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Albania

Albania US Consular Information Sheet November 04, 2008

 COUNTRY DESCRIPTION

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

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

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY

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

CRIME

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

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION

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

MEDICAL INSURANCE

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

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS

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

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT

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

CHILDREN'S ISSUES

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION

 Americans living or traveling in Albania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Albania. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rruga Elbasanit 103, tel. (355)(4) 2247285; fax (355)(4) 2232222. The U.S. Embassy web site is http://tirana.usembassy.gov/ * * * This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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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: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 04:05:11 +0200 (METDST)

New York, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - New York mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday urged all of the city's residents to cover their faces when outside and near others to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.   "Let's be clear. This is a face covering. It could be a scarf. It could be something you create yourself at home. It could be a bandana," de Blasio told reporters.   "It doesn't need to be a professional surgical mask. In fact, we don't want you to use the kind of masks that our first responders need, that our health care workers need. Don't use those," he added.   New York is the epicenter of America's deadly COVID-19 outbreak.   The city has recorded almost 50,000 confirmed cases, including 1,562 deaths, according to the mayor's office.   As of Thursday evening, the United States had a total of more than 243,000 declared cases and over 5,900 fatalities, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

President Donald Trump told reporters at his daily White House briefing on the coronavirus that he was not considering making it mandatory for all Americans to cover their faces.   "For example on the masks, if people wanted to wear them they can. If people wanted to use scarves, which many people have them, they can.   "In many cases, scarves are better. It's thicker. Depending on the material, it's thicker," he said.   Vice President Mike Pence added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would release official guidelines on masks in the coming days.   But Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator at the White House, said it is important people do not think masks replace social distancing or hand-washing.     "We don't want people to get an artificial sense of protection," she said. "They're an additive."

California Governor Gavin Newsom made similar recommendations as de Blasio on Thursday, but stressed that masks were "not a substitute" for social distancing.   "Individuals (who) want to have face coverings... that is a good thing and a preferable thing, in addition to the physical distancing and the stay-at-home order," he said.   More than three-quarters of Americans are currently living under various forms of lockdown, including New Yorkers who have been told not to leave their residences unless absolutely necessary.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 03:03:38 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - The coronavirus has killed 884 people over the past 24 hours in the US, a new one-day record for the country with by far the highest number of reported cases anywhere in the world, Johns Hopkins University said Wednesday evening.   That took the total death toll in America to 4,475.   The number of reported cases rose by 25,200 over the past 24 hours to 213,372, said the university's coronavirus tracker.   The grim record for deaths in one day is held by Italy with 969 on March 27.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 02:45:55 +0200 (METDST)

Los Angeles, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - The Grand Canyon was closed to visitors with immediate effect Wednesday, making the Arizona landmark visited by millions each year the latest tourist hotspot to shut over the coronavirus pandemic.   The closure follows several warnings in recent days by county officials and Navajo Native American leaders over crowds continuing to gather at the natural wonder.   Arizona congressman Raul Grijalva said hundreds of visitors were staying in the Grand Canyon Park despite officials instructions to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.

The National Park Service has so far avoided a blanket closure of its 419 sites across the United States, preferring to assess each on a case-by-case basis.   "As soon as we received the letter from the Health and Human Services Director and Chief Health Officer for Coconino County recommending the closure of Grand Canyon National Park, we closed the park," said US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in a statement.   More than 80 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Coconino County, including at least one inside Grand Canyon Park.   Wyoming's Yellowstone, and both Joshua Tree and Yosemite in California, are among national parks which have already closed.
Date: Sun 29 Mar 2020
Source: Worldometer [accessed 10:30 PM EDT]

USA cases by state
State: Total cases / New cases

  • New York: 59,648 / 6193
  • New Jersey: 13,386 / 2262
  • California: 6312 / 653
  • Michigan: 5486 / 836
  • Massachusetts: 4955 / 698
  • Florida: 4950 / 912
  • Washington: 4483 / 173
  • Illinois: 4596 / 1105
  • Louisiana: 3540 / 225
  • Pennsylvania: 3419 / 668
  • Texas: 2808 / 479
  • Georgia: 2683 / 237
  • Colorado / 2307 / 246
  • Connecticut: 1993 / 469
  • Tennessee: 1720 / 208
  • Ohio: 1653 / 247
  • Indiana: 1514 / 282
  • Maryland: 1239 / 247
  • North Carolina: 1167 / 145
  • Wisconsin: 1154 / 165
  • Nevada: 920 / 299
  • Arizona: 919 / 146
  • Missouri / 903 / 65
  • Virginia: 890 / 151
  • Alabama: 827 / 125
  • South Carolina: 774 / 114
  • Mississippi: 758 / 179
  • Utah: 719 / 117
  • Oregon: 548 / 69
  • Minnesota: 503 / 62
  • Arkansas: 449 / 40
  • Kentucky: 439 / 45
  • Oklahoma: 429 / 52
  • District of Columbia: 401 / 59
  • Iowa: 336 / 38
  • Kansas: 319 / 58
  • Idaho: 310 / 49
  • Rhode Island: 294 / 55
  • New Hampshire: 258 / 44
  • Maine: 253 / 42
  • New Mexico: 237 / 29
  • Vermont: 235 / 24
  • Delaware: 232 / 18
  • Hawaii: 175 / 24
  • Montana: 161 / 32
  • West Virginia: 124 / 11
  • Nebraska: 120 / 24
  • Alaska: 102 / 17
  • North Dakota: 98 / 15
  • South Dakota: 90 / 22
  • Wyoming: 87 / 3
  • Guam / 56 / 5
  • Northern Mariana Islands: 2
  • Puerto Rico: 127 / 27
  • US Virgin Islands: 21 / 0
  • Wuhan repatriated: 3 / 0
  • Diamond Princess Cruise: 46 / 0
**************
Total: 142 321 / 38 179
Total reported deaths: 2484
====================
[The above are the latest breakdowns of confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the USA, as per Worldometer data. The total number of confirmed cases in the USA and territories is now 142 321 including 2484 deaths. New York state, with 59 648 (41.9%) cumulative cases reports and 6193 (33.3%) newly confirmed cases over the past 24 hours, is clearly the epicenter of the outbreak in the USA, although case reporting elsewhere is showing increases. Daily reported case counts are accelerating in New Jersey, Michigan, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (<https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html>) has 2 epidemic curves. One focuses on date of confirmation of disease, the other on date of onset of illness. The curve of interest, by date of onset of disease, is based on 14.6% of the number of cases plotted on the epidemic curve using date of confirmation of disease.

