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Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda - US Consular Information Sheet
April 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Antigua and Barbuda is a dual island nation known for its beaches, and is a favorite destination for yachtsmen.
Tourist facilities are widely avai
able.
English is the primary language.
Banking facilities and ATMs are available throughout the island.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Antigua and Barbuda for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
All Americans traveling by air outside 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 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.
We expect cards will be available and mailed to applicants in spring 2008.
The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the Passport Card 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.

Immigration officials are strict about getting exact information about where visitors are staying, and will often request to see a return ticket or ticket for onward travel, as well as proof of sufficient funds to cover the cost of the visitor’s intended stay.
There is a departure tax payable when departing the country.
For further information on entry requirements, travelers can contact the Embassy of Antigua and Barbuda, 3216 New Mexico Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20016, telephone (202) 362-5122, or consulates in Miami.
Additional information may be found on the home page of the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Tourism at http://www.antigua-barbuda.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:
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found.

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

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

CRIME:
Petty street crime does occur, and valuables left unattended on beaches, in rental cars or in hotel rooms are vulnerable to theft.
There has been an increase in crime in Antigua, including violent crimes, in the last six months.
However, this increase has not, for the most part, affected visitors to the island.
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has taken steps to improve the effectiveness of the police in responding to crimes.
As everywhere, visitors to Antigua and Barbuda are advised to be alert and maintain the same level of personal security used when visiting major U.S. cities.

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
There are many qualified doctors in Antigua and Barbuda, but medical facilities are limited to a public hospital and a private clinic and are not up to U.S. standards.
The principal medical facility on Antigua is Holberton Hospital, on Hospital Road, St. John's (telephone (268) 462-0251).
There is no hyperbaric chamber; divers requiring treatment for decompression illness must be evacuated from the island, to either Saba or Guadeloupe.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States.
U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

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

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Antigua and Barbuda is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic in Antigua and Barbuda moves on the left.
Major roads are generally in good condition, but drivers may encounter wandering animals and slow moving heavy equipment.
There is relatively little police enforcement of traffic regulations.
Buses and vans are frequently crowded and may travel at excessive speeds.
Automobiles may lack working safety and signaling devices, such as brake lights.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Antigua and Barbuda driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, contact the Antigua and Barbuda national tourist organization offices in New York via e-mail at info@antigua-barbuda.org.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Like all Caribbean countries, Antigua can be affected by hurricanes. The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
Please see 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 Antigua and Barbuda laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Antigua and Barbuda 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 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 Antigua and Barbuda are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov/, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Antigua and Barbuda.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown in located in the Wildey Business Park in suburban Wildey, south and east of downtown Bridgetown.
The main number for the Consular Section is (246) 431-0225; after hours, the Embassy duty officer can be reached by calling (246) 436-4950.
The web site for Embassy Bridgetown is http://barbados.usembassy.gov/. Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Monday-Friday, except local and U.S. holidays.

The U.S. Consular Agent, Rebecca Simon, in Antigua provides passport, citizenship and notarial services, and assists Americans in distress.
The Consular Agency is located in Suite #2, Jasmine Court, Friars Hill Rd, St. John’s, Antigua.
Contact information is as follows: telephone 1-268-463-6531, cellular 1-268-726-6531, or e-mail ANUWndrGyal@aol.com. The mailing address is P.O. Box W-1562, St. John’s, Antigua. The Consular Agent is available by appointment only.
The office is closed for local and U.S. Holidays.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Antigua and Barbuda dated April 2, 2007, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Crime.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2018 18:14:27 +0100
By Gemma Handy

St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda, March 21, 2018 (AFP) - Voters in the hurricane-wracked twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda headed to the polls Wednesday to elect a new government after Prime Minister Gaston Browne called snap elections.   Browne's Antigua Barbuda Labour Party, which has led the eastern Caribbean country since 2014, is widely expected to secure a second consecutive term.   The prime minister announced general elections on February 24, 15 months before a constitutionally mandated deadline, giving opposition parties less than four weeks to prepare.

And there will be no polling stations on Barbuda, which was battered by Hurricane Irma in September.    As a result, the estimated 400 Barbudans who have since returned home will have to travel to Antigua to cast their ballot. The government has promised to pay for related transport, accommodation and meal expenses.   Just over 51,000 Antiguans and Barbudans are eligible to vote. Voter turnout was around 90 percent in 2014.

Browne says the government wants to protect half a billion US dollars worth of developments currently under construction in the tourism-dependent country, and provide investors with stability.    One of the most prominent -- and controversial -- projects is a $250 million mega resort being built by Hollywood star Robert De Niro on Barbuda which was devastated by Hurricane Irma in September.   Lowering the cost of living in the country of 100,000 people is high on the
agenda.

- Ruling party dominates -
Browne, a former businessman and banker, has pledged to reduce electricity bills, along with the cost of land, and provide more affordable housing, under the slogan "Rebuilding Together." His wife Maria is also running for a seat on an ABLP ticket.   On Sunday, thousands of Browne's supporters donned the party's red colours and walked alongside a motorcade in an event that culminated in a public rally.   The "Delivering Hope" campaign of the main opposition group, the United Progressive Party (UPP), cites revitalization of the tourism and agricultural sectors as key priorities.

Fifty-three candidates will vie for seats in the 17 single-member constituencies -- of which the ABLP currently holds 14 -- in a first-past-the-post system.    The ruling party is alone in presenting a full slate of 17 candidates. The UPP, led by former finance minister Harold Lovell, has put forward 16.    A new party, the Democratic National Alliance, headed by current lawmaker and former UPP representative Joanne Massiah has registered 13 candidates.    There is a handful of smaller parties, a single independent runner and one representing the Barbuda People's Movement (BPM) contesting the small island's sole seat.

Polling stations opened at 6:00 am (1000 GMT) and are due to close at 6:00 pm. Alcohol sales are restricted during those hours and all public schools are closed, as many are serving as polling stations.   Teams representing the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are observing the elections.   On its path through the Caribbean in September, Irma caused "absolute devastation" on Barbuda where up to 30 percent of properties were demolished, and 95 percent damaged, Browne had said at the time.    After a 10-year hiatus, voters returned Browne's Labour Party to power during the last ballot four years ago, when he pledged to economically transform the country.   The country became fully independent from Britain in 1981.
Date: Sun, 25 Feb 2018 08:04:27 +0100

Georgetown, Guyana, Feb 25, 2018 (AFP) - Antigua and Barbuda, a hurricane-ravaged Caribbean tourist destination, will go to the polls next month more than a year earlier than scheduled, the prime minister said on Saturday.   The two-island nation's parliamentary elections were scheduled for June 2019, but will now be held on March 21, Gaston Browne said.   Voters will select the 17 members of Antigua and Barbuda's House of Representatives, its lower house. Members of the Senate are appointed.   "Our primary focus for calling elections early is not about politics but is about your development. God forbid for there to be change in government," Browne said on radio.

