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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/
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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: Fri 7 Feb 2020
Source: Armenian Press [edited]

Influenza A virus subtype H1N1 (swine flu) cases have been recorded among students of the A Pushkin public school in Yerevan, principal Natalia Stepanyan told Armenpress. She said so far 10 parents have submitted sick leaves on their children having H1N1. The headmaster said 552 out of the total 1800 students did not show up to classes on 7 Feb [2020].

"We have 2 shifts: 1500 students study at 1st shift, and 452 of them are absent, while 100 are absent from the 300-student 2nd shift. We still don't know how many of those absent are sick with the flu since not all parents take their children to hospitals and not all bring sick leaves," Stepanyan said.

School doctors are carrying out regular monitoring among the children, and in the event of suspected cases, parents are asked to take their children to hospitals for check-ups.

Earlier on 6 Feb 2020, the healthcare ministry said cases of respiratory infections are increasing in the country. Out of 740 sample tests during the season, 18.5% were confirmed to be influenza A virus subtype H1N1, 5.5% were subtype B, and 24.7% were other viruses (rhinovirus, adenovirus, etc).  [byline: Stepan Kocharyan, editor and translator]
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".
More ...

Japan

General
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Japan is a highly developed country with excellent tourist facilities. The country covers a number of islands and the population is estimated at over 125 million. English is widely spoken in the main tourist a
d urbanised centres.
Weather Profile
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Due to the strong influence from the sea, Japan tends to have a high rainfall but milder winters than the adjacent mainland of China. This is similar to the climate experienced in Ireland by comparison to the rest of Europe. Spring and Autumn are usually the most pleasant months but during the Summer the climate can be significantly humid and tiring. During this time it will be essential that fluid intake is increased and that salt (lost through perspiration) is replaced - usually by increasing the amount eaten on your food providing this is not contraindicated by any personal medical condition such as blood pressure etc.
Alcohol Consumption
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The Japanese authorities have limited patience with those arrested while under the influence of alcohol. For some travellers visiting the country this may mean a prolonged stay in the local jail and the subsequent missing of important appointments.
Natural Disasters
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Japan is situated in a region of the world which regularly experiences earthquakes and other climatic changes including typhoons. A number of relatively small earthquakes are reported each year but, to date, this has seldom affected any tourist itinerary. However, further information is available at http://www.tokyoacs.com
Safety and Security
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The risk to personal security for tourists while travelling throughout Japan is small though commonsense care of personal belongings is always essential. Where available, use the hotel safety boxes to store valuables and your passport, return air tickets. During the mid 1990’s a number of terrorist incidents occurred but no recent serious problems are being reported.
Airport Taxes
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Many countries now include the cost of their ‘departure tax’ within the ticket. In Japan this will depend on which airport you leave from. The fee is collected in Yen at Kansai - Osaka International Airport but usually included in the ticket cost if flying via Narita - Tokyo International Airport.
Cost of living
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Japan is not a cheap country for tourists. The cost of living is one of the highest throughout the world. Credit cards may be used in main cities but the ATM’s machines may not be available at all hours. Before taking a taxi from the airport it would be wise to check the costs and then assess whether or not it might be more prudent to use the local bus transport!
Medical Care
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The level of medical care throughout most tourist regions in Japan is excellent. However, there may be limited English-speaking doctors in some more rural areas and even where this facility is available in the main cities the cost of healthcare can be very expensive. It is wise to carefully check your travel health insurance premium before you leave home.
Local Medications
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Some commonly used European over-the-counter medications
may not be available in Japan. Also, there are strict laws governing the importation of certain medications which can be strictly enforced. Certain inhalers, sinus preparations etc may be confiscated on arrival. If you are taking any personal medications it may be wise to check before you leave. Obviously never carry packages for anybody else while travelling unless you are certain of the contents.
Avoiding Prickly Heat
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The term prickly heat is used in a variety of ways but the cause is generally the same. In a hot climate the body perspires to maintain the internal temperature at a correct level. In the perspiration there will be fluid and your personal salts. The fluid evaporates but the salt dries against the skin. It is your individual reaction to this salt that leads to the ‘prickly heat rash’. The reaction to these salts can be minimised by removing the salts from the skin surface as soon as possible. Change your clothes regularly, use plenty of talcum powder to absorb the perspiration and dry off well after showering.
Food & Water Care in Japan
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Any international traveller should recognise the risks of a ruined trip from unwise indulgence in local food and beverages. In Japan the level of food hygiene is high but the consumption of Sushi (uncooked raw fish) is unwise. Bivalve shellfish also carry a significant risk due to the limited level of sterilisation during the cooking process.
Malaria & Mosquitoes
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No malaria transmission occurs throughout Japan although avoiding mosquito bites during the humid months is wise.
Airborne Disease
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In any situation where you will be crowded together with many others the risk of a variety of airborne diseases will be higher. This will include serious diseases such as Meningococcal Meningitis but also others such as Influenza and the common cold. The risk of Meningococcal Meningitis in Japan is regarded as small and vaccine is not routinely recommended. However, having the Flu vaccine may be a wise precaution. It is also sensible to carry a small supply of lozenges to treat the inevitable sore throat which may occur.
Driving in Japan
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The road system throughout Japan is excellent but unfortunately the road signs may prove too much of a hurdle for those unfamiliar with the language! The congestion within the cities tends to be high and tolls on some of the major roads may be quite expensive. The traffic moves on the left side of the road but for many tourists it will be wiser to consider using local transportation rather than risking a ruined holiday.
English Help Lines
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Tourists can obtain important information and assistance in English while visiting Japan through the following numbers;
In Tokyo - 03-3968 4099
Rest of Japan - 0120-461 997
Vaccines for Japan
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For the majority of short-term travellers visiting Japan no particular vaccines will be recommended. Those planning to live for longer periods within the country will need to discuss this through in greater detail.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 1 May 2020 12:01:09 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, May 1, 2020 (AFP) - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday the government would plan for an approximately month-long extension of a state of emergency declared over the coronavirus pandemic.    Abe put in place an initial month-long state of emergency for seven regions on April 7, later expanding it to cover the entire country.   But with the measures due to expire on May 6, Abe said he had instructed his minister for the virus outbreak Yasutoshi Nishimura to plan for an extension.   "After receiving this report from the panel of experts, I asked Minister Nishimura to use extending the current framework of the state of emergency by about one month as the base scenario for swiftly drafting plans that will fit the needs of the regions," Abe said.

An expert panel advising the government is reviewing the situation in different parts of the country, he added.   "We will listen to their opinions and we hope to make a decision on May 4th."   Abe said Japan had so far managed to avoid the sharp increase in infections seen in some other parts of the world, but cautioned that vigilance was still needed.   "The view of experts is that we will continue to need cooperation of the Japanese people for the foreseeable future."