A map of the United States can be seen at
<http://www.mapsofworld.com/usa/> and a HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 2020 17:33:17 +0100 (MET)

New York, March 26, 2020 (AFP) - New York's governor Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that the populous US state's coronavirus death tally has jumped to 385, with 100 fatalities in the past day.   New York is at the epicentre of America's coronavirus battle and the state has now counted 37,258 positive cases, as it scrambles to prepare hospitals and create overflow capacity for an influx of new patients.   The grim announcement comes hours after the total US death toll surpassed 1,000, with more than 69,200 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally.

Cuomo emphasized that 25 percent of all tests have been conducted in New York state, and expressed disappointment that the federal government had not allocated more resources for it in its $2 trillion virus relief bill.   The governor also told journalists the state has received approval to "split" ventilators between two patients, and convert anaesthesia machines to ventilators for intensive care patients, if necessary.   He said medical personnel were finding that patients need more time than expected on ventilators, sometimes 20 to 30 days.   "The longer you are on a ventilator, the more probability of a bad outcome," Cuomo said.
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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: 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."
Date: Fri, 22 Nov 2019 06:03:13 +0100 (MET)

Bogota, Nov 22, 2019 (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of Colombians took to the streets of the capital Bogota on Thursday amid a general strike to protest the policies of President Ivan Duque's right-wing government.   There were reports of clashes and arrests as trade unions, students, opposition parties and the South American country's indigenous organizations challenged the full gamut of Duque's economic, social and security policies.   At night, a thunderous chorus of pot-banging, unusual in Colombia, took place in the cities of Cali and Medellin, and lasted for hours in Bogota.   "Colombia won on this historic day of citizen mobilization," a statement by organizers from the National Strike Committee said, as they requested an "immediate" meeting with Duque to discuss the protesters' array of complaints.   "We call on all citizens to be ready to take further action in the street if the national government continues to neglect our demands," they added.

Later in the day Duque announced that he had heard the protesters' demands, but did not respond to their request for direct dialogue.   "Today, Colombians spoke. We hear them. Social dialogue has been a main principle of this government and we need to deepen it with all sectors of society," he said.   The protests come amid social upheaval across South America, as a wave of unrest over the past two months has battered governments in Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador.   The popularity of Duque's right-wing government -- a key US ally -- has been on the wane since his election 18 months ago, as it deals with hosting 1.4 million refugees from neighboring Venezuela's economic meltdown as well as the complex fallout of a 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels and rampant drug trafficking.

- Troops deployed -
Troops were deployed in the capital and other cities to protect "strategic facilities," authorities said.   The Colombian office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced concern over the deployment, saying states must limit the use of military forces "for the control of internal disturbances."   Spokesmen for several organizations backing the protests said more than one million people had marched nationwide.

Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez counted some 207,000 demonstrators, adding that "in general terms the participants marched peacefully" while denouncing "some vandals who wanted to disrupt public order."    At least 42 civilians and 37 police were wounded in clashes, and 36 people were arrested across the country, according to authorities.   In the center of Bogota, clashes took place at nightfall, where people wearing ski masks and hoods threw stones and other projectiles at police, who fought back with tear gas.   A new gathering of people banging pots was called for Friday afternoon, as young protesters continued to demonstrate into the night shouting "Long live the national strike."

The general strike was widely followed in big cities like Bucaramanga in the northeast and Medellin in the northwest, along with Bogota where riot police used stun grenades to turn back thousands of students walking towards the international airport, an AFP journalist said.   Several separate marches converged on Bolivar Square, the historic center of the capital close to the presidency.   "We are marching because in Colombia we are tired of corruption, of impunity, that the government does nothing for the poor," Olga Canon, 55, told AFP.   Organizations that participated in the strike take issue with Duque's security policy as well as attempts to introduce a more flexible labor market, weaken public pension funds and raise the retirement age.   Students are demanding more funding for education, while indigenous communities insist on greater protection in remote areas where 134 activists have been killed since Duque came to power in August 2018.

- 'Afraid to march' -
"We are very afraid to march in the streets but we do it anyway because the state is spreading so much fear with its militarization and by closing the borders," political science student Valentina Gaitan, 21, told AFP.    The borders with Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela were closed until Friday to avoid any threat to "public order and security," authorities said.   Duque, who does not hold a majority in parliament, suffers from a 69 percent unpopularity rating, according to polls. His party, the Democratic Center (CD), suffered serious setbacks in October local elections.   Political analyst Jason Marczak said the outrage against the government, the target of several demonstrations in recent months, is part of a "considerable demonstration of discontent in the region."   "The unsatisfied claims and deep polarization are the basis for this massive event," said Marczak, of the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
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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".
More ...

Georgia

Georgia US Consular Information Sheet
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Georgia is a constitutional republic with a developing economy.
Tourist facilities outside of Tbilisi are not highly developed, and many of the goods and services taken for granted
in other countries are not yet available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Georgia for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport is required.
U.S. citizens visiting for 90 days or less do not need a visa to enter Georgia.
For further information, please contact the Embassy of Georgia at 2209 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC, 20008 tel. (202) 387-2390, fax: (202) 393-4537.
Visit the Embassy of Georgia web site at http://embassy.mfa.gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=GEO&sec_id=2&lang_id=ENG for the most current visa information.

Information on 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:
As a result of civil wars in the 1980s and early 1990s, there are two separatist regions in Georgia that are not under the control of the Government of Georgia:
South Ossetia, in north-central Georgia; and Abkhazia, in northwest Georgia.
Although armed conflict between the separatist regions and the central government has ceased, episodes of violence continue and political relations are tense. Political developments have the potential to result in open hostilities.
Due to the volatility of the political situation, high levels of crime, and inability of Embassy personnel to travel to Abkhazia or South Ossetia, the U.S. Embassy advises American citizens not to travel to these separatist-controlled areas.
Because of the restricted access of U.S. officials to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the ability of the U.S. Government to assist American citizens in these regions is extremely limited, even in emergencies.
All travelers to these regions, regardless of purpose, should register with the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Embassy recommends that Americans regularly monitor warden messages on the Embassy web site for the latest information on the security situation throughout Georgia.

Political tensions remain high between the Georgian Government and the South Ossetia separatist regime, based in Tskhinvali.
This situation culminated in sniper and mortar exchanges between South Ossetian and Georgian troops in 2004.
Although the fighting did not escalate into an all-out war, low-level violence continues between the two sides, periodically resulting in deaths, and underscoring the potential for instability in the region.
A tense truce also exists between the Georgian Government and the separatist de facto government of Abkhazia; since April 2008, several incidents have increased the tension to a point where cross-border military actions are a possibility.
Over the past several years, a number of attacks, criminal incidents, and kidnappings have occurred in Abkhazia.
While Abkhaz "border officials" may demand that travelers entering the region purchase "visas" from the so-called "Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia," the U.S. Government recognizes the territorial integrity of Georgia.
American citizens in areas of western Georgia, near Abkhazia, are advised to be aware of their surroundings at all times and to avoid straying off main roads or traveling after dark.

