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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 ...

Togo

Togo US Consular Information Sheet
September 10, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Togo is a small West African country with a stagnant economy in a state of political uncertainty.
French is the official language, but Ewe and Mina are commonl
spoken as well.
Tourism facilities are limited, especially outside the capital city, Lomé.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Togo for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Travelers are encouraged to obtain visas prior to arrival due to recent difficulties with requesting them at the airport in Lomé or at some of the land borders.
Visas issued in Togo are limited to 7 days and can take an hour or more to be issued.
Travelers applying for visa extensions can also experience significant delays.
Vaccination against yellow fever is required before entry.
U.S. citizens should carry copies of their U.S. passports and vaccination records with them at all times while traveling in Togo so that, if questioned by local officials, they have proof of identity, U.S. citizenship, and required vaccinations readily available.

Travelers may obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of the Republic of Togo, 2208 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008; telephone (202) 234-4212.
Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Togolese 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.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens are urged to avoid political rallies, street demonstrations, and maintain security awareness at all times.
Togo has experienced periodic violence, strikes, and political tensions since 1990.
Following the death of President Eyadema in February 2005, political activists took to the streets and held demonstrations throughout the country that resulted in more than 500 deaths.
Land borders with Ghana and Benin are routinely shut down during elections. The October 2007 legislative elections were non-violent with only minor incidents reported during the single post-election demonstration. The next major elections are the presidential elections scheduled for 2010.

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

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

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

CRIME:
Over the past year, Togo has seen a marked increase in incidents of violent crime throughout the country, including several recent machete attacks in poorly lit areas of Lomé.
Rapid inflation and food shortages have contributed to increases in already critical crime levels in urban areas.
Particular areas for Americans to avoid within Lomé, especially during the hours of darkness, include the Grand Marché area, the beach road, and the Ghana-Togo border areas.
Travelers should avoid the beach even during daylight hours as purse-snatchings and muggings occur there regularly.
Pick pocketing and theft are common in Togo, especially along the beach and in the market areas of Lomé.
While incidents of residential burglary are less common against foreigners, carjacking is on the rise, and even western diplomats have been victims of carjacking. Theft while riding in taxis is also increasing, as thieves steal bags, wallets, and passports.
Taxicabs should not be shared with strangers.
Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans.
Formerly associated with Nigeria, these fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout western Africa, including Togo, and pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm.
An increasing number of Americans have been the targets of such scams, losing anywhere from several thousand to several hundred thousand dollars.
Typically, these scam operations begin with an unsolicited communication, usually by e-mail, from an unknown individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by assisting in the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of the country.
The scenarios vary:
an American must pretend to be the next-of-kin to a recently deceased Togolese who left a fortune unclaimed in a Togolese bank, or a person claiming to be related to present or former political leaders needs assistance in transferring large sums of cash, or even a business deal that appears to be legitimate.
The requests are usually for the payment of advance fees, attorneys’ fees, or down payments on contracts.
The final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is to get any money possible and to gain information about the American’s bank account.
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
You should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposals originating in Togo before you commit any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel.
Please check the Embassy web site at http://togo.usembassy.gov/ for the most current information on fraud in Togo.
For additional information, please see the Department of State brochure on International Financial Scams.

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

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Togo is: 117 or 171 for police, 172 for Gendarmerie, 242 for the Pharmacy on Duty, and 118 for Fire Services.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Togo are limited and of very poor quality, with no adequate emergency medical care.
Availability of medications through local pharmacies is unreliable, and travelers should carry all necessary medications, properly labeled, with them.
Malaria, a serious and sometimes fatal disease, is prevalent in Togo.
For additional information on malaria, including protective measures, see the CDC travelers’ health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

For information on avian influenza (bird flu), please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.
According to the Togolese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Health, there are no HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Togo.

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

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

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

While some major thoroughfares in urban parts of Togo are paved, many secondary streets are not, and become severely flooded every time it rains.
Driving conditions are hazardous throughout Togo due to the presence of pedestrians, large numbers of small motorcycles, disorderly drivers (moped, car and truck drivers), livestock on the roadways, and the poor condition of the roads, including deep potholes.
Overland travel off the main network of roads generally requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Many drivers in Togo do not obey traffic laws and most traffic signals do not function properly.
Drivers should be prepared for other vehicles to run red lights or stops signs and drive in the wrong direction on one-way streets.
Nighttime travel on unfamiliar roads is dangerous.
Poorly marked checkpoints, often manned by armed, undisciplined soldiers, exist throughout the country, including in the capital.
Banditry, including demands for bribes at checkpoints, has been reported on major inter-city highways, including the Lomé-Cotonou coastal highway.
Travelers are advised to be aware of their surroundings and to drive defensively.
At official checkpoints, Togolese security officials prefer that you approach with your dome light on, and have your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance ready.
Americans should be aware of the staged-accident ploy when driving in Lomé.
In this scam, a motorbike will cut in front of you, cause a collision, and draw a crowd, which can turn hostile if you attempt to leave the scene of the so-called accident.
Such encounters appear designed to extort money from the vehicle driver.
Pedestrians also cause staged accidents.
Genuine accidents can also draw hostile crowds.
Travelers should drive with their car doors locked and windows closed, and have a cell phone in the vehicle.
If you are involved in this kind of accident and can drive away, you should leave the scene, drive to a safe location, and alert both the police and the U.S. Embassy.
Violent carjackings are periodically reported in Togo and tend to increase during the summer months and holiday season. Travelers are advised to exercise caution when using any form of local public transportation.
Never get into a taxi with unknown passengers and always agree on the fare before getting in.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s tourist office at http://www.togo-tourisme.com/.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Power outages, voltage fluctuations, and water shortages are common throughout the country.
Only certain U.S. credit cards are accepted in Togo.
Most major hotels and their restaurants accept American Express, MasterCard, and Visa, while smaller hotels and restaurants do not.
Travelers planning to use credit cards should know which cards are accepted before they commit to any transaction.
Travelers should keep all credit card receipts, as unauthorized card use and overcharging are common.
There are some Automatic Teller Machines that dispense local currency in major banks and they are generally considered safe.
Well-known money transfer firms, including Western Union, operate in Togo.
Photographing places affiliated with the government of Togo, including official government buildings, border crossings, checkpoints, police stations, military bases, utility buildings, airports, government vehicles, and government or military personnel, is strictly prohibited, and local authorities will confiscate film and cameras.
Government buildings are not always clearly identifiable, as they vary from being very well marked to being not marked at all.
Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Togo’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Togo 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 Togo are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Togo.
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 on Boulevard Eyadema, Neighborhood Lomé II, Lomé; telephone (228) 261-5470, fax (228) 261-5499. The local mailing address is B.P. 852, Lomé.
The web site is http://togo.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Togo dated March 3, 2008, to update the sections on Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 03:48:17 +0100 (MET)
By Emile Kouton with Celia Lebur in Lagos

Lome, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - After he was struck down by malaria and typhoid, Togolese tailor Ayawo Hievi thought he was set to recover when he started taking drugs prescribed by his doctor.   But far from curing him, the medication he was given at the neighbourhood clinic made him far worse -- eventually costing him one of his kidneys.    The drugs were fake.   "After four days of care, there was no improvement, but I started to feel pain in my belly," Hievi, 52, told AFP.

