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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: Thu, 7 May 2020 13:53:07 +0200 (METDST)
By Briseida MEMA

Tirana, May 7, 2020 (AFP) - Ever since the coronavirus reared its head in Albania in early March, infectious disease specialist Nevila Gjermeni has been on the frontline.   That means she hasn't seen her children for two months -- a painful separation she hopes will soon be coming to an end as officials prepare to ease restrictions.   "Each of us has a family," the 38-year-old, pausing to fight back tears, said of colleagues who are urging the public to stay vigilant about health precautions.

Albania was quick to lock down and has so far avoided the devastation seen in places like Italy, which lies just across the Adriatic sea.   Some 30 people have died and fewer than 1,000 are known to be infected.   But as the country now slowly eases its sweeping restrictions, exhausted doctors fear a fresh inundation of infections in their hospital wards.   "We won the first battle but we are still at war," said Loreta Bici, a cardiologist working at a Tirana hospital that treats the most serious patients.   Like elsewhere in the world, the physical and emotional toll has been punishing for medical staff working around the clock.

In the Tirana hospitals converted into coronavirus centres -- now known as Covid 1 and Covid 2 -- doctors and nurses in hazmat suits and other cumbersome protective gear have spent their waking hours trying to care for patients who are lonely and afraid.   "You're all covered up, (the patient) can't see your eyes, he tries to recognise your voice, who you are, who is helping him," Najada Como, an infectious disease expert in charge of Covid 1, told AFP as her voice shook with emotion.

- First words, birthdays -
Many hospital staff have also been robbed of their emotional support systems.   Since March,  Gjermeni and her husband Arber, a resuscitation doctor in another department, have only been able to see their 15-month-old daughter Hana and 10-year-old son Bjorn over video chats.   Their toddler "is at the age where she's exploring faces" and it's impossible to tell her that she shouldn't touch, said Gjermeni.

The doctor also fears infecting her frail parents, who are looking after the children.   Important milestones have already been missed, such as Hana's first steps and attempt at words.   The parents were also unable to be with their son on his birthday, Gjermeni said through tears.   Other medical staff have feared for their own lives.

Adelina Dragoti, the 48-year-old head nurse at Covid 2, came down with the virus herself.   But she was back to work after four weeks.   "It is a true joy when we manage to save a life, when the patient wakes up, looks at you and says: 'I owe you my life,'" she told AFP of the rare bright moments inside the wards.   "I cannot forget these words."
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2020 11:58:19 +0200 (METDST)

Tirana, April 20, 2020 (AFP) - Albania will allow some businesses to reopen Monday to ease to the economic pain of a coronavirus clampdown that has wiped out tens of thousands of jobs in the Balkan state.   Firms in the agriculture, fishing, mineral, oil and textile sectors are among those permitted to reboot activity once they have received a certificate from the health ministry, according to a list published on the government's website.

Hotels that meet all required hygiene conditions will also be allowed to open their doors, though venues like bars, restaurants and beauty salons remain shuttered.   Under the new relaxed rules, businesses must also respect a nightly 5:30 pm (1530GMT) curfew and "strictly" enforce social distancing measures for employees, who must wear protective gear, the government said.   Albania was quick to shut down public and economic life after its first cases of the virus emerged on March 9.

Since then nearly all businesses except for food shops and pharmacies have gone dark while residents are only allowed outsided with authorisation.    According to government figures, the tight lockdown appears to have staved off a major outbreak, with almost 600 known infections and 26 deaths from the virus in the country of 2.8 million.   But the economic costs have piled up, as some 50,000 Albanians -- around four percent of the official workforce -- have lost their jobs, according to Ministry  Economy.   A series of relief efforts are also costing the government some 540 millions euros.
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.
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United States of America

FCO - UK information on the United States
Updated: 25 July 2002

SUMMARY
Most visits to the United States are trouble-free. However, visitors should continue to be vigilant about their personal security.

SAFETY AND SECURITY<
R />Travellers to the United States should use common sense and take basic precautions.

If staying in a hotel, do not leave your door open at any time.

Do not wear ostentatious jewellery and avoid walking in obviously run down areas.
If arriving at night, take a taxi to your hotel and collect your hire car the next day.
If departing on an evening flight avoid leaving luggage and souvenirs in view in your hire car during the day. Thieves are targeting these vehicles and stealing the contents.
Drive on main highways and use well-lit car parks.

Do not stop if your car is bumped from behind. Instead, indicate to the other driver to follow you to the nearest public area and call for police assistance.
Do not sleep in your car on the roadside or in rest areas.
LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS
Travellers wishing to visit Canada during their stay should contact the Canadian Consulate and US Immigration and Naturalisation Service for entry clearance requirements. If travellers have 90 day visa waiver for US, they should not wait until the end of their stay to travel between US and Canada. Travellers must not overstay past expiration date of their visa as they may risk being denied entry in either country or be deported. Travellers need to carry passports, round trip airline tickets showing their confirmed departure for return from US or Canada to country of origin, and they may need to show proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay.

Travellers should be aware that the age of consent varies from state to state in the US, as does the age at which someone may legally buy and consume alcohol.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
Foot and Mouth Disease:
Travellers are prohibited from carrying into the US any agricultural products, particularly animal products – including dairy products – that could spread FMD. (Some hard cheeses and canned meats are permitted. If you are in any doubt, you must check with a US customs or US Department of Agriculture (USDA) official immediately on arrival in the airport terminal). Passengers are required to tick the appropriate box on the US Customs declaration form if they have recently visited a zoo, or been on a farm or in contact with livestock. Passengers are specifically required to identify any farm contacts to US Customs and USDA officials. All luggage is subject to inspection. Penalties for not declaring farm visits or prohibited items can run to $1,000.

All US ports of entry and airports are on heightened alert to ensure that passengers, luggage and cargo are checked as appropriate. This includes placing additional inspectors and dog teams at airports to check incoming flights and passengers.

USDA are saying that soiled shoes, clothing or luggage will be disinfected on arrival. Food products and any other items suspected of potentially carrying the FMD virus will be confiscated and destroyed.
HEALTH
Medical treatment can be very expensive; there are no special arrangements for British visitors. The British Embassy and Consulates-General cannot assist with medical expenses.

Travellers who are HIV-positive
Travellers to the United States who are HIV-positive are not eligible, under current United States visa law, to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Programme. They are required to apply for a visa and a waiver of the ineligibility before travelling. US immigration authorities state applicants’ details will remain confidential and an applicant’s HIV status will not/not be declared on their passport. For more details contact the US Embassy in London.
GENERAL
Comprehensive travel and medical insurance is essential.
NATURAL DISASTERS
Visitors to the United States will be aware of reports of large-scale wild and forest fires throughout the country. Those travelling to affected areas should be particularly vigilant and pay attention to advice from local authorities and press and radio announcements about personal safety and how to avoid starting fires. Further information can be obtained from the National Interagency Fire Centre, 3833 S. Development Avenue, Boise, Idaho, 83705-5354; tel: +1 208 387 5512; Website: www.nifc.gov

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 07:50:53 +0200 (METDST)

Los Angeles, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Eleven firefighters were injured, three of them critically, in downtown Los Angeles when a fire in a commercial smoke shop sparked a major explosion and spread to nearby structures on Saturday evening, officials said.

Crews had entered the building to battle what was initially thought to be a minor blaze when they noticed that the smoke pressure was escalating and decided to evacuate, Los Angeles Fire Department chief Ralph Terrazas told reporters.   He said the blast occurred as the firefighters were leaving the building from the roof and the ground floor.   "A witness account is that our firefighters came down the aerial ladder from the roof with their turnout coats on fire," Terrazas said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said three firefighters had critical but not life-threatening injuries and another had serious injuries, while the remainder had varying degrees of burns.    "There are no symptoms of blast injuries but there's potential evidence of chemical inhalation," Garcetti said.   "Good news is, everybody's gonna make it," he added.   Terrazas said firefighters saw butane canisters inside the building and outside on the street but it was unclear what caused the blaze.   "Everything is under investigation by our arson team, all I can say at this point is that the cause is under investigation," he said.

Some 230 responders battled the blaze as it spread to other buildings in the area before it was extinguished around two hours after it began.    Fire officials said the building where the blast occurred housed a business -- Smoke Totes Wholesale Distribution -- that sold smoking and vaping paraphernalia and supplied other businesses that make butane honey oil, a highly flammable resin used for inhaling marijuana.   Several storefronts in the area were blackened by the force of the blast while one fire truck had a scorched roof and was covered with debris.   Thick smoke from the blaze was visible from miles away.
Date: Wed, 6 May 2020 21:48:30 +0200 (METDST)
By Catherine TRIOMPHE

New York, May 6, 2020 (AFP) - For the first time since 1904, New York's famed subway has halted its all-night service as the coronavirus outbreak brings "the city that never sleeps" to its knees.   The closures from 1:00 am to 5:00 am are aimed at eliminating traces of the potentially fatal virus from the subway's 6,500 wagons -- using every cleaning technique from basic sanitizer to ultra-violet lamps.   Authorities say conditions in New York -- the epicenter of the pandemic, with more than 19,000 confirmed or probable deaths -- are slowly improving, but that it's too soon to relax confinement measures.

For Gary Dennis, a New York tour guide in love with his city, its 424 subway stations and their gray carriages -- clunky and loud but as iconic as the Statue of Liberty or the bright yellow taxis -- the state of the transit system is a thermometer for the health of the metropolis.   Dennis, a 59-year-old who lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side, said the city's decision to shutter service overnight left him "upset."   "This is a 24-hour town," he told AFP. "It's not designed to be empty, it's designed to be crowded."   "Without the subway, this town would die."   Mayor Bill de Blasio also describes the complex train system that snakes through the city as a "lifeline" that keeps New York's 8.6 million residents chugging along.

Since the pandemic hit the city, ridership has plummeted by more than 90 percent, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that manages the network, to less than 500,000 passengers a day.   Normally some 5.5 million people take the subway every day.   With many white-collar workers logging into the office from home, most riders are now "essential" workers -- some 800,000 employees of hospitals, supermarkets, repair personnel and delivery workers, many of them black or Latino, some undocumented migrants.   And controversy has grown over homeless people seeking overnight shelter in train cars. The city hopes closure will encourage them to find alternative shelter, but many advocacy groups have warned it will worsen the homeless crisis.

- 'Giant vectors of this virus' -
Witnessing the deserted subway stations leaves Will Ramos, a plumber and handyman, mourning the loss of "culture within the stations."   "You meet a lot of talent down here," the 33-year-old said at the Union Square station, one of the network's largest.   But the pandemic has transformed the underground into "giant vectors of this virus," in the words of conductor Sujatha Gidla, who contracted the COVID-19 illness.   In a scathing open letter published this week in The New York Times, Gidla denounced precautions taken to protect MTA workers as too little too late, saying "essential" staff were treated as "expendable."   According to the MTA's president Patrick Foye, 109 of 50,000 workers have died after contracting the virus.

The subway system -- much of it devastated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 -- was already undergoing costly renovations, a project deemed urgent after years of negligence.   Now experts estimate the transit authority could lose $4-8 billion due to the pandemic.    Both the city and state of New York have seen tax revenues in free fall as the economy stalls and unemployment soars -- and few expect Donald Trump's White House to take pity on the transportation system of his home city.   "The funding challenge will be huge," said Bruce Schaller, the former deputy commissionner for traffic and planning at city's transportation department.   "It is very daunting."

But the public transit consultant doesn't doubt the subway will weather the storm.   In the 1970s the transportation network was in dire condition, wracked with crime. But Schaller says the city is far from that situation, when the city "as a whole was badly ailing."   Today, the question is "not about the longer-term vitality" for the subway, but about getting through the pandemic, he said.   And emerging is vital, according to Schaller: "The fundamental assumption in New  York is that you have mass transit."
Date: Wed, 6 May 2020 02:52:31 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, May 6, 2020 (AFP) - The US coronavirus death toll climbed by 2,333 in the past 24 hours, a tally by Johns Hopkins University showed Tuesday, more than twice as many as the day before.    The Baltimore-based university said as of 8:30 pm (0030 GMT Wednesday) that the country had suffered a total of 71,022 deaths.    On Monday, the United States recorded its lowest daily balance in a month, with 1,015 fatalities.
Date: Tue, 5 May 2020 21:58:05 +0200 (METDST)
By Cyril JULIEN

Washington, May 5, 2020 (AFP) - Despite more than a month of stay-at-home orders, the Washington region has become a coronavirus hotspot -- and the African-American and Latino populations of the US capital have been particularly hard hit.   Washington and the neighbouring states of Maryland and Virginia now have more than 50,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and there have been some 2,300 deaths.   Maryland Governor Larry Hogan predicted in early April that the area would see the next major outbreak and was about two weeks behind New York, the epicentre of the pandemic in the United States.

Despite the closure of schools and non-essential businesses and a lockdown since the end of March, the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths has continued to rise in the region.   "We are a highly populated area with a high density," said Travis Gayles, chief of public health services in Maryland's Montgomery County, which borders Washington.   "We still have a high number of essential workers that have to go to work and are subject to exposure there," Gayles told AFP.   Montgomery County, to the north of the US capital, has about one million residents. As of Tuesday, it had 5,541 confirmed coronavirus cases and 292 deaths.

Maryland as a whole has reported around 26,400 cases and more than 1,300 deaths.   Many of the area's essential workers are African-American or Hispanic, and their infection and death rates are considerably higher than those of the white population.   "It is not uncommon that two families share a two-bedroom apartment," said Gayles.    "When one is positive, it spreads quickly, and it is much more difficult to isolate."   Other factors contributing to the high fatality rate among minorities are underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and a lack of insurance coverage.

