WORLD NEWS

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

Anguilla

Anguilla US Consular Information Sheet
March 03, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Anguilla is a British overseas territory in the Caribbean, part of the British West Indies. It is a small but rapidly developing island with particularly well-developed
ourist facilities.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 requires all travelers to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico and Canada to have a valid passport to enter or re-enter the United States. U.S. citizens must have a valid U.S. passport if traveling by air, including to and from Mexico.
If traveling by sea, U.S. citizens can use a passport or passport card. We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport or passport card 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.

In addition to a valid passport, U.S. citizens need onward or return tickets, and sufficient funds for their stay.
A departure tax is charged at the airport or ferry dock when leaving. For further information, travelers may contact the British Embassy, 19 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC
20008; telephone (202) 588-7800; or the nearest consulate of the United Kingdom in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Seattle, or San Francisco. Visit the British Embassy web site 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:
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

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

CRIME:
While Anguilla's crime rate is relatively low, both petty and violent crimes
do occur. Travelers should take common-sense precautions to ensure their personal security, such as avoiding carrying large amounts of cash or displaying expensive jewelry. Travelers should not leave valuables unattended in hotel rooms or on the beach. They should use hotel safety deposit facilities to safeguard valuables and travel documents. Similarly, they should keep their lodgings locked at all times, whether they are present or away, and should not leave valuables in their vehicles, even when locked.

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 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 emergency line in Anguilla is 911.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
There is only one hospital, Princess Alexandra Hospital (telephone: 264-497-2551), and a handful of clinics on Anguilla, so medical facilities are limited.
Serious problems requiring extensive care or major surgery may require evacuation to the United States, often at considerable expense.

There are no formal, documented HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to and foreign residents of Anguilla, but there have been anecdotal reports of exclusion.
Please verify this information with the British Embassy before you travel.

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

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

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

Unlike the U.S., traffic in Anguilla moves on the left. The few roads on the island are generally poorly paved and narrow. While traffic generally moves at a slow pace, with the increasing number of young drivers in Anguilla, there are occasional severe accidents caused by excessive speed. Although emergency services, including tow truck service, are limited and inconsistent, local residents are often willing to provide roadside assistance. For police, fire, or ambulance service dial 911.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the Government of Anguilla web site for further road safety information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
Civil aviation operations in Anguilla fall under the jurisdiction of British authorities. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Anguilla’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site.

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 Anguilla laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Anguilla 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 Anguilla are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Anguilla. 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 with consular responsibility over Anguilla is located in Bridgetown, Barbados in the Wildey Business Park in suburban Wildey, southeast 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.
Visit the U.S. Embassy Bridgetown online for more information.
Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except Barbadian and U.S. holidays.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Anguilla dated April 2, 2008, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Information for Victims of Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 9 Sep 2017 19:31:32 +0200

Paris, Sept 9, 2017 (AFP) - France's meteorological agency on Saturday issued its highest warning for the Caribbean islands of St Martin and St Barts as Hurricane Jose bore down, three days after they were hit by Hurricane Irma.   The alert warned of a "dangerous event of exceptional intensity," with winds that could reach 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour, and strong rains and high waves.

St Barts is a French overseas territory, as is the French part of St Martin, which is divided between France and the Netherlands.   Twelve people were killed on the two islands by Hurricane Irma, thousands of buildings were flattened and the authorities are struggling to control looting.   The French state-owned reinsurer CCR on Saturday estimated the damage at 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion).   Irma is now heading for Florida, where a total of 6.3 million people have been ordered to evacuate, according to state authorities.
Date: Tue 29 Apr 2014
Source: National Institute for Public Health and the Environment [edited]

1 Oct 2013-29 Apr 2014 (week 18) St Maarten - Since the last report (week 15 [17?]) 52 new cases have been confirmed among St Maarten residents. Up to 29 Apr 2014, now a total of 343 confirmed cases have been reported. One of these confirmed cases was hospitalized.

The median age of the confirmed patients was 44 years, range 4-92 years. Of those cases for which gender was available, 201 were female and 130 were male.

- On 6 Dec 2013, the 1st indigenous chikungunya [virus infection] case of St Maarten was reported. Retrospectively, the 1st patient with suspected complaints was reported in mid-October 2013 in St Martin.
------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
=====================
[The report also has graphs showing case numbers over time.

Maps of St Martin/St Maarten can be accessed at
Date: 5-11 May 2014
Source: Institut de Veille Sanitaire (French Institute for Public Health Surveillance, InVS) [edited]

Cases since the beginning of the outbreak in December 2013:
- St Martin: (susp) 3240 cases; deaths 3; stable.
- St Barthelemy: (susp) 500 cases; stable.
- Martinique: (susp) 24 180; deaths 3; increasing.
- Guadeloupe: (susp) 13 600 cases; deaths 1; increasing.
- French Guiana: (susp) not available; (probable or confirmed) 122 cases with 83 locally acquired; increasing, with a new cluster in Kourou and 2 near Cayenne.
======================
[The 16 May 2014 report from Guyaweb (<http://www.guyaweb.com/actualites/news/sciences-et-environnement/le-chik-revient-kourou-setend-cayenne-desormais-saint-laurent/>) states that there are 2 new cases in Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, overlooking the Suriname River, of which one is certainly autochthonous, and a new focal point occurred in Kourou with 4 cases.

Maps of the area can be seen at
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/35574>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: 7-13 Apr 2014
Source: INVS Point Sanitaire No. 14 [in French, trans. ProMed Mod.TY, edited]

Cases since the beginning of the outbreak in December, 2013:
- St. Martin: (susp.) 2980 cases, (probable and conf.) 793 cases; Deaths 3; Decreasing.
- Saint Barthelemy: (susp.) 460 cases, (probable or confirmed) 135 cases; Decreasing.
- Martinique: (susp.) 16 000, (probable or confirmed) 1473 cases; Deaths 2; Increasing.
- Guadeloupe: (susp.) 4710 cases, (probable or confirmed) 1261 cases; Deaths 1; In epidemic status.
- French Guiana: (susp.) 7 cases with 4 locally acquired, (probable or confirmed) 39 cases with 26 locally acquired) 30 cases; (imported) 16 cases; Moderate to increasing; Half of probable and confirmed cases are located in Kourou; however indigenous cases have also been recorded from the Cayenne Matoury, Remire and Macouria communities.
=================
[Maps showing case distributions on each island can be accessed at the above URL. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Thu 27 Mar 2014
Source: The Daily Herald [edited]

As St. Maarten continues to take measures to combat the spread of the chikungunya virus, the number of cases continues to climb.

Health Minister Cornelius de Weever announced on Wednesday [26 Mar 2014], that the total number of confirmed chikungunya cases thus far stood at 224.

De Weever also announced that government will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with French St. Martin as a means of collectively responding to the mosquito threat that puts the population at risk. He said both sides have been working closely together to address the dengue and chikungunya threats.

The MOU will cover, amongst other things, a regular exchange of epidemiological information on vector-borne diseases and collectively publishing and representing data collected under the agreement.

The need for collective information campaigns and enhancement of the mosquito vector-control programme will also be included in the MOU. The MOU also describes the need for planning execution and evaluation of collective responses to the chikungunya threat.
=========================
[The increase in the number of chikungunya virus infections over the past week in St. Maarten is of concern, rising from 123 cases to 224 cases. This number is confirmed in another report that also indicates that there are an additional 325 suspected cases (<http://www.rivm.nl/dsresource?type=pdf&disposition=inline&objectid=rivmp:239786>).  - ProMed Mod.TY]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/35574>.]
More ...

