WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Armenia

Armenia US Consular Information Sheet
January 05, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Armenia is a constitutional republic with a developing economy. Tourist facilities, especially outside Yerevan, the capital, are not highly developed, and many of
he goods and services taken for granted in other countries may be difficult to obtain. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Armenia for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. U.S. citizens may purchase visas in advance for a stay of up to 120 days online at http://www.armeniaforeignministry.am/ for the fee of USD 60; however, this visa is valid only for entry at Zvartnots airport in Yerevan. At this time a visa valid for 120 days may also be obtained upon arrival at the port of entry for the fee of 15,000 Armenian Drams (approx. USD 50). Visas for up to 120 days may be purchased at the Armenian Embassy in Washington, D.C. or the Consulate General in Los Angeles for the fee of USD 69. For further information on entry requirements, contact the Armenian Embassy at 2225 R Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 319-1976 and (202) 319-2983; the Armenian Consulate General in Los Angeles at 50 N. La Cienega Blvd., Suite 210, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, tel. (310) 657-7320, or visit the Armenian Embassy’s web site at http://www.armeniaemb.org for the most current visa information.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
A cease-fire has been in effect since 1994 around the self-proclaimed “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh,” an unrecognized ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan. However, intermittent gunfire along the cease-fire line and along the border with Azerbaijan continues. Because of the existing state of hostilities, consular services are not available to Americans in Nagorno-Karabakh. Travelers should exercise caution near the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and consult the Country Specific Information for Azerbaijan if considering travel to Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian territory. Armenia's land borders with Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan remain closed and continue to be patrolled by armed troops who stop all people attempting to cross. There are still land mines in numerous areas in and near the conflict zones.

Political rallies in the aftermath of the February 2008 presidential elections turned violent. Clashes between government security forces and opposition demonstrators resulted in dozens of casualties, including 10 fatalities, in early March 2008. While the opposition continued to hold periodic protests over the summer and early fall, there have been no violent confrontations since the March events.
Americans should be mindful that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful could turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. American citizens are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.

Armenia is an earthquake- and landslide-prone country. In addition to these natural disasters, there exists the possibility of chlorine gas spills and radiation poisoning due to industrial accidents.
The Soviet-era Armenia Nuclear Power plant is located in Metsamor, approximately 30 kilometers southwest of Yerevan.
Armenia is currently under international pressure to close the plant permanently, due to safety concerns.

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

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. 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: Crime against foreigners is relatively rare in Armenia. Break-ins, particularly of vehicles, and theft are the most common crimes, but there have been instances of violent crime as well.
While the incidence of violent crime remains lower than in most U.S. cities, American citizens are urged to exercise caution and to avoid traveling alone after dark in Yerevan. Several American investors have also reported being involved in disputes over property ownership, and have had to seek legal recourse through a long, and in the majority of cases, unsuccessful court proceeding.
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 U.S. Embassy. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy for assistance. The Embassy 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. For information on assistance in the U.S. including possible compensation, see our Victims of Crime.
The local equivalents to the “911” emergency line in Armenia are: 101 - fire emergency; 102 - police emergency; 103 - medical emergency; and 104 - gas leak.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Though there are many competent physicians in Armenia, medical care facilities are limited, especially outside the major cities. The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of English-speaking physicians in the area. Most prescription medications are available, but the quality varies. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Armenia.

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 Armenia is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Travel in Armenia requires caution. Public transportation, while very inexpensive, may be unreliable and uncomfortable. Travel at night is not recommended, and winter travel can be extremely hazardous in mountain areas and higher elevations.
Travelers should avoid the old highway between the towns of Ljevan and Noyemberyan in the Tavush region, as well as the main highway between the towns of Kirants and Baghanis/Voskevan. The U.S. Embassy has designated this portion of the road off-limits to all U.S. Government personnel because of its proximity to the cease-fire line between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, a line which has seen numerous cease-fire violations over the years.

On weekends, there are an increased number of intoxicated drivers on Armenian roads. American citizens are urged to exercise particular vigilance while traveling on the main highway from Yerevan to the resort areas of Tsaghkadzor and Sevan. Traffic police will attempt to stop individuals driving erratically and dangerously, but police presence outside of Yerevan is limited.

Armenia does have emergency police and medical services, but they may take time to reach remote regions.
With the exception of a few major arteries, primary roads are frequently in poor repair, with sporadic stretches of missing pavement and large potholes. Some roads shown as primary roads on maps are unpaved and can narrow to one lane in width, while some newer road connections have not yet been marked on recently produced maps.
Secondary roads are normally in poor condition and are often unpaved and washed out in certain areas. Street and road signs are poor to nonexistent. Truck traffic is not heavy except on the main roads linking Yerevan to Iran and Georgia, i.e. the roads virtually all travelers need to use when traveling overland to those countries. Minibuses are considered more dangerous than other forms of public transportation. Travelers who choose to ride minibuses should exercise caution because these vehicles are often overcrowded and poorly maintained, commonly lack safety measures including seatbelts, and are frequently involved in accidents.

People driving in Armenia should be aware that “road rage” is becoming a serious and dangerous problem on Armenian streets and highways.
For safety reasons drivers are encouraged to yield to aggressive drivers.
Incidents of physical aggression against drivers and pedestrians have occurred

Though crime along roadways is rare, the police sometimes seek bribes during traffic stops. Drivers in Armenia frequently ignore traffic laws, making roadways unsafe for unsuspecting travelers.
Pedestrians often fail to take safety precautions and those driving in towns at night should be especially cautious. In cities, a pedestrian dressed in black crossing an unlit street in the middle of the block is a common occurrence.

The quality of gasoline in Armenia ranges from good at some of the more reliable stations in cities to very poor. The gasoline and other fuels sold out of jars, barrels, and trucks by independent roadside merchants should be considered very unreliable.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Armenia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Armenia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
Travelers on Armavia International Airways may experience prolonged delays and sudden cancellations of flights. Air travel to Armenia via European carriers is typically more reliable. Ticketed passengers on flights leaving Yerevan should reconfirm their reservations 24 hours prior to departure.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Armenia remains largely a cash-only economy. Credit cards are accepted at some businesses, including major hotels and restaurants in Yerevan, but rarely outside of the capital. Limited facilities exist for cashing traveler's checks and wiring money into the country. There are a number of ATMs in the center of Yerevan. Dollars are readily exchanged at market rates. Travelers may experience problems with local officials seeking bribes to perform basic duties.

Armenian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Armenia of items such as firearms, pornographic materials, medication, and communications equipment. For export of antiquities and other items that could have historical value, such as paintings, carpets, old books, or other artisan goods, a special authorization is required in advance from the Armenian Ministry of Culture. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Armenia in Washington, DC or Consulate General in Los Angeles for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Please see our Customs Information.

Dual Nationals: Changes to Armenian legislation now permit Armenian citizens to hold dual citizenship. This means that U.S. citizens who emigrated from Armenia to the U.S. and subsequently acquired U.S. citizenship without explicitly giving up their Armenian citizenship may be able to (re)acquire Armenian citizenship along with all the associated rights and duties, e.g. the right to vote in Armenian elections and/or the duty for certain males to perform military service. The new law also means that dual citizens need to enter and leave Armenia on their Armenian passport, i.e. they would no longer need an Armenian visa. U.S. citizens interested in obtaining Armenian citizenship must register their dual citizenship with Passport and Visa Department of the Police of the Republic of Armenia (formerly OVIR) by simply presenting proof of their other citizenship (e.g. passport). For more information, please consult with Passport and Visa Department of the Police (tel.: +37410-501439) and/or http://www.armeniaforeignministry.am.

Compulsory Military Service: In addition to being subject to all Armenian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals are also subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Armenian citizens. Male U.S. citizens over the age of 18 who are also considered to be Armenian citizens may be subject to conscription and compulsory military service upon arrival, and to other aspects of Armenian law while in Armenia.
Armenian authorities have regularly detained U.S. citizens on these grounds upon their arrival in or departure from Armenia. In most cases, ethnic Armenian travelers who are accused of evading Armenian military service obligations are immediately detained and later found guilty of draft evasion. Penalties for those convicted are stiff and include jail time or a substantial fine. Those who may be affected are strongly advised to consult with Armenian officials and inquire at an Armenian embassy or consulate to their status before traveling. For additional information on dual nationality, see our dual nationality flyer.
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 offences. Persons violating Armenian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Armenia 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 Armenia 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 Armenia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The American Citizen Services section of the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan maintains a computer terminal in the consular waiting room available to U.S. citizens for registration. The U.S. Embassy provides Internet access to the general public through the American Corners program and through the U.S. Embassy's Information Resource Center. American Corners are located in Yerevan (2 Amiryan Street, tel. +374-10-56-13-83), Gyumri (68 Shirakatsi Street, tel. +374-312-22153), Vanadzor (25, Vardanants Street, tel. +374-322-21672), and Kapan (6, Shahumyan Street, tel. +374-285-22151). By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan is located at 1 American Avenue, tel. +374-10-46-47-00 and fax: +374-10-46-47-42. The Consular Section is open from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., with time reserved for American citizen services from 1:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except for official U.S. Embassy holidays. For more information, see the Embassy's web site at http://yerevan.usembassy.gov/
*
*
*
*
*
*
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 9, 2008 to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 20 Aug 2019, 4:29 PM
Source: Arka News Agency [edited]

Anthrax cases have been reported in Geghhovit community of Armenia's Gegharkunik province, the press office of Armenia's health ministry reported on [Tue 20 Aug 2019]. According to the ministry's press release, 2 residents of the community came to a medical centre in Martuni with sores on their fingers. The patients told doctors that they had taken part in butchering a cow of a fellow villager.

The health ministry has dispatched its experts to the community. As a result of joint efforts with local medical centres' workers, 6 other infected people have been found. All the patients are being treated now, and the community is under medical control now. The Armenian Food Safety Agency has been informed.
===================
[Gegharkunik province is on the eastern border of Armenia and pokes into Azerbaijan; see:
<http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/maps/commonwealth/armenia_pol_2002.jpg>

Geghhovit is south of Sevana Lich (lake); see:

When the dust settled there were 2 initial cutaneous cases subsequent to them butchering a neighbour's cow, which would have been sick or dead. The first report suggests that they might have butchered a number of "cattle" carcasses, though the 2nd report has a single cow. And in due course another 6 villagers came down with cutaneous anthrax as they were sent to the local hospital merely for diagnostic confirmation.

Anthrax is sporadic in Armenia and thus the risks of butchering sick and dead animals are only realised after the onset of human anthrax lesions. And the number of human cases can exceed the indirectly reported livestock cases. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Fri 8 Mar 2019
Source: Nouvelles Armeni Magazine [in French, trans. ProMED Corr SB, abridged, edited]

A 2nd case of measles infection was reported in Armenia on Wednesday [6 Mar 2019], the country's Ministry of Health press office reported. A person infected with this disease arrived on 20 Feb [2019] in Armenia through the territory of Georgia. Clinical symptoms became visible on 25 and 26 Feb [2019], which was initially explained as drug intolerance, but later, on 6 Mar [2019], a laboratory test diagnosed measles disease.

According to the Ministry of Health, the 1st measles infection was reportedly found in Armenia by a Ukrainian citizen who arrived in Yerevan by plane from Kiev on 24 Feb [2019].

The 2 infected people had contact with many people, particularly those in the airport lobby and at the hospital.
17th February 2019

- National. 14 Feb 2019. 57 cases of dengue in Armenia [have been] recorded to date; the figure increased in 2019 compared to the year 2018. The increase in records so far in 2019 is 25.
Date: Sun, 29 Jul 2018 12:23:52 +0200
By Mariam HARUTYUNYAN

Arinj, Armenia, July 29, 2018 (AFP) - When Tosya Gharibyan asked her husband to dig a basement under their house to store potatoes, she had little idea the underground labyrinth he would eventually produce would prove to be one of Armenia's major tourist draws.   Their one-storey house in the village of Arinj outside the capital Yerevan may not look like much but today it brings in visitors from all over the globe after a 23-year labour of love by Tosya's late husband, Levon Arakelyan.   They come to see a twisting network of subterranean caves and tunnels known as "Levon's divine underground."

In the cold and quiet, Tosya leads tourists through corridors that connect seven chambers adorned with Romanesque columns and ornaments like those on the facades of mediaeval Armenian churches.   "Once he started digging, it was impossible to stop him," she said of the project that began in 1995. "I wrangled with him a lot, but he became obsessed with his plan."   A builder by training, Levon would toil for 18 hours a day -- only pausing to take a quick nap and then rush back to the cave, confident that he was being guided "by heaven".   "He never drew up plans and used to tell us that he sees in his dreams what to do next," his widow told AFP.

