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Albania

Albania US Consular Information Sheet November 04, 2008

 COUNTRY DESCRIPTION

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

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

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY

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

CRIME

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

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION

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

MEDICAL INSURANCE

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

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS

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

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT

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

CHILDREN'S ISSUES

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since then nearly all businesses except for food shops and pharmacies have gone dark while residents are only allowed outsided with authorisation.    According to government figures, the tight lockdown appears to have staved off a major outbreak, with almost 600 known infections and 26 deaths from the virus in the country of 2.8 million.   But the economic costs have piled up, as some 50,000 Albanians -- around four percent of the official workforce -- have lost their jobs, according to Ministry  Economy.   A series of relief efforts are also costing the government some 540 millions euros.
Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2019 09:28:12 +0100 (MET)
By Briseida MEMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colombia

Colombia - US Consular Information Sheet
August 13, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care is adequate in major cities but varies greatly in quality elsewhere.
Emergency rooms in Colombia, even at top-quality facilities, are frequently overcrowded and ambulance service can be slow. Many private health care providers in Colombia require that patients pay for care before treatment, even in an emergency.
Some providers in major cities may accept credit cards, but those that do not may request advance payment in cash.
Uninsured travelers without financial resources may be unable to obtain care, or relegated to seeking treatment in public hospitals where care is far below U.S. standards.
The Embassy regularly receives reports of U.S. citizens in Colombia who have died or suffered complications from liposuction and other elective surgeries intended to treat obesity.
Before undergoing such a procedure in Colombia, the Department of State recommends that you consult with your personal physician, research the credentials of the provider in Colombia, and carefully consider your ability to access emergency medical care if complications arise.
It is important to confirm that your medical insurance provides coverage in Colombia, to include treatment of complications from elective procedures or medical evacuation if necessary.
Should you suffer complications as a result of medical malpractice, collecting damages from your surgeon may be difficult.
Colombia has seen a recent increase in the use of unregulated drugs that purport to enhance sexual performance.
Several American tourists recently died after using these substances, which come in liquid, powder, or tablet form.
You are urged to seek guidance from a physician before ingesting any such substances in Colombia.
Travelers to the capital city of Bogota may need time to adjust to the altitude of 8,600 feet, which can affect blood pressure, digestion, and energy level, and cause
mild dyspnea with exercise, headaches, sleeplessness, , and other discomfort.
Travelers should drink liberal fluids to maintain hydration,, and should avoid strenuous exercise unti they have acclimated to the altitude.
Travelers with circulatory or respiratory problems should consult a physician before traveling to Bogota or other high-altitude locations.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

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

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm that their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Colombia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

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

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

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

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

Colombian law forbids the export of pre-Columbian objects and other artifacts protected by cultural patrimony statutes.
Under an agreement between the United States and Colombia, U.S. customs officials are obligated to seize pre-Columbian objects and certain colonial religious artwork when they are brought into the United States.
Please contact the Embassy of Colombia in Washington or one of Colombia's consulates in the United States for detailed customs guidance.
Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Colombia’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

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

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans residing or traveling in Colombia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Colombia.
Americans without
Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Calle 24 Bis No. 48-50 Bogotá, D.C. Colombia.
Mailing address:
Carrera 45 No. 24B-27 Bogotá, D.C. Colombia.

