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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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Hungary

Hungary US Consular Information Sheet
April 07, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Hungary is a stable democracy with a market economy. Tourist facilities outside Budapest are widely available, if not as developed as those found in Western Europe.
isitors considering a trip are encouraged to read the Embassy’s consular web site at http://budapest.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html.
Please read the Department of State Background Notes on Hungary.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport is required. A visa is not required for tourist stays of up to ninety (90) days as of May 1, 2004. American citizen tourists may remain in Hungary for up to ninety days during any six-month period from the date of first entry. If you plan to reside or study in Hungary for a period of more than ninety days, a visa must be obtained from the Embassy of the Republic of Hungary at 3910 Shoemaker Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 362-6730. More information can be found on the Hungarian Embassy’s web site, http://www.huembwas.org, or at the nearest Hungarian Consulate in Los Angeles or New York.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Prior police approval is required for public demonstrations in Hungary and police oversight is routinely provided to ensure adequate security for participants and passersby. Nonetheless, situations may develop which could pose a threat to public safety. This has been the case several times since 2006, as large demonstrations continue to occur in protest of various domestic political issues. While demonstrations have occurred throughout the country, demonstrations often occurred at Budapest’s Kossuth Lajos ter, outside the Hungarian Parliament Building and very close to the U.S. Embassy. On several occasions the demonstrations turned violent, resulting in local law enforcement response that included the use of water canons and tear gas. Domestic politics also appears to be the impetus behind a recent rash of Molotov cocktail and “white powder” incidents across the country. While Americans and U.S. interests are not specifically targeted by these incidents, many take place in areas popular with tourists. As a result, U.S. citizens are advised to avoid areas in which public demonstrations are taking place.

While Hungary does not appear to be experiencing the wave of race or ethnic-based violence associated with other countries in East and Central Europe, there has been an increase in the profile of a number of small groups espousing religious, ethnic and social intolerance. One such group, calling itself the Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard), gained prominence in 2007 due to its radical nationalist message of intolerance and its efforts to intimidate opponents by adoption of imagery reminiscent of Hungary’s fascist regime of the 1940’s. Although such groups are not avowedly anti-American, their targeting of people based on their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation should be noted by Americans traveling in Hungary, and steps should be taken to avoid confrontations with the group and its members.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found.

Up to date information on 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, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Hungary has a low rate of violent crime. However, street crime occasionally involving violence has been reported, especially near major hotels and restaurants and on public transportation. Theft of passports, currency, and credit cards is a frequent problem, especially in train stations and on public transportation.

The U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section offers an informational brochure for tourists in Hungary, including a section on crimes and scams that have been encountered by other tourists. To consult the advisory, please visit the Embassy’s consular web site at http://budapest.usembassy.gov/tourist_advisory.html.

Drivers should be cautious when stopping at gas stations and highway parking lots, or fixing flat tires or other mechanical problems, especially at night. There have been reports of scams perpetrated on unsuspecting victims while traveling the highways. One reported scam involves someone who attracts the driver’s attention by saying that there is something wrong with his/her car (e.g. a smoking hood or flat tire) in order to encourage the driver to pull over to the side of the road. Once pulled over, the people participating in the scam will remove purses, passports, etc., from the car and drive away. Luggage and valuables should not be left unattended inside any vehicle.

A common scam involves young women asking foreign men to buy them drinks. When the bill arrives the drinks cost hundreds of dollars each. Americans should avoid bars and restaurants promoted by cab drivers or people on the street. Every bar and restaurant should provide a menu with prices before ordering.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy or 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.
Tourists who become victims of a crime in Hungary are strongly encouraged to call a 24-hour multilingual crime reporting telephone number. The number from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. is 01-438-8080; from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., the number is 06-8066-0044. There is also a 24-hour police Tourist Information office that provides service in English and German and is located in one of downtown Budapest’s busiest tourist area: 1051 Budapest.

