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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: 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.
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[Gegharkunik province is on the eastern border of Armenia and pokes into Azerbaijan; see:
<http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/maps/commonwealth/armenia_pol_2002.jpg>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seychelles

General:
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This group of islands are situated off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. The main Island is Mahe and it has a population of under 100,000. The other two islands with significant popula
ions are Praslin and La Digue. Generally, tourist facilities are well developed throughout these main islands. Elsewhere facilities are poor. The islands enjoy an oceanic tropical climate with only mild variations throughout the year. Rainfall fluctuations do occur with more rainfall occurring between October to April each year.
Safety and Security:
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The majority of tourists visiting the Seychelles will have a very peaceful time and the rate of crime throughout the country is small. However, like many other destinations this situation is changing and there are increasing numbers of reports of petty crime - even on the more popular beaches. Generally it is unwise to leave valuables unattended while you bathe and walking around the main streets in Victoria after dark is not recommended especially for women. All money exchanges must be transacted with official designated dealers and a receipt obtained. Otherwise strict penalties may be enforced.
Health Facilities:
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The level of healthcare in the main tourists resorts is perfectly adequate for most situations but outside these regions the level of care is significantly less. On isolated islands doctors are often unavailable and it may take many hours before you could move to a better equipped location. Always make sure your travel and health insurance is up to date before you leave home.
Food & Water Facilities:
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The level of food and water preparation in the main tourist resorts is excellent but when travelling to isolated regions the standards drop considerably. Consuming foods cooked in local homes will be a significant risk in many circumstances and usually best avoided. However, well cooked fresh fish and other well prepared local delicacies should not present any particular difficulty. As always it is wise to avoid all under cooked bivalve shellfish such as oysters, mussels and clams. Unprepared cold foods like lettuce are also better left untasted and fruit which has been previously peeled will be potentially contaminated. If you peel it yourself it should be fine. Check the tap water smells of chlorine and if not, do not use it for drinking or even brushing your teeth.
Insect Bites and Malaria:
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No malaria risk occurs throughout the Seychelles so prophylaxis will not be required. This is excellent news but you should be aware that mosquitoes can still be a problem and so careful avoidance techniques are required - particularly between dusk and dawn. Dengue Fever has been found on the Islands through there has been no epidemic of the disease for some years.
The risk of Rabies:
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The Seychelles are rabies free but obviously care should still be taken to avoid any contact with warm-blooded animals such as dogs, cats and monkeys. With the difficulties in patrolling the extensive coastline of the Seychelles it is always possible that the disease will be introduced at some stage in the future.
Swimming:
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Take care to listen to local advice before swimming in the sea. Strong currents and various marine life may lead to a severely spoiled holiday. Never swim after a heavy meal or significant intake of alcohol and always swim in the company of others.
Sun Exposure:
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The strength of the sun in the Seychelles throughout the year is significant and this can cause both sunburn and serious dehydration. After a long haul flight it may be tempting to fall asleep beside the hotel pool but this may cause dreadful sunburn and can easily ruin a holiday. Children need to be watched carefully as they are more liable to the effects of the sun, particularly on any fair skinned child. Wearing a light good fitting t-shirt and Increasing their salt intake may be very beneficial.
Road Safety:
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In the Seychelles they drive on the left side of the road but outside the main tourist resorts the roads tend to be very narrow with often shear drops. Barriers are rare and accidents can easily occur. The speed limits are between 25 to 50 mph and both drivers and front seat passengers are required to wear safety belts at all times. There is an ambulance service on the islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue which is summonsed by ringing 999.
Local Laws and Customs:
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There are strict regulations regarding import and export of firearms, spear-fishing equipment, fruit and vegetables. When paying for your hotel expenses a credit card must be used in most circumstances. If you have cash you must provide a receipt showing how it was obtained. A casino receipt would be adequate if you have been lucky enough!
Vaccinations for the Seychelles:
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Unless you are entering the islands from tropical Africa there are no essential vaccines for entry or exit. However for your own personal health it is recommended that travellers are covered against the following diseases;
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Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food and water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food and water borne disease)
For those undertaking a longer more rural trip other vaccines may need to be considered including Hepatitis B.
Summary:
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Generally most tourists who maintain the usual commonsense rules stay perfectly healthy while in the Seychelles. Just remember the different climate conditions to your home situation and take care with food and water consumption. Further information is available from the Tropical Medical Bureau.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

18th Oct 2017
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/seychelles-plague-negative/en/ 

Samples from patients in Seychelles suspected to be ill with pneumonic plague tested negative at a World Health Organization (WHO) partner laboratory in Paris, France on Tuesday (17 October).
 