An extension of the state of emergency had been widely expected, despite the comparatively small scale of the outbreak in Japan, with nearly 14,300 infections recorded and 432 deaths so far.   The state of emergency is significantly less restrictive than measures seen in parts of Europe and the United States. It allows governors to urge people stay at home and call on businesses to stay shut.   But officials cannot compel citizens to comply, and there are no punishments for those who fail to do so.   Despite the relatively small scale of Japan's outbreak, there have been persistent fears about a spike in infections that could quickly overwhelm the country's healthcare system.

Doctors' associations have warned that hospitals are already stretched thin, with officials in Osaka even calling for donations of raincoats to serve as protective equipment for health workers stuck using trash bags.   Measures have been implemented to try to ease the pressure, including sending coronavirus patients with mild symptoms to hotels for quarantine, rather than keeping them in overcrowded hospitals.   The government has also said it is increasing testing capacity, but continues to face criticism for the relatively low numbers of tests being carried out, in part because of stringent criteria.
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2020 07:46:52 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 20, 2020 (AFP) - Japanese medics are warning more must be done to prevent the coronavirus from overwhelming the country's healthcare system as confirmed cases passed 10,000, despite a nationwide state of emergency.   Experts have been alarmed by a recent spike in COVID-19 infections, with hundreds detected daily.

Japan's outbreak remains less severe than in hard-hit European countries, but its caseload is one of Asia's highest after China and India, and is roughly on par with South Korea.   There have been 171 deaths recorded so far in Japan and 10,751 cases, with the country under a month-long state of emergency, initially covering seven regions but now in place nationwide.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has urged residents to reduce contact with other people by 70 to 80 percent, and the number of people on Tokyo's normally packed transport system has dropped significantly.   But the measures do not prevent people from going out, and many shops and even restaurants remain open, even as medical associations warn the country's healthcare system is struggling to cope.   "The system is on the verge of collapse in many places in Japan," said Kentaro Iwata, an infectious diseases specialist from Kobe University who has repeatedly criticised the government's response to the crisis.

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Iwata said Japan's strategy of limited testing and intensive contact-tracing worked well in the initial phase of the local outbreak, when numbers were small.   But he charged that Japan failed to adapt as the outbreak grew.   "We needed to prepare for once the situation changes, once the cluster-chasing became not effective and we needed to change strategy immediately," he said.   "But traditionally speaking, and historically speaking, Japan is not very good at changing strategy," he added.   "We are very poor at even thinking of plan B because thinking of plan B is a sign of admitting failure of plan A."

- Not a 'worst-case scenario' -
Japan's government argues it has adjusted its strategy, boosting testing capacity, changing rules that required all positive cases to remain in hospitals where wards quickly became full, and imposing the state of emergency to reduce the spread.   But medical experts have called the measures insufficient.   "Beds for novel coronavirus patients continue to be almost full," Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association, warned last week.   The association has been increasing beds but with a large number of new cases coming in every day, "beds are being occupied instantly," he said.

The health minister has acknowledged that hospitals have in some cases turned away suspected coronavirus patients in ambulances.   "Japan hasn't built a system in which ordinary hospitals can take infectious disease patients in an emergency, when designated hospitals can't cope," Ozaki said on Friday.   "We are doing our best... but infections are spreading faster than expected," he added.   And hospitals are also struggling with equipment shortages, with the mayor of Osaka calling for donations of unused raincoats for health workers currently forced to use garbage bags for protective equipment.

Both Iwata and Ozaki warned that the state of emergency now in place until at least May 6 was not sufficient.   "While they talk about border controls and decreasing person-to-person contacts, they let stores stay open," Ozaki complained.   Iwata said he was "half-encouraged and half-discouraged" by the infection numbers in Tokyo, which he called "relatively stable."    "My biggest fear was the explosion of diagnoses... like in New York City, which didn't happen," he said.   "These numbers are much better than the worst-case scenario."
Date: Sun, 19 Apr 2020 23:32:13 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 19, 2020 (AFP) - A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck off the east coast of Japan early Monday, according to the US Geological Survey, but no tsunami warning was issued.   The epicentre of the earthquake was 41.7 kilometres (26 miles) beneath the Pacific seabed, less than 50 kilometres off the coast of Miyagi prefecture, the USGS said on its website, rating the risk of casualties and damage as low.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) put the quake at a magnitude of 6.1 and a depth of 50 kilometres. Japan's Kyodo News Agency said no tsunami warning had been issued after the tremor, which hit just after 5.30 am (2030 GMT).    Japan sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.   In 2011, a devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck roughly 130 kilometres east of Miyagi prefecture, unleashing an enormous tsunami, triggering the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown and killing nearly 16,000 people.
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2020 10:43:39 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 16, 2020 (AFP) - Japan's government will convene a key panel of medics Thursday to advise on its state of emergency over the coronavirus, as local media reported the prime minister would expand the measures to cover the entire country.   Shinzo Abe has already declared a month-long state of emergency in seven regions, including Tokyo.   People in these places are being urged to stay inside but the rules stop far short of the tight lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.

Since the emergency came into effect on April 8, several regional governors have called for the measures to be expanded to cover their areas -- warning of a growing number of coronavirus infections and overwhelmed medical facilities.   Some have declared their own local emergencies, even though they carry no legal force.   "Today, an advisory committee will be held. We should listen to the opinions of experts about areas subject to a state of emergency," government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters at a regular afternoon briefing.   "If we limit areas (under the state of emergency), people are increasingly flowing to neighbouring ones. We have to deal with it while discussing what to do during the holidays," he added, referring to the Golden Week period in late April and early May, when much of the country travels.

Japan has so far seen a relatively small outbreak of the virus, despite recording its first case in mid-January, with around 8,500 infections and 136 deaths by Thursday.   But local medical associations and experts have sounded the alarm, and Abe has asked people in areas already under a state of emergency to reduce contact with others by 70 to 80 percent to avoid an explosive growth in infections.   The state of emergency allows governors to ask people to stay indoors and request that businesses close, but there are no enforcement mechanisms and no penalties for those who fail to comply.

In Tokyo, the governor has called on people to work from home, and significant drops have been seen in the number of people commuting each day on the city's notoriously crowded transport system.   But while some central areas have been uncharacteristically deserted, local neighbourhoods have remained relatively bustling, raising concerns about whether the measures will be sufficient.   Japan's two emergency medical associations this week issued a joint statement warning they are "already sensing the collapse of the emergency medical system," with hospitals unable to deal with patients suffering from non-coronavirus ailments.   And in Japan's third-biggest city Osaka, the mayor has appealed for donations of raincoats to serve as personal protection for health workers who he said were being forced to resort to garbage bags.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 11:28:32 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Japan on Tuesday declared a state of emergency over a spike in coronavirus cases, ramping up efforts to contain infections but stopping short of the strict lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.  The government has come under mounting pressure to tackle an outbreak that remains small by global standards but has raised concerns among Japanese medical experts, with warnings that local healthcare systems are already overstretched.   "As I decided that a situation feared to gravely affect people's lives and the economy has occurred... I am declaring a state of emergency," Abe said.   The move allows governors in seven affected regions including Tokyo to ask people to stay indoors and request businesses close.