Over more than two decades he hammered out the 280-square-metre (3,000 square-foot) space, 21 metres deep into strata of volcanic rocks -- only using hand tools.   "My primary childhood recollection is the loud knock of my father's hammer heard at night from the cave," said his 44-year-old daughter Araksya.   At the start he had to break through a surface layer of black basalt, but at the depth of a few metres Levon reached much softer tufa stone and the work progressed.   He pulled out 600 truckloads of rocks and earth, using only hand-held buckets.   Levon died in 2008 at the age of 67 from a heart attack after destroying the last wall that separated two tunnels.

- 'Amazing place' -
A decade on from the project's completion, Tosya also runs a small museum commemorating her husband's work in the village of some 6,000 people.   The underground complex has several analogues in the world.   An eccentric man named William Henry "Burro" Schmidt spent more than three decades digging a half-a-mile tunnel to transport gold through a granite mountain in California, beginning his work in the early 1900s during the state's gold rush.

In Ethiopia a man named Aba Defar began carving churches on a mountainside after claiming divine inspiration from years of dreams.   Today the Armenian cave features prominently in travel brochures, regularly drawing busloads of visitors.   Milad, a 29-year-old Iranian tourist, called the maze an "amazing place".   He said it made him realise just "how boundless the spiritual and physical capabilities of a person can be".
Date: Fri 18 May 2018
Source: Armenpress [edited]

The investigation into a foodborne incident in Armenia's Armavir province continues. The suspected cause -- food poisoning -- has been confirmed through lab tests. Salmonellosis has been discovered in all victims.

63 from the overall 88 victims of the food poisoning have already been treated and discharged. The healthcare ministry says they confirm that the cause was food poisoning. Earlier, the state service for food safety has dispatched agents to Armavir province to probe the suspected food poisoning incident in the plant of Tierras de Armenia, a viticulture and winemaker known for its Karas wines. Earlier, doctors said they suspected the cause of the poisoning to be a lunchtime snack, which all of the employees consumed in the cafeteria of the plant.

Agents have taken samples from the facility and sent them for laboratory analysis. Food safety agents also ceased the operation of a businesswoman's food supply business in relation to the incident as a precaution. The businesswoman, Alvina Melkonyan, supplied Tierras de Armenia with lunch-time food on the day when the incident happened. A company, who in turn is supplying Melkonyan, is also under investigation. All patients are in satisfactory states, doctors say.

The likely cause of the mass poisoning in Armavir province is thought to be lunch-time snacks containing chicken, cheese and potatoes, which the victims have consumed in the cafeteria of the plant, a doctor of the Armavir medical center told Armenpress. Earlier, it was unclear whether the poisoning was food-related.
======================
[The specific food is not yet stated, but chicken is a common vehicle, either undercooked or cross-contaminated after cooking. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Armavir Province, Armenia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/46276>]
More ...

Bermuda

Bermuda US Consular Information Sheet
March 10, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Bermuda is a highly developed British overseas territory with a stable democracy and modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available. Read the Department of
tate Background Notes on Bermuda for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Travelers may contact the British Consulate in New York, telephone (212) 745-0273/3206/0281, or the British Consulate in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, or San Francisco or the Bermuda Department of Immigration.

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

Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted and have been in full production since July 2008.
The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the passport card and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site.
We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel.
American citizens can visit our web site or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.

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:
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, 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:
Bermuda has a moderate but growing crime rate. Recent crime statistics can be viewed at the official web site of the Bermuda Police Service.
Examples of common crimes include theft of unattended baggage and items from rental motorbikes, purse snatching (often perpetrated against pedestrians by thieves riding motorbikes), mugging, and theft from hotel rooms. Valuables left in hotel rooms (occupied and unoccupied) or left unattended in public areas are vulnerable to theft. The Consulate regularly receives reports of thefts of money, valuables, and passports and advises that travelers keep their hotel windows and doors locked at all times. Criminals often target transportation systems and popular tourist attractions.

Travelers should exercise caution when walking after dark or visiting out-of-the-way places on the island, as they can be vulnerable to theft and sexual assault, and because narrow and dark roadways can contribute to accidents.
In the past, there have been incidents of sexual assault and acquaintance rape; the use of “date rape” drugs such as Rohypnol has been reported in the media and confirmed by local authorities. Travelers should also note an increase in gang presence in Bermuda and should take regular precautions to avoid confrontation. The back streets of Hamilton are often the setting for nighttime assaults, particularly after the bars close.

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.

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 Bermuda laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bermuda 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.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against taking any type of firearm or ammunition into Bermuda.
Entering Bermuda with a firearm, some kinds of knives or even a single round of ammunition is illegal, even if the weapon or ammunition is taken into the country unintentionally.
The Bermudian government strictly enforces its laws restricting the entry of firearms and ammunition.
Permission to import or own a gun in Bermuda must be sought in advance from the Bermuda Police Service. Any privately owned firearms must be secured at Bermuda Police Headquarters. Violations may result in arrests, convictions, and long prison sentences.

ATMs are widely available in Bermuda. Local banks may not accept checks drawn on U.S. accounts, but some Front Street stores catering to the tourist trade will accept U.S. checks as payment. The local American Express office will cash U.S. checks up to $500.00 for a three-percent fee. Credit cards are widely accepted at all establishments.
U.S. citizens who are taking prescription medication must inform Bermuda customs officials at the point of entry. Medicines must be in labeled containers. Travelers should carry a copy of the written prescription and a letter from the physician or pharmacist confirming the reason the medicine is prescribed.

Bermuda customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Bermuda of items such as animals, arms, ammunition and explosives, building sand, crushed rock, gravel, peat and synthetic potting media, foodstuffs (animal origin), fumigating substances, gaming machines, historic articles (relating to Bermuda), lottery advertisements and material, motorcycles, motor vehicles, obscene publications, organotin anti-fouling paint, plants, plant material, fruits and vegetables (living or dead, including seeds), pesticides, prescription drugs, prohibited publications, seditious publications, soil, VHF radios, radar and citizens band (CB) radios. For additional information on temporary admission, export and customs regulations and tariffs, please contact Bermuda Customs at telephone 1-441-295-4816, by email, or visit the Bermuda Customs web site.

The emergency number in Bermuda for police, fire, and medical assistance is 911.
Please see our Customs Information.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:. Good medical care is available, though extremely expensive. The hospital performs general surgery and has an intensive care unit. Serious or complex medical problems will likely require medical evacuation to the United States. Most Bermudian health care providers (including the local hospitals) do not accept overseas insurance and will expect payment at the time of service.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Bermuda.
However, visitors with visible indicators of any communicable disease can be refused entry into Bermuda.
Foreign residents who test positive for TB are required to submit x-rays before approval is granted for them to reside in Bermuda.

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

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

Traffic in Bermuda moves on the left side of the road and the roads are very narrow, often with no defined shoulder. The maximum speed limit in the city of Hamilton is 25 kph (15 mph) and 35 kph (21 mph) on the rest of the island. Under Bermudian law, non-residents are not allowed to own, rent, or drive four-wheeled vehicles. Non-residents must rely on taxis, the excellent local bus system, or motor scooters. Traffic is moderate, but road accidents - particularly involving motorbikes - are common and often result in serious injuries or death.

Rental motor scooters are readily available, and the required helmet is provided. However, visitors should carefully consider whether or not it is worth the risk to ride a scooter. Motor scooters provide the greatest road peril in Bermuda; local operators tend to abuse the speed limit more than other drivers, and they will often pass on the left or right with no warning. Those unfamiliar with driving on the left are likely to find the roundabouts and regulations for yielding at junctions confusing and dangerous. In addition, vehicles often stop on the side of the road, blocking one lane of traffic. Main roads, while generally in good condition, are extremely narrow and tend to be bordered by heavy vegetation or low stone walls. Travelers who rent scooters should be aware that scooter accidents involving visitors are relatively common, and they can be fatal or involve serious injuries.

Taxis are readily available. The local bus system, which is excellent and relatively inexpensive, services the length of the island and stops close to most beaches, hotels, the downtown shopping area, and other points of interest. In addition, water ferry service to a variety of stops around the island is available seven days a week, and is a very safe and enjoyable mode of transportation.

For specific information concerning Bermuda driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Bermuda Department of Tourism offices at 310 Madison Avenue, Suite 201, New York, NY, telephone (212) 818-9800.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
You may also visit Bermuda’s Ministry of Tourism and Transportation online.

Emergency services may be called at 911, and response time is generally good.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Bermuda’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Bermuda’s air carrier operations.

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 Bermuda are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Bermuda.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Consulate General is located at Crown Hill, 16 Middle Road, Devonshire DV03, and telephone 1-441-295-1342. Office hours for American Citizens Services are 1:30-3:30 Monday-Wednesday and 8:30-10:30 on Thursdays, except Bermudian and U.S. holidays. American citizens in need of after-hours emergency assistance may call the duty officer at telephone 1-441-335-3828. The Consulate General’s American Citizen Services office provides routine information online.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Bermuda dated 23 June 2008, to update sections on entry/exit requirements, crime, information for victims of crime, special circumstances and medical facilities & health information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 03:56:31 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Humberto strengthened to a major Category 3 storm on Tuesday and was expected to pass near Bermuda, threatening it with dangerous waves and heavy rain, the US National Hurricane Center said.   "Hurricane conditions are expected to reach Bermuda by Wednesday night and continue into early Thursday morning," the Miami-based NHC said.   "Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or so, but Humberto should remain a powerful hurricane through Thursday," it said.   As of 8:00 pm (0000 GMT), the storm had maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) and was moving east-northeast at 12 miles per hour.
Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2014 15:04:20 +0200 (METDST)

WASHINGTON, Oct 16, 2014 (AFP) - Hurricane Gonzalo gained strength overnight into Thursday as it barrelled in the Atlantic toward Bermuda, which was bracing for a hit from the powerful Category Four storm.   Gonzalo's winds were whirling at 140 miles (220 kilometres) per hour, taking it back up a notch on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, The US National Hurricane Center said.    It was expected to pass Friday near Bermuda, which could see flooding along the coast. A hurricane warning was in effect for the British overseas territory.

At 1200 GMT, it was located about 525 miles (225 kilometres) south-southwest of the Bermudian archipelago. It was moving north at nine miles per hour, according to the Miami-based NHC.   "This general motion is expected to continue today," the NHC said.   "A turn toward the north-northeast and an increase in forward speed are expected tonight and Friday."   But the forecasters stressed that major hurricanes like Gonzalo tend to fluctuate in strength.    The storm could weaken later Thursday and on Friday, but Gonzalo is on track to be a "dangerous hurricane" when it moves near Bermuda, the NHC said.

The NHC noted that elevated and hilly terrain could face especially strong winds, since wind speeds atop and on the windward sides can often be up to 30 percent stronger than at the surface.   "A dangerous storm surge is expected to produce significant coastal flooding in Bermuda," the NHC said.   "Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves."   Up to six inches (15 centimetres) of rain were expected over Bermuda.   Large swells triggered by Gonzalo were already affecting parts of the Virgin Islands, the northern coast of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, as well as portions of the Bahamas.

Swells were expected to reach much of the US East Coast and Bermuda later Thursday.   "These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions," the NHC said.   Three people were reported missing in the islands of St Martin and St Barthelemy after the storm passed, and French authorities expressed concern about four other people they were trying to contact.   The storm caused property damage on both islands, which were battered by strong winds and heavy rains.

- Seventh storm of the season -
Gonzalo is the seventh storm of the Atlantic season -- which stretches from June to November -- and the third hurricane to slam the Caribbean this year.    Hurricane Cristobal left at least four people dead in late August when it trashed the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands and Dominican Republic with heavy rains causing serious flooding.     The NHC predicted that storm activity will be lower than average this year.
Date: Wed, 27 Aug 2014 01:09:20 +0200 (METDST)

MIAMI, Aug 26, 2014 (AFP) - Strengthening Hurricane Cristobal killed at least four people in the Caribbean and then trained its deadly sights Tuesday on the holiday paradise of Bermuda, officials and meteorologists said.   The storm dumped torrential rain on the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands and Dominican Republic, triggering flooding and killing four people, authorities there said.

Cristobal was packing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120 kilometres) per hour, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest forecast, at 2100 GMT.   It was moving north towards Bermuda at 10 miles per hour, the NHC said, warning its impact was also being felt in the United States.   "The centre of Cristobal is expected to pass northwest of Bermuda on Wednesday and Wednesday night," the NHC said.   It added: "Swells generated by Cristobal are affecting portions of the United States coast from central Florida northward to North Carolina and will spread northwards later this week."