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background
Greece offers a great variety of attractions for the international traveller. A beautiful climate linked with great beaches, a vibrant nightlife and historical monuments to rival any other location throughout the world. All of this located
within western Europe and a short flight away from many of the cooler northern destinations - like Ireland. Travellers from these regions descent on Greece in very significant numbers each year and for the vast majority of them they will have a splendid and healthy time. However for some this may not be the case and serious illness and accidents are regularly reported. Following some commonsense rules would go a long way to avoiding disaster and ensuring that this trip is truly one to be remembered for all the right reasons.
Climate
Situated in southern Europe the country enjoys mild winters but very hot summers. There may be occasional cool breezes (meltemia) but these can serve only to fool the traveller into thinking that they are unlikely to burn. Rain is very uncommon during the height of summer (July and August) and all travellers should be advised to use very adequate sun-block lotion at all times.
Slip, Slop, Slap
Following the Australian mantra of Slip, Slop and Slap makes perfect sense. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat when out and about during the day and this should help protect against the intense suns rays. Nevertheless, despite all their best intentions, travellers get burnt. This is particularly a problem in the first few days after their arrival when they do not realise the intensity of the suns rays and how easily they can be exposed. Falling asleep beside the hotel's swimming pool or on the beach is a very common problem and must be avoided against. The tips of the ears, shoulders (especially along the bra-strap line, ankles and behind the knees are commonly exposed and forgotten areas.
After Sun care
To treat significant sunburn it is important to increase fluid intake but also to take extra salt on your food (unless medically contraindicated for some specific condition like high blood pressure etc). Soothing water soluble lotions (especially ones containing a mild anaesthetic and/or steroid cream) are probably best but certainly avoid any of the ones which paste the skin with a thick layer - which is almost impossible to remove without causing serious pain! The more severe sunburn cases may need medical care and even hospitalisation which really ruins a holiday.
Food & Water
As a European destination Greece has a good level of food and water hygiene. Unfortunately this can vary - especially as you move away from the main tourist destinations and also as the summer temperatures rise and food goes 'off' more quickly. Eating hot food, avoiding cold foods (side-salads, lettuce etc) and never eating undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) makes perfect sense. Eating food or taking fruit juice drinks from street vendors is a risk just not worth taking.
Insect bites
There may be both mosquitoes and sandflys about so having good repellents (DEET based ones) is worthwhile. The biggest problem will be early in the morning and towards the end of the daylight hours. However sitting in the shade while having lunch may be nice and cool but it is also often a place where these insects tend to hover looking for their next meal. Just don't allow that meal to be the blood in your unguarded ankle!
Seeing the Monuments
As mentioned previously Greece is covered with ancient monuments and these attract many thousands of tourists each year. The ruins are often not the most hospitable places for sun-sensitive tourists so taking care against the suns rays is essential - especially while standing carefully listening to the tour guide explain some complicated piece of history while the back of your legs get roasted! The other issue, for those trekking through the ruins, is the distinct possibility of a nasty twisted ankle.
Laser Night shows
Many of the ancient sites have beautiful night shows which depict something of the past splendour and are definitely worth seeing. However it is wise to wear good shoes as stumbling across loose stones is a particular problem at night and also bring a small torch, if possible, to guide your way. Getting separated from your travelling companions, or not being able to find your return bus, can lead to some understandable panic so listen carefully to any instructions and look out for some land marks before you get too far away into the night time crowd.
Animal bites
Some tourists may forget that rabies is a problem in many countries throughout the world and, even though Greece is regarded as rabies-free', there is always a problem if someone should get bitten. The possibility that this animal could have been recently smuggled into the country cannot be out ruled and so many would advise full post exposure treatment should this contact occur. Children may be at particular risk due to their inquisitive nature.
Swimming
Sunburn and swimming go hand in hand but drowning can also occur all too frequently within this region. Strong currents, swimming after meals (or alcohol) and the ever popular romantic midnight swim are all serious risk factors. Also children running around the deep end of the pool may lose their footing and topple in without warning. Unfortunately a very small child sinks instantly with very little sign of the emergency to those close by. Parents need to keep aware of this risk at all times.
The summer working holiday
Many of our students head towards Greece for 2 to 3 months during the summer to work. The attractions are obvious but commonsense and sensible life-style choices are needed throughout their stay to lessen the risk of illness or them returning home with an infection they had not bargained for. Unfortunately many return home with life-long illnesses which have been contracted from a single unprotected sexual contact.
Vaccinations for Greece
As a general rule the usual travel vaccines are not recommended for most short-term travellers to this region. However for the student planning to spend a more prolonged period it would be sensible to consider cover against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and also to check that their Tetanus cover is up-to-date.
Summary
This is still one of the most popular destinations for northern European travellers and, in the vast majority of cases, they will have a fantastic time with only good memories. Unfortunately some less prepared folks will end up with serious sunburn and other illnesses or diseases which perhaps are frequently associated with their own lack of care and protection rather than anything specific to this beautiful country.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 2 May 2020 17:14:39 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, May 2, 2020 (AFP) - A 6.0 magnitude quake struck off the Greek island of Crete on Saturday but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.   The Athens Geodynamic Institute said the epicentre was about 55 kilometres (35 miles) south of the city of Ierapetra. It hit at 1251 GMT (15:51 pm).   "No victims or serious damage has been reported so far," a local police officer told AFP by telephone.