But many supermarkets and other shops will stay open, transport will continue to run and there are neither enforcement mechanisms nor penalties laid out for those who fail to comply with government requests.   "Although a state of emergency is declared, it won't mean a city lockdown as seen overseas," Abe said.   "We will prevent the spread of infection while maintaining economic and social services such as public transport as much as possible."   Pressure to declare an emergency had increased after Tokyo reported several days of record infections, with 143 new cases logged on Sunday.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has already asked residents of the capital to avoid unnecessary outings and work from home, but had pushed for an emergency declaration to give her requests legal strength.   Seven regions are covered by the month-long declaration: Tokyo, neighbouring Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, the western hub of Osaka and neighbouring Hyogo, and the southwestern region of Fukuoka.   The measure will last through to the end of the Golden Week holiday period, when much of the country travels in a rare break.

- 'Lives at stake' -
"It may cause inconvenience in daily life, but I call for everyone's cooperation because lives are at stake," Koike told reporters earlier.   The measure also allows governors to commandeer property for medical purposes and close public facilities like schools, many of which have already shut down.   The economic impacts of the measure and the broader global pandemic have raised concern of a recession in Japan, and Abe on Monday unveiled plans for a stimulus package worth around $1 trillion, or 20 percent of gross domestic product.

Japan has so far been spared the sort of virus outbreak seen in parts of Europe and the United States, with close to 4,000 confirmed infections and 80 deaths.   But medical experts have repeatedly sounded the alarm in recent weeks, citing the rapid increase of infections in parts of the country.    And on Monday, doctors in Tokyo said the situation in the capital was already in "critical condition".

- Public backing -
In a bid to ease the pressure, rules requiring people infected with the virus to stay in hospital even if their symptoms are mild have been relaxed, with Koike saying hotels would be designated as quarantine facilities for those in non-serious condition.   The government has also pledged to step up testing capacity and the number of beds and ventilators available to treat those in serious condition.

The state of emergency is a relatively relaxed approach to lockdown compared to other parts of the world, a function of Japan's legal system, which restricts the government's ability to limit the movement of citizens.   "Japan is still haunted by the negative legacy of the war and the oppression of its citizens," said Yoshinobu Yamamoto, an emeritus professor of international politics at the University of Tokyo.   But he warned that there could be calls for stronger measures if the outbreak continues to spread.

Japan saw its first case of the virus in mid-January, and came under heavy criticism for its handling of the coronavirus-wracked Diamond Princess, where an on-board quarantine ended with over 700 people contracting the virus and 11 deaths.   In the capital, people expressed support for the state of emergency, with some saying they felt it should have been declared sooner.   "When you see on TV what's going on in New York with the cases doubling within three, four days, it really sends chills down my spine," 76-year-old Mitsuo Oshiyama told AFP.   "I don't understand why the government waited so long."
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Cyprus

Cyprus US Consular Information Sheet
December 30, 2009

Since 1974, Cyprus, a Mediterranean island nation, has been divided de facto into a government-controlled area comprising the southern two-thirds of the island, and a northern third (t
e self-declared “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus"), administered by Turkish Cypriots. The United States does not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” nor does any country other than Turkey. Facilities for tourism in Cyprus are highly developed. Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Cyprus for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport is required for travel to Cyprus. A visa is not required for a stay of up to 90 days. For longer stays, a visa or residence permit is required. U.S. citizens should be mindful that the Government of Cyprus does not recognize the residence permits issued by Turkish Cypriot authorities for the portions of the island under Turkish Cypriot administration. The Government of Cyprus does not issue residency permits to individuals who live in the areas outside government control.
On occasion, Americans who resided in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots for more than 90 days without a Republic of Cyprus residence permit have been detained by officials at Larnaca airport and denied entry into the government-controlled area. They also may be subject to prosecution.

The U.S. Embassy encourages travelers to read the “Special Circumstances” section of this fact sheet for important additional information about entry requirements into the Turkish Cypriot-administered areas.
For further information on entry requirements for Cyprus, travelers can contact the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus at 2211 R Street NW, Washington, DC 20008-4082, tel. (202) 462-5772, or the Cypriot Consulate in New York at 13 East 40th St., 5th Floor, New York, NY 10016, tel. (212) 686-6016/17. Visit the Embassy of Cyprus’ web site at http://www.cyprusembassy.net 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: Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to enter the U.N. buffer zone at any place other than a designated crossing point. This area is mined and militarized.
Never photograph military installations or anything that could be perceived as being of security interest (especially in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots). Pay particular attention to areas marked with “no photography” signs. Police on both sides strictly enforce these restrictions.

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 A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: The crime rate in Cyprus is low. Visitors in urban areas should take the normal precautions they would take in any large city. Americans frequenting bars should avoid so-called “cabarets,” which sometimes employ women brought to Cyprus for sexual exploitation. These establishments can also present foreign patrons with grossly inflated bar tabs, threatening those customers who refuse to pay.

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 in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and explaining how funds can be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of a crime in Cyprus is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in the Republic of Cyprus is 199 or 112.

Emergency assistance is available in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots by calling 155.
Also see our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care is available at both government hospitals and private clinics. Emergency rooms offer adequate care to stabilize patients, most of whom are then transferred to private hospitals. Many of the private-sector doctors have been trained in the United Kingdom or the United States. While fees are generally lower than those in the United States, medical supplies are often more expensive. Paramedics do not staff ambulances. The standard of medical care in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots is improving but still falls below that found in the government-controlled area. The World Health Organization considers Cyprus to be one of the healthiest areas of the Mediterranean. Water supplies are potable, and the refuse collection/sewage disposal system is adequate. Communicable diseases such as typhoid are rare. Respiratory ailments and allergies are sometimes exacerbated by the dry and dusty climate.

Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Cyprus.
Legislation mandates that aliens known to have certain communicable diseases and HIV be denied entry into the country.
American citizens who think they may be included in this restriction are encouraged to check with the Embassy of Cyprus at http://www.cyprusembassy.net before they travel.
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 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 Cyprus is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
In recent years, Cyprus ranked among the top three countries in Europe, on a per capita basis, in traffic fatalities. Speeding, tailgating, overtaking, and the running of caution lights are commonplace and major causes of accidents. Emergency assistance is available in the Republic of Cyprus by calling 112 or 199.
Emergency assistance is available in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots by calling 155.
There are few public buses and no rail lines. Taxis are widely available. Traffic moves on the left side of the road, British style, and modern motorways link the major cities. Secondary roads, especially in mountainous areas, tend to be narrow and winding, and they are not as well maintained as major highways. Traffic laws, signs and speed limits are consistent with the standards used throughout Europe. Traffic circles (roundabouts) are often utilized at major intersections.

The use of seat belts (in front seats) and child car seats is required. Motorcyclists are required to wear helmets and the use of cellular phones while driving is prohibited unless used with some form of hands-free kit. Liability insurance is mandatory.