American citizens should be aware that they cannot legally cross by land, air, rail, or sea between Russia and Georgia, even if in possession of valid Russian or Georgian visas.
In July 2006, the Russian Government closed the only border crossing between Georgia and Russia under the control of both governments (the only other crossings are through Georgia’s separatist regions).
Russian authorities said the closure, at Verkhny Lars, would be temporary, pending necessary repairs at the crossing, although it remains closed as of June 2008.
On August 6, 2007, a missile was fired from an aircraft near a village between the city of Gori and the separatist region of South Ossetia.
Although this was an isolated incident, it serves as a reminder that the situation near the separatist areas remains unpredictable.

Georgia's armed forces have periodically conducted operations against suspected international terrorists, Chechen fighters, and criminals who have taken refuge in the Pankisi Gorge.
American citizens should avoid all travel to the Pankisi Gorge, north of the city of Akhmeta.
American citizens are also advised to exercise caution when traveling in the northern mountainous areas of Georgia bordering the Russian Federation, especially the Chechnya and Dagestan sectors.

Political demonstrations take place from time to time in the capital city, Tbilisi, and normally take place in front of the Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue.
While these demonstrations are normally peaceful, confrontational demonstrations have occurred, and we wish to remind all Americans that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.

Regardless of the region in Georgia one is planning to visit, American citizens are urged to review their personal security precautions, increase their levels of awareness, register with the consular section and as appropriate, take increased security measures.

In the past, religious minorities in Georgia have been targets of violent attacks.
The victims were primarily Jehovah's Witnesses, but also include Pentecostals, Baptists, and members of the Assembly of God.
Incidents included the burning of literature, the destruction of private property and the beating (sometimes severe) of believers, including American citizens.
Although Georgian authorities arrested, convicted and imprisoned the ringleader of the group responsible for these attacks in 2005, American citizens should remain cautious when engaging in missionary activity in Georgia.

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

Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. 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:
Crime is a very serious problem in Georgia.
There is a great disparity in affluence between foreigners and most Georgians.
Americans in particular are perceived as being wealthy, and are therefore specifically targeted for economic- and property-based crimes.
Incidents such as residential break-in, carjacking, car theft, petty theft, and armed robbery account for most of the crimes involving Americans that are reported to the Embassy.
Petty street crime, such as pick pocketing, purse snatching, and cell phone theft, is also common throughout the country. Furthermore, violent attacks have become more commonplace.
Because illegal firearms are readily available in Georgia, assailants are likely to be armed with firearms and other weapons.

Crime remains a particularly serious issue in Tbilisi, where criminal activity against foreigners remains at levels disproportionate to other metropolitan areas in Europe and the United States.
Many robberies and assaults have occurred in areas frequented by American citizens and foreigners, such as on side streets near Tbilisi’s city center; trouble spots include areas off the main avenues in the Vake and Vera districts, and Chavchavadze and Rustaveli avenues, as well as the Saburtalo region of Tbilisi.
These crimes often occurred when the victim was alone, after dark, and in unfamiliar surroundings.

Petty theft is also a problem on the Tbilisi metro system and in minivans, or “marshrutkas” used for public transport.
American citizens are advised to use personal vehicles or use taxis from established companies that carry passengers door-to-door.
While the security of overland travel in Georgia has improved, vehicular and rail traffic remains vulnerable to robbery.

The threat of kidnapping exists both within and outside of Tbilisi.
In the past, foreign businessmen have been abducted for ransom, and Americans in the Tbilisi area have received kidnapping threats.
The possibility of similar risk to Americans elsewhere in the country cannot be discounted.

Outside of Tbilisi, criminal activity is also a problem, especially in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, due to the reduced capacity of law enforcement in those areas.
Other regions of concern include:
upper Svanetia, Samtskhe-Javakheti, the administrative border with Abkhazia (including Zugdidi city), and areas along the border with Russia.
When visiting or traveling through these regions, American citizens are urged to increase their vigilance, review their personal security precautions, and take appropriate security measures, e.g. traveling with a native Georgian escort familiar with the local area.

Despite much progress in the Georgian Government’s efforts to reform police and fight internal corruption, serious concerns remain as to the police’s ability to deter criminal activity or conduct effective post-incident investigations.
Although police emergency response is good (see below for contact information), criminals continue to have freedom of movement throughout Tbilisi day or night.

In light of the serious crime situation, all American citizens visiting Georgia are again strongly advised to exercise basic security precautions. American travelers should vary times and routes, especially from places of residence to work locations. Americans should maintain a low profile by not carrying large amounts of cash, not wearing excessive amounts of jewelry, and not behaving in a manner that would draw unnecessary attention.
Additionally, Americans should be aware of their surroundings, travel in pairs or groups, and stay on main streets and routes.
The Embassy recommends that those traveling throughout the country do so during daylight hours only and provide a travel itinerary and contact telephone numbers to a friend or business colleague.
Also, Americans should not hesitate to report any unusual incidents or suspicious vehicles or individuals to the Georgian authorities as soon as possible.
Finally, those that do become a victim of crime should not resist their assailant and should cooperate with the assailant as best they can.
Assailants are most interested in money and/or property; cooperation reduces the chance of being assaulted and/or injured.

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

The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOIA) has established a police emergency hotline.
This service is currently limited to larger cities, but the MOIA is planning to expand this service countrywide.

The local “911” equivalent to contact police in an emergency is: “022”.
Please note that the police dispatcher speaks only Georgian or Russian.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care in Georgia is limited.
There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics.
Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities.
It is recommended that travelers who intend to visit Georgia for at least two weeks get the hepatitis A vaccine and a pre-exposure rabies vaccine.
Travelers are also encouraged to bring medicine to treat diarrhea, which regularly afflicts newcomers.
Georgian doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment before rendering medical services.

Medical Information: Tuberculosis (TB) is an increasingly serious health concern in Georgia.
For further information, please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Travel Notice on TB http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 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.

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

As in the United States, vehicular traffic in Georgia moves along the right side of roadways.
Speed limits range from 80 to 100 km/hr on highways, and from 30 to 60 km/hr on urban thoroughfares.
Motorists are not permitted to make right turns on red traffic lights.
While legislation mandating seat belt use has yet to be enacted, drivers and passengers are nevertheless strongly advised to buckle up on Georgian roads.
Georgian law requires that children under seven (7) years of age be restrained in child-safety seats.
A driver with any blood alcohol concentration exceeding 0.00% is considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol.

