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Albania

Albania US Consular Information Sheet November 04, 2008

 COUNTRY DESCRIPTION

Albania is a parliamentary democracy that is transforming its economy into a market-oriented system. Albania's per capita income is among the lowest in Eu

ope, but economic conditions in the country are steadily improving. Tourist facilities are not highly developed in much of the country, and though Albania's economic integration into European Union markets is slowly underway, many of the goods and services taken for granted in other European countries are not yet available. Hotel accommodations are limited outside of major cities. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Albania for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS

 A passport is required. All travelers entering or exiting Albania must have six months or more validity on their passport. Customs officers strictly enforce this law. U.S. citizens do not require a visa prior to entering Albania, but those traveling without a visa will be charged a fee for an entry stamp at the point of entry, which is valid for a stay of up to 90 days. This fee is currently 10 Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Travelers without a visa who intend to stay in Albania for more than 90 days should be aware that Albanian law allows a traveler without a visa to remain in Albania for 90 days only within a specific 180-day period. That 180-day period is defined from the first day of entry. For example, a traveler entering without a visa on January 1 may remain in Albania for 90 days total during the period of time between January 1 and June 28. Departing Albania during this time period does not "restart the clock." Travelers attempting to reenter Albania without a visa and within 180 days of a previous entry and after an aggregate stay of 90 days may be denied entry. For stays exceeding 90 days within a 180-day period, those interested must apply for a Residency Permit at the police station with jurisdiction over the city of residence. Information on how to apply for a residency permit is available on the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/. There is also a departure fee of ten Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Visit the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/consular.html#visa for the most current visa information. Dual Nationality: The Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. If such persons are found guilty of draft evasion in Albania, they are subject to prosecution by the Albanian court. Those who might be affected should inquire at an Albanian Embassy or Consulate outside Albania regarding their status before traveling. In some instances, dual nationality may hamper U.S. Government efforts to provide protection abroad. 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

Although the overall security situation in Albania has improved in recent years, organized criminal activity continues to operate in all regions, and corruption is pervasive. US Government employees need permission to travel to the northern administrative districts of Shkoder, Malesi E Madhe and Tropoje (with the exception of the route along the national road to Montenegro and the city of Shkoder) and to the southern town of Lazarat, with such travel restricted to secure vehicles with escort. Travel restrictions for U.S. Government employees have been lifted for overnight stays in the city of Shkoder. In most cases, police assistance and protection is limited. A high level of security awareness should be maintained at all times. Photographing anything that authorities regard as being of military or security interest may cause travelers problems. All gatherings of large crowds should be avoided, particularly those involving political causes or striking workers. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME

In the latest State Department assessment, Albania’s crime rating is “medium.” Crime against foreigners is rare in Albania, as targeting foreigners is often viewed as too risky. Visitors should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Caution should be exercised in bars in Tirana where violent incidents, some involving the use of firearms, have occurred in the past, particularly in the early morning hours. Within the last years there have been fewer cases of carjacking compared with previous years. Anyone who is carjacked should surrender the vehicle without resistance. Armed crime continues to be more common in northern and northwestern Albania than in the rest of the country. Street crime is fairly common in Albania, particularly at night. Criminals do not seem to deliberately target U.S. citizens or other foreigners, but do seek targets of opportunity, and select those who appear to have anything of value. Vehicle theft is still one of the biggest problems in Albania. Pick-pocketing is widespread; U.S. citizens have reported the theft of their passports by pick-pockets. INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line is 129, though coverage is inconsistent at best. See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION

Medical facilities and capabilities in Albania are limited beyond rudimentary first aid treatment. Emergency and major medical care requiring surgery and hospital care is inadequate due to lack of specialists, diagnostic aids, medical supplies, and prescription drugs. Travelers with previously diagnosed medical conditions may wish to consult their physicians before travel. As prescription drugs may be unavailable locally, travelers may also wish to bring extra supplies of required medications. Recent electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country, which can affect food storage capabilities of restaurants and shops. While some restaurants and food stores have generators to properly store food, travelers should take care that food is cooked thoroughly to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. Water in Albania is not potable. Visitors should plan to purchase bottled water or drinks while in country. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Albania. 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 (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en

MEDICAL INSURANCE

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

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Albania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Major roads in Albania are often in very poor condition. Traveling by road throughout Albania is the most dangerous activity for locals and tourists. Vehicle accidents are the major cause of death, according to police statistics. Electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country that can happen any hour of the day or night. Such outages affect traffic signals and street lights, making driving increasingly treacherous at any time of day. Travel at night outside the main urban areas is dangerous and should be avoided due to deplorable road conditions. During the winter months, travelers may encounter dangerous snow and icy conditions on the roads throughout mountainous regions in northern Albania. Buses travel between most major cities almost exclusively during the day, but they are often unreliable and uncomfortable. Many travelers looking for public transport prefer to use privately owned vans, which function as an alternate system of bus routes and operate almost entirely without schedules or set fares. Please note that many of these privately owned vans may not have official permission to operate a bus service and may not adhere to accepted safety and maintenance standards. Persons wishing to use privately owned vans should exercise caution. There are no commercial domestic flights and few rail connections. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at www.albaniantourism.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Albania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Albania's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Albania's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Albania of some items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Albania in Washington, D.C. or one of Albania's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. As noted previously, the Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. See our information pertaining to dual nationality. Albania is a cash economy. Credit cards and travelers checks are not generally accepted, except at the major new hotels in Tirana and some international airline offices. Travelers' checks can be changed at banks in larger towns. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in most cities. Please see our Customs Information CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Albania’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Albania 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. Under Albanian law, police can detain any individual for up to 10 hours without filing formal charges. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times to show proof of identity and U.S. citizenship if questioned by local officials.

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 Albania 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 Albania. 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 Rruga Elbasanit 103, tel. (355)(4) 2247285; fax (355)(4) 2232222. The U.S. Embassy web site is http://tirana.usembassy.gov/ * * * This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2019 09:28:12 +0100 (MET)
By Briseida MEMA

Tirana, Nov 26, 2019 (AFP) - Six people died and some 150 were injured in Albania after the strongest earthquake in decades rocked the Balkan country early Tuesday, destroying buildings and burying victims in rubble.

The epicentre of the 6.4 magnitude quake was about 34 kilometres (about 20 miles) northwest of the capital Tirana, at a depth of 10 km, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.   "We have victims," Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter. "We are working to do everything possible in the affected areas."   The quake struck at 3:54 am local time (0254 GMT) and sent panicked residents running out onto the streets of Tirana, with people huddling in the open, an AFP correspondent said.

The worst damage appeared to be around the coastal town of Durres. The quake was the strongest to hit this region since 1926, Albanian seismologist Rrapo Ormeni told local television.   Three bodies were pulled from the ruins of damaged buildings in the port town, where a three-story hotel collapsed and other buildings were damaged, according to the defence ministry.   The bodies of a man and a woman were uncovered in rubble in the nearby town of Thumane, the ministry said.

A man in his fifties died after he jumped out of his building in panic in the town of Kurbin, the defence ministry said.   Some 300 armed forces personnel have rushed to Durres and Thumane for rescue operations, where "there are people trapped under the ruins", defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qahajaj said.

In Thumane, around a dozen rescuers used an excavator to dig through a mountain of debris in search of possible victims.   At least 150 people with injuries have sought first aid in Tirana and Durres, Health Minister Ogerta Manasterliu said.