After two weeks of suffering he became unable to walk and was rushed into the university hospital in the West African nation's capital Lome.    "The doctors told me that my kidneys had been damaged... the quinine and the antibiotics used to treat me in the medical office were fake drugs."   Now, over four years later, he remains crippled by chronic kidney failure and has to go to hospital for dialysis regularly.    Hievi's horror story is far from unique in a continent awash with counterfeit medicines.    The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year some 100,000 people across Africa die from taking "falsified or substandard" medication.

The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated in 2015 that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor quality anti-malaria drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   Weak legislation, poor healthcare systems and widespread poverty have encouraged the growth of this parallel -- and deadly -- market. Since 2013, Africa has made up 42 percent of the fake medicine seized worldwide.    The two drugs most likely to be out-of-date or poor, ineffective copies are antibiotics and anti-malarials, say experts.    And bogus drugs not only pose a risk to the patient -- they also play a worrying part in building resistance to vital frontline medications.

- 'Difficult to trace' -
In a bid to tackle the scourge, presidents from seven countries -- the Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Uganda -- meet Friday in Lome to sign an agreement for criminalising trafficking in fake drugs.    The goal is to bolster cooperation between governments and encourage other African nations to join the initiative.   But even if leaders put pen to paper, the task of stamping out the flows of counterfeit medication is huge.    Medicines spread out on plastic sheets or offered at ramshackle stalls are for sale at markets across West Africa.

Those hawked on the streets are often a fraction of the price of what's available in more reputable pharmacies where controls are stricter and supplies often have to come through official channels.    "It is very difficult to trace where the fake medicines come from," said Dr Innocent Kounde Kpeto, the president of Togo's pharmacist association.    "The countries which are mentioned on the boxes are often not the countries of origin or manufacture of these drugs. The manufacturers cover their tracks so as not to be identified".

It is estimated that between 30 and 60 percent of medicine sold in Africa is fake and Kpeto said most of it comes from China or India.    Efforts to staunch the deadly torrents of counterfeits have made some headway.    Some trafficking hubs have been dismantled, such as Adjegounle market in Cotonou that served as a key gateway for fakes heading to giant neighbour Nigeria.   In mid-November, the police in Ivory Coast made a record seizure of 200 tonnes in Abidjan and arrested four suspects including a Chinese national.

Togo is one of the pioneer countries trying to stop the flow.    It changed the law in 2015 and now traffickers can face 20 years in jail and a fine of some $85,000 (75,000 euros).   In a show of force in July the authorities burnt over 67 tonnes of counterfeit pharmaceuticals discovered between     But even given these recent successes, those in the industry like Dr Kpeto insist that the threat is still grave and involves "highly organised criminal networks".    "The phenomenon remains major," he said.    Traffickers can turn an investment of just $1,000 (900 euros) into a profit of $500,000, he claimed.   The fake medicines are smuggled in the same way as guns or narcotics and often bring higher returns.

- 'Die for nothing' -
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with a market of 200 million people, is the number one destination on the continent for fake drugs and a showcase of difficulties being faced.    In September 2016 the World Customs Organization seized tens of millions of fake pills and medicines at 16 ports around Africa: 35 percent were intended for Nigeria.    Across the vast nation there are tens of thousands of vendors selling the counterfeits.   Competition between traffickers is fierce and the official agency meant to combat the problem is overwhelmed.

In a bid to improve the situation, Vivian Nwakah founded in 2017 start-up Medsaf and raised $1.4 million to help Nigerians track their medication from producer to user.    "The country doesn't have a reliable and centralised distribution network," she said.    "A hospital sometimes has to deal with 30 or 40 distributors for all the medications it needs. How can you have quality control with so many suppliers?"   As a result, fake or faulty medicine has not just flooded markets but also pharmacies and hospitals -- both state and private.    Sometimes, without hospital administrators even being aware, that means the drugs that reach the patients can be expired, poorly stored or the wrong doses. 

Medsaf works to ensure the quality control of thousands of products at over 130 hospitals and pharmacies in Nigeria. It looks forward to expanding deeper into Nigeria as well as Ivory Coast and Senegal.   The company uses technology, database management and analytics to monitor the movement of medications and verifies their official registration number, the expiry dates and storage conditions.   "Technology we use can help to solve most of the issues related to fake drugs," Nwakah said. "People die for nothing. We can change that."
Date: Mon 7 Jan 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

The Togo government confirmed last week [week of 1 Jan 2019] a Lassa fever case reported in Doufelgou district [Kara region] in the north of the country, according to a Agence de Presse Africaine report (computer translated).

This was a haemorrhagic fever case according to officials.

Lassa fever is a rare but potentially life-threatening viral haemorrhagic disease. The risk of infection is low but can occur if someone comes into contact with an infected person's blood or bodily fluids. Lassa fever cannot be spread through casual contact, including skin to skin contact, without exchange of bodily fluids. Those at highest-risk would be health care workers treating patients in facilities known to have Lassa fever and family members caring for infected patients.

Early diagnosis and supportive care are essential. One should consult a medical professional if he or she has been in direct contact with an infected person within the past 3 weeks and have symptoms of Lassa fever, which include: fever, chest, stomach or back pain, cough, vomiting, diarrhoea, or mucosal bleeding.
=========================
[Lassa fever virus is endemic in much of northwest Africa, including Benin, Togo, and Burkina Faso. There have been cases of Lassa fever in Togo as recently as 2017. In the 2017 report, health authorities in Togo implemented the following measures to respond to these Lassa fever cases, including:
- deployment of rapid response teams to the affected areas for epidemiological investigation;
- identification of contacts and follow-up;
- strengthening of infection prevention and control measures in health facilities and briefing of health workers;
- strengthening of cross border collaboration and information exchanges between Togo, Burkina, Mali, and Benin.

It seems odd that the case report above does not mention contact with rodent reservoirs of the virus or their excrement as a source of infection. Lassa fever virus is transmitted to humans from contact with food or household items contaminated with excreta of multimammate rats (_Mastomys_ spp), the reservoir host. Public education is an important measure to prevent infections in the home.

Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
_Mastomys natalensis_:
_M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomyscus pamfi_:

[Maps of Togo:
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2018 21:11:35 +0200

Lome, Sept 24, 2018 (AFP) - A former lawmaker in Togo was on Monday on hunger strike to call for the release of opposition supporters who were arrested during anti-government demonstrations.   Nicodeme Ayao Habia, head of the Democrats party, began his protest six days ago in front of Ghana's embassy in the Togolese capital, Lome.   "I am on hunger strike to demand the release of all people who were arrested during protests by the opposition coalition who are still languishing in prison," he told AFP.   "I won't move from here as long as these people are in prison," he said, holding a small sign with photos of three of those detained.   "This morning, police tried to move me along but I refused as I am within my rights. They even tried to rough me up."

Habia held a two-day hunger strike previously this month in front of the US Embassy in Lome.   Some 44 people who were arrested during opposition protests against President Faure Gnassingbe and his government remain in prison, according to the coalition.   The oppositions wants the re-introduction of a two-term limit for presidents, applied retroactively, which would prevent Gnassingbe from standing for re-election in 2020.   The government has agreed to the two-term limit but not the retroactive element, which would allow the president to  stand at polls in 2020 and 2025.   He has already been in power since the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, in 2005. The army general seized power of the West African state in 1967.