After a 10-year hiatus, voters returned Browne's Labour Party to power during the last ballot in 2014, when he pledged to economically transform the country.   On Saturday, Browne said there had been "significant gains" since and that the government wanted to guard against unpredictability in the investment climate.   He cited cheaper housing for ordinary people, better roads, two Marriott-branded hotels, as well as a new airport on the island of Barbuda, which was battered last year by Hurricane Irma.   On its path through the Caribbean in September, Irma caused "absolute devastation" on Barbuda where up to 30 percent of properties were demolished, and 95 percent damaged, Browne had said at the time.    Labour has ruled Antigua and Barbuda almost continuously since 1949. The country became fully independent from Britain in 1981.
Date: Sat, 9 Sep 2017 18:35:21 +0200
By Gemma Handy

Codrington, Antigua and Barbuda, Sept 9, 2017 (AFP) - Homes, shops and government buildings were destroyed when Hurricane Irma slammed the Caribbean island of Barbuda this week, while a huge stretch of its once glorious 11-mile west coast beach has been wiped out.   Destruction was so widespread that authorities have ordered the entire population of 1,800 to evacuate as Hurricane Jose approached the island over the weekend. 

By mid-day Saturday Jose, a Category Four hurricane, was tracking towards the north-west and no longer expected to hit Barbuda, but it remained under a Tropical Storm warning.   Authorities on Barbuda -- one of the two islands that make up the nation of Antigua and Barbuda -- have only begun to measure the damage caused when Irma struck the island as a powerful Category Five hurricane overnight Tuesday to Wednesday.   "Terrifying," "horrific" and the "worst damage seen in a lifetime" were some of the descriptions from residents as they emerged from their shelters after Irma's passage.    A child died when Irma, the strongest storm ever recorded to form in the Atlantic, struck the island.   Authorities said 30 percent of properties were demolished by the monster storm.

- Surviving in a wardrobe -
Barbudans swapped tales of hiding in wardrobes and showers as 157 mile (252 kilometer) per hour wind from Irma ripped off roofs, uprooted trees and knocked down walls.   Sira Berzas, 40, spent more than an hour huddled in a wardrobe with a friend after Irma tore the roof off the home they were hiding in.   "I have never been so scared in my life. Jackie and I were holding on to each other and basically saying our goodbyes," Berzas told AFP.

When the eye of the hurricane came, she said, "we ran outside in our underwear screaming for help. Luckily there was a police truck which took us to a safer building."   In the rush to safety "we had to leave Jackie's kitten behind," said Berzas, who lost her Pink Sand Beach home, bar and restaurant to the disaster.   Thankfully Houdini lived up to his name. The kitten was later found crouched in a corner of the ruined house, trembling but alive.

- Fleeing Hurricane Jose -
Hundreds of Barbudans were transported on Friday to Antigua via a Venezuelan military plane for safety ahead of Hurricane Jose.   Many have family to visit on the sister island, but others had no idea where they would stay when they arrived.   "I don't know where we are going when we get to Antigua -- or how we will get there," said Beautymey John, who was on a dock waiting to board a boat to safety with her five children.   "I would rather stay here, it doesn't feel right to leave. We have to try and start again," she told AFP.

Other Barbudans also said they were determined to rebuild their homes and livelihoods.   Teacher Maurice George, 30, said the small bag he was taking to Antigua contained the bare essentials, but vowed to return as soon as the secondary school he works in reopens.   "It is heart-breaking to see our island looking like this," he said.   "But where some people see devastation, I see an opportunity to rebuild," he added.
Date: Sat, 19 Mar 2016 13:18:00 +0100

Washington, March 19, 2016 (AFP) - A 6.0-magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda Saturday, US experts said, but caused no tsunami warning or immediate reports of damage or injury.   The strong quake, which hit at 1126 GMT, struck at a depth of 24 kilometres (15 miles) with its epicentre located 153 kilometres northeast of the capital of Saint John's, according to the US Geological Survey.
Date: Mon 14 Dec 2015
Source: Antigua Observer [edited]

Prison sources are still complaining that, despite the alleged outbreak of chicken pox at Her Majesty's Prison (HMP), not much has been done to ensure that the virus does not affect more people who either work there or are in custody. A source said since Observer media reported on the incident, last Thu 10 Dec 2015 that there has been another suspected case, bringing the number of affected persons to 19.

The source explained that this occurred even while the other 18 infected persons were already in isolation in the chapel in the prison yard. That source is suggesting that health authorities should to go into the jail to "clean it and spray out the cells" because the virus, according to research, can be picked up from contaminated surfaces.

An official at HMP, who is not authorized to speak with the media, said although the affected inmates are being housed in the chapel away from the rest of the prison population, they are still able to come and go to other parts of the jail, including the washroom and for breaks. Another source indicated that most of the affected persons are on remand and it is highly likely they will be released at any time, and then the virus would likely spread to communities outside the prison walls.

Observer media was unable to reach the prison boss, Superintendent Albert Wade, for comment.

In the meantime, Attorney General Steadroy "Cutie" Benjamin, who has responsibility for the prison, has given assurance that prison authorities have taken adequate steps to control the spread of chickenpox.
======================
[Outbreaks of chickenpox are not uncommon in closed communities where contagious virus can spread rapidly. Chickenpox is a very contagious disease caused by varicella-zoster virus (VZV), a herpes virus. It causes a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness, and fever. Chickenpox can be serious, especially in babies, adults, and people with weakened immune systems. It spreads easily from infected people to others who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine. Chickenpox spreads in the air through coughing or sneezing. It can also be spread by touching or breathing in the virus particles that come from chickenpox blisters and can be transmitted by touching surfaces that have recently be contaminated by open lesions as well. Chickenpox most commonly causes an illness that lasts about 7-10 days.

The classic symptom of chickenpox is a rash that turns into itchy, fluid-filled blisters that eventually turn into scabs. The rash may 1st show up on the face, chest, and back, then spread to the rest of the body, including inside the mouth, eyelids, or genital area. It usually takes about a week for all the blisters to become scabs. Some people who have been vaccinated against chickenpox can still get the disease. However, the symptoms are usually milder with fewer blisters and mild or no fever. About 25 to 30 percent of vaccinated people who get chickenpox will develop illness as serious as chickenpox in unvaccinated persons.