Road safety conditions in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots are similar to conditions in the south, except that the road network is less developed. Insurance purchased in the government-controlled area is not valid in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, but insurance for that area may be purchased near the U.N. "buffer zone" checkpoints.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. For specific information concerning driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance in Cyprus, contact the Cyprus Tourism Organization at 13 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016, tel. (212) 683-5280, email: gocyprus@aol.com, web site: http://www.visitcyprus.com/wps/portal.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Cyprus, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Cyprus’ Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Since 1974, the Republic of Cyprus has designated Larnaca and Paphos international airports, and the seaports of Limassol, Larnaca, and Paphos, as the only legal points of entry into and exit from Cyprus. These ports are all in the government-controlled southern part of the island. Entry or exit via any other air or seaport is considered an illegal act by the Republic of Cyprus. Formerly, visitors choosing to arrive at non-designated airports and seaports in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots were not allowed to cross the U.N.-patrolled “buffer zone” to the government-controlled area in the south. Since 2004, when the Republic of Cyprus implemented new EU-related crossing regulations, Americans (and citizens of other non-EU countries not requiring visas) have been able to cross regardless of their port of entry into Cyprus.

Most American visitors to Cyprus are able to cross the “buffer zone” without hindrance, although on occasion difficulties are encountered at both the government and Turkish Cypriot checkpoints. Cypriot officials at the “buffer zone” checkpoints or at airports and seaports in the government-controlled area may detain and prosecute Americans who have been present for more than 90 days in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots if they do not possess a residency permit issued by the Government of Cyprus.

For visits of less than 90 days, American citizens may enter the Turkish Cypriot-administered area by displaying a valid U.S. passport.
Stays for 90 days or longer require a “temporary residency visa” issued by Turkish Cypriot authorities.
Turkish Cypriot authorities have deported foreigners who violate this law.
Turkish Cypriot authorities emphasize that the requirement to obtain a temporary residency visa within 90 days of arriving in the Turkish Cypriot-administered area cannot be avoided by periodically visiting the southern part of the island controlled by the Republic of Cyprus.
Policy and procedures regarding travel across the “buffer zone” are subject to change. More information on current procedures may be obtained at the U.N. “buffer zone” Ledra Palace checkpoint in Nicosia.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated strict identification procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian, if not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry and departure. Although Cyprus is party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the Convention cannot be used effectively to recover a child abducted to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

Cyprus customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Cyprus of items such as firearms. There are no restrictions on contemporary religious materials and medication for personal use; however, Cyprus does restrict the export of Byzantine era ecclesiastical material.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Washington, DC for specific information regarding customs requirements or visit http://www.mof.gov.cy/mof/customs/ced.nsf/DMLindex_en/DMLindex_en?OpenDocument.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. Cyprus restricts the export of Byzantine period ecclesiastical material and all archaeological material, including ancient coins. The U.S. Customs Service may impose corresponding import restrictions in accordance with the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. Also see our Customs Information.

In addition to being subject to all Cypriot laws affecting American citizens, individuals who also possess Cypriot nationality may be subject to laws that impose special obligations on citizens of Cyprus. For example, American citizens whom the Republic of Cyprus considers to be Cypriot citizens may be subject to compulsory military service and other aspects of Cypriot law while in Cyprus. American citizen males between the ages of 16 and 26 years who reside in the United States and whose parents or grandfather were Greek Cypriots or have Greek Cypriot names are advised to obtain a written confirmation that they reside permanently outside of Cyprus from the Cypriot Embassy in Washington, D.C. before they travel to Cyprus.
After their arrival in Cyprus, the young men should present their foreign residency confirmation statement to the Cypriot National Guard Registration office to obtain an exit permit. Those who believe they may be affected should inquire at the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus regarding their status. American citizens whom the Turkish Cypriot authorities consider to be "citizens" may also be subject to compulsory military service in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. The U.S. Embassy is unable to exempt dual nationals from such service.
For additional information, please see our dual nationality flyer.

American Citizens who buy or lease property, particularly in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, may find their ownership challenged by people displaced as a result of the 1974 conflict. Prospective property buyers should always seek legal advice before buying. On October 20, 2006, the government of the Republic of Cyprus passed Article 303A of the Criminal Code which makes it a felony to buy, rent or sell property in Cyprus without the consent of the registered owner. Cypriot courts have used the law to prosecute people involved in the sale or purchase of property in the area administered by the Turkish Cypriots. The government of Cyprus has also attempted to enforce Cypriot legal judgments in property matters in other EU countries. Cypriot customs authorities routinely detain anyone arriving in Cyprus or crossing the buffer zone found to be in possession of documents relating to property purchases in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

In June 2006 the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" amended the laws governing its "Immovable Property Commission" to enable the Commission to accept claims for compensation or restitution from Greek Cypriots for property in the north.
The Government of the Republic of Cyprus does not recognize the legitimacy of the "Immovable Property Commission."
Some Greek Cypriots who have filed claims with the Commission have been subjected to intensive governmental and public pressure to withdraw their claims.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, American citizens are 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 under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Cypriot laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Cyprus are strict, and convicted offenders can expect 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 Cyprus are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration web site
in order to obtain updated information on travel and security within Cyprus. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located at Metochiou and Ploutarchou Streets, Engomi, Nicosia, tel. 357-22-39-3939; fax 357-22-39-3344; e-mail consularnicosia@state.gov; web site http://cyprus.usembassy.gov/
The U.S. Government also maintains an office in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. The office is located at 6 Serif Arzik Street, Koskluciftlik, Nicosia.
The telephone number when calling from the United States or the Republic of Cyprus is 0090-392-227-3930. When calling within the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, please dial 227-3930.
* * * * * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 27, 2008
to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements, Information for Victims of Crime,
Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 21 May 2020 12:46:52 +0200 (METDST)
By Charlie Charalambous

Nicosia, May 21, 2020 (AFP) - The Cypriot government ended a strict coronavirus lockdown Thursday, reopening outdoor restaurants, barber shops and beaches, but keeping the Mediterranean resort island's vital airports and hotels closed for now.   After two months of living in self-isolation, Cypriots are allowed to move around freely again.

Some 32,000 more people went back to work as part of the government's second stage out of lockdown.   Thousands of children returned to the classroom as state-run schools resumed most classes.   Since mid-March people could only go outside for exercise and essential trips which needed to be approved by text message while a curfew was enforced every night.   Cyprus activated the second stage of its draft timetable for ending the lockdown after the the daily number of new infections remained in single figures throughout the first three weeks of May.

Virologist Dr Leontios Kostrikis, who is a member of the health ministry's epidemiological monitoring unit, said he was "very satisfied" with the figures so far.   Announcing four new infections in the previous 24 hours on Wednesday evening, Kostrikis said Cyprus was entering a watershed moment in its fight against the coronavirus.   "The second stage is a make or break point for a full return to normalcy and for this reason we kindly ask you to keep up the good work with the same determination so that we are not forced to take backward steps," Kostrikis told reporters.