Motorists should exercise extreme caution when driving in Georgia, as many local drivers do not operate their vehicles in accordance with established traffic laws.
Traffic signals and rules of the road are often completely ignored.
Motorists drive erratically, often recklessly, and at excessive speeds.
Motorists may frequently encounter oncoming high-speed traffic attempting to pass other vehicles at blind turns or over hilltops.
Pedestrians enjoy no right-of-way and need to be extremely careful when crossing streets.
The Georgian Patrol Police, who come under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for maintaining traffic safety in Georgia, but enforcement of traffic regulations is haphazard.

Undivided two-lane roads connect most major cities in Georgia.
Roads are generally in poor condition and often lack shoulder markings and centerlines.
In addition, traffic signals may not work because of power outages or poor maintenance.
Driving at night can be especially dangerous.
Travel on mountain roads is treacherous in both rain and snow, and during winter, heavy snowfalls may make some roads impassable.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://tourism.gov.ge/start.php
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Georgia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Georgia’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.

Travelers on regional airlines among the countries of the South Caucasus may experience prolonged delays and sudden cancellations of flights.
In addition to frequent delays, flights are often overcrowded or overbooked.
Basic safety features such as seat belts are sometimes missing.
Air travel to Georgia on international carriers via Europe is typically more reliable.
Ticketed passengers on flights departing from Georgia should reconfirm reservations with the airline 24 hours prior to departure.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Georgia has been subject to energy crises in the last few years.
During the winter months, frequent and prolonged power outages are common, especially outside of Tbilisi.
The lack of lighting in public places, even when electricity is available, heightens vulnerability to crime (please see the Crime section above for details).

Georgia’s customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary import into or export from Georgia of items such as alcohol, tobacco, jewelry, religious materials, art or artifacts, antiquities, and business equipment.
Only personal medicines with a doctor’s statement can be imported without the permission of the Georgian Drug Agency section of the Ministry of Health.

American citizens may not import firearms into Georgia; however, hunting weapons may be brought into the country for a two-week period, based on valid Georgian hunting licenses.
While there is no limit to the amount of currency that can be imported, if more money is exported than was declared at the time of entry, the traveler is obligated to prove it was legally obtained.
There are limits on the amount of Georgian currency that may be exported.

American citizens should exercise extreme caution in purchasing property in Abkhazia.
Land for sale in that region rightfully may belong to internally displaced persons forced to leave Abkhazia in the early 1990s and may have improperly been placed on the market by the de facto authorities in Abkhazia.
In such cases, the government of Georgia considers the sale of property in Abkhazia illegal under Georgian law and the property could be reclaimed by original owners at a future date.

The Ministry of Culture, Department of Expertise and Evaluation must license any valuables such as artwork, antiques, jewelry, paintings, etc.
This license describes the object, assesses its value, and provides permission to export it from Georgia.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi can provide more specific information on quantities of items that can be imported duty-free, as well as duties excised for specific items.
It is also advisable to contact the Embassy of Georgia in Washington, DC for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our information on Customs Regulations.

While the Georgian lari is the only legal tender, dollars can be freely exchanged for laris at market rates.
ATMs are also becoming more widespread, but only within the city of Tbilisi.
Credit cards are rarely accepted outside of upscale hotels and restaurants, and travelers’ checks are difficult to cash.
American citizens in Georgia have reported incidents of credit card fraud and identity theft.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, an American 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 offences.
Persons violating Georgian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Georgia 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 Georgia are strongly encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Georgia.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi is located at 11 George Balanchine Street.
Office hours from American Citizens Services are from 2 to 5 pm on weekdays; no appointment is necessary.
The telephone number is (995) (32) 27-70-00, which can also be reached after hours, and the fax number is: (995) (32) 53-23-10.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi’s web site is http://georgia.usembassy.gov/.
*
*
*
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated October 3, 2007 to update the section on Entry and Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information of Victims of Crime, ion, Traffic Safety and Road Condition, Special Circumstances, and Aviation Safety Oversight.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 4 Mar 2020 15:45:48 +0100 (MET)

Tbilisi, March 4, 2020 (AFP) - Three Italian skiers died in an avalanche in north-western Georgia on Wednesday, officials said.    They were among six people who were skiing in a closed zone near Mount Tetnuldi when the avalanche hit, the Caucasus nation's tourism agency said in a statement.   "Rescuers have found the bodies of three Italians," the agency said, adding it had rescued three more, including one with multiple fractures.   Upper Svaneti, where the incident occurred, is one of the highest and most remote skiing destinations in Europe. Its medieval villages dotted with stone watchtowers are on UNESCO's World Heritage list.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 20:03:47 +0100 (MET)

Tbilisi, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Georgia on Wednesday announced its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in the South Caucasus region.   "A Georgian national has tested positive for the novel coronavirus," Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze told a news conference, adding that the infected man has been placed in isolation in a Tbilisi hospital.   "Three different tests of the 50-year-old man's nasopharyngeal smear gave positive results, but he is doing well, he is clinically healthy," head of Georgia's national centre for disease control, Amiran Gamkrelidze told journalists.

The man had arrived in Georgia from Iran via Azerbaijan, Gamkrelidze said.   Tikaradze said Georgia would introduce a two-week ban on Iranian nationals entering Georgia, but flatly dismissed fears of a coronavirus epidemic in the ex-Soviet country "at this point".   On Sunday, Georgia's neighbour Armenia closed its border with Iran and suspended flights as fears over an outbreak of coronavirus in Iran sent neighbouring countries scrambling to contain the outbreak.
Date: Sat, 22 Jun 2019 21:45:46 +0200
By Anna SMOLCHENKO with Irakli METREVELI in Tbilisi

Moscow, June 22, 2019 (AFP) - Russia's government on Saturday banned Georgian airlines from flying into its territory, extending restrictions imposed by President Vladimir Putin as part of growing tensions between Moscow and its ex-Soviet neighbour.   Putin had signed a decree late Friday banning Russian airlines from flying to pro-Western Georgia from July 8 in response to anti-Moscow rallies in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

The protests broke out after a Russian lawmaker addressed parliament from the speaker's seat earlier this week, a hugely sensitive move for two countries whose relations remain tense after a brief war in 2008.   The rallies have morphed into a broader movement against the Georgian authorities while the Kremlin has branded them a "Russophobic provocation".   On Saturday, protesters took to the streets of the Georgian capital for a third day of rallies, with some 3,000 demanding snap elections and electoral reform.   The crowd sang a profanity-laced, anti-Putin chant and some of the demonstrators held up placards insulting the Russian president.   Demonstrators also shot paper airplanes into the sky in response to the Russian bans.

