by security organs of the Yemeni government. Americans risk arrest if they engage in either political or other activities that violate the terms of their admission to Yemen.
Travel on roads between cities throughout Yemen can be dangerous. Armed carjacking, especially of four-wheel-drive vehicles, occurs in many parts of the country, including the capital. Yemeni security officials advise against casual travel to rural areas. The U.S. Embassy sometimes restricts the travel of its own personnel to rural areas, while the Government of Yemen also sometimes places restrictions on Americans traveling outside Sanaa. Please check with the Embassy for the latest restrictions.
Travel is particularly dangerous in the tribal areas north and east of Sanaa. Armed tribesmen in those areas have kidnapped a number of foreigners in attempts to resolve disputes with the Yemeni government. Hostilities between tribesmen and government security forces in the Sadah governorate north of Sanaa have flared up on several occasions since 2005. Serious fighting occurred in the city of Benni Hashish from late May through early June 2008. Americans are urged to avoid this region during periods of conflict.
Travel by boat through the Red Sea or near the Socotra Islands in the Gulf of Aden presents the risk of pirate attacks. If travel to any of these areas is necessary, travelers may reduce the risk to personal security if such travel is undertaken by air or with an armed escort provided by a local tour company.
Other potential hazards to travelers include land mines and unexploded ordnance from the 1994 civil war. This is of particular concern in areas where fighting took place in the six southern provinces. However, most minefields have been identified and cordoned off.
Americans are most vulnerable to terrorist attacks when they are in transit to and from their residences or workplaces, or visiting locations where large groups of expatriates have gathered. All Americans are reminded to vary their routes and times, remain vigilant, report suspicious incidents to the Embassy, avoid areas where large groups of expatriates have gathered, lock car windows and doors, and carry a cell phone.
Based on previous abductions of foreigners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, the Embassy recommends that Americans with doubts about the identity of security or police personnel on the roads remain in their vehicles, roll up their windows, and contact the Embassy. For additional information on travel by road in Yemen, see the Traffic Safety and Road Conditions section below.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Travel Warning for Yemen, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: The most serious crime problem affecting travelers to Yemen is carjacking. Travelers have rarely been victims of petty street crime.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Yemen is 199, but operators do not speak English.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Lack of modern medical facilities outside of Sanaa and Aden and a shortage of emergency ambulance services throughout the country may cause concern to some visitors. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. An adequate supply of prescription medications for the duration of the trip is important. While many prescription drugs are available in Yemen, a particular drug needed by a visitor may not be available.
The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa strongly advises all American citizens residing in or traveling to Yemen to ensure that they have received all recommended immunizations (see below).
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en/.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Yemen.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Yemen is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Based on previous abductions of foreigners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, the Embassy recommends that Americans with doubts about the identity of security or police personnel on the roads remain in their vehicles, roll up their windows, and contact the Embassy. For additional information addressing security concerns for Americans in Yemen, please see the Safety and Security section above.
Travel by road in Yemen should be considered risky. Within cities, minivans and small buses ply somewhat regular routes, picking up and dropping off passengers with little notice or regard for other vehicles. Taxis and public transportation are widely available but the vehicles may lack safety standards and equipment. Embassy personnel are advised to avoid public buses for safety reasons. Despite the presence of traffic lights and traffic policemen, drivers are urged to exercise extreme caution, especially at intersections. While traffic laws exist, they are often not enforced, and/or not adhered to by motorists. Drivers sometimes drive on the left side of the road, although right-hand driving is specified by Yemeni law. No laws mandate the use of seat belts or car seats for children. The maximum speed for private cars is 100 kilometers per hour (62.5 miles per hour), but speed limits are rarely enforced. A large number of under-age drivers are on the roads. Many vehicles are in poor repair and lack basic parts such as functional turn signals, headlights and taillights. Pedestrians, especially children, and animals on the roads constitute a hazard in both rural and urban areas. Beyond the main inter-city roads, which are usually paved and in fair condition, the rural roads in general require four-wheel-drive vehicles or vehicles with high clearance.
Yemeni security officials advise against casual travel to rural areas. The U.S. Embassy sometimes restricts the travel of its own personnel to rural areas, while the Government of Yemen also sometimes places restrictions on Americans traveling outside Sanaa. Please check with the Embassy for the latest restrictions.
Travelers should take precautions to avoid minefields left over from Yemen's civil wars. Traveling off well-used tracks without an experienced guide could be extremely hazardous, particularly in parts of the south and the central highlands.
Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and reckless driving which causes an accident resulting in injury, are a fine and/or prison sentence. If the accident results in death, the driver is subject to a maximum of three years in prison and/or a fine. Under traditional practice, victims' families negotiate a monetary compensation from the driver proportionate to the extent of the injuries -- higher if it is a fatality.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information and visit the web site of Yemen’s national tourism office at http//yementourism.com.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Yemen, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Yemen’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Photography of military installations, including airports, equipment, or troops is forbidden. In the past, such photography has led to the arrest of U.S. citizens. Military sites are not always obvious. If in doubt, it is wise to ask specific permission from Yemeni authorities.
Travelers should be aware that automated teller machines (ATMs) are being introduced in major cities but are still not widely available in Yemen. Credit cards are not widely accepted. The Government of Yemen may not recognize the U.S. citizenship of persons who are citizens of both Yemen and the United States. This may hinder the ability of U.S. consular officials to assist persons who do not enter Yemen on a U.S. passport. Dual nationals may also be subject to national obligations, such as taxes or military service. For further information, travelers can contact the nearest embassy or consulate of Yemen.
American citizens who travel to Yemen are subject to the jurisdiction of Yemeni courts, as well as to the country's laws, customs, and regulations. This holds true for all legal matters including child custody. Women in custody disputes in Yemen may not enjoy the same rights that they do in the U.S., as Yemeni law often does not work in favor of the mother. Parents planning to travel to Yemen with their children should bear this in mind. Parents should also note that American custody orders might not be enforced in Yemen.
American women who also hold Yemeni nationality, and/or are married to Yemeni or Yemeni-American men, are advised that if they bring their children to Yemen they may not enjoy freedom of travel should they decide they want to leave Yemen. Such women often must obtain permission from their husbands for exit visas. They also may not take their children out of Yemen without the permission of the father, regardless of who has custody (See Entry/Exit Requirements section above).
American students and workers in Yemen sometimes report that the sponsors of their residence permits seize their U.S. passports as a means of controlling their domestic and international travel. While the sponsors say they seize the passports on behalf of local security services, there is no law or instruction from Yemeni passport or security offices requiring that passports be seized.
Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Yemeni laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession or use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Yemen are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. The use of the mild stimulant "qat” or “khat" is legal and common in Yemen, but it is considered an illegal substance in many other countries, including the United States. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Yemen are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Yemen. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Dhahr Himyar Zone, Sheraton Hotel District, PO Box 22347. The telephone number of the Consular Section is (967)(1) 755-2000, extension 2153 or 2266. The fax number is (967) (1) 303-175. The after-hours emergency number is (967) (1) 755-2000 (press 0 for extension) or (967) 733213509. The Embassy is open from Saturday through Wednesday.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Yemen dated December 27, 2007, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Criminal Penalties and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 15 Oct 2019
Source: Yemen Online [edited]

The cumulative number of suspected cholera cases reported in Yemen between October 2016 and August 2019 is 2,036,960, including 3716 related deaths (fatality rate of 0.18%). The 5 governorates with the highest attack rate per 10 000 are: Amran (1602.13), Al Mahwit (1474.79), Sana'a (1295.78), Al Bayda (1027.14) and Dahamar (957.61).