Tunisia

General Information
************************************
Tunisia is situated in Northern Africa and is a common tourist destination for Irish travellers. It is bordered by Algeria to the west and southwest, Libya to the south east and the Medite
ranean Sea to the east and north. It has a Mediterranean climate with mild rainy winters and hot dry summers. Costal temperatures are less extreme than the inland regions ranging from an average daily low in January of 70C to an average daily high in August of 320C. Rainfall throughout the country varies considerably from about 40" in the northwest down to only 4" in the southwest.
Safety & Security
************************************
Most tourists will not have any significant difficulties in this regard but criminals have targeted tourists and business travellers for thefts, pickpocketing, and scams.
Care should be taken with wallets and other valuables kept in handbags or backpacks that can be easily opened from behind in crowded streets or marketplaces.
Harassment of unaccompanied females occurs rarely in hotels, but more frequently elsewhere.
Health Facilities
************************************
The level of health care facilities in Tunisia will usually be found to be below that normally accepted at home in Ireland. In general the larger hotels will have English speaking doctors in attendance. Unfortunately the hospital/clinic backup for these practitioners is usually very limited.
Food & Water Facilities
************************************
The World Health Organisation statistics suggest that close to 35% of all travellers to these regions will develop significant diarrhoea during their stay. In almost all cases this can be traced back to unwise eating and drinking habits by tourists not taking sufficient care. Most significantly, travellers should stay away from cold foods (especially lettuce) and also all undercooked shell fish (mainly prawns, oysters, mussels and shrimps).
Hotel tap water will frequently not be potable and should not be used for drinking or brushing teeth. Sealed mineral water should be used at all times.
Fruit juice drinks sold by street traders should always be avoided as frequently the drink will have been supplemented with straight tap water.
Malaria in Tunisia
************************************
It is fortunate that this disease is not endemic in Tunisia and so travellers do not require to take prophylactic tablets. Nevertheless there are plenty of mosquitoes and sandflys during the hotter summer months and travellers will need to use insect repellents to protect against these uncomfortable bites. (see Protection against Insect Bites - Tropical Medical Bureau )
Jiggers & Chiggers
************************************
These are uncomfortable parasitic diseases which usually occur on the feet and often present looking like an ingrown toenail. Travellers returning home with unexplained skin rashes should always attend for medical assessment.
Rabies
************************************
This viral disease occurs throughout Africa and is evident in Tunisia. The disease can be transmitted by the bite (or lick or scratch) of any infected warm-blooded animal. Dogs will be the main risk animal but cats and monkeys can also transmit the disease. Any contact must be treated seriously and washed out immediately. An antiseptic should then be applied and further medical attention must always be sought.
Leishmaniasis
************************************
This is a parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of an infected sandfly. The disease occurs in Tunisia mainly during the summer and autumn months. Sandflys are much smaller than mosquitoes and are mainly found hovering around your ankles usually first thing in the morning or during the cooler evening hours. In most cases the bites cause little harm but occasionally deep infection can occur with more serious consequences. Again, travellers should wear sensible clothing and use adequate insect repellent. A bite which is slow to heal needs to be medically checked.
Sunbathing
************************************
One of the common health complaints associated with Tunisia relates to travellers becoming sun burnt while there on holidays. This is particularly the case with smaller children and toddlers. It is essential that travellers use high factor protection creams to lessen the risk of burning and to remember that skin cancer is commonly associated with burnt skin.
Anthrax from Leather Goods
************************************
This bacterial disease has been reported in Tunisia and travellers need to be aware that the disease can be transmitted through unprepared leather goods usually bought in the local market places. Even though this will be rare, any unusual sore should be medically checked after you return home.
Vaccinations for Tunisia
************************************
There are no essential vaccinations for Tunisia but travellers from Ireland are strongly recommended to have vaccination cover against
*
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
Those spending longer periods in the country, or trekking, may need to consider vaccination cover
against
Rabies
and
Hepatitis B.
Summary
************************************
Be careful of the intense sun during the summer months. Care with food and water consumption will also be essential at all times.
Further Information
************************************
If you require any further information on staying healthy while overseas please contact either of the help lines at the numbers below.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 20 Mar 2020 17:02:33 +0100 (MET)

Tunis, March 20, 2020 (AFP) - Tunisian President Kais Saied on Friday declared a nationwide, round-the-clock self-isolation of inhabitants to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country after an increase in confirmed cases.    Saied did not specify the start time or duration of the self-isolation.    Tunisia, which has already closed its borders and imposed a curfew from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. (1700-0500 GMT), has reported more than 50 cases of the COVID-19 disease and one death.
Date: Sun, 1 Dec 2019 17:56:57 +0100 (MET)

Ain Snoussi, Tunisia, Dec 1, 2019 (AFP) - At least 24 Tunisians were killed and 18 more injured Sunday when a bus plunged off a cliff into a ravine in the country's north, officials said.   The bus had set off from Tunis to the picturesque mountain town of Ain Draham, a popular autumn destination for Tunisians near the Algerian border, the tourism ministry said.   Twenty-four people were killed and 18 injured, the victims aged between 20 and 30, said the health ministry, releasing updated information on the tragedy.   Pictures and video footage shared online and posted on the websites of private radio stations showed the mangled remains of the bus with its seats scattered in the bed of a river.

Bodies, some in sports clothes and trainers, and personal belongings were strewn across the ground.   The bus with 43 people on board was travelling through the Ain Snoussi region when it plunged over the cliff, the interior ministry said.   The vehicle had "fallen into a ravine after crashing through an iron barrier," it said on its Facebook page.   The injured were transferred to nearby hospitals, the interior ministry said.   Forensic experts were deployed to investigate the crash, said AFP correspondents at the scene.   It was not immediately clear what caused the accident but Tunisian roads are known to be notoriously dangerous and run-down.

Tourism Minister Rene Trabelsi told a private radio station Mosaique FM that the "unfortunate accident took place in a difficult area" and just after the bus had taken a "sharp bend".  An civil defence official, speaking on state television, said there had previously been deadly accidents at the same spot.   Social network users bemoaned the tragedy, as Tunisian President Kaid Saied and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed arrived at the site of the accident.   "What a heavy toll," one of them said.   Another denounced the "roads of death" in Tunisia and wrote: "24 dead and no one from the government has declared a national catastrophe".

The World Health Organization in 2015 said Tunisia had the second worst traffic death rate per capita in North Africa, behind only war-torn Libya.   Experts blamed run-down roads, reckless driving and poor vehicle maintenance for a rise in accidents the following year.   The authorities recognise the scale of the problem but have said the country's security challenges, including jihadist attacks, have kept them from giving it more attention.
Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2019 20:35:51 +0100 (MET)
By Akim Rezgui

iles Kuriat, Tunisie, Nov 27, 2019 (AFP) - Between plastic chairs on a crowded Tunisian tourist beach, a sign indicates where another species shares the sand: a nest is buried below.   On this paradisaical island off the coast of Monastir -- a resort town south of the capital Tunis -- tourists co-exist with loggerhead turtles thanks to a novel initiative.   Since 2017, the Tunisian government and a local NGO have jointly run a turtle conservation programme under the noses of bathing-suited beach-goers, who are offered an environmental education along with their holiday.

The Kuriat islands are the westernmost permanent loggerhead turtle breeding site on the Mediterranean's south coast, and are in the process of being listed as a protected nature reserve.   But while the islands are an important turtle sanctuary, the white sand beaches and crystal waters of little Kuriat are irresistible to holidaymakers.   During turtle hatching season from July to October, day-trippers arrive daily in their hundreds, transported on pirate-themed boats for barbecues and swimming.   "I thought that this was just an island where I'd go to swim, eat and return," said holidaymaker Souad Khachnaoui.   "I'd never imagined that this site was so important for turtles, birds and other species."

Rather than ban visitors, the authorities work with local volunteers to brief arriving tourists on the local fauna, including the jellyfish-eating turtles, which can live for a century.   "Many people are stunned on arrival, they didn't think that we had these kinds of animals in our country," said Manel Ben Ismail, co-founder of the environmental NGO Notre Grand Bleu, which means "Our great blue (ocean)".   And if they are lucky, tourists can watch as volunteers help defenceless hatchling turtles -- measuring just five centimetres (two inches) across -- on their journey from the nest to the sea.   Loggerheads are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. They do not become fertile until about 20 years old and breed only every two to three years.    Female loggerheads return to the same beach where they were born to lay their clutch of about 100 eggs. But it is a perilous life cycle and only one in a thousand juveniles lives to reproductive age.

The Kuriat islands -- the largest of which is a military zone and the smaller is not permanently settled -- offer young turtles slightly better survival odds.   Both are far from the light pollution of the mainland, which can disorientate hatchlings.    This year 42 nests were recorded on the islands. Layings have increased since monitoring started in 1997.   If managed correctly, tourism can be a boon for the islands as visitors learn about conservation, the government believes.   "We try to strike a balance between ecological activities and the economic activities of people on this site," said Ahmed Ben Hamida, head of the Kuriat Marine Protected Area for the government agency for coastal protection.
Date: Thu, 27 Jun 2019 14:23:48 +0200

Tunis, June 27, 2019 (AFP) - Two suicide bombers attacked security forces in the Tunisian capital on Thursday, killing a police officer and wounding at least eight people including several civilians, the interior ministry said.   One attack on the main street of Tunis wounded three civilians and two police personnel, the interior ministry initially said.   "Five (are) wounded -- three civilians and two police officers", Interior Ministry spokesman Sofiene Zaag told AFP, before later saying that a police officer had died of his wounds.