- Trapped under rubble -
In Thumane, soldiers, rescuers and families were sifting through the rubble of a collapsed five-storey building as cries of people trapped under debris were heard, an AFP reporter said.   Thoma Nika, a 58-year-old who lived in the building, said there were at least six people under rubble.    Another man, Arben Allushi said with tears in his eyes, that his wife and niece missing after the building collapsed.

A man in Durres told local television that his daughter and niece were trapped in the rubble of a collapsed apartment building.    "I talked with my daughter and niece on the phone. They said they are well and are waiting for the rescue. I could not talk to my wife. There are other families, but I could not talk to them," the man said.

The tremors were felt across the Balkan region, from Sarajevo to Bosnia and even in the Serbian city of Novi Sad almost 700 kilometres away, according to reports in local media and on social networks.   It was followed by several aftershocks, including one of 5.3 magnitude, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre said. It was described by authorities as the strongest earthquake in the last 20-30 years.   The Balkans is an area prone to seismic activity and earthquakes are frequent.
Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2019 20:39:17 +0200 (METDST)

Tirana, Sept 21, 2019 (AFP) - Albania was rattled by its strongest earthquake in decades Saturday, officials said, sending people fleeing into the streets in several cities, damaging buildings and triggering power cuts in the capital.   The epicentre of the shallow 5.6-magnitude quake, was near Durres, less than 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of the capital Tirana, according to the US Geological Survey.

Albania's defence ministry said it was the "strongest earthquake in the country in the last 20 to 30 years".   "There are no deaths," defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qajaj said.   Some 80 people sought medical help in both Tirana and Durres, 21 of whom were hospitalised due to injuries caused by falling objects or parts of walls as well as for panic attacks, Health Minister Ogerta Manasterilu said.   Qajaj told AFP that houses and buildings in Tirana had been damaged but were still standing and that the ministry was accessing damage in other towns and villages.   Prime Minister Edi Rama cancelled his scheduled trip to the United States following the quake, which cut electricity and telephone lines in Tirana and a number of other towns and villages.

Many people remained outside their homes for several hours in the capital, fearful of aftershocks.   "I fear to return because such a strong earthquake could be followed with others," Drita Lohja, a resident in her fifties, told AFP.    Falling debris pulverised parked cars in parts of the city.   AFP reporters and witnesses saw windows broken and deep fissures in the facades of buildings in Durres, as well as in the capital.   Media reported that a large building in Tirana was seriously damaged and that residents were being evacuated.   A University of Tirana building was also damaged, witnesses said.

According to local media reports, at least two people were lightly injured and a dozen houses collapsed in the village of Helmes, 10 kilometres from Tirana.   Two other earthquakes followed the strong one that occurred at around 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) and was felt in neighbouring Montenegro and Italy, but also on the Greek island of Corfu according to some Twitter users.
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2018 16:28:50 +0100

Tirana, March 9, 2018 (AFP) - The military has been deployed in northern Albania to help hundreds of people trapped by floods following heavy rainfall, authorities said on Friday.   More than 9,230 hectares (22,800 acres) of agricultural land is underwater in the Shkodra region, including villages where the only means of transport is by boat, the defence ministry said.

Army personnel are evacuating residents and securing food supplies in the affected areas, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the capital, Tirana.   The torrential rain in recent days has caused landslides damaging dozens of homes and flooding roads, said the transport ministry.   The rain has also forced the Albanian authorities to release excess water from a hydroelectric plant, which has added to the flooding in northern areas of the country.   Weather forecasters say the rain is likely to ease from Saturday.
Date: Sun, 3 Dec 2017 12:29:40 +0100

Tirana, Dec 3, 2017 (AFP) - Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed in Albania to rescue stranded residents after heavy rainfall triggered major flooding, and caused the death of a utility worker, officials and the power company said Sunday.   The victim, Sabri Vlinga, died while he was working on a electricity pole at Roskovec in the flooded south of the country, the power company said in statement.   Two other people were injured in similar accidents. it added.   Some 6,400 police and soldiers have been sent to help rescue people stranded by the floods, Prime MInister Edi Rama said Saturday, calling the situation "very critical".

Around 1,500 people in the affected areas have been rescued, while several thousand homes were without electricity as many utility poles have been swept away by mudslides, said Shemsi Prenci, head of civil protection.   More than 7,874 hectares (19,450 acres) of farm land as well as 3,193 homes are under water and several roads in the south remained impassable.

Army forces have built a temporary bridge at Darezeze, about 70 kilometres (44 miles) from the capital Tirana, to come to the aid of 2,000 residents stranded by the floods, the defence ministry said.    In neighbouring Macedonia, the heavy rains have also caused flooding as several rivers include the main Vardar river have burst their banks, the MIA news agency reported.
Date: Sat 5 Aug 2017
From: Edmond Puca <edmond_puca@yahoo.com> [edited]

Here in Albania, we have 2 imported cases of haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS), one imported from the north of Greece and another from Macedonia in a village near the border with Albania.

The patient from Macedonia is 25 years old. He presented in the emergency room on 31 Jul [2017]. Right now, he is in good condition and will survive. He presented with fever, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and lower back pain.

The other patient from Greece had been in our service for the previous 2 weeks and now is at home in good condition.

The disease is caused by Dobrava-Belgrade virus infection.
---------------------------------
Dr Edmond Puca
Infectologue
Department of Infectious Disease
UHC "Mother Teresa"
Tirana, Albania
===================
[ProMED-mail thanks Dr Edmond Puca for sending in this report.  This and the previous report are the 1st reports of hantavirus infections in Macedonia that ProMED-mail has posted. There is also evidence of HFRS in Greece, although ProMED-mail has not posted reports previously. Sero-epidemiological investigations conducted in several Balkan countries revealed an overall seroprevalence of 4 per cent in Greece (<http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168170213004887#>). There doubtless have been Dobrava-Belgrade virus infections in Greece and the Balkans over the years, given that this virus is known to circulate widely in the Balkans.

The yellow-necked field mouse (_Apodemus flavicollis_) is the principle vertebrate host for Dobrava-Belgrade virus. - ProMED Mod.TY]

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

France and Monaco US Consular Information Sheet
December 22, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
France is a developed and stable democracy with a modern economy.
Monaco is a developed constitutional monarchy.
Tourist facilities are widely
available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on France and Monaco for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
France is party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter France for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
A passport is required and should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
Anyone intending to stay more than 90 days must obtain the appropriate visa issued by one of the French Consulates in the U.S., prior to departure for France.
This also applies to anyone considering marriage in France.
For further information about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet.
A passport is required to enter Monaco. A visa is not required for tourist/business stays up to 90 days in Monaco.
For further information concerning entry requirements for France, travelers may contact the Embassy of France at 4101 Reservoir Road NW, Washington, DC
20007, tel. (202) 944-6000, email: info@ambafrance-us.org, or the French Consulates General in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, or San Francisco.

For further information on entry requirements to Monaco, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Principality of Monaco. 2314 Wyoming Avenue, NW Washington, DC
20008, Tel: 202-234-1530, email: embassy@monaco-usa.org, or the Consulate General of Monaco, 565 Fifth Avenue – 23rd floor, New York, NY 10017, tel.: 212-286-0500, email: info@monaco-consulate.com.
For more information, visit the Embassy of France web site at www.consulfrance-washington.org or the Embassy of the Principality of Monaco web site at http://www.monaco-usa.org for the most current visa information.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The Government of France maintains a threat rating system, known locally as “Vigipirate,” similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory System.
Under this plan, in times of heightened security concerns, the government augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations.
Over the last few years, there have been numerous arrests of suspected Islamic militants involved in various terrorist plots.
As with other countries in the Schengen area, France maintains open borders with its European neighbors, allowing the possibility of terrorist operatives entering/exiting the country with anonymity.