- 'Social distancing fatigue' -
There have been more than 5,300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington, which has a population of around 700,000, and 264 deaths.   African-Americans account for slightly less than half of the population of Washington -- but 80 percent of the virus deaths.   "This virus has not left the District," Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday. "We are where we thought we would be in having peak experiences during the month of May."

Amanda Castel, a professor in the epidemiology department at George Washington University, said the rise in the number of cases is due -- to some extent -- to increased testing capacity.   "People should not be alarmed that the numbers continue to go up," Castel told AFP, adding they should instead be "reassured that social distancing is working."   "There are more test kits and more testing sites," she said. "We are building capacities to test more individuals.   "It means we will identify more people who are positive," she said. "It's a good thing."

Castel said it was important to ensure that those who test positive "go into isolation and that their contacts are also screened for symptoms and put into quarantine."   She cautioned against the dangers of "social distancing fatigue."   "Over the weekend, there was a lot more movement," she said. "That's concerning -- people are tired."   Gayles said he was hopeful the region may be approaching the peak, although to "calculate the peak is tricky."   "I'm optimistic we are in the area of it," he said.

Several US states have already begun reopening despite not having met federal guidelines that call for a 14-day decline in the number of new virus cases before doing so.   Ralph Northam, the governor of Virginia, has said he may partially ease restrictions from May 15 -- a move not yet embraced by Hogan or Bowser.   "Guidance was clear for states to prepare to reopen -- a 14-day decline in cases, capacity for widespread testing, hospitals in place," Castel said.    "If you can't tick all the boxes, it makes it premature to reopen."   Virginia has reported around 19,500 COVID-19 cases and nearly 700 deaths.
Date: Tue, 5 May 2020 03:21:43 +0200 (METDST)

Los Angeles, May 5, 2020 (AFP) - Some retailers in California, including bookstores, flower shops and clothing stores, will be allowed to reopen for business at the end of the week, the state's governor announced on Monday.   "Millions of Californians answered the call to stay home and thanks to them, we are in a position to begin moving into our next stage of modifying our stay at home order," Governor Gavin Newsom said. "But make no mistake -- this virus isn't gone. It's still dangerous and poses a significant public health risk."

His announcement came following protests across the state last week to demand the lifting of restrictions that have kept the majority of Californians at home and crippled the state's economy, one of the largest in the world.   Under the second phase of the reopening process outlined by the governor, some retail stores can open on Friday for pickup only, while manufacturing and logistics businesses will also be able to get back to work.

Newsom said other sectors that fall into this second phase, such as offices and dine-in restaurants, will open at a later date.   The Democratic governor said that some counties can move quickly through Stage 2, but they must first prove that they meet the state's readiness criteria for hospital beds, testing kits and contact tracing.

Other counties in the Bay Area, which were the first in the country to order lockdowns and which have experienced a high rate of infection, will likely start lifting restrictions at a later date, Newsom said.   He said Stage 3 of lifting restrictions would begin in months and include the reopening of hair salons, nail bars, gyms and sports competitions without fans.

The final stage would amount to the lifting of all restrictions and allow for the opening of movie theatres and sporting events.   That stage, however, is not expected before a vaccine is discovered and made widely available.   California as of Monday had recorded nearly 55,000 cases of COVID-19 and 2,211 deaths.   Los Angeles County alone has recorded nearly 26,000 cases and 1,229 deaths.
More ...

Colombia

Colombia - US Consular Information Sheet
August 13, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Colombia is a medium-income nation of some 44 million inhabitants.
Its geography is very diverse, ranging from tropical coastal areas and rainforests t
rugged mountainous terrain.
Tourist facilities in Colombia vary in quality and safety, according to price and location.
Security is a significant concern for travelers, as described in the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Colombia.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Colombia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
All U.S. citizens who are not also Colombian citizens must present a valid U.S. passport to enter and depart Colombia, and to return to the United States.
Dual U.S-Colombian citizens must present a Colombian passport to enter and exit Colombia, and a U.S. passport to return to the United States.
Be aware that any person born in Colombia may be considered a Colombian citizen, even if never documented as such.
U.S. citizens born in Colombia or who otherwise have Colombian citizenship, will need both a Colombian passport and a U.S. passport for the trip.
U.S. citizens traveling to Colombia do not need a Colombian visa for a tourist stay of 60 days or less.
Travelers entering Colombia are sometimes asked to present evidence of return or onward travel, usually in the form of a round-trip plane ticket.
Americans traveling overland must enter Colombia at an official border crossing.
Travelers arriving by bus should ensure, prior to boarding, that their bus will cross the border at an official entry point.
Entering Colombia at unauthorized crossings may result in fines or incarceration.
Travelers planning to enter Colombia over a land border should carefully read our information on Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below.
The length of stay granted to travelers is determined by the Colombian immigration officer at the point of entry and will be stamped in your passport.
Extensions may be requested by visiting an office of the Colombian immigration authority, known as the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, or DAS, after arrival in Colombia.
Fines are levied if a traveler remains in Colombia longer than authorized, and the traveler cannot leave Colombia until the fine is paid.
Any traveler possessing a Colombian visa with more than three months’ validity must register the visa at a DAS immigration office within 15 days of arrival in Colombia or face fines.
The DAS immigration office in Bogota is located at Calle 100 and Carrera 11B.
No arrival tax is collected upon entry into Colombia, but travelers leaving by plane must pay an exit tax at the airport, in cash.
The tax varies with the dollar/peso exchange rate, but is usually between $50 and $70.
Some airlines include all or a portion of this tax in the cost of your airline ticket; check with your airline to find out how much you will have to pay at the airport.
U.S. citizens whose U.S. passports are lost or stolen in Colombia must obtain a new U.S. passport before departing.
They must then present the new passport, along with a police report describing the loss or theft, to a DAS office.
Information about obtaining a replacement U.S. passport in Colombia is available on the U.S. Embassy’s website at http://bogota.usembassy.gov.
Contact information for DAS is available in Spanish at http://www.das.gov.co.
The Embassy in Bogotá or the U.S. Consular Agency in Barranquilla can provide guidance on contacting DAS when you apply for your replacement passport.
For further, specific guidance on Colombian entry requirements, including information about Colombian visas, travelers should contact the Colombian Embassy at 2118 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008; telephone (202) 387-8338; website: http://www.colombiaemb.org; or the nearest Colombian consulate.
Consulates are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Also see the Department of State’s general information on Entry and Exit Requirements.
Visit the Embassy of Colombia website at http://www.colombiaemb.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.
ADDITIONAL EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR MINORS:
To prevent international child abduction, Colombia has implemented special exit procedures for Colombian children under 18 who are departing the country without both their mother and their father or a legal guardian.
These procedures apply even if the child is also a U.S. citizen.
Complying with the procedures can be complex and time-consuming, especially if an absent parent is outside Colombia at the time.
Advance planning is essential.

The procedures are as follows: Upon exiting the country, the person traveling with the child (or the child him/herself) must present a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate, along with written, signed authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian.
The authorization must explicitly grant permission for the child to travel alone, with one parent, or with a third party, by name.
When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of a death certificate is required instead of written authorization.
When one parent has sole custody of the child, that parent may present a custody decree instead of the other parent’s written authorization.
If the documents to be presented originated in the United States, they must first be translated into Spanish and then signed in front of a Colombian consul at a Colombian consulate.
Then, upon arrival in Colombia, the documents must be presented to the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for certification of the consul’s signature.

Alternatively, the documents can be translated into Spanish, then notarized by a notary public in the United States, and authenticated by requesting an apostille from the competent authority in the state where the documents were prepared.
The document, translation, and apostille can then be presented to immigration officers at the airport when the child travels.
If the documents originated in Colombia and are written in Spanish, only notarization by a Colombian notary is required.
For documents originating in countries other than the United States or Colombia, please inquire with the Colombian embassy serving that country.
In cases where the absent parent refuses or is unable to provide consent, the other parent can request assistance from the Colombian child protective service, Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF).
In appropriate cases, ICBF will investigate and may issue a document that will allow the child to travel without both parents’ consent.
This process may take a significant amount of time and is not within the control of the U.S. government.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Violence has decreased markedly in many urban destinations, including the cities of Bogota, Medellin, Barranquilla, and Cartagena.
Cali has made less progress combating crime than most other large cities.
The level of violence in Buenaventura remains high.
Small towns and rural areas of Colombia can be extremely dangerous due to the presence of narco-terrorists.
Common crime remains a significant problem in many urban and rural areas, as described in the section on crime below.

The incidence of kidnapping in Colombia has diminished significantly from its peak at the beginning of this decade.
Nevertheless, terrorist groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and other criminal organizations, continue to kidnap and hold civilians for ransom or as political bargaining chips.
No one is immune from kidnapping on the basis of occupation, nationality, or other factors.
On July 2, 2008, the GOC effected a successful military rescue of three Americans, Ingrid Betancourt, and eleven members of the Colombia security forces. President Uribe called on the FARC to release the remaining hostages and seek peace. Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped Americans, it is U.S. policy not to make concessions to kidnappers.
Consequently, the U.S. government’s ability to assist kidnap victims is limited.

Official and personal travel by U.S. Embassy employees outside most urban areas is subject to strict limitations and reviewed by security officers on a case-by-case basis.
U.S. Embassy employees are allowed to travel by air, but inter- and intra-city bus transportation is off limits to them.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Although the threat of terrorism has decreased in most of Colombia’s cities, they nevertheless experience much of the same crime that is seen in comparably sized cities throughout the region.
Robbery and other violent crimes, as well as scams against unsuspecting tourists, are common in urban areas.
Generally speaking, if you are the victim of a robbery, you should not resist.
Some of the most common methods used by criminals in Colombia are noted below:
Robberies of ATM customers:
Tourists and others have been robbed after using automatic teller machines (ATMs) on the street.
In some cases, robbers have used motorcycles to approach their victims and later flee the scene.
Americans are urged to use ATMs only inside shopping malls or other protected locations.
Driving to and from the location – rather than walking – provides added protection.
When using an ATM, you should be on the lookout for anyone watching or following you.

Robberies of taxi passengers:
Robbery of taxi passengers is a serious problem in Bogota.
Typically, the driver – who is one of the conspirators – will pick up the passenger and then stop to pick up two or more armed cohorts, who enter the cab, overpower the passenger, and take his/her belongings.
If the passenger has an ATM card, the perpetrators may force the passenger to withdraw money from various ATM locations.
Such ordeals can last for hours.
In almost every case of taxi-related crime, the victims have been riding alone and have hailed taxis off the street.
Rather than hailing a taxi, you should use the telephone dispatch service that most taxi companies offer.
Many hotels, restaurants, and stores will call a taxi for you, and the taxi usually arrives within minutes.
When a taxi is dispatched by telephone, the dispatcher creates a record of the call and the responding taxi.

Robberies while departing airports:
U.S. citizens arriving at major Colombian airports have occasionally been victimized by armed robbery while en route from the airport to their hotel or home.
The perpetrators typically scout out victims at the airport and then follow their vehicles before robbing the occupants at a stoplight.
Travelers should remain vigilant at airports and report to local airport police if they suspect they are being observed.
Robberies on Hiking Trails:
Several U.S. citizens were robbed in 2007 while hiking on nature trails in and around Bogota.
Because hiking trips generally take place in isolated settings, participants are especially vulnerable.
Hikers in Colombia are more protected if they travel in large groups.
Use of disabling drugs:
The Embassy continues to receive reports of criminals in Colombia using disabling drugs to temporarily incapacitate tourists and others.
At bars, restaurants, and other public areas, perpetrators may offer tainted drinks, cigarettes, or gum.
Typically, victims become disoriented or unconscious, and are thus vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault, and other crimes.
Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended at a bar or restaurant, and be suspicious if a stranger offers you something to eat or drink.
Counterfeit money scam:
U.S. citizens in Colombia routinely fall victim to a scam in which purported undercover police officers approach them on the street and request to examine their money, supposedly to determine if it is counterfeit.
The “officers,” who are in fact criminals, then flee with the money.
In a variation of this scam, the thieves may ask to see jewelry.
Legitimate Colombian police officers do not make such requests.

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 are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Colombia is 112 for police and 119 for fire.
There will not be an English speaker answering the phone[g1] .