Body parts were strewn in the road around a police car on Habib Bourguiba avenue near the old city, according to an AFP correspondent.   "It was a suicide attack, which took place at 10:50 (0950 GMT)," Zaag said.   The second attack targeted a base of the national guard in the capital and wounded four security personnel, the ministry said.   "At 11:00 am (1000 GMT) an individual blew himself up outside the back door" of the base, wounding four security personnel, Zaag said.   Civil protection units and police rapidly deployed to Habib Bourguiba avenue, where the interior ministry is located.    People initially fled in panic, before some crowded around the scene of the attack, expressing anger against the authorities. Shops and offices were closed by police.

Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring uprisings, has been hit by repeated Islamist attacks since the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.   On October 29, 2018 an unemployed graduate blew herself up near police cars on Habib Bourguiba, killing herself and wounding 26 people, mostly police officers, according to the interior ministry.   The Tunisian authorities said the suicide bomber had sworn allegiance to IS.

The attack was the first to rock the Tunisian capital for over three and a half years.   In March 2015, jihadist gunmen killed 21 tourists and a policeman at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis.   And in June that year, 30 Britons were among 38 foreign holidaymakers killed in a gun and grenade attack on a beach resort near the Tunisian city of Sousse.
Date: Thu, 9 May 2019 17:43:55 +0200
By Caroline Nelly Perrot

Tunis, May 9, 2019 (AFP) - As holidaymakers flock to Tunisia once more following a series of attacks, the country's tourism minister has his sights set on diversifying the industry and taking visitors beyond the beach.   "Practically all the big tour operators here have returned," said Rene Trabelsi, six months into his ministerial post.   He credits "huge efforts" for making the country safe for visitors again, after attacks in 2015 targeting tourists.   Gunmen killed 21 foreign visitors and a Tunisian security guard at the capital's Bardo National Museum, followed by a shooting rampage at a Sousse beach resort which left 38 people dead -- mostly British tourists.

Britain, France and other countries have recently eased their travel warnings, deeming most of Tunisia now safe.   Two million holidaymakers have visited Tunisia so far this year, according to government figures touted by the tourism minister.   That marks a 24 percent jump on the same period last year, and a 7 percent increase compared to the 2010 industry reference point.   But despite tourists returning, revenue has so far failed to reach that of nearly a decade ago.

The indebted industry is heavily reliant upon cheap "all-inclusive" holidays and the government is trying to diversify the tourism sector, which accounts for around 7 percent of GDP.   "During the high season, Tunisia will be packed, but we're interested in the low season, from September to March," said Trabelsi, sitting behind his large desk in the capital Tunis.   The minister wants to attract tourists over the winter months who are also interested in activities away from the beach.   "We're negotiating with the tour operators" to offer charter flights after the summer, said Trabelsi who hopes visitors will sign up for golf, spa treatments and cultural activities.   "This year already, a lot of hotels which closed during winter after the crisis, want to stay open," he said.   An electronic music festival in southern Tunisia is due to take place in September, while a jazz festival is planned in Tabarka near the Algerian border.

- No 'right to fail' -
Whereas half the holidaymakers in 2010 were European, they now make up less than a third of visitors amid an increasing number of tourists from other North African countries and further afield.   The government aims to welcome nine million visitors this year, but Trabelsi said Tunisians still need to tackle "environmental terrorism" to avoid scaring tourists away.   "I'm using that word to shock and alert," said the minister, warning that poor environmental standards can put tourists off "like when there's an attack".

Following Tunisia's 2011 revolution, authorities failed to keep atop of waste management. Municipal councils were elected for the first time a year ago but the clean-up is far from complete.   "We also have a cultural problem," said Trabelsi. "If each person swept outside their front door, that would already be huge."   Trabelsi has for years been co-organiser of an annual Jewish pilgrimage to Djerba, where his father is president of the island's synagogue, and in the 1990s he set up his own travel agency.   But months into his first political post, he said he has no intention of staying in government long-term.   "I want to make a mark, and Tunisians expect a lot from me. I come from the private sector, I have a different religion, so I don't have the right to fail," Trabelsi said.   "But once my mission is accomplished, I'll return to my own affairs."
More ...

Northern Mariana Islands

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

Finland

Finland - US Consular Information Sheet
January 13, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Finland is a highly developed democracy with a modern economy.
It is a member of the European Union.
Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read
the Department of State Background Notes on Finland for additional information.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
Finland is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Finland for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen fact sheet.

Travelers can contact the Embassy of Finland at 3301 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20008, tel: (202) 298-5800, or the Finnish Consulates General in Los Angeles or New York.
Additional information is available via the Internet at http://www.finland.org.
The U.S. Embassy in Helsinki is not able to assist private U.S. citizens in obtaining any necessary visas for neighboring countries, including Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

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:
Finland remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Finland’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
Elements of organized crime groups operating in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are present in Finland, but these do not represent a specific danger to U.S. citizen residents or tourists.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
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 United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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

CRIME:
Although the crime rate in Finland is low compared to the U.S. and most European countries, it has increased in recent years; however, Finland remains a relatively safe environment.
Americans visiting Finland are seldom victims of crime, but visitors should not be complacent regarding personal safety or the protection of valuables.
The same precautions employed in the U.S. should be followed in Finland.
Finnish police services are excellent. Travelers should be aware that some police officers speak little English.
Due to the low crime rate, Finland has one of the lowest numbers of police officers of any European nation.
Outside of key sites in major urban centers, they rarely project a visible presence; consequently, response times to crisis situations may be unpredictable.
All forms of public transportation are considered safe.
Street crimes, such as muggings and pick-pocketing, remain uncommon, but do occur.

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

Finland has a program to provide financial compensation to victims who suffer serious criminal injuries.
According to existing regulations, the victim must report the incident to the police and file an application for compensation within 10 years of the date of the crime.
Finnish police routinely inform victims of serious crime of their right to seek compensation.
The relevant forms and further information can be obtained from http://www.treasuryfinland.fi.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Finland is 112.
Please see our additional information for Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Finland’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Finland are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Commercial and financial transactions in Finland are increasingly automated and on-line.
Cash is almost always acceptable (the currency is the euro), but most major credit cards are widely recognized.
Automatic Teller Machines are very common and many U.S.-issued bankcards are compatible with them.

MEDICAL FACILITIES and Health information:
In Finland, medical facilities and their staff are generally excellent and are widely available for emergency services.
English is commonly spoken by Finnish medical personnel.
Helsinki is a frequent medical evacuation point for emergency cases from the countries of the former Soviet Union.
The public hospital system and many private hospitals honor foreign credit cards.
Most pharmacies (“apteekki” in Finnish) are open during normal shopping hours and major cities have at least one 24-hour service pharmacy.
If you are a tourist or temporary visitor to Finland and you require immediate emergency medical assistance, you may visit a local medical center or clinic, called “ensiapuasema” (first-aid station) in Finnish.
Usually these stations are located at hospitals and provide a full range of services.
The emergency telephone number, 112, can be used throughout Finland to contact emergency medical services.
For more detailed information on medicines and medical issues, please visit the website of the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC at http://www.finland.org.
Travelers with special medical needs should consult with their personal physicians and take appropriate precautions, including bringing adequate supplies of necessary medication.
Medicines may be brought into the country as long as they are intended for the traveler’s personal use, however, there are special requirements concerning the quantity.
Medications categorized as narcotics may only be brought into the country to cover the traveler’s personal use for a maximum of 14 days and must be accompanied by a medical certificate stating why the traveler needs them.
For more detailed information, please contact the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC at http://www.finland.org
In addition, stringent Finnish customs regulations prohibit travelers from receiving drugs from abroad after having arrived in the country.
Travelers may also find local physicians reluctant to prescribe equivalent quantities of dosages.

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

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Finland is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Finnish roads are comparable to those in the U.S., though secondary roads may be less heavily traveled due to Finland’s sparse population outside the major urban areas.
These secondary routes often narrow to two lanes with a wider shoulder.
Slower vehicles are expected to move onto the shoulder to allow faster moving vehicles to pass.
Finland has an extensive network of highways throughout the country, as well as excellent public transportation services.
A valid U.S. driver’s license may be used while visiting Finland, but drivers must be at least 18 years of age.
Driving in Finland is on the right.
Traffic approaching from the right usually has priority, even if entering a primary roadway from a secondary one.
Road signs use standard international symbols and Finnish text.
Many urban streets have traffic lanes reserved for public transportation only.
Unless otherwise noted on traffic signs, the speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on open roads, and 120 km/h on expressways during summer (reduced to 100 km/h during winter).
Vehicles must use headlights at all times.
Use of seatbelts is mandatory for drivers and all passengers.
Minor children must be seated in approved child or booster seats.