Political assassinations and bombings have occurred in France.
The National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC), as part of its decades-long bombing campaign on the island of Corsica, continues to conduct limited operations in the south of France and on Corsica.
In the 1990s there was a wave of bombings and attacks in Paris carried out by Algerian terrorists.
Today, numerous radical Islamic groups claim sympathizers within France’s large immigrant community, as evidenced by arrests over the last few years.

Although Americans have not been specifically targeted in terrorist attacks in France within the past few years, travelers should maintain vigilance.
Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places or any other suspicious activities. French law enforcement authorities are proactive and will respond immediately.
If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.

Although violent civil disorder is rare in France, in the past, student demonstrations, labor protests, and other types of demonstrations have developed into violent confrontations between demonstrators and police.
This was the case in March/April 2006, when a series of large demonstrations took place in central Paris. Several weeks of unrest occurred in the suburbs of Paris, as well as in other French cities and towns, in November 2005.
Neither of these periods of disorder exhibited any anti-U.S. sentiment, but it is important to remember that even a passer-by can be harmed should demonstrations devolve into violence.
Americans are advised to avoid street demonstrations, particularly if riot police are on the scene.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the 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., 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, please see A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
While both France and Monaco have relatively low rates of violent crime, a limited number of neighborhoods in the larger French cities merit extra caution.
Additionally, although the overall crime rate has fallen slightly in recent years, the violent crime rate has increased.
Thieves commonly target vehicles with non-local license plates, and work in or near tourist attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, hotels, beaches, trains, train stations, airports, and subways.
Americans in France and Monaco should be particularly alert to pickpockets in train stations and subways.
Travelers should keep photocopies of travel documents and credit cards separate from the originals, along with key telephone numbers to contact banks for credit card replacement.

Although thieves may operate anywhere, the U.S. Embassy in Paris receives frequent reports of theft from several areas in particular:
Paris: The Paris Police Prefecture published a pamphlet entitled “Paris in Complete Safety,” which provides practical advice and useful telephone numbers for visitors and can be accessed at http://www.prefecture-police-paris.interieur.gouv.fr/prevention/article/paris_securite_anglais.htm. Thieves operate on the rail link (RER) from Charles de Gaulle Airport to downtown Paris, where they prey on jet-lagged, luggage-burdened tourists.
In one common ruse, a thief distracts a tourist with a question about directions while an accomplice steals a momentarily unguarded backpack, briefcase, or purse.
Thieves also time their thefts to coincide with train stops so they may quickly exit the car just before the automatic doors close.
Travelers should consider taking an airport shuttle bus or taxi from the airport into the city.
Reports of stolen purses, briefcases, and carry-on bags at Charles de Gaulle Airport are not uncommon.
Travelers should monitor their bags at all times and never leave them unattended.
As thieves commonly target laptop bags, travelers should avoid carrying passports and other valuables in computer bags.
Another common method involves picking up a traveler’s shoulder bag that has been placed on the floor while the traveler is busy at the ticket counter. Also be aware that unattended bags are subject to destruction by airport security.

There are reports of robberies in which thieves on motorcycles reach into a moving car by opening the car door or accessing an open window or even breaking the window to steal purses and other bags visible inside.
The same technique is used against pedestrians walking with purses/bags/cameras slung over their street-side shoulder.
Those traveling by car should remember to keep the windows up and the doors locked and items that may be attractive to thieves out of sight.
Pedestrians are encouraged to remain aware of their surroundings at all times, and to keep bags slung across the body, with the bag hanging away from the street.

Many thefts occur on the Number One Subway Line, which runs through the center of Paris by many major tourist attractions (including the Grand Arch at La Défense, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysées, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, and the Bastille).
Pickpockets are especially active on this metro line during the summer months and use a number of techniques.
The most common, and unfortunately the most successful, is the simple “bump and snatch,” where an individual bumps into the tourist while at the same time reaching into the pockets/purse/bag.
Visitors should be particularly careful when metro doors are closing, as this is a favored moment for the less-sophisticated pickpockets to simply grab valuables and jump through the closing doors, leaving the victim helplessly watching as the thief flees.
Visitors are encouraged NOT to confront thieves aggressively; they often operate in groups and may become violent if cornered.
Simply drawing attention to an attempted theft will most likely stop the operation, and result in a tactical withdrawal by the thief.

Gare du Nord train station, where the express trains from the airport arrive in Paris, is also a high-risk area for pocket-picking and theft.
Travelers should also beware of thefts that occur on both overnight and day trains, especially on trains originating in Spain, Italy, and Belgium.
These involve the theft of valuables while passengers are sleeping, or when the bags are left unattended.

In hotels, thieves target lobbies and breakfast rooms, and take advantage of a minute of inattention to snatch jackets, purses, and backpacks.
While many hotels do have safety latches that allow guests to secure their rooms from inside, this feature is not as universal as it is in the United States.
If no chain or latch is present, a chair placed up against the door and wedged under the handle is usually an effective obstacle to surreptitious entry during the night.
There are, however, reports of thieves breaking into hotel rooms on lower floors through open windows while the occupants are sleeping.
To guard against this, hotel room windows should be kept locked at all times. Whenever possible, valuables should be kept in the hotel safe.

Many Americans report thefts occurring in restaurants and nightclubs/bars, where purses are stolen from the back of a chair or from under the table.
Again, keep valuables on your person and do not leave them unattended or out of sight.
Thefts also occur at the major department stores such as Galeries Lafayette and Printemps where tourists often place wallets, passports, and credit cards on cashier counters during transactions.

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are very common in France and provide ready access to cash, allowing travelers to carry as much money as they need for each day.
The rates are competitive with local exchange bureaus, and an ATM transaction is easier than cashing a traveler’s check.
However, crime involving ATMs is increasing.
Travelers should not use ATMs in isolated, unlit areas or where loiterers are present.
Travelers should be especially aware of persons standing close enough to see the Personal Identification Number (PIN) being entered into the machine.
Thieves often conduct successful scams by simply observing the PIN as it is entered and then stealing the card from the user in some other location.
If the card becomes stuck, travelers should immediately report it to the bank where the machine is located.

Large criminal operations in Paris involving the use of ATMs that “eat” the user’s ATM card have been reported.
This most often happens during a weekend or at night when the bank is closed.
The frustrated traveler often walks away after unsuccessfully trying to retrieve the card, with plans to return the first day the bank is open.
In such cases, a criminal gang has modified the machine using an add-on device equipped with a microchip that records the user’s PIN when it is typed in, and also prevents the card from being ejected.
The criminal retrieves the card from the device once the visitor departs, downloads the recorded PIN and then goes to other ATMs and withdraws as much cash as possible.
ATM users are strongly encouraged to carry a 24-hour emergency number for their ATM card and bank account that will enable the immediate prevention of withdrawals from the account if difficulties occur.

Pigalle is the “adult entertainment district” of Paris.
Many entertainment establishments in this area engage in aggressive marketing and charge well beyond the normal rate for drinks.
Reports of threats of violence to coerce patrons into paying exorbitant beverage tabs are not uncommon.
There have also been several violent confrontations between rival gangs in the district, including one in August 2007 one block from the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret.
Visitors are encouraged to avoid this area unless touring with a well-organized and reputable tour company.