A tropical storm watch was already in effect for Bermuda, forecasters said, meaning inclement conditions were possible in the next 24 hours.   Cristobal, a category one hurricane, is the third hurricane of the Atlantic storm season.   It comes hot on the heels of Hurricane Marie, which briefly reached the highest possible category five destructive power but was weakening in the Pacific off Mexico.   Marie's crashing waves over the weekend caused a fishing vessel to capsize, with three of its occupants still missing and presumed dead.
Date: Tue, 26 Aug 2014 10:34:53 +0200 (METDST)

WASHINGTON, Aug 26, 2014 (AFP) - Hurricane Cristobal churned slowly toward Bermuda on Tuesday after dumping rain on the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, US forecasters said.   The storm was due to pass west and north of Bermuda on Wednesday, the US National Hurricane Center said.   Cristobal was packing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120 kilometre) per hour as it whirled some 655 miles southwest of Bermuda.

A turn to the northeast with a gradual increase in forward speed is forecast to occur over the next 48 hours, an NHC bulletin said.   A tropical storm watch was in effect for Bermuda.   Meanwhile, Hurricane Marie was pounding heavy waves into Mexico's Pacific coast, where three fishermen went missing after their boat capsized.   An estimated 10,000 families were affected by the storm as it flooded homes, damaged roads and caused rivers to overflow their banks.   The storm weakened to a category three hurricane on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale late Monday.   No coastal watches or warnings were in effect.
Date: Wed, 11 Sep 2013 00:14:11 +0200 (METDST)

MIAMI, Florida, Sept 10, 2013 (AFP) - Bermuda braced Tuesday for Tropical Storm Gabrielle, as US forecasters warned it was strengthening and on track to hit or closely pass by the popular vacation spot.   Meanwhile, fellow Tropical Storm Humberto, churning far off land in the Atlantic, appeared on the cusp of becoming a hurricane.

Packing maximum sustained winds near 70 miles per hour (110 kilometers per hour), Humberto was about 245 miles (400 kilometers) west of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands, the National Hurricane Center said.   "Humberto (is) almost a hurricane," it said in a 2100 GMT advisory, adding the storm could surge to hurricane force either later Tuesday or Wednesday.   However, no coastal watches or warnings were in effect.

Gabrielle, with maximum sustained winds near 60 miles per hour (96 km/h), was some 55 miles (88.5 km) south of Bermuda, according to a separate 2100 GMT advisory from the Miami-based center.   "Gabrielle is expected to pass over or near Bermuda in the next few hours," the forecasters said.   Winds have already picked up on Bermuda as Gabrielle -- which could strengthen further over the next 48 hours -- approaches, they added.    A tropical storm warning was in effect for the tourist haven, which could see up to six inches (15 centimeters) of rainfall and storm surges of two to three feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters) above normal.
More ...

Costa Rica

Costa Rica - US Consular Information Sheet
June 05, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing country with a strong democratic tradition.
Tourist facilities are extensive and generally adequate.
The capi
al is San Jose.
English is a second language for many Costa Ricans.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Costa Rica for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
For entry into Costa Rica, U.S. citizens must present valid passports that will not expire for at least thirty days after arrival, and a roundtrip/outbound ticket.
Some U.S. airlines may not permit passengers to board flights to Costa Rica without such a ticket.
Passports should be in good condition; Costa Rican immigration will deny entry if the passport is damaged in any way.
Costa Rican authorities generally permit U.S. citizens to stay up to ninety days; to stay beyond the period granted, travelers must submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration.
Tourist visas are usually not extended except under special circumstances, and extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
There is a departure tax for short-term visitors.
Tourists who stay over ninety days may experience a delay at the airport when departing.
Persons who overstayed previously may be denied entry to Costa Rica.
Persons traveling to Costa Rica from some countries in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa must provide evidence of a valid yellow fever vaccination prior to entry.
The South American countries include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
See “SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES” for information on requirements to carry documentation within Costa Rica and on travel by dual national minors.


The most authoritative and up-to-date information on Costa Rican entry and exit requirements may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2114 “S” Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 234-2945/46 , fax (202) 265-4795 , e-mail consulate@costarica-embassy.org, web site http://www.costarica-embassy.org, or from the Costa Rican consulates in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Juan (Puerto Rico), San Francisco, and Tampa.
The Costa Rican immigration agency web site is http://www.migracion.go.cr.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington or one of Costa Rica's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements before shipping any items.
Visit the Embassy of Costa Rica web site at http://www.costarica-embassy.org for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
There have been no recent acts of terrorism in Costa Rica.
Visitors to Costa Rica may experience the effects of civil disturbances such as work stoppages and strikes.
Although infrequent, these acts can create inconveniences for visitors.
On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, currents are swift and dangerous, and there are few lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches.
Every year eight to twelve American citizens drown in Costa Rica due to riptides or sudden drop-offs while in shallow water.
Extreme caution is advised.

Adventure tourism is popular in Costa Rica, and many companies offer white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours, deep sea diving, and other outdoor attractions.
Americans are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies.
The government of Costa Rica regulates and monitors the safety of adventure tourism companies; enforcement of safety laws is overseen by the Ministry of Health.
Registered tourism companies with operating permits must meet safety standards and have insurance coverage.
The safety regulations enforced in Costa Rica are not the same as safety regulations enforced in the United States.

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:
Over one and a half million foreign tourists, the majority American, visit Costa Rica annually.
All are potential targets for criminals, primarily thieves looking for cash, jewelry, credit cards, electronic items and passports.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world.
Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to U.S. standards.
Travelers should minimize driving at night, especially outside urban areas.

Americans should avoid areas with high concentrations of bars and nightclubs, especially at night, and steer clear of deserted properties or undeveloped land.
For safety reasons, the Embassy does not place its official visitors in hotels in the San Jose city center, but instead puts them at the larger hotels in the outlying suburbs.
Americans should walk or exercise with a companion, bearing in mind that crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are common venues for criminal activities.
Travelers should ignore any verbal harassment, and avoid carrying passports, large amounts of cash, jewelry or expensive photographic equipment.
Tourists are encouraged to carry photocopies of the passport data page and Costa Rican entry stamp on their persons, and leave the original passport in a hotel safe or other secure place.
Costa Rican immigration authorities conduct routine immigration checks at locations, such as bars in downtown San Jose and beach communities, frequented by illegal immigrants.
American citizens detained during one of these checks who have only a copy of the passport will be required to provide the original passport with appropriate stamps.



Travelers should purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance when renting vehicles, park in secured lots whenever possible, and never leave valuables in the vehicle.
The U.S. Embassy receives several reports daily of valuables, identity documents, and other items stolen from locked vehicles, primarily rental cars.
Thefts from parked cars occur in downtown San Jose, at beaches, in the airport and bus station parking lots, and at national parks and other tourist attractions.
Travelers should use licensed taxis, which are red with medallions (yellow triangles containing numbers) painted on the side.
Licensed taxis at the airport are painted orange.
All licensed taxis should have working door handles, locks, seatbelts and meters (called "marias"); passengers are required to use seatbelts.
When traveling by bus, avoid putting bags or other personal belongings in the storage bins.
At all times have your belongings in your line of sight or in your possession.

Thieves usually work in groups of two to four.
A common scam has one person drop change in a crowded area, such as on a bus, and when the victim tries to assist, a wallet or other item is taken.
The most prevalent
scam involves the surreptitious puncturing of tires of rental cars, often near restaurants, tourist attractions, airports, or close to the car rental agencies themselves.
When the travelers pull over, "good Samaritans" quickly appear to change the tire - and just as quickly remove valuables from the car, sometimes brandishing weapons.
Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if at all possible, to the nearest service station or other public area, and change the tire themselves, watching valuables at all times.
In late 2006, the government of Costa Rica established a Tourist Police force, and units were established in popular tourist areas throughout the country.
The Tourist Police can assist with the reporting of a crime, which can be difficult for victims due to language barriers and the requirement that only investigative police can accept crime reports.

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 care in San Jose is adequate, but is limited in areas outside of San Jose.
Most prescription and over-the-counter medications are available throughout Costa Rica.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States.
A list of local doctors and medical facilities can be found at the website of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, at http://sanjose.usembassy.gov.
An ambulance may be summoned by calling 911.
Most ambulances provide transportation but little or no medical assistance.
The best-equipped ambulances are called “unidad avanzada.”
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/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 Costa Rica is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Costa Rica has one of the highest vehicle accident rates in the world.
The fatality rate for pedestrians and those riding bicycles and motorcycles is disproportionately high.
Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored, turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, turn signals are rarely used, passing on dangerous stretches of highway is common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way.
Roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common.
Pedestrians, cyclists, and farm animals may use the main roads.
Traffic signs, even on major highways, are inadequate and few roads are lined.
Shoulders are narrow or consist of drainage ditches.
All of the above, in addition to poor visibility due to heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous.
Landslides are common in the rainy season.
All types of motor vehicles are appropriate for the main highways and principal roads in the major cities.
However, some roads to beaches and other rural locations are not paved, and many destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension four-wheel drive vehicles.
Travelers are advised to call ahead to their hotels to ask about the current status of access roads.
Costa Rica has a 911 system for reporting emergencies.
In the event of a traffic accident, vehicles must/must be left where they are.
Both the Transito (Traffic Police) and the Insurance Investigator must make accident reports before the vehicles are moved.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of Costa Rica’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mopt.go.cr and www.visitecostarica.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Costa Rica’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Costa Rica’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Land Ownership and Shoreline Property: U.S. citizens are urged to use caution when making real estate purchases, and consult reputable legal counsel and investigate thoroughly all aspects before entering into a contract.
Coastal land within fifty meters of the high tide line is open to the public and therefore closed to development, and construction on the next one hundred fifty meters inland is possible only with the approval of the local municipality.

Squatters: Organized squatter groups have invaded properties in various parts of the country.
These squatter groups, often supported by politically active persons and non-governmental organizations, take advantage of legal provisions that allow people without land to gain title to unused agricultural property.
Local courts may show considerable sympathy for the squatters.
Victims of squatters have reported threats, harassment, and violence.
Documentation Requirements: Visitors are required to carry appropriate documentation at all times.
However, due to the high incidence of passport theft, tourists are permitted and encouraged to carry photocopies of the datapage and entry stamp from the passport, leaving the passport in a hotel safe or other secure place.
However, as noted under CRIME, Costa Rican immigration authorities conduct routine checks for illegal immigrants, especially in bars located in downtown San Jose and in beach communities.
An American citizen detained during one of these checks and carrying only the copy of the passport will be required to produce the original passport.
Tourists should consider carrying their passports when traveling overnight or a considerable distance from their hotel.
Tourists who carry passports are urged to place them securely in an inside pocket.

Exit Procedures for Costa Rican Citizens: Costa Rican children may only depart the country upon presentation of an exit permit issued by immigration authorities.
This policy, designed to prevent international child abduction, applies to dual national U.S./Costa Rican citizens.
Parents of minors who obtained Costa Rican citizenship through a parent or through birth in Costa Rica are advised to consult with appropriate Costa Rican authorities prior to travel to Costa Rica, especially if one (or both) parent(s) is not accompanying the child.



Disaster Preparedness: Costa Rica is located in an earthquake and volcanic zone.
Serious flooding occurs annually on the Caribbean side near the port city of Limon, but flooding occurs in other parts of Costa Rica as well, depending on the time of year and rainfall.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

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 Costa Rica’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Costa Rica.
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 in Pavas, San Jose, and may be reached at (506) 2519-2000; the extension for the Consular Section is 2453.
The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and is closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays.
Those seeking information are strongly encouraged to utilize the embassy web site http://sanjose.usembassy.gov/, and can email consularsanjose@state.gov with any questions/concerns.
For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call (506) 2220-3127 and ask for the duty officer.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Costa Rica dated August 15, 2007, to update sections on Registration/Embassy Location and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 25 Oct 2019
From: Donald J. Brightsmith <dbrightsmith@cvm.tamu.edu> [edited]

There have been 37 cases of autochthonous transmission of malaria in 2019 as reported by the Costa Rican Ministry of Health (<https://www.ministeriodesalud.go.cr/index.php/vigilancia-de-la-salud/analisis-de-situacion-de-salud>). The ministry also reports 39 cases of malaria in country that were likely contracted in foreign countries, mostly in Nicaragua.

The autochthonous cases came mostly from the northern part of the country in the district of Crucitas, but cases were also reported from other areas of the country.
---------------------------------------------------
Donald J. Brightsmith
University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX
=============================
[ProMed thanks Dr. Donald J. Brightsmith for communicating this to us.

This is a comment from the WHO website, "Costa Rica: 'Ripe' for malaria elimination?"