Public transport in Finland is of good quality and is the recommended method of travel.
Passenger trains, intercity buses, and air flights provide regular service over longer distances.
Public transportation in urban centers includes buses, subways, trams, suburban trains, and taxis.
Taxis are more expensive than in major U.S. cities.
Most local residents use public transport in Helsinki as parking can be hard to find and expensive.
The bus, train, and subway systems are relatively safe.
Travelers should be aware that drunk-driving laws are strict and acceptable blood alcohol levels are much lower in Finland than in the U.S.
Police strictly enforce all traffic laws and institute random roadside breath analyzer tests.
Drivers who register .05 or above alcohol content are subject to immediate arrest.
Drivers should be aware that regulations and traffic signs differ significantly from those in the U.S.
Visitors should be familiar with both prior to operating a vehicle in Finland.
Driving in Finland during the winter months can be hazardous.
Daylight hours are very short and one should be comfortable with driving in darkness.
Icy road conditions are common.
If driving in Finland, the vehicle must be winterized with studded snow tires and engine heaters are strongly recommended.
When driving at night, drivers must be alert to moose wandering onto major roadways.
There have been incidents of moose being struck by vehicles, causing severe damage to the vehicle and injury, sometimes fatal, to the occupants.
For real-time updates on road conditions throughout Finland, see the Finnish Road Administration’s travel and traffic information web site at http://www.finnra.fi
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 http://www.mek.fi
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Finland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Finland’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
Please see our information on customs regulations.

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

REGISTRATION AND EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Finland are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Finland.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Itainen Puistotie 14B.
The telephone number for the American Citizens Services unit is 358-9-616-25-701, 0830 to 1700 Monday to Friday (after hours, 358-9-616-25-0); the fax number is 358-9-616-25-800; e-mail:
HelsinkiACS@state.gov.
The address of the Embassy’s Internet home page is http://www.usembassy.fi
*

*

*
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated May 23, 2008 to update the sections on Information for Victims of Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 25 Mar 2020 22:15:06 +0100 (MET)

Helsinki, March 25, 2020 (AFP) - Tough new restrictions banning travel between the Finnish capital and the rest of the country will be introduced from Friday to curb the spread of coronavirus, the country's prime minister said Wednesday.   "Movement into and out of the capital region, Uusimaa, will be forbidden," Finland's prime minister Sanna Marin told a press conference.   "Everybody will however have the right to return home or to their municipality of residence."

She said exceptions will be made for essential travel, including cases such as the death of a relative or under child visitation arrangements.    Goods will also continue to flow under the restrictions which will last for three weeks.    1.7 million people live in the province of Uusimaa, approximately a third of Finland's population.

Ministers stressed that over 500 of the country's 880 confirmed coronavirus cases in Finland, and two of the three recorded deaths, have been in the Uusimaa region.     Not all suspected cases are being tested and authorities have said the real number of infections could be 30 times higher.

On Wednesday the government also submitted a decree to parliament giving lawmakers emergency powers to force qualified health workers under the age of 68 to come into work.  However Marin said she hadn't managed to gain the necessary parliamentary backing to force restaurants to offer only takeaway or delivery services.
Date: Fri 14 Dec 2018
Source: UUTISET [edited]

An unvaccinated individual, who caught the contagious disease in Poland, attended a large church service in Tampere and infected at least 2 other people. Three adults have been diagnosed with measles in Tampere after attending a Catholic parish church event in late November along with more than 100 people, according to the Pirkanmaa Hospital District.

Two of the adults diagnosed have been vaccinated, so they are not contagious. The source of the outbreak is an unvaccinated person, who caught the measles in Poland. But according to the Pirkanmaa Hospital District, further cases may still arise.

In 1975 Finland began to administer a single dose of the measles vaccine to all one-year-olds and by 1982 Finland began administering the vaccine in 2 doses between the ages of 1 and 6. However some people born in the 1970s are among those who received only one jab. MMR is a triple-dose vaccine that provides protection against measles, mumps and rubella.

Measles spread at religious event
---------------------------------
The event in question was Tampere's Pyhan Ristin (Sacred Cross) Catholic Parish church mass on 25 Nov 2018. It was attended by more than 100 people, including children. Pirkanmaa Hospital District doctor Kirsi Valve, a specialist in infectious diseases, confirmed that the infected individual who caught the measles in Poland was at the church event. The cases came to light when 2 vaccinated individuals contracted high fevers and came down with skin rashes. The unvaccinated person, who infected the others, has had more severe symptoms than the vaccinated individuals.

"The individuals quickly got in touch with healthcare services owing to high fevers, and skin rashes that rapidly spread all over their bodies," says Valve. "It was confirmed that on 25 Nov 2018 the unvaccinated individual who caught the measles in Poland and brought it back to Finland was at the parish event and is the source of the outbreak."

As the source of the outbreak is known, healthcare officials are also looking into whether the person could have possibly exposed others.

Measles in the news
-------------------
Measles has been on the agenda this winter after an unvaccinated child in Ostrobothnia took ill with measles. Meanwhile, it also came to light that many adults in Finland may not have been vaccinated against measles during the early 1970s.

Measles is a rare disease. The previous outbreak was 2 summers ago when 4 vaccinated children caught measles in Italy and started showing symptoms after returning to Finland. The Pirkanmaa Hospital District recommends that anyone who attended the Catholic parish event in late November 2018 and exhibits symptoms that suggest measles or anyone who hasn't been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine contact their healthcare centre.

If those who attended the parish event are healthy, but have not been vaccinated, the Pirkanmaa Hospital District recommends that they contact their healthcare centre to be vaccinated. The measles vaccine is free and administered as part of the MMR shot, which also provides protection against rubella and the mumps.
Date: Fri 2 Nov 2018
Source: UUTISET [edited]

Around 1/3 of the ticks in Finland -- mostly found in the south -- carry at least one pathogen, and 2 percent of the persistent arachnids carry several disease-causing agents, researchers at Turku University said.

About 30 percent of common ticks and 24 percent of taiga tick populations have been found to carry one disease pathogen. Common ticks more commonly carry several disease-causing pathogens than taiga ticks, according to the researchers.

The most common pathogen found in the ticks was _Borrelia burgdorferi_, the bacterial species that causes Lyme disease in humans, an illness referred to locally as borreliosis. The pathogen was found in 17 percent of the ticks at the university's growing tick database bank.

Lyme disease cases are treated with aggressive antibiotics without necessarily determining which specific bacterium is responsible for the infection.

Thanks to a growing tick database at the University of Turku, researchers have new insights into the disease pathogens that the tiny, blood-sucking arachnids carry.

New research has revealed that ticks on the south coast carry the most pathogens, but the region is almost exclusively home to the most common ticks: _Ixodes ricinus_, or castor bean ticks).

Both castor bean ticks and taiga ticks [_Ixodes persulcatus_] are now commonly found in areas across central Finland, the researchers said. Even further north, the tick populations are quite similar to ones in central areas, but the taiga has become more common in the north.

About 3 years ago, researchers at the university asked members of the public to send in ticks they had found, and now the institution has received more than 20 000 ticks. The researchers say that they want to take advantage of the significant amount of information they can learn from the specimens.

Examination of those thousands of tiny arachnids have uncovered many types of disease-causing bacteria, and researchers have new insights into the arachnids themselves and the potential illnesses they carry.

The researchers said they hope to learn more about ticks, saying that their research has only begun, and that their study of the ticks will continue for several years. Ultimately, their goal is to find how tick-borne illnesses are transmitted, they said.
======================
[This is an interesting example of how a large group of people, many undoubtedly non-scientists, can contribute to an effort that requires many hours of collection effort. Although _Borrelia burgdorferi_ is endemic in Finland, finding it and possibly other bacterial pathogens in about 1/3 of the 20 000 ticks collected is of public health significance. _Ixodes ricinus_ is also the tick vector of European tick-borne encephalitis virus, but no mention is made of it in the above report. Perhaps it was not tested for. Images of both ticks can be found in the above report. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2018 16:46:12 +0100
From: topic@afp.com

Helsinki, Nov 1, 2018 (AFP) - Santa Claus has already begun his preparations in Lapland -- by protecting himself from winter viruses and making sure he hires enough elves.   On Thursday nurse Tiia Kahkonen administered an anti-influenza vaccine to Santa, at his village in the Arctic Circle town of Rovaniemi, northern Finland. 