For more information, see Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical treatment in Hungary is adequate, but hospital facilities and nursing support are not comparable to those in the United States. Physicians are generally well trained, but there is a lack of adequate emergency services. Some doctors, particularly in Budapest, speak English. Doctors and hospitals usually expect immediate cash payment for health services.

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

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

Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

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

In Hungary, fatal traffic accidents number approximately 1,200 per year, with about 7,000 traffic accidents per year resulting in serious injuries. While this may seem low compared to the United States, Hungary has a much higher rate of accidents per mile driven. Americans should drive with caution and always be alert for other vehicles that may be violating traffic laws. Road travel is more dangerous during the Christmas season, summer months, and at night. Roadside assistance, including medical and other services, is generally available. English is usually spoken at the emergency numbers listed below. In case English is not spoken, dial 112.

Ambulance: 104 or 350-0388
Police: 107
Fire: 105
24-hour English speaker: 112

Bus, train and taxi services are readily available for inter-city travel.
Hungarian motorways and highways are generally in good condition.
Urban roads and road maintenance are also good although areas under construction are not always adequately marked or blockaded. In Budapest, many roads are often under construction. In rural areas, however, roads are often narrow, badly lit, and can be in a state of poor repair in some areas. Pedestrians, agricultural machinery, and farm animals often use these small rural roads. This requires increased caution on the part of drivers. Additional information on road conditions is available from “Utinform” at phone number (38) (1) 336-2400.

Hungary has a policy of zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol. Police often conduct routine roadside checks where breath-analyzer tests are administered. Persons found to be driving while intoxicated face jail and/or fines. Possible penalties for a car accident involving injury or death are one to five years in prison. Police have instituted a widespread practice of stopping vehicles, particularly in Budapest, to check driver identity documents in a search for illegal aliens and residents in Hungary, and to check vehicle registration and fitness documentation. It is against the law to use a hand-held cell phone while driving anywhere in Hungary.

Hungary recognizes international driver’s permits (IDP) issued by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance when presented in conjunction with a state driver’s license. American driver’s licenses will be accepted in Hungary for one year after arrival provided that a certified Hungarian translation has been attached to the license. Those with IDPs do not need to have the license translated, but must present both IDP and state driver’s license together. After one year in Hungary, U.S. citizens must obtain a Hungarian driver’s license. For further information on this procedure visit the embassy’s consular web site at http://budapest.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html.

The speed limit for cars and motorcycles on the motorway is 130 km per hour (approximately 80 mph); on highways, the limit is 110 km per hour (approximately 65 mph);
and in town and village areas, the speed limit is 50 km per hour (approximately 30 mph). Many drivers, however, do not observe the speed limits, and extra care should be taken on two-way roads.
Special seats are required for infants. Children under age 12 may not sit in the front seat of an automobile. Seats belts are mandatory for everyone in the car. Unless another instruction sign is displayed, yielding the right of way to cars approaching from the right is the general rule. Turning right on a red light is prohibited. The police write up tickets for traffic violations and levy any applicable fine(s) on the spot. The police will give the offender a postal check (money order) on which the amount of the fine to be paid is written, and this postal check may be presented and paid at any Hungarian post office. Sometimes in disputes about fines or the offense, the police will confiscate the person’s passport and issue a receipt for the passport with an “invitation letter” to appear at the police station the ext day or day after to resolve the dispute. The passport is returned after resolution and/or the payment of the fine.

For specific information about Hungarian driver’s permits, vehicle inspection, road taxes and mandatory insurance, visit the Hungarian National Tourist Organization Office in New York web site at http://www.gotohungary.com.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Hungary’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Hungary’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: The acceptance of traveler’s checks is not universal in Hungary. The presence of ATMs is increasing in Budapest and other major cities.

Hungary’s custom authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Hungary of items such as firearms, antiquities, and prescription medications. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Hungary in Washington or one of Hungary’s consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Please see our information on 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 Hungarian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Hungary 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.