The national average attack rate is 713.99 per 10 000. The highest numbers of deaths are reported in the Hajjah (559), Ibb (486), Al Hudaydah (380) and Taizz (304) governorates. Cholera patients are often unable to afford transportation to supported health facilities, which contributes to the spread of disease and to deaths at community level.

Acute fuel shortages are causing critical disruption of water and sanitation services in Yemen given the reliance on fuel for extracting water. Limited access to water increases the risk of epidemic diseases, acute malnutrition, and triggers additional population displacement. Up to 16 million Yemenis may fall into acute need of humanitarian assistance and WASH services.
========================
[The calculated case fatality rate from this is quite low, strongly suggesting that many of the cases are not cholera. Even with that, the numbers reported in this continuing catastrophe are difficult to wrap one's head around. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Thursday 22nd August 2019
World Health Organisation

Sana’a, 21 August 2019 — A 6-day oral cholera vaccination campaign reached almost 400 000 people, including almost 65 000 children under the age of 5 in Aden, Al Dhale’e and Taiz, where high numbers of suspected cholera and acute watery diarrhoea cases have been recorded.

The first few months of 2019 saw an increase of reported acute watery diarrhoea cases in over 95% of districts across Yemen. Between January and the end of July 2019, there have been nearly 536 000 suspected cases and 773 associated deaths. Children under 5 represent one quarter of all suspected cases.

The vaccination campaign, run by local health authorities, UNICEF and WHO, was made possible thanks to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and to the World Bank’s ‘Emergency Health and Nutrition Project.’

“Amid the fighting in surrounding areas, over 800 health workers, brave men and women, risked their lives to reach communities from cholera — these are the real heroes,” said Altaf Musani, WHO Representative in Yemen.

“Thanks to the extraordinary commitment and dedication of Yemen’s local health workforce, hundreds of thousands of people from these priority districts were reached with vaccination against cholera,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Country Representative in Yemen. 

Since April 2017, the cholera and acute watery diarrhoea epidemic in Yemen has caused an estimated 2 million suspected cases and 3500 associated deaths. Almost one third have been in children under 5, including 711 associated deaths. The outbreak in Yemen remains the largest cholera in the world. 

Health partners throughout Yemen joined forces to control and prevent any future cholera outbreaks. UNICEF and WHO are working closely with the relevant health authorities and other humanitarian partners to respond.

Date: Fri 2 Aug 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GAELF) reported this week that Yemen has eliminated lymphatic filariasis as public health problem, making them the 2nd country in the Eastern Mediterranean Region of the World Health Organization (WHO) to achieve this.

Yemen's success comes after almost 2 decades of tremendous efforts of sustained elimination measures as recommended by WHO of the 2 pillars -- mass drug administration (MDA) and morbidity management and disease prevention (MMDP) of the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GPELF) strategy. After several rounds of MDA implementation, surveys since 2011 have validated that infection has been reduced to below transmission thresholds.

Transmission assessment surveys (TAS) conducted in 2013 and 2016 confirmed that Yemen had met all criteria for achieving elimination as a public health problem while, at the same time, management of morbidity in affected patients continued. Yemen will continue to improve its morbidity management programme treating patients with clinical symptoms as well as [maintaining] the appropriate level of surveillance to ensure continued zero transmission.

Lymphatic filariasis is caused by infection with parasitic worms living in the lymphatic system. The infection impairs the lymphatic system triggering abnormal enlargement of body parts, causing pain, severe disability and social stigma.

The larval stages of the parasite (microfilaria) circulate in the blood and are transmitted from person to person by mosquitoes.

The achievements of the Yemen PELF were made possible through the generous support and funding from the World Health Organization (WHO), the integration with the national leprosy programme (NLEP), the generous drug donations from the Mectizan Donation Program and GSK and the generous technical guidance of GPELF-WHO and GAELF.
=====================
[The problem of lymphatic filariasis in Yemen was realised around 2000, and in 2002 an initial pilot mass drug administration was implemented in Wisab subdistrict, Dhamar governorate (about 12,800 inhabitants) and 2 subdistricts on Socotra island, Hadramout governorate (about 29 000 inhabitants; El Setouhy M, Ramzy RM. Lymphatic filariasis in the Eastern Mediterranean Region: current status and prospects for elimination. East Mediterr Health J 2003;9:534-41.  <http://applications.emro.who.int/emhj/0904/9_4_2003_534_541.pdf>).

The location of Dhamar governorate can be found here:
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhamar_Governorate>.

Thus, filariasis was limited to the Dhamar governorate in central eastern Yemen and the Socotra island. Currently the Dhamar governorate is under control of the Houthi-led government in Sanaa (see <https://www.ecfr.eu/mena/yemen>), and Socotra is controlled by the United Arab Emirates.

Onchocerciasis, which is also considered a variant of filariasis, is still found in Yemen along the coastal areas toward the Red Sea (Al-Kubati A-S, et al. Onchocerciasis in Yemen: moving forward towards an elimination program. Int Health 2018;10 Suppl 1:i89-i96. <https://academic.oup.com/inthealth/article/10/suppl_1/i89/4868662>). - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Tue 25 Jun 2019
Source: Urdu Point News [edited]

A cholera outbreak in Yemen has killed 686 people since the start of 2019, the SABA news agency reported on Monday [24 Jun 2019], citing Houthi health ministry spokesman Youssef Hadri.

Over 418 000 cholera cases have been reported in the country since January 2019, in addition to hundreds of malaria, dengue, diphtheria, meningitis, and chicken pox cases, Hadri said. The WHO said the number of suspected cholera cases between 1 Jan 2018 and 9 Jun 2019 had gone up to 759 464 in Yemen, with 1163 associated deaths.