"Costa Rica is one of 21 countries identified by WHO as having the potential to eliminate malaria by 2020. Its success in bringing down cases of indigenous malaria -- that is, transmission of the malaria parasite within a country's own borders -- has been commendable, so much so that it has received an award from the Pan American Health Organization in recognition of the strides made. Notably, no one has died from malaria since 2009.

"However, after recording 3 consecutive years of zero indigenous cases between 2013 and 2015, local transmission of the disease has slowly been creeping upwards: 4 cases in 2016 and 12 in 2017. Of equal concern is imported malaria: To date, 21 such cases have been detected in 2018, up from 5 for all of 2017.

"In June 2018, the Costa Rican Ministry of Health issued a public health alert following the reporting of 10 imported malaria cases in just one week in the country's northern region bordering malaria-endemic Nicaragua. The Ministry is working to quickly identify and treat imported cases to prevent onward transmission to local communities in high-risk zones of the country. The areas of concern are mainly agricultural sites, like banana plantations.

"One such area is the canton of Matina, home to some of Costa Rica's largest plantations that grow the yellow fruit. Situated next to a major port on the Caribbean Sea, the canton's agricultural produce is shipped to markets worldwide, making Matina an important economic hub.

"Although Matina is far from the area of the recent alert, and no cases of malaria have been reported this year, all 4 indigenous cases reported in 2016 originated from the canton, as well as 2 of the 12 indigenous cases in 2017. Health authorities are not taking any chances and are working with the canton's fincas bananeras (banana plantations) to step up malaria surveillance activities, particularly among plantation workers and nearby communities." - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Sun, 21 Jul 2019 00:04:32 +0200

San José, July 20, 2019 (AFP) - Alcohol tainted with potentially toxic levels of methanol has killed 19 people in Costa Rica, where authorities issued an alert against drinking some half-dozen brands.   The Ministry of Health issued the national warning Friday while also updating the death toll.   Of 34 people who have been poisoned, 14 men and five women, age 32 to 72, have died since the first week of June, the ministry said.   Authorities warned that it was not known how much alcohol had been adulterated, but have confiscated some 30,000 bottles and are carrying out a countrywide investigation.

The doctored alcohol contained between 30 to 50 percent methanol, according to Donald Corella, head of emergency services at Calderon Guardia Hospital in San Jose, who was quoted in the daily La Nacion.   He said six people who were treated at his hospital had died, while four others survived but suffered "very serious after-effects" ranging from irreversible total blindness to brain lesions that cause tremors similar to Parkinson's disease.   If ingested in large quantities, methanol can cause blindness, liver damage and death.   According to authorities, the majority of the 19 deaths occurred among homeless and alcoholic individuals.
Date: Wed, 26 Jun 2019 10:01:43 +0200

San José, June 26, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit the Panama-Costa Rica border around midnight on Tuesday, the US Geological Survey said, revising earlier warnings of "significant damage", as the tremor cut power supplies near the epicentre.   The quake struck at a depth of 26 kilometres (16 miles), about two kilometres from the nearest town of Progreso in Panama, USGS said, updating a previous alert that estimated the depth at 10 kilometres.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, and USGS said "the impact should be relatively localized", reversing an earlier advisory that "past events with this alert level have required a regional or national level response."   "Estimated economic losses are less than 1 percent of GDP of Panama," the website said.   According to the National Seismological Network (RSN) in Costa Rica, the quake struck at 0523 GMT Wednesday (11.23 pm Tuesday) with its epicentre located 11 kilometres east of the Panamanian border town of Puerto Armuelles.

The tremor was felt in Costa Rica's capital San Jose and in many parts of the Central American country, according to initial reports, but the national tsunami warning system said there was no risk of a tsunami.   Villagers in the south of Costa Rica fled their homes, fearing aftershocks. Two houses in the region were damaged by the quake, said Alexander Solis, president of the country's National Emergency Commission.

Costa Rica's President Carlos Alvarado said there were power cuts in several communities in the southwest of the country, near the epicentre.   In November 2017 a 6.5-magnitude quake on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica caused buildings to sway in San Jose and contributed to the deaths of two people who had heart attacks.   Further north, two months earlier a 7.1-magnitude earthquake killed more than 300 people in Mexico.
Date: Mon 20 Jan 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]
<http://outbreaknewstoday.com/costa-rica-health-officials-investigate-hepatitis-surge-puntarenas-28003/>

Health officials in Costa Rica continue to investigate the hepatitis A outbreak reported in the province of Puntarenas where 33 cases have been reported during the 1st 11 days of 2019, according to the [health ministry] (computer translated). Cases have been primarily reported in the following districts: Barranca (10), Oak (8), and Chacarita (7). Officials announced last week [week of 14 Jan 2019] that contaminated water has been ruled out by laboratory analysis and the epidemiologists now aim to confirm as a source of contamination the poor hygiene in the preparation of food products and the presence of faecal coliforms (faeces) in the food.

After confirmation of the cases, the Ministry of Health issued a health alert to intervene and activate the health protocols in the active surveillance of new cases, both in the health services and in the population close to the suspects. In addition, urgent actions are taken in health services, protection of water sources for consumption, and dissemination of prevention measures for the population. The Regional Directorates of the CCSS [Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social/Costa Rican Social Security Fund] and the Ministry of Health intensified health promotion and prevention activities, using all local means of communication to inform the population about the disease, existing cases, hygiene measures in preparation and handling of food, and personal hygiene measures for the prevention of Hepatitis A.

The Director of Health Surveillance, Dr Rodrigo Mara­n, vehemently calls the people of Barranca, Chacarita, and El Roble to take measures to prevent and avoid new cases: "Self-care and food safety are the more effective measures to combat hepatitis A. Self-care refers, in this case, to proper personal hygiene practices such as proper and regular hand washing," said Mara­n.
=====================
[The cases are not broken down in regard to age. In children, most cases of HAV infection are subclinical so it is likely that the cases reported were in adults. In the developing world, HAV is not reported much in adults as most children have been infected, and therefore immune to subsequent infection, by the age of 10. That outbreaks are occurring in the area suggests improvement in potable water so less children are infected and therefore still susceptible to HAV as adults. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Costa Rica: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/43112>]
Date: Wed, 5 Dec 2018 18:04:53 +0100

San José, Dec 5, 2018 (AFP) - A fingerprint test has confirmed the murder of a Venezuelan-born American tourist who had been missing for over a week, police said Wednesday.   The body found in the mountainous area of San Antonio de Escazu, southwest of the capital, where the tourist was staying, "is that of Carla Lucia Stefaniak, 36, who had been reported missing," the Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ) said.   The body, exhibiting stab wounds and a severe blow to the head, was found on Monday near Stefaniak's hotel, OIJ chief Walter Espinoza said.   Her identity was confirmed after the US Federal Bureau of Investigation sent fingerprints that were compared to those of the body.

Nicaraguan national Bismarck Espinoza Martinez, 32, was arrested as a suspect in the homicide. He will be held in preventive detention for three months while the case is being investigated, prosecutors said.    "Words cannot express the devastation within her family and friends. We want the world to know that we will never forget Carla," the victim's family said on a dedicated Facebook page, "Finding Carla."    "We will never forget the joy she brought into our lives, how much she made us laugh. We will always be with her and we know she will always be with us."   Stefaniak's father, Carlos Caicedo, was able to view the body late Tuesday, when he identified it as his daughter's.   The murder was a fresh blow to Costa Rica's image as a tourist destination, after a Mexican tourist and one from Spain were killed in separate incidents in August.
More ...

Macedonia

Macedonia US Consular Information Sheet
August 15, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Macedonia is a parliamentary democracy that is steadily transforming its economy. Tourist facilities are available in the capital, Skopje, and other major towns.
In tourist centers, such as Skopje and Ohrid, European-standard hotels and other travel amenities are available, while the standard of facilities throughout the rest of the country varies considerably. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Macedonia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Short trip for business or tourism:
A valid passport is required for travel to Macedonia.
A visa is not required for U.S. passport holders for tourist and business trips up to 90 days during a six-month period.
Entry stamps are issued at airports or land border crossing points, which grant permission to remain 90 days.
All foreign citizens must register with local police within 24 hours of arrival.
Those staying in private accommodation or renting an apartment should register in person at the police station nearest his/her place of residence, and should be accompanied to the station by the owner or landlord of the apartment.
Hotels are responsible for the registration of foreign guests.
If the foreigner changes address in Macedonia, he or she should notify the police station where s/he initially registered and reregister with the police station closest to the new place of residence.

An unaccompanied minor U.S. citizen who enters Macedonia should be in possession of a parental or guardian statement of consent to enter and stay in the country.
The statement of consent must be certified by a competent authority of the country from which s/he arrives or by a diplomatic or consular mission of the Republic of Macedonia abroad.

NOTE:
A U.S. citizen who possesses more than one passport is required to leave the country with the travel document used for entry into the country.

Temporary residence:
Individuals intending to work, study or remain longer then 90 (ninety) days in Macedonia, must obtain an entry visa prior to their arrival in Macedonia.
The practice of switching from tourist status to long-term status when already in Macedonia is no longer allowed.
Those wanting to do so must leave Macedonia and apply for a long-term visa at a Macedonian Embassy of Consulate.
Macedonian visas, as opposed to entry stamps, can only be issued at a Macedonian Embassy or Consulate in a foreign country.

American citizens resident in the United States may apply at:
Macedonian Embassy in Washington D.C.2129 Wyoming Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, Tel: (202) 667-0501; Fax: (202) 667-2131;
E-mail: washington@mfa.gov.mk; usoffice@macedonianembassy.org, Website: http://www.macedonianembassy.org.

The passport should be valid for at least three months longer than the validity of the visa.
For additional information about the conditions and procedures for visa issuance, the applicant should contact the Embassy or Consulate of the Republic of Macedonia.
Using the list of diplomatic and consular missions of the Republic of Macedonia abroad (which can be found at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website at www.mfa.gov.mk), a visa applicant can choose the most convenient Embassy/Consulate to the submit the visa application.

Travelers should be aware that all
border areas apart from designated border crossings are restricted zones. Presence in these zones is forbidden without prior official permission.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The security situation in Macedonia is stable, although occasional criminal violence does occur. Americans should avoid areas with demonstrations, strikes, or roadblocks where large crowds are gathered, 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 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: Crime in Macedonia is low by U.S. standards, and violent crime against Americans is rare. Pickpocketing, theft, and other petty street crimes do occur, however, particularly in areas where tourists and foreigners congregate. American travelers are advised to take the same precautions against becoming crime victims as they would in any U.S. city. Valuables, including cell phones and electronic items, should not be left in plain view in unattended vehicles. Windows and doors should be securely locked when residences are not occupied. Organized crime is present in Macedonia; organized criminal activity occasionally results in violent confrontations between members of rival organizations. ATM use is safe, as long as standard safety precautions are taken.
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 a victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to the local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Macedonia is:
police 192 and ambulance 194
If you are outside the city of Skopje you need to dial 02 first.

For additional assistance see our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Although many Macedonian physicians are trained to a high standard, and a number of well-equipped private clinics are available especially in Skopje, most public hospitals and clinics are not equipped and maintained at U.S. or Western European standards. Basic medical supplies are usually available, but specialized treatment may not be obtainable. Travelers with previously diagnosed medical conditions may wish to consult their physician before travel.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of [country]. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/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 Macedonia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Driving safely in Macedonia requires excellent defensive driving skills. Many drivers routinely ignore speed limits and other traffic regulations, such as stopping for red lights and stop signs. Drivers may make illegal left turns from the far right lane, or drive into oncoming lanes of traffic. The combination of speeding, unsafe driving practices, poor vehicle maintenance, the mixture of new and old vehicles on the roads, and poor lighting contributes to unsafe driving conditions. Pedestrians should exercise extreme caution when crossing the street, even when using crosswalks, as local drivers rarely slow down or stop for pedestrians.

A valid U.S. driver’s license in conjunction with an International Driving Permit is required for Americans driving in Macedonia. Driving is on the right side of the road. Speed limits are generally posted. Most major highways are in good repair, but many secondary urban and rural roads are poorly maintained and lit. Horse-drawn carts, livestock, dead animals, rocks, or other objects are sometimes found in the roadway. Some vehicles are old and lack standard front or rear lights. Secondary mountain roads can be narrow and poorly marked, lack guardrails, and quickly become dangerous in inclement weather. Overall, public transportation in Macedonia is dilapidated. Roadside emergency services are limited.
In case of emergency, drivers may contact the police at telephone 192, the Ambulance Service at telephone 194, and Roadside Assistance at telephone 196.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Macedonia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Macedonia’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://faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Macedonian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation to or exportation from Macedonia of certain items, including items deemed to be of historical value or significance. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. Visitors should always observe “no photographing” signs. If in doubt, please ask permission before taking photographs.