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 in Hungary are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Hungary.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy in Budapest is located at 1054 Budapest 12; telephone (36) (1) 475-4703 or (36) (1) 475-4929. The Consular Section’s fax is (36) (1) 475-4188 or (36) (1) 475-4113, and the Consular Section’s web site is located at http://hungary.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated August 23, 2007 with updated information on Safety and Security.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 30 May 2019 08:06:11 +0200

Budapest, May 30, 2019 (AFP) - Seven South Korean tourists died and 21 others were missing after a sightseeing boat capsized and sank on the Danube in Budapest, Hungarian and South Korean officials said Thursday.   The accident happened near the parliament building in the heart of the Hungarian capital after a collision with a larger river cruise boat during torrential rain around 09:15 pm (1915 GMT) on Wednesday, according to officials.   A total of 33 South Koreans were on board, Seoul's foreign ministry said, confirming the seven dead were Korean.   The youngest was a six-year-old girl, travel agency officials said.

The 26-metre tourist boat, called the "Mermaid," was also carrying two Hungarian crew members.   "Our services have recorded the death of seven people," Pal Gyorfi, a spokesman for Hungarian emergency services, said early Thursday morning.   "Seven people have been taken to hospital in a stable condition with hypothermia and shock symptoms," Gyorfi added.   "A further 21 people are missing," a Hungarian police spokesman Kristof Gal told AFP.   "Police are searching the river throughout the entire length of the Danube in Hungary south of where the incident took place," he said.

- All night search -
Local media reported that one of the bodies was found several kilometres south of the collision location, although Gal declined to confirm.   The temperature of the river water is between 10 and 15 degrees, according to local media.   The search for the missing with the help of divers and police shining lights continued through the night, said an AFP photographer at the scene.   A film crew working from a bridge south of the accident site also used reflector lights to help light up the water through the gloom and pouring rain, reported local media.   Heavy rainfall since the beginning of May has led to high water levels and a fast-moving river current, complicating rescue efforts.

The accident happened on a popular part of the Danube river for pleasure trips, from where passengers can view the city and parliament building illuminated at night.   The boat was regularly serviced and had no apparent technical faults, Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for Panorama Deck that owned the vessel, told the Hungarian news agency MTI.     "It was a routine sightseeing trip," said Toth.   "We know nothing about how it happened, the authorities are investigating, all we know is that it sank quickly," he said. 

- Hit by bigger cruise boat -
An eye-witness told the Index.hu news-site that the Mermaid, which could hold 60 people on board, had been hit from behind by a large cruise boat.   Web camera footage from a hotel rooftop posted on local news-sites appeared to show the bigger boat colliding with the Mermaid.     The wreckage of the Mermaid was found on the riverbed after several hours of searching near the Margaret Bridge, one of the main bridges connecting the two parts of the Hungarian capital, local media said.   Access to the river has been blocked by the authorities, according to public television.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in instructed the government to "deploy all available resources" for the rescue, the presidential office said.   Seoul planned to send a team of 18 officials to assist the authorities in Budapest, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.   The foreign ministry said minister Kang Kyung-wha would leave for Budapest later Thursday as head of a government taskforce.   Embassy staff have also been assisting the emergency services in the identification of victims.   The Hungarian interior and health ministers visited the scene and expressed condolences to the families of the victims.
Date: Thu, 30 Aug 2018 05:07:31 +0200
By Géza MOLNAR

Siófok, Hungary, Aug 30, 2018 (AFP) - With its inviting turquoise waters, white sandy banks, picturesque mountainous landscapes and resort towns, Hungary's Lake Balaton has plenty for tourists to write home about.   But a labour shortage exacerbated by low salaries and Hungary's
anti-immigration policies is making life difficult for the lake's tourism industry.   Already popular under communism, visitors still flock in increasing numbers to central Europe's largest lake to soak up its warm summer climate and enjoy the beaches, bars and eateries, as well as locally produced wines.