This year's [2019's] outbreak, the 3rd major flare-up since the war began in Yemen in 2015, has affected 22 of 23 regions. Children under 5 represented a fifth of suspected cholera cases.  [Byline: Mohammad Ali]
======================
[The cumulative reported cholera total in Yemen from 27 Apr 2017 to 7 Jan 2018 was 1,029,717 suspected cholera cases and 2241 associated deaths. Adding in this information, in about 27 months, the total number of reported cholera cases in this war-torn country has reached about 1 790 000 with about 3300 fatalities. The calculated case fatality rate from this is quite low, strongly suggesting that many of the cases are not cholera. Even with that, the numbers reported in this continuing catastrophe are difficult to wrap one's head around. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Wed 29 May 2019
Source: World Health Organization [edited]

Outbreak update - Cholera in Yemen, 27 May 2019
-----------------------------------------------
The Ministry of Public Health and Population of Yemen reported 16,827 suspected cases and 18 associated deaths during epidemiological week 20 (13-19 May 2019). 15 per cent of cases were severe. The cumulative total number of suspected cholera cases from 1 Jan 2018 to 28 Apr 2019 is 704 986, with 1114 associated deaths (case fatality rate [CFR] 0.16%). Children under 5 represent 22.6% of total suspected cases during 2019. The outbreak has affected 22 of 23 governorates and 295 of 333 districts in Yemen.

>From week 8 in 2019, the trend of weekly reported suspected cholera cases started increasing and peaked at more than 29 500 cases in week 14. During weeks 15 to 20, case numbers declined, although it is too early to conclude a downward trend. The decline may be attributed to enhanced outbreak control efforts such as community engagement and WaSH [water, sanitation, and hygiene] activities, and scaling up WHO and partners' response, including establishing additional DTCs [diarrhea treatment centres] and ORCs [oral rehydration corners].

The governorates reporting the highest number of suspected cases of cholera in 2019 are Amanat Al Asimah (55 065), Sana'a (41 094), Al Hudaydah (34 814), Ibb (31 725), Dhamar (29 889) and Amran (27 727).

Of a total 6144 samples tested since January 2019, 3264 were confirmed as cholera-positive by culture at the central public health laboratories. During this reporting period, the governorates reporting the highest number of positive cultures are Amanat Al Asimah (995), Taizz (741) and Sana'a (367).

WHO continues to provide leadership and support for activities with health authorities and partners to respond to this ongoing cholera outbreak, including case management, surveillance and laboratory investigations, hotspot mapping and oral cholera vaccination campaign planning, water sanitation and hygiene (WaSH), and risk communication.
===================
[The numbers reported in this continuing catastrophe are difficult to wrap one's head around. Given the low case fatality rate reported, it is likely that many of the cases of diarrhoea are not cholera. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
More ...

Cayman Islands

CAYMAN ISLANDS US Consular Information Sheet
October 02, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Cayman Islands are a British dependent territory consisting of three main islands with a total area of approximately 100 square miles and located a
out 500 miles west of Jamaica. There is an international airport located in Grand Cayman, and facilities for tourists are widely available. The U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, has consular responsibility for the Cayman Islands. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Cayman Islands for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All Americans traveling by air outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed-loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009. Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S. Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.
Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted and have been in full production since July 2008.The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on passport cards is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html. We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel. American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.
Visas are not required for U.S. citizens traveling to the Cayman Islands for short-term visits. U.S. citizens traveling to the Cayman Islands for work must obtain a temporary work permit from the Department of Immigration of the Cayman Islands, telephone (345) 949-8344. There is a departure tax for travelers age 12 and older, which is regularly included in airfare. For further information travelers may contact Cayman Islands Department of Tourism offices in Miami at (305) 599-9033, New York (212) 889-9009, Houston (713) 461-1317 and Chicago (630) 705-0650; or via the Internet at http://www.caymanislands.ky.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The Cayman Islands are considered politically stable and enjoy a high standard of living. There have been no reported incidences of terrorism or threats made against Americans or American interests in the Cayman Islands.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphletA Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: The crime threat in Cayman Islands is generally considered low, although travelers should always take normal precautions when in unfamiliar surroundings. Petty theft, pick-pocketing and purse snatchings occur. A few cases involving sexual assault have been reported to the Embassy. Police in the Cayman Islands rigorously enforce laws against illegal drugs. The majority of arrests of American citizens in the Cayman Islands over the past two years have been for possession, consumption, or intent to sell marijuana, cocaine or other illicit drugs. American citizens should avoid buying, selling, holding or taking illegal drugs under any circumstances.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in the Cayman Islands is “911.”
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: The quality of medical care in the Cayman Islands is generally comparable to that available in the United States; however, some procedures and cases requiring critical care may require medical evacuation to the United States. Several American citizens each year drown or suffer cardiac arrest while snorkeling or scuba diving in the Cayman Islands. These deaths may be attributed in part to tourists attempting to do more than they are trained to do or to poor physical conditioning or preexisting medical conditions that are exacerbated when snorkeling or diving. A hyperbaric chamber is available for treatment of decompression illness. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate payment for health services.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

Although there are no express HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to the Cayman Islands, persons suffering from HIV/AIDS can be denied permission to land if a Health Officer certifies that their entry to the Islands would be dangerous to the community pursuant to Section 82 (c) of the Cayman Immigration Law (2007 Revision), which states:

“The following persons, not being Caymanian or permanent residents, are prohibited immigrants – a person certified by a Health Officer to be suffering from a communicable disease that makes his entry into the Islands dangerous to the community.”
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the Cayman Islands is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
As in Great Britain and its other colonies, vehicles in the Cayman Islands travel on the left-hand side of the road (the opposite side compared with driving in the United States). Due to their size, the Caymans have little highway infrastructure to maintain. Local driving standards, the risk of accidents, the availability of emergency roadside service, quality and frequency of signage, and enforcement of traffic laws, generally meet the standards of the United States. Visitors must obtain a temporary driver's license, easily granted upon presentation of a valid state driver's license and payment of a small fee, at a car rental agency or a police station. Laws against driving while intoxicated are strictly enforced, with a legal maximum blood alcohol level set at 100 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood. Seatbelt laws are also enforced and require the driver and all passengers to wear seatbelts while in motion. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at www.caymanislands.ky
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the Cayman Islands’ Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of the Cayman Islands’ air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Cayman Islands customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the Cayman Islands of items such as firearms of any kind, spear guns (or pole spears or Hawaiian slings), live plants and plant cuttings. Raw fruits and vegetables are also restricted. Visitors from the United States should be aware that products made from farmed green sea turtles at the Cayman Turtle Farm Ltd. are offered for local consumption; however, the importation of genuine sea turtle products is strictly prohibited by the United States, as well as other countries that have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. In addition, U.S. Customs prohibits the transshipment of turtle products through the United States and any products discovered will be confiscated. It is advisable to contact the Collector of Customs (345) 949-2473 for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our Customs Information.