Russia's transportation ministry said that from July 8 two Georgian airlines would be banned from flying to Russia, citing the need to ensure "aviation safety" and debt owned by the Georgian companies.   The Kremlin has said the ban against travel to Georgia was to "ensure Russia's national security and protect Russian nationals from criminal and other unlawful activities."

Authorities recommended travel companies stop selling holiday packages to Georgia and advised Russian tourists to return home.   Russia's travel industry and ordinary Russians hit out at the decision by the Kremlin, saying it was a politically motivated move that has little to do with safety concerns.   "Tourism in Georgia is on the rise, and the decision has shocked the whole industry," Aleksan Mkrtchyan, head of Pink Elephant, a chain of travel agencies, said in a statement.

- 'This is politics' -
The ban during high season is expected to hit the travel industry in both countries hard and become a major nuisance for Russian holidaymakers.   Russia and Georgia fought a brief but bloody war in 2008 and tensions between the two governments remain high.   But Georgia -- known for its picturesque Black Sea resorts, rich national cuisine and generous hospitality -- has emerged as one of the most popular destinations for Russian tourists over the past few years, with more than 1.3 million visiting last year.

Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Tourism Union, said that most in the industry believed that Georgia was not a dangerous destination.   "Georgians have traditionally treated Russians well," Tyurina told AFP.    It was too early to estimate potential industry losses from the ban, she said.   More than 7,000 people have signed a petition calling on Moscow to resume flights.

Russian tourists in Tbilisi expressed regret at the restrictions.   "We are against the ban," Nina Guseva told AFP in the Georgian capital. "We are not guilty and we do not have to suffer."   Fellow traveller Mikhail Strelkov added: "This is politics and has nothing to do with people on holidays."   In Russia, many struck a similar note.   Elena Chekalova, a prominent chef and culinary blogger, said the latest Kremlin move "shocked" her.   "Why are they deciding for us what we cannot eat, where we cannot fly, who we cannot be friends with?" she wrote on Facebook.

- Simmering discontent -
Moscow has suspended flights to Georgia before -- during a spike in tensions in October 2006 and in August 2008 following the outbreak of the five-day war over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.   "Putin decided to punish Georgia because there are street protests there," opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter.   A senior government official in Tbilisi said the Kremlin ban was politically motivated.   "Putin's decision is of course political and has nothing to do with safety concerns," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Analysts say the latest restrictions may further fuel simmering discontent with Kremlin policies.   Since 2014, Russians have been chafing under numerous rounds of Western sanctions over Moscow's role in Ukraine and other crises, with real incomes falling for the fifth year in a row.    During an annual phone-in with Russians this week, Putin dismissed calls to "reconcile" with the West to alleviate economic hardship, saying Moscow needed to protect its interests and "nothing" would change anyway.
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 2019 11:24:00 +0200

Tbilisi, June 6, 2019 (AFP) - Three people died on Thursday when a helicopter owned by one of Georgia's top luxury hotels crashed in a northern mountainous region of the country, emergency services said.   A chopper belonging to the Rooms luxury hotel "crashed in an unpopulated area near the Qulo mountain in the Kazbegi municipality," the spokesman of Georgia's emergency situations department, Rati Mujiri, told AFP.   "All three people onboard have died," he said.  "The helicopter pilot and two staff members of the Adjara Group (which owns Kazbegi Rooms hotel) have been killed in the accident," the company said in a statement.

The Rooms hotel operates Bell 505 Jet Ranger helicopters, according to the hotel's website.   Famed for its spectacular landscapes with snow-capped peaks of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, dramatic rocky gorges, and medieval churches, Kazbegi is a popular tourist destination.
Date: Thu 2 May 2019
Source: PLoS One [edited]

Citation
--------
Rao S, Traxler R, Napetavaridze T, et al. Risk factors associated with the occurrence of anthrax outbreaks in livestock in the country of Georgia: A case-control investigation 2013-2015. PLoS One. 2019;14(5):e0215228. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0215228

Abstract
--------
Introduction
Anthrax is considered endemic in livestock in Georgia. In 2007, the annual vaccination became the responsibility of livestock owners, while contracting of private veterinarians was not officially required. Six years later, due to increase in human outbreaks associated with livestock handling there is a need to find out the risk factors of livestock anthrax in Georgia.

Objective
To identify exposures and risk factors associated with livestock anthrax.

Methods
A matched case-control study design was used to recruit the owners of individual livestock anthrax cases that occurred between June 2013 and May 2015, and owners of unaffected livestock from within ("village control") and outside the village ("area control"). We collected data about the case and control livestock animals' exposure and risk factors within the one-month prior to the disease onset of the case livestock (or matched case for the controls). We used logistic regression analysis (univariate and multivariable) to calculate the odds ratios of exposures and risk factors.

Results
During the study period, 36 anthrax cases met the case definition and were enrolled in the study; 67 matched village control livestock and 71 matched area control livestock were also enrolled. The findings from multivariable logistic regression analysis demonstrate that vaccination within the last 2 years significantly reduced the odds of anthrax in cattle (OR = 0.014; 95% Confidence interval = or less 0.001, 0.99). The other factors that were significantly protective against anthrax were 'animals being in covered fence area/barn' (OR = 0.065; p-value = 0.036), and 'female animal being pregnant or milking compared to heifer' (OR = 0.006; p-value = 0.037).

Conclusions
The information obtained from this study has involved and been presented to decision makers, used to build technical capacity of veterinary staff, and to foster a One Health approach to the control of zoonotic diseases which will optimize prevention and control strategies. Georgia has embedded the knowledge and specific evidence that vaccination is a highly protective measure to prevent anthrax deaths among livestock, to which primary emphasis of the anthrax control program will be given. Education of livestock keepers in Georgia is an overriding priority.
------------------------------------------------------
Communicated by
Debby Reynolds
===============================
[The major benefits of this research project were not scientific but instructional in bringing home to all concerned at all levels that livestock anthrax is not inevitable but extremely preventable with many benefits in both animal health and public health. The article conclusions needed to be emphasised: "The control strategies that were recommended for anthrax included a combination of vaccination, quarantine, and proper carcass handling and disposal. Overall, the information obtained from this study has involved and been presented to decision makers, used to build technical capacity of regional and national veterinary staff, and fostered a One Health approach to the control of zoonotic diseases like anthrax, which will optimize prevention and control strategies. For example, a multi-agency anthrax One Health team was established to investigate cases and co-develop educational materials for farmers.