Chickenpox vaccine is safe and effective at preventing the disease. Most people who get the vaccine will not get chickenpox. If a vaccinated person does get chickenpox, it is usually mild -- with fewer blisters and mild or no fever. The chickenpox vaccine prevents almost all cases of severe disease (for further information, see: <http://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/index.html>). - ProMed Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan Republic - US Consular Information Sheet
August 29, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Kyrgyz Republic, a mountainous country of five million people, is undergoing political and economic change. Tourist facilities are not highly deve
oped, and many of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Kyrgyz Republic for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. American citizens can obtain a one-month single-entry, non-extendable tourist visa upon arrival at the “Manas” International Airport outside Bishkek for a $36 fee without invitation or sponsorship. Newly enacted legislation requires that all foreigners present in the Kyrgyz Republic for more than sixty days register with the Kyrgyz Department of Visa and Passport Control. Failure to do so may cause difficulties when exiting the country. Individuals traveling to Kyrgyzstan to perform religious work or work in affiliation with any religious organization in any capacity are required by Kyrgyz law to declare so on their visa applications. Failure to do so may lead to difficulties with local law enforcement as it is considered a violation of Kyrgyz law to engage in activities not matching the purpose of travel indicated on an individual’s visa. In general, travelers should apply for the correct category of visa for their purpose of travel. Travelers cannot obtain a tourist visa at land borders or other airports. American citizens visiting the Kyrgyz Republic are not required to register with the Office of Visas and Registration. The Embassy recommends that Americans traveling in the Kyrgyz Republic also obtain Kazakh visas, as commercial air travel out of the Kyrgyz Republic is limited and Americans may need to travel through Kazakhstan to return to the United States. For further information regarding entry/exit requirements, contact the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic at 2630 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone: (202) 338-5141, fax: (202) 742 6501. Visit the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic web site at http://www.kgembassy.org/ for the most current visa information.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to rural areas along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek and Kyrgyz-Tajik borders, and all areas to the south and west of the provincial capital of Osh. Security conditions in these parts of the southern Kyrgyz Republic differ from security conditions in the north, and the threat of violence against foreigners in the southern Kyrgyz Republic continues. Hostage-taking incidents involving foreigners occurred during the summers of 1999 and 2000, including one incident in the summer of 2000 involving American citizens. In 2007, there were reports of attempted “bride-kidnappings” in rural areas. While foreigners are not believed to be intentional targets, an American female was held against her will for several days in one reported incident. In 2006, suspected militants attacked a border post on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, and ensuing skirmishes took place between the militants and Kyrgyz military forces throughout the southern Batken region. Land mines in Batken Oblast and near the Kyrgyz-Tajik border continue to be a concern. There are currently restrictions for U.S. Government employees traveling to areas of the Kyrgyz Republic south and west of Osh and in rural areas along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border because of the volatile security situation in these areas.
Supporters of extremist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), al-Qaeda, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement remain active in Central Asia. These groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. Government or private interests in the region, including in the Kyrgyz Republic. Terrorist attacks involving the use of suicide bombers have previously taken place in neighboring Uzbekistan. Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. Because of increased security at official U.S. facilities, terrorists are seeking softer civilian targets such as residential areas, clubs and restaurants, places of worship, hotels, schools, outdoor recreation events, resorts, beaches, maritime facilities, airports and aircraft.
In 2005-2007, there were several large-scale demonstrations and protests. Demonstrations in Bishkek have occurred in front of the Presidential Administration building (White House) and on Alatoo Square in the city center. The Embassy does not always have advance information regarding new demonstrations. Therefore, all Americans are reminded to remain vigilant and are urged to avoid the vicinity of all protests, because even protests that are intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphletA Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens to exercise caution in urban areas of the Kyrgyz Republic due to the high rate of violent crime against foreigners. Travelers arriving at Manas International Airport should arrange their transportation from the airport in advance. Foreign travelers have been the victims of extortion by airport taxi drivers, who appeared in some cases to be colluding with airport personnel to identify their victims. Travelers should not take public transportation or walk after dark, and should be extremely cautious in or near hotels, bars, parks and all places that attract an expatriate clientele. The Kyrgyz Republic has a high rate of violent crime due to unemployment and a large number of organized gangs. Muggings often occur after dark and can be quite violent, leaving the victim severely injured. Other common crimes include auto theft, mugging, and pick pocketing in crowded places such as markets, Internet cafes and on public transportation. U.S. citizens have been the victims of such crimes as rape, assault, kidnapping and robbery while in urban and rural parts of Kyrgyzstan, and there have been reports of U.S. citizens who were robbed by groups of young men who had followed them back to their residences from hotels and bars. Police officers rarely speak English and no victims’ assistance programs are available. Medical and psychiatric care for victims is limited.
Harassment and extortion by people who purport to be Kyrgyz police officers are common. According to Kyrgyz law, any person claiming to be a police officer must show identifying documents on demand. U.S. citizens should not act upon requests by people, whether in civilian dress or in police uniform, if they have no official identification. Also U.S. citizens should not get into cars with someone they do not know, even if the person claims to be a police officer.

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 lines in Kyrgyzstan are: 101 for fire; 102 for police;
103 for first aid ambulance (state-funded); 151 (from landline), 0 312 684466 (from landline or cellphone); and 161 for rescue service (under the Ministry of emergency situations.)

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical services in the Kyrgyz Republic are extremely limited. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that travelers to the Kyrgyz Republic carry medical evacuation insurance in case of emergency. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek maintains a list of foreign-trained and local physicians who have agreed to give medical assistance to Americans. This list is available on the Embassy web site at http://bishkek.usembassy.gov.
Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Kyrgyzstan. There is no legal requirement for HIV/AIDS testing during the visa application or registration process. Kyrgyz law does state that if a foreign citizen refuses to submit to HIV/AIDS testing when requested while in Kyrgyzstan, that person could be deported. Please verify this information with the Embassy of Kyrgyzstan at http://www.kgembassy.org before you travel.

Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Kyrgyzstan. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB available at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

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

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the Kyrgyz Republic is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Most of the Kyrgyz Republic’s road infrastructure consists of two-lane roads, which are all in various states of disrepair, and are poorly marked and lit. Many local drivers tend to disobey fundamental traffic laws – such as stopping at red lights. As a result, driving can be very dangerous. Accidents involving severe injury and/or death are not uncommon.
Drivers must exercise particular caution to avoid uneven pavement, potholes and open drains and manholes. Night driving should be avoided, as roads are inadequately lit. In winter, roads are seldom plowed and ice and snow make the poor driving conditions even more hazardous. Pedestrians routinely walk in the road, often wearing dark clothes at night, necessitating even greater caution for drivers. Mountain roads in the Kyrgyz Republic are often narrow and treacherous, and may close without notice due to snow, ice or rockslides. Guardrails and barriers preventing falling rocks are often missing. The Kyrgyz Republic does not have a roadside assistance infrastructure. Towing companies do not exist. Although mechanics are available in cities there is little organized oversight or certification of their practices or abilities. Rest areas are infrequent and very primitive. Service stations are generally available in and near cities, but the fuel they provide may be adulterated or of poor quality.
The road between Almaty, Kazakhstan and Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, is especially treacherous at night or during poor weather. Americans and other travelers have been killed in traffic accidents on that road, and travel at night is not recommended.
Generally, speed limits are 60 km per hour in the cities and 90 km per hour in rural areas. Kyrgyz law mandates that all automobile passengers wear seat belts and that motorcycle riders wear helmets. International driving permits are recognized in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Drivers may face harassment by traffic police, who have been known to demand payment for arbitrary "fines" for purported infractions.

The Kyrgyz Republic has a "zero tolerance" policy for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Public transportation in the Kyrgyz Republic is limited to buses, taxis, and very few intercity trains. Travelers should be particularly careful when using public transportation. Buses tend to be very crowded and can be unsafe and unreliable. Taxis too can be dangerous. Due to the danger of theft or assault, travelers should avoid entering a cab that already contains passengers. Taxis are seldom metered, and travelers should negotiate a fare prior to entering a cab and be aware that cab drivers often try to charge foreigners a high fare. Drivers of vehicles that are not taxis are often willing to drive people for fares. However, U.S. citizens should avoid using any of these "private taxis" and unmarked taxis.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at insert site here.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in the Kyrgyz Republic, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Kyrgyz Republic’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:
Kyrgyz customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the Kyrgyz Republic of items such as antiquities or hunting trophies. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in Washington at 2630 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone: (202) 338-5141, fax: (202) 742 6501 or at http://www.kgembassy.org/ for specific information regarding customs requirements.
The Kyrgyz Republic is a cash-only economy. The banking system is not well developed. ATMs are available, but the security of these machines remains untested. A hotel or bank may, on occasion, accept traveler’s checks or credit cards, but the fees can be as high as 20 percent for traveler’s checks.
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 citizenship are readily available.

In accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and certain bilateral treaties, a consular officer from the U.S. Embassy must be given access to any U.S. citizen arrested in the Kyrgyz Republic. U.S. citizens who are arrested or detained should ask that the U.S. Embassy be contacted immediately. This is generally recognized, though there can be a sizeable delay in notification times depending on the local authorities’ interpretation of the case’s legal status.
The Kyrgyz Republic is an earthquake-prone country. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.
Hunting and trekking are popular sports for locals and tourists in the Kyrgyz Republic; however, American citizens traveling to the Kyrgyz Republic should know that hunting in the Kyrgyz Republic without proper licenses is illegal. It is illegal to import or own firearms in the Kyrgyz Republic without a permit issued by the Kyrgyz government. Foreign hunters who do not have official permission to hunt or take trophies out of the country may face criminal and civil charges. Both hunting and trekking infrastructures are underdeveloped with limited services, especially in the high mountainous regions popular with trekkers and hunters. Avalanches and landslides are common in these mountainous regions, often cutting off villages for weeks at a time. These villages and hunting areas are in isolated, rugged, mountainous areas inaccessible by the limited rescue services available in the Kyrgyz Republic. Americans traveling to the Kyrgyz Republic to hunt or trek need to be aware of the risks involved. The Embassy recommends that all Americans register with the Embassy in Bishkek for the duration of their stay in the country.
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 the Kyrgyz Republic’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in The Kyrgyz Republic 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 Kyrgyz Republic 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 the Kyrgyz Republic. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek is located at 171 Prospect Mira, 720016 Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic. The phone number is 996-312-551-241, fax: 996-517-777-202, and web site: http://bishkek.usembassy.gov
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for the Kyrgyz Republic Dated January 8, 2008, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 9 Jan 2019
Source: AKIpress [abridged, edited]

A total of 722 cases of measles have been registered since the beginning of 2018 in Kyrgyzstan compared with one case in January through November 2017, the National Statistics Committee reports.

[Full story is available only by subscription.]
=====================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Wed 21 Nov 2018 14:26 KGT
Source: Kazakh Telegraph Agency (KazTAG] [edited]

KyrTAG [Kyrgyzstan Telegraph Agency] reports 2 people have been hospitalized in the Jalal-Abad region with anthrax assumption. "2 inhabitants of Suzak district have been hospitalized with anthrax assumption. The lab tests made in Jalal-Abad have shown a negative result, we sent the analysis to Osh for a repeated research," said Usen Zhorobayev, head of center of state sanitary-epidemiological surveillance of the Suzak district. In his words, the hospitalized men had been butchering a cow. The patients are in satisfactory condition
=============================
[To find Suzak in western Kyrgyzstan, go to:
<http://www.fallingrain.com/world/KG/03/Suzak.html>.

For a description of Jalal-Abad region, go to

Outbreaks in Jalal-Abad are an overflow of infection from the enzootic state of this disease in the adjoining Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan. Jalal-Abad is in western Kyrgyzstan at the head of the Fergana Valley. The Fergana Valley is rife with livestock anthrax. Without a coordinated vaccination-control program between the 2 countries in this region, we will continue to see outbreaks there. In spite of an initial negative test result, not uncommon with human cases, the authorities are assuming a greater probability of cutaneous anthrax based on the exposure history of these 2 farm workers. A pity they did not get their veterinary colleagues to test what was still available from this dead cow. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Kyrgyzstan:
Date: 27 Jun 2018
Source: Interax Kazakhstan [edited]

Nine people have been hospitalized with suspected anthrax infection in the Jalal-Abad region of southern Kyrgyzstan, Mamatzhan Miyanov, the coordinator of the healthcare ministry for the Jalal-Abad region, told Interfax on Wednesday [27 Jun 2018].
Date: Tue 13 Mar 2018
Source: XinHuaNet [edited]

A total of 14 people, including 4 children, were hospitalized after a mass botulism food poisoning outbreak in southern Kyrgyzstan, the Health Ministry said [Tue 13 Mar 2018]. It said 3 of them are in a serious condition. An epidemiological investigation has been conducted and all patients have received the botulinum antitoxin.