The jab is likely to be a sensible precaution, as the flu season coincides with the busiest time of the year by far in Lapland.    In December last year 390,000 foreign visitors spent a night in Finnish Lapland, an increase of almost ten percent on the previous Christmas.    By far the largest group of Christmas holidaymakers were Brits, followed by Russian, French and German tourists, according to official statistics.

Meanwhile a recruitment agency in Finnish Lapland, inside the Arctic circle, has put out a call for Christmas elves to look after the hordes of tourists who come to visit Santa in his natural habitat during the winter months.   Prior experience is not essential as the advert, posted by the firm Lapland Staff, promises that training will be provided in "the required elfing and communication skills."   Successful applicants will also be given tips on how to deal with the cold in northern Finland where temeratures rarely rise above zero degrees Celsius, and can drop as low as minus 40.

Although handling Santa's reindeer is not listed among the job's duties, elves will need to herd groups of visitors on and off buses, as well as keep tourists entertained. "Looking after the fireplace and pouring hot juice" are also required, as is supervising the toboggan hill.   Tourism to Lapland has reached an all-time high in recent years, with visitors spending 3.5 million nights in Lapland across the whole year, up from 2.6 million a decade earlier, according to Statistics Finland.    Much of the recent growth has been driven by tourism from Asia.
Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2017 04:43:36 +0100
By Camille BAS-WOHLERT

Rovaniemi, Finland, Dec 17, 2017 (AFP) - In the run up to Christmas tourists from around the world flock to the Santa Claus Village, an amusement park in Finnish Lapland, where temperatures can hit nearly -15 degrees Celsius (5 Fahrenheit).    They buy soft toys and souvenirs from pricey gift shops while a bearded Santa receives hundreds of admirers a day throughout December before embarking on his world tour from the valleys of Finland to the skyscrapers of New York and beyond to deliver gifts.

Holding their winter beanie hats in their hands, visitors wait patiently in line for a brief encounter with "Joulupukki" -- the Finnish word for Santa Claus -- and a photo opportunity in exchange for hard currency.    "We've seen other Santas but that wasn't the real one. But we're told that is the real one," said Mary Gleadall, an eight-year-old tourist from Southampton in the UK, visiting the amusement park with her parents, brother and sister.    According to Christmas lore, Santa lives in a secret place in the middle of the snowy pines of the North Pole. But the question is where?     Since 2010, Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, has marketed itself as Santa's "official home".    Situated a few miles from the city, the Santa Claus Village is located in front of a huge gas station. 

Tourists rush to cross the Arctic Circle, marked by a white line, to meet Santa Claus in his wooden home with a pointed roof.    But entering his private cottage is out of the question as Mother Claus is reportedly protective of their privacy.    In a large room, the white-bearded old man sits in an armchair next to a chest full of letters.    Each year, he receives more than 300,000 visitors, a deluge he embraces with humility.    "I'm very happy. I'm not exhausted but, of course, I get tired once in a while" he says.    And how does Santa Claus regain his energy?    "I love to take nap every once and then. Fifteen minutes sleeping and then all is very good." he says.

- Exalted tourists -
Shizuka Kawahara and Saki Itoi, Japanese tourists in their thirties, flew for more than 24 hours to hug Santa for a few seconds in a precious moment immortalised with a photograph taken by an elf.    The price for one shot starts at 30 euros ($35). Photographing with one's own camera is forbidden as it would ruin the magic of the moment, says the staff of the house.     Four-year-old Harry Gleadall, Mary's brother, approaches Santa without fear.    He quickly states his list of what he wants for Christmas: Transformers and some more Transformers before he skeptically shakes Santa's hand.    "But what if it wasn't the real Santa Claus?" Harry asks with concern.    Eager to set the record straight -- and justify the long trip -- his mother quickly assures him that the chubby red-clothed man is indeed the real deal.    After a tour around the shop which sells hand-made "Lapland" emblems and tons of souvenirs, the family is back in the village square, surrounded by wooden homes, Christmas carols piped out of nearby speakers.

- Polar safari -
In this winter wonderland, tourists have the opportunity to go on a reindeer sleigh ride.    A snow "safari" of 400 metres costs 14 euros per child and 18 euros per adult, an exotic experience for many foreigners who seek to discover the arctic landscapes steeped in pink light.    The -13 degrees Celsius does not discourage the plucky visitors bundled up in their ski suits.    "Everything that have been told to me during childhood, it's come true," said Perpetua, a tourist from Dubai, describing the break from the year round desert climate as "heaven".   "We expected magic and this is what we found," added Max, an Italian tourist. "Everything seems to be magic, the lights, the place, everything here".   But Miriana, a 24-year-old Italian on a university exchange programme in southern Finland, was less convinced.   "The place is really nice. But I think nevertheless that it's a bit commercial," she said.
More ...

Marshall Islands

Introduction
 
After almost four decades under US administration as the easternmost part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, the Mar
hall Islands attained independence in 1986 under a Compact of Free Association. Compensation claims continue as a result of US nuclear testing on some of the atolls between 1947 and 1962. The Marshall Islands hosts the US Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) Reagan Missile Test Site, a key installation in the US missile defense network.
 
Geography
 
Located in the Oceania region its consists of two archipelagic island chains of 29 atolls, each made up of many small islets, and five single islands in the North Pacific Ocean, about half way between Hawaii and Australia
 
Climate
 
tropical; hot and humid; wet season May to November; islands border typhoon belt

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 9 Mar 2020 00:51:21 +0100 (MET)

Majuro, Marshall Islands, March 8, 2020 (AFP) - The Marshall Islands has taken the radical step of banning all inbound air travellers for a two-week period in a bid to prevent the novel coronavirus reaching the Pacific island nation.   The emergency measure came into effect late Sunday and imposes "total suspension of air travellers coming into the Marshall Islands immediately" until March 22,  the country's health department said.    In addition, both air and sea arrivals from 10 countries -- including China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, France and Spain -- were barred with some exceptions to allow delivery of food and supplies.   The Marshalls, a group of islands and atolls about halfway between Australia and Hawaii, has also ordered cruise ships and yachts not to dock at its ports.

Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal said the air travel ban was designed to give the Marshalls time to establish isolation facilities and gear up healthcare staff for a possible local outbreak.   "We need more time to prepare," he told reporters Sunday.   The Marshalls, with a population of almost 80,000, welcomed about 6,800 international travellers in 2018, according to the most recent data from the UN World Tourism Organisation.   Small Pacific islands nations have so far had no confirmed cases of the virus, although there have been scares in the Marshalls, Fiji and Palau.

Samples from a possible case in Tonga are currently being examined by a New Zealand laboratory.   Niedenthal said last week that a lack of lab testing facilities in the islands was hampering the health response.   "If we know in a timely manner what we are dealing with here that would help us manage this situation much more effectively," he said.   The Marshalls last month barred international travel by government officials and elected leaders, with the only exception for patients referred for off-island medical treatment.   It has also "strongly advised" citizens and residents to postpone international travel until further notice.
Date: Fri, 29 Nov 2019 03:01:21 +0100 (MET)

Majuro, Marshall Islands, Nov 29, 2019 (AFP) - More than 200 people have been forced to flee their homes, after they were inundated by freak waves in the Marshall Islands capital Majuro.   Swells averaging five metres (16 feet) washed rocks and debris onto roads, temporarily cutting access to the international airport at the peak of the flooding on Wednesday.   The Red Cross set up evacuation centres at two schools, with local churches and Majuro's mosque also offering help to fleeing residents.

The Marshall Islands are one of the Pacific nations on the front line of climate change, causing increasingly intense weather phenomena and storm surges linked to rising seas.   Climate researcher Murray Ford said such factors may have played a role in this week's flooding but were not the main cause.   "The key driver of this current inundation appears to be a large swell which has arrived from a more northerly direction than the typical trade wind swell," he said.   "This particular event would be best described as a large swell, meeting a high, but not unusually high tide."   Disaster response officials were expected to complete a damage assessment on Friday.
8 Aug 2019

The Republic of the Marshall Islands declares dengue emergency, restricts travel. 1st case of DEN-3 confirmed on Ebeye Island; 21 cases probable.

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Marshall Islands:
Date: Mon, 28 May 2018 01:20:00 +0200

Majuro, Marshall Islands, May 27, 2018 (AFP) - Haze from the Kilauea volcano eruption in Hawaii blanketed the Marshall Islands 3,700 kilometres (2,300 miles) away on Sunday, as officials warned it would continue moving west.   The haze, a phenomenon known as "vog" or volcanic smog, "is spreading across Micronesia," the US National Weather Service based in Guam said.

The volcano on Hawaii's Big Island is now in its fourth week of eruptions.   Meteorologists advised residents on the Marshall Islands with respiratory problems to stay indoors while airlines and shipping companies were warned to be aware of "lower visibilities".