The ten samples were shipped by the Seychelles Ministry of Health and WHO to the collaborating centre for Yersinia at the Institut Pasteur to confirm the status of several suspected and one probable case – a 34-year-old Seychelles national who had returned from Madagascar with plague-like symptoms.

WHO is working with the Seychelles health authorities to reduce the risk of plague spreading from neighbouring Madagascar, which faces an unprecedented outbreak that has killed more than 70 people since August. No plague cases have been confirmed in the Seychelles.
Alongside support for laboratory testing, WHO has deployed experts and medical supplies to the 115-island country. The Organization is also providing guidance for the tracing and treatment of contacts of people who are suspected to have been infected.

“We are working with health authorities to reduce the risk of the spread of plague in the Seychelles by improving surveillance and preparedness,” said Dr. Ibrahima Soce Fall, WHO Regional Emergencies Director for the Africa region.

WHO is advising the Government of Seychelles on the implementation of public health measures that are in line with the WHO International Health Regulations, such as enhanced surveillance, isolation and treatment of suspect cases, contact tracing and prophylactic treatment of potential contacts.

WHO currently assesses the risk of spread of plague in the Seychelles to be low.
Date: Fri 13 Oct 2017
Source: Medical Xpress [edited]

The Seychelles government ordered schools to close [Fri 13 Oct 2017], after the discovery of 2 suspected cases of plague thought to have been brought from Madagascar where the disease has killed scores. The health ministry has also put under surveillance 320 people who have come into contact with the 2 patients. A total of 12 people showing plague-like symptoms have been admitted to hospital and given antimicrobials.

Panic gripped parents on the Indian Ocean archipelago after some students developed fevers in recent days, leading to the school closures.

"We made this decision as a precautionary measure to reassure parents," said Merida Delcy, an adviser to the education ministry, noting that they would not reopen until [Wed 18 Oct 2017], at the earliest.

Preliminary tests on the 2 people, including a Seychellois who returned from Madagascar a week ago, showed they could have plague, the health ministry said.

"It has not yet been confirmed that the 2 people are sick due to plague, samples will be sent this weekend to the Institut Pasteur (in France)," said public health commissioner Jude Gedeon. The results are expected next week [week of Sun 15 Oct 2017].

The sick include a student at Anse Boileau Elementary School on the main island of Mahe where all students have since been given antimicrobials.

As fear of plague spreads, there has been a run on surgical masks which people hope will offer protection against the highly infectious disease. Plague outbreaks are common on Madagascar, 1800 kilometres (1120 miles) to the south, where the disease is endemic. But this year [2017] both bubonic plague, spread by infected rats via flea bites, and the pneumonic type, spread person-to-person, have hit urban areas, including the capital Antananarivo, leaving at least 54 dead.

A Seychellois basketball coach who was visiting Madagascar is among the victims. The Seychelles government has begun to quarantine people who have arrived from Madagascar in the last week [week of Sun 1 Oct 2017]. The latest Madagascar health ministry report this week says 500 cases and 54 deaths [now 561 and 57 - ProMED Mod.LL] have so far been recorded, with around half of each occurring in the capital.
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[There is no confirmation about any cases acquired on Seychelles on the Ministry of Health facebook page <https://www.facebook.com/mohseychellesofficial/>. ProMED awaits confirmation of additional cases of _Y. pestis_ infection on Seychelles in addition to the imported case from Madagascar. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Wed 11 Oct 2017
Source: Seychelles Ministry of Health [summ., edited]

Dr Jude Gedeon met with the media on Wed 11 Oct 2017, to give an update on the pneumonic plague situation in Seychelles. Speaking to several media houses, he addressed the case of pneumonic plague that was confirmed yesterday, 10 Oct 2017. He also stressed on current and additional measures being taken by the Ministry of Health to prevent this from spreading.