The local currency is the denar. While credit cards are accepted in larger stores and restaurants, cash in local currency is advised for purchases in small establishments.

Upon entry into Macedonia, every foreigner must declare all cash amounts of foreign currency greater than EUR 2,000 at the Customs Control Office. Failure to report funds in excess of this amount may result in the confiscation of the entire amount by the customs service. After going through the court system, an individual is normally required to pay a fine and the National Bank will also keep a certain percentage of the undeclared amount before it is released.
Please also 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 Macedonian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Macedonia 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. Prostitution is illegal in Macedonia. 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 Macedonia 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 Macedonia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Skopje is located at Ilindenska bb, 1000 Skopje, tel. (389) (2) 311-6180, fax (389) (2) 321-3767, email: consularskopje@state.gov; web site: http://macedonia.usembassy.gov
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Macedonia dated March 05, 2008 to update the section on Entry/Exit Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon 29 Jul 2019
Source: Institute of Public Health of Republic of North Macedonia [abridged, edited]

Information on the situation of measles in the Republic of North Macedonia in 2018-2019, 25 Jul 2019
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In the period from 20 Jul-25 Jul 2019, a total of 5 cases of measles were reported. From the total number of newly reported cases, 4 cases are from Skopje, while one is from Kumanovo.

In total, since the onset of the epidemic in December 2018 as of 25 Jul 2019, 1870 cases of measles have been registered in the Republic of North Macedonia with a disease rate of 90.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Due to the epidemiological criteria, a measles epidemic is ongoing in the entire territory of the Republic of North Macedonia.

According to the place of permanent living, measles cases are registered in 24 towns, of which 979 cases are from Skopje, Kumanovo 231, Tetovo 194, Struga 112, Kicevo 59, Veles 53, Gostivar 69, Ohrid 35, Gevgelija 19, Debar 22, Prilep 11, Stip 40, and in other cities less than 10 cases were registered (Chart 1). The highest incidence is registered in Skopje (158.5/100 000, Struga (165.1/100 000, Kumanovo 161.9/100 000)

According to the vaccine status, 1501 or 80.3% of diseased people are unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated or with unknown vaccine status. >From the non-vaccinated persons, 320 (21.3%) are under the age of 12 months and are not subject to vaccination, according to the Immunization Calendar.

According to the results obtained from the samples sent to Luxembourg's reference measles laboratory, the B3 Dublin genotype circulates in the country, which is circulating also in the neighbouring countries.
 
The total number of immunized people aged 14 years with MRP [morbilli, rubella, and parotitis epidemica/MMR measles, mumps, rubella] vaccine since the start of the epidemic in the republic is 33,729.  From the beginning of the epidemic to present date, in the Centers for Public Health, a total of 6032 people have been vaccinated, of which more than 60% are health workers, students, and pupils in secondary medical schools, the rest are persons over 14 years of age.

[Available at the source URL:]
Chart 1. Geographic distribution of measles in N. Macedonia, December 2018-July 2019
----------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Aleksandar Jovicic
==========================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Republic of North Macedonia:
Date: Fri 29 Mar 2019
Source: Institute of Public Health of Republic of Macedonia [abridged, edited]

Information on the situation of measles in the Republic of North Macedonia in 2018-2019, 29 Mar 2019
-------------------

In the period 23 Mar-29 Mar 2019, a total of 109 cases of measles (laboratory confirmed or related to the epidemiological link) were reported.

Out of the total number of newly reported cases, 49 cases are from Skopje, with 89.8% of them incomplete vaccinated, unvaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status. The remaining 60 patients are from 11 other cities in North Macedonia:

- From Kumanovo and Struga, 30 cases (15 cases in each) were reported, of which 90% were unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status;
- From Tetovo and Debar: in 7 cases from Tetovo, 6 were unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status; from Debar, one case was unvaccinated and one with unknown vaccine status;
- From Gostivar, there are 6 cases, of which 5 are unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status;
- 4 cases were reported from Kicevo, with 2 of them unvaccinated and incomplete vaccinated;
- From Veles, 2 cases, with 1 unvaccinated and 1 incomplete vaccinated;
- 1 new case each was reported from Stip (unknown vaccine status), Ohrid (incomplete vaccinated), Radovis (not vaccinated), and Prilep (completely vaccinated).

In total, since the onset of the epidemic in Skopje in December 2018, as of 29 Mar 2019, 767 measles cases were registered in the Republic of North Macedonia, of which 575 were epidemiologically related and reported in the epidemic in Skopje.

According to the place of permanent living, measles cases were registered in 20 towns in Macedonia, of which 521 were from Skopje, 63 from Tetovo, 61 from Kumanovo, 27 from Struga, 18 cases from Gevgelija and Debar, 15 from Gostivar, 12 from Veles, 11 from Kicevo, 4 from Kocani and Shtip, and in sporadic cases in the other 9 cities. The highest incidence per 100 000 inhabitants is registered in Struga (97.3), Skopje (84.4), Debar (64.9), Kumanovo (42.8), and Gevgelija (41.8).

The largest number of cases are from the age group over 30 years, with 305 or 39.8% of the total. A high percentage of patients is also registered in the age group of 0-4 years, with 37.9% of the total number of cases (n = 291).

Out of 150 children aged 1-4 years, 137 or 91.3% were unvaccinated or with unknown vaccine status; from 412 patients in persons over 20 years of age, 69.2% (n = 285) were unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status.

Out of the total number of 767 registered cases of measles, the highest number and percentage, 369 or 48.1%, are laboratory confirmed, 193 or 25.2% are epidemiologically linked, while 205 cases (26.7%) are measles with clinical features.

>From the beginning of the epidemic in Skopje, the total number of vaccinated people under 14 years of age who are subject to 1st or 2nd vaccination is 11 475 children. In the rest of the republic, from the beginning of the epidemic, the total number of vaccinated people up to 14 years of age with a 1st or 2nd dose is 6776 children.

The total number of immunized people aged 14 years with the MRI vaccine since the beginning of the epidemic is 18,251.  Submitted by: Aleksandar Jovicic.
=========================
[HealthMap/ProMED map of North Macedonia
http://healthmap.org/promed/p/55666. - ProMED Mod.MPP]
Date: Fri 8 Mar 2019
Source: IPH (Institute of Public Health of Republic of Macedonia) [abridged, edited]

This week [week of Mon 4 Mar 2019], a total of 81 cases of measles have been reported (laboratory confirmed or with an epidemiological link). A total of 45 cases of measles have been reported from Skopje (of whom 73.3% were incompletely vaccinated, unvaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status) while the other 36 are from 9 other cities in Macedonia.

From Gevgelija, 7 cases were reported, 6 of them unvaccinated. From Kumanovo, 8 cases were reported, 7 unvaccinated. From Tetovo, 7 new cases were reported, 6 of which were not vaccinated, with incomplete vaccine status. From Struga, 5 cases were reported, of which 3 were incompletely vaccinated with unknown vaccine status. Three new cases have been reported from [each of] Debar and Veles; [of these,] 5 persons have been incomplete vaccinated or with unknown vaccine status. Also, one new case from [each of] Kriva Palanka (not vaccinated), Kicevo (unknown vaccine status), and Kocani (completely vaccinated) [were reported].

A total of 493 cases of measles have been registered in Macedonia since the beginning of the epidemic in Skopje since December 2018, of which 410 have been linked to the epidemic in Skopje.

According to the place of permanent living, measles cases were registered in 17 towns in Macedonia, of which 366 cases were from Skopje, 39 from Tetovo, 25 from Kumanovo, 16 from Gevgelija, 9 from Debar, 7 from Struga, 6 from Gostivar, 6 from Veles, 5 from Kichevo, and 4 from Kocani, and the other 7 cities are sporadic cases.

The largest number of cases are from the age group 0-4 years: 220, or 44.6% of the total. A high percentage of patients is also registered in elderly groups. Persons older than 30 years account for 36.9% (n = 182) and persons from 20-29 years for 10.3% (n = 51).

Out of a total of 122 cases of children aged 1-4 years, 105 (86%) were unvaccinated, and out of 233 cases in people over 20 years of age, 70.8% (n = 165) were unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated, or had unknown vaccine status.

From the total number of registered 493 cases of measles, the highest number and percentage -- 278 (56.4%) -- are laboratory confirmed; 117 (23.7%) are epidemiologically related, while 98 cases (19.9%) are measles [presumably this means clinically diagnosed but not laboratory confirmed. - ProMED Mod.SH].

Since the onset of the epidemic, in Skopje, total of 9958 children under 14 years of age have been vaccinated as part of the response to the outbreak with a 1st or 2nd dose. In the rest of the republic, since the epidemic began, a total of 5193 children up to 14 years have been vaccinated with a 1st or 2nd dose. The total number of those aged 14 years [and under] who have received MRP vaccine since the start of the epidemic in the Republic of Macedonia is 15 151.
Date: Sat 9 Feb 2019
Source: China.org.cn, a Xinhua report [edited]

The Macedonian Health Minister Venko Filipce confirmed on [Fri 8 Feb 2019] the death of a 6-month-old baby related to measles. According to Filipce, the baby was under treatment for lung complications and was not vaccinated.

The minister said vaccination in Macedonia should continue in order to strengthen the immunity of the population after the significant drop on vaccination coverage in 2014.  Filipce also confirmed that 2 children are treated for lung complications but are not in life-threatening conditions. The minister made the remarks after his visit at the Neurology Clinic in Skopje. On [2 Jan 2019], the Health Ministry in Macedonia declared the outbreak of measles in the capital of Skopje.
Date: Wed 2 Jan 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [abridged, edited]

Health officials in Macedonia are reporting a measles outbreak in the capital city of Skopje. Minister of Health Assoc. Dr. Venko Filipce announced the outbreak declaration today [2 Jan 2019].

In addition to the 7 cases that appeared in the Skopje settlement Radishani 10 days ago, there are now 12 new cases from almost all municipalities in Skopje, of which 6 are officially laboratory confirmed and 6 have a clear clinical picture and are awaiting official laboratory confirmation. The outbreak has affected both children and adults, all of whom were unvaccinated.

"Of the 15 000 unvaccinated children with vaccine calls, only 310 were vaccinated, which is a small figure. It is a good circumstance that schools [were closed] because of the holidays.

"But, of course, we have the situation under control. This is an extremely serious disease that, unfortunately, is sometimes fatal to the lives of children. Any disregard for the recommendations is an additional risk for the health of the whole population," said Minister Filipche (computer translated).  [Byline: Robert Herriman]
=========================
[A total of 310 children vaccinated of 15 000 is only 2% of the children immunized. This is an unacceptably high risk for the children. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Skopje, Macedonia (FYROM): <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/1999>]
More ...

Austria

Austria - US Consular Information Sheet
July 29, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Austria is a highly developed, stable democracy with a modern economy.
Tourism is an important pillar of the Austrian economy and facilities are widely availab
e.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Austria for additional information, or see the information at the Austrian National Tourist Office web site, http://www.austria.info.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport is required. U.S. citizens can stay without a visa for tourist/business for up to 90 days in each six-month period. That 90-day period begins when you enter any of the Schengen countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.
Note:
Although European Union regulations require that non-EU visitors obtain a stamp in their passports upon initial entry to a Schengen country, many borders are not staffed with officers carrying out this function.
If an American citizen wishes to ensure that his or her entry is properly documented, it may be necessary to request a stamp at an official point of entry.
Under local law, travelers without a stamp in their passports may be questioned and asked to document the length of their stay in Schengen countries at the time of departure or at any other point during their visit, and could face possible fines or other repercussions if unable to do so.
There are no vaccination requirements for international travelers.
Visit the Embassy of Austria web site at http://www.austria.org/ for the most current visa information. There are four Austrian Consulates General in the United States. As each one serves clients from a particular region, please contact the appropriate office for assistance. If you reside outside the U.S. please contact the responsible Austrian Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence.
A list of Austrian Embassies/Consulates is available at http://www.bmeia.gv.at/aussenministerium/buergerservice/oesterreichische-vertretungen.html.
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:
Austria remains largely free of terrorist incidents. However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Austria’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity. Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.

Austrian intelligence experts have registered increased radicalization of immigrant Muslim individuals and of small conspiratorial groups, as well as intensified use of the Internet as a propaganda and communications platform. Despite some terrorism-related incidents in 2007 directed against individual Austrian nationals or the Government of Austria, authorities overall believe the likelihood of terrorist attacks in Austria remains relatively low; the State Department rates Austria as a “Medium” threat for transnational terrorism.