Normandy:
There has been an increase in break-ins and thefts from vehicles in the parking lots at the Normandy beaches and American cemeteries common.
Valuables should not be left unattended in a car, and locking valuables in the trunk should not be considered a safeguard.
Thieves often pry open car trunks to steal bags inside.

Southern France: Thefts from cars with unlocked doors or open windows stopped at red lights or caught in slow traffic are very common, particularly along the Riviera of the Nice-Antibes-Cannes area, and in Marseille.
Car doors should be kept locked and windows raised at all times to prevent incidents of "snatch-and-grab" thefts.
In this type of scenario, the thief is usually a passenger on a motorcycle. Break-ins of parked cars are also fairly common.
Valuables should not be left in the car, not even in the trunk, when the vehicle is unattended.

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.
Under French law, compensation is available to victims of crime committed on French soil under certain circumstances. To learn about resources in the U.S., including possible compensation, see our information on Victims of Crime
The local equivalents to the “911” emergency line in France are as follows: 17 (police emergency), 18 (fire department) and 15 (emergency medical/paramedic team/ambulance).
In Monaco, the numbers are 17 (police emergency), 18 (fire department) and 9375-2525 (medical/paramedic team/ambulance).

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care comparable to that found in the United States is widely available. In France, the phone number for emergency medical services is 15.
In Monaco, the phone number for emergency medical services is 9375-2525.

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

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning France and Monaco is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Roads in France are generally comparable to those in the United States, but traffic engineering and driving habits pose special dangers.
Usually, lane markings and sign placements are not as clear as in the United States.
Drivers should be prepared to make last-minute maneuvers, as most French drivers do.
The French typically drive more aggressively and faster than Americans, and tend to exceed posted speed limits.
Right-of-way rules in France may differ from those in the United States.
Drivers entering intersections from the right have priority over those on the left (unless specifically indicated otherwise), even when entering relatively large boulevards from small side streets.
Many intersections in France are being replaced by traffic circles, where the right-of-way belongs to drivers in the circle.

On major highways, service stations are situated at least every 25 miles.
Service stations are not as plentiful on secondary roads in France as they are in the United States.
Paris, the capital and largest city in France, has an extensive and efficient public transportation system.
The interconnecting system of buses, subways, and commuter rails serves more than 4 million people a day with a safety record comparable to or better than the systems of major American cities.
Similar transportation systems are found in all major French cities. Between cities, France is served by an equally extensive rail service, which is reliable.
High-speed rail links connect the major cities in France. Many cities are also served by frequent air service.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the French and Monegasque National Tourist Office at http://us.franceguide.com/.
The website contains specific information concerning French and Monegasque driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of France's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of France's air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
French and Monegasque customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from France of items such as firearms, antiquities, medications, business equipment, sales samples, and other items.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of France in Washington, DC, one of France's consulates in the United States, or the Consulate General of Monaco in New York for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating French or Monegasque laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in France or Monaco 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 AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS:
Americans living or traveling in France or Monaco are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so they can obtain updated information on travel and security within France and Monaco.
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 cases of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy/Consular Section in Paris is located at 4 avenue Gabriel, 75008 Paris (Place de La Concorde, métro stop Concorde), telephone: in country 01-43-12-22-22; from the U.S. 011-33-1-43-12-22-22 (24 hours); fax for Passport Services in country 01-42-96-28-39; from the U.S. 011-33-1-42-96-28-39; for Special Consular Services (emergencies) fax: in country 01-42-61-61-40; from the U.S. 011-33-1-42-61-61-40. Further information can be obtained at the U.S. Embassy's web site at http://france.usembassy.gov/
The Consulate General in Marseille is located at Place Varian Fry, 13006 Marseille, telephone: in country 04-91-54-92-00; from the U.S. 011-33-4-91-54-92-00 (24 hours); Consular Section fax: in country 04-91-55-56-95 and main fax 04-91-55-09-47; Consular Section fax from the U.S. 011-33-4-91-55-56-95, and main fax from the U.S. 011-33-4-91-55-09-47.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/marseille.html.

The Consulate General in Strasbourg is located at 15 Avenue d'Alsace, 67082 Strasbourg, telephone: in country 03-88-35-31-04; from the U.S. 011-33-3-88-35-31-04; fax: in country 03-88-24-06-95; from the U.S. 011-33-3-88-24-06-95.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/strasbourg.html.

The Consulate General in Strasbourg does not produce passports on the premises.
American citizens in this area whose passports are lost or stolen and have urgent travel needs should contact the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

The U.S. Government also has consular representation in Bordeaux, Lyon, Rennes, Nice and Toulouse that provide limited services to Americans, by appointment only.

The American Presence Posts in Bordeaux, Lyon and Rennes do not produce passports on the premises.
American citizens in this area whose passports are lost or stolen and have urgent travel needs should contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

The American Presence Post in Toulouse and the Consular Agency in Nice do not produce passports on the premises.
American citizens in this area whose passports are lost or stolen and have urgent travel needs should contact the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille.

The American Presence Post in Bordeaux is located at 10 place de la Bourse, 33076 Bordeaux (entry on 1 rue Fernand Philippart); telephone: in country 05-56-48-63-80; from the U.S. 011-33-5-56-48-63-80; fax: in country 05-56-51-61-97; from the U.S. 011-33-5-56-51-61-97.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/bordeaux.html
The American Presence Post in Lyon is located at 1, quai Jules Courmont, 69002 Lyon; telephone: in country 04-78-38-33-03; from the U.S. 011-33-4-78-38-33-03; fax: in country 04-72-41-71-81; from the U.S. 011-33-4-72-41-71-81.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/lyon.html
The American Presence Post in Rennes is located at 30, quai Duguay Trouin, 35000 Rennes; telephone: in country 02-23-44-09-60; from the U.S. 011-33-2-23-44-09-60; fax: in country 02-99-35-00-92; from the U.S. 011-33-2-99-35-00-92.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/rennes.html
The American Presence Post in Toulouse is located at 25, Allée Jean Jaures, 31000 Toulouse; telephone: in country 05-34-41-36-50; from the U.S. 011-33-5-34-41-36-50; fax: in country 05-34-41-16-19; from the U.S. 011-33-5-34-41-16-19. Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/toulouse.html
The Consular Agency in Nice is located at 7, Avenue Gustave V, 3rd floor, 06000 Nice, telephone: in country 04-93-88-89-55; from the U.S.
011-33-4-93-88-89-55; fax: in country 04-93-87-07-38; from the U.S. 011-33-4-93-87-07-38. Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/nice.html
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for France and Monaco dated May 5, 2008, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety & Security, Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Children’s Issues and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 15 Feb 2020 15:25:00 +0100 (MET)
By Benoît Pavan à Moûtiers avec Thomas Rossi dans les Pyrénées

Moûtiers, France, Feb 15, 2020 (AFP) - French protests at planned labour reforms hit ski resorts on Saturday, with chairlift operators and other seasonal staff downing tools over fears their livelihoods could be on a slippery slope.   Hundreds of staff at a clutch of resorts in the Alps and Pyrenees walked out in response to calls for action by the CGT and FO unions, forcing some runs to be closed or partially closed.   They are concerned that reforms extending the required period of employment before people are eligible for benefits, set to take effect from April 1, could stop thousands of seasonal workers from claiming.