"The investigation process involved a series of trainings and workshops for participants and stakeholders to promote an understanding of epidemiological investigations and the economics of disease control with anthrax as a model. Georgia now has embedded the knowledge and specific evidence that vaccination is a highly protective measure to prevent anthrax deaths among livestock. Hence, primary emphasis for disease prevention will be given to vaccination, with a specific mark/tag for vaccination being desirable. Alternatively, a formal vaccination record given to the owner, or livestock registration is recommended. Education of livestock keepers in Georgia on the importance of vaccination is an overriding priority. Vaccination teams can play an increased role with more attention paid to delivery of standard memorable messages at the time of vaccination and to disseminating public announcements. It is overwhelmingly the case that vaccination of livestock against anthrax is protective and is an effective risk mitigation for anthrax in Georgia."

And if the Georgians can do it, anybody anywhere can do it. And you will note that their last outbreak was in 2017. Our thanks to Debby for forwarding this article. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[Maps of Georgia can be seen at
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 08:29:09 +0200 (METDST)

Hanga Roa, Chile, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Inhabitants of Easter Island are leaning on a traditional form of ancestral discipline to overcome a coronavirus-imposed lockdown that threatens the Pacific island's vital tourism sector, and consequently their livelihoods.   Situated 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) off the coast of Chile, the island of 7,750 people is renowned for its giant humanoid monoliths called moais that were sculpted from basalt more than 1,000 years ago.

So far, there have been just two confirmed coronavirus cases on Easter Island, with two or three more under observation. But the local population can ill afford the outbreak to spread with just one hospital and three ventilators on the island.   Faced with this crisis, the locals have turned to the Tapu, an ancient tradition based on taking care of oneself that has been passed down through generations of the native Rapa Nui people.   "To accompany this self-care concept, we're applying the Rapa Nui tradition, an ancestral rule based on sustainability and respect," said the island's mayor Pedro Edmunds.   "It's called Tapu. You can hear about this concept in all the Polynesian islands."

Tapu is a complex concept related to secrecy, rules and prohibitions from which the English word "taboo" derives.   "If you say the word Tapu to a Polynesian, they will immediately tell you why we have to do Tapu. That's precisely because they know and understand what it signifies," said Edmunds.   It means that the island's lockdown has been diligently respected, leading to the virus being prevented from spreading far and wide.   "We've applied the Tapu concept for all Rapa Nui and the acceptance has been incredible," said Edmunds.   "The virus is contained in two families in the same area, so we know where they are, who they are, and they've been respecting the (isolation) protocols since the beginning," Edmunds told AFP.

- Tourism impact -
But now, there are greater worries about the pandemic's impact on tourism.   On average, 100,000 people visit the volcanic Polynesian island each year, mostly attracted by the mysterious moais.   The local government was quick to react to the spreading pandemic in Latin America, closing the island's borders on March 11 -- a week before Chile's government in Santiago did likewise -- with the apparition of its first positive case.   Throughout Chile, there have now been more than 3,000 cases with 16 deaths.   A week ago, Easter Island was put under total lockdown with a nighttime curfew from 2:00 pm to 5:00 am. On Tuesday, these were extended for a further two weeks.

- Plan B planting -
With streets, beaches and parks deserted, the indigenous inhabitants have turned to the knowledge passed down through generations to deal with the crisis.   Some indigenous Rapa Nui inhabitants have already adapted to their new circumstances and started to cultivate their land, like their ancestors did, said Sabrina Tuki, who has worked in tourism for 20 years.   "Our family and many families are already applying a Plan B and we've already started planting," said Tuki, whose regular work has completely ground to a halt.

Everyone is worried about the coming months. Edmunds says the island's inhabitants can last for a month with the borders closed.   But at the end of April, 3,000 people "will be seen begging in the streets for food from some local or national authority, because they won't be able to eat," said Edmunds.   It won't be the Rapa Nui, though, according to Edmunds, because the community has begun to rally together behind its concept of Tapu.   But the island's other inhabitants, who make up around half the population and mostly work in the service industry, will be in trouble.

- Taken by surprise -
The mayor doesn't expect the recovery to come until August, when tourists would return to the islands.   When it does restart, he's expecting a reduced capacity compared to the two flights a week the island was welcoming until three weeks ago.   Only one airline, Latam, operated the five-hour flights from the continent, but like many airlines its business has been hard hit by the virus.   "We're all affected; the whole chain, from the biggest agency to the craftsman," said Samuel Atan, a hiking guide who says the crisis caught everyone unawares.

The pandemic has highlighted the fragility of such a remote location. Without state subsidies, many could not survive, Edmunds says.   The challenge for the future will be to improve infrastructure and "re-enchant people to come back," said Tuki.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 04:05:11 +0200 (METDST)

New York, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - New York mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday urged all of the city's residents to cover their faces when outside and near others to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.   "Let's be clear. This is a face covering. It could be a scarf. It could be something you create yourself at home. It could be a bandana," de Blasio told reporters.   "It doesn't need to be a professional surgical mask. In fact, we don't want you to use the kind of masks that our first responders need, that our health care workers need. Don't use those," he added.   New York is the epicenter of America's deadly COVID-19 outbreak.   The city has recorded almost 50,000 confirmed cases, including 1,562 deaths, according to the mayor's office.   As of Thursday evening, the United States had a total of more than 243,000 declared cases and over 5,900 fatalities, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

President Donald Trump told reporters at his daily White House briefing on the coronavirus that he was not considering making it mandatory for all Americans to cover their faces.   "For example on the masks, if people wanted to wear them they can. If people wanted to use scarves, which many people have them, they can.   "In many cases, scarves are better. It's thicker. Depending on the material, it's thicker," he said.   Vice President Mike Pence added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would release official guidelines on masks in the coming days.   But Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator at the White House, said it is important people do not think masks replace social distancing or hand-washing.     "We don't want people to get an artificial sense of protection," she said. "They're an additive."

California Governor Gavin Newsom made similar recommendations as de Blasio on Thursday, but stressed that masks were "not a substitute" for social distancing.   "Individuals (who) want to have face coverings... that is a good thing and a preferable thing, in addition to the physical distancing and the stay-at-home order," he said.   More than three-quarters of Americans are currently living under various forms of lockdown, including New Yorkers who have been told not to leave their residences unless absolutely necessary.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 02:16:41 +0200 (METDST)

Lima, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra announced on Thursday a new measure restricting public movement by gender, as the country tries to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.   Men will only be allowed to leave their homes on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, while women are authorized to step outdoors on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.   No one is allowed out on Sundays.   "We have 10 days left, let's make this extra effort to control this disease," said Vizcarra.   He said the restrictions would apply until April 12, the original end date to a lockdown he imposed on March 16.   Panama announced a similar measure on Monday that went into effect two days later and will last for 15 days.