New measures being implemented against pneumonic plague:
- everyone entering Seychelles from Madagascar will immediately be referred to the isolation centre in Perseverance [Perseverance Island is an artificial island in Seychelles, lying 2 km (1.3 mi) from the capital Victoria]. - ProMED Mod.LL]
- no foreigners coming to Seychelles from Madagascar will be granted entry. Only Seychelles citizens will be allowed to enter the country.
- a Travel Advisory has been issued, in collaboration with Seychelles Tourism Board requesting all transiting points (Mauritius, Kenya, and Reunion) to redirect all passengers who are not a citizen of Seychelles.
- cargo ships will continue to be monitored as before. If anyone presents with symptoms within less than 7 days of leaving Madagascar, the ship will remain in isolation at sea. If anyone on board is sick, they will receive treatment;
- cruise ships are advised to remain at sea for at least 7 days before entering the port after visiting Madagascar. If it is less than 7 days (incubation period) all passengers and crew will remain under surveillance for the recommended time before entering the country.
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Date: Wed 11 Oct 2017 12:59 SCT
Source: Seychelles News Agency [edited]

Visitors to Seychelles who have visited Madagascar or transited through that island nation in the last 7 days will be placed under observation by health officials upon arrival to Mahe.

The Minister of Health, Jean-Paul Adam, made the statement in the National Assembly on [Wed 11 Oct 2017] when answering an urgent question from the Leader of the Opposition, Wavel Ramkalawan. Adam was called to the National Assembly after the 1st case of pneumonic plague in Seychelles was confirmed on Tue 10 Oct 2017. The patient is a man who returned to Mahe, the main island, last [Fri 6 Oct 2017], on board the last Air Seychelles flight from Madagascar.

The health minister also confirmed that 258 people are currently under observation and receiving treatment after the case of pneumonic plague was detected. "The 258 includes 41 passengers and 7 crew from the flight, 12 close family members, and 18 staff and patients from the Anse Boileau health centre where the man went when he fell ill."

The man disobeyed instructions given upon his arrival to remain at home for a period of time and attended a party that same evening. The minister explained that the result of the tests conducted on the infected man was sent to the Pasteur Institute in Paris, which confirmed the pneumonic plague.

Adam said that "all the 170 people who were at the party including the 13 staff working at the venue are also under passive surveillance. We were already putting Seychellois and tourists under active observation at their homes or at hotels. But as from today [11 Oct 2017], all those arriving from Madagascar will be put in isolation for 6 days," the Minister said.

Adam added that the authority will be using the Seychelles Coast Guard military academy as the isolation centre located at Perseverance, a reclaimed island on the outskirts of Victoria.

The national airline -- Air Seychelles -- had suspended all flights to Madagascar, following guidance and requests of the Seychelles' Public Health Authority amid concerns over the outbreak of the plague in Madagascar. To date, there are 449 cases confirmed in Madagascar and 48 people have died [now 500 cases and 54 deaths - ProMED Mod.LL]. Air Seychelles is the only airline in the region to suspend all its flights to the island.

The health ministry has also liaised with the Seychelles Fishing Authority to get fishermen who may have travelled to Madagascar recently to report their trips and if necessary to seek advice from health professionals. "We are also in contacts with boats, and we want to urge those who may have travelled to Madagascar informally to stop this practice and to report to their nearest health centres." Adam said this is important for assessment and also "for us to decide if they need to be placed under surveillance for treatment. We are also liaising with travel agents to discourage people from visiting the island."

Seychelles, a group of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean, is on high alert ever since it was confirmed that a Seychellois basketball coach, who died in a hospital in Madagascar in September 2017, had contracted the plague.
====================
[Seychelles seems to have responded in appropriate ways related to the single importation (so far) of a person who developed pneumonic plague after returning from Madagascar. It is not clear if this case had any relationship to the basketball tournament that had occurred on Madagascar. Since there is no comment in this report regarding institution of antimicrobial prophylaxis to any of the contacts. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps can be accessed at
Date: Sat, 14 Oct 2017 16:49:58 +0200