Some voiced their protest in song at the bottom of pistes at Serre-Chevalier close to the Italian border, chanting: "We're going down the mountain to get rid of Macron," referring to French President Emmanuel Macron.   The French leader's attempts to overhaul pensions and welfare have led to months of bitter protests and strikes.    "Our situation will become even more precarious with these reforms," explained Christophe Dupuis, who works as a ski patroller at La Plagne, one of the world's most popular ski areas.   "We will need six months instead of four before we can apply for unemployment benefit," added Dupuis, who works as a lifeguard during the summer.   "We don't have six-month seasons, not least as the winter seasons are tending to get shorter rather than longer," said Maud Goret, a seasonal worker and CGT member at Font-Romeu in the Pyrenees -- where half the workforce had downed tools.

Many relatively low altitude resorts are suffering from a lack of snow owing to climate change, compounding fears over what the future holds.   As the workers voiced their grievances, further signs of the shortage of snow increasingly hitting resorts came as local authorities at Luchon-Superbagneres in the French southwest told AFP they had decided to have extra snow helicoptered in to three areas running short.

A union official said some 50 tons were being brought in for between 5,000 and 6,000 euros ($5,500-6,500) "in the knowledge that in terms of return on the investment you need to multiply that at least by ten," for an operation lasting around two-and-a-half hours.   He added that it might not be a "particularly ecological" solution but "we had no choice" at the height of the season when many children in French are on half-term holiday.
Date: Wed 5 Feb 2020
Source: The Local [edited]

Coronavirus might be hogging the headlines at present, but in France, normal seasonal flu is proving far more deadly. On Wednesday 5 Feb [2020], the region of Normandy officially declared itself in epidemic, leading to the whole of mainland France now being in a state of influenza epidemic. Across the whole country, 301 out of every 100,000 people have the flu, taking the illness into epidemic phase. Of the nearly 9000 people that went to the hospital emergency room with flu symptoms last week, 810 of were hospitalised.

Since the start of the outbreak in November [2019], 311 people have been admitted to intensive care with flu, and 26 of them have died. These include 3 children under 15 years of age, 12 cases aged 15-64, and 11 cases aged 65 years and older.

The average age of these serious cases is 52 years, and 73% of them had risk factors for complications (over 65 years of age, chronic illnesses, etc). Among the latter, 3/4 were not vaccinated against influenza (among those whose vaccination status was known).

This year [2020], children seem to be particularly affected. Nearly 1/3 of emergency room visits and hospitalisations for influenza were children under 5 years old, compared with 20% for people aged 75 and over. Every year seasonal flu affects between 2-6 million people in France, and last year [2019], 9500 people died from it.

Health officials advise people to practice normal good hygiene: washing hands regularly, using disposable tissues and throwing them away if you have a cough, and coughing into your elbow. Those who are sick are advised to wear a disposable face mask to help avoid spreading the illness.
Date: Wed, 29 Jan 2020 21:16:14 +0100 (MET)

Paris, Jan 29, 2020 (AFP) - The daughter of a Chinese tourist who is seriously ill in a Paris hospital has become the fifth person in France to be confirmed with the coronavirus, officials said Wednesday.   Her 80-year-old father was the fourth confirmed case in France of the new coronavirus that has killed more than 100 people since it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December.  "A fifth case has been detected," Health Minister Agnes Buzyn told a news briefing.   "It's the daughter of the Chinese tourist who was hospitalised recently in intensive care in a serious condition," Buzyn added.   The woman in her thirties, "whose condition has worsened, who needs oxygen," has also been placed in intensive care, Buzyn said.   The minister said a first plane was due to fly Wednesday evening to Wuhan, the epicentre in China, to repatriate 200 French people stranded there.
Date: Fri, 17 Jan 2020 12:55:16 +0100 (MET)

Rennes, France, Jan 17, 2020 (AFP) - Several oyster farmers along France's Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts have been forced to halt sales since December after their sites were contaminated by the highly contagious norovirus, which they blame on overflowing sewage treatment plants.   Authorities ordered the suspensions at 23 of the country's 375 designated fields, and recalls of affected oysters as well as mussels and clams, after tests revealed the virus, which can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea.

The move came just before the year-end holidays, when oysters are a traditional delicacy on millions of French tables.   "The oysters are not sick. They're carrying the virus because it's in the water they are constantly filtering," Philippe Le Gal, president of France's national shellfish council (CNC), told AFP this week.   "They were in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said, adding the ban had prompted many people to stop eating oysters altogether.   Local officials say oyster farmers are paying the price of insufficient spending on wastewater treatment, with facilities strained to the limit even as development of coastal areas has surged in recent years.

Heavy rains before Christmas prompted treatment basins to overflow, they say, spilling tainted water into rivers.   "This was predictable -- they've kept issuing building permits even though treatment sites are already at full capacity," said Joel Labbe, a senator for the Morbihan region in Brittany.   Oyster farmers are demanding compensation, and a delegation met with agriculture ministry officials in Paris last week warning that more than 400 businesses had been impacted by the sales ban.

This week, angry growers dumped trash bins full of oysters and mussels in front of the offices of the regional ARS health authority in Montpellier over the decision to halt sales from a nearby basin on the Mediterranean coast.   "We're the victims, and we shouldn't have to suffer any financial damages," Le Gal said.
Date: Sun, 12 Jan 2020 16:16:24 +0100 (MET)
By Marie-Pierre FEREY

Paris, Jan 12, 2020 (AFP) - A crippling French transport strike dragged into its 39th day on Sunday despite the government's offer to withdraw the most contested measure of the pension reform plans that sparked the protest.   Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Saturday he would drop plans to increase the official retirement age to 64 from 62 in an effort to end a strike which has paralysed Paris and its suburbs, with bus, train and metro services all badly disrupted.

"I am willing to withdraw from the bill the short-term measure I had proposed," said Philippe, prompting his boss French President Emmanuel Macron to dub the change "a constructive and responsible compromise."   The more reformist trade unions -- the FDT, Unsa and FRC -- welcomed the announcement and said they were now ready to work with employers on the sustainable financing of the state pension system.

The Unsa union for national railway workers maintained its strike call on Sunday while recognising the government's reconciliatory move.   The union "remains on strike " but will return to the negotiating table, secretary general Didier Mathis told AFP.   However the more hardline CGT, FO and Solidaires unions were standing firm, calling for the strike and protests to continue, among them a major demonstration on January 16.

- 'Some want to return to work' -
CGT head Philippe Martinez played down the impact of the CFDT and Unsa's readiness to resume negotiations, and spoke of internal splits within these groups.   "We will see" what these unions' workers have to say on the issue, he said, reiterating his call for the government to withdraw the pension reforms completely which he described at "the major requirement of a majority of unions representing a majority of employees".

However the arrival of empty January pay slips could sap the determination of some striking workers.   "It is clear that some colleagues want to go back to work," said one disillusioned Paris Metro worker during demonstrations on Saturday.   "It's going to get tricky financially," he added.   Private sector workers have not followed the unions' lead on the stoppage to turn the campaign into a true national strike.

- 'We're still here' -
The government's compromise move came a day after meetings with unions in a bid to end a strike that has frustrated Paris commuters, ruined December holiday travel plans, and hurt business.   Demonstrators in the capital on Saturday, some masked and hooded, broke shop windows along their protest route, set fires and threw projectiles at police in riot gear who responded with tear gas.

Several stores were ransacked as marchers brandished union flags and chanted defiantly: "We are still here!" and "Macron resign!"   Protests were also held in Marseille, Toulouse, Lyon, Nantes and several other cities.   The interior ministry said 149,000 people had turned out throughout France.   The CGT put the figure at half a million, saying the 150,000 marched in Paris alone.