Due to the better than expected figures, the government has also decided to allow Cypriots access to organised beaches from 23 May, rather than June 1 as planned.   At present only swimming is allowed not sunbathing or any other leisure activity.   Parks and public spaces have also reopened but not children's playgrounds.   Church services and other forms of religious worship will also be allowed to resume from May 23 instead of June.

- Still no flights -
But the island's two international airports in Larnaca and Paphos remain firmly shut for now, as do the crossing points to the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot north of the island.   The tourism sector makes up a key part of the Cyprus economy and the government has been under heavy pressure to reopen airports and hotels before the peak summer season.   The government has said it hopes to reopen airports gradually from mid-June with hotels to reopen two weeks after that.

But it has yet to issue any health protocols on how they will operate.   Gyms and indoor bars and restaurants will also remain shut until the third phase out of lockdown scheduled to start from June 9.   The government has said crossing points through the UN-patrolled buffer zone that divides the government-controlled south from the breakaway north will not reopen before next month.

Their closure has prevented thousands of Turkish Cypriots from reaching work in the south and sparked Turkish Cypriot demonstrations.   Since the first case on March 9, the Cyprus government has confirmed 922 coronavirus infections and 17 deaths, including in the island's British sovereign base areas.   Turkish Cypriot authorities have confirmed 108 cases and four deaths.
Date: Wed, 29 Apr 2020 21:55:29 +0200 (METDST)

Nicosia, April 29, 2020 (AFP) - Cyprus revealed a plan Wednesday to gradually ease coronavirus lockdown measures  and reboot the Mediterranean holiday island's economy.   The Republic of Cyprus, which controls the southern two-thirds of the divided island, had imposed strict measures soon after its first COVID-19 cases were confirmed on March 9.

President Nicos Anastasiades announced that some of the emergency regulations would be eased from May 4 and further lifted in stages, on the advice of health experts wary of a new spike in COVID-19 cases.   "The distance we have to travel, unfortunately, remains great," Anastasiades said in a televised address after a cabinet meeting.   "Nevertheless, the progress that continues to be made allows us to implement the first phases for a gradual easing of restrictive measures," he added.

The first phase will see the reopening of the key construction sector, as well as retailers and markets, though shopping malls will remain closed.   The public sector will go back to work, but under strict social distancing rules. Parks, marinas and playgrounds will remain closed until the second phase.   Under the lockdown measures, Cyprus residents were only permitted to leave the house once a day for limited purposes, and needed to obtain government permission via SMS for each trip.    From Monday they will be allowed three outings per day, Anastasiades said.   A night-time curfew will remain in place, but the start time will be pushed an hour later to 10:00 pm (1900 GMT).

From May 21, all movement restrictions will be lifted, Anastasiades added.   Open-air restaurants, cafes and bars will also reopen from May 21, as will barber shops, hair salons and beauty parlours.   Students in their final year of secondary school at state-run and private schools are set to return to class from May 11.

Cypriots will again be allowed to visit the island's many beaches from June 1.   A ban on gathering at places of worship, which had been in place during Greek Orthodox Easter in mid-April, will also be eased.   Groups of fewer than ten people will be permitted in places of worship from Monday and religious services opened to the public from June 1.

The plan did not mention the reopening of airports and hotels.    A commercial flight ban has been imposed until mid-May, with only Cypriot citizens and residents allowed to enter the country and facing quarantine on arrival.   Seaports will operate again from June 1, but passengers will not be able to disembark from cruise ships.   The Republic of Cyprus has recorded 843 cases of the novel coronavirus, including 15 deaths, since early March.    The breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara, has reported 108 cases, including four deaths.
Date: Fri, 24 Apr 2020 12:00:12 +0200 (METDST)

Nicosia, April 24, 2020 (AFP) - Cyprus has extended a ban on all commercial flights until May 17 to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the transport minister said Friday.  "We have decided to extend the decree on a total ban on flights at Larnaca and Paphos airports until Sunday 17 May," Yiannis Karousos wrote on Twitter.   The transport ministry said the decree continued to apply to all countries.   Cargo and humanitarian flights, as well as repatriation flights to and from the Mediterranean island, are exempt.

The extension is the third since authorities first introduced a two-week ban on March 21. The current period had been scheduled to end on April 30.   Cyprus has imposed tough restrictions to confront the coronavirus pandemic.   Most people are allowed to leave their homes only once a day and a night-time curfew is in place, while those returning on repatriation flights are subject to a 14-day quarantine period at a designated facility.

Authorities are assessing whether to start gradually easing the lockdown in early May, with new cases of the COVID-19 illness appearing to slow and low transmission rates.   As of Thursday evening, the Republic of Cyprus had officially declared 795 coronavirus cases, including 10 on sovereign British military bases on the island, and 13 deaths.   The breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has registered 108 cases and four deaths.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 22:17:15 +0200 (METDST)

Nicosia, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Wednesday extended a lockdown designed to combat the spread of coronavirus until the end of April, taking in Greek Easter.   "The cabinet has agreed to extend all measures and decrees until April 30," Anastasiades announced in a televised address.

Cyprus has closed schools, banned gatherings and imposed a nigh time curfew, allowing residents to leave their homes only once a day.   The shutdown had originally been due to run until April 13.   "We must not succumb to the difficulties caused by the measures. The duration of the measures depends on how faithfully we follow them," Anastasiades said.   The Republic of Cyprus on Wednesday announced 32 new coronavirus cases, taking the confirmed total in the EU member state to 526, among whom nine have died.

Two other people, both German tourists, have died of COVID-19 in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet in the north of the divided island.   "Without wanting to cultivate optimism, it seems that our measures allow us to see a ray of light," the president said.   "It is not our way of life which is at stake but our lives," he said.

The president was referring to Greek Easter, the most important date in the Orthodox calendar that this year falls on April 19.   He said there will be 20,000 more coronavirus tests for people still working, including the army, and further repatriations of students and other Cypriot nationals stranded abroad.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 11:30:15 +0200 (METDST)

Nicosia, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Cyprus has extended a ban on all commercial flights for another two weeks until April 17 to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the transport minister said Thursday.   After "evaluating the situation... "we (decided to) extend the decree" introduced for two weeks on March 21 by another 14 days, Yiannis Karousos tweeted.