Mogadishu, Oct 14, 2017 (AFP) - More than 20 people were killed when a car bomb exploded on a busy street in Somalia's capital Mogadishu on Saturday, a police official said.   "Initial reports from emergency departments indicate more than 20 bodies picked up off the street and many more are under the wreckage of buildings destroyed by the blast", said Ibrahim Mohamed, a senior police officer.   Government security official Mohamed Aden said that bombing took place in a busy part of the city.    "There was a huge blast caused by a truck loaded with explosives. It went off at the entrance of a hotel alongside the K5 intersection," he said.   There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Al-Qaeda aligned Shabaab carries out frequent suicide bombings in the capital and elsewhere as it fights to overthrow the internationally-backed government.
Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2017 16:03:29 +0200

Victoria, Seychelles, Oct 13, 2017 (AFP) - The Seychelles government ordered schools to close Friday, after the discovery of two suspected cases of plague thought to have been brought from Madagascar where the disease has killed scores.   The health ministry has also put under surveillance 320 people who have come into contact with the two patients.

A total of 12 people showing plague-like symptoms have been admitted to hospital and given antibiotics.   Panic gripped parents on the Indian Ocean archipelago after some students developed fevers in recent days, leading to the school closures.   "We made this decision as a precautionary measure to reassure parents," said Merida Delcy, an adviser to the education ministry, noting that they would not reopen until Wednesday at the earliest.
 
Preliminary tests on the two people, including a Seychellois who returned from Madagascar a week ago, showed they could have plague, the health ministry said.   "It has not yet been confirmed that the two people are sick due to plague, samples will be sent this weekend to the Institut Pasteur (in France)," said public health commissioner Jude Gedeon.   The results are expected next week.   The sick include a student at Anse Boileau Elementary School on the main island of Mahe where all students have since been given antibiotics.

As fear of plague spreads, there has been a run on surgical masks which people hope will offer protection against the highly infectious disease.   Plague outbreaks are common on Madagascar, 1,800 kilometres (1,120 miles) to the south, where the disease is endemic. But this year both bubonic plague, spread by infected rats via flea bites, and the pneumonic type, spread person-to-person, have hit urban areas, including the capital Antananarivo, leaving at least 54 dead.

A Seychellois basketball coach who was visiting Madagascar is among the victims. The Seychelles government has begun to quarantine people who have arrived from Madagascar in the last week.   The latest Madagascar health ministry report this week says 500 cases and 54 deaths have so far been recorded, with around half of each occurring in the capital.
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Western Sahara

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 11:08:10 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Parents lined up from sunrise holding sleeping infants as the Philippines launched a campaign on Monday to vaccinate millions of children against polio, which has re-emerged nearly two decades after the nation's last cases.   Years of falling vaccination rates, made worse by the botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, culminated in an outbreak of the preventable disease in September.   "This is for the welfare of my child," Ruth Miranda told AFP after the vaccine was squirted into her child's mouth at the Manila slum they call home.

Miranda's child is among scores who are unprotected in the capital of about 13 million people, where vaccination rates of young children plunged from 77 percent in 2016 to a mere 24 percent in June.   The atmosphere at the event in Manila was festive -- with ice cream vendors and music -- but the stakes for the campaign are high.

Polio, which can cause paralysis and can be fatal in rare cases, has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.   Two cases were detected in September, the first polio infections in the Philippines since 2001, adding to the woes of a country already hit by deadly measles and dengue epidemic.   The risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunisation coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.

The Philippines was the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass programme in 2016, but a botched rollout led to claims that children had died after being vaccinated.   A dramatic drop in vaccine confidence followed, with trust plunging from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, according to a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.   The Philippines polio outbreak has been traced back to the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.   According to the WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunisation rates get too low.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 10:25:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shingo ITO, Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of rescue workers in Japan battled on Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed at least 43 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper efforts.   Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country's 47 prefectures, and triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding.   "Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday.   "Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night," Abe said.

But even as rescuers, including troops, combed through debris, the country's weather agency forecast rain in central and eastern Japan that it warned could cause further flooding and new landslides.   "I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.   In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, rain was already falling and was expect to intensify.   "We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts," local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP.   "We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain."

- 43 dead, 16 missing: NHK -
By late Monday afternoon, national broadcaster NHK said the toll had risen to 43 dead, with 16 others missing and over 200 people injured. The government gave lower figures but was continuing to update its information.   The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said.   Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member.   While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, it was the heavy rains that caused most damage.

A total of 142 rivers flooded, mainly in eastern and northern Japan, with river banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said.   In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.   As water slowly receded Monday, television footage showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.   Elsewhere, rescuers used helicopters to winch survivors from roofs and balconies, or steered boats through muddy waters to reach those trapped.