Tremors were felt across the island and landslides were reported on some roads in Lasithi, where Ierapetra is located, the fire service said.    "Luckily the quake happened at a depth of 19 kilometres in the sea and there has not been any serious damage so far," said Giorgos Aspadrakis, the head of the fire brigade in Lasithi.   "The quake went on for a long time," said Georgia Santamouri, 29, who lives at Heraklion -- almost 100 km from Ierapetra.   "I was in bed. I was really scared in the beginning and I couldn't move initially but then I ran out," she said.

Greece is prone to earthquakes, with many occurring offshore.   The last deadly quake occurred on the island of Kos in the Aegean Sea in July 2017. The 6.7-magnitude quake killed two people.   The deadliest temblor in recent years struck the Athens region in 1999, killing 143 people.
Date: Thu, 23 Apr 2020 12:20:54 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, April 23, 2020 (AFP) - Greece is extending coronavirus lockdown measures by a week to May 4, the government said Thursday.   The country has managed to keep fatalities at a low level after registering its first virus death on March 12, despite a decade of cuts imposed on its public health system during the post-2010 debt crisis.

Supermarkets, banks and food delivery restaurants are among the few businesses still operating, and Greeks must inform authorities when leaving their homes for necessities, or risk fines.   "Restrictive measures that apply until April 27 are extended by a week to May 4," government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week will be announcing steps to remove some of the nationwide lockdown measures imposed on March 22, Petsas added.   The relaxation of the restrictions is set to begin with a partial reopening of courts and land registers on April 27.   The education ministry has also announced plans for final-year school pupils to hold university entry exams in June.   Greece has so far officially announced 121 deaths, with 55 people still in intensive care.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 12:55:32 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Hundreds of Greek healthcare workers demonstrated on Tuesday to protest at working conditions and lack of manpower and equipment in public hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.   The demonstrations were staged to coincide with World Health Day, according to the federation of hospital personnel.   "You only saw us when we covered our faces," proclaimed a poster printed by hospital trade unions, bearing a picture of doctors wearing anti-coronavirus masks.    Demonstrators at the large Evangelismos hospital in central Athens held up signs demanding job hiring, virus testing and hospital equipment.

Police tried to enter the hospital courtyard where the rally was taking place before being forced back by demonstrators, an AFP photographer said.   A similar protest was held at the main hospital in Larissa in central Greece, according to images from public television ERT.    Despina Tossonidou, president of the doctors' union at Voula hospital in southern Athens, said that in addition to the hiring of medical staff, intensive care units in private clinics should be requisitioned "to overcome the shortcomings of the public sector" during the virus crisis.   Health care in Greece was drastically affected by the country's 2010-2018 financial crisis and tough austerity required by creditors in exchange for bailouts.

As part of its measures to deal with the pandemic, the government has offered clinics 30 million euros ($32.6 million) and announced the hiring on short-term contracts of 2,000 doctors and 2,000 nursing staff.    "These measures are just a drop in the ocean," said Tossonidou, a radiologist.    "The hospital system needs 30,000 additional permanent doctors," she said, also citing the lack of protective equipment and COVID-19 testing in hospitals.    "The majority of tests are currently carried out in private hospitals at costs ranging from 150 to 300 euros ($163-326)," said Tossonidou.    Greece, a country of around 10.7 million people, has suffered relatively less than other European nations in the pandemic, recording 81 deaths out of 1,755 cases.
Date: Sun, 22 Mar 2020 18:02:51 +0100 (MET)

Athens, March 22, 2020 (AFP) - Greece will impose a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, limiting people to their homes except for essential outings, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Sunday.    "I have given orders that all appropriate action be taken to enforce the ban on all unnecessary movement across the country," Mitsotakis said in a televised address to the nation.   The restrictions will come into force from 6:00 am local time (0400 GMT) on Monday, and will require citizens to carry proof of identity to leave their homes. 