By Thursday, Peru had recorded just over 1,400 coronavirus cases and 55 deaths.   Vizcarra said the new measure aims to reduce by half the number of people circulating in public at any one time.   "The (existing) control measures have given good results, but not what was hoped for," said Vizcarra.   These restrictions will not apply to people employed in essential services, such as grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and hospitals.   Vizcarra added that security forces tasked with patrolling the streets have been told to be respectful toward the gender identities of homosexual and transgender people.   "The armed forces and police have been instructed not to have homophobic attitudes," said the president.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 00:55:21 +0200 (METDST)
By Samir TOUNSI

Kinshasa, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Lack of resources, a muddle over confinement and incipient panic are hobbling the response to coronavirus in DR Congo, fuelling fears especially for Kinshasa, one of Africa's largest and most chaotic cities.

Almost all of the infections in the vast central African nation have occurred in the capital, along with a handful in the east -- a deeply-troubled region hit by Ebola and militia attacks.   "The coming week will be the most difficult for Kinshasa. The numbers will quickly double or triple," Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who is leading DRC's fight against the pandemic, warned in an interview with Jeune Afrique magazine.   According to official figures released late Wednesday, there have been 123 confirmed cases, 11 of them deaths, in a nation of some 80 million people.

Kinshasa, which has been isolated from the rest of the country, has 118 cases but this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg giving the paucity of testing.   "On average, 50 tests are carried out each day at the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB)," said a health official, speaking on condition of anonymity.   Five cases have been recorded in six days in the Democratic Republic of Congo's volatile east, destabilised by 25 years of rebel and militant attacks.   Two of them emerged in Goma, the capital of the eastern North Kivu province, which is officially due to declare an end to the Ebola outbreak on April 12 if no more cases of haemorrhagic fever emerge.

- Fears of looting -
Kinshasa, home to at least 10 million people, was meant to go into lockdown on Saturday for four days under an announcement made unilaterally by the region's governor.   But officials delayed the measure after the announcement triggered fears of a rise in the prices of basic goods and the risk of unrest.   The national intelligence agency "warned the presidency of the threat of looting," an informed source said.   The city witnessed pillaging, led by security forces, in 1991 and 1993.

A day after the lockdown U-turn, President Felix Tshisekedi held an emergency meeting but there have been no announcements since.   "They want to decide on something that works. They can't afford to make mistakes," an observer said.   Later on Thursday, governor Gentiny Ngobila announced that Kinshasa's government district, which is also home to a number of embassies and banks, will be "put in quarantine" for two weeks starting from Monday.   Two globally-renowned names have been enlisted in the campaign against coronavirus: Dr. Muyembe, who helped discover the Ebola virus in 1976, is national coordinator, while the 2018 Nobel Peace laureate, gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, is overseeing the response in the east.

- 'General panic' -
Despite these reassuring appointments, preparations to deal with large numbers of coronavirus cases in Kinshasa are a mess, according to experts.   "The medical facilities are unequipped to take in sick people, apart from a hospital run by the Chinese," a health expert said.   There are only 65 ventilators in all of Kinshasa's hospitals, a researcher said. The INRB has no vehicles or fuel and foreign NGOs are pitching in to help, other sources said.   The problems have been experienced first-hand by some of Tshisekedi's entourage.    The president's special adviser, Vidiye Tshimanga, tested positive on March 23, after spending two days at home during which medical teams failed to arrive.

Tshimanga, who was diagnosed with a mild forum of coronavirus and is on the mend, told AFP that when he went for a lung scan on Monday, he was met by a hospital official "who refused to let me get out of the ambulance."
   One of his friends and a close aide of the president has meanwhile died, he told AFP.   "The medical teams were ill-informed and fearful of COVID-19 and hardly took care of him," Tshimanga said of his deceased colleague.   "I have heard of other cases like this," he said.  "A kind of general panic has set in. COVID-19 patients are being left to one side without receiving care. There is a lack of information... something that we (the government) are going to have to tackle as soon as possible."
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 22:32:53 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Troops and police in Ecuador have collected at least 150 bodies from streets and homes in the country's most populous city Guayaquil amid warnings that as many as 3,500 people could die of the coronavirus in the city and surrounding province in the coming months.   A joint military and police task force sent out to gather corpses in the horror-struck port city had  collected 150 in just three days, government spokesman Jorge Wated said late Wednesday.

Residents had published videos on social media showing abandoned bodies in the streets in the Latin American city worst hit by the pandemic.   Some left desperate messages for authorities to take away the corpses of people who had died in their homes.   Authorities have not confirmed how many of the dead were victims of the coronavirus.

Rosa Romero, 51, lost her husband Bolivar Reyes and had to wait a day for his body to be removed from their home.    A week later, amid the chaos of the city's mortuary system, she does not know where it is.   "In the forensic bureau they told us that they had taken him to the Guasmo Hospital. We went there to find him but he was not registered anywhere," Romero told AFP.   A 15-hour curfew imposed in the city makes further searching difficult.

- Government apology -
The government's spokesman apologized in a message broadcast on state television late Wednesday.   He said mortuary workers had been unable to keep up with the removal of bodies because of the curfew.   "We acknowledge any errors and apologize to those who had to wait days for their loved ones to be taken away," Wated said.    Mortuary workers in masks and protective clothing were seen carrying plastic-wrapped coffins in the city on Wednesday as authorities tried to cope with the backlog of dead.

Work at cemeteries and funeral homes has stalled, with staffers reluctant to handle the dead over contagion fears.   Ecuador is the Latin American country worst hit by the virus after Brazil, with more than 3,160 infections and 120 deaths by Thursday morning.

Guayaquil has Latin America's highest mortality rate from COVID-19 with 1.35 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants -- higher than the 0.92 per 100,000 registered in Brazil's epicenter Sao Paulo -- according to Esteban Ortiz from Ecuador's University of the Americas.    Guayaquil's surrounding province of Guayas has 70 percent of the country's COVID-19 infections.   Ecuador's first reported case of COVID-19 was a 71-year-old Ecuadoran woman who arrived in Guayaquil from Spain on February 14.