See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care is adequate in major cities but varies greatly in quality elsewhere.
Emergency rooms in Colombia, even at top-quality facilities, are frequently overcrowded and ambulance service can be slow. Many private health care providers in Colombia require that patients pay for care before treatment, even in an emergency.
Some providers in major cities may accept credit cards, but those that do not may request advance payment in cash.
Uninsured travelers without financial resources may be unable to obtain care, or relegated to seeking treatment in public hospitals where care is far below U.S. standards.
The Embassy regularly receives reports of U.S. citizens in Colombia who have died or suffered complications from liposuction and other elective surgeries intended to treat obesity.
Before undergoing such a procedure in Colombia, the Department of State recommends that you consult with your personal physician, research the credentials of the provider in Colombia, and carefully consider your ability to access emergency medical care if complications arise.
It is important to confirm that your medical insurance provides coverage in Colombia, to include treatment of complications from elective procedures or medical evacuation if necessary.
Should you suffer complications as a result of medical malpractice, collecting damages from your surgeon may be difficult.
Colombia has seen a recent increase in the use of unregulated drugs that purport to enhance sexual performance.
Several American tourists recently died after using these substances, which come in liquid, powder, or tablet form.
You are urged to seek guidance from a physician before ingesting any such substances in Colombia.
Travelers to the capital city of Bogota may need time to adjust to the altitude of 8,600 feet, which can affect blood pressure, digestion, and energy level, and cause
mild dyspnea with exercise, headaches, sleeplessness, , and other discomfort.
Travelers should drink liberal fluids to maintain hydration,, and should avoid strenuous exercise unti they have acclimated to the altitude.
Travelers with circulatory or respiratory problems should consult a physician before traveling to Bogota or other high-altitude locations.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water 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 website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

Colombia has imposed HIV/AIDS travel restrictions on groups of travelers subject to restrictions or bans.
Entry is restricted to PLWHA (customs officials on the lookout). A waiver may be requested from the Colombian embassy (Source: NAM April 2006, USSD December 06).
Please inquire directly with the Embassy of Colombia at http://www.colombiaemb.org before you travel.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm that 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 Colombia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Due to the security environment in Colombia, U.S. government officials and their families are not permitted to travel by road between most major cities.
They also cannot use inter- or intra-city bus transportation, or travel by road outside urban areas at night.
All Americans in Colombia are encouraged to follow these same precautions.
Traffic laws in Colombia, including speed limits, are often ignored and rarely enforced, creating dangerous conditions for drivers and pedestrians in major cities.
Under Colombian law, seat belts are mandatory for front-seat passengers in a private vehicle.
Car seats are not mandatory for children, but a child under ten is not permitted to ride in a front seat.
It is against the law to talk on a cellular phone while driving in Colombia, and violators may be fined.
While driving outside major cities, it is mandatory to drive with your lights on.
If an accident occurs, the involved parties must remain at the scene and not move their vehicles until the authorities arrive; this rule is strictly enforced, and moving a vehicle or leaving the scene of an accident may constitute an admission of guilt under Colombian law.
Americans seeking to import their own vehicles into Colombia should consult with their nearest Colombian consulate for information on Colombian taxes and licensing rules, which can be complicated and bureaucratic.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Colombia’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards for oversight of Colombia’s air carrier operations.
For more information, please visit the FAA’s website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Colombia employs strict screening procedures for detecting narcotics smuggling at its international airports.
Americans and other travelers are occasionally questioned, searched, fingerprinted, and/or asked to submit to an abdominal x-ray upon arrival or departure.
Most airport inspectors do not speak English, and travelers who do not speak Spanish may have difficulty understanding what is asked of them.
Please refer to the section on Criminal Penalties for further information on the strict enforcement of Colombia’s drug laws. Please see our Customs Information.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS:
Travelers generally must not enter or exit Colombia while carrying cash or other financial instruments worth more than 10,000 U.S. dollars.
Colombian authorities may confiscate any amount over $10,000, and may initiate a criminal investigation into the source of the money and the traveler’s reasons for carrying it.
Recovery of the confiscated amount requires a lengthy, expensive legal process and may not always be possible.
Americans wishing to send large sums of money to or from Colombia should contact their nearest Colombian consulate, or speak with Colombian customs officials, and should also consider seeking advice from an attorney or financial professional.

Colombian law prohibits tourists and business travelers from bringing firearms into Colombia.
Illegal importation or possession of firearms may result in incarceration.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Buying or selling them is illegal in Colombia, and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and fines.

Colombian law forbids the export of pre-Columbian objects and other artifacts protected by cultural patrimony statutes.
Under an agreement between the United States and Colombia, U.S. customs officials are obligated to seize pre-Columbian objects and certain colonial religious artwork when they are brought into the United States.
Please contact the Embassy of Colombia in Washington or one of Colombia's consulates in the United States for detailed customs guidance.
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 Colombia’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
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.

If you are arrested, the U.S. government cannot request your release.
Colombia and the United States do not have a prisoner transfer agreement, and so any sentence for a crime committed in Colombia is ordinarily served in a Colombian prison.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs in Colombia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long prison sentences under harsh conditions, with significant expense and great hardship for themselves and their families.
Colombian police make multiple arrests daily for drug trafficking at major airports, and have sophisticated means for detecting illegal drugs in baggage or on your person.
Travelers are sometimes requested to undergo an x-ray to ensure that they are not smuggling narcotics within their own bodies.
There are more than 30 Americans incarcerated in Colombia for attempting to smuggle drugs out of the country.

The hardships resulting from imprisonment do not end even after release from prison:
Colombian law requires that serious offenders remain in the country to serve a lengthy period of parole, during which the offender is given no housing and may lack permission to work.
As a result, family members must often support the offender, sometimes for more than a year, until the parole period expires.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Colombia is an earthquake-prone country.
Flooding and mudslides also sometimes occur in parts of the country.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
If a serious natural disaster occurs in Colombia, the Embassy will publish important information for American citizens on its website at http://bogota.usembassy.gov.

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 residing or traveling in Colombia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Colombia.
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 Calle 24 Bis No. 48-50 Bogotá, D.C. Colombia.
Mailing address:
Carrera 45 No. 24B-27 Bogotá, D.C. Colombia.

In case of a serious emergency that jeopardizes the health or safety of an American citizen in Colombia, please call the Embassy at (571) 315-0811; Embassy fax: (571) 315-2197;
Consular Section phone: (571) 315-1566. The Embassy’s American Citizens Services office provides routine information at http://bogota.usembassy.gov.
For questions not answered there, inquiries may be sent by email to ACSBogota@state.gov.
Email messages are answered by the next business day.
The Embassy’s American Citizens Services office is open for passport applications, notary services, and routine in-person inquiries from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon Monday through Thursday, excluding U.S. and Colombian holidays.
Inquiries concerning Social Security and other federal benefits can be made in-person from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, except holidays.
The American Citizens Services fax number is (571) 3152196/7.
The U.S. Consular Agency in Barranquilla, which accepts passport applications and performs notarial services, is located at Calle 77B, No. 57-141, Piso 5, Centro Empresarial Las Americas, Barranquilla, Atlantico, Colombia; telephone (575) 353-2001; fax (011-57-5) 353-5216.
The Consular Agency is not staffed to respond to after-hours emergencies; in case of an emergency in the Barranquilla/north coast area, please contact the Embassy in Bogota at (571) 315-0811.
*

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This replaces the Country Specific Information issued May 29, 2008, to update sections throughout.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 10 May 2020 22:42:04 +0200 (METDST)

Bogota, May 10, 2020 (AFP) - Avianca, the second-largest airline in Latin America, filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States on Sunday to reorganize its debt "due to the unpredictable impact" of the coronavirus pandemic.   In a statement issued in Bogota, Avianca said that along with "some of its subsidiaries and affiliates," it had asked to "voluntarily file for Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code" in a New York court.   The process allows financially struggling companies to reorganize and restructure their debt.   The airline's operations "have been dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic," as well as federal air travel restrictions.   The company "continues to have high fixed costs," the statement said.

Avianca temporarily suspended all passenger operations in late March, following Colombian President Ivan Duque's decision to close the country's airspace as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose.   The decision, which grounded 142 aircraft, "has reduced consolidated income by more than 80 percent and has put significant pressure on liquidity," according to the statement.   It added that 12,000 of the airline's more than 20,000 employees would take unpaid leave.   The company asked the New York court for "authorization to fulfill work commitments" prior to the bankruptcy protection request and "maintain the compensation scheme applicable to its employees."

The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a crushing blow to the global aviation industry, which has been directly affected by confinement measures and travel restrictions.  According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Latin American airlines will lose $15 billion in revenue this year, the worst crisis in the industry's history.   Avianca, which had already filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US in 2003, recorded a net loss of $894 million in 2019, against a $1.1 million profit the year before.   Avianca Holdings -- which carried 30.5 million passengers in 2019 -- is currently comprised of the Colombian airlines Avianca and Tampa Cargo, the Ecuadorian airline Aerogal and the companies of the Taca International Airline Group, which has offices in Central America and Peru.
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 2020 06:44:50 +0100 (MET)

Montevideo, March 26, 2020 (AFP) - Countries across Latin America have tightened measures to halt the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus, with more lockdowns, border and school closures as well as increased aid to the region's poorest.   As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise -- numbering more than 7,400 and 123 deaths as of Wednesday -- Bolivia and Colombia became the latest countries to impose a total lockdown, while Chile extended its school closures until the end of April.   Here are the latest measures taken in several Latin American nations:

- Bolivia -
Bolivia is closing its borders and ordering a strict lockdown until April 15 starting at midnight Wednesday, President Jeanine Anez said as she declared a state of "sanitary emergency."   The steps are designed to add teeth to a lockdown that was ordered on Sunday but has largely been ignored.   More police and soldiers have been deployed to enforce the measures, Anez said.   There would be narrow exceptions to who can cross the borders and the times at which people can be outside their homes, she added.

- Colombia -
A three-week total lockdown began just after midnight Tuesday and is set to last until April 12.   "Stay at home, prevent the virus from spreading and save lives," said President Ivan Duque.   Nearly 500 cases of the deadly virus have been reported in Colombia, which has a population of 48 million.   The capital city Bogota had already been on lockdown since Sunday on the orders of the mayor.

- Chile -
About 1.3 million residents of Santiago -- including those of the Chilean capital's most affluent neighborhoods -- will be on lockdown for least a week starting at 0100 GMT Thursday, officials said.   This follows an order by authorities to extend school closures until May. Classes were suspended on March 16, just under two weeks after the first coronavirus case was recorded.   Chile has reported more than 1,100 infections and three deaths.

- Panama -
Panama will allow the cruise ship Zaandam -- operated by the Holland America cruise line -- to sail through its canal even though there are 42 people aboard with flu-like symptoms, Health Minister Rosario Turner said Wednesday.   The vessel, with 1,800 passengers, set sail on March 7 from Buenos Aires headed for San Antonio on the central coast of Chile.   But the ship had to alter its plans when ports along the way stopped it from docking due to coronavirus fears.   Every ship that reaches Panama must present a list of sick people, "and if we suspect there are people with respiratory problems, they cannot land," Turner said.   The Zaandam is set to cross the 80-kilometer inter-oceanic Panama Canal on Thursday and meet up on the Caribbean side with another cruise ship, the Rotterdam, which is to deliver supplies and kits to test for COVID-19.   The aim is to reach Fort Lauderdale in Florida on March 30, its operator said.   There have been 558 cases of the virus in Panama, including eight deaths.

- Honduras -
Soldiers have begun distributing food to locked-down residents in the poorest neighborhoods of the capital Tegucigalpa.   President Juan Orlando Hernandez said 800,000 poor families -- 3.2 million people -- would receive food to ensure they stayed indoors.   Honduras has recorded 36 COVID-19 cases so far.

- Brazil -
President Jair Bolsonaro has warned of possible "chaos" and "looting" of supermarkets if state shutdowns ordered by the governors of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are not ended.   Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly scoffed at the severity of the deadly pandemic, previously criticized the closing of schools and businesses in Sao Paulo and Rio, two of the country's most populous states.   "Companies aren't producing anything. They can't pay their employees. And if the economy collapses, there won't be any way to pay public officials. We are facing chaos," Bolsonaro said.   If that happens and supermarkets are looted, he added, "we'll have chaos plus the virus."
Date: Thu 30 Jan 2020
Source: Colombia Reports [edited]

A mysterious illness is ravaging indigenous communities in western Colombia, where 10 children have died so far this year [2020], local media reported on Wednesday [29 Jan 2020]. Regional authorities sent physicians and bacteriologists to the Baudo river in the Choco province to confirm suspicions that contaminated water is killing the children. At least 180 other minors have fallen ill because of the mystery illness in the river communities with about 1500 inhabitants, according to Red Mas Noticias.

Bajo Bauco Mayor Hermenegildo Gonzalez told radio station La FM that the indigenous communities along the river have no access to drinking water, often suffer food shortages and have no access to healthcare, which is complicating what exactly is causing the recent spike in child deaths.

"The issue of water consumption is one of the major risk factors as well as food management and the handling of waste," Choco health secretary Carlos Murillo told television network RCN. According to the mayor, the physicians and bacteriologists will need at least until the end of the week to have access to medical facilities that will allow them to establish what is causing the deaths.

The Choco province is Colombia's poorest province, with a poverty rate exceeding 60% and a child mortality rate of 65 per 1000 children, according to national statistics agency DANE. The dumping of mercury used in illegal mining and waste products that come from the production of cocaine aggravates the health situation, especially among children. Ongoing guerrilla and paramilitary activity in the province complicates efforts to combat chronic state abandonment in the Pacific province and provide basic public services to often isolated communities like those living along the Baudo river.  [byline: Adriaan Alsema]
===========================
[The report provides no information about the symptoms of affected children that lead to illness and death. Although the indigenous group involved is not mentioned, they doubtless are the Embera, who live by hunting and fishing, usually in villages near rivers in a difficult environment. This area is one of the rainiest lowland tropical forests in the world, with 10,000 mm [400 inches] of rainfall annually, making traditional agriculture impossible, with resulting malnutrition and, at times, starvation.

With unavailable potable drinking water, use of river water is probably common. Choco is Colombia's major gold-producing department, with likely corresponding mercury contamination of water and fish.

A map showing the location of the Baudo river watershed is available at the above URL.

ProMED-mail would be interested in receiving the information coming from the team sent to the area to investigate the situation. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 05:14:37 +0100 (MET)

Bogota, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of protesters took part in anti-government demonstrations in Colombia's capital Bogota and other cities Wednesday during the country's third general strike in two weeks.   Strike leaders say they intend to maintain pressure on right-wing President Ivan Duque's government, after brushing aside his appeals to cancel the strike on the grounds its effects were crippling the economy.   But crowds were smaller than previous demonstrations as protests took place for a 14th consecutive day.   Some roads were blocked in the capital and in the northeastern city of Cali, but many businesses remained open.   Around 250,000 people took part in the first demonstration against Duque's 15-month-old government on November 21, when the initial general strike brought the country to a standstill.

Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez estimated that 40,000 people took part in demonstrations across the country on Wednesday, but organizers said the number of participants was much higher.   "The Colombian people have woken up!" shouted Paola Jiminez, a 41-year-old lawyer taking part in a pot-banging "cacerolazo" demonstration in Bogota.   "Colombians are finding it more and more difficult financially," she said.   A student taking part in one of several peaceful protests in Bogota, who gave his name as Nicolas, held up a banner saying: "The state lies more than my ex."

Police were deployed in nearby streets, but there were no confrontations of the kind that have marred some protests over the last two weeks, during which four people died. Some 500 have been injured.   On Tuesday, the Colombian National Strike Committee -- comprising unions, students and teacher organizations, indigenous groups and the opposition -- met directly with Duque's advisors for the first time, but reached no agreement.    Another meeting was scheduled for Thursday.

Under fire for his economic policies and corruption in the country, Duque launched a national dialogue with mayors and other officials 10 days ago.   The strike committee has presented Duque with a list of 13 demands, including the withdrawal of his proposed tax reforms, and full compliance with the 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas.   Among them is a call to dismantle the feared ESMAD riot police, widely criticized for its heavy handed response to protesters.   Duque has yielded to some of the demands on tax reform, announcing the return of Value Added Tax to the poorest 20 percent of the population and benefits for companies that hire young people.
Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2019 23:59:53 +0100 (MET)
By Hector Velasco

Bogota, Nov 27, 2019 (AFP) - Colombian unions marked their second general strike in a week on Wednesday as tens of thousands poured onto the streets in protest against the government of right-wing President Ivan Duque.   Public transport was largely shut down and shops and offices closed in the centre of the capital as a series of protests that began with a 250,000-strong march last Thursday continued for a seventh consecutive day.

Some protesters banged pots and pans as they made their way through the streets. Large demonstrations were also held in Cali and Medellin.   "We are outraged by so much mistreatment and so much corruption," said David Martinez, a 50-year-old public employee who joined a march in Bogota dressed as a clown.   "I'm dressed as a clown because that's how the government sees us. People have risen up in Ecuador, Chile, in Bolivia, now it's our turn to say: No More!" Martinez told AFP.

The protests have been largely peaceful but sporadic violence has left four dead -- including a young man who died Monday after being wounded in clashes with riot police on Saturday. Some 500 people have been injured.   Police said 184 people had been detained in the protests since last week.   "They have turned Colombia into a democracy where they favor a minority of businessmen and bureaucrats, while the vast majority must try to hang on to their privileges," teachers union Fecode said in a statement.   Duque, under fire over his economic policies and corruption, launched a "national dialogue" Sunday with mayors and other officials in a bid to assuage popular anger.   However, protest leaders reacted angrily when they were initially omitted from direct talks.

- US support -
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced "steadfast support" for Duque's government in a phone call to the beleaguered president on Wednesday, the State Department said.   Pompeo "welcomed the national conversation that President Duque has convened in Colombia in response to recent demonstrations," it said.   A Gallup poll published on November 7 showed Duque's approval ratings at 26 percent in October, the lowest since he took office in August 2018, while 70 percent of respondents believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.

The National Strike Committee -- which groups unions, students, university lecturers and indigenous groups -- presented a list of 13 demands to the government, including the withdrawal of Duque's proposed tax reforms, and full compliance with the 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas.   But perhaps the most controversial is the call to dismantle the feared ESMAD riot police, after the death Monday of 18-year-old protester Dilan Cruz, who was hit in the head by a tear gas canister.

Duque has yielded to some of the demands on tax reform, announcing the return of Value Added Tax to the poorest 20 percent of the population and benefits for companies that hire young people.   "This government is open building towards the future, but it must be done with the whole of society," Duque said in an interview with Colombia's W Radio, insisting that many of the protesters claims were based on disinformation or "false premises."
More ...

Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo. However, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the
site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Benin for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-232-6656.

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:
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach alone at any time of day. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport (see Crime section). They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.
The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

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 pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Street robbery is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not bring valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking incidents after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked. Stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.
Travelers should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:

Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your "discretion" or "confidentiality";

Any deal that seems too good to be true;
Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by "a reliable contact";
Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
Any offer of a charitable donation.
These scams, which may appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, International Financial Scams.

Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be "rescued." If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

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 website 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 Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.
With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.benintourisme.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.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 Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Benin dated August 17th, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 10 May 2019 19:38:30 +0200
By Hazel WARD and Daphne BENOIT

Paris, May 10, 2019 (AFP) - French special forces have freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight raid in which two soldiers died, authorities announced Friday.   The operation was launched to free two French tourists who had disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Benin on May 1.

But during the raid, the French troops were surprised to discover two women also in captivity, with top officials saying they had been held for 28 days.    The French tourists were identified as Patrick Picque, 51, and Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, but the women's identities were not immediately clear.     "No one was aware of (the women's) presence," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters, while French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said.   "We know little about these other two hostages," Parly told reporters, saying that even Seoul and Washington did not appear to be aware the pair were in increasingly unstable Burkina Faso.    The raid was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron in what was seen as the last opportunity to stop the hostages being transferred to lawless territory in Mali to the north.

Parly said it was "too early to say" who had snatched the two French nationals from Benin, which has long been an island of stability in a region where Islamist militants are increasingly active.   "The message to terrorists and criminal gangs is clear: those who attack France and its nationals know that we will not spare any effort to track them down, find them and neutralise them," she said.   Four of the six kidnappers were killed in the raid.    French forces, helped by intelligence provided by the United States, had been tracking the kidnappers for several days as they travelled across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso from Benin to Mali.   They seized the opportunity to prevent "the transfer of the hostages to another terrorist organisation in Mali," Lecointre said, referring to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM).   The FLM is a jihadist group formed in 2015 and headed by a radical Malian preacher, Amadou Koufa. It is aligned with Al-Qaeda in the region.

- US intelligence support -
In a statement, Macron congratulated the special forces on the operation, in which he also expressed sorrow over the death of the two soldiers "who gave their lives to save those of our citizens".   And Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the "complex operation", as well as the United States which provided intelligence and support.

The operation was also made possible by the presence of France's Operation Barkhane, which counts some 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces battle jihadist groups.   American special forces and drones are also known to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as jihadist groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria.   Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

- Relief and sadness -
The French tourists -- Patrick Picque who works in a Paris jewellery shop, and Laurent Lassimouillas a piano teacher, -- went missing with their guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin.   The Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is famed for its elephants and lions, lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso.   The badly disfigured body of their guide was found shortly after they disappeared, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck.   The two freed men will be flown back to France on Saturday, alongside the South Korean woman, where they will be met on arrival by Macron and other top French officials.   Washington thanked the French forces for freeing the American hostage, with France saying she would likely be "repatriated independently" from the other three. 

The two dead French soldiers were named as Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, decorated naval special forces members born in 1986 and 1991 respectively.   They were part of the prestigious Hubert commando unit of the French naval special forces which was deployed to the Sahel at the end of March.   A total of 24 French soldiers have died in the region since 2013 when France intervened to drive back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali. The last death was on April 2.
Date: Tue 15 Jan 2019
Source: Punch [edited]

The Kwara state government has confirmed 2 cases of Lassa fever infecting a husband and wife in the state.

Speaking with newsmen on Tuesday [15 Jan 2019] at a news briefing, the Kwara commissioner for health, Alhaji Usman Rifun-Kolo, said the outbreak of Lassa fever was identified in a farm settlement in Taberu, Baruten local government area.

He explained that the 2 cases of the disease affected a husband and wife, natives of Benin republic, which shares a border with the state. He added that the husband and wife are farming in Baruten. "These cases of Lassa fever originated from Benin republic, whose citizen have interrelations with people in the Baruten area," he said.

According to him, the husband and wife were diagnosed in a health facility, and the state government had already deployed a disease-surveillance team to identify those who have been in contact with the patients.

Rifun-Kolo further explained that the surveillance team identified 4 people with a history of fever in the area. He said that the 4 cases raised suspicion of Lassa fever, which prompted them to take samples from the individuals for further investigation. He noted that the 4 individuals have commenced treatment in Taberu, Baruten LGA.
=====================
[The above report states that the couple was infected in Benin, although the timeline when that may have occurred is not given. The report also mentions 4 individuals in the Kwara state who had a history of Lassa fever, implying that the virus is present in that state in Nigeria as well. In December [2018], there were Lassa fever cases in Benin that were imported from Nigeria as well as infections that were locally acquired in Benin, so the Lassa fever cases cross the border in both directions. The source of the infecting virus for any of these cases is not mentioned. - ProMED Mod.TY

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Kwara state, Nigeria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/19690>]
Date: Wed 26 Dec 2018
Source: Quotidein Le Matinal [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]

Minister of health Benjamin Hounkpatin confirmed on Wednesday [26 Dec 2018] 4 new cases of Lassa haemorrhagic fever in Benin, including one in Cotonou. This occurred in the period from 15-26 Dec 2018.

In the case of Cotonou, a 28-year-old (has been infected). His case was detected on 24 Dec [2018], but his illness commenced the previous week. He had a fever, a cough, a cold, and fatigue. Due to the persistence of the cough and cold, and with the appearance of traces of blood in nasal discharge on 24 Dec 2018, the alert was given.

The patient was placed in isolation on [Tue 25 Dec 2018], and on the morning of Wed 26 Dec 2018, his result from the laboratory came back positive [for Lassa fever]. Subsequently, the patient was isolated and put on treatment.

According to the details provided by Hounkpatin, there is no indication of travel [by the patient] to an epidemic locality of Lassa fever. According to the patient's statements, there is no known contact with rodents.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, the minister reassured the public that public health measures are underway. He also reminded people of the behaviours that will help avoid becoming infected. This involves washing hands regularly with soap and water; avoiding contact with stool, sperm, urine, saliva, vomit, and contaminated objects from a person suspected to be ill or dead from Lassa; and protecting food and keeping it in a safe place, out of reach of rodents.

It should be recalled that 7 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the epidemic to date, including 5 positive cases.
=======================
[One case is located in Cotonou on the Benin coast and apparently was locally acquired, perhaps from contact with the rodent host or its excrement. The location of the other 3 cases is not mentioned, but a 13 Dec 2018 report indicated that there were 3 cases in the municipality of Parakou in Borgou Department, in the northern part of Benin. Perhaps these 3 cases, which came from the village Taberou (in Nigeria), located 5 km [3.1 mi] from Tandou in the commune of Tchaourou, are the ones mentioned in this report.

The previous Lassa fever cases in Benin this year [2018] occurred in January and also involved case importation from Nigeria. A previous WHO report stated that Lassa fever is endemic in bordering Nigeria, and, given the frequent population movements between Nigeria and Benin, the occurrence of additional cases is not unexpected. Strengthening of cross-border collaboration and information exchange between the 2 countries is, therefore, needed. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
For _Mastomys natalensis_, see
For _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_, see

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2018 13:37:32 +0200

Cotonou, June 29, 2018 (AFP) - Benin's Constitutional Court has banned the right to strike by workers in the country's defence, security, justice and health sectors, sparking concern among union officials and legal observers.   The ruling, issued late on Thursday, came after months of wrangling between the government and the court, which had previously said the measure was unconstitutional.

"Civil servants, public security forces and equivalents should fulfil their duties in all circumstances and not exercise their right to strike," the court said in its new ruling.   "There should be no disruption to the duties of public sector defence, security, justice and health workers."   The decision was taken "in the public interest" and for "the protection of citizens", it said.

Speaking on Friday, one senior union leader, who asked to remain anonymous, described the ruling as shocking and a "hammer blow".   And Benin legal affairs expert Albert Medagbe told AFP the decision was a "worrying sudden legal U-turn".   Earlier this month, a close ally of President Patrice Talon, Joseph Djogbenou, was elected to lead the Constitutional Court during a vote held behind closed doors.   Djogbenou is Talon's former personal lawyer and was previously  Benin's attorney general.

Until his arrival, the court had strained relations with Talon, and had criticised the government for misunderstanding and failing to respect the constitution.   The small West African nation was last year hit by a wave of public sector strikes, which brought the education, health and justice system to a near halt.   The industrial action was sparked by Talon's attempts to introduce free-market reforms.
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:31:52 +0100

Cotonou, Feb 21, 2018 (AFP) - Nine people appeared in a Benin court Wednesday on charges of selling fake drugs at the start of a landmark trial in a regional campaign against illicit medicines.   The suspects, who include executives from major pharmaceutical companies operating in the West African nation, were remanded in custody until March 6 on technical grounds.   They are accused of "the sale of falsified medicines, (and) display, possession with a view to selling, commercialisation or sale of falsified medical substances."   A tenth defendant, the head of the Directorate for Pharmacies, Medications and Diagnostic Evaluation (DPMED) under the control of the ministry of health, was not in court on the trial's opening day.   He is accused of failing to prevent the offences.

Benin launched the crackdown last year after mounting alarm about the scale of the trafficking of expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa.   Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product.   Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or -- in the case of antibiotics -- worsen the problem of microbial resistance.   According to an investigation by the Paris-based International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), West African markets are awash with fake drugs made in China and India.

In 2015, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor-quality antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   A 15-nation regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), last April announced an investigation into the fake drugs business.   A lawyer for the civilian plaintiffs told AFP that the trial in Benin was adjourned until March 6 at their request "in order to incorporate another case, of illegal pharmaceutical practice".
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Aruba

Aruba US Consular Information Sheet
April 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Aruba is an autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Tourist facilities are widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Aruba for addi
ional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All Americans traveling by air outside the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.
This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009.
Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other WHTI compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S.
Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.

Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted.
We expect cards will be available and mailed to applicants in spring 2008.
The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the Passport Card is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.
We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel.
American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.