The Cayman Islands, like all Caribbean countries, can be affected by hurricanes. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 each year. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) has put measures in place in the event of an emergency or disaster. General information is available on the subject via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

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

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in the Cayman Islands are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the Cayman Islands. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Consular Agency in George Town, Grand Cayman or the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consular Agency to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Consular Agency in the Cayman Islands is located at 222 Mirco Center, North Sound Road, Georgetown, Grand Cayman. Its phone number is (345) 945-8173. Office hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 08:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

American citizens requiring assistance in Cayman may also contact the American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica at (876) 702-6000. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located at 142 Old Hope Road,, Kingston 6. Office hours are Monday through Friday (except Jamaican and U.S. holidays), 7:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with window services 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Both the Consular Agency and Embassy may provide updated information on travel and security within the Cayman Islands. The Embassy web site is http://kingston.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for the Cayman Islands dated December 3, 2007, to update sections on entry/exit requirements, crime, and medical facilities.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon 19 Feb 2018
Source: Cayman Compass [edited]

An outbreak of hand-foot-mouth disease that surfaced a few weeks ago is still affecting some schools on Grand Cayman.

The disease is not uncommon on the island and typically affects children under 10 and especially those aged 5 and younger. Children with the virus typically have a fever, sore throat, a red rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, mouth sores, and loss of appetite. There is no specific treatment other than to let the illness run its course. The best prevention is practicing good sanitation and hygiene.

Tim McLaughlin, an epidemiologist with the Public Health department, said the 14 cases reported from 4-10 Feb 2018 were the most he has seen in a single week. Figures for last week [week of 12 Feb 2018] are not yet available, but Mr McLaughlin said it looked as though the spread of the disease had slowed down. Most children were out of school last week and that may be a factor, he said

"14 in a week is a lot," Mr. McLaughlin said. "It also tells me there are more cases out there."

As a consequence, he said, he is more closely monitoring the spread of the disease, which is not uncommon this time of year. If need be, he said, "We'll sound the alarm."

At the Department of Education Services, director Lyneth Monteith said she was unaware of any public schools currently being affected by the disease. But preschools are seeing the problem.

Bri Bergstrom, the owner of the Montessori School of Cayman, said 3 of her students came down with the illness 3.5 weeks ago. It was the 1st such outbreak at the school, she said, adding that no other students have since been affected.

"It seems to be going around," Ms Bergstrom said. "It's almost impossible to avoid sometimes, things coming into the school."

She and others operating schools and preschools said that they have increased their efforts to keep classrooms and play areas sanitary by cleaning more often and doing thorough deep cleaning.

"Even when the flu is going around, we always amp up the sanitation," Ms Bergstrom said.

At the Treasure Garden, a preschool with 35 students, teacher Tonie-Ann Broomfield said 6 pupils have contracted the disease over the past 2-3 weeks. Some of the students, she said, showed no outward symptoms, such as a fever, before breaking out in a rash. She said the staff is being more vigilant.

"As soon as we check their temperature and it's above 100 deg F [37.8 deg F], we call the parents and ask them to take them to the doctor," Ms Broomfield said, adding that the child is kept isolated from other children until they are picked up.  [Byline: Mark Muckenfuss]
========================
[Hand-foot-mouth disease is caused by viruses that belong to the _Enterovirus_ genus (group), which includes polioviruses, coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, and other enteroviruses. - Coxsackievirus A16 is typically the most common cause of hand-foot-mouth disease in the United States, but other coxsackieviruses can also cause the illness. - Enterovirus 71 has also been associated with cases and outbreaks (<https://www.cdc.gov/hand-foot-mouth/outbreaks.html>) of hand-foot-mouth disease, mostly in children in East and Southeast Asia. Less often, enterovirus 71 has been associated with severe disease, such as encephalitis.  - Several types of enteroviruses may be identified in outbreaks of hand-foot-mouth disease, but most of the time, only 1 or 2 enteroviruses are identified.

Generally, a person with hand-foot-mouth disease is most contagious during the 1st week of illness. People can sometimes be contagious for days or weeks after symptoms go away. Some people, especially adults, may become infected and not develop any symptoms, but they can still spread the virus to others. This is why people should always try to maintain good hygiene, such as frequent handwashing, so they can minimize their chance of spreading or getting infections. (Excerpted and edited from <https://www.cdc.gov/hand-foot-mouth/about/transmission.html>). - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/7955>]
Date: Fri 2 Feb 2018
Source: Cayman News Service [edited]

The [Cayman Islands] Public Health Department is issuing an alert for travellers after at least 2 cases of measles were confirmed in the Caribbean and Central America that appear to have been imported from Europe. There have been no cases of measles in the Cayman Islands since 1990. Local immunisation coverage against the disease is around 90% among 15-month-old children and about 97% by the time they reach school age. But officials are urging anyone who becomes unwell after returning from the UK and Europe as well as parts of the US to visit a doctor.

People who are experiencing a sudden high fever accompanied by a rash should seek medical attention immediately and provide their travel history to the doctor for necessary investigation.

"If you are travelling to any of the affected areas where measles has been confirmed, safeguard yourself and your family by ensuring that your and your children's immunisations against measles are up to date," advised Nurse Angela Graham, manager of the Health Services Authority's Expanded Programme on Immunisation. "Unprotected children are at the greatest risk of contracting this virus, should a case be imported to the Cayman Islands. It is the responsibility of parents and guardians, alike, to ensure that their children are protected."

Dr Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, Acting Medical Officer of Health, said that while there has been great progress in the fight against measles regionally, there is a risk of spread and sustained transmission in areas with susceptible populations.

"Vaccination with at least 2 doses remains the most effective measure," he said. "I emphasise that measles can be reintroduced as we have many residents and visitors travelling to and from the Americas and European countries. We should therefore remain vigilant."

He added, "The 1st sign of measles is usually a high fever which begins about 10-12 days after exposure to the virus. A runny nose, cough, along with red and watery eyes and small white spots inside the cheeks, can develop in the initial stage followed by a rash on the face and upper neck, eventually reaching the hands and feet."

Measles is caused by a virus which grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs. It is a human disease and is not known to occur in animals. Close contact with other people following the onset of rash must be avoided 7 for days.

For complete protection, children older than 12 months should have 2 doses of MMR (measles mumps and rubella) vaccine. Children between 6 and 11-months, who are travelling abroad, are recommended to have one dose of MMR vaccine.
====================
[Maps of the Caribbean and Central America can be found at
Date: Thu 17 Apr 2014
Source: cayCompass.com [edited]

More than 400 feral chickens in Bodden Town have died of botulism, according to a post-mortem examination carried out by the Department of Agriculture. The birds began dying more than 2 weeks ago, residents in the area said. Brian Crichlow of the Department of Agriculture said a post-mortem exam on one of the birds revealed botulism. The bird was also tested for avian flu, with negative results. Mr Crichlow said botulism is not spread by direct contact with affected chickens, but there is a "low potential for spreading to humans and other animals through consumption of dead chickens" contaminated with the botulism toxin.

Botulism is a micro-organism that occurs naturally in the soil and in decaying flesh. Since chickens are scavengers, they likely ate a dead animal and got sick, said Mr. Crichlow.