The transport ministry told local news site Financial Mirror that cargo flights from a list of 28 countries were exempted from the ban as well as flights for stranded foreign nationals and "for humanitarian reasons".   As of Wednesday evening, Cyprus had recorded a total of 397 coronavirus cases and 11 deaths from the pandemic, including two fatalities in the Turkish-run north of the divided island.   The island has imposed tough restrictions on movement, including a nighttime curfew and allowing people to leave their homes only once a day with permission.
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Congo, Democratic Republic

Democratic Republic of the Congo US Consular Information Sheet
23rd September 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) located in central Africa, is the third largest country on the continent. The capital
s Kinshasa. French is the official language. Years of civil war and corruption have badly damaged the country's infrastructure. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport, visa and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required for entry. Some travelers arriving in the DRC without proper proof of yellow fever vaccination have been temporarily detained, had their passports confiscated, or been required to pay a fine. Information about yellow fever vaccination clinics in the U.S. may be found at http://www2.ncid.cdc.gov/travel/yellowfever/.
Visas must be obtained from an embassy of the DRC prior to arrival.
Travelers to the DRC frequently experience difficulties at the airport and other ports of entry, such as temporary detention, passport confiscation and demands by immigration and security personnel for unofficial “special fees.”
All resident foreigners, including Americans, are required to register at the office of the Direction General de Migration (DGM) in the commune of their place of residence.
Visitors who wish to travel in any mining areas must first obtain government approval from various government agencies or ministries, an often cumbersome and time consuming process.
Dual nationals arriving in the DRC should carefully consider which passport they use to enter the DRC. For departure from the DRC, airlines will require a valid visa for all destination countries before they will issue a ticket or allow a passenger to board. Airlines also require that the passenger have the correct entry stamp in the passport they wish to use to exit the country. Passengers who are unable to leave the country on the passport they used to enter the DRC may not be able to continue on their travel itinerary.
Additional information about visas may be obtained from the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1726 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, tel. (202) 234-7690, or the DRC's Permanent Mission to the UN, 866 United Nations Plaza, Room 511, New York, NY 10017, tel. 212-319-8061, fax: 212-319-8232, web site http://www.un.int/drcongo. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Congolese embassy or consulate. 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:
See the Department of State’s Travel Warning for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Though the DRC is now significantly more stable than it has been over the past decade, security remains problematic. The first democratic elections in more than forty years were held in 2006, and a new government is now in place. Post-election disturbances occurred as recently as March 2007 in Kinshasa, resulting in deaths of civilians and military personnel. During civil disturbances in 2007 there were incidents of hostility towards U.S. citizens and other expatriates.

Both inside and outside Kinshasa, there can be roadblocks, especially after dark. Vehicles are often searched for weapons and valuables, and travelers are checked for identity papers. Security forces regularly seek bribes. If confronted with such a situation, it is suggested that U.S. citizens remain courteous and calm. If detained, report the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa as soon as possible.

The United Nations has its largest peacekeeping operation in the world in the DRC. Known by its French acronym of MONUC, it has close to 17,000 peacekeepers deployed in the country – primarily in the east. Violence nevertheless persists in the eastern DRC due to the presence of several militias and foreign armed groups, with sporadic outbreaks occurring in North Kivu, South Kivu, and northern Katanga provinces, as well as in the Ituri District of Orientale province. Members of the Lord’s Resistance Army entered into northeastern DRC from Sudan in 2005, and have camps in an isolated region of the DRC, Garamba National Park, where they killed eight MONUC peacekeepers in January 2006.

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:
In the DRC, poor economic conditions continue to foster crime, especially in urban areas. Travel in many sections of Kinshasa, Kisangani, Lubumbashi and most other major cities, is generally safe during daylight hours, but travelers are urged to be vigilant against criminal activity which targets non-Congolese, particularly in highly congested traffic and areas surrounding hotels and stores. Outlying, remote areas are less secure due to high levels of criminal activity and the lack of adequate training, supervision, and salary payments to the security forces present.

Vehicle thefts, burglaries, and armed robbery occur throughout the country; there have been recent reports of after-dark carjackings, resulting in deaths in the North Kivu area. It is recommended to drive with doors locked and windows closed at all times. If confronted by members of the military or security forces, visitors should not permit soldiers or police officers to enter their vehicles nor get into the vehicle of anyone purporting to be a security official. It is recommended that in such instances U.S. citizens remain courteous and calm and, if threatened, not resist. All incidents should be reported to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa.

Consistency in administering laws and regulations is notably absent. Travelers should note that in cases of theft and robbery, legal recourse is limited. Therefore, valuable items may be safer if kept at home or another secure location.

Security officials and/or individuals purporting to be security officials have detained and later robbed American citizens and other foreigners in the city of Kinshasa. This type of crime has increased in recent months, but generally occurs more frequently during the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Travelers using public transportation or visiting high pedestrian traffic areas of any type are advised to be vigilant against robbery and pick-pocketing which is a persistent problem in all major cities in the DRC. The presence of “street children”, who can be persistent and sometimes aggressive, remains a problem particularly in Kinshasa.
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:
In the DRC, medical facilities are severely limited, and medical materials are in short supply. Travelers should carry properly labeled prescription drugs and other medications with them and should not expect to find an adequate supply of prescription or over-the-counter drugs in local stores or pharmacies. Payment for any medical services required is expected in cash, in advance of treatment.

Malaria is common throughout the DRC and outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, the Ebola virus, and hemorrhagic fever occur.
Travelers should take appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in the DRC.
For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB at: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of the DRC.

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:
For planning purposes, the minimum estimated cost of medical air evacuation to the nearest suitable health care facility (in South Africa) is $35,000.

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

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the DRC is provided for general reference only, and may vary according to location or circumstance.

Inter-city roads are scarce, and throughout the DRC roads are generally in poor condition, and often impassable in the rainy season. When driving in cities, keep windows up and doors locked. At roadblocks or checkpoints, documents should be shown through closed windows. In the event of a traffic incident involving bodily injury to a third party or pedestrian, do not stop to offer assistance under any circumstances. Proceed directly to the nearest police station or gendarmerie to report the incident and request official government intervention. Attempting to provide assistance may further aggravate the incident, resulting in a hostile mob reaction such as stoning or beating.

Presidential and other official motorcades pose serious risks to drivers and pedestrians in Kinshasa. When hearing sirens or seeing security forces announcing the motorcade's approach, drivers should pull off the road as far as possible, stop their vehicles, and extinguish headlights. Vehicles should not attempt to move until the entire motorcade has passed by; the security forces will physically indicate when this has occurred. Failure to comply may result in arrest, and/or vehicle damage with possible personal injury.

Public transportation of all forms is unregulated and is generally unsafe and unreliable. Taxis, mini-buses, and trains are in poor mechanical condition and are invariably filled beyond capacity.

Visitors who wish to travel in any mining areas must first obtain government approval from various government agencies or ministries, an often cumbersome and time consuming process.

Drivers should stop their cars and pedestrians should stand still when passing a government installation during the raising and lowering of the Congolese flag. This ceremony occurs at roughly 7:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the DRC’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of the DRC’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.
Civil aviation in the DRC continues to experience air incidents and accidents; more than a dozen crashes and in-flight accidents resulted in more than 300 fatalities between 2000 and August 2008. Incidents included hard landings, engine failures, collapsed landing gear, and planes veering off the runway.
In-country air travel schedules are unreliable and planes are frequently overloaded with passengers and/or cargo.
The U.S. Embassy in the DRC has prohibited official travel by U.S. government employees and contractors on all DRC-owned and -operated commercial air transportation services due to concerns regarding safety and maintenance.
International flights on foreign-owned and -operated carriers are not affected by this notice.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Photography: Travelers should note that photography in public places in Kinshasa and around any public or government building or monument in the DRC is strictly forbidden. Persons caught photographing such sites will likely have their photographic equipment confiscated and risk detention and possible arrest.