But that's proving a headache for restaurant and hotel owners, who struggle to find workers, as unemployment in Hungary is historically low at 3.6 percent, while nationalist firebrand Prime Minister Viktor Orban is strongly against immigration.   "It's impossible to find a gardener, or a waitress or a cook," said Balazs Banlaki, the owner of Kali-Kapocs, a restaurant nestled in the hills of Mindszentkalla on the northern shore of the lake, which lies about 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of the capital, Budapest.   Banlaki usually needs about 10 employees to run his restaurant, which he only opens during the summer months, but he has to do more and more himself.   "Before each new season, we repaint the restaurant, but even for that kind of work, it's me who takes up the brush now," he told AFP.

- 'Young people don't stay' -
With a national average salary of less than 530 euros ($610) per month and half a million people having left the country to work in western Europe over the past decade, Hungary lacks workers.   Despite having one of the lowest fertility rates in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and a population currently of less than 10 million, its government has not heeded appeals from businesses to open its borders to qualified workers.

Banlaki recalled how last year he could only offer drinks, coffee and sandwiches because he could not find a cook.    After raising salaries, he is glad to have at least a handful of workers this year.   "But even when we find someone, there is a high chance that he or she will quit again quickly. With festivals, holiday plans with friends and other occasions, young people don't stay. I don't dare to criticise our workers for fear they will just leave," he said.   On the other side of the lake -- known also for its big beach parties and discotheques -- the high-end Plazs Siofok beach complex that can hold close to 10,000 people faces similar challenges.   "We advertise (job openings) everywhere and all the time... The lack of qualified workers is a constant problem," manager Erzsebet Mazula said.

- Online check-in? -
Due to its trendy image -- with numerous restaurants, an outdoor gym, beach bars and a concert stage drawing Hungary's best DJs and singers -- Plazs Siofok can attract student workers, Mazula said.   "They are certainly not professionals, but we train them before the season starts. Being involved and friendly and smiling is more important than knowing how to make complicated cocktails," she told AFP.   "But even with this system, you can see there are not enough waiters and waitresses to serve our clients."   At Siofok, mother-of-two Petra Lisztes, 39, said they spent several weeks at the lake every year and she had noticed that many of the small food and drinks stands had remained shut this time and that service in restaurants was slower.   The problem extends far beyond Lake Balaton.

Seen as a relatively cheap holiday destination, the number of tourists to Hungary has climbed seven percent this year so far, according to official data released by the KSH Hungarian Central Statistical Office, after already reaching a record 29.5 million hotel overnight stays last year.   To compensate for a lack of workers, several Budapest hotels have started to simplify reception services inspired by airline companies' online check-in systems.   But the problem is hard to solve for jobs that require expertise, such as cooks, head waiters and waitresses or managers.   Seeking to offer a solution, the government is trying to convince pensioners to return to work by exempting them from having to pay social contributions and capping taxes at 15 percent.    Since last year, Budapest has permitted workers from neighbouring non-EU countries Ukraine and Serbia to work in Hungary for up to 90 days without a work permit.   But, so far, the measures have failed to solve the shortage.
Date: Tue 3 Jul 2018
Source: Food Poison Journal [edited]

Frozen corn and possibly other frozen vegetables are the likely source of an outbreak of _Listeria monocytogenes_ that has been affecting Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom since 2015.

Experts used whole genome sequencing to identify the food source, which initially was thought to be limited to frozen corn. As of 8 Jun 2018, 47 cases including 9 deaths had been reported.

The same strains of _L. monocytogenes_ have been detected in frozen vegetables produced by the same Hungarian company in 2016, 2017, and 2018. This suggests that the strains have persisted in the processing plant despite the cleaning and disinfection procedures that were carried out.

The available information confirms the contamination at the Hungarian plant. However, further investigations, including thorough sampling and testing, are needed to identify the exact points of environmental contamination at the Hungarian plant. The same recommendation applies to other companies belonging to the same commercial group if environmental contamination is detected.