The Guam weather office said haze produced by Kilauea would spread farther westward and reach Kosrae, Pohnpei and possibly Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia over the next few days.   Kilauea is the world's most active volcano and one of five on Hawaii's Big Island.   It started erupting on May 3, prompting about 2,000 people to flee from their mountainside homes.   Scientists believe the volcanic activity may be a precursor to a major eruption similar to the one that shook the island in the mid-1920s.
Date: Fri 4 May 2018
Source: CDC. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018; 67(17):504-5 [edited]

ref: Hofmeister MG, McCready JA, Link-Gelles R, et al. Notes from the field: Increase in hepatitis A virus infections -- Marshall Islands, 2016-2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018; 67:504-5. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6717a5
------------------------------------------------------------------------
In mid-September 2016, a case of hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection was reported to the Marshall Islands Ministry of Health and Human Services (MOHHS). On 4 Nov 2016, MOHHS received laboratory confirmation of 4 additional cases, prompting activation of an outbreak investigation by the MOHHS Exposure Prevention Information Network (EPINet) team and solicitation of technical assistance from the Pacific Island Health Officers' Association, the WHO, and CDC. CDC began participating in the investigation by providing technical assistance remotely at that time. CDC provided remote assistance throughout the course of the investigation. In April 2017, the CDC-affiliated coauthors traveled to the Marshall Islands to provide in-person technical assistance.

To characterize the outbreak, the MOHHS EPINet Team, with assistance from CDC, conducted an investigation through in-person interviews and medical chart abstractions. A probable HAV outbreak case was defined as an acute illness with onset of any signs or symptoms consistent with acute viral hepatitis (such as fever, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, dark urine, clay-colored stool, or abdominal pain) on or after 1 Sep 2016, and either jaundice or elevated serum aminotransferase levels; a confirmed case met the probable case definition and also had either a positive immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibody to HAV on laboratory testing or an epidemiologic link to a confirmed case.

>From September 2016 (epidemiologic week 37) through July 2017 (epidemiologic week 28), 194 outbreak-associated hepatitis A cases (168 confirmed and 26 probable) were reported by MOHHS (Figure [available at the source URL above. - ProMED Mod.LL]). Illness onset dates ranged from 12 Sep 2016 through 11 Jul 2017. The median age of infected persons was 8 years (range equal to 2-76 years), 57 percent of patients were male, 91 percent were Marshallese, and 11 percent were hospitalized. No deaths were reported. Persons younger than 25 years accounted for 90 percent of cases, and 92 percent of patients were residents of the capital, Majuro. The most commonly reported signs and symptoms were jaundice (92 percent), nausea (76 percent), anorexia (75 percent), and dark urine (68 percent). Clay-colored stool (10 percent) was less commonly reported.

Complete contact information was available for 102 (53 percent) patients. A total of 1143 contacts were identified, with a mean of 11 contacts identified per patient (range equal to 2-60). Among the identified contacts, 902 (79 percent) received post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) with hepatitis A vaccine. Some contacts were identified outside the recommended PEP window of 14 days after exposure, and 14 contacts were infants who were too young to be vaccinated (1). 7 contacts refused vaccination.

The EPINet team disseminated public information about the outbreak and recommendations on hygiene and vaccination through radio shows, mass text messages, posters, and school presentations; developed standardized case reporting and interview tools; and expanded case finding through investigation of contacts. Hepatitis A vaccine is not currently included in the Marshall Islands routine childhood immunization schedule. Marshall Islands began immunization of contacts of patients with hepatitis A in January 2017 and then launched a comprehensive immunization campaign targeting school-aged children on Majuro in February 2017, which ultimately covered approximately 70 percent of the total kindergarten through 8th grade student population. Once the vaccine supply was replenished in April 2017, a 2nd immunization campaign was directed at high school students aged 14-19 years on Majuro. In total, approximately 12,500 doses of hepatitis A vaccine were administered to school-aged children and adult contacts of patients in response to the outbreak. No additional cases were reported as of 30 Aug 2017.

Before this outbreak, the last HAV outbreak in the Marshall Islands occurred approximately 25 years ago. Since then, approximately 5 hepatitis A cases per year have been reported (MOHHS, unpublished data, 2017). HAV infection is typically acquired through faecal-oral transmission, either from direct person-to-person contact or consumption of contaminated food or water. In this outbreak, transmission occurred primarily through direct person-to-person contact, and despite extensive measures, the initial source of HAV infection was not identified.

HAV infection occurs in 3 distinct epidemiologic patterns (high, intermediate, and low endemicity) associated with hygiene and sanitation, access to clean drinking water, household crowding, and socioeconomic conditions (2). As socioeconomic conditions and sanitation improve, areas transition from high to intermediate endemicity, which is associated with an increased incidence of symptomatic clinical disease and potential for outbreaks. Hepatitis A-related hospitalizations and mortality also increase as the age of infection shifts from early childhood, when disease is typically asymptomatic or mild, to adolescence and adulthood, when illness is more likely to be severe (2).

Before this outbreak, HAV was thought to be endemic in the Marshall Islands; however, this outbreak demonstrates that the country might be undergoing an epidemiologic transition toward intermediate endemicity (3). Health officials are evaluating the potential costs and benefits of incorporating routine hepatitis A vaccination in Marshall Islands as a means of reducing ongoing transmission and preventing outbreaks.

References
-----------------
1. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, CDC: Update: prevention of hepatitis A after exposure to hepatitis A virus and in international travelers. Updated recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2007; 56(41): 1080-84; available at
2. Wasley A, Fiore A, Bell BP: Hepatitis A in the era of vaccination. Epidemiol Rev 2006; 28: 101-11; available at
3. Jacobsen KH: The global prevalence of hepatitis A virus infection and susceptibility: a systematic review. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2009; available at
===================
[This posting underscores the importance of the kind of epidemiologic pattern of HAV in an area and certainly suggests that this island nation has improved hygiene and sanitation to transition to intermediate endemicity where routine childhood HAV vaccination bears consideration. The current outbreaks in a variety of areas in the USA (including parts of Michigan, Utah, and Kentucky) affecting certain cohorts of adults (who were old enough not to be immunized as children) underscore immunization.

The Marshall Islands (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Islands>), officially the Republic of the Marshall Islands, is an island country located near the equator in the Pacific Ocean, slightly west of the International Date Line. Geographically, the country is part of the larger island group of Micronesia. The country is spread out over 29 coral atolls, comprising 1156 individual islands and islets. Politically, the Marshall Islands is a presidential republic in free association with the United States, with the USA providing defense, subsidies, and access to USA-based agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the United States Postal Service. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 12:35:06 +0200 (METDST)

Brussels, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Belgium's death toll from the novel coronavirus passed the 500 mark Monday, with almost 12,000 cases detected since the start of the epidemic.   Health authorities in the country of 11.4 million said 513 COVID-19 deaths had been recorded and 11,899 cases confirmed by laboratory tests.

But officials said the rise in admissions to hospital and to intensive care units had slowed slightly over the previous 24 hours.   "We're not at the peak, but at what we call the inflection point -- that means the force of the epidemic is beginning to diminish thanks to the efforts we have all made over the last two weeks," said Emmanuel Andre, spokesman for government's epidemic team.   "It is extremely important to keep up these efforts -- just because the curve is softening slightly today, it doesn't mean it won't get worse if we let up our efforts."

On Friday, Belgium extended lockdown measures by two weeks to April 18 to slow the spread of the virus.   Schools, restaurants and most shops are closed, entry to supermarkets is restricted to allow room for social distancing and people have been told to work from home.

Outdoor sports activities and walks outside are still allowed, but only in small groups, with a friend or with family members living under the same roof.    Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said the lockdown could be extended by another two weeks to May 3 if the spread of the virus demanded it.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 12:16:41 +0200 (METDST)

Madrid, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Spain confirmed another 812 deaths in 24 hours from the coronavirus on Monday, bringing the total number of deaths to 7,340, according to health ministry figures.   It is the first decline in the number of deaths in a 24-hour period since Thursday in Spain, which has the world's second most deadly outbreak after Italy. Spain recorded 838 virus deaths on Sunday.   The number of confirmed cases in Spain has now reached 85,195 -- after the one-day increase of 8.0 percent.

However, officials have pointed to a slower growth rate for both deaths and confirmed cases and expressed hope that the peak of the outbreak was approaching.   The percentage increase in the number of deaths on Monday over the previous day was of 12.4 percent, less than half the increase of 27 percent recorded on Wednesday.