In addition visitors to Aruba may be asked to show onward/return tickets, proof of sufficient funds and proof of lodging accommodations for their stay. Length of stay for U.S. citizens is granted for thirty days and may be extended to 180 days by the office of immigration.
For further information, travelers may contact the Royal Netherlands Embassy, 4200 Linnean Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone (202) 244-5300, or the Dutch Consulate in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Houston or Miami.
Visit the web site for the Embassy of the Netherlands at http://www.netherlands-embassy.org and the Aruban Department of Immigration at http://www.aruba.com/about/entryrequirements.php 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: There are no known extremist groups, areas of instability or organized crime on Aruba, although drug trafficking rings do operate on the island.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found.

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

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

CRIME: The crime threat in Aruba is generally considered low although travelers should always take normal precautions when in unfamiliar surroundings.
There have been incidents of theft from hotel rooms and armed robberies have been known to occur. Valuables left unattended on beaches, in cars and in hotel lobbies are easy targets for theft.
Car theft, especially that of rental vehicles for joy riding and stripping, can occur. Vehicle leases or rentals may not be fully covered by local insurance when a vehicle is stolen or damaged.
Be sure you are sufficiently insured when renting vehicles and jet skis.

Parents of young travelers should be aware that the legal drinking age of 18 is not always rigorously enforced in Aruba, so extra parental supervision may be appropriate. Young female travelers in particular are urged to take the same precautions they would when going out in the United States, e.g. to travel in pairs or in groups if they choose frequenting Aruba’s nightclubs and bars, and if they opt to consume alcohol, to do so responsibly.

Anyone who is a victim of a crime should make a report to Aruban police as well as report it immediately to the nearest U.S. consular office.
Do not rely on hotel/restaurant/tour company management to make the report for you.

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 are 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.

Please see our information for American Victims of Crime Overseas.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care is good in Aruba. There is one hospital, Dr. H.E. Oduber Hospital, whose medical standards can be compared with an average small hospital in the U.S. The hospital has three classes of services and patients are accommodated according to the level of their insurance (i.e. first class: one patient to a room, TV, better food; second class: two to three patients to a room, shared bathroom, etc; third class: 15 to 20 people in one hall). There is a small medical center in San Nicolas. The many drug stores, or “boticas” provide prescription and over the counter medicine. Emergency services are usually quick to respond.
There are no country-specific health concerns.

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 Aruba is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate for a particular location or circumstance.

Driving in Aruba is on the right-hand side of the road. Local laws require drivers and passengers to wear seat belts and motorcyclists to wear helmets. Children under 5 years of age should be in a child safety seat; older children should ride in the back seat. Right turns on red are prohibited in Aruba.

Aruba's main thoroughfare, L.G. Smith Boulevard, is well lit and most hotels and tourist attractions can be easily located.
There is a speed limit in Aruba and driving while intoxicated may result in the loss of a driver’s license and/or a fine.
However, these are not consistently enforced.
Drivers should be alert at all times for speeding cars, which have caused fatal accidents.
In the interior areas of the island, drivers should be alert for herds of goats or donkeys that may cross the roads unexpectedly.
Buses provide convenient and inexpensive service to and from many hotels and downtown shopping areas.
Taxis, while expensive, are safe and well regulated.
As there are no meters, passengers should verify the price before entering the taxi.
The emergency service telephone number is 911. Police and ambulance tend to respond quickly to emergency situations.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Also, travelers may wish to visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety in Aruba for information: http://www.aruba.com/pages/traffictips.htm.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Aruba’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Aruba’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: The time-share industry and other real estate investments are two of the fastest-growing tourist industries in Aruba. Time-share buyers are cautioned about contracts that do not have a "non-disturbance or perpetuity protective clause" incorporated in the purchase agreement.
Such a clause gives the time-share owner perpetuity of ownership should the facility be sold.
Americans have also sometimes complained that the time-share units are not adequately maintained, despite generally high annual maintenance fees.

Potential investors should be aware that failed land development schemes involving time-share investments could result in financial losses. Interested investors may wish to seek professional advice regarding investments involving land development projects. Real estate investment problems that reach local courts are rarely settled in favor of foreign investors.

An unusually competitive fee to rent jet skis or other water sports equipment could indicate that the dealer is unlicensed or uninsured. Visitors planning to rent jet skis or other water sports equipment should carefully review all liability and insurance forms presented to them before signing any contracts or agreements. The renter is often fully responsible for replacement costs and fees associated with any damages that occur during the rental period. Visitors may be required to pay these fees in full before being allowed to leave Aruba, and may be subject to civil or criminal penalties if they cannot or will not make payment.

Dutch law in principle does not permit dual nationality. However, there are several exceptions to the rule. For example, American citizens who are married to Dutch citizens are exempt from the requirement to abandon their American nationality when they apply to become a Dutch citizen by naturalization. For detailed information, contact the Embassy of the Netherlands in Washington, DC, or one of the Dutch consulates in the U.S.
Please see our information on customs regulations.

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 Aruba’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Aruba 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 on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web pages.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Aruba 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 Aruba. 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. Consulate General is located at J.B. Gorsiraweg 1, Willemstad, Curaçao, telephone number (599-9) 461-3066; fax (599-9) 461-6489; e-mail address: acscuracao@state.gov
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated January 3, 2008, to update Entry/Exit Requirements and Crime sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 20 Jun 2009 10:52:09 +0200 (METDST)

MADRID, June 20, 2009 (AFP) - A Spanish cruise ship was turned away from three Caribbean islands after swine flu cases emerged among the crew and the 800-odd passengers finally got off in Aruba, the tour operator said Saturday.   The "Ocean Dream" docked in Aruba late Friday after being denied entry in Grenada, Saint Lucia and Barbados, Pullmantur said. Three swine flu cases were reported among the crew but the passengers were unaffected.

On Thursday, 376 Venezuelan passengers were allowed to disembark on the island of Margarita, which belongs to Venezuela.   The ship's nine-day cruise through the Caribbean was hampered by the flu outbreak and the ship could not dock at three destinations on the itinerary.   The A(H1N1) virus has infected more than 44,000 people around the world, resulting in 180 deaths since late March, WHO figures show.
Date: Wed 14 Jan 2009
Source: Amigoe.com [Dutch, machine trans., edited]

Department of Health has called an urgent press conference on Tuesday [13 Jan 2009] to issue a dengue update. The department has done this following the hundreds of calls that have come into Health, after media reports of a 53-year-old woman who died of dengue [virus infection].

According to Trevor Gellecum, Director of Health, it is still not clear that this woman indeed died of dengue. "First, certain tests can be carried out, and it will be 3 weeks before the results could be known," says Van Gellecum. "These tests should be carried out in a laboratory abroad."

According to Wilmer Salazar, microbiologist at Health, the woman had a fever at the weekend, but on Monday [12 Jan 2009] she felt better and she went to work. "Later that day, she was admitted to the hospital in shock. At night she died, "said Salazar. "Until now, there is no confirmed diagnosis of the cause of death, but dengue is suspected. Today [14 Jan 2009], an autopsy was performed so that the tests to be done abroad can take place."

Maribel Tromp, manager at the department of epidemiology and research of the Infectious Disease Service, has indicated that so far 612 suspected cases of dengue have been registered. "Of these, 218 cases [have been] confirmed as positive by the laboratory, and 394 are still under investigation, reports Tromp. "This does not mean that they are negative" [The dates over which these cases occurred are not specified. - ProMed Mod.TY].

 From the moment the news of a potentially fatal dengue victim arose lately, Charline Koolma, director of the Yellow Fever Fight Unit (GKMB), indicated that they have been overwhelmed with calls from people reporting family members possibly with dengue-like symptoms or who want information about the disease. "It is good that we now receive phone calls, although it also had previously been possible. These kinds of extreme cases can be avoided," according Koolman.

"From November last year [2008], the GKMB made several visits to monitor presence of [the dengue virus vector mosquito _Aedes_] breeding sites and adult mosquitoes. Often, the residents are not home, and then a letter was left with an invitation to make contact with the GKMB for the transmission of important information. But there is never a return call until something bad happens, and then it is often too late."

The more information and reports the GKMB gets, the better the service and their work, said Tromp. Finally, all speakers [at the press conference] called on the population and general practitioners to join forces against breeding of the _Aedes_ dengue vector mosquito. Health officials indicated that is the only way to avoid [virus] infection and prevent dengue.
------------------------
[A map showing the location of Aruba in the Caribbean can be accessed at <http://www.aruba-travelguide.com/map/index.html>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Sun, 2 Sep 2007 19:04:55 +0200 (METDST) MIAMI, Sept 2, 2007 (AFP) - Hurricane Felix barreled through the Caribban Sunday, with forecasters predicting a brush with Aruba and warning of its potential to strengthen into a devastating storm. Forecasters issued a tropical storm warning and hurricane watch for the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao -- popular tourist destinations in the Netherlands Antilles. A tropical storm watch also has been issued for Jamaica, which was gearing up for violence-marred elections Monday, after Felix was upgraded overnight to Category Two strength on the Saffir-Sampson scale, which peaks at five. At around 1500 GMT Felix's maximum sustained winds were 105 miles (165 kilometers) per hour, and its trek across the open waters of the Caribbean could allow it to attain "major hurricane" status, US forecasters said. "I see no reason why Felix will not become a major hurricane within 12 hours or so," said Richard Pasch, a hurricane specialist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. On Saturday, a weaker Felix passed close to Grenada, reportedly ripping roofs, downing power lines and knocking radio and TV stations off the air. No injuries were reported. The center of the hurricane around 1600 GMT Sunday was about 50 miles (75 kilometers) north of Aruba and about 550 miles (900 kilometers) southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. Felix was moving in a west-northwesterly direction at around 18 miles (30 kilometers) per hour, and was expected to follow the same course throughout Sunday. The storm was not expected to hit Jamaica directly, but its strong outer squalls could rock the island ahead of the elections on Monday. Jamaican officials had already postponed the general election from August 27, after the island was struck last month by Hurricane Dean. Last week, Dean swept through the southern Caribbean with severe winds and rains, leaving a wide swathe of damage and a death toll of 30 from Martinique to Mexico. Felix's track was expected to take it toward Belize or the Yucatan in Mexico, possibly making landfall as a major Category Three hurricane Wednesday. The storm could dump two to four inches (five to 10 centimeters) of rain over islands off the Venezuela coast and the Netherlands Antilles, US forecasters said. On its current path Felix is expected to graze the coastlines of Nicaragua and Honduras late Tuesday and make landfall in Belize on Wednesday. Felix is the second hurricane of the three-month-old Atlantic season, and the first in September, historically the busiest month for hurricanes.
Date: Thu, 9 Sep 2004 10:12:08 +0200 (METDST) CARACAS, Sept 9 (AFP) - Hurricane Ivan has killed at least 11 people in Tobago, Grenada and Venezuela as the it churned off Venezuela's coast Thursday, strengthening to the top Category 5 storm, officials and local media said. Ivan was 135 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of Aruba and 915 kilometers (570 miles) from Jamaica, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said at 0600 GMT. Its category was raised to a Category 5 hurricane -the top level on the Saffir Simpson hurricane scale, with maximum sustained winds near 255 kilometers (160 miles) per hour. "Some fluctuations in strength are likely," the center said. The "extremely dangerous" hurricane was moving west-northwest at 28 kilometers (17 miles) per hour with urricane force winds extend outward from Ivan's eye up to 95 kilometers (60 miles). Storm surges of 1.0-1.5 meters (three to five feet) as well as rains of 13-18 centimeters (seven five to seven inches) are to be expected. The center issued hurricane warnings for Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. A television station in Trinidad and Tobago said nine people had died in Grenada, a tiny island nation of 90,000 inhabitants, which Prime Minister Keith Mitchell said was 85 percent destroyed. Power lines were down and hundreds of persons have taken refuge in shelters. Mitchell, whose own house was destroyed, told a Trinidad radio station that the island is without electricity. Another woman was killed by a falling tree in Tobago, according to local media. Prime Minister Patrick Manning headed to Tobago to view the destruction. His government has promised 1.6 million dollars to St. Vincent to help with the construction. Hundreds were evacuated to shelters. Cuba has also begun preparing for the storm in 11 of its 14 provinces, although the island has not fully recovered from Hurricane Charley, which struck August 13. Children in the Netherlands Antilles were sent home from school, as were many workers. Several Venezuelan airports, including the oil-exporting country's main international airport, Maiquetia, which serves Caracas, suspended operations until conditions improve, Air Force colonel Francisco Paz Freitas told Union Radio. In Venezuela, a man was crushed to death when hurricane-force winds toppled a wall in a coastal town near Caracas, emergency service officials said, adding that another person was hurt and 150 people were affected by flooding. Along the low-lying Caribbean coast, authorities reported mudslides and road closings just as early rain bands from the storm unleashed the first downpours. The storm was expected to be off the central coast later in the day, triggering heavy rains and rough surf. The capital, Caracas, lies just a bit inland from there, protected somewhat by the El Avila mountain range. Though the storm is not expected to make landfall in Venezuela, Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon was urging calm and said heavy winds and rain associated with the storm could last for 72 hours. Ivan was expected to pass just north of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao on Friday as the Caribbean islands were under a hurricane warning, which means hurricane winds could hit them within 24 hours or less, the US hurricane center said. A hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning remain in effect for the Guajira peninsula of Colombia and for the entire northern coast of Venezuela, it noted. Haiti also issued a hurricane watch, meaning it could experience hurricane conditions within 36 hours.
Date: Wed, 8 Sep 2004 05:03:07 +0200 (METDST) PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad Sept 7 (AFP) - Ivan, an "extremely dangerous" hurricane Tuesday knocked out power in Barbados and threatened eastern Caribbean islands, forecasters and emergency officials said. The eye of the powerful storm moved over Barbados Tuesday afternoon, and headed for the eastern Caribbean, where officials issued a hurricane warning for St Vincent, the Grenadines, Grenada and the Netherlands Antilles islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Ivan packed sustained winds of 215 kilometers (135 miles) per hour, which made it "an extremely dangerous category four hurricane," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. In Barbados, "there is an island-wide power outage, expect for the major health care facility, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital," the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) said. "There are also reports of roof loss, downed utility poles and trees," the agency said, adding that there were also reports of coastal damage from storm surge. Late Tuesday night, the center of the powerful hurricane, the second in just days, was located 175 kilometers (110 miles) west of Grenada. The Netherlands Antilles Tuesday morning put the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao under a hurricane watch, which means the storm could hit them within 36 hours. In central and eastern Venezuela, officials suspended all air and maritime traffic. Long-term forecasts, which have a wide margin of error, have the hurricane slamming into Jamaica on Friday and then into Cuba on Sunday. This would bring the storm dangerously close to Florida, which has just been pounded by Frances, the second hurricane to hit the southeastern US state in three weeks. The Bahamas islands also were severely impacted by the passage of Frances last week.
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North Korea

Democratic People's Republic of Korea US Consular Information Sheet
April 29, 2008
Prior to departing the United States, U.S. citizens planning to transit China on their visit to North Korea are encouraged to register on line with the U.S. Emba
sy in Beijing; U. S. citizens transiting South Korea to take the Mount Kumgang or Kaesong City tours should register with the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
U. S. citizens visiting North Korea should also register with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang (U.S. Protective Power).
Please see the Registration/Embassy Location section below.