On 29 Jun 2018, the Hungarian Food Chain Safety Office banned the marketing of all frozen vegetable and frozen mixed vegetable products produced by the affected plant between August 2016 and June 2018, and ordered their immediate withdrawal and recall. This last measure is likely to significantly reduce the risk of human infections and contain the outbreak. All freezing activity at the plant has been stopped.

New cases could still emerge due to the long incubation period of listeriosis (up to 70 days); the long shelf-life of frozen corn products; and the consumption of frozen corn bought before the recalls and eaten without being cooked properly.

To reduce the risk of infection, consumers should thoroughly cook non ready-to-eat frozen vegetables, even though these products are commonly consumed without cooking (such as in salads and smoothies). This applies especially to consumers at highest risk of contracting listeriosis -- such as the elderly, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.  [Byline: Josh Fensterbush]
======================
[When last reported by ProMED-mail in March 2018 (Listeriosis - EU: fatal, ST6, frozen corn, 2015-18, recall http://promedmail.org/post/20180325.5708506), there was a total of 32 confirmed listeriosis cases, including 6 deaths, between December 2015 and 8 Mar 2018, in a multi-country outbreak in 5 EU member states (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) linked by whole genome sequencing (genotyping) of clinical isolates of _Listeria monocytogenes_ to frozen corn that was packed in Poland and processed/produced in Hungary. As of 8 Jun 2018, there are now 47 reported cases, including 9 deaths.

Possibly other frozen vegetables produced by the Hungarian facility are also being implicated and on 29 June 2018, the Hungarian Food Chain Safety Office ordered recall and banned further the marketing of all frozen vegetable and frozen mixed vegetable products produced by the affected facility between August 2016 and June 2018. All freezing activity at the plant has been stopped.

_Listeria monocytogenes_ is widely distributed in the environment where it can form biofilms, which enables them to attach to solid surfaces and become extremely difficult to remove, especially in parts of equipment that are difficult to access. In a prior ProMED-mail report of a listeriosis outbreak in Canada, the design of a commercial meat slicer responsible for contamination of deli meat made its regular cleaning difficult and costly for the food processor (Listeriosis - South Africa (04): comment http://promedmail.org/post/20180126.5586393). The contamination occurred in parts of the machinery "well beyond the [manufacturer's] recommended sanitation process" and was "found only after the devices were completely disassembled" (<https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/maple-leaf-eyes-meat-slicers-in-outbreak/article1060898/>).  Perhaps a similar situation is responsible for this prolonged multicountry EU outbreak.

Serotyping of _L. monocytogenes_ strains, based on variations in the somatic (O) and flagellar (H) antigens, has determined that only 3 (1/2a, 1/2b, and 4b) of the 12 serotypes of _L. monocytogenes_ cause 95 per cent of human cases; serotype 4b is most commonly associated with outbreaks (<https://www.cdc.gov/listeria/pdf/listeriainitiativeoverview_508.pdf>). The serotype of the strain of _L. monocytogenes_ responsible for this multi-country European outbreak is 4b, multi-locus sequence type 6 (ST6). Whole genome sequence (WGS) analysis of _L. monocytogenes_ isolates from 2 different samples of mixed frozen vegetables and an isolate from a surface where various vegetables could have been processed closely matched that of the clinical isolates (ProMED-mail post Listeriosis - EU: fatal, ST6, frozen corn, 2015-18, recall http://promedmail.org/post/20180325.5708506).

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Europe:
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2017 04:32:51 +0100
By Peter MURPHY

Budapest, Dec 19, 2017 (AFP) - Bigger than Prague and some say more beautiful, Budapest's belle epoque boulevards, cafes and locals playing chess in steaming outdoor thermal spas have long attracted tourists.    But for some locals the city's tourism sector is booming too literally.   "My walls shake from music at night, it's impossible to sleep," says Dora Garai, a weary resident of the Hungarian capital's inner seventh district, these days called the "party quarter".