Travel to and from Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of Congo): Ferry service to and from Kinshasa and Brazzaville stops running in the late afternoon, does not operate on Sundays, and may close completely with minimal notice. If ferry service is functioning, a special exit permit from the DRC's Immigration Service and a visa from the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) are required for U.S. citizens to cross the Congo River from Kinshasa to Brazzaville.

Ferry and riverboat service to the Central African Republic is suspended due to rebel control of the Ubangui River.
Phone Service: In the DRC, cellular phones are the norm, as other telephone service is unreliable. Depending on the type of phone, it may be possible to locally purchase a SIM card to use an American-compatible cell phone in the DRC.

Currency: U.S. currency is widely accepted in the urban areas, but most vendors and banking institutions will accept only Series 1996 bills or newer, with the large, off-center portraits, that provide stronger protection against counterfeiting. In addition, bills must be in near perfect condition; even those with minor stains or small tears will be rejected. One dollar bills are rarely accepted, even if in mint condition. U.S. bills should be examined before they are accepted to ensure that they are legitimate, as counterfeit currency is widely circulated. It is recommended that currency exchange be conducted at reputable banks and not on the street where several schemes exist to either short-change the unwitting customer or to pass counterfeit bills.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in any 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. 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.

Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe in the DRC than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Congolese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the DRC are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Accusations of engaging in crimes against the security of the State, which are loosely defined, often result in detention for prolonged periods without being formally arrested. The DRC’s justice system remains plagued by corruption and uneven application of the law. Attorney fees can be expensive and are expected to be paid in advance of services rendered.

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 the DRC are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within the Congo. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs; tel. 243-081-225-5872 (do not dial the zero when calling from abroad). Entrance to the Consular Section of the Embassy is on Avenue Dumi, opposite the Ste. Anne residence. The Consular Section of the Embassy may be reached at tel. 243-081-884-6859 or 243-081-884-4609; fax 243-081-301-0560 (do not dial the first zero when calling from abroad).
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, dated April 29, 2008, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 5 May 2020 16:05:52 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, May 5, 2020 (AFP) - The DR Congo government warned Tuesday of a "large-scale" spread of the COVID-19 pandemic after around 100 inmates of a military prison tested positive for the virus.   "Contamination at the prisons could be a vector of large-scale propagation in our society, especially if it involves the Makala prison because of its overcrowding," according to the minutes of a cabinet meeting.    With the emergence of COVID-19 cases at the Ndolo military prison north of Kinshasa -- where cases doubled to nearly 100 in two days -- "the risk of a lightning-fast spread... cannot be ruled out," said the minutes obtained by AFP.

According to the latest bulletin issued Tuesday by a health ministry team tackling the pandemic, 101 cases have now been discovered at Ndolo, of which 92 were described as "benign or light".   Of the other nine, three patients have been hospitalised, the statement said.   So far no cases of COVID-19 have turned up at Makala, Kinshasa's largest prison, which houses   8,484 detainees for a capacity estimated at 1,500.   The first case of the coronavirus infection in the central African country was registered on March 10.   Since then, 705 cases have been confirmed, with 34 deaths.

Infections arriving in the country from abroad have been halted, the bulletin said, adding: "The contaminations seen (since) have been local. The exponential increase that was so feared has not happened."   It added that the country's pandemic point man Jacques Muyembe had said that the isolation of Gombe, a section of the sprawling capital, had "given good results".   Seven of the DRC's 26 provinces have recorded cases of COVID-19, but the vast majority of infections (652) have occurred in Kinshasa, a city of 12 million people that also accounts for all the fatalities.
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 2020 16:10:18 +0200 (METDST)
By Susan NJANJI with African bureaus

Johannesburg, April 22, 2020 (AFP) - So you've tested positive for coronavirus and are desperate for a cure.    No problem: just drink your own urine.    This quack remedy from Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the myriad therapies being touted today in Africa as poor people hunt for a virus fix.   Their desperation is combining with faith in traditional medicine, spurring a rush for almost anything claimed to prevent or cure coronavirus, despite stern scientific warnings.   Bogus or dubious concoctions are often the result -- and widely respected traditional healing has been placed on a collision course with Western medicine.

Around the continent, the lengthening list of supposed cures ranges from ginger and lemons to tree bark, secret herbs and -- as suggested by the self-described herbalist in the DRC -- drinking one's urine.   Even presidents have joined the bandwagon.   Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina this week unveiled a concoction prepared with artemisia, a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment.   "This herbal tea gives results in seven days," he said as he sipped a dose.   "I will be the first to drink this today, in front of you, to show you that this product cures and does not kill."

Such claims fly in the face of warnings from mainstream scientists, who say there is no known cure for coronavirus and urge rigorous testing to prove the effectiveness -- and safety -- of the proposed traditional cures.   Those urging vigilance include the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) and US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which says: "There is no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent or cure the illness caused by COVID-19. In fact, some of them may not be safe to consume."

But with a conventional cure still elusive, and fears pervasive, African herbalists are keen to fill the void.   One traditional practitioner in the DRC, Gabriel Nsombila, is running adverts on a local radio station.   "Inhaling the vapour of a mixture of mango tree bark, papaya leaves, ginger and a plant whose name I will keep secret is a certain cure for people suffering from coronavirus," Nsombila told AFP.     "All those who come to my house leave cured," he said, without stating how many he has treated.

In Cameroon, naturopathic doctor Anselme Kouam said a simple infusion of garlic or ginger, with some mint extract boiled in water, then poured into a bowl, would do the trick.   "Lower your head closer to the bowl, cover it with a blanket and inhale. It clears the airways and it's effective against this virus," he said, but admitted that he had yet to administer this to a coronavirus patient.   Some of the touted remedies have proven fatal.   The UN Radio Okapi reported last month that three children in DRC died after their mother administered a medicinal plant believed to prevent contamination by the virus.

- Seeking a role -
Despite such headline-making incidents, traditional practitioners say they have something useful to offer in the fight against coronavirus.   But, some complain, they are being marginalised by health officials trained in Western medicine.

In South Africa, herbalist Makelani Bantu claims he makes a cure-it-all fruit-and-vegetable juice.   But, he says, the authorities have yet to respond to his offer to validate it by giving it to patients.   "We are not even given a chance to say something," he told AFP by phone from his home in Pretoria.    "We are raising hands to say, 'guys we have something better,'... (but) there is no one who is listening to us.    "There is no solution for COVID-19. Our own natural way of healing should be tried."