The first case of food poisoning in the city of Uzgen in the Osh region was reported on [Sun 11 Mar 2018]. According to preliminary data, the poisoning occurred due to eating homemade canned vegetable salad. A month earlier [February 2018], 17 people in southern Kyrgyzstan were hospitalized for the same reason; 2 of the 7 children affected died in that outbreak.
======================
[It is unclear if these clusters are related. Most clusters of botulism are associated with home prepared food. - ProMed Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Tue 5 Sep 2017 16:10
Source: Evening Bishjkek [in Russian, trans. ProMED Mod.NR, edited]

Currently in the at-Bashy district of Naryn region 3 recorded cases of anthrax infection are in the hospital, and 15 under the supervision of experts. Doctors say that the locals butchered the carcass of an animal, and 10 days later the 1st symptoms of this dangerous infection appeared on the skin of the wrist areas and forearms.

People have turned to professionals with complaints of ulcers. Then on [Wed 30 Aug 2017] 3 people were hospitalized in the Infectious Diseases Department. Tests confirmed the preliminary diagnosis. Doctors have checked all sick family members and friends, and currently they are under surveillance.

The incubation period of the infection is 10-14 days.[Actually it can be as short as 3 days and up to 60 days. - ProMED Mod.MHJ] At the end of this period, if there is no suspicion, patients are discharged from the hospital. "This disease is curable, it is treatable by conventional antibiotics. It's just included in the list of especially dangerous infections classifications of the World Health Organization. The main sources of infection are animals", - said the Director of the Republican center of Quarantine and Especially Dangerous Infections the Sabyrzhan of Abdykaimov.

It is likely that the meat of an infected animal got into the markets. According to some reports, some infectious contaminated products were located in the market town of Tokmak. Now multiple site checks are in hand by the Investigative Department. In addition, the market site and the territory around the cattle slaughter site have been quarantined, say doctors. And veterinary control has been initiated, along with the population being educated.

However, the situation is aggravated by the confused information from the sick individuals. They can't exactly tell where the infected meat was sent, said Abdykaimov. "One says that the meat is buried. Another says sold. Now this is in the hands of the investigating authorities and veterinary services. They don't say what happened: just stopped someone in a car; it was loaded, and they left. And where, on what car - they don't specify. The investigating authorities are handling this, but we in Public Health are doing our best to explain what should happen," - said Abdykaimov.  [Byline: Rodion Reshetov]
====================
[Comment by ProMED Mod.NP. In the territory of the Republic there are 1219 natural foci of anthrax. Concreted and enclosed only 1000 of them. Vaccination of cattle is held only periodically, delayed due to problems with funding and vaccine supplies, increasing the risk disease anthrax in both animals and humans. Annually in the territory of the Republic there are nearly 20 cases of anthrax in people. In this case, the situation is compounded by the fact that there is no accurate information on location of infected meat, which can lead to new cases of the disease. - ProMED Mod.NP]

[Public Health as it really is and not as shown on television. People get confused and, fearing legal action, may make up stories. My thanks to my colleague Natalia. It seems that circulation of the news in English is limited and widely available in Kyrgyz. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
More ...

Montenegro

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 14 Aug 2019 14:19:50 +0200 (METDST)

Podgorica, Montenegro, Aug 14, 2019 (AFP) - Smoking indoors in public places was banned from Wednesday in Montenegro, a major challenge in the tobacco-mad Balkan country with some of the highest smoking rates in Europe.    More than one third of adults among the population of just  650,000 are regular smokers, according to the public health institute.    Under the new law, lighting up is  prohibited in all closed public places, including restaurants and cafes where smoking was previously common as elsewhere across the region.   The exception is casinos, where smoking will still be allowed. Businesses can also set up separate rooms solely for smoking.

Fines for violating the law range from 500 euros ($560) to 20,000 euros ($22,370) under legislation that also regulates cigarette sales and warnings on the  packaging.    On Wednesday, cafes in the capital Podgorica had put up notices about the ban in their windows and removed ashtrays from indoor tables.    "Fines are high and we have to comply with the ban," said barista Milan.   But the ban is not without its critics.   "This law is hypocritical. If its adoption was motivated by health concerns, casinos should not have been exempted," says Dusan, a customer.

Montenegro, which is hoping to join the European Union, had already adopted an anti-tobacco law in 2004, but it was not respected.    Regulations passed in 2012  requiring restaurants to pay additional taxes for allowing smoking inside were similarly ineffective.   "The Ministry will persevere in its efforts to enforce every section of the law to the letter," assured Health Minister Kenan Hrapovic.    According to the health ministry, some 400 Montenegrins are diagnosed with lung cancer every year.   The medical treatment is costly -- amounting to some 70,000 euros per patient.    Smoking indoors is widespread in the Balkans, though Croatia and North Macedonia have similar bans on closed public places.
Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2018 05:37:28 +0200
By Sally MAIRS and Olivera NIKOLIC

Kotor, Montenegro, Aug 22, 2018 (AFP) - Montenegro's medieval walled city of Kotor, an Adriatic seaport cradled in a spectacular fjord-like bay, has survived centuries of weather and warfare.    Now it is facing a different kind of assault, that of gargantuan cruise ships disgorging throngs of tourists threatening a place that was only a few years ago commonly described as a "hidden gem".    The coastline the poet Lord Byron called the "most beautiful merging of land and sea" is now one of unbridled real estate development.

With rocky slopes jutting into azure waters, Kotor's bay and its white-stone old town have been hailed as an alternative for travellers looking to avoid the mass tourism choking Dubrovnik some 70 kilometres (45 miles) up the coast in Croatia.   Last year the hugely popular Dubrovnik -- like Kotor, a medieval walled city and a UNESCO World Heritage site -- became synonymous with the global "overtourism" scourge, showing up on lists of destinations to avoid.

Dubrovnik has seen a marked surge of visitors since scenes of the HBO series "Game of Thrones" were set there.   Now there are fears Kotor could meet a similar fate.   "Kotor was once known for being more authentic (than Dubrovnik), but now we're in the same place," said Sandra Kapetanovic from Expedito, a local architecture group that advocates sustainable development.    "We are being transformed into a city of souvenir shops," she said, noting that rising prices have forced out a library, hair salon, market and shoemaker in the past year.   Last week a Lonely Planet travel writer tweeted a photo of a massive cruise ship moored in Kotor, which welcomes up to four of them at once, contributing to some 10,000 daily visitors at the height of the season.