"In the morning I often have to clean vomit off my car," she says, the flat where she has lived all her life a beer can's throw away from a raucous 2,000-capacity all-night bar complex.   The 32-year-old now fronts a residents' group that has held marches in protest at the situation, mirroring unease in other European cities from Barcelona to Amsterdam.   The main attraction for the revellers is that Budapest gives more bang for your buck, Melanie Kay Smith, a Budapest-based academic at the Corvinus University, told AFP.

Hundreds of visitors interviewed for an upcoming report by Smith's students said they chose Budapest, within easy reach on dozens of budget flights daily, for the "cheap alcohol" and "the party".    "We get so much here for so little," a group of young Danes told AFP, beaming, on a recent night out.   Beer rarely costs more than 1.50 euros ($2.50), while a glut of Airbnb flats are on offer for under 30 euros a night.   Hedonistic thermal bath parties, and all-night opening hours add to the lure for thirsty youth, mostly hailing from expensive northern Europe, and often Brits on stag nights.   Offers on the pissup.com website, for example, include the "Killer Attila Warrior Weekend", or steaks and beers followed by a "sensational lesbian show".

- Moving out -
Annual arrivals have almost doubled since 2009 to 3.5 million last year, with Athens the only large city forecast to grow faster in 2017, according to Euromonitor.  Even in winter the neighbourhood is choked with taxis and rickshaws transporting revellers. The Corvinus study counted 800 bars and restaurants, double the number just five years ago.   "Are you ready to party?!" roared a young Hungarian through a megaphone at his foreign student pub-crawl group.    "People can always move out if it bothers them," he shrugged.   Some of the estimated 15,000 residents of the area's compact grid of 19th-century streets, traditionally called the Jewish district after its many synagogues, have done just that.

No official data exist yet but one in five people of some 300 residents told Corvinus that they were "considering moving out" due to noise, litter and public urination.    "People used to live here," reads an ominous bronze plaque put up near a party hostel in the heart of the zone.   Despite soaring property prices driven by investor demand for rental apartments many live in council accommodation and cannot sell, said Dora Garai, or, like her, refuse to budge.   "Why should I move out just because people come here for a few days to behave how they like," she said.

- Midnight closing? -
Garai's group, set up in April, now has over 1,000 members who share experiences on Facebook.    "Last night a drunk Englishman looking for his Airbnb apartment rang every doorbell in our building," one said.   Bars should shut by midnight, not the current 6:00 am, the group demands, while City Hall should create a party zone outside the downtown.

But midnight closing would put him out of business, said Abel Zsendovits, manager of the popular Szimpla Kert (a grungy "ruin bar" in a formerly derelict building), dubbed one of the world's best pubs by Lonely Planet in 2014.   "Yes, the situation outside is unsustainable now," he admitted. "So bring in fines for anti-social behaviour, more police, street cleaning and public toilets". 

At weekends his colleagues don green jackets and try to calm down street noise, part of a "Night Mayor" idea launched by an association of bars.   The residents though are unconvinced that such a business-led initiative will end their woes.    Nor would a proposed local referendum on midnight closing that would likely see low turnout given the outer part of the district is unaffected by the problems.   Ultimately, Budapest needs to upgrade from low-budget "laissez-faire" tourism, says Smith. "Prices will have to go up somehow".
Date: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 16:02:04 +0200

Budapest, July 19, 2017 (AFP) - Hungarian police on Wednesday inspected all international trains entering the country after receiving an anonymous bomb threat, sparking major travel delays.   "An unidentified male called to say that he had placed a bomb on an international train travelling through Hungary," police said in a statement.

As many as 20,000 Hungarian and international travellers were affected by the delays lasting up to three hours, according to the national railway station company (MAV).   By Wednesday afternoon, more than 18 trains had already been searched before being allowed to continue their journeys, with no explosives found so far.   The checks will be carried out until midnight, MAV said.
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)]
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[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.
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[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