Outings are only permitted for people "going to work, the doctor, or to visit someone who needs help, or those who are buying food or medication", the prime minister said.    Citizens are also permitted to leave the house to walk their pets or exercise outdoors alone or with one other person.

There are 15 recorded deaths and 624 infections from the coronavirus in Greece, which has a population of 11 million.    Since reporting its first death from the virus on March 12, the country has gradually rolled out measures to limit gatherings and non-essential travel along with closing schools, shops and entertainment venues.
Date: Sat, 21 Mar 2020 10:59:18 +0100 (MET)

Athens, March 21, 2020 (AFP) - A strong 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck early Saturday in northwest Greece, damaging property in the city of Parga, authorities said.   The quake struck at 0049 GMT (0249 local time), with the epicentre 11 kilometres (around six miles) from Parga in Kanalaki district, and 316 kilometres northwest of Athens, the Athens geodynamic observatory said.   "No casualties have been reported at the moment," Parga mayor Nikolas Zacharias told AFP by telephone.

"Some old abandoned houses in Kanalaki collapsed and some houses suffered significant damage in this district of 2,500 inhabitants," Zaharias said, adding the temblor was strong throughout the area.   Landslides partially damaged the region's roads, he added.   Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes, but they rarely cause casualties.   In 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage.   In 1999, a 5.9-magnitude quake left 143 people dead in Athens and the region northwest of the capital.
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Antartica

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 03:03:18 +0100 (MET)
By Pierre-Henry DESHAYES

Half Moon Island, Antarctica, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - The swimsuit-clad tourists leap into the icy water, gasping at the shock, and startling a gaggle of penguins.   They are spectators at the end of the world, luxury visitors experiencing a vulnerable ecosystem close-up.   And their very presence might accelerate its demise.   Antarctica, a vast territory belonging to no one nation, is a continent of extremes: the coldest place on Earth, the windiest, the driest, the most desolate and the most inhospitable.   Now, it's also a choice destination for tourists.

All around Half Moon Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, blocks of ice of all sizes float by on a calm sea, their varying forms resembling weightless origami shapes.    On this strip of land, that juts out of the Antarctic Polar and towards South America, visitors can see wildlife normally only viewed in zoos or nature documentaries along with spectacular icy landscapes.   The ethereal shades of white that play across the pillowy peaks change with the light, acquiring pastel hues at dawn and dusk.   "Purity, grandeur, a scale that's out of this world," says Helene Brunet, an awestruck 63-year-old French pensioner, enjoying the scene.    "It's unbelievable, totally unbelievable. It's amazing just to be here, like a small speck of dust."

AFP joined the 430 passengers on board the Roald Amundsen, the world's first hybrid electric cruise ship, on its maiden voyage in the Southern Ocean.    "It's not your typical beach, but it's awesome to do it," says a numb Even Carlsen, 58, from Norway, emerging from his polar plunge in the three-degree C (37.4 F) water.   When tourists go ashore, bundled up in neon-coloured windbreakers and slathered in SPF50 sunscreen, they have to follow strict rules: clean your personal effects so you don't introduce invasive species, keep a respectful distance from wildlife to avoid distressing them, don't stray from the marked paths and don't pick up anything.   "We mucked up the rest of the world. We don't want to muck up Antarctica too," says an English tourist, as she vacuums cat hair off her clothes before going ashore.

- 'Heart of the Earth' -
The Antarctic peninsula is one of the regions on Earth that is warming the fastest, by almost three degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization -- three times faster than the global average.    In March 2015, an Argentinian research station registered a balmy 17.5 degrees Celsius, a record.    "Every year you can observe and record the melting of glaciers, the disappearance of sea ice... (and) in areas without ice, the recolonisation of plants and other organisms that were not present in Antarctica before," said Marcelo Leppe, director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

Antarctica is "like the heart of the Earth," he added, saying that it expands and contracts like a heart beating, while the mighty current which revolves around the continent is like a circulatory system as it absorbs warm currents from other oceans and redistributes cold water.   The Antarctic Treaty, signed 60 years ago by 12 countries -- it now has 54 signatories -- declared the area a continent dedicated to peace and science, but tourism has gradually increased, with a sharp rise in the past few years.   Tourism is the only commercial activity allowed, apart from fishing -- the subject of international disputes over marine sanctuaries -- and is concentrated mainly around the peninsula, which has a milder climate than the rest of the continent and is easier to access.