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea or the DPRK) is a highly militaristic Communist state located on the Korean Peninsula between northeast China and the Republic of Korea (South Korea or ROK), with land borders with China, Russia and South Korea.
The DPRK is one of the world’s most isolated countries.
The continuing dispute over North Korea’s development of nuclear programs and nuclear weapons has resulted in tensions in the region and between the United States and the DPRK.
North Korea limits trade and transportation links with other countries and tightly restricts the circumstances under which foreigners may enter the country and interact with local citizens.
Telephone and fax communications are unavailable in many areas of the country and foreigners can expect their communications to be monitored by DPRK officials.
In the past few years, North Korea has experienced famine, flooding, fuel and electricity shortages, and outbreaks of disease.
Many countries, including the United States, have contributed to international relief efforts to assist the people of North Korea.

Foreign tourists are a means for North Korea to earn much needed foreign currency, but an underdeveloped service sector, inadequate infrastructure, and political tensions with surrounding countries have stymied any significant tourist flow.
North Korean efforts to expand tourism have focused primarily on group tours from China, as well as from South Korea primarily to the Mount Kumgang tourist area and the city of Kaesong.

The United States does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations with the DPRK.
The Swedish Embassy located in Pyongyang acts as the United States’ interim consular protective power and provides basic consular services to U.S. citizens traveling in North Korea.
Please refer to Special Circumstances for additional information.

Read the Department of State Background Notes on North Korea for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: North Korean visas are required for entry.
The U.S. Government does not issue letters to private Americans seeking North Korean visas, even though in the past such letters have sometimes been requested by DPRK embassies.
Prospective travelers entering and departing North Korea through China must also obtain a two-entry visa for China, as a valid Chinese visa is essential for departing North Korea at the conclusion of a visit or in an emergency.
While the ROK government is attempting to open direct travel routes to the DPRK, routine travel from the ROK to the DPRK is currently prohibited.
Travel across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) is allowed only infrequently for official and government-authorized cultural and economic exchanges, or aid shipments, and for tours limited to Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong City.
There are no regularly operating direct commercial flights from South Korea to North Korea.
U.S. citizens who arrive in North Korea without a valid U.S. passport and North Korean visa may be detained, arrested, fined or denied entry.
Travelers to North Korea report that fees for local travel costs (taxi, tolls, permits and the cost for security personnel assigned to escort foreigner visitors) can be high and arbitrary.

Where to obtain a North Korean visa: There is no DPRK embassy in the United States.
U.S. citizens and residents planning travel to North Korea must obtain DPRK visas in third countries, for example in Beijing, China.
For information about entry requirements and restricted areas, contact the DPRK Mission to the United Nations in New York.
Address inquiries to:

The Permanent Representative of the Democratic
People’s Republic of Korea to the United Nations
820 Second Avenue
New York, NY
10017
Tel: (212) 972-3105
Fax: (212) 972-3154

Americans living abroad can contact the DPRK embassy, if any, in their country of residence.
U.S. citizens traveling to North Korea may obtain their visas at the DPRK Embassy in Beijing, China, which will issue visas only after receiving authorization from the DPRK Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang.
Prior to traveling to the region, travelers may wish to confirm that authorization to issue their visa has been received from Pyongyang.
Americans can call the North Korean Embassy in Beijing prior to their travel by telephone at (86-10) 6532-1186 or (86-10) 6532-1189 (fax: (86-10) 6532-6056).

Information on dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
Please see those sections below under Special Circumstances.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: DPRK government security personnel closely monitor the activities and conversations of foreigners in North Korea.
Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Photographing roads, bridges, airports, rail stations, or anything other than designated public tourist sites can be perceived as espionage and may result in confiscation of cameras and film or even detention.
DPRK border officials routinely confiscate visitors’ cell phones upon arrival, returning the phone only upon departure.
Foreign visitors to North Korea may be arrested, detained or expelled for activities that would not be considered criminal outside the DPRK, including involvement in unsanctioned religious and political activities, engaging in unauthorized travel, or interaction with the local population.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site
at where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on worldwide security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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

CRIME: The North Korean government does not release statistics on crime.
Violent crime is rare and street crime is uncommon in Pyongyang.
Petty thefts have been reported, especially at the airport in Pyongyang.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the Swedish Embassy.
If you are a victim of any crime while in North Korea, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the Swedish Embassy for assistance (address and phone number below).

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Persons with medical problems should not travel to North Korea.
For decades, medical facilities in the DPRK have suffered from a lack of resources and electricity, as well as inadequate and often outdated skills among the medical staff.
Hospitals in Pyongyang can perform basic examinations and lifesaving measures but functioning x-ray facilities are not generally available.
Surgery should be avoided.
For accidents outside Pyongyang, transport back to the capital can be a lengthy trip without medical assistance.
Persons requiring regular medication are encouraged to bring sufficient stocks of drugs for personal use since most drugs are impossible to obtain locally.
Hospitals will expect immediate U.S. dollar cash payment for medical treatment.
Credit cards and checks have not been honored in the past, according to diplomatic personnel stationed in the DPRK.
Local DPRK hosts are often not aware of available evacuation options and might claim that no such options exist.
In case of serious medical problems, it is important to insist on immediate contact with the Swedish Embassy.
The Swedish Embassy can arrange a medical evacuation to Beijing within approximately 5-10 hours.

Vaccinations.
All necessary vaccinations should be received prior to traveling to North Korea.
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 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.
Travelers with special dietary requirements are advised to bring food with them to North Korea, as the restaurants available to foreigners may have limited menus that lack variety and nutritional adequacy.

Medical Vaccinations. In the case of a critical illness or accident, the Swedish Embassy will attempt to arrange flight clearances for air ambulances performing emergency medical evacuations.
Medical air evacuation costs vary, but average approximately $40,000 to $50,000 for medical, personnel, aircraft and clearance costs.
Clearances can usually be arranged within one day.
Medical evacuation by regularly scheduled airlines can be arranged, but is limited to the very few flights that operate from Pyongyang to Beijing, Dalian, Shenyang and Macau.
Chinese visas for injured foreigners and any escorts must be obtained prior to the evacuation from North Korea in order to transit China.
Even in the case of a medical emergency, transit visas may take several days to arrange.
Evacuation across the DMZ to South Korea is not allowed.

If an American citizen falls ill or is injured while traveling in the DPRK, accompanying travelers or family members should immediately contact the Swedish Embassy using the phone numbers listed below.

The Embassy of Sweden,
Munsu-Dong District,
Pyongyang, DPRK

Telephone and fax numbers for the Swedish Embassy (U.S. Protective Power) are:
Tel:
(850-2) 3817 485 (Reception)


(850-2) 3817 904, 907(First Secretary)


(850-2) 3817 908, 905 (Ambassador)
Fax:
(850-2) 3817 663
Email:
ambassaden.pyongyang@foreign.ministry.se
Notification also should be made to the U.S. Embassy’s American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit in Beijing, China, using the phone numbers listed below:

U.S. Embassy, Beijing
American Citizen Services
2 Xiushui Dong Jie
Beijing, China 100600
Telephone: (86-10) 6532-3431
Fax: (86-10) 6532-4153.

After hours, please call (86-10) 6532-3431 and ask for the Embassy duty officer.
Americans who wish to contact U.S. consular officials in China can e-mail amcitbeijing@state.gov
Companies that may be able to arrange evacuation services include, but are not limited to those listed below.
Travelers may wish to contact these or other emergency medical assistance providers for information about their ability to provide medical evacuation insurance and/or assistance for travelers to North Korea.

SOS International (www.intsos.com)
U.S. telephone:
(1-800) 468-5232
China telephone:
(86-10) 6462-9111/9118

Medex Assistance Corporation (www.medexassist.com)
U.S. telephone:
(410) 453-6300 / 6301
Toll free:
108888-800-527-0218 (call from China)
China telephone:
(86-10) 6595-8510)

Global Doctor (www.globaldoctor.com.au/default.php)
China telephone: (86-10) 83151914).









(86-24) 24330678 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad , available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.

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 if it will cover emergency expenses such as 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 North Korea is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or situation.

Foreigners not holding a valid DPRK driver’s license are not allowed to drive in North Korea.
Foreigners generally are not allowed to use public buses or the subway.
North Korea has a functioning rail transport system; however delays occur often, sometimes for days.
On occasion, service may cease altogether before a traveler reaches his/her final destination.
Bicycles are unavailable for rental or purchase.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and North Korea, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed North Korea’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

Interim Consular Protecting Power: The United States does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations with the DPRK.
The U.S. Government therefore cannot provide normal consular protective services to U.S. citizens in North Korea.
On September 20, 1995, a consular protecting power arrangement was implemented, allowing the Swedish Embassy in the DPRK capital of Pyongyang to provide basic consular protective services to U.S. citizens traveling in North Korea who are ill, injured, arrested or who have died while there.

Consular Access:
There is no United States diplomatic or consular presence in the DPRK.
Americans traveling in the DPRK may receive limited consular services from the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang.
Please see section above on “Medical Insurance” for address and contact information for the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry photocopies of their passport data and photo pages with them at all times so that, if questioned by DPRK officials, evidence of their U.S. citizenship is readily available. The U.S.- DPRK Interim Consular Agreement provides that North Korea will notify the Swedish Embassy within four days of an arrest or detention of an American citizen and will allow consular visits within two days after a request is made by the Swedish Embassy.
However, consular access has not been readily granted in cases where American citizens have been reported as being detained or held against their will by DPRK officials.
Moreover, delegations with ethnic Korean individuals, or delegations representing Korean-affiliated organizations in the U.S., are handled by DPRK structures that are well beyond the reach of diplomatic missions in Pyongyang.
Hence, in case of a situation requiring consular assistance, the Embassy’s access is even more limited.

Customs Regulations:
DPRK authorities may seize documents, literature, audio and videotapes, compact discs and letters deemed by North Korean officials to be pornographic, political or intended for religious proselytizing.
Persons seeking to enter North Korea with religious materials in a quantity deemed to be greater than that needed for personal use can be detained, fined and expelled.
It is advisable to contact the DPRK Mission to the United Nations or a DPRK embassy or a DPRK consulate in a third country for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our information on customs regulations.

Dual Nationality:
The DPRK does not recognize dual nationality.
U.S. citizens of Korean heritage may be subject to military obligations and taxes on foreign source income.
For further information see our dual nationality flyer.
Additional questions on dual nationality may be directed to Overseas Citizens Services, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC
20520 or by telephone at 1-888-407-4747.

U.S. Government Economic Sanctions Against North Korea:
At this time, goods of North Korean origin may not be imported into the United States either directly or indirectly without prior notification to and approval of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Exports to North Korea may be subject to licensing requirements.
Check with the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security.
Most financial transactions between U.S. and North Korean citizens are authorized, provided they meet the criteria outlined in the June 19, 2000, and subsequent amendments to OFAC regulations.
All transactions ordinarily incident to travel to, from and within North Korea and to maintenance within North Korea are authorized, and U.S. travel service providers are allowed to organize group travel to North Korea.
Commercial U.S. ships and aircraft carrying U.S. goods are allowed to call at North Korean ports with prior clearance.
In May 2006, OFAC began prohibiting U.S. persons from “owning, leasing, operating or insuring any vessel flagged by North Korea.”
Full text of the regulation can be found in the Federal Register at http://www.fas.usda.gov/info/fr/2000/061900-a.txt.

The U.S. maintains various export controls and other sanctions on North Korea for counter- terrorism, nonproliferation and other reasons.
Exports of military and sensitive dual-use items are prohibited, as are most types of U.S. economic assistance.
The U.S. also abides by multilateral restrictions and sanctions with respect to North Korea, including those contained in recent United Nations Security Council Resolutions in response to the North Korean missile launches and nuclear test in July and October 2006.

For additional information, consult the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page on the Internet at http://www.treasury.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/.

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.
Local laws also may not afford the protections available to U.S. citizens under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking local laws can be more severe than those in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders often face long jail sentences and heavy fines.
North Korean security personnel may view unescorted travel inside North Korea by Americans who do not have explicit official authorization as espionage, especially when the U.S. citizens are originally from South Korea or are thought to understand the Korean language.
Security personnel may also view any attempt to engage in unauthorized conversations with a North Korean citizen as espionage.
Foreigners are subject to fines or arrest for unauthorized currency transactions or for shopping at stores not designated for foreigners.
It is a criminal act in North Korea to show disrespect to the country's current and former leaders, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung, respectively.
Foreign journalists have been threatened when questioning the policies or public statements of the DPRK or the actions of the current leadership.