- 'Pivot age' -
In one of Macron's signature reforms, the government is seeking to rationalise 42 existing pension schemes into a single, points-based system it says will be fairer and more transparent but which unions fear will see millions work longer for a smaller retirement pay-out.   Particularly vexing was the proposal to impose the 64 "pivot age" that people would have to work to in order to qualify for a full pension.   Union meetings will be held on Monday to decide on the future of the strikes on France's local and national rail services.

The government, employers and unions are also keeping their eyes on the opinion polls.   "Public opinion supports the strikers," Martinez insisted late Saturday.   The government has ruled out cutting pensions but insists that something must be done to boost funding as workers are living longer post-retirement.   French Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne said Sunday that there was "no longer any reason" for the strike to continue now that the prime minister had proposed scrapping the "pivot age" of 64.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 16:20:39 +0100 (MET)

Damascus, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - A bomb explosion wounded two people in Damascus Thursday, the state news agency reported, the latest of several such attacks in the Syrian capital.   "An explosive device planted on a pickup truck went off in the Marjeh area" in central Damascus, SANA said, adding that two civilians were wounded by the blast.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the device was a "sticky bomb" planted on a military vehicle, although it was not immediately clear what the target was.   There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, nor for a similar explosion that wounded five people in another neighbourhood of Damascus on Tuesday. The Syrian capital was routinely targeted by major car bomb attacks in the course of the nine-year-old conflict but blasts have been less frequent since regime forces reclaimed full control of the Damascus region in 2018.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 15:40:35 +0100 (MET)
By Laurent Thomet, with Miwa Suzuki in Tokyo

Beijing, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - China on Thursday touted a big drop in new virus infections as proof its epidemic control efforts are working, but the toll grew abroad with deaths in Japan and South Korea.   Fatalities in China hit 2,118 as 114 more people died, but health officials reported the lowest number of new cases in nearly a month, including in hardest-hit Hubei province.

More than 74,000 people have been infected by the new coronavirus in China, and hundreds more in over 25 countries.   The number of deaths outside mainland China climbed to 11.   Japan's toll rose to three as a man and a woman in their 80s who had been aboard a quarantined cruise ship died, while fears there mounted about other passengers who disembarked the Diamond Princess after testing negative.

South Korea reported its first death, and the number of infections in the country nearly doubled Thursday to 104 -- including 15 at a hospital in Cheongdo county.   The mayor of Daegu -- South Korea's fourth-largest, with 2.5 million people -- advised residents to stay indoors, while commanders at a major US military base in the area restricted access.   Iran reported two deaths on Wednesday, the first in the Middle East. Deaths have previously been confirmed in France, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Chinese officials say their drastic containment efforts, including quarantining tens of millions of people in Hubei and restricting movements in cities nationwide, have started to pay off.   "Results show that our control efforts are working," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a special meeting on the virus with Southeast Asian counterparts in Laos, citing the latest data.   Wang said the situation was "significantly improving" in Hubei and Wuhan, but an official in a central government team dealing with the epidemic said it was still "very severe".

- 'Not turning point' -
Although more than 600 new infections were reported in Hubei's capital Wuhan, it was the lowest daily tally since late January and well down from the 1,749 new cases the day before.   The national figure has now fallen for three straight days.   Chinese authorities placed the city of 11 million under quarantine on January 23 and quickly locked down the rest of the province in the days that followed.

Wuhan authorities this week carried out a three-day, door-to-door check on residents, with the local Communist Party chief warning that officials would be "held accountable" if any infections were missed.   Cities far from the epicentre have limited the number of people who can leave their homes for groceries, while rural villages have sealed off access to outsiders.   Richard Brennan, a World Health Organization official, said in Cairo that China was making "tremendous progress" and "trends are very encouraging, but we are not at a turning point yet".

- 'Chaotic' cruise quarantine -
While China has boasted progress in its fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, Japan's government has been criticised for the quarantine measures it placed on the Diamond Princess.   The huge vessel moored in Yokohama is easily the biggest coronavirus cluster outside the Chinese epicentre, with 634 cases confirmed among passengers and crew.   Another 13 people on board the ship were diagnosed with the virus Thursday, Japan's health ministry said.   Still, passengers were disembarking after negative tests and having completed a 14-day quarantine period -- packing into yellow buses and leaving for stations and airports.

Questions were asked over the wisdom of allowing them to mingle in Japan's crowded cities.   "Is it really safe to get off?" screamed a headline in the Nikkan Sports tabloid.   The paper quoted one passenger who said he was tested on February 15, but only left four days later.   "I thought I could be infected during the four days. I thought 'Is it really OK'?"

A specialist in infectious diseases at Kobe University slammed as "completely chaotic" the quarantine procedures on board in rare criticism from a Japanese academic.   "The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of infection control," said Kentaro Iwata in videos he has since deleted.

South Korea, meanwhile, announced 51 new cases, with more than 40 in a cluster centred on the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, an entity often accused of being a cult.  The infections apparently came from a 61-year-old woman who first developed a fever on February 10 and attended at least four services before being diagnosed.   Local media said she had twice refused to be tested for the coronavirus on the grounds she had not recently travelled abroad.   Authorities were investigating whether she might have visited the hospital where a long-term patient contracted the virus and later died.

Some 15 other patients have now been found to have the virus.   Shincheonji claims its founder, Lee Man-hee, has donned the mantle of Jesus Christ and will take 144,000 people with him to heaven on the day of judgement.   A man in his 60s tested positive for the coronavirus after dying Wednesday following symptoms of pneumonia, South Korean authorities said.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 10:28:16 +0100 (MET)

Lagos, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - An outbreak of Lassa in Nigeria has killed 103 people this year, health authorities said, as the first confirmed case was reported in the economic hub Lagos.    "Cumulatively from week 1 to week 07, 2020, 103 deaths have been reported with a case fatality rate of 17.6%," said the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in its latest statistics on the virus released on Wednesday.    The overall number of confirmed cases rose by 115 last week to a total of 586 across the country.

Separately, health authorities in Lagos, Nigeria's most populous city with 20 million inhabitants, said an infected person was diagnosed there on February 17 and being treated in isolation in hospital.    "Sixty-three people that may have been in contact with the patient and who may have been infected in the process have been identified and are being monitored," the state government wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Endemic to Nigeria, Lassa fever belongs to the same family as the Ebola and Marburg viruses, but is much less deadly.   The disease is spread by contact with rat faeces or urine or the bodily fluids of an infected person.    The majority of those infected do not show symptoms but the disease can go on to cause severe bleeding and organ failure in about 20 percent of cases.

An outbreak of Lassa fever killed some 170 people around Nigeria last year.     The number of cases usually climbs around the start of the year linked to the dry season.   While the overall number of confirmed cases and deaths is up this year on the same period in 2019, the mortality rate is lower.    Twenty health workers across the country have been confirmed as contracting the disease so far in 2020.    The virus takes its name from the town of Lassa in northern Nigeria, where it was first identified in 1969.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 09:58:17 +0100 (MET)
By Nicolas DELAUNAY

Les Mamelles, Seychelles, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - On a plain suburban street in Seychelles, far from the idyllic coastline and luxury resorts pampering honeymooners and paradise-seekers, heroin addicts queue anxiously for their daily dose of methadone.   It is a scene few outsiders would associate with the tropical nirvana adrift in the Indian Ocean, and one rarely, if ever, glimpsed by tourists as they shuttle from the airport to five-star luxury on white-sand beaches.

But life for many Seychellois is far from picture perfect: the tiny archipelago nation is battling what officials say are the world's highest rates of heroin addiction.   Nearly 5,000 people are hooked, government figures show, equivalent to nearly 0 percent of the national workforce -- a statistic that has startled the government into action.