- Japan dedicates rugby win to victims -
By Monday afternoon, some 75,900 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.   The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or real," a woman in Nagano told NHK.   "I feel lucky I'm still alive."   The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.

By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.   The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.   But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their stunning 28-21 win to the victims of the disaster.   "To everyone that's suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys," said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2019 23:31:57 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 13, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors will use a second Ebola vaccine from November in three eastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the deadly virus, medical officials said Sunday.   "It's time to use the new Ad26-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson's Belgian subsidiary," said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who leads the national anti-Ebola operation in the DRC.    It will arrive in the eastern city of Goma, in North Kivu province, on October 18 and be used from the beginning of next month, he added.   DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, which began in August 2018, has killed 2,144 people, making it the second deadliest outbreak of the virus, after the West Africa pandemic of 2014-2016.

Muyembe said the communes of Majingo and Kahembe had been selected to receive the vaccine as they were considered the epicentres of the epidemic.   "We will extend this vaccination to our small traders who often go to Rwanda to protect our neighbours," he added.   "If it works well, we will expand vaccination in South Kivu and Ituri."   DR Congo's eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu sit on the borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.   The Belgian laboratory will send a batch of 200,000 doses to neighbouring Rwanda and 500,000 doses in the DRC, Muyembe said.   More than 237,000 people living in active Ebola transmission zones have received a vaccination produced by the pharma company Merck Sharpe and Dohme since August 8, 2018. 

The J&J vaccine had been rejected by DRC's former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.   But Ilunga's resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled funds intended for the fight against Ebola.   In his letter of resignation Ilunga said "actors who have demonstrated a lack of ethics" want to introduce a second vaccine, but did not elaborate.    Muyembe, who took over the Ebola fight in the DRC in July, said "The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the most science-based data."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 20:02:59 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - A palace that once housed Ethiopia's emperors and also served as a torture site under the communist Derg regime is to open to the public in a controversial government tourism project.    The palace compound in Addis Ababa, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has rebranded "Unity Park", was formally launched Thursday and will be open from Friday.    Abiy's office said on Twitter Thursday that the project "symbolises our ability to come together".

But critics have dismissed it as vanity project for Abiy that could prove divisive.   Backed by the United Arab Emirates, the project cost more than $160 million (145 million euros), Ethiopian officials told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.    Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia's rulers for more than a century.   Abiy himself does not live there, and it has seen little activity in recent years.    Abiy's advisers say he has taken a keen interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 -- visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.

The government's "Home-Grown Economic Reform" agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.    On Thursday, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.    The restored rooms feature items like Menelik's sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace and was then etained there after the Derg overthrew him in 1974.

The site also includes a sculpture garden with installations representing Ethiopia's nine regions, and a zoo is expected to open by the end of the year.    Aklilu Fikresilassie, an Ethiopian employee of the United Nations who attended the launch Thursday, said he was "really fascinated" to set foot inside a place that had been closed to the public his entire life.    "For us it's like a government house, so now when you enter that palace it tells you that we are getting somehow closer to our leaders," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the palace will succeed in bringing Ethiopians together.   In a country grappling with ethnic divisions, some worry that the palace could alienate ethnic Oromos who contend that their ancestors were forced off their land when Addis Ababa was built.    Journalist and former political prisoner Eskinder Nega said the renovations were undertaken "without consultation from the public", which he called "a huge mistake."    "This is all about heritage, about preserving heritage. The people should have had a say in it," he said.    "Like everything else this was decided from the top and implemented only by the decision of the prime minister."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 13:13:57 +0200 (METDST)

Hanoi, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Selfie-snapping tourists railed against the closure of Hanoi's 'train street' on Thursday after police blocked off the Instragram-famous tracks for safety reasons.   The narrow railway corridor in central Hanoi has become a hotspot among visitors seeking the perfect holiday snap on the tracks -- often dodging trains that rumble through daily.    But Hanoi authorities said this week they would block people from the tracks to avoid accidents, and police on Thursday erected barricades to keep out disappointed visitors.    "I'm very frustrated because today I can't go in and take a picture," Malaysian tourist Mustaza bin Mustapha told AFP, vowing to come back later.