As well as the release of opposition detainees, Habia said he also wanted the government to stick to the roadmap set out by leaders of the West African bloc ECOWAS.   "The regime must absolutely respect the recommendations contained in the ECOWAS roadmap," he added.   On Sunday, the government and opposition finally agreed common ground in the composition of the country's independent national electoral commission (CENI).   Lack of agreement about the make-up of the body had delayed an announcement of the date of local and parliamentary elections.    Local polls and a referendum on the proposed constitutional reforms will now take place on December 16, with parliamentary elections four days later.
Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2018 16:22:49 +0100

Lome, Jan 31, 2018 (AFP) - Togo's government was facing fresh turbulence on Wednesday as healthcare workers went on strike, joining thousands of demonstrators holding opposition protests on the streets.   The two-day nationwide strike was called by the National Union of Hospital Practitioners of Togo (SYNPHOT) who are demanding better equipment and more nursing staff.   "The strike is well-followed throughout the country. We will take stock tomorrow evening to know what to do in the coming days," SYNPHOT secretary-general Atchi Walla told AFP.

At Sylvanus Olympio university hospital, the country's largest health care centre, several departments were closed, according to an AFP journalist.   "We are here only for very urgent cases. The other patients will be rescheduled," said a worker at the entrance to the emergency surgery department.   There was a similar situation in the operating room and at reception, where only one person was working.   "This situation is tiring. I came to get treatment but nobody can help because they are on strike," said Albert Kudju, a retired civil servant.    "The authorities should meet the demands of the workers."

Primary and public school teachers are also on strike, demanding an increase in their wages, while students are protesting against a sharp rise in tuition fees.   The walk-outs come against a backdrop of widespread discontent with the government and opposition calls for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe.   Gnassingbe has been in power since 2005 and took over from his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who himself ruled Togo for 38 years.   A coalition of 14 opposition parties has been organising almost weekly marches for the past five months.
Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2017 17:23:54 +0200

Lome, Sept 20, 2017 (AFP) - Thousands thronged the streets of Togo's seaside capital Wednesday after the ruling party asked supporters to march at the same time as planned opposition protests demanding the removal of President Faure Gnassingbe, the scion of Africa's oldest political dynasty.   The rival demonstrations in Lome came a day after the opposition boycotted a vote on constitutional reform which would have included a presidential term limit, arguing that it was a ploy to let Gnassingbe remain in power till 2030.

The opposition wanted the limit to apply retroactively so that Gnassingbe, who has been in power since 2005, could not run again in 2020. His father Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled from 1967 till his death in 2005.   The opposition marches began at around 11:00 am (1100 GMT) at three meeting points.   They came after giant rallies on September 6 and 7 seeking the president's ouster that drew more than 100,000 people on the streets -- a record in a country which has been widely criticised for stifling democracy.    The protesters held up posters declaring "Faure must go" and "Free my country, 50 years is enough".

Police and soldiers armed with heavy machine guns flanked the streets in pick-up trucks. Mobile  phone networks and 3G services appeared to have been severed.   "We are not jihadists, we are not rebels," said Abdallah, 42, a supporter of the Panafrican National Party (PNP). "We just want democracy, we are tired."   Communications Minister Guy Lorenzo condemned what he called a "coup d'etat" on the streets.   The government meanwhile asked the opposition to show "responsibility and restraint" and warned that "people of foreign nationalities were looking to participate in acts of violence"  during the marches.

- 'Explosive situation' -
More protests are planned on Thursday against what veteran opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre called "the monstrous machine that has been crushing Togo's people for more than 50 years".   He said there would be "no let-up" as long as Gnassingbe remains in power.   Comi Toulabor, head of research at the Institute of Political Studies in Bordeaux, called the counter-rallies by the ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) party "a strategy to disrupt the opposition protest".   "It's very amateurish but it shows the party isn't ready to give way," he told AFP, calling the situation "explosive".

About one thousand UNIR supporters quietly gathered on the beach in Lome on Wednesday, some sitting in the shade of palm trees.   "It is a pleasure to be here," UNIR supporter Georgia, 34, told AFP. "We are peaceful."   One young protester said he received 5,000 CFA francs (7.50 euros, $9) to participate in the pro-government rally.   "You think we're here for politics?" asked Justin, 17, as his friends nodded approval.   The failure to pass the constitutional reform bill in parliament forced a referendum, which a member of the government said will be held in the coming months.   Gnassingbe has now won three elections, the results of which have been contested by the opposition.   Half of Togo's population lives below the poverty line, according to the United Nations, despite a GDP growth rate of five percent over the last three years.
More ...

Yemen

Yemen - US Consular Information Sheet
July 21, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Republic of Yemen was established in 1990 following unification of the former Yemen Arab Republic (North) and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South). I
lamic and traditional ideals, beliefs, and practices provide the foundation of the country's customs and laws. Yemen is a developing country and modern tourist facilities are widely available only in major cities. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Yemen for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Passports and visas are required for travel to Yemen. Visas may be obtained at Yemeni Embassies abroad; all travelers to Yemen can also potentially obtain entry visas at ports of entry. Travelers to Yemen are no longer required to have an affiliation with and arrange their travel through a Yemeni-based individual or organization to enter Yemen. However, individuals may be asked for supporting evidence of their character, purpose of visit and length of stay. Upon arrival at ports of entry, travelers may be issued a visa valid for a maximum of three months.
Yemeni law requires that all foreigners traveling in Yemen obtain exit visas before leaving the country. In cases of travelers with valid tourist visas and without any special circumstances (like those listed below), this exit visa is obtained automatically at the port of exit as long as the traveler has not overstayed the terms of the visa.
In certain situations, however, foreigners are required to obtain exit visas from the Immigration and Passport Authority headquarters in Sanaa. These cases may include, but are not limited to, foreigners who have overstayed the validity date of their visa; U.S.-citizen children with Yemeni or Yemeni-American parents who are not exiting Yemen with them; foreigners who have lost the passport containing their entry visa; foreign residents whose residence visas are based on their employment or study in Yemen, marriage to a Yemeni citizen, or relationship to a Yemeni parent; or foreign residents who have pending legal action (including court-based "holds" on family members' travel). The loss of a passport can result in considerable delay to a traveler because Yemeni law requires that the traveler attempt to recover the passport by placing an advertisement in a newspaper and waiting a week for a response. All minor/underage U.S. citizens should be accompanied by their legal guardian(s) and/or provide a notarized letter in Arabic of parental consent when obtaining exit visas to depart Yemen. In all of these more complex cases, obtaining an exit visa requires the permission of the employing company, the sponsoring Yemeni family member, the sponsoring school or the court in which the legal action is pending. Without this permission, foreigners -- including U.S. Citizens -- may not be allowed to leave Yemen.
American women who also hold Yemeni nationality and/or are married to Yemeni or Yemeni-American men often must obtain permission from their husbands for exit visas. They also may not take their children out of Yemen without the permission of the father, regardless of who has custody (see Special Circumstances section below).
For more details, travelers can contact the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen, Suite 705, 2600 Virginia Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037, telephone 202-965-4760; or the Yemeni (Mission to the U.N., 866 United Nations Plaza, Room 435, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 355-1730. Visit the Yemeni Embassy home page for more visa information at http://www.yemenembassy.org/.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The Department of State is concerned that al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates are actively engaged in extremist-related activities in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula. The Department remains concerned about possible attacks by extremist individuals or groups against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses and perceived interests.