The Department of Environmental Health was expected to begin removing the birds from the site, near the Bodden Town Mission House, on Wednesday afternoon [16 Apr 2014], according to the department's director, Roydell Carter. "We are aware of the situation. We were notified by the Department of Agriculture about it. We went on site today [Wed 16 Apr 2014] and we will be assisting them in getting the birds removed and disinfecting the area," he said. "We're putting together the resources we need -- there are so many [dead chickens] all over the place ... We will go in and help. There could probably be public health implications as well [if the carcasses are not removed]. We don't want all these dead birds lying around ... where other animals might feed on their carcasses," he added.

On Wednesday [16 Apr 2014], many of the dead chickens could be seen around the Mission House and Harry McCoy Park, and under the home of an elderly couple nearby. Mr Crichlow advised that if the dead or dying birds are not removed and disposed of properly, other chickens will feed on the carcasses and the maggots from the dead chickens, leading to more chickens contracting botulism. Botulism is also known as "limberneck," he said, reflecting the neck paralysis typically seen in affected birds. [The son] of the couple under whose home many of the decaying carcasses were seen, said he had picked up as many as he could, but those under the house would have to stay there until he had help removing them.

"The chickens just get crippled, lie down and die," said [the man], who often fed the chickens. For the past 2 weeks, the chickens have been "dropping off like flies," he said.

The feral chickens roam the neighborhood and are considered pests by many in the area. Mr Crichlow said there had been no reports of domestic flocks of chickens owned by local farmers being affected by botulism. However, he said the department had seen similar episodes before of local wild chickens dying, adding that botulism is common in feral chickens in Cayman and elsewhere. Over the past 2 years, his department has responded to deaths of feral chickens in George Town, West Bay and Bodden Town districts, he said.

Karen Rosenthal, a St. Matthews Veterinary School veterinarian who studies birds, said, "It is not so easy for people to get botulism the same way chickens do. But you would never eat the eggs or meat from a chicken with botulism," she said. "What we should worry about is if the people are using the same water source as the dead birds."

Kiran Kumar, medical officer of health at the public health department, said botulism from dead chickens does not spread to human beings through the air, and there is also no evidence of it spreading to humans by consumption of chickens with botulism. However, he advised against eating infected chickens to "prevent any rarest possibility of such occurrence."   [Byline: Jewel Levy]
========================
[Avian botulism is much more often seen in wild ducks and other water birds. But we do have a prior report of an Australian incident which is very similar to this Cayman report. The Australians ascribed it to a buildup of the causative organism, _Clostridium botulinum_, in the soil. - ProMed Mod.MHJ]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/38613>.]
Date: Fri 17 Jan 2014
Source: Businessweek [summ., edited]

The 1st known outbreak of the chikungunya virus in the western hemisphere has Caribbean governments working to prevent the disease from spreading and damaging the region's tourism-dependent economies.

About 280 cases of chikungunya [virus infection; many more cases than this, see other reports - ProMed Mod.TY], which can cause severe joint pain, fever and headaches, have been reported since early December [2013] in Dutch and French Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, the British Virgin Islands, and French Guiana. Officials from Venezuela to the Cayman Islands have warned of the potential for the mosquitoborne virus, 1st identified from a patient in Tanzania in 1953, to spread. There is no treatment, and the illness is rarely fatal.

"The worst case scenario would be that the impact would be significant and slow down the whole economy in the Caribbean," James Hospedales, the executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency, said by telephone. "The Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world, so if it spreads like wildfire you could scare away tourists."   [byline: Isabella Cota and Elizabeth Lopatto]
=====================
[This report is a good illustration of potential adverse economic effects when a new disease appears in a major tourist destination. Although dengue fever poses greater health risks, the addition of a 2nd virus disease to the area increases concern on the part of the traveling public. - ProMed Mod. TY]
Date: Mon 17 Sep 2012.
Source: Cay Compass [edited]

The Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit and Oxitec have cited an 80 per cent reduction in the numbers of _Aedes aegypti_ mosquitoes in Grand Cayman after introducing genetically modified mosquitoes into the environment as a control measure. This finding, which was officially published in a report in Nature Biotechnology, was previously reported in the 17 Jan 2012 edition of the Caymanian Compass.

One of the main reasons the report said led to the Cayman Islands "having a need the need for alternative measures of control" was the high level of resistance to insecticide shown by _Aedes aegypti_ mosquitoes in Grand Cayman. The report references research done by MRCU Entomologist Angela Harris and Hilary Ranson of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who in their findings, "Pyrethroid Resistance in Aedes Aegypti," stated: "The Grand Cayman population of _Aedes aegypti_ is highly resistant to DDT and pyrethroid insecticides."

In an interview with the Caymanian Compass, Dr. Harris said, "For our experiments regarding the issue of resistance to insecticides we used mosquitoes that have been in a secure environment for over 30 years in a colony that was bred repeatedly over time and then compared those with the mosquitoes from the Grand Cayman. The results indicated that those found here are much more resistant and could be exposed to DDT for up to 8 hours."

Ms Harris added that the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito has only been in the Cayman Islands since 2002 and could have likely acquired its resistance from its places of origin, which have not been determined. She also surmised that their resistance level could be as a result of cross-resistance from a pyrethroid resistance. In any event, much of Dr. Harris' research going forward will be to substantiate the theory that the mosquitoes came to the Cayman Islands with the resistance as opposed to developing it here. The Cayman Islands has never used DDT in its mosquito control efforts.

However, the Mosquito Research and Control Unit of the Cayman Islands was scrutinised in the foreign press for using genetically modified _Aedes aegypti_ mosquitoes to combat the spread of dengue fever. It was the 1st time the method was being used in a real world test area.

At the time, Bill Petrie, director of MRCU, said the initiative was essentially a new spin on an old technique in which males that were made sterile were released. He added that the difference here is that the male mosquitoes' genes were altered, as opposed to their sterility being chemically induced by radiation.

"MRCU along with Oxitec of Oxford University ran the trial for 6 months," Mr. Petrie said. "We chose a small isolated area in East End. This was done in 3 blocks; one block was where the method was introduced, while nothing was done in another block and the 3rd block was used to monitor the natural population of the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito.

"Once the team perfected the technique, monitoring was done by traps. The final statistical analysis has shown a significant reduction in the population of this potential dengue carrier," he added.

Mr. Petrie said the male _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito cannot bite and lives a short life-span and since their eggs will not survive using this new method of control, the population of the species has decreased, as did the probability of dengue fever transmission.  Since the Cayman Islands' success using the genetic modification technique, several other jurisdictions are following suit.

"Dengue is a dangerous and debilitating disease, which affects up to 100 million people each year. The incidence of dengue has grown very rapidly in recent years: it is now a serious threat to global health, and the only means of prevention is to target the mosquitoes which carry it. We need new tools in the fight against these dangerous pests, and today's publication shows that Oxitec's approach can provide that," Mr. Petrie said.   [Byline: Stuart Wilson]
======================
Reference:
Harris AF, Nimmo D., McKemey AR, Kelly N, Scaife S, Donnelly CA, Beech C, Petrie WD, Alphey L. Field performance of engineered male mosquitoes. Nat Biotechnol 2011 Oct 30;29(11):1034-7.