Sorel Eta, a Congolese ethnologist, said the knowledge of indigenous Pygmies could be precious.   "They have always treated diseases with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19. It's time to go and consider indigenous pharmacopoeia, because it is very rich. Let's not overlook them," Eta said.   In Benin, traditional healer and voodoo high priest Bokonon Azonyihoues and his colleagues are hard at work -- researching.   "We don't make any noise about it, but given the powerlessness of modern medicine, the solution could come from traditional therapists. We are working on it," he told AFP.    "Chloroquine has been mentioned" as a potential medicine for coronavirus, he said, referring to a veteran anti-malaria drug.   "But... we have plants that are 10 times more effective than chloroquine in treating malaria."

- 'Nothing excluded' -
Phephsile Maseko, coordinator of South Africa's 78,000-member Traditional Healers' Organization (THO), said "we're pushing" the government for a role in the campaign against the pandemic.   But, Maseko said, "It's a struggle."   The health authorities, for their part, insist they have not slammed the door on traditional medicine.   "We are open. Nothing is excluded. All those who can provide a scientific response, including traditional treaters, are welcome," said Georges Etoundi Mballa, director of disease control at Cameroon's health ministry.   "We have set up a scientific committee where everyone can express themselves."

South African health ministry spokesman Pop Maja said the department receives around a dozen calls a day from people claiming to have a COVID-19 cure.   The government recognises the role of traditional healers, he said.   But at the moment it is asking them to get the message across about prevention rather than promising treatments.   "We truly respect their role, (there is) a signficant amount of people who consult them, we cannot overlook that," he told AFP.   "But right now there is no cure, we know there is no cure for coronavirus."
Date: Tue, 21 Apr 2020 18:04:23 +0200 (METDST)

Bukavu, DR Congo, April 21, 2020 (AFP) - Forty-six people have died in heavy flooding that struck the town of Uvira in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, destroying thousands of homes, local officials said on Tuesday, warning the tally could be much higher.   "The updated toll is 30 dead, but it's still very provisional as there are still people trapped in the rubble" of their homes, deputy mayor Kapenda Kyky Kifara told AFP.   "It will take weeks to find people who are unaccounted for," he said.   The territory's administrator, Alexis Rashidi Kasangala, said 16 deaths were recorded while 3,600 homes were destroyed on the outskirts of the town.

The UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, in a press conference from Geneva conducted over the internet, said 15,000 homes had been damaged and around 80,000 people had been affected.   Uvira is located in South Kivu province, bordering Lake Tanganyika, connected by road to the provincial capital Bukavu.    The region has been pounded by heavy rain in recent weeks, causing the three rivers running through Uvira to burst their banks. The toll last Friday stood at 24.

The UNHCR is working with local authorities and its partners to help victims, its spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, said, noting that the region has been struggling for years with conflict and poor security.   Pakistani troops with the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC have been taking part in rescue operations, the mission said in a tweet.   The bishop of Uvira, Sebastien Muyengo, said: "All the bridges connecting us with Bukavu have been swept away. We are worried about hunger and thirst."   He said the town had been hit by a double blow -- rainwater that had swept down from the flanks of the Ruzizi plain, carrying with it mud and rocks, and Lake Tanganyika's rising waters.   Deforestation has increased the risk to the town and unauthorised housing has worsened the toll, he said.   Around 15 people have died since the start of the year in Bukavu from flooding and mudslides.
- Fri 17 Apr 2020
Declaration of end of Ebola outbreak shelved [Reuters, abridged, edited]

The World Health Organization said on Friday [17 Apr 202] that [6] new Ebola infections have been recorded in eastern Congo since last week [week of 6 Apr 2020] in a new flare-up just as the government was about to declare an end to the deadly epidemic.]

Small outbreaks or one-off transmissions are common towards the end of an epidemic. Health workers are often able to prevent the virus spreading out of control by quarantining and vaccinating contacts of new cases.

On 9 Apr 2020, a 26-year-old electrician died of the haemorrhagic fever in the eastern town of Beni 2 days before the Democratic Republic of Congo planned to declare an end to the Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 2200 people since its onset in August 2018.

The 2 newest cases were a 43-year-old woman and a 28-year-old motorbike-taxi driver who had brought the electrician to the hospital, according to Boubacar Diallo, deputy incident manager for the WHO's Ebola response operation.

It was unclear if the woman was linked to the other cases in a new chain of transmission, he said, but the new cases forced Congo's national government to shelve its declaration of an end to the epidemic.

Two new vaccines have had a major impact in containing Ebola, but public mistrust and militia attacks have prevented health workers from reaching some areas hit by the virus.

Demonstrators blocked roads in Beni with rocks on Thursday morning [16 Apr 2020], protesting over the authorities' handling of the latest Ebola flare-up and demanding all Ebola test results be verified by laboratories in eastern Congo's main city Goma and in the capital Kinshasa in the west of the vast Central African nation.

Health teams were delayed by the protesters but eventually able to resume their work tracing those who came into contact with those newly infected by Ebola, Diallo said. Police said they arrested 4 people.

Late last year [2019] deadly attacks on health centres in and around Beni forced aid groups to suspend operations and withdraw staff from the last strongholds of the epidemic.

Congo, one of the world's poorest countries where most people have scant access to modern health care, has also reported 287 cases of the new coronavirus and 23 deaths from the global pandemic.  [Byline: Hereward Holland]
====================
[Note that the WHO dashboard states 6 total cases rather than the 5 originally stated in this report. - ProMed Mod.LK]
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2020 15:49:01 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, April 15, 2020 (AFP) - DR Congo's health authorities have appealed for maximum effort to avoid "the worst" impact of an expected peak in coronavirus cases in the capital Kinshasa next month.   The pandemic in the capital city and province "is entering an exponential phase," the country's COVID-19 watchdog said in a report seen by AFP on Wednesday.   "The peak of this growth will occur between the first and second week of May," it said.   "During this period, we must expect a major influx of patients to health facilities, which will probably be overwhelmed. If current preparatory efforts are not completed in time, we must fear the worst."   The largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo suffers from chronically weak healthcare infrastructure, entrenched poverty and, in Kinshasa, crowded slums.

The DRC has so far recorded 21 dead out of 254 cases since March 10, almost all in Kinshasa.   The report was of a meeting of the multi-sector committee for response to COVID-19.   It was signed by the committee's technical secretary, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, a world-renowned virologist who is also the co-discoverer of the Ebola virus.   The document warned bluntly that in Kinshasa "social distancing measures have completely lapsed" and there were fears of an "intense" spread of coronavirus disease "in the coming weeks".

It recommended obligatory wearing of masks in public areas, especially in buses and markets, and urged that a lockdown imposed on the central business district of Gombe since April 6 be extended to neighbouring areas.   In the neighbouring Republic of Congo, also called Congo-Brazzaville, 43 new cases of coronavirus have been detected, bringing the total since March 14 to 117 cases, five of which have been fatal, Health Minister Jacqueline Lydia Mikolo said on Wednesday.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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