On March 18, 2008, three mortar rounds landed in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa. Yemeni students at a nearby school and Yemeni government security personnel posted outside the embassy were injured in the attack. On April 6, 2008, an expatriate residential compound in the Hadda neighborhood of southwestern Sanaa was attacked by mortar fire, and on April 30, 2008, suspected extremists fired two mortar rounds that exploded near the Yemen Customs Authority and the Italian Embassy. No injuries were reported in either incident. A group calling itself al-Qa'ida in Yemen may be responsible for all three attacks. Following the attacks against the Embassy and the residential compound, the Department of State ordered the departure of all American non-emergency embassy staff and family members on April 7, 2008.
On January 18, 2008, suspected al-Qa’ida operatives ambushed a tourist convoy in the eastern Hadramout Governorate, killing two Belgians. On July 2, 2007, suspected al-Qa’ida operatives carried out a vehicle-borne explosive device attack on tourists at the Belquis Temple in Marib, which resulted in the deaths of eight Spanish tourists and two Yemenis. The targeting of tourist sites by al-Qa’ida may represent an escalation in terror tactics in Yemen. On February 3, 2006, 23 convicts, including known affiliates of al-Qa’ida, escaped from a high-security prison in the capital city, Sanaa. Among the al-Qa’ida associates were individuals imprisoned for their roles in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and the 2002 attack on the French oil tanker Limburg. In the weeks following the escape, some prisoners voluntarily turned themselves in to authorities; to date, however, some escapees remain at large. Two of the escapees were killed in vehicle-based suicide attacks on oil facilities near Mukalla and Marib on September 15, 2006. Those attacks were followed by the arrest the next day in Sanaa of four suspected al-Qa’ida operatives, who had stockpiled explosives and weapons. On December 5, 2006, a lone gunman opened small arms fire outside of the Embassy compound during the early morning hours. The assailant, wounded by host-nation security personnel and subsequently arrested, was the sole casualty. It appears that, although the gunman was influenced by extremist ideology, he worked alone in planning and executing the attack.
Americans should avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place. A 2005 demonstration against an increase in the fuel price led to two days of widespread demonstrations and rioting throughout Sanaa and other cities. Those demonstrations resulted in a large amount of property damage, looting, and several roadblocks.
In late 2007 and throughout 2008, there has been an increase in anti-government demonstrations in southern Yemen, including the cities of Aden, Taizz, Ibb, and Mukalla, as well as surrounding regions. Some of these demonstrations have resulted in injuries and deaths. Americans should be aware of the potential for further demonstrations when traveling in these areas.
Throughout the country, U.S. citizens are urged to exercise particular caution at locations where large groups of expatriates have gathered. From time to time, the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa may temporarily close or suspend public services as necessary to review its security posture and ensure its adequacy.
In addition, U.S. citizens are urged to avoid contact with any suspicious, unfamiliar objects, and to report the presence of such objects to local authorities. Vehicles should not be left unattended and should be kept locked at all times. Americans in Yemen are urged to register and remain in contact with the American Embassy in Sanaa for updated security information (see section on Registration/Embassy location below).
Yemeni government security organizations have arrested and expelled foreign Muslims, including Americans, who have associated with local Muslim organizations considered to be extremist by security organs of the Yemeni government. Americans risk arrest if they engage in either political or other activities that violate the terms of their admission to Yemen.
Travel on roads between cities throughout Yemen can be dangerous. Armed carjacking, especially of four-wheel-drive vehicles, occurs in many parts of the country, including the capital. Yemeni security officials advise against casual travel to rural areas. The U.S. Embassy sometimes restricts the travel of its own personnel to rural areas, while the Government of Yemen also sometimes places restrictions on Americans traveling outside Sanaa. Please check with the Embassy for the latest restrictions.
Travel is particularly dangerous in the tribal areas north and east of Sanaa. Armed tribesmen in those areas have kidnapped a number of foreigners in attempts to resolve disputes with the Yemeni government. Hostilities between tribesmen and government security forces in the Sadah governorate north of Sanaa have flared up on several occasions since 2005. Serious fighting occurred in the city of Benni Hashish from late May through early June 2008. Americans are urged to avoid this region during periods of conflict.
Travel by boat through the Red Sea or near the Socotra Islands in the Gulf of Aden presents the risk of pirate attacks. If travel to any of these areas is necessary, travelers may reduce the risk to personal security if such travel is undertaken by air or with an armed escort provided by a local tour company.
Other potential hazards to travelers include land mines and unexploded ordnance from the 1994 civil war. This is of particular concern in areas where fighting took place in the six southern provinces. However, most minefields have been identified and cordoned off.
Americans are most vulnerable to terrorist attacks when they are in transit to and from their residences or workplaces, or visiting locations where large groups of expatriates have gathered. All Americans are reminded to vary their routes and times, remain vigilant, report suspicious incidents to the Embassy, avoid areas where large groups of expatriates have gathered, lock car windows and doors, and carry a cell phone.
Based on previous abductions of foreigners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, the Embassy recommends that Americans with doubts about the identity of security or police personnel on the roads remain in their vehicles, roll up their windows, and contact the Embassy. For additional information on travel by road in Yemen, see the Traffic Safety and Road Conditions section below.
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, including the Travel Warning for Yemen, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: The most serious crime problem affecting travelers to Yemen is carjacking. Travelers have rarely been victims of petty street crime.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Yemen is 199, but operators do not speak English.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Lack of modern medical facilities outside of Sanaa and Aden and a shortage of emergency ambulance services throughout the country may cause concern to some visitors. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. An adequate supply of prescription medications for the duration of the trip is important. While many prescription drugs are available in Yemen, a particular drug needed by a visitor may not be available.
The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa strongly advises all American citizens residing in or traveling to Yemen to ensure that they have received all recommended immunizations (see below).
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/.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Yemen.