[This is an interesting field experiment that produced an 80 per cent reduction in the _Aedes aegypti_ population through release of genetically modified mosquitoes into a population of native mosquitoes resistant to 2 common pesticides. The release of genetically modified mosquitoes will be considered controversial and opposed by some, but alternatives such as increasing use of pesticidal chemicals have been of limited success in medium- to long-term vector population reduction efforts. It will be interesting to see how successful the release of these genetically modified mosquitoes will be in other locations. An effective, commercially available dengue virus vaccine is still several years away. Meanwhile, vector control is the only way to prevent dengue virus transmission. - ProMed Mod.TY]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean can be accessed at: http://healthmap.org/r/1IG3.]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Fri 11/10/2019 14:43
WorldHealthOrganizationNews@who.int

Attributable to the Federal Ministry of Health in Sudan, WHO and UNICEF

KHARTOUM, 11 October 2019 -  "Sudan has launched an oral cholera vaccination campaign in response to the ongoing outbreak of cholera. More than 1.6 million people aged one year and above in the Blue Nile and Sinnar states will be vaccinated over the coming five days.  “The announcement of the Federal Ministry of Health in Sudan on the cholera outbreak last month allowed national and state authorities, and health partners, to act quickly and respond to the outbreak.

“Since the announcement on 8 September, 262 cases of suspected cholera and eight related deaths have been reported as of 9 October in the Blue Nile and Sinnar states. No cholera-related deaths have been reported since mid-September. “The vaccines were procured and successfully shipped using funding from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. In addition, Gavi is providing nearly US$ 2 million to cover operational costs for the campaign.

“We joined efforts to respond as quickly as possible to contain the current outbreak of cholera and prevent it from spreading further in Sudan. The vaccination campaign kicking off today in combination with other measures including scaling up water, sanitation and hygiene activities, enhancing surveillance, prepositioning supplies and case management, will help protect people who are at highest risk.

“The first round of the campaign will conclude on 16 October and will be followed by a second round in four to six weeks to provide an additional dose to ensure people are protected for at least the next three years.  “As part of the campaign, over 3,560 vaccinators, more than 2,240 social mobilizers, and almost 70 independent monitors have been trained and deployed to the two affected states.”
Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2019 21:29:49 +0200 (METDST)

Paris, Oct 20, 2019 (AFP) - French rail services ground to a halt in parts of the country Sunday as workers walked off the job for a third day in a dispute over train staffing levels, stranding holiday travellers.   Services in the Paris suburbs, the northeastern Champagne-Ardenne region and the southern Occitanie region, which includes Toulouse and Montpellier, were particularly affected.   The state railway company SNCF said most services would return to normal on Monday.

The industrial action began on Friday after a train in north-eastern France slammed into a truck at a level crossing, injuring 11 people.  The train driver was himself among those hurt but being the sole employee of state railway company SNCF on board had to help take care of passengers.   Unions said the incident highlighted understaffing on trains, notably the absence of ticket inspectors on some lines.

Since Friday, staff have been exercising their "right to withdraw" their labour -- a clause that allows workers to walk off the job in case of "clear and present danger to their life or health".   SNCF's management has accused the workers of abusing that right on a busy weekend for train travel, at the start of the mid-autumn school holidays.   It argues that some train lines have not had ticket inspectors for decades.
Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2019 17:53:19 +0200 (METDST)

Frankfurt am Main, Oct 20, 2019 (AFP) - Cabin crew at four Lufthansa subsidiary airlines staged a day-long strike Sunday, causing dozens of cancellations at German airports in a battle for better pay and conditions.   The walkout, called by the UFO cabin crew union, was initially set to last from 5:00 am until 11:00 am (0300-0900 GMT) but a worsening spat with Lufthansa bosses prompted the union to extend the strike until midnight.

The industrial action at Eurowings, Germanwings, SunExpress and Lufthansa CityLine led to over 100 flight cancellations, mainly hitting short-haul journeys at Hamburg airport, Munich, Berlin-Tegel, Cologne and Stuttgart, according to DPA news agency.   Frankfurt airport, the country's busiest, reported "only a few" cancellations, affecting CityLine flights.

In a statement, UFO said it had ramped up the strike after the Lufthansa group told employees the walkouts were "illegal" and "endanger your jobs".   "This is not only wrong, it also signals the next level in the threats against cabin crew colleagues," UFO said. "This behaviour must be stopped."   But the Lufthansa group downplayed the impact of the strike, with a spokesman telling DPA that "more than 90 percent of the crew members showed up on time for their shift".

The union had previously called off plans for Lufthansa workers to join Sunday's warning strike after the company offered a surprise two-percent pay hike to flight attendants at the flagship airline.   But other demands for better conditions have yet to be met and UFO has not ruled out further action, with fresh talks at all five airlines scheduled for Monday.   Bosses at the Lufthansa group believe UFO may no longer have the legal right to speak for workers and have challenged its status in court.   Internal disputes at the union have cost it members and support among cabin crew, some of whom have now turned to other representative organisations.
Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2019 06:45:19 +0200 (METDST)

Niamey, Oct 20, 2019 (AFP) - Floods in southeast Niger have forced 23,000 people to flee their homes since early October, officials said Saturday, threatening a new humanitarian crisis in a region already wracked by Boko Haram Islamist violence.   Heavy rains have caused the Komadougou Yobe river that flows through the semi-desert Diffa region into Lake Chad to burst its banks, inundating villages, flooding fields and damaging crops.   Two villages near the city of Diffa were "completely submerged" and 2,500 households have been forced to move, according to national radio the Voice of the Sahel.

Some 400 families were sheltering in a gym in the city, it added.   "We have been fighting for days to stop the water rising, but it's not working," Amadou Issa, a rice farmer, told AFP. "The sandbags we've been using to keep the water out are completely under water."   Extreme weather events are common in Niger, one of the world's poorest countries.   Between June and September 57 people were killed and more than 130,000 affected by flooding according to government figures.

The capital Niamey was hit badly in September, with the waters of the Niger river -- the third biggest in Africa -- rising to a level not seen in more than 50 years and swamping parts of the city.   Last year, drought and flooding led to food shortages in a crisis which, exacerbated by jihadist violence, left more than 10 percent of the population needing humanitarian aid.   Niger, along with neighbouring Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania is also struggling against escalating attacks by armed Islamists.   According to the UN's human rights agency UNHCR, the Diffa region is home to almost 120,000 refugees and 109,000 internally displaced people.
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 22:45:46 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - The US moved to further hurt Cuba's vital tourism industry by tightening the ability of the country's airlines to lease aircraft.   The US Department of Commerce said it was revoking existing licenses for US companies leasing aircraft to Cuban carriers, and will deny future applications for aircraft leases.   The move could make it harder for Cuba to service its rapidly growing tourism sector, a key source of foreign revenue for the poor country.