Cruise ships have roamed the region for around 50 years, but their numbers only started to increase from 1990, as Soviet ice-breakers found new purposes in the post-Cold War era.   Some 78,500 people are expected to visit the region between November and March, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).   That's a 40-percent increase from last year, due in part to short visits by a few new cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers, too many to disembark under IAATO regulations.     "Some might say 'Well, 80,000 people, that doesn't even fill a national stadium'... (and that it) is nothing like Galapagos which welcomes 275,000 a year," says IAATO spokeswoman Amanda Lynnes.    "But Antarctica is a special place and you need to manage it accordingly."

- 'Leave Antarctica to the penguins' -
It is Antarctica's very vulnerability that is attracting more and more visitors.   "We want to see this fantastic nature in Antarctica before it's gone," Guido Hofken, a 52-year-old IT sales director travelling with his wife Martina, says.    They said they had paid a supplement to climate compensate for their flight from Germany.

But some question whether tourists should be going to the region at all.   "The continent probably would be better off being left to penguins and researchers, but the reality is, that is probably never going to happen," said Michael Hall, professor and expert on polar regions at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.   "Vicarious appreciation never seems to be enough for humans. So with that being the case, it needs to be made as low risk to the Antarctic environment and as low carbon as possible," said Hall.    "However, when the average tourist trip to Antarctica is over five tonnes of CO2 emissions per passenger (including flights), that is a serious ask."

Soot or black carbon in the exhaust gases of the scientific and cruise ships going to the region is also of concern, said Soenke Diesener, transport policy officer at German conservation NGO Nabu.   "These particles will deposit on snow and ice surfaces and accelerate the melting of the ice because the ice gets darker and will absorb the heat from the sun and will melt much faster," he told AFP.   "So the people who go there to observe or preserve the landscape are bringing danger to the area, and leave it less pristine than it was," he added.

- Responsible tourism -
Antarctic tour operators insist they are promoting responsible tourism.   The trend is for more intimate, so-called expedition cruises, in contrast to popular giant cruise liners elsewhere which are criticised for being invasive and polluting.   With greener ships -- heavy fuel, the most commonly used for marine vessels, has been banned in Antarctica since 2011 -- cruise companies have sought to make environmental awareness a selling point, occasionally earning them accusations of greenwashing.

Global warming, pollution and microplastics are the result of human activities on other, faraway continents, say tour operators.   Here, their motto is "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, keep nothing but memories".   But before they've even set foot on the cruise ships departing from South America -- the most common itinerary -- visitors to Antarctica will already have flown across the world, causing emissions that harm the very nature they have come so far to admire.

Most visitors hail from the Northern Hemisphere, and almost half are from the United States and China, IAATO says.   "I'm a tourist who feels a little guilty about taking a flight to come here," admits Francoise Lapeyre, a 58-year-old globetrotter om France.   "But then again, there are priorities. There are some trips I just won't take, because they leave a big footprint and they're not worth it.   "Crisscrossing the planet to go to a beach for example," she says.

- Don't mention climate change -
Like other expedition cruises where accessible science is part of their trademark, the Roald Amundsen, owned by the Hurtigruten company, has no dance floor or casino.  Instead, there are microscopes, science events and lectures about whales and explorers like Charles Darwin.   But they steer clear of climate change, which is only mentioned indirectly.   That's a deliberate decision as the subject has proven "quite controversial", said Verena Meraldi, Hurtigruten's science coordinator.   "We held several lectures dedicated specifically to climate change but it leads to conflicts. There are people who accept it as a fact, others who don't," she said.   Onboard, "passengers" are referred to as "guests" and "explorers" rather than "cruisers".   "Explorers" are typically older, well-heeled, often highly travelled pensioners who are handed walking sticks as they step ashore.   "My 107th country," says a Dane, stepping ashore onto Antarctica.