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 Yemen is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Based on previous abductions of foreigners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, the Embassy recommends that Americans with doubts about the identity of security or police personnel on the roads remain in their vehicles, roll up their windows, and contact the Embassy. For additional information addressing security concerns for Americans in Yemen, please see the Safety and Security section above.
Travel by road in Yemen should be considered risky. Within cities, minivans and small buses ply somewhat regular routes, picking up and dropping off passengers with little notice or regard for other vehicles. Taxis and public transportation are widely available but the vehicles may lack safety standards and equipment. Embassy personnel are advised to avoid public buses for safety reasons. Despite the presence of traffic lights and traffic policemen, drivers are urged to exercise extreme caution, especially at intersections. While traffic laws exist, they are often not enforced, and/or not adhered to by motorists. Drivers sometimes drive on the left side of the road, although right-hand driving is specified by Yemeni law. No laws mandate the use of seat belts or car seats for children. The maximum speed for private cars is 100 kilometers per hour (62.5 miles per hour), but speed limits are rarely enforced. A large number of under-age drivers are on the roads. Many vehicles are in poor repair and lack basic parts such as functional turn signals, headlights and taillights. Pedestrians, especially children, and animals on the roads constitute a hazard in both rural and urban areas. Beyond the main inter-city roads, which are usually paved and in fair condition, the rural roads in general require four-wheel-drive vehicles or vehicles with high clearance.
Yemeni security officials advise against casual travel to rural areas. The U.S. Embassy sometimes restricts the travel of its own personnel to rural areas, while the Government of Yemen also sometimes places restrictions on Americans traveling outside Sanaa. Please check with the Embassy for the latest restrictions.
Travelers should take precautions to avoid minefields left over from Yemen's civil wars. Traveling off well-used tracks without an experienced guide could be extremely hazardous, particularly in parts of the south and the central highlands.
Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and reckless driving which causes an accident resulting in injury, are a fine and/or prison sentence. If the accident results in death, the driver is subject to a maximum of three years in prison and/or a fine. Under traditional practice, victims' families negotiate a monetary compensation from the driver proportionate to the extent of the injuries -- higher if it is a fatality.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information and visit the web site of Yemen’s national tourism office at http//yementourism.com.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Yemen, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Yemen’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Photography of military installations, including airports, equipment, or troops is forbidden. In the past, such photography has led to the arrest of U.S. citizens. Military sites are not always obvious. If in doubt, it is wise to ask specific permission from Yemeni authorities.
Travelers should be aware that automated teller machines (ATMs) are being introduced in major cities but are still not widely available in Yemen. Credit cards are not widely accepted. The Government of Yemen may not recognize the U.S. citizenship of persons who are citizens of both Yemen and the United States. This may hinder the ability of U.S. consular officials to assist persons who do not enter Yemen on a U.S. passport. Dual nationals may also be subject to national obligations, such as taxes or military service. For further information, travelers can contact the nearest embassy or consulate of Yemen.
American citizens who travel to Yemen are subject to the jurisdiction of Yemeni courts, as well as to the country's laws, customs, and regulations. This holds true for all legal matters including child custody. Women in custody disputes in Yemen may not enjoy the same rights that they do in the U.S., as Yemeni law often does not work in favor of the mother. Parents planning to travel to Yemen with their children should bear this in mind. Parents should also note that American custody orders might not be enforced in Yemen.
American women who also hold Yemeni nationality, and/or are married to Yemeni or Yemeni-American men, are advised that if they bring their children to Yemen they may not enjoy freedom of travel should they decide they want to leave Yemen. Such women often must obtain permission from their husbands for exit visas. They also may not take their children out of Yemen without the permission of the father, regardless of who has custody (See Entry/Exit Requirements section above).
American students and workers in Yemen sometimes report that the sponsors of their residence permits seize their U.S. passports as a means of controlling their domestic and international travel. While the sponsors say they seize the passports on behalf of local security services, there is no law or instruction from Yemeni passport or security offices requiring that passports be seized.
Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Yemeni laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession or use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Yemen are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. The use of the mild stimulant "qat” or “khat" is legal and common in Yemen, but it is considered an illegal substance in many other countries, including the United States. 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 Yemen 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 Yemen. 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 Dhahr Himyar Zone, Sheraton Hotel District, PO Box 22347. The telephone number of the Consular Section is (967)(1) 755-2000, extension 2153 or 2266. The fax number is (967) (1) 303-175. The after-hours emergency number is (967) (1) 755-2000 (press 0 for extension) or (967) 733213509. The Embassy is open from Saturday through Wednesday.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Yemen dated December 27, 2007, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Criminal Penalties and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2020 12:29:02 +0100 (MET)

Dubai, Jan 14, 2020 (AFP) - At least 78 children in war-torn Yemen have died from dengue-related illnesses, Save the Children said Tuesday, warning of an epidemic.    "Seventy-eight children under 16 have already died in the outbreak of dengue-related illness in Yemen, with more than 52,000 suspected cases being recorded across the country," the aid group said in a statement.    It added this "could signal the start of an epidemic".

Save the Children said that a total of 192 people have died in Yemen last year from dengue-related illnesses -- most cases reported in the port cities of Hodeida and Aden.    "Hodeida has the second highest death rate in the country with 62 adult and children deaths in 2019. We have never seen anything like this before," said Save the Children's field coordinator in Yemen, Mariam Aldogani, herself recovering from dengue fever.   "More than 40 of our staff including their families have been affected by the fever." 

According to the Red Cross in November, Yemen was already grappling with an epidemic of the viral disease, which is transmitted by several species of mosquito that breed in stagnant water.   Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions pushed to the brink of famine since a Saudi-led military coalition intervened against Iran-aligned Shiite rebels in 2015.   It has generated what the United Nations has termed the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Twitter feed in Arabic [machine trans., edited]

Taiz health official: 24 laboratory-confirmed cases of West Nile virus and more than 300 suspected cases. #Republic_Yemen
===================
[Any information on the actual number of WNV cases, their lab confirmation, and public health response activities in this regard will be highly appreciated. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Yemen:
Date: Tue 15 Oct 2019
Source: Yemen Online [edited]

The cumulative number of suspected cholera cases reported in Yemen between October 2016 and August 2019 is 2,036,960, including 3716 related deaths (fatality rate of 0.18%). The 5 governorates with the highest attack rate per 10 000 are: Amran (1602.13), Al Mahwit (1474.79), Sana'a (1295.78), Al Bayda (1027.14) and Dahamar (957.61).

The national average attack rate is 713.99 per 10 000. The highest numbers of deaths are reported in the Hajjah (559), Ibb (486), Al Hudaydah (380) and Taizz (304) governorates. Cholera patients are often unable to afford transportation to supported health facilities, which contributes to the spread of disease and to deaths at community level.

Acute fuel shortages are causing critical disruption of water and sanitation services in Yemen given the reliance on fuel for extracting water. Limited access to water increases the risk of epidemic diseases, acute malnutrition, and triggers additional population displacement. Up to 16 million Yemenis may fall into acute need of humanitarian assistance and WASH services.
========================
[The calculated case fatality rate from this is quite low, strongly suggesting that many of the cases are not cholera. Even with that, the numbers reported in this continuing catastrophe are difficult to wrap one's head around. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Thursday 22nd August 2019
World Health Organisation

Sana’a, 21 August 2019 — A 6-day oral cholera vaccination campaign reached almost 400 000 people, including almost 65 000 children under the age of 5 in Aden, Al Dhale’e and Taiz, where high numbers of suspected cholera and acute watery diarrhoea cases have been recorded.

The first few months of 2019 saw an increase of reported acute watery diarrhoea cases in over 95% of districts across Yemen. Between January and the end of July 2019, there have been nearly 536 000 suspected cases and 773 associated deaths. Children under 5 represent one quarter of all suspected cases.

The vaccination campaign, run by local health authorities, UNICEF and WHO, was made possible thanks to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and to the World Bank’s ‘Emergency Health and Nutrition Project.’

“Amid the fighting in surrounding areas, over 800 health workers, brave men and women, risked their lives to reach communities from cholera — these are the real heroes,” said Altaf Musani, WHO Representative in Yemen.

“Thanks to the extraordinary commitment and dedication of Yemen’s local health workforce, hundreds of thousands of people from these priority districts were reached with vaccination against cholera,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Country Representative in Yemen. 

Since April 2017, the cholera and acute watery diarrhoea epidemic in Yemen has caused an estimated 2 million suspected cases and 3500 associated deaths. Almost one third have been in children under 5, including 711 associated deaths. The outbreak in Yemen remains the largest cholera in the world. 

Health partners throughout Yemen joined forces to control and prevent any future cholera outbreaks. UNICEF and WHO are working closely with the relevant health authorities and other humanitarian partners to respond.

Date: Fri 2 Aug 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GAELF) reported this week that Yemen has eliminated lymphatic filariasis as public health problem, making them the 2nd country in the Eastern Mediterranean Region of the World Health Organization (WHO) to achieve this.