Every year, a number of avalanche deaths occur in Austria's alpine regions. Many occur when skiers/snowboarders stray from the designated ski slopes. Leaving the designated slopes to ski off-piste may pose serious risks and may delay rescue attempts in case of emergency. Skiers/snowboarders should monitor weather and terrain conditions, and use the available avalanche rescue equipment. Avalanche beepers (transceivers) are the most common rescue devices and, when properly used, provide the fastest way of locating an avalanche victim, usually enabling authorities to begin rescue operations within minutes.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s, 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:
Austria has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, and violent crime is rare. However, crimes involving theft of personal property have increased in recent years.
As such, most crimes involving Americans are crimes of opportunity involving theft of personal belongings. Travelers are also targets of pickpockets who operate where tourists tend to gather. Some of the spots where such crimes are most frequently reported include Vienna’s two largest train stations, the plaza around St. Stephan’s Cathedral and the nearby pedestrian shopping areas (in Vienna’s First District).

There has been an increase in thefts and pick-pocketing on public transportation lines, especially on those lines coming into and out from the city center. U.S. citizens are advised to secure personal belongings and always take precautions while on public transportation and in public places such as cafes and tourist areas. Many citizens have had to disrupt travel plans while awaiting replacements for lost and stolen passports since emergency passports are generally only authorized in rare circumstances such as critical medical emergencies.
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.
Information on the Austrian crime victim compensation program can be found on the U.S. Embassy web site at http://vienna.usembassy.gov/en/embassy/cons/compens.htm.
The local equivalent to the 911 emergency line in Austria is 133.See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
There are an adequate number of hospitals available in Austria. Local hospitals will not settle their accounts directly with American insurance companies. The patient is obliged to pay the bill to the local hospital and later claim a refund from his/her insurance carrier in the United States. MEDICARE payments are not available outside the United States.

The Austrian Medicine Import Act generally prohibits the import of prescription drugs into Austria, with two exceptions:
A) Travelers residing outside the European Union are allowed to carry with them (as part of their personal luggage) drugs and medicines, but only the quantity that an individual having a health problem might normally carry; and,
B) Travelers while staying in Austria may receive drugs and medicines for their personal use by mail. The quantity is limited to the length of their stay in Austria and must never exceed three packages.
Generally, it is recommended that travelers have either a prescription or written statement from their personal physician that the medicines are being used under a doctor's direction and are necessary for their physical wellbeing while traveling.
Public health conditions in Austria are excellent. The level of community sanitation in Vienna meets or exceeds that of most large American cities. Disease incidence and type are similar to that seen in the major cities of Western Europe and the United States. At the present time, air pollution is not a major health problem in Vienna.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Austria.

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.

Any person, regardless of citizenship, who wants to take up residence in Austria, must be covered by some health insurance plan that covers full medical treatment in Austria. American citizens interested in joining the health insurance plan under the Austrian system should apply to the Health Insurance Agency (Gebietskrankenkasse) in the province (Bundesland) where they reside.
Further information may be obtained from the appropriate “Gebietskrankenkasse” http://www.sozialversicherung.at/portal/index.html?ctrl:cmd=render&ctrl:window=esvportal.channel_content.cmsWindow&p_menuid=955&p_tabid=6&p_pubid=687.
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 Austria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road conditions in Austria are generally excellent. During the winter, however, roads in alpine areas may become dangerous due to snowfall, ice, or avalanches. Some mountain roads may be closed for extended periods and tire chains are often required. Drivers should exercise caution during the heavily traveled vacation periods (December-February, Easter, July-August). Extra caution is recommended when driving through autobahn construction zones, particularly on the A-1 East/West Autobahn. Reduced lanes and two-way traffic in these zones have resulted in several deadly accidents in recent years. Traffic information and road conditions are broadcast on the English language channel fm4, located between 91 and 105 FM depending on the locale.

A U.S. driver’s license alone is not sufficient to drive in Austria. The U.S. driver’s license must be accompanied by an international driver’s permit (obtainable in the U.S. from American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance) or by an official translation of the U.S. driver’s license, which can be obtained at one of the Austrian automobile clubs (OEAMTC or ARBOE). This arrangement is only acceptable for the first six months of driving in Austria, after which all drivers must obtain an Austrian license.

Austria requires all vehicles using the autobahn to display an “Autobahn Vignette” highway tax sticker on the inside of the vehicle’s windshield. The sticker may be purchased at border crossings, gas stations in Austria, and small “Tabak” shops located in Austrian towns. Fines for failing to display a valid autobahn vignette on the windshield of your car are usually around $120.

Austrian autobahns have a maximum speed limit of 130 km/hr, although drivers often drive much faster and pass aggressively. The use of hand-held cell phones while driving is prohibited. Turning right on red is also prohibited throughout Austria. The legal limit for blood alcohol content in Austria is .05 percent and penalties for driving under the influence tend to be stricter than in many U.S. states.

Tourists driving rented vehicles should pay close attention to the provisions of their rental contract. Many contracts prohibit drivers from taking rented vehicles into eastern European countries. Drivers attempting to enter countries listed as “prohibited” on the car rental contract may be arrested, fined, and/or charged with attempted auto theft. Austrian police are authorized to hold the rented vehicle for the car rental company.
Emergency roadside help and information may be reached by dialing 123 or 120 for vehicle assistance and towing services (Austrian automobile clubs), 122 for the fire department, 133 for police, and 144 for ambulance.
The European emergency line is 112.
Austrian Federal Railroads (Österreichische Bundesbahnen) offer excellent railroad service to all major towns of the country and also direct connections with all major cities in Europe. Trains are well maintained and fares are reasonable. There is also an extensive network of bus lines operated by the Austrian Postal Service (Österreichische Post). All major cities also offer excellent public transportation services.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the web-site of Austria’s national tourist office (Österreich Werbung) at http://www.austria.info and the national authority responsible for road safety (Kuratorium für Verkehrssicherheit) at http://www.kfv.at/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Austria’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Austria’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at: http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Travelers using U.S. issued debit cards in Austrian Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) may encounter problems. If the request for cash is rejected, travelers should check their accounts immediately to see whether the money was in fact debited from their account. If this is the case, they should notify their banking institution immediately. Prompt action may result in a refund of the debited amount. Receipts should always be requested and kept for verification with your home bank.
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 Austrian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Austria 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 Austria are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Austria.
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 Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located at Parkring 12a, tel. +43- 1-31339-7535, fax: +43-1-5125835, web site: http://vienna.usembassy.gov/en/index.html
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information sheet for Austria dated January 23, 2008, without substantive changes.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 16:10:29 +0100 (MET)

Vienna, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - A man died on Monday in a landslide that destroyed much of his home in southern Austria, which has been hit by heavy rainfall and snow affecting transport and electricity.   The retiree was behind his house in Carinthia state when part of the hill above it slid off, killing the 79-year-old, police said.   Earlier Monday, two women were rescued from the rubble of two houses after another landslide, this one in the spa town of Bad Gastein in Salzburg state.   Salzburg, Tyrol and Carinthia states have all seen heavy rain and snowfall since last week, leading to power cuts in thousands of homes.   Many roads and railway lines have also been cut, and several schools in these areas remained closed on Monday.
Date: Tue, 27 Aug 2019 13:51:00 +0200 (METDST)

Vienna, Aug 27, 2019 (AFP) - An Austrian court has ruled that a German hiker who was trampled to death by cows was partly to blame for the accident in a case which has sparked national debate.   A lower court ordered the cows' owner in February to pay the woman's family 180,000 euros ($200,000) plus a monthly pension of 1,500 euros.

The verdict was seen as potentially harmful for agriculture and tourism in the Alpine country known for its picturesque mountains and cows grazing freely on their slopes in the summer.   A higher court however ruled that the 45-year-old who was hiking with her dog bore 50 percent of the blame as she needed to be aware of the risks cows, especially those with calves, posed when confronted by dogs, a court official said Tuesday.   She also did not heed warning signs to keep a distance from the herd. The farmer in turn had known his cows with calves to be aggressive and should have fenced off part of his pasture, the official said.   The decision means the compensation will also be cut by half. Both parties can appeal the verdict.

The incident took place in July 2014 in the Pinnistal Valley in Tyrol when a herd of cows suddenly surrounded the hiker and trampled her. She died of her injuries at the scene.   Her husband and son had accused the farmer of negligence, while the farmer insisted he had put up warning signs on the pasture.   The February ruling led to Tyrol's farmers describing it as a threat to their livelihood and threating to close off their lands to hikers.   Following the outcry, the government published a "code of conduct" for hikers.   The guidelines include keeping a distance from cows and walking dogs on a short lead but unleashing them in case of attack.
Date: Tue, 2 Jul 2019 18:26:36 +0200

Vienna, July 2, 2019 (AFP) - Smoking in Austrian bars and restaurants will be banned as of November following a vote in parliament on Tuesday, after years of protracted debate on the issue.   Only MPs from the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) voted against the ban, which looks set to finally rid Austria of its status as the "ashtray of Europe".

The FPOe -- whose former leader Heinz-Christian Strache is himself a keen smoker -- had stymied a previous attempt to ban smoking in pubs and restaurants when it entered government in December 2017.   That prompted a backlash from large sections of the public and the Austrian medical association, which organised a petition in favour of the ban signed by almost 900,000 people, or around 14 percent of voters.

However, in May the FPOe left government under the shadow of a corruption scandal implicating Strache, paving the way for the smoking ban to come back before parliament.   "We are going to protect the health of hundreds of thousands of Austrians and prolong their lives," Pamela Rendi-Wagner, head of the main opposition Social Democrats (SPOe) -- and herself a doctor -- said after the vote.

Austria is currently led by a technocratic government after the so-called "Ibiza-gate" corruption scandal brought down the coalition between the FPOe and the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) and triggered early elections to be scheduled for September.   The scandal emerged when footage in May showed Strache in a luxury villa on the island of Ibiza appearing to offer public contracts to a fake Russian backer in an elaborate sting operation, forcing him to step down from all his posts.

Austria was one of the last European countries where smoking was still permitted in bars and restaurants, despite calls for bans dating back more than a decade.   Up until now, smoking has been legal in such establishments as long as it was done in a separate area -- although this rule was not always rigidly implemented.   No separate area was necessary in establishments smaller than 50 square metres (540 square feet) if the owner was happy to allow smoking on the premises.   However, a growing number of restaurants and cafes had already banned smoking of their own accord.
Date: Wed, 10 Apr 2019 16:33:41 +0200

Vienna, April 10, 2019 (AFP) - The Austrian city of Klagenfurt indefinitely suspended its bus services Wednesday after a case of measles was detected in one of the drivers.   "All bus traffic is suspended until further notice in order to prevent infection," the city's KMG public transport operator announced.

The company runs all public transport in the southern city of 100,000 inhabitants, which is also the state capital of Carinthia.   It took the unusual measure after it was revealed that one driver had been diagnosed with measles on 3 April.   Since then two further suspected cases have been reported.   KMG said it was working to establish "the vaccination status of all drivers" before authorising bus services to restart and was embarking on a deep clean of its vehicles.

The resurgence of measles, a once-eradicated and highly-contagious disease, is linked to a growing anti-vaccine movement in richer nations -- which the World Health Organization has identified as a major global health threat.   On Tuesday, New York mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in parts of the city, ordering all residents of certain districts in Brooklyn to be vaccinated to fight a measles outbreak concentrated in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
Date: Sun, 3 Mar 2019 04:10:56 +0100
By Sophie MAKRIS

Vienna, March 3, 2019 (AFP) - It looks like a scene from the halcyon days of the railways: travellers finding their sleeper berth, turning on the reading light and stowing their cases under the bed.    But it's still a common nightly ritual at Vienna's main station, where overnight train routes have endured in the age of low-cost flights -- and are even expanding.   From early evening onwards, the departures board at Vienna's "Hauptbahnhof" station becomes a roll call of destinations to whet the appetite of any globetrotter: Venice, Rome, Zurich, Berlin, Warsaw...   It's an unusual sight in a continent where budget airlines and faster trains have become the norm and led to the closure of many slower overnight routes.

But Austria's state railway company OeBB is looking to expand its network.   It already runs 26 such routes, either on its own or in partnerships with other operators.   In late 2016, OeBB bought the night train operation of its German counterpart Deutsche Bahn, which was looking to offload a department it judged insufficiently lucrative.   Around 60 percent of DB's overnight routes were preserved, including a revamped Vienna-Berlin service which started a few months ago.   Pointing to the "moderate growth" in passenger numbers -- more than 1.4 million used the services in 2018 -- OeBB has ordered 13 new trains equipped with state-of-the-art sleeper carriages.

- Eco-friendly -
It's no surprise then that Austria has become the poster child for rail enthusiasts, who say it provides an example of how overnight train travel can provide an alternative to air travel and even help in the fight against climate change.    "With regard to the target of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050, night trains which run on renewable energy are an attractive alternative," according to Thomas Sauter-Servaes, transport expert at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences.