Spain imposed a near-total nationwide lockdown on March 14 to try to curb the spread of the virus, banning people from leaving their homes except to go to work, buy food and medicine or care for a sick relative.   Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Saturday announced even stricter lockdown measures which will force all non-essential workers in the nation of around 47 million residents to stay home for the next two weeks.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 11:21:42 +0200 (METDST)

Harare, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Zimbabwean authorities on Monday began enforcing a three-week lockdown in its fight against the spread of coronavirus after the disease left one person dead and infected six others.   President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a 21-day "total" lockdown from Monday curtailing movement within the country, shutting most shops and suspending flights in and out of Zimbabwe.    Police mounted checkpoints on routes leading to Harare's central business district, stopping cars and turning away pedestrians who had no authorisation to be in the area.

Elsewhere truckloads of metropolitan and national police armed with batons were on patrol, ordering people back to their homes.   "We don't want to see people here on the streets. We don't want to see people who have no business in town just loitering," a policewoman said through a loud hailer. "Everyone to their homes."   Her colleagues, in riot gear, dispersed people standing in small groups at the Copacabana minibus terminus, which is usually abuzz with people including foreign currency dealers.    In the township of Mbare, the usually bustling  terminus for long-distance buses was deserted with only municipal street cleaners sweeping the empty bus ranks.   A traditionally busy downtown area of Harare referred to as "The Third World" resembled a ghost town with few people on the streets. Most shops had their shutters down.

For many of the country's 16 million people, who are already suffering a grim economic recession, the lockdown means even tougher hardship.   With unemployment rate estimated at around 90 percent, most Zimbabweans have informal jobs to eke out a living and few have substantial savings.   Some were trying to leave the city for rural villages.   "We would rather spend the 21 days at our rural home, where we don't have to buy everything. I can't afford to feed my family here when I am not working," said Most Jawure.   "We have been waiting here for more than two hours but there are no buses," Jawure told AFP while standing with his wife and daughter beside a bulging suitcase.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 09:48:42 +0200 (METDST)

Moscow, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Moscow on Monday imposed a lockdown in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus as Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin asked regional authorities to make similar preparations.    The enforcement of the tough new rules, which were suddenly announced by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin late Sunday, coincide with the beginning of a "non-working" week declared by President Vladimir Putin last week.   Europe's largest city announced the strict new isolation measures after many Muscovites refused to heed official recommendations and self-isolate at the weekend and instead went to parks for barbecues.

On Monday, the streets of Moscow were deserted following the closure of all non-essential shops, including restaurants and cafes, but traffic was still seen on the roads in the city centre.   "I ask regional heads to work on the introduction of quarantines similar to the one introduced in Moscow," Mishustin said at a government meeting.   In a rare televised address last Wednesday, Putin announced that Russians would not be required to go to work this week, but would still get paid.   The country has so far reported 1,534 cases of coronavirus and eight deaths, with more than one thousand infections in the capital.   The new restrictions apply to all of the city's residents, regardless of age.

Muscovites will only be allowed to leave their homes in cases of a medical emergency, to travel to jobs judged essential, and to shop for food or medicines.   People will be allowed to take out trash and walk their dogs within a 100-metre (330-foot) radius of their homes.   The new isolation rules, which will be policed by a vast system of facial-recognition cameras in Moscow, come into force as Russia closes its borders as part of increasingly stringent measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 08:20:07 +0200 (METDST)

Shanghai, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - A passenger train derailed after striking debris from a landslide in central China on Monday, injuring a number of passengers and staff, officials said.   The accident happened around midday in a rural part of Hunan province and came after recent heavy rains triggered landslides in the area, the state-run railway system said.   The statement said one car caught fire and five derailed. An unspecified number of staff and passengers were sent to hospital for treatment.

There were no immediate reports of deaths.   Unverified video posted on Chinese social media sites showed at least three cars lying on their side and smoke rising from a fire in the distance.   The train was travelling from the eastern city of Jinan to Guangzhou in the nation's south.   Parts of southern, eastern and central China have been soaked by steady rains beginning last week.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 08:10:11 +0200 (METDST)

Mogadishu, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - A governor in Somalia's Puntland has been killed in a suicide bombing claimed by the al-Shabaab jihadist group, police and hospital sources said Monday.   Abdisalan Hassan Hersi, governor of Nugaal region, succumbed to his injuries after being rushed to hospital in Garowe, the capital of Puntland where the blast occurred Sunday.   "The doctors tried to save the governor's life but unfortunately he died from his injuries," Mohamed Weli, a police officer in Puntland, told AFP by phone.   "He was in a critical condition when he was admitted to hospital."   A source at the hospital, who did not wish to be identified, said the governor died less than an hour after being admitted to the intensive care ward.   "He was badly wounded in the blast and he had little chance of surviving such serious injuries," the source told AFP.

A former police commander and a civilian also wounded in the blast were being treated at hospital, officials said Monday.   Several witnesses described the attacker running at the governor's vehicle before detonating a suicide vest, triggering an explosion.   Al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group waging a deadly insurgency in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.   The Al-Qaeda affiliate was driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 and lost most of their strongholds, but still control vast swathes of the countryside.   They have vowed to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu and have carried out many attacks in the capital.
Date: Sun, 29 Mar 2020 20:06:11 +0200 (METDST)

Luanda, March 29, 2020 (AFP) - Angola has recorded its first two deaths from coronavirus, out of the seven confirmed cases in the southwestern African country, health minister said Sunday.   "We now have seven confirmed cases and unfortunately two people lost their lives between last night and this morning," Health Minister Silvia Lutucuta told a news conference.   The fatalities were both Angolan citizens -- a 59-year-old, who was regularly resident in Portugal,but returned home on March 12 and a 37-year-old who had returned home from Lisbon the following day.
Date: Sun, 29 Mar 2020 11:48:20 +0200 (METDST)

Montevideo, March 29, 2020 (AFP) - Uruguay reported its first death linked to the novel coronavirus on Saturday, a former minister and ally of the ruling party, the government said.   "With deep sadness we announce the first death due to coronavirus in Uruguay," Secretary of the Presidency Alvaro Delgado told a press conference, naming the victim as Rodolfo Gonzalez Rissotto.

Gonzalez Rissotto was one of nine patients with the coronavirus who were in intensive care, Delgado said, adding his death was "all the more reason to reinforce the request to everyone to take care of themselves and stay home."   President Luis Lacalle Pou paid tribute in a tweet.   "A big hug for the family and friends of Rodolfo Gonzalez Risotto. Friend and counselor. RIP."   Uruguay has reported 304 confirmed cases of the virus.
Date: Fri 27 Mar 2020
Source: AP News [edited]

Standing over the still body of an intubated 5-year-old boy wearing nothing but a plastic diaper, an Iranian healthcare worker in a hazmat suit and mask begged the public for just one thing: Stop drinking industrial alcohol [methanol, the most common industrial alcohol] over fears about the new coronavirus.

The boy, now blind after his parents gave him toxic methanol in the mistaken belief it protects against the virus, is just one of hundreds of victims of an epidemic inside the pandemic now gripping Iran.

Iranian media report nearly 300 people have been killed and more than 1000 sickened so far by ingesting methanol across the Islamic Republic, where drinking alcohol [ethanol] is banned and where those who do rely on bootleggers. An Iranian doctor helping the country's Health Ministry told the Associated Press on Friday [27 Mar 2020] the problem was even greater, giving a death toll of around 480 with 2850 people sickened. [Apparently all from methanol intoxication. - ProMed Mod.TG]

The poisonings come as fake remedies spread across social media in Iran, where people remain deeply suspicious of the government after it downplayed the crisis for days before it overwhelmed the country.

"Other countries have only one problem, which is the new coronavirus pandemic. But we are fighting on 2 fronts here," said Dr. Hossein Hassanian, an adviser to Iran's Health Ministry, who gave the higher figures to the AP. "We have to both cure the people with alcohol [methanol] poisoning and also fight the coronavirus."

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, clearing up in 2-3 weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

The pandemic has swept across the world, overwhelming hospitals, crippling economies, and forcing governments to restrict the movements of billions of people. Particularly hard hit has been Iran, home to 80 million people.

As of now, there is no known cure for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Scientists and doctors continue to study the virus and search for effective medicines and a vaccine.

But in messages forwarded and forwarded again, Iranian social media accounts in Farsi falsely suggested a British schoolteacher and others cured themselves of the coronavirus with whiskey and honey, based on a tabloid story from early February [2020]. Mixed with messages about the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, some wrongly believed drinking high-proof alcohol would kill the virus in their bodies.