The Roald Amundsen "guests" choose between three restaurants, from street food to fine dining -- a far cry from the conditions endured by the Norwegian adventurer for whom the ship is named, who had to eat his sled dogs to survive his quest to reach the South Pole in 1911.   They have paid at least 7,000 euros ($7,700) each for an 18-day cruise in a standard cabin, and up to 25,000 euros ($27,500) for a suite with a balcony and private jacuzzi.   Other cruises are banking on ultra-luxury, with James Bond-like ships equipped with helicopters and submarines, suites of more than 200 square metres (2,153 square feet) and butler services.   With a seaplane to boot, the mega-yacht SeaDream Innovation will offer 88-day cruises "from Pole to Pole" starting in 2021. The two most expensive suites, with a price tag of 135,000 euros per person, are already booked.
 
- Worlds collide -
Outside, in the deafening silence, wildlife abounds.   All around are penguins, as awkward on land as they are agile in water. Massive and majestic whales slip through the waves, and sea lions and seals laze in the sun.   On Half Moon Island, chinstrap penguins -- so called because of a black stripe on their chin -- strut about in this spring breeding season, raising their beaks and screeching from their rocky nests.   "This is to tell other males 'This is my space' and also, maybe, 'This is my female'," ornithologist Rebecca Hodgkiss, a member of the Hurtigruten's scientific team, explains, as a group of tourists stroll around ashore.   The colony of 2,500 penguins has been gradually declining over the years, but it's not known if that is man's fault or they have just moved away, according to Karin Strand, Hurtigruten's vice president for expeditions.   Invisible to the naked eye, traces of humankind are however to be found in the pristine landscape.   Not a single piece of rubbish is in sight but microplastics are everywhere, swept in on ocean currents.   "We've detected them in the eggs of penguins for example," Leppe told AFP.

- Venice under water -
The Antarctic, which holds the world's largest reserve of freshwater, is a ticking time bomb, warn experts and studies.   They say that the future of millions of people and species in coastal areas around the world depends on what is happening here.   As a result of global warming, the melting ice sheet -- especially in the western part of the continent -- will increasingly contribute to rising sea levels, radically re-drawing the map of the world, says climate scientist Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.   This meltwater will contribute 50 centimetres (almost 20 inches) to the global sea level rise by 2100, and much more after that, he said.   "For every degree of warming, we get 2.5 metres of sea level rise. Not in this century, but in the long run," he said.

Even if the international community meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to under two degrees Celsius, sea levels will still rise by at least five metres.   "Which means that Venice is under water, Hamburg is under water, New York, Shanghai, Calcutta," he said.   It's impossible to predict when, but the scenario appears unavoidable, says Levermann.   In the same way that a cruise ship powering ahead at full speed can't immediately stop, sea levels will continue to rise even if all greenhouse gas emissions were to cease immediately, a study has said.

- Changing the world? -
The tourism industry says it hopes to make "ambassadors" out of Antarctica visitors.   "It's good for the animal life and for the protection of Antarctica that people see how beautiful this area is, because you cherish what you know and understand," said Hurtigruten chief executive Daniel Skjeldam.   Texan tourist Mark Halvorson, 72, says he is convinced.   "Having seen it, I am that much more committed to having a very high priority in my politics, in my own inner core convictions to being as environmentally friendly in my life as I can," he said.   So, do Guido and Martina Hofken see themselves as future "ambassadors of Antarctica"?    "Just a little bit, probably. But I don't think I will change the world," Guido Hofken concedes.    "The best thing would be for nobody to travel to Antarctica."
Date: Thu, 17 May 2018 09:57:07 +0200

Buenos Aires, May 17, 2018 (AFP) - Tourism regulation in Antarctica has become an urgent matter due to environmental threats, officials from the 53 member countries of the Antarctic Treaty warned at their annual meeting, held this week in Buenos Aires.