- Tipping point? -
"There were 3 of these obnoxious giants clogging up the bay yesterday," wrote Peter Dragicevich. "They've killed #Venice and #Dubrovnik. Here's hoping they don't kill #Kotor as well."   UNESCO, which named Kotor a World Heritage site in 1979, has been warning for years that rampant construction in the bay is threatening its main appeal -- the city's "harmony" with the natural landscape.   In 2016 the UN cultural body threatened to revoke Kotor's heritage status -- a wakeup call for the Montenegro authorities, who imposed a temporary moratorium on construction last year.   "The question is what happens next?" asked Ana Nives Radovic, head of Kotor's local tourism body.   "We are witnessing an era where we either make big changes, or we will be completely devastated if we just choose some profit from investments," she warned.

Montenegro was once a magnet for the glitterati, drawing American movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor and British royalty like Princess Margaret in the 1960s.   But the tourism industry collapsed with the wars leading to the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.    After the tiny country of just 600,000 people declared independence 2006, it went on a construction spree.    Foreign investors -- mostly Russians -- drove a property boom that saw apartment complexes blight the coast.    Tourism was largely spared the ravages of the 2008 global financial crisis, and today accounts for nearly a quarter of Montenegro's gross domestic product.

The annual influx totals around two million visitors -- mostly in summer, and mostly on the coast.   During that time, tourism puts "great pressure on cities, on the area, on communal infrastructure," said Damir Davidovic, a senior tourism ministry official.    Authorities are "analysing" the situation to find the right balance, he told AFP.   One key concern is the rise of private accommodation -- a model that hurts hotel operators and is changing the character of communities, as many locals evacuate for the summer to rent their homes.    The explosion of online rental platforms like Airbnb has only amplified the problem.   "It is really a serious issue," said Davidovic, estimating that more than half the private accommodation for tourists operate in a "grey zone", with owners evading taxes by not registering their properties.   Rade Ratkovic, a professor of tourism in nearby Budva, another hotspot marred by over-construction, said the town was being "attacked by huge buildings".

- Love-hate -
For now, many locals are trapped in a love-hate relationship with the visitors.    Gazing at a jam-packed beach in Ulcinj farther south, local journalist and tourism expert Mustafa Canka shook his head.   "Traffic, parking, electricity... with such huge numbers of tourists it is an attack on the infrastructure -- and on the nerves of the local people," he said.   "But," he added, "all of us who work in tourism live for these 45 days."   Without other industries in Montenegro's coastal towns, the crucial income from travellers has so far staved off "overtourism" protests like those seen in Barcelona and Venice.    Yet Canka is worried about the future.    "We are not worthy of this city and its history," he said, gesturing towards Ulcinj's ancient castle, perched on a rocky peninsula.   "Greed is what is happening, and this consumerism is eating up our space and our people -- and now our future."
Date: Mon, 17 Jul 2017 23:08:04 +0200

Podgorica, Montenegro, July 17, 2017 (AFP) - Montenegro asked Monday for international help to fight wildfires in the Lustica peninsula on the country's Adriatic coast, while forest fires in neighbouring Croatia spread to suburbs of the coastal city of Split.   "The situation at Lustica is critical. The interior ministry of Montenegro asked for the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism" to be activated to help extinguish the fire, the government said in a statement.   Mayors of the threatened coastal towns of Kotor, Tivat and Herceg Novi urged the government to ask neighbouring nations -- Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia--  to send fire-extinguishing aircraft.   Fanned by strong winds, the forest fires forced the evacuation of more than a hundred campers. 

Firefighters aided by the armed forces and volunteers have been battling the blazes since Sunday, boosted by police aircraft on Monday, the interior ministry said.   Further north, wildfires on Monday evening spread to the suburbs of Split, Croatia's  second largest city on the central Adriatic coast, where a shopping centre had to be evacuated and several cars were burned, local media reported.   The city waste dump was set on fire, HRT state-run television reported, while the town was covered with thick black smoke.

Some dozen wildfires were raging for the second consecutive day in the Split area villages, burning several houses, local media reported.   Some 400 firefighters were trying to fight the blaze, helped by more than 100 soldiers and firefighting planes.   "Current situation is apocalyptical, the blaze engulfed a large area, all is in smoke and fire," head of the Split county, Blazenko Boban, told reporters.   The cause of the fires is not known.
Date: Sat, 11 Jun 2016 05:02:47 +0200
By Olivera Nikolic

Kotor, Montenegro, June 11, 2016 (AFP) - With its winding cobbled streets and stunning Adriatic bay, the Montenegrin town of Kotor draws crowds of visitors each summer.   But deadly gang violence threatens to cloud the tourist boom.

Dozens of anti-terrorist police officers have descended on the medieval fortress town in the past week after a string of public shootouts between rival drug-trafficking clans.   "Kotor is a hostage town," Montenegro's Interior Minister Goran Danilovic told reporters after the special forces were sent into the Balkan resort last weekend.   "Kotor has to stop being centre of clashes between criminal gangs."

According to police sources, Kotor's main drugs cartel split into three feuding gangs in 2014 over the disappearance of 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of South American cocaine in the Spanish town of Valencia.   Their quarrels have led to at least five murders in the past year across the region -- and at least four murder attempts in the past two months in Kotor, all of them in public places.

The latest on June 3 -- although there were no casualties -- pushed the authorities to deploy an anti-terrorist unit that has nearly 70 members, the police sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.   "The town is in a drugs hell, left to criminals," said 52-year-old Mladen, working in an art gallery in the town centre.   Like most local residents who spoke to AFP, he was afraid to give his full name because of the tensions in the small community.   "I fear for the future of my two sons," he said, complaining that authorities "do nothing" to stop rampant crime.

- Lonely Planet's top city -
The heightened security comes as Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, gears up for a bumper tourist season.   Kotor was named the top city in the world to visit in 2016 by travel guide Lonely Planet, and tourism officials expect up to a million visitors this year.   Many of them arrive on cruise ships carrying up to 3,000 people, and the restaurants, churches and museums behind the 12th-century walls are already filling up.   For now, the police presence is subtle: an AFP reporter saw one black armoured vehicle parked at the entrance to the old town, about 20 metres from anchored cruise liners.

But some locals are worried the security forces could turn off holiday-makers.   "I'm afraid that sending them only few weeks before the start of the tourist season will damage it," said Branko, a 55-year-old former sailor, sitting in a cafe in the old town.   With nearly 850,000 visitors last year, making it the country's top tourist destination, Kotor sums up the Montenegrin dilemma: a growing tourism sector under the threat of powerful organised crime.   The nation of fewer than 650,000 people is a candidate for European Union membership, but the EU's progress report on Montenegro last year said "further efforts are needed, in particular to investigate wider criminal networks and to counter money laundering".