Yemen's success comes after almost 2 decades of tremendous efforts of sustained elimination measures as recommended by WHO of the 2 pillars -- mass drug administration (MDA) and morbidity management and disease prevention (MMDP) of the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GPELF) strategy. After several rounds of MDA implementation, surveys since 2011 have validated that infection has been reduced to below transmission thresholds.

Transmission assessment surveys (TAS) conducted in 2013 and 2016 confirmed that Yemen had met all criteria for achieving elimination as a public health problem while, at the same time, management of morbidity in affected patients continued. Yemen will continue to improve its morbidity management programme treating patients with clinical symptoms as well as [maintaining] the appropriate level of surveillance to ensure continued zero transmission.

Lymphatic filariasis is caused by infection with parasitic worms living in the lymphatic system. The infection impairs the lymphatic system triggering abnormal enlargement of body parts, causing pain, severe disability and social stigma.

The larval stages of the parasite (microfilaria) circulate in the blood and are transmitted from person to person by mosquitoes.

The achievements of the Yemen PELF were made possible through the generous support and funding from the World Health Organization (WHO), the integration with the national leprosy programme (NLEP), the generous drug donations from the Mectizan Donation Program and GSK and the generous technical guidance of GPELF-WHO and GAELF.
=====================
[The problem of lymphatic filariasis in Yemen was realised around 2000, and in 2002 an initial pilot mass drug administration was implemented in Wisab subdistrict, Dhamar governorate (about 12,800 inhabitants) and 2 subdistricts on Socotra island, Hadramout governorate (about 29 000 inhabitants; El Setouhy M, Ramzy RM. Lymphatic filariasis in the Eastern Mediterranean Region: current status and prospects for elimination. East Mediterr Health J 2003;9:534-41.  <http://applications.emro.who.int/emhj/0904/9_4_2003_534_541.pdf>).

The location of Dhamar governorate can be found here:
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhamar_Governorate>.

Thus, filariasis was limited to the Dhamar governorate in central eastern Yemen and the Socotra island. Currently the Dhamar governorate is under control of the Houthi-led government in Sanaa (see <https://www.ecfr.eu/mena/yemen>), and Socotra is controlled by the United Arab Emirates.

Onchocerciasis, which is also considered a variant of filariasis, is still found in Yemen along the coastal areas toward the Red Sea (Al-Kubati A-S, et al. Onchocerciasis in Yemen: moving forward towards an elimination program. Int Health 2018;10 Suppl 1:i89-i96. <https://academic.oup.com/inthealth/article/10/suppl_1/i89/4868662>). - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
More ...

Colombia

Colombia - US Consular Information Sheet
August 13, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 30 Jan 2020
Source: Colombia Reports [edited]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duque has yielded to some of the demands on tax reform, announcing the return of Value Added Tax to the poorest 20 percent of the population and benefits for companies that hire young people.   "This government is open building towards the future, but it must be done with the whole of society," Duque said in an interview with Colombia's W Radio, insisting that many of the protesters claims were based on disinformation or "false premises."
Date: Fri, 22 Nov 2019 06:03:13 +0100 (MET)

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

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

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

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

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

- 'Afraid to march' -
"We are very afraid to march in the streets but we do it anyway because the state is spreading so much fear with its militarization and by closing the borders," political science student Valentina Gaitan, 21, told AFP.    The borders with Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela were closed until Friday to avoid any threat to "public order and security," authorities said.   Duque, who does not hold a majority in parliament, suffers from a 69 percent unpopularity rating, according to polls. His party, the Democratic Center (CD), suffered serious setbacks in October local elections.   Political analyst Jason Marczak said the outrage against the government, the target of several demonstrations in recent months, is part of a "considerable demonstration of discontent in the region."   "The unsatisfied claims and deep polarization are the basis for this massive event," said Marczak, of the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2019 22:38:09 +0100 (MET)

Bogota, Nov 21, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of Colombians took to the streets of the capital Bogota on Thursday amid a general strike to protest the policies of President Ivan Duque's right-wing government.   There were no reported outbreaks of major violence as trade unions, students, opposition parties and the South American country's indigenous organizations challenged the full gamut of Duque's economic, social and security policies.   "It is an accumulation of situations that we hope to see reviewed after today, including a great national dialogue of conciliation," Robert Gomez, president of the main workers' union, told AFP.   The protest comes amid social upheaval across South America, as a wave of unrest over the past two months has battered governments in Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador.   The popularity of Duque's right-wing government -- a key US ally -- has been on the wane since his election 18 months ago, as it deals with hosting 1.4 million refugees from neighboring Venezuela's economic meltdown as well as the complex fallout of a 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels and rampant drug trafficking.

- Troops deployed -
Troops were deployed in the capital and other cities to protect "strategic facilities," authorities said.   The Colombian office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced concern over the deployment, saying states must limit the use of military forces "for the control of internal disturbances."   Authorities said the protests were largely peaceful, though riot police fired tear gas to break up groups of demonstrators in isolated clashes in Bogota and the western city of Cali. Blocked roads in some areas snarled transportation.

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

- 'Afraid to march' -
"We are very afraid to march in the streets but we do it anyway because the state is spreading so much fear with its militarization and by closing the borders," political science student Valentina Gaitan, 21, told AFP.    Duque admitted some of the criticisms were legitimate in a televised speech on the eve of the strike, but said the campaign against his government was based on lies seeking to provoke violence.   "We recognize the value of peaceful protests, but also guarantee order," he said.   The borders with Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela were closed until Friday to avoid any threat to "public order and security," authorities said.   Political analyst Jason Marczak said the outrage against the government, the target of several demonstrations in recent months, is part of a "considerable demonstration of discontent in the region."   "The unsatisfied claims and deep polarization are the basis for this massive event," said Marczak, of the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020
13:15:00 +0100 (MET)
By Ella IDE and Jastinder KHERA

Rome, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Italy's new coronavirus spread south on Tuesday to Tuscany and Sicily, as the civil protection agency reported a surge in the number of infected people and Rome convened emergency talks.    Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has blamed poor management in a hospital in the country's north for the outbreak, which has caused seven deaths in Italy so far and infected the largest number of people in Europe.    Tuscany reported its first two cases, including one in the tourist destination of Florence, while Sicily marked one: a tourist from the worst-hit Lombardy region, where 212 people have tested positive. The female tourist in Sicily, who had been staying in a hotel in Palermo, tested positive on the first swab but was awaiting the definitive result from Italy's institute of infectious diseases, civil protection agency chief Angelo Borrelli said.

Health ministers from neighbouring countries were to meet in Rome as the 
number of confirmed infections jumped to 283, with over 50 new cases reported since Monday.    The EU's health commissioner and other international health officials were also expected in the Italian capital Tuesday.    Hundreds of people were confined to their rooms at a Tenerife hotel after an Italian tourist was hospitalised with a suspected case of coronavirus, health officials in the Canary Islands said.  While no neighbouring country has closed its borders with Italy, several governments have announced additional measures for travellers arriving from Italy, in particular from the two northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.  They range from medical screening to recommendations to self-isolate.