Washington has stepped up pressure on Havana due to its support for the embattled regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.   "This action by the Commerce Department sends another clear message to the Cuban regime -- that they must immediately cease their destructive behaviour at home and abroad," Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear how many aircraft the move would impact.   Cuba's cash-poor carriers depend on aircraft rented from leasing companies or other airlines, which are often very old.   In May 2018, 112 people died in the crash of a 39-year-old Boeing 737 leased by national carrier Cubana de Aviacion from a small Mexican firm, Global Air.

In June of this year, US President Donald Trump announced a US ban on cruise ship stopovers by Americans on the island, forcing Havana to cut its 2019 tourism target by 15 percent to 4.3 million visitors.   Nearly 900,000 tourists visited the island on cruise ships last year, and almost 40 percent were American, according to official figures.   The announcement Friday also expanded restrictions on imports from Cuba and on products with US content that can be sold to the country.
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 15:43:29 +0200 (METDST)

Accra, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - Floods caused by eight days of torrential downpours in north-eastern Ghana have left 28 people dead and displaced hundreds, officials said Friday.     "At the moment the death toll is 28. About 640 people in some six communities have been displaced and we are providing shelters for them," George Ayisi, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Organisation, told AFP.    "We've counted about 286 collapsed houses during this disaster and that is making life difficult for the people."

Relief items were being transported 800 kilometres (500 miles) by road from the capital Accra to the affected region on the border with Burkina Faso as meteorologists warned the rains could last into November.    "We have to just prepare for anything," Ayisi said.   So far this year 46 people have been killed in floods in the West African nation, the disaster relief agency said.   Flooding in northern and other parts of Ghana happens each year during the rainy season.    Last year, 34 people died in northern Ghana during flooding caused by heavy rains and waters spilling from a dam in Burkina Faso.
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 04:33:10 +0200 (METDST)
By Patrick FORT

Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - "They've placed us in the red zone, which means the tourists aren't coming like before. Even the aid workers don't come," said Antoine Atiou, governor of Burkina Faso's Hauts-Bassins region.   The "red zone" refers to the risk of jihadist attacks -- a top-end warning by Western embassies to travellers wanting to visit southwest Burkina and the economic capital, Bobo-Dioulasso, once a popular tourist destination.   The impact has been brutal for local businesses. The city's hotels have emptied, its heritage sites are quiet and the souvenir shops shuttered.    "It's hard, hard, hard!... We haven't seen a tourist for a fortnight," said Sanou Moumouni, a guide at the city's mosque and in the historic Kibidwe district for 22 years.   In the past he could sometimes earn 100,000 CFA francs ($167, 150 euros) in two days, he said, but he has not made 5,000 francs in the last three months.    "I'm living on loans," he said. "We no longer have work because of the murderers. We're sick of it."    The north and the east of the landlocked country in West Africa endure frequent Islamist attacks, which have claimed some 600 lives in the past four years. There have also been some raids in the west.

In December 2018, an Italian man and his Canadian companion were kidnapped on the road from Bobo to the capital Ouagadougou. Last April, the Burkinabe government said it had information that the couple was still alive, but might have been taken to another country.   Bobo-Dioulassou itself has been relatively spared as the jihadist threat expands across poor nations of Africa's Sahel region.   Ministry of tourism statistics from 2017 show that of about half a million annual visitors to Burkina Faso, fewer than 150,000 came from abroad -- down 5.6 percent from 2015.   The number of nights stayed in the country by Westerners fell from 30,000 in 2012 to fewer than 15,000 in 2017. "This trend has probably sped up in 2018 and 2019," a local tour operator said.

- Crafts and wonders -
Renowned for its traditional masks, its batik print textiles and the balafon -- a West African instrument like a xylophone -- Bobo attracted thousands of Western tourists.   The Lonely Planet guide, which notes the security situation currently prohibits travel, says the city's "tree-lined streets exude a languid, semitropical atmosphere that makes it a favourite rest stop for travellers", adding that highlights include a "thriving live-music scene and excellent restaurants". 

The city itself has an array of charms, with its grand railway station, bustling market and striking Great Mosque -- an undulating white-plastered mud structure studded with wooden poles that dominates the historic centre.   Bobo-Dioulasso is a jumping-off point to visit regional highlights like the ruined fortress of Loropeni, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also a base for exploring the Dogon country in Mali, Ivory Coast and Ghana.   "Everyone came through Bobo. We really were a tourist region. Now it's over," said Benjamin Ouedraogo, owner of the Watinoma hotel and president of the professional association of hotel and restaurant owners in High Basins.   He said hotels in the region only do a third of the business they did before the attacks   To avoid closing his hotel, Ouedraogo took on a second job in the building trade. "We asked for help, but state aid is a disaster," he said, explaining that the authorities rejected applications for tax rebates and preferential tariffs on water and electricity.

- 'We subsist' -
In Kibidwe, an old neighbourhood of the city near the mosque, children play in alleys and women wash clothes in the open air, but most of the shops that catered for tourists are now shut.   Sanon Bissiri, an artist, was quick to bring out his batik prints on spotting Western journalists.    "I don't hang them every day any more, that's pointless. Since July, I haven't even sold two. All this because of those jihadists. Now I have to do masonry whenever I'm wanted."   Bissiri used to sell his textiles to an Italian association that made regular visits.   "That's over. We just get by. It's my wife who meets our needs," he said. "I come in to work each day on foot, six kilometres (nearly four miles). I can't afford medicine for my son with his cough."   Bobo's nightlife is not what it was, though the locally-brewed beer is the same.    "There's still a little activity with Burkinabe visitors," said musician Gaoussou Ben Sanou. But "there's less money, fewer dates, fewer gigs. We can't sell records".   Governor Atiou said people were reluctant to go out.   "All that weighs on economic activity. Unfortunately, this is the aim of the terrorists."
Date: Thu, 17 Oct 2019 12:37:14 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 17, 2019 (AFP) - Five people were killed and dozens were injured after a powerful earthquake hit the southern Philippines, authorities said Thursday.   The 6.4-magnitude quake struck the Mindanao region on Wednesday night, reducing dozens of houses to rubble on the southern third of the Philippines.   On Thursday afternoon, authorities said five people were killed and 53 injured, mainly in a cluster of small farming towns.   Three people were killed in landslides while another was crushed by the collapsed wall of a house. The fifth suffered a fatal heart attack, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.   No fatalities were reported in Mindanao's major cities. Local authorities had earlier told AFP three children were among the dead.   The Philippine seismology office has recorded more than 300 weaker aftershocks in the area since the big quake, but authorities said they do not expect the toll to rise significantly.