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 additional information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: There is no U.S. embassy or consulate in North Korea.

U.S. citizens planning to visit North Korea are encouraged to register prior to departing the United States with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing if entering North Korea from China.
U.S. citizens planning to visit the Mount Kumgang tourism area or Kaesong from South Korea should register with the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
Registration can be done on line through the State Department's travel registration web site
or in person, by telephone or fax, at the U.S. Embassy.

The Embassy of Sweden (U.S. Protective Power).
Americans who have a medical or consular emergency and who wish to contact the Swedish Embassy are reminded first to communicate this need to their North Korean escorts or guides.
Do not attempt to travel to the Swedish Embassy unescorted.
The Swedish Embassy (U.S. Protective Power) is located at Munsu-Dong District, Pyongyang.
The telephone and fax numbers for the Swedish Embassy (U.S. Protective Power) are:

Tel:
(850-2) 3817 485 (reception)
Tel:
(850-2) 3817 904, (850-2) 3817 907 (First Secretary)
Tel:
(850-2) 3817 908, (850-2) 3817 905 (Ambassador)
Fax:
(850-2) 3817 663

U.S. Embassy Beijing.
The American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, is located at:
2 Xiushui Dong Jie, Beijing.
The Embassy is located near Ritan Park.
Telephone: (86-10) 6532-3431.
Fax: (86-10) 6532-4153.
Email: amcitbeijing@state.gov.
The Embassy Beijing web site is http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/.

For after-hours emergencies please call (86-10)6532-3431 and ask for the Embassy duty officer.
U.S. Embassy Seoul.
The American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, is located at:
32 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu, Seoul.
The Embassy is located across the street from Sejong Cultural Center and next to the Ministry of Information and Communication/KT Building.

Telephone: (82-2) 397-4114.
Fax: (82-2) 2-397-4101.
E-mail: seoul_acs@state.gov.
The Embassy Seoul web site is http://seoul.usembassy.gov/.

For after-hours emergencies please call (82-2) 721-4114 and ask for the Embassy duty officer.
*
*
*
*
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated October 15, 2007, to update the sections on Country Description, Medical Insurance, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 13:02:41 +0200 (METDST)

Seoul, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - North Korea remains totally free of the coronavirus, a senior health official in Pyongyang has insisted, despite mounting scepticism overseas as confirmed global infections near one million.   The already isolated, nuclear-armed North quickly shut down its borders after the virus was first detected in neighbouring China in January, and imposed strict containment measures.

Pak Myong Su, director of the anti-epidemic department of the North's Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Headquarters, insisted that the efforts had been completely successful.   "Not one single person has been infected with the novel coronavirus in our country so far," Pak told AFP.   "We have carried out preemptive and scientific measures such as inspections and quarantine for all personnel entering our country and thoroughly disinfecting all goods, as well as closing borders and blocking sea and air lanes."

Nearly every other country has reported coronavirus cases, with the World Health Organization saying on Wednesday that there were nearly one million confirmed infections globally.   Aside from China, South Korea endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the virus, which has claimed more than 45,000 lives around the world.   Experts have said the North is particularly vulnerable to the virus because of its weak medical system, and defectors have accused Pyongyang of covering up an outbreak.

The top US military commander in South Korea, General Robert Abrams, said Thursday that Pyongyang's assertion it had no cases was "untrue".   "I can tell you that is an impossible claim based on all of the intel that we have seen," Abrams told VOA News.   The North's military was "locked down" for 30 days in February and early March over the epidemic, he said.   "They took draconian measures at their border crossings and inside their formations to do exactly what everybody else is doing, which is to stop the spread," he added.

US President Donald Trump said previously North Korea "is going through something" and offered "cooperation in the anti-epidemic work", in a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.   And Choi Jung-hun, a former North Korean doctor who fled to the South in 2012, told AFP: "I heard there are many deaths in North Korea but the authorities are not saying that it's caused by the coronavirus."

-- 'Strict control' --
As part of its anti-virus efforts Pyongyang put thousands of its own people and hundreds of foreigners -- including diplomats -- into isolation and mounted disinfection drives, with state media constantly exhorting citizens to obey health directives.   Published images have shown universal face mask use, with the exception of leader Kim, who has never been seen wearing one, even though for several weeks the officers alongside him when he supervised firing exercises donned black coverings.

More recently his aides have also been seen without face masks, although defector Choi said that did not signal the North's containment efforts had been widely successful.   Pyongyang -- which is subject to multiple international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes -- has sought virus-related aid.   In February, Russia's foreign ministry said it provided Pyongyang with 1,500 coronavirus diagnostic test kits at its request "due to the persisting risk of the new COVID-19".

The United Nations has granted sanctions exemptions to relief groups including Doctors without Borders and UNICEF on items such as diagnostic kits, face masks, protective equipment and disinfectants.   Both Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF -- whose shipments were requested by North Korean authorities -- said that their supplies had arrived overland from China.   "DPRK has an overall lack of medical supplies and the latest diagnostic equipment," a Doctors Without Borders spokesperson told AFP, using the initials of the country's official name.   The World Health Organisation plans to spend $900,000 to support Pyongyang's coronavirus response activities, according to data posted on the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs website.
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2020 10:38:16 +0100 (MET)

Seoul, Feb 21, 2020 (AFP) - North Korea has cancelled the Pyongyang Marathon -- its biggest tourist money-spinner of the year -- because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, tour companies said Friday.   Beijing-based Koryo Tours, the official partner of the marathon, said on its website it had "received official confirmation today that the Pyongyang Marathon 2020 is cancelled".   "This is due to the ongoing closure of the North Korean border and COVID-19 virus situation in China and the greater region," it added.   Young Pioneer Tours, which specialises in budget trips to the isolated country, issued a similar statement.

The annual marathon is held in April as part of the anniversary commemorations for founder Kim Il Sung's birth in 1912, and attracts curious foreigners eager to run through the streets of the tightly controlled city.   Almost 1,000 Westerners took part last year, according to organisers, paying entry fees of up to $150 to do so.

North Korea has put itself into self-imposed isolation to protect itself from the outbreak raging in neighbouring China, which has infected more than 75,000 people and killed over 2,200.   Pyongyang has suspended flights and train services, banned tourists, and imposed 30 days of quarantine on resident foreigners.   North Korea is subject to multiple international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and its medical infrastructure is weak, with chronic shortages of medicines and equipment.

As a result an outbreak would wreak havoc, analysts say.   It has taken similar measures before: it banned tourists for more than four months from October 2014 to keep out the Ebola virus, even though no cases had been reported in Asia.   North Korea clamped down for six months during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-03, which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong.
Date: Mon 23 Sep 2019
Source: Chosun [edited]

A paratyphoid fever epidemic has broken out recently in North Korea in the aftermath of Typhoon Lingling. The illness, which causes high fever and diarrhoea, has been spreading in South Hamgyong and South Pyongan provinces since typhoon Lingling hit the North, a source said Sunday [22 Sep 2019]. It is mainly transmitted by dirty water and human feces in the superannuated sewage systems and contaminated water supply.

The regime is reportedly restricting the movement of trains and vehicles to and from the 2 provinces. Meanwhile, the flooding of paddy and other grain fields in Hwanghae and Pyongan provinces is expected to devastate this year's [2019's] harvest.  [Byline: Kim Myong-song]
====================
[Paratyphoid fever is similar to typhoid fever in that both are enteric fever types of disease, although the former can be, but is not necessarily, less severe. The paratyphoid salmonellas are divided into A, B, and, rarely now, C. _Salmonella_ Paratyphi, also referred to as _S. enterica_ serotype Paratyphi, types B and C also have species, now serotypes, Schottmuelleri and Hirschfeldii, respectively. Like typhoid, paratyphoid is generally considered not to be a zoonosis, with [only] humans as the reservoir, but the paratyphoid bacillus has been isolated from domestic animals and fish.

In India, paratyphoid A has become an increasing problem, accounting for up to 45% of cases of enteric fever in 1998 (1). Although initially quite sensitive to antimicrobials, strains have become more resistant to quinolones; in contrast, _S._ Typhi has manifested resistance for some time.

In a report regarding differential risk factors for typhoid and paratyphoid in Indonesia, the authors found that the infections seemed to have distinct routes of transmission (2). Typhoid was associated with factors within a household (recent case in the house, no soap for handwashing, sharing of food from the same plate, no toilet in the house), whereas paratyphoid was associated with sources outside the household such as food from street vendors and flooding.

References
-------
1. Sood S, Kapil A, Dash N, et al.: Paratyphoid fever in India: an emerging problem. Emerg Infect Dis. 1999; 5: 483-4.
2. Vollaard AM, Ali S, van Asten Hagh, et al.: Risk factors for typhoid and paratyphoid fever in Jakarta, Indonesia. JAMA. 2004; 291: 2607-15.

A map of North Korea showing the location of these 2 adjacent provinces in the central part of the country can be seen at <http://annamap.com/north-korea/>. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
South Hamgyeong Province, North Korea:
South Pyongan Province, North Korea:
Date: Sun, 8 Sep 2019 14:18:07 +0200 (METDST)

Seoul, Sept 8, 2019 (AFP) - North Korean state media said Sunday five people had been killed in a powerful typhoon that destroyed farmland and damaged hundreds of buildings.   Typhoon Lingling, called Typhoon-13 in North Korea, hit the reclusive nuclear-armed state on Saturday afternoon, reported the official KCNA news service.

The impoverished and isolated country is vulnerable to natural disasters, especially floods, due in part to deforestation and poor infrastructure.   "According to data available from the State Emergency Disaster Committee, five persons were dead and three persons injured. The injured persons are now under treatment at hospitals," KCNA said.   More than 460 houses and at least a dozen public buildings were "completely or partly destroyed or inundated" by the typhoon, it said.

Crops were wiped out or damaged in 46,000 hectares (110,000 acres) of farmland -- roughly the area of the small European country of Andorra -- the report said, adding that recovery efforts were underway.   It came after South Korea's disaster agency reported three deaths caused by the same typhoon, according to Yonhap news agency.   On Saturday, KCNA reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had berated officials for their "easygoing" attitude to the approaching storm.   According to that dispatch, Kim had convened an emergency meeting on Friday and said "dangerous circumstances" caused by the typhoon were "imminent", but that many in positions of authority were ill-prepared.
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2019 06:40:09 +0200
By Sebastien BERGER

Pyongyang, June 18, 2019 (AFP) - On a grey stone column in Pyongyang, a mural shows Chinese and North Korean soldiers rushing into battle against US-led forces in the Korean War. Decades later, the monument is a regular stop for new waves of Chinese going to the North, this time as tourists.   Hundreds of soldiers and workers have been sprucing up the obelisk and its grounds in recent days ahead of a state visit to Pyongyang by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.   An inscription on it lauds "the Chinese People's Volunteer Army, who fought with us on this land and smashed down the common enemy".   Their "immortal exploits" will "last forever", it proclaims, as will "the friendship forged in blood between the peoples of the People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea".   Nearly 70 years after Mao Zedong sent millions of soldiers to save Kim Il Sung's troops from defeat as General Douglas MacArthur's men marched up the peninsula, China remains the isolated, nuclear-armed North's key diplomatic backer and main provider of trade and aid.

Now the Friendship Tower, as the monument is known, attracts growing hordes of Chinese tourists -- and the renovations suggest it may also be on Xi's itinerary.   Ordinary Chinese pay travel companies around 2,500 yuan ($360) for a standard three-day trip, arriving overland by train in Pyongyang to tour the capital's highlights, from the Arch of Triumph to Kim Il Sung Square.   The following day they head south to the Demilitarized Zone that has divided the peninsula since the two sides fought each other to a stalemate in 1953, before returning home.   "I'm very interested in North Korea and wanted to come to see what North Korea looks like," said Yu Zhi, a retiree from Anhui province visiting Pyongyang, telling AFP that she had a "special feeling" for the country.   "China is very friendly with North Korea," added her fellow traveller, a woman surnamed Jin. "We have been friends for generations."

- Lips and teeth -
It was not always so. Mao -- whose eldest son Mao Anying was among those killed in what China still calls the "War to Resist US Aggression and Aid the DPRK" -- described the neighbours as "as close as lips and teeth".   Ties then waxed and waned during the Cold War, when founder Kim Il Sung was adept at playing his Soviet and Chinese allies off against each other, and his grandson, the current leader Kim Jong Un, did not visit Beijing to pay his respects for more than six years after inheriting power.   But as he embarked on a flurry of diplomacy last year he made sure that Chinese President Xi Jinping was the first foreign head of state he met, and he has since done so three more times -- more often than Kim has seen any other leader.    Now Xi is going to reciprocate.

At the same time Chinese tourism to the North has reached record highs, according to travel industry sources -- so much so that Pyongyang has imposed a limit on arrivals.   No official figures are available from authorities on either side, but Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, the market leader for Western visitors, said there had been "a huge increase in Chinese tourists".   At peak times 2,000 people a day had been arriving in Pyongyang, he said. "That's far too many because there is no infrastructure to accommodate that many tourists, so problems with train tickets, with plane tickets, hotel space."   As a result North Korean authorities had themselves set a 1,000-a-day cap, he added, although it was unclear whether this applied across the industry or solely to Chinese, who make up the vast majority of arrivals.   "There are issues with just hundreds of people showing up at the same time."