Dozens of other tourists were turned away, though some managed to get onto still-open sections of the railway, moving out of the way as an afternoon train chugged past.    Built by former colonial rulers, the railway once shipped goods and people across France's former Indochina colony and remains in use today by communist Vietnam's state-run railway company.    The stretch of the tracks was once known as a rough part of town, occupied by drug users and squatters until their recent discovery by camera-wielding holidaymakers who have splashed images of the area across social media.

Cafe owners complained that business would be hurt thanks to the new regulations, and that tourists always moved out of the way for oncoming trains.   "There has never been any regretful accidents here," said Le Tuan Anh, who runs a cafe from his home along the tracks.   "Compared to traffic density elsewhere in the city, this is much safer," he said, referring to Hanoi's chaotic, motorbike-clogged streets.   New signs were installed in the area Thursday, warning passersby not to take photos or videos in the "dangerous area", much to the chagrin of British tourist Harriet Hayes.   "People come from all over the world to Hanoi just to see the train go past," she told AFP.   "It's such a shame that we come and have been told that we have to leave."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 06:51:42 +0200 (METDST)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Large numbers of tourists are rushing to scale Uluru -- also known as Ayers Rock -- ahead of a looming ban on climbing a site sacred to indigenous Australians.   Photographs of hundreds of people clambering up the giant red monolith have provoked a social media backlash, with critics lashing as "ignorant" those going against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   "A mass of morally and ethically bankrupt people," indigenous woman Laura McBride tweeted alongside an image showing a queue of people snaking up the side of Uluru.    "One even hiking a toddler up, teaching the next generation how to be ignorant."   "Imagine rushing to climb Uluru before it closes just so you could brag about disrespecting the oldest living culture in the world," tweeted National Indigenous Television journalist Madeline Hayman-Reber, who called the scenes "embarrassing".

Officials say the ban, which comes into effect on October 26, is intended to show respect for cultural practices, protect the site from further environmental damage and to ensure visitors' safety.    More than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park in the 12 months to June 2019, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year. Around 13 percent of those who visited during that period made the climb, park authorities said.    More recent figures are not available but Tourism Central Australia CEO Stephen Schwer said there had been a "significant jump" in the number of people visiting in recent weeks, with the period leading up to the ban coinciding in part with school holidays.   "Its been very busy, particularly down in the national park precinct itself," he told AFP.   "We've had quite an issue with accommodation availability, because there's a lot of people want to climb Uluru before it closes. It's been a busier than normal holiday period."   Japanese visitors and Australians on driving holidays were most likely to want to scale Uluru, Schwer said, though he urged them not to do so.

Australian tourist Belinda Moore, 33, drove to Uluru from her home in central Queensland state to ascend the rock, an experience she said she "absolutely loved".   "It's always been something to tick off the bucket list and when we heard it was closing, we knew it was now or never," she told AFP.   Moore said she did not think her climb was disrespectful to traditional owners as she was not Aboriginal.    "It may be for their own people, because it's their sacred site," she said.   "I'm pretty sad that they're closing it, but it's still amazing just to see it. I would still recommend it."   The climb will be permanently closed as of October 26, the anniversary of ownership being handed back to the Anangu people.

Uluru has great spiritual and cultural significance to indigenous Australians, with their connection to the site dating back tens of thousands of years.   Though visitor numbers were expected to decline once the ban was in place, Schwer said local tourism operators were "not particularly concerned" as it would return the area to normality.   "People need to remember that in central Australia we're a very interconnected community," he said. "The people who are requesting the climb closure are our friends and colleagues.   "We're just looking forward to being able to have the climb consigned to the annals of history."
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2019 22:01:17 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 9, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after torrential rains hit the capital Kinshasa, flooding several neighbourhoods. a local official said.    The bodies were found between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.    Five people were killed in the capital's Selembao municipality where around 30 houses collapsed, local mayor Augustin Mankesi told Top Congo radio station.   One woman died in the Pelende district after she was electrocuted, he added.    "Our community is stricken," Mankesi added, calling on the Congolese authorities for help.   Fatal floods and rains are frequent in Kinshasa. In January last year 48 people were killed in landslides, floods and after houses collapsed, according to authorities.    Residents told AFP the road from the sea port district of Matadi to the Kinshasa turnoff has been closed due to erosion caused by the rain.    The passage is Kinshasa's main supply route for imported goods and also serves as an exit point for exports.
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2019 12:04:37 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Oct 6, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together as the ultraconservative kingdom begins offering up tourist visas for the first time.   The tourism authority said in a statement published on Twitter that Saudi women travelling alone would also be able to check into a hotel by presenting valid ID.