The disaster council's spokesman Mark Timbal told local television it had not received any reports of missing people from any of the quake-hit areas.   "People have returned home... They are OK now, unlike last night when they were terrified and slept on roads beside their homes," Zaldy Ortiz, civil defence officer of Magsaysay town, told AFP.   Local school and government holidays were announced in Magsaysay, where the landslides struck, to allow building inspectors to check structures for damage, Ortiz added.   Power was being restored in the bigger cities, but there was substantial damage to some hospitals, government buildings, schools, churches and houses in the small towns, the council said in a report.   In General Santos City, firefighters on Thursday finally put out a blaze that started at a shopping mall shortly after the quake.   The Philippines is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.
Date: Thu, 17 Oct 2019 05:32:08 +0200 (METDST)
By Tom LITTLE

Kulusuk, Denmark, Oct 17, 2019 (AFP) - Kayaking past blue-white icebergs drifting along near a pristine harbour, wandering around colourful houses or trekking in the snow-capped wilderness: July and August are high season for tourists in eastern Greenland.   Many of the 85,000 tourists who visit each year head to the west coast, but eastern Greenland, with its glaciers, wilderness and wildlife starring whales and polar bears, is also drawing visitors.

Sarah Bovet, a 29-year-old Swiss artist, said it's hard to know what to expect.   "Thinking you're going to be surprised, you are even more so in reality," she said standing outside a hostel in the tiny village of Kulusuk.   Bovet was on an artistic residency in Greenland when she visited Kulusuk and its 250 souls.   Although she had imagined a small village before arriving, its stunning views and bright colours still came as a surprise.   With just one supermarket, an airport built in the 1950s by the US military to serve a Cold War radar base, and a harbour surrounded by brightly painted wooden houses, most of the villagers appreciate the extra revenue from tourism.

Justus Atuaq, a young hunter in Kulusuk, takes tourists out on sled tours in March and April -- the spring high season -- earning money that helps him feed and care for the dogs he uses for racing and hunting.   "Now I can take dogsleds for hunting, and sometimes tourists coming from other countries also want to dogsled," he said outside his wooden house.   Tourists also take boat trips during the summer high season from July to August.   Arrivals to the island grew 10 percent year-on-year from 2014 to 2017, and three percent in 2018, according to the tourist board, Visit Greenland.   Many adventure seekers and nature lovers arrive by plane, but cruise ships also bring admirers, hugging the picture perfect coastline.

- Growing strategic importance -
But they are not alone in taking an interest in the world's largest island.   The Danish territory's rich natural resources and growing strategic importance as the Arctic ice sheet melts have attracted the attention of US President Donald Trump.   The Arctic region has untapped reserves of oil, gas and minerals, as well as abundant stocks of fish and shrimp.   In August, Trump offered to buy Greenland, then called off a visit to Copenhagen over its refusal to sell.

Denmark colonised Greenland in the 1700s, granting it autonomy in 1979.    Today, many Greenlandic political parties advocate full independence.   The territory still receives an annual subsidy from Copenhagen, which was 4.3 billion Danish kroner (576 million euros) in 2017, and tourism could help it to become economically self-reliant.   Like many parts of Greenland, Kulusuk has no tarmac roads and visitors must travel by plane or boat.   The growth in tourism could put a strain on the village's infrastructure, and the sector faces unique challenges given Greenland's location, weather and the cost of travelling there.

Day tours of Kulusuk with flights from the Icelandic capital Reykjavik are 97,000 Icelandic kronur ($780, 700 euros).   Jakob Ipsen, a 48-year-old who grew up between Denmark and Greenland's west coast, runs Kulusuk's sole hotel.   The 32-room hotel stands beside a fjord, and from its dining room, guests can watch icebergs drift by during the summer.    But the region's isolation can be problematic, Ipsen admits.    "We have to get all our supplies in with the first ship for the whole summer season, and for the winter season when everything is frozen over, we have to get all our supplies in with the last ship for the whole winter," he said.

- 'They go back as different people' -
Greenland must tackle its infrastructure challenges if it wants to develop tourism, Visit Greenland says.   Government-funded work is under way to extend runways at the capital Nuuk and Ilulissat, both on the west coast, and a new airport is planned in the south.   The tourist body said it would weigh the environmental impact of boosting infrastructure, both on the environment and on local communities.    Ipsen worries about the effects of uncontrolled tourism to the region.   "We want to try to maintain it as it is, so it's not exploding," he said.

Already, said Johanna Bjork Sveinbjornsdottir, who runs tours in Kulusuk for an Iceland-based company, the rise in visitor numbers is making itself felt.   "In the campsites here out in nature where you used to be alone, there's two, three groups at a time," she said.   Like Ipsen, she is also concerned about the effect that rising visitor numbers could have on the wilderness around the village.    "If you want nature to survive that, you have to build up the infrastructure," she said, pointing to the lack of officially designated campsites around Kulusuk, with no rubbish bins or toilets for travellers outdoors and no one supervising the sites.   Despite the concerns, Sveinbjornsdottir hopes visitors will keep coming.   "They go back as different people," she said. "Everything is beyond what you ever imagined."
Date: Tue, 15 Oct 2019 19:33:58 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, Oct 15, 2019 (AFP) - Lebanon has turned to its neighbours for help battling forest fires that have ravaged homes and killed a volunteer firefighter in the Mediterranean country, its premier said on Tuesday.   Heavy rain fell on parts of the country including Beirut in the evening, after Cyprus dispatched help and as Greece and Jordan vowed to follow suit.   "We have contacted the Europeans who will send means of help," Prime Minister Saad Hariri said earlier in comments carried by national news agency NNA.

Dozens of blazes have hit Lebanon in recent days, fire chief Raymond Khattar told NNA, amid unusually high temperatures and strong winds.   Thick smoke had been seen drifting over the outskirts of Beirut, the mountainous Chouf region to its southeast, and the southern city of Saida.   In the Chouf, an area famed for its forests, a volunteer firefighter lost his life trying to put out the flames, his family said.   In an area south of Beirut, firefighters have for two days been unable to stop the blaze, which has burnt four homes to the ground and caused dozens to suffer breathing difficulties, NNA said.

Interior Minister Raya El-Hassan said nearby Cyprus and Greece had responded to Lebanon's call for help.   "Two Cypriot planes have been working to put out the fires since yesterday," she said on Twitter.   "Greece has responded to our request and will send two planes to help us," she added.   Jordan's army said the king had ordered two firefighting planes to be dispatched.   NNA said the army was working together with helicopters and the Cypriot planes to fight the blaze, with access sometimes impeded by thick smoke and high-voltage power lines.   Personnel from UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL, who usually patrol the country's southern border with Israel, have also joined in the efforts, the agency said.   Lebanese on social media criticised the government's apparent inability to respond fast enough on its own.

In neighbouring war-torn Syria, fires also killed two people, Syrian state media said.   Flames have ripped through parts of the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus, as well as the central province of Homs but most have been brought under control, state news agency SANA said.   Two members of the Latakia forestry department were killed while fighting the blaze, it added.   In Tartus, the fires -- mostly stamped out -- coincided with the olive harvest, the governor told SANA.   In Homs, trees were burnt and electricity networks disrupted in mountainous areas, the agency reported.