- 'Choices being made' -
China has a proven willingness to use tourism as a geopolitical negotiating weapon -- it banned group tours to South Korea after it deployed a US anti-missile system, THAAD.   With nuclear negotiations at a stalemate the North remains subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions, and the US imposed a travel ban on its own citizens visiting following the death of student Otto Warmbier, who had been jailed after trying to steal a propaganda poster.   But tourism is not among the sectors targeted by the UN, potentially enabling Beijing to use it as an incentive for its sometimes wayward ally.

The Chinese travel phenomenon is market-driven, rather than prompted by state order -- as well as the market offered by China's huge population, the two countries' border enables cheap overland journeys.   But simply enabling it to take place, said John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul, meant "We can infer some choices are being made" by Beijing.   "We know it's a lever they can turn on and off," he said.   Even with the diplomatic process at a standstill, he added, "The Chinese think you have to use this window of opportunity to move things forward. There has to be a path on both sides and so something like opening up tourism is a good way to enable that."   At the Monument to the Three Charters for Reunification on the edge of Pyongyang, where two giant stone women form an arch over a road, a secondary school teacher from Shanghai called Peng said: "We are both socialist countries. I feel there are more Chinese coming to visit."
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 09:15:57 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after more than two months of stringent curbs.   Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the ministry said in a series of measures announced on the official Saudi Press Agency.   The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday.   From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added.   The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21.   "Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing," Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday.   Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.

In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities.   That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said.   Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 05:52:24 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chile registered a new high for coronavirus cases on Monday, with nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours, including two ministers in President Sebastian Pinera's government.   Health authorities announced 4,895 new infections in the South American country and 43 deaths.

Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno and Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet said they were among those with the disease.   "I have been informed that the COVID-19 test I had a few days ago was positive," Moreno said on Twitter, adding that he had no symptoms so far.   The 63-year-old minister had placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff tested positive.  Jobet also tested positive after starting to quarantine preventatively on Saturday, "when he experienced mild symptoms, which could be associated with the disease," a statement from the Energy Ministry said.

The 44-year-old minister "has had no direct contact with President Sebastian Pinera or other cabinet members in recent days," the statement said, without specifying how he became infected.   Three other ministers, who had self-quarantined after being in contact with infected people, all tested negative and resumed work.

Chile suffered a surge in infections last week, prompting the government to order the lockdown of Santiago.   The capital is the main focus of the pandemic in Chile, with 90 percent of the country's 74,000 cases.   Last week, the Senate was closed after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus. Sessions were held by video conference.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 01:15:01 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Demonstrators defied coronavirus restrictions to march in cities across Ecuador on Monday in protest against President Lenin Moreno's drastic economic measures to tackle the crisis.   Moreno last week announced public spending cuts including the closure of state companies and embassies around the world, but trade unions Monday said workers were paying a disproportionate price compared to Ecuador's elite.   "This protest is because the government is firing workers to avoid making the rich pay," Mecias Tatamuez, head of the county's largest union, the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), told reporters at a march in Quito.

Around 2,000 people marched in the capital, waving flags and banners and shouting anti-government slogans.   The protesters wore masks and respected distancing measures recommended against the spread of the coronavirus that has caused at least 3,200 deaths in the country, making it South America's worst hit nation per capita. Authorities say more than 2,000 further deaths are likely linked to the virus.

Demonstrations took place in several other cities, including Guayaquil, the epicentre of Ecuador's health crisis, where union leaders said hundreds marched through the city.   Moreno ordered the closure of Ecuadoran embassies, a reduction in diplomatic staff and scrapped seven state companies as part of measures designed to save some $4 billion.    He also announced the liquidation of the TAME airline, which has lost more than $400 million over the last five years.

The government says the pandemic has so far cost the economy at least $8 billion.   Public sector working hours have been cut by 25 percent, with an accompanying 16 percent pay cut.   Moreno said on Sunday that 150,000 people had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.   Ecuador was struggling economically before the pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil.   The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by 6.3 percent this year, the sharpest drop of any country in South America.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 22:20:46 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland recorded no new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 21.   Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it a "significant milestone", adding on Twitter: "This is a day of hope. We will prevail."

The announcement came one week after Ireland, which has suffered 1,606 deaths from 24,698 infections, began to ease lockdown measures that had been in place for nearly two months.   Ireland entered lockdown in late March, recording a peak of 77 deaths on a single day on April 20.   "In the last 24 hours we didn't have any deaths notified to us," chief medical officer Tony Holohan said at a daily press briefing.   He warned that the zero figure could be a result of a lag in reporting of deaths over the weekend, but he added: "It's part of the continued trend that we've seen in (the) reduction in the total number of deaths."

Ireland has announced a five-step plan to reopen the nation by August and took the first steps last Monday -- allowing outdoor employees to return to work, some shops to reopen and the resumption of  activities such as golf and tennis.   While the news of no fresh deaths was greeted as progress, officials remain concerned there will be a "second wave" as the lockdown is loosened.   "The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed COVID-19 as a country," Holohan added in a statement.   "It will take another week to see any effect on disease incidence that might arise from the easing of measures."
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 21:59:40 +0200 (METDST)

Luxembourg, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Luxembourg will ease its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, reopening cafes and restaurants and allowing civil and religious ceremonies under strict conditions, the government announced.   The tiny country has so far registered only 3,993 COVID-19 cases, of which 110 have been fatal. Four people are in intensive care and shops were closed on March 18 to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told a news conference on Monday that eateries could reopen terraces with a maximum of four people at a single table.   Indoor dining in cafes and restaurants will resume on Friday, he said, with social distancing of 1.5 metres (five feet) between groups.   Marriages and funerals will also be allowed if the attendees wore face masks and kept two metres distance from each other.   Bettel however said cafes and restaurants would have to close at midnight.

Francois Koepp, the general secretary of the Horeca federation grouping hotels, restaurants and cafes, welcomed the announcement, saying the sector had "greatly suffered from the confinement".   He said it provided employment to some 21,000 people in this nation of 620,000 inhabitants.   Cinema theatres and gyms will open at the end of the week but children's parks will remain closed.   The government has pledged to give every citizen over 16 a voucher worth 50 euros ( $54) to spend in hotels to provide a boost to the sector.   The vouchers will also be given to some 200,000 cross border workers from Belgium, France and Germany.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 20:36:16 +0200 (METDST)

Prague, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - The Czech Republic and Slovakia will reopen their border this week for those travelling to the other country for up to 48 hours, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Monday.   "This will be possible without tests or quarantine" starting Wednesday, he added in a message posted on Twitter.   The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a single country until 1993. Babis himself was born in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

Both countries have fared well in the current pandemic, with Slovakia posting the lowest death toll per capita in the EU and the Czech Republic keeping its COVID-19 figures down as well.   The Czech government will also open border crossings with Austria and Germany on Tuesday but will still require negative COVID-19 tests from those entering the country.   "We have negotiated similar conditions on the other side of the border with our German and Austrian colleagues," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said.   The interior ministry said blanket border checks would be replaced by random ones and added it would still not allow tourists into the country.

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government was working on other measures to ease the travel restrictions adopted in mid-March.   "We would like to introduce them next week," he added.   Vojtech said EU citizens could now come to the Czech Republic "on business or to visit their family for a maximum of 72 hours if they submit a negative coronavirus test."

The country is also accessible to non-EU citizens who do seasonal jobs there, on condition they have tested negative.   Czech restaurants, bars, hotels, castles, zoos and swimming pools have been open since Monday, when the government lifted many anti-virus measures.   Czechs also no longer have to wear face masks outside their homes, except in shops and on public transport.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 17:45:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shafiqul ALAM

Dhaka, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Some 15,000 Rohingya refugees are now under coronavirus quarantine in Bangladesh's vast camps, officials said Monday, as the number of confirmed infections rose to 29.   Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped settlements, housing almost a million Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar, and officials had restricted movement to the area in April.

Despite this, the first cases in the camps were detected in mid-May.   "None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still we have brought them in isolation centres and quarantined their families," Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the surrounding Cox's Bazar area told AFP.   He said narrow roads to three districts of the camps -- where the majority of the infections were detected -- have been blocked off by authorities.

The 15,000 Rohingya inside these so-called blocks faced further restrictions on their movement, he said.   It comes as charity workers expressed fears over being infected in the camps as they worked without adequate protection.   Two of the areas under isolation are in Kutupalong camp, home to roughly 600,000 Rohingya.   "We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts," Bhuiyan said.

Seven isolation centres with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared, he said.   Officials hope to have just under 2,000 ready by the end of May, he added.   Mahbubur Rahman, the chief health official of Cox's Bazar, said authorities hoped this week they would double the number of tests being performed daily from 188.   He said further entry restrictions have been imposed on the camp, with a 14 day quarantine in place for anyone visiting from Dhaka.   "We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun," Rahman told AFP.

- 'Very little awareness' -
Bangladesh on Monday notched up a record single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 1,975 new infections, taking the toll to 35,585 cases and 501 deaths.   In early April authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox's Bazar district -- home to 3.4 million people including the refugees -- after a number of infections.

But a charity worker with one of the many aid organisations active in the camps said Monday he and many others were "very worried".   "Fear and panic has gripped aid workers because many of us were forced to work without much protection," he told AFP without wishing to be named.   "Social distancing is almost impossible in the camps. There is very little awareness about COVID-19 disease among the refugees, despite efforts by aid agencies."

The lack of information is exacerbated by local authorities having cut off access to the internet in September to combat, they said, drug traffickers and other criminals.   More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar to Cox's Bazar, where around 200,000 refugees were already living.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 15:25:38 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar's government has announced it will dispatch troops and doctors to an eastern town after several bodies were found in the streets and where two people died from the novel coronavirus.   Madagascar's cabinet held a special meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Toamasina, the country's second largest city.   The Indian Ocean island nation has registered 527 infections and two deaths, both in Toamasina.

Since Thursday, more than 120 new cases were confirmed, and several bodies were found in the city's streets though the cause of death was not clear.   "Doctors must carry out thorough examinations to see if these deaths are caused by another illness (...) or if they are really due to severe acute respiratory problems which is the critical form of COVID-19," Professor Hanta Marie Danielle Vololontiana, spokesperson for the government's virus taskforce, said in a national broadcast on Sunday.   The government will send 150 soldiers to reinforce Toamasina, maintain order and enforce measures against the coronavirus such as mask wearing and social distancing.

The cabinet also fired Toamasina's prefect without providing any explanation.    A team was also ordered to distribute a drink based on artemisia, a plant recognised as a treatment against malaria, which the Malagasy authorities claim cures COVID-19.    The potential benefits of this herbal tea, called Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study.    The cabinet has also announced an investigation into the death of a doctor in Toamasina. According to local press, the victim was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 and was found dead hanged in his room on Sunday morning.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 09:20:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Bhuvan Bagga with Indranil Mukherjee in Mumbai

New Delhi, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Domestic flights resumed in India on Monday even as coronavirus cases surge, while confusion about quarantine rules prompted jitters among passengers and the cancellation of dozens of planes.   India had halted all flights within the country, and departing and leaving for abroad, in late March as it sought to stop the spread of coronavirus with the world's largest lockdown.   But desperate to get Asia's third-largest economy moving again, the government announced last week that around 1,050 daily flights -- a third of the usual capacity -- would resume on Monday.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said strict rules would include mandatory mask-wearing and thermal screenings, although middle seats on the aircraft would not be kept empty.   The announcement reportedly caught airlines and state authorities off-guard, with several local governments announcing that passengers would have to go into quarantine for two weeks on arrival.   Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases, capped at 50 the number of departures and arrivals in and out of its capital Mumbai.

Airlines scrapped dozens of flights on Monday while hundreds of passengers cancelled their bookings, reports said.   The NDTV news channel said 82 flights to and from New Delhi had been cancelled and nine at Bangalore airport.   Other flights from cities including infection hotspots Mumbai and Chennai were struck off, many at short notice, reports said.   At Mumbai airport social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were cancelled at the last minute.

- 'Really scary' -
At New Delhi airport, hundreds of people anxious to get home but apprehensive about the risks queued from before dawn -- all wearing masks and standing at least one metre (three feet) apart.   Security personnel behind plastic screens verified check-in documents and that passengers had the government contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, on their phones.

"While I'm looking forward (to flying home), the idea of flying is really scary," student Gladia Laipubam told AFP as she stood in line.   "Anything can happen. It's very risky. I don't really know when I'll be able to come back to Delhi now. There is no clarity from the university too at this time."   One female airline employee wearing gloves, a mask and a protective face shield said she and many other colleagues felt "very nervous" about starting work again.   "Dealing with so many people at this time is so risky. I must have interacted with at least 200 people since this morning," she told AFP, not wishing to be named.

Cabin crew on the planes had to wear full protective suits with masks, plastic visors and blue rubber gloves, and many were also confused about the rules, the Press Trust of India reported.   "There is no clarity on whether I need to go into home quarantine for 14 days after returning to my base or show up for duty on Monday," one pilot told PTI.   New coronavirus cases in India crossed 6,000 for the third consecutive day on Sunday, surging to a record single-day spike of 6,767 infections.   The country has recorded almost 140,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.   Singh has said that international flights could resume in June, although dozens of special flights have in recent weeks brought back some of the hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad.
Date: Fri, 22 May 2020 11:02:28 +0200 (METDST)

Suva, Fiji, May 22, 2020 (AFP) - A huge fire at one of Suva's largest markets blanketed the Fijian capital in thick smoke before it was brought under control Friday, firefighters said.   The blaze engulfed the Suva Flea Market, a major tourist attraction near the waterfront, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the air.   The National Fire Authority said an adjoining shop was also badly damaged but there were no reports of injuries.   "It's been stopped now and no one was injured but that's all we can say at the moment," a spokesman told AFP.   The said the cause of the fire was being investigated.