In the past, couples wanting to stay in a hotel had to prove they were married.    "This is no longer required for tourists," the statement said.   Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it was opening its doors to holidaymakers with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy.   The kingdom had previously only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   On September 28, Saudi authorities warned that tourists who violated "public decency", including with immodest clothing and public displays of affection, would be subject to fines.
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2019 03:30:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Giovanna FLEITAS

Petorca, Chile, Oct 5, 2019 (AFP) - For Erick Hurtado, the worst thing about the drought that has devastated his family farm in Chile is the dead animals.   "Going out and seeing the animals dead on the ground is so horrible," Hurtado says as he gazes across the dusty paddocks of his farm in Petorca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso.

Farmers are counting the cost of one of the driest austral winters in six decades, which has destroyed crops and left tens of thousands of farm animals dead in the fields of central Chile.   Hurtado's farm, owned by his grandfather, has lost half its 60 head of cattle.   So far, 106,000 animals have died due to lack of water and fodder, mostly goats, cattle and sheep, according to the agriculture ministry.   President Sebastian Pinera, who last month announced a $5 billion plan to improve water distribution, this week set up a crisis group of government agencies to tackle the water crisis, which he said had become "more extensive and more intense."

In Colina, north of the capital Santiago, the drought has been hard on small farmers. Scrawny cattle pick at sprigs of strawy grass on pastures that have turned to dust. Cows, goats and horses roam hungry on hills have turned to a dry muddy brown.   "The drought has been disastrous for us," said Sandra Aguilar. Her family owned about a hundred head of cattle. Today, only half survive thanks to a trickle of water provided by a neighbor who still has some reserves.   "The situation is complicated," said Javier Maldonado, governor of the province of Chacabuco, where several agricultural areas have been hit particularly hard by the drought.    "We have to be realistic, climate change is here to stay," he said.

- Water shortages -
Dominga Mondaca points out the deep fissures that run through the garden behind her house in the village of La Ligua near Valparaiso. The garden used to be full of strawberries and citrus trees; now it's cracked earth.    "We have had many years with little water. But the last year, it didn't rain at all," said the 73-year-old, one of more than 600,000 people the government is supplying by tanker trucks as part of emergency measures.   She says she has had to give up raising chickens, in order to keep what little water she and her husband receive for their own consumption, washing and cleaning. Whatever is left, she uses to sprinkle on herbs in a small kitchen garden.   The agriculture ministry says 37,000 family farms need assistance in the central Chile.

- Thirsty avocados? -
In Petorca, some rivers have run dry, and the landscape has been left parched, but lush avocado and citrus plantations are nevertheless thriving.   Locals in Petorca say the real, long-term problem is the mismanagement of water resources.    "There is an excess of monoculture plantations that consume all the water," said Diego Soto of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) told AFP.   Avocados need a lot of water to grow, said Soto.   "An avocado tree needs 600 liters of water per week, whereas humans consume 50 liters a day, or 350 liters a week," he said.   Producers refute these figures and say the real problem is a lack of infrastructure to store water, both above and below ground.    "The avocado is not a crop that needs more water," insisted Francisco Contardo, chairman of the local producers' committee.   Avocados are a key export for Chile, mostly to the US and China, but drought has reduced exports by 25 percent.

- Less snow -
For many though, the changes being wrought by climate change are overwhelmingly obvious. Snow in the highlands of central Chile was relatively scarce this year.    Scientists predict an average decrease of between five and 10 percent snowfall every 10 years in almost the entire Andes mountains, one of the country's main sources of water.   "The central zone of Chile is highly dependent on the summer melt season, its snow and glaciers, which means that if the snow cover is reduced, there is also a reduction in the availability of water resources," said Paul Cordero, climate change expert at the University of Santiago.   Weak snowfall forced the country's main ski resorts to use artificial snow machines much earlier and more often this season than in previous years.    "Chile has been living as if it were a country with an abundance of water," said Pinera.   "Climate change and global warming have changed this situation probably forever."