The Islamic Republic has reported over 29 000 confirmed cases [of COVID-19] and more than 2200 deaths from the virus, the highest toll of any country in the Middle East. International experts also fear Iran may be under-reporting its cases, as officials for days played down the virus ahead of a parliamentary election.

That fear of the virus, coupled with poor education and internet rumours, saw dozens sickened by drinking bootleg alcohol containing methanol in Iran's southwestern Khuzestan province and its southern city of Shiraz. Videos aired by Iranian media showed patients with IVs stuck in their arms, lying on beds otherwise needed for the fight against the coronavirus, including the intubated 5-year-old boy. Iranian media also reported cases in the cities of Karaj and Yazd.

In Iran, the government mandates manufacturers of toxic methanol add an artificial color to their products so the public can tell it apart from ethanol, the kind used in cleaning wounds. Ethanol is also the kind of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, though its production is illegal in Iran.

Some bootleggers in Iran use methanol, adding a splash of bleach to mask the added color before selling it as drinkable. Sometimes it is mixed with consumable alcohol to stretch supply, and other times it comes as methanol, falsely advertised as drinkable. Methanol also can contaminate traditionally fermented alcohol.

Methanol cannot be smelled or tasted in drinks. It causes delayed organ and brain damage. Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation, blindness, and even coma.

Hassanian said his figures included reports from coroner's offices around Iran also counting those who died outside of hospitals from the poisonings.

"Unfortunately, in some provinces, including Khuzestan and Fars, deaths from drinking methanol has exceeded the number of deaths from the new coronavirus," he said.

Dr. Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologist in Oslo, said to expect more methanol poisoning victims.

"The virus is spreading, and people are just dying off, and I think they are even less aware of the fact there are other dangers around," Hovda said. "When they keep drinking this [methanol], there's going to be more people poisoned."

Even before the outbreak, methanol poisoning had taken a toll in Iran. One academic study found methanol poisoning sickened 768 people in Iran between September and October 2018 alone, killing 76.

Other Muslim nations banning their citizens from drinking also see such methanol poisoning, although Iran appears to be the only one in the pandemic so far to turn toward it as a fake cure. In Buddhist Cambodia, police said they seized 4200 liters (1100 gallons) of methanol from a man who unwittingly planned to make toxic hand sanitizer because of the virus outbreak.

Muslim drinkers in Iran can be punished with cash fines and 80 lashes. However, minority Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians can drink alcoholic beverages in private.

While police occasionally announce alcohol busts, the trade in nontoxic alcohol also continues. Locally made Iranian arak from fermented raisins, known as Aragh sagi, sells for USD 10 for a 1.5 l [1.6 qt] bottle. Imported vodka sells for USD 40 a bottle.

"Every year during Nowruz, or the Persian New Year holidays beginning 21 Mar 2020, my customers double," said Rafik, an Iranian-Armenian who makes vodka in the basement of his Tehran home. He spoke on the condition only his 1st name be used for fear of arrest. "This year [2020], because of coronavirus, it jumped up by 4- or 5-fold."

Farhad, a self-described heavy drinker who lives in central Tehran, said alcohol remains easy to find for those looking for it. "Even you can find it offered when you are walking down the street, " he said.

Since 1979, Iran's 40 alcohol factories have seen their production changed to pharmaceutical needs and sanitizers. Others had been left idle, like the abandoned Shams alcohol factory east of Tehran.

But now, in a time when even some mosques in Iran hand out high-proof alcohol as a sanitizer, officials plan to start work again at Shams to produce 22 000 l [23 247 qt] of 99% alcohol a day. [This alcohol is not for internal consumption but can be used in hand sanitizers. - ProMed Mod.TG]  [Byline: Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell]
====================
[Methanol toxicity initially lacks severe toxic manifestations. Its pathophysiology represents a classic example of lethal synthesis in which toxic metabolites cause fatality after a characteristic latent period. In other words, these people may not realize they are sick or ill until sometime after consumption.

Methanol is sometimes used as an ethanol substitute for alcohol. Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fruit juices, fermented beverages, and diet soft drinks containing aspartame are the primary sources of methanol in the human body, but [they contain] minute quantities.

Wood alcohol is also known as methanol. It is a commonly used toxic organic solvent causing metabolic acidosis, neurologic issues, and death when ingested. It is a part of many commercial industrial solvents and of adulterated alcoholic beverages or is mistaken as being the same as alcohol for ingestion. Methanol toxicity remains a common problem in many parts of the developing world, especially among members of lower socioeconomic classes.

Neurological complications are recognized more frequently due to advanced technologies and because of early recognition of the toxicity and advances in supportive care. Hemodialysis and better management of acid-base disturbances remain the most important therapeutic improvements.

Serum methanol levels of greater than 20 mg/dL correlate with ocular injury. Funduscopic changes are notable within only a few hours after methanol ingestion. The mechanism by which the methanol causes toxicity to the visual system is not well understood. Formic acid, the toxic metabolite of methanol, is regarded as being responsible for ocular toxicity, and blindness can occur in humans.

The prognosis in methanol poisoning correlates with the amount of methanol consumed and the subsequent degree of metabolic acidosis; more severe acidosis confers a poorer prognosis. Methanol has a relatively low toxicity. The adverse effects are thought to be from the accumulation of formic acid, a metabolite of methanol metabolism. The prognosis is further dependent on the amount of formic acid that has accumulated in the blood, with a direct correlation existing between the formic acid concentration and morbidity and mortality. Little long-term improvement can be expected in patients with neurologic complications.

The minimal lethal dose of methanol in adults is believed to be 1 mg/kg of body weight. The exact rates of morbidity and mortality from methanol intoxication are not available.

Rapid, early treatment is necessary for survival, but sequelae such as blindness may be permanent.

Metabolic acidosis in methanol poisoning may necessitate the administration of bicarbonate and assisted ventilation. Bicarbonate potentially may reverse visual deficits. In addition, bicarbonate may help to decrease the amount of active formic acid.

Antidote therapy, often using ethanol or fomepizole, is directed towards delaying methanol metabolism until the methanol is eliminated from the patient's system either naturally or via dialysis. Like methanol, ethanol is metabolized by ADH [alcohol dehydrogenase], but the enzyme's affinity for ethanol is 10-20 times higher than it is for methanol. Fomepizole is also metabolized by ADH; however, its use is limited because of high cost and lack of availability.

Hemodialysis can easily remove methanol and formic acid. Indications for this procedure include (1) greater than 30 mL [1 oz] of methanol ingested, (2) serum methanol level greater than 20 mg/dL, (3) observation of visual complications, and (4) no improvement in acidosis despite repeated sodium bicarbonate infusions.

Intravenous administration of ethanol in a 10% dextrose solution may be helpful. As ethanol prolongs the elimination half-life of methanol, the treatment may take several days, and the patient should be hospitalized. Dialysis may be necessary to prevent kidney failure as well. Hemodialysis remains an effective treatment.

Portions of this comment were extracted from

This tragic development is another example of the broader deleterious impact of a pandemic on other aspects of public health.  Anecdotal reports of other potentially harmful "home remedies" for COVID-19 being hawked on the internet reminds us that education of the general public and responsible messaging are more important now than ever. - ProMed Mod.LXL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 22:49:49 +0100 (MET)

Dublin, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland is to impose a lockdown in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday.   "Everybody must stay at home, in all circumstances," he said of the new measures to come into force at midnight (0000 GMT) on Saturday and last until 12 April.   Exceptions will be made for essential workers, medical appointments and the purchase of food.   Travel for "vital family reasons", for farming and exercise within two kilometres (one mile) of homes will also be allowed.

All public or private gatherings "of any number of people" outside a single household are also prohibited.   "These are radical actions aimed at saving as many people's lives as possible," said Varadkar at a press conference.   "I'm asking us for a time to forego our personal liberties and freedoms for a greater cause."   There have been 22 COVID-19 related deaths and 2,121 confirmed cases of the virus in Ireland, according to department of health figures released earlier Friday.   Earlier this month the Irish government ordered schools, universities and pubs to close nationwide.   Swathes of non-essential businesses were also ordered shut earlier this week as Ireland braced for an uptick of COVID-19 cases within its borders.

Emergency coronavirus legislation passed through the final stages of Irish parliament and was signed into law by president Michael D. Higgins earlier Friday.   The bill enacts a rent freeze and a moratorium on evictions for the duration of the crisis.   It also streamlines the registration of healthcare and defence forces staff returning to the workforce, and enables the Irish government's financial supports to those laid off as a result of COVID-19 business closures.   "The legislation is emergency legislation for a time of crisis," said Higgins in a statement.   "These are difficult times, but our difficulties will come to an end."