- From sailing to trafficking -
Kotor has a rich seafaring history and was once home to successful shipping company Jugooceanija, which fell apart with the break up of Yugoslavia.    Some out-of-work sailors are thought to have subsequently got involved in lucrative cocaine trafficking.   The sense of impunity among Kotor's criminal gangs today is such that they installed surveillance cameras around town to control each other's movements -- something a prosecutor is now investigating.   Balkans "cocaine king" Darko Saric, who was jailed for 20 years by a Serbian court last year, had several companies in Kotor including a nightclub popular with tourists, according to local media.

Foreign visitors who spoke to AFP expressed little awareness of Kotor's darker side.    Canadian cruise-goer Claire Tremblay, 58, said she had chosen Montenegro over Istanbul owing to recent terrorist attacks in Turkey.   "Now we see that we got a bonus. Kotor and the Adriatic Sea are beautiful," she said.   Kotor's Mayor Aleksandar Stjepcevic said the situation had improved since the special police arrived, but he regretted that his town had become "the scene of clashes" between gangs.   "I am disappointed that such scenes became part of everyday life. They should not be a characteristic of this ancient town," he said.
Date: Tue, 29 Mar 2016 14:35:21 +0200

Podgorica, Montenegro, March 29, 2016 (AFP) - Montenegro has deported 58 foreign members of a Japanese doomsday cult, most of them Russians, for lacking the right permits to visit the Balkan country, police said on Tuesday.   "Police received information from partner security services showing that a group of foreign nationals, who were members of a closed religious group, were staying in Montenegro," a police statement said.    The statement did not specify the religious group, but a police source told AFP anonymously that they belonged to Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese doomsday cult that carried out a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.   Local media also reported that the expelled group belonged to the cult.

Police briefly detained the group at a hotel in the central town of Danilovgrad on Friday and found they were not in possession of valid visitor permits, so they were asked to leave the country, the statement said.   The group was made up of 43 Russian nationals, seven from Belarus, four from Japan, three from Ukraine and one from Uzbekistan. Police did not elaborate on their reasons for being in Montenegro.    An earlier Russian foreign ministry statement said 60 foreign nationals, including Russians, had been detained by Montenegro police on suspicion of involvement in "international organised crime" but were released without charge after questioning.   It said however they were to be deported for failing to register their stay.
More ...

Saudi Arabia

Travelling to the Hajj
============================
Background
Every devout Muslim seeks to perform the Hajj on at least one occasion during their life. This pilgrimage, which is a central duty of Islam, brings Muslims from all over the wor
d together as they visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Each year over two million gather to celebrate the five 'pillars' of Islam.
Coping with the Climate
The dates for this festival vary from year to year but this year it is in December. In the evenings it can be significantly cold in 'tent city' and so travellers should bear this in mind when packing.
Travel Restrictions
With this massive influx of people travel in and out of Saudi can be difficult and, where possible, plans should be made well in advance.
Care for the pilgrims
The Saudi government seek to provide the highest level of health care possible for those visiting their Kingdom. This has involved the setting up of a series of rules and regulations which need to be observed. Nevertheless every pilgrim should ensure that their own personal health is sufficient before agreeing to travel. This may involve a consultation with their GP - especially if they have any underlying medical conditions.
Food Restrictions
No food is allowed into Saudi during this time and will be confiscated on arrival.
Vaccine Requirements
In order to reduce the risk of certain diseases the Saudi authorities insist on all travellers providing correctly certified evidence of vaccination against some diseases.
Meningitis
All travellers are required to provide evidence of vaccination against Meningococcal Meningitis (ACYW-135). This vaccine has to have been given to every traveller within the previous three years and at least 10 days before arrival into Saudi Arabia. (Other vaccinations against Meningitis C or Meningococcal A&C are not acceptable.)
Compulsory Medications
Some travellers arriving from what are regarded as 'higher risk' countries will also be given prophylactic antibiotics to lessen the possibility of their carrying Meningococcal Meningitis into the country. This is a compulsory requirement - though the medication given varies depending on the age of the individual and whether or not the female traveller is pregnant.
Yellow Fever
It is also essential for some travellers to have evidence of Yellow Fever vaccination certification. Generally this is only required for those arriving from the countries of Africa and South America. This vaccine needs to have been given within the previous 10 years and at least 10 days before arrival.
Other Recommended Vaccines
Even though it is not a requirement of entry to perform the Hajj or visit Saudi Arabia, travellers are strongly advised to consider the following vaccinations;
Influenza / Pneumococci
These are air-borne diseases and the close proximity of so many pilgrims will make the risk of contracting either or both of these highly infectious diseases much higher. Influenza vaccine needs to be given each year where as Pneumococcal vaccine is often only given on one occasion in a lifetime.
Poliomyelitis
This viral disease is disappearing from much of the world and may be eradicated within a few years. However during 2005 a significant number of outbreaks occurred in various African countries and India. The Hajj was linked to outbreaks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia itself. Vaccination is recommended for all unprotected travellers.
Hepatitis A / Typhoid
With such a massive number of people to be catered for it is hardly surprising that the level of food and water borne disease is high. These vaccines are strongly recommended for all travellers. They provide excellent protection but all travellers will still need to exercise extra care to lessen their personal exposure.
Hepatitis B
The main specific risk of contracting Hepatitis B probably relates to the ritual head shaving which is performed as part of the celebrations. Professional barbers are used and long lines of men wait for their turn. In some cases the blade is not changed between shaves and this potentially presents a serious risk of contamination with Hepatitis B infection.
Ritual sacrifice
It should also be noted that during the celebrations a ritual sacrifice of a small animal is performed. Pilgrims are strongly advised not to undertake the actual act of sacrifice themselves - unless they are very experienced - as otherwise they could seriously injury themselves.
Avoiding Accidents and Dehydration
The desire to perform the Hajj is strong and it is an emotional time for any Muslim. Unfortunately the presence of so many other pilgrims in a very confined space at the same time does increase the risk of various diseases and accidents. This includes the risk of being crushed, as has occurred with disastrous consequences in the past. The degree of dehydration can also be high as there is a significant amount of exercise and walking involved. A good pair of comfortable walking shoes is certainly worth the investment. It will also be important to bring some plasters to treat minor injuries and blisters.
Being Separated from Companions
Due to the numbers involved it is very easy to become separated from travelling companions. It is wise to have a plan in place before arriving so that each member of the party knows where to meet.
Overview
It is extremely important that all those undertaking this pilgrimage recognise the necessity to stay constantly alert to the personal health and accident risks which are present and do everything within their power to avoid them. The Tropical Medical Bureau centres throughout Ireland usually carry both the required and the recommended vaccines for travellers to the Hajj. Appointments should be made well in advance of visa application to ensure that these are given in sufficient time.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 13 May 2020 04:48:26 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, May 13, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will enforce a round-the-clock nationwide curfew during the five-day Eid al-Fitr holiday later this month to fight the coronavirus, the interior ministry said Tuesday, as infections spike.   The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf region, is scrambling to limit the spread of the deadly disease.   A full lockdown will be reimposed around the country from May 23-27, the ministry said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency. The period coincides with the Muslim festival that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Most parts of the kingdom were put under full lockdown following the outbreak, but last month the government relaxed the curfew between the hours of 9am and 5pm.   Malls and retailers have been allowed to reopen, except in major hotspots including the holy city of Mecca -- where confirmed cases have soared, despite a stringent lockdown.   The health ministry said Tuesday the number of COVID-19 deaths had risen to 264 and confirmed infections to 42,925, while 15,257 people have recovered.   In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.   The Arab world's biggest economy has also closed cinemas and restaurants and halted flights as it attempts to contain the virus.   King Salman has warned of a "more difficult" fight ahead against COVID-19, as the kingdom faces the double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.
Date: Sun, 26 Apr 2020 17:25:00 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, April 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday a $265 million deal with a Chinese firm to ramp up coronavirus testing as the kingdom eased a 24-hour curfew, except in hotspots including Islam's holy city of Mecca.   The agreement with China's Beijing Genome Institute (BGI) will provide for nine million COVID-19 tests, the government said in a statement.   It said in line with the agreement "500 experts, specialists, and technicians" would come from China to conduct the tests.   The deal, which has a total value of 995 million riyals, also includes "the establishment of six large regional laboratories in a number of areas in the kingdom, including a mobile laboratory with a production capacity of 10,000 tests daily", it added.