But as with all those who have researched the sector, he admits that cross-border overnight rail travel can represent a logistical and financial challenge.   The profits per passenger take a hit from the extra space that sleeper compartments require, on top of the higher labour costs for those who have to work on the trains overnight and money spent on laundry.   And that's before you take into account the hefty fees sometimes charged by other network owners for use of the rails, the technical difficulty of decoupling and then re-attaching carriages, and navigating the myriad of different rules a train has to adhere to over a long journey.

Sauter-Servaes points out that international air transport has a big commercial advantage in being exempt from VAT and fuel taxes.   Among those preparing to board at Vienna station to spend a night on the rails on a recent evening, some told AFP they had chosen a night train with the environment in mind.   "It's a small gesture, and it won't stop me taking the plane for my holiday in Madagascar this autumn, but it's better than nothing," said Austrian traveller Yvonne Kemper.   David, a 42-year-old from Germany, said he was using the Hamburg service because he needed to get to Goettingen in Germany for a business trip -- a medium-sized town which, typically, is served by night trains but has no airport.

- An Austrian tradition -
OeBB spokesman Bernhard Rieder explained that Austria's attachment to night trains is down to "a tradition stemming from Austria's mountainous terrain, which limited the development of high-speed lines".   He added that "the night train sector is distinct in that it can't function without strong cross-border cooperation."   "Night trains are and will continue to be a niche market, but that doesn't mean a niche market can't be profitable."   But Poul Kattler, from the pan-European "Back on Track" group which campaigns for more cross-border night trains, says the sector should be more ambitious.   "If national railway companies were more aggressive in the market and the EU built a truly common rail policy, we could offer a real transport alternative and a very popular European project," he says.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2019 10:21:01 +0100 (MET)
By Marie-Pierre FEREY

Paris, Dec 16, 2019 (AFP) - French commuters endured a twelfth day of misery on Monday as the government and unions traded blame for a crippling transport strike over a pensions overhaul that has put holiday travel plans at risk for thousands.   Some 630 kilometres (390 miles) of traffic jams clogged Paris and its suburbs during the morning rush hour, nearly double the average levels, as most metro lines were again closed or operating just a handful of trains.

Across France, just one in three high-speed TGV trains and one in four regional trains were running, though most cities were not enduring the chaos seen in the capital.   "Until now I've been working from home or taking my car," a man who gave his name as Francois told AFP at the Saint-Lazare station in Paris, saying he had left home at just before 5:00 am.   "But the car is no longer an option, because of the cost but also because it's exhausting."   Unions plan a fresh day of mass demonstrations on Tuesday and insist the government must abandon planned pension reforms that they say could force millions of people to work longer before retiring.

Mass walkouts are again expected by teachers, hospital workers and other public employees as well as by lawyers protesting over plans to introduce a single pension system that would do away with 42 separate regimes.   The government has said it is willing to negotiate, in particular a "pivot age" of 64 that would grant rights to a full pension, but has defended a key project of President Emmanuel Macron's wide-reaching reform drive.    "Going on strike is legitimate, but you can also respect events like the year-end festivities," Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne told France 2 television, saying it would be "irresponsible" of union leaders to "ruin vacations".

Rail operator SNCF has already warned that unless the strike ends in a few days, it will not have time to get service back to normal by December 25.   "We're going to try to make miracles happen" for the Christmas holidays that begin on Saturday, SNCF's Rachel Picard told the Parisien newspaper over the weekend.   "If the government drops its project and we start serious talks on how to improve the system... everything will be fine," Philippe Martinez of the hardline CGT union said Sunday.   "Otherwise, the strikers will decide on what to do on Thursday or Friday."
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2019 09:52:36 +0100 (MET)
By Ferdh Cabrera

Padada, Philippines, Dec 16, 2019 (AFP) - Rescuers in the southern Philippines used heavy equipment and their bare hands on Monday in hopes of finding several people feared trapped beneath a building toppled by a powerful earthquake that claimed at least three lives.   Sunday's tremor cracked schools, toppled homes and injured dozens but largely spared big cities on the island of Mindanao, which is still recovering from a string of deadly quakes in October.

Searchers have pulled survivors from the collapsed market building in the town of Padada, but were still looking for a person who had texted authorities saying six people were trapped under the rubble.   "The person can no longer be reached," fire official Fred Trajeras told reporters, adding that rescuers' held out hope survivors could be found.   A young child was killed when a family home collapsed near the epicentre, and searchers pulled the bodies of two victims from the collapsed market building.

However applause erupted after Lesley Jane Gatos, 31, was pulled from the rubble on Sunday, shortly after the tremor.   Gatos used her phone to call for help and then began making noise to attract the attention of rescuers, who reached her after clearing a path in the debris.   "Finally I was able to get out. I saw people. They clapped because I was the first one rescued," she told AFP.   The collapsed building was near the epicentre of the 6.8 magnitude quake and is in the same region that was hit by three tremors above 6.0 in a matter of weeks in October.   Those quakes killed some two dozen people and forced tens of thousands into shelters as well as heavily damaging homes and offices.

The Philippines is situated on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.   Searchers were fanning out across the quake-hit areas of Mindanao on to fully assess the damage, but have already reported several schools and hospitals were cracked.   President Rodrigo Duterte, who is from Davao and was there during the quake, was not hurt.  "The first lady... said the car she was riding (in) was swaying," spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2019 04:25:33 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Dec 16, 2019 (AFP) - Australia's biggest city is facing a "public health emergency" over the bushfire smoke that has choked Sydney for weeks, leading doctors warned Monday after hospitals reported a dramatic spike in casualty department visits.   Hundreds of climate change-fuelled bushfires have been raging across Australia for months, with efforts to contain a "mega-blaze" burning north of Sydney destroying an estimated 20 homes overnight and fires near Perth threatening towns.

More than 20 medical groups including the Royal Australasian College of Physicians -- which represents 25,000 doctors and trainees -- released a joint statement Monday calling on Australia's government to address the toxic air pollution.   "The air pollution in NSW is a public health emergency," the Climate and Health Alliance said.   "Smoke from bushfires has produced air pollution of up to 11 times the base 'hazardous' level in parts of Sydney and New South Wales.   "Bushfire smoke is particularly hazardous because of the high levels of tiny particles (PM2.5)."   The New South Wales state health department said it recorded a 48 percent increase in the number of people visiting hospital emergency rooms with respiratory problems in the week ending December 11 compared to the five-year average.   Visits spiked 80 percent on December 10, when air quality plummeted across Sydney prompting up to 20,000 residents to march in protest the following day.

The Climate and Health Alliance called on the government to take urgent action to curb emissions, saying climate change is worsening bushfires that are having "devastating impacts on human health".   "The air pollution events resulting from bushfires will become more and more frequent and are a result of climate change," it said.   "Our governments must act quickly to rapidly and deeply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which we know are driving climate change."   Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week made a rare admission that climate change is one of the "factors" behind the fires, but defended Australia's record on emissions reduction and failed to announce further measures to address the issue.

- 'Heartbreaking' -
Six people have been killed, more than 700 houses destroyed and at least three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land burned this bushfire season.   More than 100 fires are currently burning in New South Wales, where efforts to contain a 400,000-hectare blaze near Sydney using backburning are believed to have sparked another fire that destroyed an estimated 20 homes.   A New South Wales Rural Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman told AFP the fire was "likely the result of embers from the backburning operation" but that work had been "absolutely critical" and many more homes could have been lost without it.   The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought that has also caused towns to run out of drinking water and forced farmers off their land.

More than 35,000 people living in a drought-stricken area of southern Queensland will be restricted to using a maximum of 80 litres (21 US gallons) of water each per day under "emergency" rules from Thursday, as local authorities begin trucking in water from other regions.   "The rain has gone around us now for three years. It's been heartbreaking," Southern Downs Council mayor Tracy Dobie told ABC.   Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Monday singled out bushfires and drought as the biggest domestic challenges for the economy, telling reporters in Canberra the dry spell had taken a quarter of a percentage point off GDP growth and reduced farm output by "a significant amount" over the past two years.   Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia, with the country set to experience a heatwave this week that forecasters predict will break temperature records -- and firefighters say will make their job even tougher.
Date: Sat, 14 Dec 2019 04:27:07 +0100 (MET)
By Béatrice DEBUT

Adelaide, Afrique du Sud, Dec 14, 2019 (AFP) - South African farmer Steve Bothma heaved a sigh of relief when the weatherman finally predicted rain.   His excitement was short-lived. Just a few days later, the forecast changed. It was back to cloudless sunshine.   In South Africa's Eastern Cape province, no one can remember the last proper downpour. Some say it was five years ago, others six. "This is a disaster," said Bothma, 51, who in his three decades working the land has never seen such dry weather.     "Older people who are 70 or 80 years old would tell you exactly the same thing," he added.

Southern Africa is grappling with one of the worst droughts in decades -- the outcome of years of absent or erratic rainfall, and temperatures that have reached record highs.   Millions are facing hunger due to poor harvests and dwindling livestock.    "It is usually beautifully green at this time of the year," said Bothma, as a hot gust of wind swept through his sheep pen.   "But now even the pine trees are dying."

South Africa is one of the world's driest countries at the best of times.   Rapid urbanisation and growing water consumption have placed a strain on water reserves and caused the coastal city of Cape Town to almost run dry in 2018.   But the ongoing drought has compounded the situation.    Dam levels dropped dangerously low in October, prompting President Cyril Ramaphosa to call for "drastic measures".   South Africa is in "a dire situation", said Ramaphosa in October, highlighting that five out of nine provinces were badly hit.

- To the slaughterhouse -
Bothma has had to cull around 60 percent of his merino sheep, including lambs.   Because of the drought, he could only afford to keep 2,000 as "breeding stock".   "Usually I keep them until they are five or six years old," Bothma explained, as his staff selected animals for the next trip to the slaughterhouse.

The price he gets for his merino wool has plunged by around 40 percent over the past year due to the drought and a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the north of the country.      "The wool is full of dust and not very strong," said Bothma.   Years of dry weather have left scars in the landscape.   Arid fields flanked the windy gravel road leading to the nearest town of Adelaide, tucked at the bottom of a mountain range.    Cows chewed pieces of wood and sheep ambled in search of food.   In town, livestock roamed the streets and nibbled at scorched grass on the golf course.   The nearest dam dried up at the start of the year.

- 'Can't wash' -
Some of Adelaide's 15,000 inhabitants had been without running water for seven months.  A South African aid group, Gift of the Givers, has been helping by delivering water to the area since April.     On a recent water mission, hundreds of people In the township of Bezuidenhoutville rushed up with an array of empty bottles, buckets, iceboxes and even paint cans.      "We are keeping it for food and drink," said Rodney Douglas, 59, pushing a wheelbarrow piled high with plastic jerrycans.

Assanda Sais, 38, complained that she could only spare enough water to bathe once a week and that her house was "smelling".    "We keep dirty water to flush," she explained.   Bezuidenhoutville's local middle school has had to shorten its week by half a day due to the lack of water.    Many children were missing class altogether.   "Kids have to help parents to carry water," said teacher Zeenat Gangat, sweltering as the sun beat down on the container walls of a classroom.   "They can't wash," she added. "They complain about stomach issues."

- Poor infrastructure -
Local authorities have tried to ease the situation by connecting sections of the town to a reservoir fed by Fish River, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) away.   The water is allocated on a rotational basis, but even then the pipeline to the river is way too narrow.   Adelaide deputy mayor Bornboy Ndyebi said the town's pipelines were in poor shape, and Thandekile Mnyimba, who heads the regional district of Amathole, told AFP that water trucks supplied by the government had broken down.

South Africa's main opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has accused the ruling party of acting too late.   "It is only when the dam reached a very low level - around four percent -- that they woke up," said DA councillor Ernie Lombard.   Ramaphosa has sought to pin the blame on years of poor governance under former president Jacob Zuma, whom he succeeded in 2018.   "Corruption in the water sector has in no small part contributed to the situation we currently face," he declared.

- 'Can't sleep at night' -
Water insecurity could become "the biggest developmental and economic challenge facing this country," Ramaphosa added.   Adelaide is already suffering from South Africa's ailing economy, marked by low growth and chronic unemployment.    Close to 70 percent of the small town's inhabitants are out of work. When houses go up for sale, they stay on the market.