- 'Mission Impossible' -
Several upcoming matches in Italian Serie A and the Europa League will be played behind closed doors to combat the spread of the disease.    Production of the latest "Mission: Impossible" film starring Tom Cruise in Venice has been stopped following the outbreak.    The main centre of infection in Italy has been the town of Codogno, a town of some 15,000 people around 60 kilometres (35 miles) to the south of Milan. Codogno and several others in northern Italy have been put under isolation in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

The 38-year-old man dubbed "Patient One" by Italian media was admitted to 
hospital last Wednesday in Codogno, and it is thought a large number of the cases in the worst-hit region of Lombardy can be traced back to him.    His heavily pregnant wife, several doctors, staff and patients at the hospital are thought to have caught the virus from him.    As well as the towns placed under quarantine, further wide-ranging measures have affected tens of millions of inhabitants in the north of Italy, with schools closed and cultural and sporting events cancelled.    Elsewhere in the country officials have also been recommending precautionary measures.  In Calabria in the south, bishops have asked their worshippers not to make the sign of peace during mass, media reported.    All seven of those who have died so far in Italy were either elderly or had pre-existing medical conditions.
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 11:48:12 +0100 (MET)

Madrid, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Hundreds of people were confined to their rooms at a Tenerife hotel Tuesday after an Italian tourist was hospitalised with a suspected case of coronavirus, health officials in the Canary Islands said.   "Hundreds of hotel clients are being monitored for health reasons and the degree of supervision will be assessed during the day, but so far, we're not talking about quarantine," health authority spokeswoman Veronica Martin told AFP, confirming that the Italian tourist "was staying at this hotel while on holiday in Tenerife".
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 11:40:20 +0100 (MET)
By Laurent Thomet with Dario Thuburn in Geneva

Beijing, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Fresh deaths and a surge in new coronavirus cases in Iran, Japan and South Korea on Tuesday fuelled fears of a pandemic, as the disease took root in some of the world's poorest -- and worst-equipped -- countries.  The rapid spread abroad came as the World Health Organization announced that the epidemic had peaked at its epicentre in China, where it has killed more than 2,600 people and infected over 77,000 others.

But the situation has worsened elsewhere with nearly 2,700 other cases and more than 40 deaths globally, prompting restrictions on travellers from infected nations, the cancellation of football matches and national efforts to isolate suspected patients.    South Korea, Italy and Iran have each logged sharp increases in infections and deaths, while several Middle Eastern countries also reported their first confirmed COVID-19 cases.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted the virus could still be contained, praising China's drastic quarantine measures in several cities for helping to prevent an even bigger spread.   "For the moment we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large-scale deaths," Tedros told reporters in Geneva on Monday.   He added, however, that countries should do everything they can to "prepare for a potential pandemic" -- a term is used to describe an illness that spreads across numerous communities.   The White House plans to spend $2.5 billion to combat the epidemic, according to US media. There are 53 cases in the United States so far.

- Iran hotspot -
Iran has emerged as a major hotspot with the death toll rising to 15 on Tuesday as three more people succumbed to the disease.   The country has been scrambling to contain the epidemic since last week when it announced its first two deaths in Qom, a centre for Islamic studies and pilgrims that attracts scholars from abroad.

Iran has confirmed 61 cases so far, making its mortality rate exponentially higher than anywhere else in the world and raising suspicion that many more people have contracted the disease there.   A WHO team was due in Iran on Tuesday.   Several neighbours have enacted measures to block arrivals from Iran but the virus has already spread to Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East.   The WHO has warned that poorer countries with weak health care systems are the most at risk.

- Games off -
South Korean President Moon Jae-in warned that the outbreak was "very grave" as the country's death toll rose to 10 and the number of confirmed infections approached 1,000 -- the largest total outside China.   Scores of events have been cancelled or postponed as the outbreak has spread in the world's 12th-largest economy, from K-pop concerts to the World Team Table Tennis championship.   Parliament closed for cleaning Tuesday after confirmation a person with the coronavirus had attended a meeting last week.   More than 80 percent of the infections have been in and around Daegu, South Korea's fourth-largest city.

Streets there have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale.   Most of the country's infections are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, an entity often accused of being a cult.   The US Centers for Disease Control warned Americans against "all nonessential travel to South Korea".   In Japan, a fourth former passenger of the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship died, according to local media. The man was in his 80s.   Nearly 700 people from the quarantined ship have tested positive for the illness so far.

Infections have also spiked inside Japan, with at least 160 cases including one death.   The government has expanded the number of hospitals that can receive suspected patients and asked people with moderate symptoms to stay home.   Businesses were asked to "let people stay away from offices, to avoid rush hour commuting hours, and to encourage telecommuting," Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said.   Italy -- which has reported seven deaths and over 200 cases -- has locked down 11 towns, while upcoming football matches in its Serie A and the Europa League will be played behind closed doors.    Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that residents could face weeks of lockdown.

- China cases slow -
In China, 508 new cases were reported, with all but nine at the outbreak's epicentre in central Hubei province.   The death toll nationwide reached 2,663 on Tuesday after 71 more people died, the lowest rise in almost three weeks.   Reassured by the official numbers, the country is gingerly returning to business.   Beijing is seeing more cars on the street, factories are resuming work, Apple is reopening several stores, and some regions are relaxing traffic restrictions.   But schools remain closed, the capital has a mandatory 14-day quarantine for returning residents, and authorities are keeping some 56 million people in Hubei under lockdown.
Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: ZBC News [edited]

Mbire, Mashonaland Central Province has been affected by an outbreak of anthrax prompting the Veterinary Services Department to place an embargo on the movement of cattle from the province.

The acting provincial coordinator, Richard Chipfuwa, said 34 beasts had so far succumbed to the disease in the remote district, which sits on the border with Mozambique and Zambia. "These (the 34) are the reported cases, but we suspect there could be many more that were not reported. We have since mobilized vaccines to the district's 5 dip tanks: Nyatsengwa, Masomo, Tengu, Bonga and Sapa, so that farmers can have the remaining herd saved," he said.

But a poor road network in the district is making it difficult for veterinary officials to access some of the dip tanks, a situation made worse by the ongoing rains. The officials, in addition to treating infected animals, are also educating communities against consuming meat from dead animals, because this could pose health risks to people.

The anthrax outbreak in Mbire, an arid district rich in an assortment of wildlife, is suspected to have been passed on to livestock by infected wild animals such buffaloes, which are typical carriers of the disease. Last year [2019], the province lost nearly 1300 cattle due to anthrax and other livestock diseases.
=====================
[For a description of Mashonaland, go to: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashonaland>. It is in northern Zimbabwe and is made up of 3 provinces, East, West, and Central. For a map showing the location of Mashonaland Central Province go to: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashonaland_Central_Province>.

In these hard to reach areas, it is a constant concern knowing what is happening where. And this goes a long way as to why some 34 animals are reported affected and probably more. And why it is so important to get the necessary volumes of vaccine out to these communities as soon as possible. We wish the provincial veterinary service well and all the luck that they enjoy. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Mashonaland Central Province, Zimbabwe:
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 16:22:59 +0100 (MET)

Dubai, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - The new coronavirus hit four more Middle Eastern states on Monday, with Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman reporting new cases and the UAE calling on its citizens not to travel to Iran and Thailand.   Oman also halted flights to and from Iran  -- which is battling the deadliest outbreak outside China --with immediate effect.   The move came shortly after two Omani women who had returned from Iran were diagnosed with the disease.

The three cases in Kuwait and the one in Bahrain were also in individuals who had returned from Iran, where the virus has claimed the lives of 12 people.   Bahrain also shut three schools after a man who had transported children to the institutions tested positive after returning from Iran on February 21 via Dubai airport, the health ministry said.