Earlier the government decided to relax a nationwide curfew between 9am and 5pm, with malls and retailers allowed to reopen until May 13, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.   But a round-the-clock lockdown will be maintained in some areas including Mecca, where the highest number of infections have been recorded in recent days despite the city being sealed off.   Many countries around the Middle East and North Africa have the easing of lockdown restrictions to coincide the holy fasting month of Ramadan which began on Friday.

Saudi Arabia, which has reported the highest number of infections in the Arab world, is scrambling to limit the spread of coronavirus at home.    On Sunday, the health ministry said the number of deaths from COVID-19 had risen to 139, confirmed infections to 17,522 while  2,357 people have recovered.   Last month, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading in Islam's holiest cities.   Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj, scheduled for the end of July, but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.

Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.   The Arab world's biggest economy has also closed cinemas, malls and restaurants and halted flights as it attempts to contain the virus.   King Salman has warned of a "more difficult" fight ahead against the virus, as the kingdom faces the economic impact of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.
Date: Thu, 23 Apr 2020 20:22:39 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, April 23, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest shrines, has announced that the holy fasting month of Ramadan will start Friday, as Muslims worldwide face unprecedented restrictions to counter coronavirus.   "Based on the sighting of the new month's moon ... it has been decided that Friday is the start of the month of Ramadan," the royal court said Thursday in a statement cited by the SPA news agency.

King Salman said he is saddened that Muslims cannot pray at mosques because of coronavirus restrictions.   "I am pained that the holy month arrives amid circumstances that make us unable to perform group prayers and Taraweeh -- special Ramadan night prayers -- at mosques due to precautionary measures to protect the peoples' lives and health in combating the coronavirus pandemic," the king said in a statement cited by SPA.

Observant Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk during Ramadan and gather with family to break the fast in the evening.   It is also a month of prayers during which Muslims traditionally converge in large numbers at mosques, especially at night.   But due to the coronavirus, almost all Muslim majority countries have closed mosques and asked people to pray at home in addition to imposing curfews to limit the spread of the deadly virus.

In Yemen, the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Sanaa noted that Ramadan comes as the country struggles with war and affliction.   "People across Yemen will mark Islam's holy month this year amid ongoing conflict, seasonal diseases, floods and rising prices, in a country where the economic situation doesn't allow two thirds of the population to access or afford enough food," the ICRC said in a statement.

The United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen called for the cessation of hostilities in a war which has killed tens of thousands of civilians.   "To the parties to the conflict, I say: be guided by the spirit of the Holy month and put an end to the suffering of your people," Martin Griffiths said.   "Put down the arms. Release all those who lost their liberty due to the conflict. Open humanitarian corridors. Focus on coordinating your efforts to help your country respond to the pandemic outbreak and other emergency needs," he added.

Most Arab countries including Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and Bahrain have announced Friday as the first day of Ramadan.   Several countries have eased restrictions on the occasion of the holy month with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other countries reducing the duration of the lockdowns.

The UAE said on Thursday it has decided to ease a total lockdown to an eight-hour nightly curfew and also moved to partially reopen malls and markets.   The start date of Ramadan, the holiest Muslim month, is set by both lunar calculations and physical sightings which determine when one month ends and another begins.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 15:38:38 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia's health minister on Tuesday warned of a huge spike in coronavirus cases of up to 200,000 within the coming weeks, state media reported.   "Within the next few weeks, studies predict the number of infections will range from a minimum of 10,000 to a maximum of 200,000," the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah.
Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2020 15:39:06 +0100 (MET)

Riyadh, March 24, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Tuesday reported its first death from the new coronavirus as the total number of infections spiked to 767, according to the health ministry.   An Afghan resident in the western city of Medina died from the virus, the ministry said, while reporting 205 new infections -- the biggest jump in the kingdom in a single day.

Saudi Arabia, which has reported the highest number of infections in the Gulf, began implementing a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew on Monday to limit the spread of the deadly COVID-19.   The Arab world's biggest economy has also closed down cinemas, malls and restaurants, halted flights and suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage as it steps up efforts to contain the virus.   King Salman warned on Thursday of a "more difficult" fight ahead against the virus, as the kingdom faces the double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.

Last week, the kingdom unveiled stimulus measures amounting to 120 billion riyals ($32 billion) to support businesses and said it plans to raise borrowing to 50 percent of GDP.   Similar restrictions and stimulus measures have been reported by other countries in the Gulf, where more than 2,100 coronavirus infections have been reported so far.

Bahrain recorded its third death from the virus on Tuesday, while Oman said it would from March 29 suspend all passenger flights -- except to and from Musandam bordering the United Arab Emirates.   Meanwhile, Kuwait's cabinet on Tuesday said anyone caught intentionally spreading the virus could face up to 10 years in jail, according to state media.   Kuwait -- which has recorded 191 cases so far -- has taken the strictest measures in the Gulf by largely locking down the country to combat the spread of COVID-19.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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