The manager of Adelaide's only hotel said she was worried if too many rooms were booked at the same time, as "it takes two weeks to do the washing".   On nearby farms, high-yielding avocado trees now barely produce 10, low-grade fruit instead of 50.   Helpless farmers watch their animals succumb to thirst and hunger. Alton Snaer has lost nine of his 15 cows.   "I can't sleep at night," said the retired farmer.   Bothma feared that more months without rain would force him "to close the books".   "Farmers are taking their life," he said, eyes reddened by the dust. 
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 16:41:23 +0100 (MET)
By Mariëtte Le Roux and Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - French commuters gritted their teeth for a ninth day of public transport strikes Friday, with unions vowing to keep up their protest against a pension overhaul through the holidays unless the government backs down.   Officials have said they are ready to negotiate, with Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer meeting teachers' representatives on Friday to try and stave off another day of class shutdowns.   "It was an intense and frank meeting... but we still need details, and maintain our call to strike on Tuesday," Stephane Crochet of the SE-Unsa union said.

Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when they forced a rightwing government to back down on pension reforms after three weeks of metro and rail strikes just before Christmas.   The prospect of a protracted standoff has businesses fearing big losses during the crucial year-end festivities, and travellers worried that their Christmas plans may be compromised.   "Right now it's a catastrophe here, but we're hoping there will be a solution before Christmas," Frederic Masse, a foie gras producer at the huge Rungis wholesale food market south of Paris, told AFP on Friday.

The capital city was again choked by huge traffic jams as most metro lines remained shut, only a handful of buses and trams were running, and one in four TGV trains were cancelled.   "I'm sick of this, and I won't be able to keep working if it goes on," Zigo Makango, a 57-year-old security agent, told AFP onboard a bus in the Bobigny suburb northeast of Paris.   To get home at night Makango said he has to use taxis, but "my boss doesn't reimburse me for that".

- 'Historic reform' -
President Emmanuel Macron on Friday expressed his "solidarity" with people impacted by the strike, "but I want the government to continue its work" in forging a single pension system, a key campaign promise.   "It's a historic reform for the country," he told journalists at an EU summit in Brussels. 

The overhaul unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would do away with 42 separate regimes, some of which offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector employees such as train drivers, dockers and even Paris Opera employees.   But Philippe angered unions further by proposing a reduced payout for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of a new, so-called "pivot age" of 64.

They have called for new mass demonstrations for next Tuesday, the third since the action started on December 5 in the biggest show of strength in years by France's notoriously militant unions.   Philippe insisted on Twitter that "My door is open and my hand outstretched".   But Laurent Brun of the hard-line CGT union, the largest among public-sector workers including those at rail operator SNCF, has already warned "There won't be any Christmas truce" unless the government drops the plan entirely.

- France divided -
A poll released Thursday by the Elabe institute found France evenly divided on Philippe's plan, with 50 percent for and 49 percent against.  But 54 percent rejected the mooted 64-year cutoff for a full pension, and 54 percent supported the protest.

Staff at four of France's eight oil refineries were on strike Friday, affecting output and raising fears of shortages down the line.   And both Paris operas, the Garnier and the Bastille, again cancelled Friday performances and others through the weekend.   Macron's government insists the changes will make for a fairer system and help erase pension system deficits forecast to reach as much as 17 billion euros ($19 billion) by 2025.   The average French person retires at just over 60, years earlier than most in Europe or other rich OECD countries.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 14:05:22 +0100 (MET)

Milan, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - More than 300 flights were cancelled Friday in Italy due to a planned one-day strike by workers from Alitalia and Air Italy.   Alitalia said in a statement that 315 flights were cancelled on Friday, with another 40 cancelled Thursday night and Saturday morning. It was not immediately clear how many flights were cancelled at Air Italy.   The 24-hours strike, which involves pilots, flight attendants and ground personnel, was called by three unions to draw attention to what they called "the ongoing crisis at Alitalia and Air Italy."

The strike was felt most in Sardinia, with about 30 flights cancelled.    Money-losing Alitalia has been under special administration since 2017 when employees rejected a restructuring plan that would have laid off 1,700 workers out of an approximately 11,000.   The government has so far looked for buyers without success.    Unions plan to meet on Tuesday with Economy Minister Stefano Patuanelli.    A potential consortium of buyers for the ailing carrier fell apart last month after Atlantia, which operates Rome's airports, pulled out.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 05:24:44 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - Adventure tourism is a key part of New Zealand's international appeal but the White Island volcano eruption is a tragic reminder that such activities carry genuine risk that must be better explained to travellers, experts say.   The South Pacific nation offers a wealth of adrenaline-fuelled pursuits, from heli-skiiing on snow-capped mountains to ballooning and blackwater rafting through caves.

Some, such as bungee-jumping, jet-boating and zorbing -- where you hurl yourself down a hill inside an inflatable ball -- were invented or popularised in a country that prides itself on catering to intrepid visitors.   The tourism industry as a whole is among New Zealand's biggest earners, generating about NZ$16.2 billion ($10.7 billion) and attracting 3.8 million international visitors annually.     "Adventure tourism is a massive sector in New Zealand. We are promoting ourselves as the adventure capital of the world," professor Michael Lueck, a tourism expert at Auckland University of Technology, told AFP.

New Zealand is also renowned for its rugged landscapes, which feature prominently films such as Kiwi director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings".   Day-trips to White Island combined both, taking tourists including cruise ship passengers to a desolately beautiful island off the North Island coast where they could experience the thrill of standing on an active volcano.   Instead, at least 16 people are believed to have died and dozens suffered horrific burns when 47 tourists and guides were caught on the island during Monday's eruption.

The disaster has raised questions about why tourists were allowed on a volcano where experts had recently raised threat levels, as well as broader issues about the regulation of risky activities in the tourism sector.   "There will be bigger questions in relation to this event," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told parliament after the eruption.   "These questions must be asked, and they must be answered."

- 'Slapdash' or world's best? -
The disaster on White Island -- also known as Whakaari -- is not the first mass-fatality accident to affect tourists in New Zealand.   In 2015, seven people were killed when a scenic helicopter flight crashed into Fox Glacier. Two years earlier, a hot-air balloon claimed 11 lives and in 2010 nine died when a plane carrying skydivers plunged into a paddock.

Briton Chris Coker's son Brad, 24, died in the skydive plane crash and since then he has campaigned from afar for tighter regulations in New Zealand's adventure tourism sector.   "In my opinion, the New Zealand authorities... are still slapdash about tourist safety," Coker told news website stuff.co.nz after the White Island eruption.   "To run tourists there is insane. I know they signed a waiver and so on, but it's not really taking care of people."

Trade body Tourism Industry Aotearoa disputes such assessments, saying operators are "working within a world's best regulatory framework", but could not eliminate risk completely.   "Operators put safety first, but adventure activity inherently carries some risk and it's critical that 'adventure' remains in adventure tourism," TIA chief executive Chris Roberts told AFP.   "Operators take all practical actions to minimise the risks and the safety culture of individual operators remains the key factor in preventing accidents."

Roberts said the issue was not tourism operators, but the alert system they relied on at volcanic destinations such as White Island, which attracts about 17,000 visitors a year.   The GeoNet monitoring agency raised White Island's threat level in the week before the eruption but also advised current activity "does not pose a direct hazard to visitors".   "The reviews need to look at the science and specifically the guidance provided about volcanic activity, and whether the operating practices followed for the past 30 years need to change," Roberts said.

- 'Understand the risks' -
Travel companies such as White Island Tours brief customers before setting off and require them to sign a waiver declaring they understand the risk, as well as supplying equipment such as hard-hats and gas masks.   However, some relatives of those affected by the eruption have expressed scepticism that their loved ones truly appreciated the potential danger they faced.   Options for legal redress are limited under New Zealand's Accident Compensation Commission scheme, which covers victims' medical bills and provides modest compensation but does not allow civil suits for damages.

Neither Roberts nor Lueck expected the White Island eruption to hit international arrivals in New Zealand, which have continued to climb despite major earthquakes in 2011 and 2016.   The nature of any review arising from White Island remains uncertain, but Lueck said at the very least tourists needed to be better informed about any risks.   "Operators and tourism boards should have tourists understand what these risks are, and not brush over quickly signing a waiver," he said.   "Only then can tourists make an informed decision and decide whether or not they want to take that particular risk."
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 21:25:36 +0100 (MET)

Kinshasa, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Twenty-three cases of Ebola have been recorded in four days in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where deadly violence is hampering efforts to end the 16-month-old epidemic, authorities said on Thursday.   Ten cases were recorded on Tuesday alone in Mabalako in North Kivu province, after six on Monday, according to the Multisectoral Committee for Epidemic Response (CMRE).   Three out of the six were practitioners of traditional medicine, it said.

On Wednesday, three cases were recorded in North Kivu, including one in the Biena neighbourhood -- which has had no new Ebola cases for the last 85 days.   More than 2,200 people have died since the epidemic was declared on August 1, 2018.   As of November 22, the rate of new cases had fallen to 10 per week.   CMRE said "security reasons" -- attacks on Ebola health workers and sites by armed groups and angry youths -- had "paralysed" work in the key zones of Beni, Biakato and Mangina.   The attacks led to a pullout of locally-employed Ebola workers in Biakato by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 15:59:23 +0100 (MET)

Juba, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Devastating flooding in South Sudan following a fierce drought could tip parts of the country into famine in the next few months, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Thursday.   According to the UN refugee agency nearly one million people were affected by floodwaters that submerged entire towns, compounding an already dire humanitarian situation after six years of war.

The WFP said that 5.5 million people are expected to be going hungry in early 2020 -- the time at which the population is generally benefiting from their harvest in October and November of the previous year.   An earlier harvest failed due to drought. This time crops have been washed away.    "The number of people in need is likely to increase because of the catastrophic level of destruction caused by floods since October following a drought that hammered parts of the country earlier in the year," the agency said in a statement.

The floods wiped out 73,000 metric tons of potential harvests as well as tens of thousands of cattle and goats, said the WFP.   "We know the problems that we've been having in South Sudan, but the rains and the floods have led to a national disaster and are much worse than anyone could have anticipated," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.    "In fact, if we don't get funding in the next few weeks and months, we are literally talking about famine. We need support, we need help and we need it now."   The agency estimated its needs at $270 million (242 million euros) for the first half of 2020.   South Sudan declared a "man-made" famine affecting around 100,000 people in 2017. 

The term "famine" is used according to a scientific system agreed upon by global agencies, when at least 20 percent of the population in a specific area has extremely limited access to basic food; acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two per 10,000 people per day for the entire population.   "Famine in South Sudan was defeated after four months in 2017 by a concerted large-scale humanitarian response," said the WFP.   "Experts now say the country's food security outlook has never been so dire."   Political instability is also high as President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar have again delayed their formation of a power-sharing government, this time by 100 days until February 2020.
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2019 09:33:13 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Dec 11, 2019 (AFP) - Up to 20,000 protesters rallied in Sydney on Wednesday demanding urgent climate action from Australia's government, as bushfire smoke choking the city caused health problems to spike.   Sydney has endured weeks bathed in toxic smoke as hundreds of blazes have raged across the countryside, with hospitals recording a 25 percent increase in the number of people visiting emergency departments last week.   On Tuesday smoke alarms rang out across Australia's biggest city, with thick haze triggering smoke alarms and forcing buildings to be evacuated, school children to be kept indoors, and ferries to be cancelled.   The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought.   Police estimated the crowd size at 15,000, organisers put the figure at 20,000.

Many of the protestors voiced anger at the government's silence in the face of the crisis.   "The country is on fire" said 26-year-old Samuel Wilkie attending his first climate protest. He described politicians' response as "pathetic".    "Our government is not doing anything about it," said 29-year-old landscape gardener Zara Zoe. "No one is listening, no one is doing anything."   Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- a staunch backer of Australia's vast coal industry -- has said little about the smoke since the crisis began, preferring to focus on fire-hit rural communities.   Organiser Chloe Rafferty said that had created anger at the conservative government's inaction.   "I think the wider public can see that we are not expecting the climate crisis in the future but we are facing the climate crisis now," she told AFP.   "People are experiencing it in their day-to-day lives."   As well as a rise in people visiting hospitals with smoke-related health symptoms, the number of emergency calls for ambulances spiked 30 percent last week.    "For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat," top health department official Richard Broome said.   "However, people with conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are at greater risk because the smoke can trigger their symptoms."

Smoke from bushfires is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in Australia, releasing fine particles that can lodge deep within people's lungs and cause "severe" health impacts over time, according to scientist Mick Meyer from government-funded scientific research agency CSIRO.   "The impact of smoke on people remote from the fires may, on occasion, substantially exceed the direct injury to people within the fire zone," he wrote in The Conversation.   "But we currently lack the operational tools to understand the extent of these impacts or to manage them."   Six people have been killed and more than 700 houses destroyed in bushfires this fire season.   Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 -- when almost 200 people died -- the scale of this year's devastation has been widely described as unprecedented.   Three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has been burnt -- the size of some small countries -- and vast swathes of koala habitat scorched.   Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.