In the absence of rules, travel agencies offer trips to the region on boats sometimes equipped with helicopters or submarines, according to Segolene Royal, French ambassador for the Arctic and Antarctic poles.   "This activity creates considerable disturbance ... we are witnessing a race toward large-scale tourism that is dangerous for ecosystems," she said at the assembly on Wednesday.

During the austral summer of 2016/2017, around 44,000 tourists set off for Antarctica, compared with just 9,000 in 1995/1996, according to French authorities.   However, the push for regulation is not about banning tourism, former environmental minister Royal said, but rather about ensuring it is managed in compliance with the treaty and its environmental protection protocol.

In Buenos Aires, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting  -- whose mission is to regulate human activity on the continent -- also sought to encourage scientific cooperation between countries that have collectively set up around 100 research bases across the ice.   Also up for analysis is China's proposed fifth permanent scientific station in Antarctica, which would be located in the Ross Sea area south of New Zealand.
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2017 13:01:49 +0200
By Marlowe HOOD

Paris, July 5, 2017 (AFP) - A chunk of ice bigger than the US state of Delaware is hanging by a thread from the West Antarctic ice shelf, satellite images revealed Wednesday.   When it finally calves from the Larsen C ice shelf, one of the biggest icebergs in recorded history will be set adrift -- some 6,600 square kilometres (2,550 square miles) in total, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

The iceberg's depth below sea level could be as much as 210 metres (almost 700 feet), or about 60 storeys, it said.   "The crack in the ice is now around 200 kilometres (125 miles) long, leaving just five kilometres between the end of the fissure and the ocean," the ESA said in a statement.   "Icebergs calve from Antarctica all the time, but because this one is particularly large its path across the ocean needs to be monitored as it could pose a hazard to maritime traffic."

Scientists tracking the berg's progression expect it to break of within months.    The Larsen C shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its total surface area.   The massive ice cube will float in water and by itself will not add to sea levels when it melts.   The real danger is from inland glaciers.   Ice shelves float on the sea, extending from the coast, and are fed by slow-flowing glaciers from the land.    They act as giant brakes, preventing glaciers from flowing directly into the ocean.   If the glaciers held in check by Larsen C spilt into the Antarctic Ocean, it would lift the global water mark by about 10 centimetres (four inches), researchers have said.

The calving of ice shelves occurs naturally, though global warming is believed to have accelerated the process.   Warming ocean water erodes the underbelly of the ice shelves, while rising air temperatures weaken them from above.   The nearby Larsen A ice shelf collapsed in 1995, and Larsen B dramatically broke up seven years later.   The ESA is keeping an eye on Larsen C with its Copernicus and CryoSat Earth orbiters.

Man-made global warming has already lifted average global air temperatures by about one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial levels.    Antarctica is one of the world's fastest-warming regions.   The world's nations undertook in the Paris Agreement, inked in 2015, to cap average global warming at "well under" 2 C.
Date: Wed, 22 Jun 2016 21:35:09 +0200
By Jean-Louis SANTINI

Washington, June 22, 2016 (AFP) - Two sick workers were evacuated from a remote US research station near the South Pole on Wednesday in a risky rescue mission carried out in the dead of Antarctica's winter, a US official said.   A Twin Otter turboprop plane flew in dark and cold conditions to pick up the workers from the Amundsen-Scott station, about 250 meters from the geographic South Pole, a spokesman for the US National Science Foundation (NSF), Peter West told AFP.

The plane's crew and a medical team had made the 10-hour journey to the South Pole in the middle of Antarctica's 24-hour winter on Tuesday night to reach the unidentified patients, who could not be treated on site.   The NSF -- the US research agency that operates the Amundsen-Scott Station -- organized the rescue mission last week given the condition of the first patient, which was not disclosed for privacy reasons.   "It was really an emergency," West said.   It later became apparent that the second worker also needed to be evacuated.

The sick workers -- employees of the US company Lockheed Martin who worked on base logistics -- were then taken to the Rothera base, a British research station some 2,200 kilometers (about 1,365 miles) away, the spokesman said.   The pair, who were not identified, were then to be transferred to a hospital in South America, West said, without giving further details.   The Amundsen-Scott base was home to 48 people -- 39 men and nine women -- who work on-site throughout the austral winter, which spans February through October.