- 'Difficult days ahead' -
Wated said the government is preparing for even more difficult days ahead.   "The medical experts unfortunately estimate that deaths from COVID in these months will reach between 2,500 and 3,500 -- in the province of Guayas alone, and we are preparing for that," he said.   Autopsies have been restricted and the government, which has banned usually crowded funeral services, initially insisted that COVID-19 victims be cremated but was forced to relent after a public backlash.   "We are working so that each person can be buried with dignity in one-person spaces," Wated said, referring to a government-run cemetery being made available with capacity for around 2,000 bodies.

Last month, the city's mayor Cynthia Viteri sent municipal vehicles to block an Iberia plane sent to repatriate stranded foreigners from landing at the city's international airport.    But Viteri was unapologetic as the number of cases spiraled in her city.   "I take responsibility for protecting my city," she said.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 20:58:06 +0200 (METDST)

Blantyre, Malawi, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Malawi on Thursday announced its first three coronavirus infections, one of the last African countries to report the potentially deadly disease.   The southern African country was one of the few without any confirmed cases along with the Comoros, Lesotho, Sao Tome and Principe and South Sudan.      President Peter Mutharika said the infections were in the capital Lilongwe.

The first was detected in an elderly woman who had recently travelled to India to visit her relatives.   "Upon arrival in Malawi, she placed herself in self-quarantine for 14 days but later became symptomatic within the quarantine period," said Mutharika in an address to the nation.   Two of her contacts also tested positive.   Mutharika said the government would provide medical care for the three patients and track down their immediate contacts.   To date coronavirus has infected more than 6,720 people across Africa and killed at least 273.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 17:06:55 +0200 (METDST)

Port Louis, Mauritius, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Residents of the Indian Ocean island nation Mauritius rushed to supermarkets on Thursday after they had been shut for 10 days under a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.   Mauritius, usually a paradise holiday destination known for pristine beaches and coral reefs, has the most cases in eastern Africa with 169 infected and seven deaths -- including a 20-year-old woman with no prior health issues who died on Thursday.   The country was one of the first in Africa to impose a lockdown on March 20 -- when cases still stood at seven -- going so far as to shut supermarkets, bakeries and other shops often kept open in other nations.

Aware that people's stocks were starting to run low, the government decided to re-open under strict rules which divide people into three alphabetical groups to decide on which days they are allowed to shop.   Prakash Beeharry, a primary school teacher, told AFP he was lucky his surname starts with a 'B'.   "My neighbour, Mr Jayen Veerasamy, has to wait two more days before he can access the supermarket," he said.   Like many other mask-wearing shoppers, Beeharry stood in line from 6am to 10am before he was allowed in the supermarket.   "We only had 30 minutes to get all the groceries. Quite a challenge. I'm 45 years old and I've never experienced this... I hope things don't get worse."

Snaking long lines spread out from different supermarkets on the island, where shoppers kept a safe distance from each other and had their temperatures taken as they entered the stores.   "I feel relieved now that I have some supplies," said retired citizen Joseph who was one of the first at the Intermart in central Curepipe.   Other rules put in place allow only one member of a family in the store at a time, and masks are obligatory. The purchase of basics such as rice, flour, milk or oil are subject to restrictions.   Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth had initially shut the supermarkets because the situation was "extremely serious" and he saw the move as "the only way to stop the spread of the virus".

The decision was widely criticised, as while the middle and upper classes were able to prepare and stock food, the poor were not -- and many had yet to receive their salaries.   Tourism Minister Joe Lesjongard explained Tuesday that the government was "aware the population is starting to lack supplies".   "We should never have shut the supermarkets," said former prime minister and prominent opposition leader Paul Berenger.   In a bid to assist the poorest members of society, the government has distributed basic necessities to some 30,000 people.

A solidarity fund has also been created by government officials, with all lawmakers donating ten percent of their annual salaries.   Hotels on the island are now mostly empty, aside from a handful used as quarantine centres, while the renowned smiles of tourism staff have been replaced by the exhausted, defeated expressions of health workers.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 15:40:59 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Thailand will introduce a six-hour night curfew in a bid to control the spread of coronavirus, authorities said Thursday, warning anyone who breached the order faced a two-year jail term.   The curfew from 10 pm to 4 am (1500 to 2100 GMT) will begin on Friday and bars everyone in the country from leaving their homes.    Exemptions will be made for essential staff, including medical workers, food and fuel transport staff, and postal services.    The number of infections in Thailand has soared past 1,800 -- up more than 80 percent from a week ago -- and the death toll has nearly quadrupled to 15 as of Thursday.

The government has come under criticism for not acting soon enough to curb the spread of the virus -- introducing incremental measures despite being the first country outside China to confirm a case, which happened in January.   In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha urged citizens not to panic.   "You can buy things in the daytime," he said.   Penalties for hoarding essential supplies such as face masks carry penalties of up to seven years in prison and a 140,000 baht ($4,200) fine, he said.

The stepped-up measures also include an entry ban on all arrivals -- including Thais -- for two weeks.   Thais who insist on returning will be placed under state quarantine, though Prayut implored them to defer travel plans.    On Thursday, Bangkok's popular markets were shuttered, while parks that were ordered to close were empty of joggers.   Thailand's economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus, especially those employed in the informal sector.   The Bank of Thailand expects the economy to shrink by 5.3 percent this year -- a 22-year low -- and nearly 22 million people have registered for cash handouts.
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: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 12:24:14 +0200 (METDST)

Dubai, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Emirates Airline said Thursday it is to resume a limited number of outbound passenger flights from April 6, less than two weeks after its coronavirus-enforced stoppage.   "Emirates has received approval from UAE authorities to restart flying a limited number of passenger flights," its chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, said on Twitter.   "From April 6, these flights will initially carry travellers outbound from UAE," he said, adding that details would be announced soon.      Dubai-owned carrier Emirates, the largest in the Middle East with 271 wide-body aircraft, grounded passenger operations last week as the UAE halted all passenger flights to fight the spread of coronavirus.

The UAE, which groups seven emirates including Dubai, has declared 814 coronavirus cases along with eight deaths.   It has imposed a sweeping crackdown, including the flight ban and closure of borders.   Sheikh Ahmed said Emirates, which owns the world's largest fleet of Airbus A-380 superjumbos with 113 in its ranks, was looking to gradually resume passenger services.   "Over the time, Emirates looks forward to the gradual resumption of passenger services in line with lifting of travel and operational restrictions, including assurance of health measures to safeguard our people and customers," he said.

When Emirates suspended flights, it cut between 25 percent and 50 percent of the basic salary of its 100,000-strong staff for three months, saying it wanted to avert layoffs.   Dubai's crown prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum said Tuesday that Dubai will support the airline by injecting new capital.   Tourism, aviation, hotels and entertainment are key contributors to Dubai's mostly non-oil economy.