In comparison, 0.4 percent of the global population consumed opioids in 2016, half of them in Asia, according to a United Nations report that puts Seychelles among the top consumers alongside producing countries such as Afghanistan.   The Seychelles' heroin boom, which took off over the past decade, gripped young and old alike and cut across class lines.   Among those queueing in the town of Les Mamelles for methadone -- a substitute narcotic used to wean users off heroin -- are parents with young children, an old man leaning on a cane and a taxi driver between shifts.

Graham Moustache, a 29-year-old father of two, described how the arrival of affordable and high-quality heroin in Seychelles swept up his entire family.   "I have four brothers and two sisters, and we have all been heroin addicts at one point," he told AFP, tracing his fingers over the needle scars on his arms.   "I've been to prison twice," he said, adding his mother had turned him in as "she didn't know what to do any more".   "Sometimes, I didn't have enough to eat and I had to choose between eating and buying heroin. I chose heroin."

- Soaring addiction -
The rise of new trafficking routes through East Africa in the late 2000s, coupled with porous borders and relatively high purchasing power among Seychellois, flooded the paradisal islands with heroin.   The average salary in the archipelago is $420 (390) -- high compared to other African nations.   The World Bank considers the Seychelles the only high-income country on the continent, thanks to the growing tourism industry.    But around 40 percent of the population still lives in poverty.

By 2011, around 1,200 people were addicted, prompting a punitive crackdown.   "We did not make a difference between the victim and the trafficker," said Patrick Herminie, director of the state-run Agency for Drug Abuse Prevention and Rehabilitation (APDAR).   By 2017, addiction had risen four-fold, placing Seychelles among the world's most drug-dependent nations.   The government, realising its war on drugs had failed, changed tack and declared a public health emergency.   "The magnitude of the problem is simply because we reacted a bit late," Herminie said.

Money has poured into combating the scourge, with state funds for drug prevention and rehabilitation programmes soaring to 75 million Seychelles rupees ($5.5 million) in 2020 -- almost 10 times the 2016 budget.    APDAR, a specialist drug agency created in 2017 to tackle the problem, employs four times as many staff as the body that preceded it.   A state-run methadone programme has reached 2,500 people, with medical follow-ups helping to track their progress.    But the free availability of methadone has also prompted drug dealers to lower their prices.

Mobile clinics drive around offering methadone to addicts and providing free health checks and advice.    "I've been clean for more than a year. I found a job as a fisherman, and I can see my two kids," said Moustache proudly, as he queued at the white methadone van staffed with healthcare workers.   Others have struggled to stay the course.   "Methadone helps me a lot, but it's difficult not to take heroin at all," said Gisele Moumou, an emaciated 32-year-old addict, drawing ragged breaths and sweating as she waits for her small cup of methadone.

- Stopping the scourge  -
Schoolchildren are being taught about the damage done by drugs through awareness campaigns and billboards in classrooms.    But there is much work to be done, especially among children from families affected by drug use, says Noellie Gonthier from CARE, a local harm-reduction charity.   "Sometimes, four- or five-year-olds at school mimic injecting heroin," she said.   "Our challenge is to make them understand that what they consider normal -- because of their family context -- actually isn't at all."   On Mahe, a small, mountainous island with lush vegetation, most of the population lives near the water. Life is quiet here, without traffic, and the streets are mostly clean.

Poverty is largely hidden, concentrated in a few neighbourhoods behind faded walls or in the hills.   So why do so many Seychellois take drugs? The authorities admit they haven't quite figured it out, but say it appears that while poverty does not quite allow people to live well, it allows them enough money to buy drugs to forget their woes.   "The root of the cause, we're still working on it," said Herminie.   Early studies show that health and social problems associated with heroin use have declined since the government switched its response from punishment to prevention, officials say.

Crime has nearly halved and annual cases of new hepatitis C infections have fallen 60 percent.    Youth unemployment, meanwhile, has shrunk from 6.5 percent to 2.1 percent in recent years.   One recovering addict, a taxi driver who did not want to be named, offered a bleak assessment as he waited for his daily methadone in an empty car park in Les Mamelles.    "We're a small island in the middle of the ocean. What else is there to do here?" he said.
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2020 16:12:54 +0100 (MET)
By Michael O'HAGAN

Otuke, Uganda, Feb 19, 2020 (AFP) - Under a warm morning sun scores of weary soldiers stare as millions of yellow locusts rise into the northern Ugandan sky, despite hours spent spraying vegetation with chemicals in an attempt to kill them.   From the tops of shea trees, fields of pea plants and tall grass savanna, the insects rise in a hypnotic murmuration, disappearing quickly to wreak devastation elsewhere.   The soldiers and agricultural officers will now have to hunt the elusive fast-moving swarms -- a sign of the challenge facing nine east African countries now battling huge swarms of hungry desert locusts.

They arrived in conflict-torn South Sudan this week, with concerns already high of a humanitarian crisis in a region where 12 million are going hungry, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).    "One swarm of 40 to 80 million can consume food" for over 35,000 people in a day, Priya Gujadhur, a senior FAO official in Uganda, told AFP.

In Atira -- a remote village of grass-thatched huts in northern Uganda -- some 160 soldiers wearing protective plastic overalls, masks and goggles sprayed trees and plants with pesticide from before dawn in a bid to kill the resting insects.   But even after hours of work they were mostly able to reach only lower parts of the vegetation.   Major General Kavuma sits in the shade of a Neem Tree alongside civilian officials as locusts sprayed with pesticide earlier that morning fall around them, convulsing as they die.   An intense chemical smell hangs in the air.

- 'They surrounded me' -
Zakaria Sagal, a 73-year-old subsistence farmer was weeding his field in Lopei village some 120 kilometres (75 miles) away, preparing to plant maize and sorghum, when without warning a swarm of locusts descended around him.   "From this side and this side and this side, they surrounded me," Sagal said, waving his arms in every direction.    "We have not yet planted our crops but if they return at harvest time they will destroy everything. We are not at all prepared."

East Africa's regional expert group, the Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), warned Tuesday that eggs laid across the migratory path will hatch in the next two months, and will continue breeding as the rainy season arrives in the region.   This will coincide with the main cropping season and could cause "significant crop losses... and could potentially worsen the food security situation", ICPAC said in a statement.

- 'Panic mode' -
Since 2018 a long period of dry weather followed by a series of cyclones that dumped water on the region created "excessively ideal conditions" for locusts to breed, says Gujadhur.    Nevertheless, governments in East Africa have been caught off guard and are currently in "panic mode" Gujadhur said.   The locusts arrived in South Sudan this week after hitting Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan and Uganda.   Desert locusts take over on a dizzying scale.

One swarm in Kenya reached around 2,400 square kilometres (about 930 square miles) -- an area almost the size of Moscow -- meaning it could contain up to 200 billion locusts.   "A swarm that size can consume food for 85 million people per day," said Gujadhur.   Ugandan authorities are aware that subsequent waves of locusts may pose problems in the weeks to come, but in the meantime they are attempting to control the current generation.

Gujadhur is quick to praise the "quite strong and very quick" response from the Ugandan government but is concerned that while the army can provide valuable personnel, a military-led response may not be as effective as is necessary.    "It needs to be the scientists and (agriculture officials) who take the lead about where the control operations need to be and how and when and what time," she said.