- Rare rescue mission -
Near the world's southernmost point, workers spend this period withstanding nearly complete darkness and dramatically low temperatures -- on Tuesday, the thermometer dropped to -60 degrees Celsius (-76 degrees Fahrenheit).   It was only the third time that an emergency rescue operation has been launched in the middle of winter.   In 2001, the only doctor at the Amundsen-Scott station was suffering from a life-threatening pancreatic condition and required urgent evacuation. A second medical evacuation was carried out that year.

In 1999, the US station's doctor Jerri Nielsen, who was self-treating her own breast cancer, required medical evacuation but weather conditions were more favorable, as the mission took place in the spring.  The Twin Otter plane, operated by the Canadian company Kenn Borek Air, is specially designed to operate in extremely cold temperatures.

Research projects at the Amundsen-Scott station include monitoring long-term levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.     The station also operates two telescopes that observe "cosmic microwave background" radiation -- the faint light signature left by the Big Bang -- to study the origins of the universe, dark energy and dark matter.
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2014 09:04:56 +0200 (METDST)
by Martin PARRY

SYDNEY, June 18, 2014 (AFP) - Antarctic scientists warned Wednesday that a surge in tourists visiting the frozen continent and new roads and runways built to service research facilities were threatening its fragile environment.   Tourist numbers have exploded from less than 5,000 in 1990 to about 40,000 a year, according to industry figures, and most people go to the fragmented ice-free areas that make up less than one percent of Antarctica.   A growing number of research facilities are also being built, along with associated infrastructure such as fuel depots and runways, in the tiny ice-free zones.

It is these areas which contain most of the continent's wildlife and plants, yet they are among the planet's least-protected, said a study led by the Australian government-funded National Environmental Research Programme (NERP) and the Australian Antarctic Division.   "Many people think that Antarctica is well protected from threats to its biodiversity because it's isolated and no one lives there," said Justine Shaw from the NERP of the study published in the journal PLoS Biology.   "However, we show that there are threats to Antarctic biodiversity.   "Most of Antarctica is covered in ice, with less than one percent permanently ice-free," she added.   "Only 1.5 percent of this ice-free area belongs to Antarctic Specially Protected Areas under the Antarctic Treaty System, yet ice-free land is where the majority of biodiversity occurs."   Five of the distinct ice-free areas have no protection at all while all 55 of the continent's protected zones are close to sites of human activity.

- Fragile ecosystems -
Steven Chown of Monash University, another collaborator in the study, said the ice-free areas contain very simple ecosystems due to Antarctica's low species diversity.   This makes its native wildlife and plants extremely vulnerable to invasion by outside species, which can be introduced by human activity.   "Antarctica has been invaded by plants and animals, mostly grasses and insects, from other continents," he said.    "The very real current and future threats from invasions are typically located close to protected areas.    "Such threats to protected areas from invasive species have been demonstrated elsewhere in the world, and we find that Antarctica is, unfortunately, no exception."

The study said the current level of protection was "inadequate by any measure" with Shaw saying more was needed to guard against the threat posed by the booming tourism industry.   "(We need) to protect a diverse suite of native insects, plants and seabirds, many of which occur nowhere else in the world," she said.   "We also need to ensure that Antarctic protected areas are not going to be impacted by human activities, such as pollution, trampling or invasive species."   Antarctica is considered one of the last frontiers for adventurous travellers.   Most travel by sea, some paying in excess of US$20,000 for a luxury cabin in the peak period from November to March. There is also a healthy market for sightseeing flights.

Approximately 30 nations operate permanent research stations on the continent including the US, China, Russia, Australia, Britain, France and Argentina, and more are on the way.   China's state media said in December that the country was building its fourth base and a fifth was being planned.   Fellow study author Hugh Possingham, from NERP, said that without better protection "this unique and fragile ecosystem could be lost".   "Although we show that the risks to biodiversity from increasing human activity are high, they are even worse when considered together with climate change," he added.    "This combined effect provides even more incentive for a better system of area protection in Antarctica."
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World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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