- 'They eat anything green' -
The soldiers have been working non-stop for two days, criss-crossing the plains on the few navigable roads, trying to keep up with the unpredictable swarms.    Major General Kavuma recognises that the biggest threat is from the eggs which are yet to hatch but is confident the army will be able to control this enemy.   "We have the chemicals to spray them, all we need is to map the places they have been landing and sleeping," he said.   "In two weeks time we will come back and by that time they will have hatched and that will be the time to destroy them by praying."

Back in Lopei village, Elizabeth Namoe, 40, a shopkeeper in nearby Moroto had been visiting family when the swarm arrived.   "When the locusts settle they eat anything green, the animals will die because they have nothing to feed on, then even the people (will suffer)," she said.   "The children will be affected by hunger and famine since all life comes from all that is green. I fear so much."
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2020 12:55:06 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Feb 19, 2020 (AFP) - China's President Xi Jinping called Wednesday for greater protection of medical staff fighting the new coronavirus after the deaths of prominent doctors sparked national anger at the government's handling of the outbreak.   At least seven medical workers have died from the virus, while 1,716 have been confirmed as infected, most at the epicentre of the epidemic in central Hubei province where hospitals have dealt with a huge influx of patients.

Staff have faced shortages of masks and protective bodysuits, with some even wearing makeshift suits and continuing to work despite showing respiratory symptoms, health workers have told AFP.   Xi said China must "strengthen efforts to relieve the stress of medical workers, provide them with daily necessities, arrange time for their rest and give them encouragement", the official Xinhua news agency reported.   Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuchang Hospital in Hubei's capital Wuhan, died Tuesday, more than a week after the death of whistleblowing ophthalmologist Li Wenliang in the same city prompted nationwide mourning and calls for political reforms.

- 'Majestic spirit' -
A paper published by China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention said an additional 1,300 health workers may have been infected but have yet to receive a diagnosis.   Xi said China must ensure medical teams in Hubei and Wuhan "carry out work in a safe, orderly, coordinated, effective and swift manner", Xinhua reported.   The deaths of frontline medical workers "reflected doctors' humane and majestic spirit", Xi said.   The death toll from the virus jumped past 2,000 on Wednesday, while 74,185 cases of infection have been confirmed in mainland China.
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2020 12:19:59 +0100 (MET)

Tehran, Feb 19, 2020 (AFP) - Two people in Iran tested positive Wednesday for the deadly new coronavirus, the health ministry said, in the Islamic republic's first cases of the disease.   Kianoush Jahanpour, a ministry spokesman, said the cases were detected in the holy city of Qom, south of the Iranian capital.   "In the past two days, some suspect cases of the new coronavirus were observed in Qom city," he said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.

"Teams were dispatched after receiving the reports, and based on the existing protocols the suspect cases were isolated and tested," said Jahanpour.   "Out of the samples sent, a laboratory tested two of them as positive for coronavirus just minutes ago and some of the other samples were type B influenza."

The health ministry spokesman said additional tests were being done on the two cases and final results would be announced "as soon as possible".   The new coronavirus epidemic has killed more than 2,000 people in China and infected more than 74,000. It has spread to at least two dozen countries.   The United Arab Emirates was the first country in the Middle East to report cases of coronavirus last month.
Date: Tue 18 Feb 2020
Source: CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy) News [edited]

The WHO's African regional office said that both Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) are in the midst of measles outbreaks, with both countries reporting increasing case counts since [1 Jan 2020].

In Chad, 1276 cases, including 14 deaths have been reported since 1 Jan 2020, with 352 suspected measles cases and 4 deaths reported in the week ending on 9 Feb 2020.  "Most, 78%, of the investigated cases never received any vaccination against measles," the WHO said. "60% of the investigated cases were under 5 years of age while 19% were between 5 and 14 years and 14% were 15 years and above."

In CAR, a total of 1498 suspected measles cases, including 15 deaths, have been recorded since [1 Jan 2020]. The outbreak has been ongoing since early 2019. From 1 Jan 2019, through 9 Feb 2020, a total of 5724 suspected measles cases, including 83 deaths (case fatality rate, 1.45%) have been reported in 13 health districts.  Almost 3/4 of the cases (72%) are in children under the age of 5.
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[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps
Central African Republic: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/6>]
Date: Wed 19 Feb 2020
Source: Circular/News, Veterinary Services, Israel's Ministry of Agriculture [in Hebrew, trans. Mod.AS, edited]

Rabies, Case No. 6 for 2020, dog, Ramot Naftali, Upper Galilee. Reference: Kimron Vet Institute [KVI] Laboratory Test No. A00373420, dated 19 Feb 2020
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On 17 Feb 2020, a dead dog was brought for examination to the KVI [at Beit-Dagan]. The dog died while being transported to a rabies observation kennel since, as reported, it had attacked grazing cattle and attempted to attack people.  It was also reported that the dog had bitten itself. The tested animal has been diagnosed rabies positive.  [Byline: Dr. Avi Wasserman Head, Field Veterinary Services (acting)]
====================
[The above and 5 earlier rabies cases in Israel since 1 Jan 2020 are located within a small region along the Lebanese border, facing Lebanon's governorate A-Nabatieh. See the rabies map (2020) at <https://moag.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=a6d8aae5cbc04c958d5efefd2724318f>.

The 2019 map, presenting a total of 17 cases, is available at

The 6 cases during 2020 are: 3 jackals, 2 dogs, 1 cow. Most likely, rabies is currently circulating within the Lebanese side of the border.

It would be interesting to note whether the rabid dog was owned and, in case affirmative, whether and when this dog was last vaccinated against rabies, as prescribed by law. Israel's owned dogs are included in the national dog registry, currently counting more than 400,000 dogs. - ProMED Mod.AS]
Date: Tue 18 Feb 2020
Source: Qatari Ministry of Public Health [edited]

The Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) declared that a case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) has been confirmed. The case is a male citizen aged 65 years who has been suffering from several chronic diseases. The patient has been admitted to the hospital to receive the necessary medical care in accordance with the national protocol to deal with confirmed or suspected cases of the disease.

The Ministry of Public Health, in cooperation with the Ministry of Municipality and Environment, is taking all necessary preventive and precautionary measures to control the disease and prevent it from spreading.

MERS is a viral respiratory disease that is caused by one of the coronaviruses (MERS-CoV), but it differs from the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, which has recently spread in several countries. Both viruses differ in terms of the source of infection, mode of transmission, and the disease severity. The Ministry of Public Health confirms that no cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have been diagnosed in Qatar so far.

Only 3 cases of MERS-CoV were registered in Qatar during the past 2 years. The Ministry of Public Health calls on all members of public, and especially people with chronic diseases or those with immunodeficiency disorders, to adhere to public hygiene measures. This includes washing the hands regularly with water and soap, using hand sanitizers, as well as avoiding close contact with camels and seeking medical advice when experiencing symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, or shortness of breath.

The Rapid Response Team of the Health Protection and Communicable Disease Control is available round-the-clock to receive notifications or inquiries related to communicable diseases on its hotline numbers 66740948 or 66740951.
======================
[In early December 2019, Qatar reported 3 cases of MERS-CoV infection, a fatal case and 2 asymptomatic contacts of the fatal case. The fatal case denied a history of contact with camels or recent travel. She did have a history of underlying medical conditions (which may have led to contact with the health sector in the 2 weeks prior to onset of illness). Prior to these cases, the most recent report of a case of MERS-CoV infection in Qatar was in 2017 when there were 3 cases reported (see prior ProMED-mail posts listed below.)

The location of residence of this patient was not available, nor were other epidemiological variables, including possible high risk exposures.

The HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Qatar is available at