In Kuwait, a 53-year-old Kuwaiti, a 61-year-old Saudi national and a 21-year-old stateless Arab who tested positive had all returned from Iran's holy city of Mashhad, the Kuwaiti health ministry said.   In Iraq, the virus was confirmed in an Iranian national studying in the southern shrine city of Najaf, health officials said.   All seven bourses in the oil-rich Gulf states were down on Monday as fears of a pandemic hit crude prices. The Saudi stock exchange led the slide, shedding 2.95 percent.

- Travel bans -
Iran's confirmed death toll rose to 12 on Monday, with the government vowing to be transparent and dismissing a lawmaker's claim the toll could be as high as 50.   The outbreak has prompted travel bans from nearby countries.

Last week, Kuwait banned entry of all ships from the Islamic republic and suspended flights to and from the country.   Kuwait also banned non-citizens coming from Iran from entering the Gulf state and operated chartered flights to bring back hundreds of Kuwaiti Shiite pilgrims from the Islamic republic.

Around a third of Kuwait's 1.4 million citizens are Shiite Muslims, who travel regularly to Iran to visit religious shrines. Kuwait also hosts roughly 50,000 Iranian workers.   Over half of Bahrain's population of under one million are Shiites, who also travel frequently to Iran.   The United Arab Emirates has already announced 13 cases of the novel coronavirus, all of them foreigners. The latest were a 70-year-old Iranian man, whose condition is unstable, and his 64-year-old wife.

On Monday, Abu Dhabi authorities called on all UAE citizens "to not travel to Iran and Thailand at present and up until further notice" as part of its efforts to monitor and contain the spread of the disease.   UAE airlines have suspended most flights to China -- where the virus first emerged in December -- except to the capital Beijing, but have not yet taken any measures to restrict travel to and from Iran. Around half a million Iranians live and work in the UAE.

Two Gulf states -- Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- remain free of the virus, but all have suspended flights to China.   Qatar Airways said on Monday that people arriving from Iran and South Korea would be asked to stay in home isolation or a quarantine facility for 14 days.   China's death toll from COVID-19 rose to nearly 2,600 on Monday, while the virus has now spread to more than 30 countries.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 17:49:00 +0100 (MET)

Kolkata, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Rangers have suspended safari rides in a popular nature reserve in eastern India after five one-horned female rhinoceroses died from a suspected infectious disease, officials said Monday.  The animals were found dead over four days last week in Jaldapara National Park, nearly 700 kilometres (434 miles) north of West Bengal state's capital Kolkata.

India is home to two-thirds of the world's remaining one-horned rhinos, a vulnerable species on the IUCN red list   "Blood smears from carcasses have been sent to a laboratory in Kolkata," the reserve's chief conservator Ujjal Ghosh told AFP.   "All the five dead rhinos were adult females. We have put our staff on alert."

The park -- spread over 200 square kilometres (77 square miles) in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas -- is home to 204 rhinos according to the last official count in 2015.  More than 70 captive elephants used for safaris and patrolling also live in the reserve. The safari rides are carried out on elephants.   Activists said the animals may have died from anthrax, a communicable disease that attacks herbivores.

Humans can contract anthrax directly or indirectly from animals or animal products.  "We suspect that the animals died from a communicable disease like anthrax. Jaldapara forest has the odd case of anthrax which killed animals earlier," wildlife activist Animesh Bose told AFP.   Rangers were riding on elephants to reach the rhinos and vaccinate them using dart guns, the Hindustan Times reported.   Drones would try to find out if other animals have died or fallen ill, the newspaper said.
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 04:50:33 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Dozens of Jakarta neighbourhoods were flooded Tuesday after torrential rains pounded Indonesia's capital, less than two months after nearly 70 people were killed in some of the megacity's worst flooding in years.   There were no immediate reports of casualties after the latest deluge, but parts of the city ground to a halt as whole neighbourhoods were swamped in muddy water, while power outages hit some districts.   At least 81 neighbourhoods were inundated with a dozen toll roads closed and some commuter train lines shuttered, according to an announcement by Indonesia's Disaster Mitigation Agency.

More torrential rains were expected later in the day.    "So the flooding will likely spread," agency spokesperson Agus Wibowo said on Twitter.   Floodwaters in some districts were as high as 127 centimetres (4 feet).   The low-lying city is prone to flooding during the wet season which starts around November.   Torrential rain in January triggered flooding and landslides that killed nearly 70 people in and around Jakarta while thousands more were forced to evacuate to shelters.
Date: Mon 24 Feb 2020
Source: Dhaka Tribune [edited]

In Baliadanga upazila of Thakurgaon district, 2 members of a family have died and 3 other members fell sick of an unknown disease. The deceased are MB 35, wife of HI, and her sister in law PB, wife of H from Songaon village of the upazila.

Quoting family members, local schoolteacher SPL said: "MB fell sick and died on Friday [21 Feb 2020] and on Saturday [22 Feb 2020], PB fell sick. "She came back home after undergoing primary treatment at Baliadanga Health Complex; however, she died early Sunday [23 Feb 2020]."

Soon afterwards, 3 other members of the family -- TA, HK and AA -- fell sick and were taken to Adhunik Sadar Hospital, she added.

Thakurgaon Civil Surgeon Dr MD Mahfuzar Rahman Sarker said a representative team of the health department has visited the village to investigate the cause of deaths.

The reasons of the deaths are yet to be known; however, the ones who fell sick are in better condition now, he added.

In 2019, 4 members of a family died due to Nipah virus in the same upazila. Locals are assuming the current deaths are occurring for the same reason.
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[With these cases described only as fatal or ill without mention of symptoms, it is not possible to speculate on what the etiology of thisdisease might be. The above report does mention that 4 fatal Nipah virus infections occurred in the same locality last year (2019). Nipah virus must surely be on the list of rule-outs in these current cases. This is the season when Nipah virus is circulating in Bangladesh in giant fruit bats (_Pteropus_ species) with spill-over of the virus by the bats' contamination of fruit or of palm sap juice in collecting pots on the palms. Person-to-person transmission of the virus can also occur. The transmission season is usually January to April.

As noted earlier, it is unfortunate that the public awareness efforts have not prevented these cases from occurring. Perhaps because cases are sporadic and geographically scattered there is little public perception of risk of infection and serious disease. Until effective public education to prevent infection by avoiding eating contaminated fruit or date palm sap is implemented, sporadic cases will continue to occur.

An image of a Pteropus fruit bat can be found at

HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
A map showing the location of the area where the cases occurred can be accessed at the above URL. - ProMED Mod.TY]

24-02-2020 -- Italy has reported a rapid increase in cases of laboratory-confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) since 21 February 2020. An initial investigation by Italian authorities has found several clusters of cases in different regions of northern Italy, with evidence of local transmission of COVID-19.

A WHO-led team of experts from WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) arrived in Italy on Monday 24 February to support Italian authorities in understanding the situation. WHO experts are providing support in the areas of clinical management, infection prevention and control, surveillance and risk communication. At this stage the focus is on limiting further human-to-human transmission.

While limited local person-to-person transmission of COVID-19 in countries outside of China was expected, the rapid increase in reported cases in Italy over the past two days is of concern. However, it should also be noted that based on current data, in the majority of cases (4 out of every 5) people experience mild or no symptoms.

“COVID-19 is a new virus that we need to take very seriously. This mission to Italy is one of the ways in which WHO/Europe is supporting countries across the Region. We are working hard with our Member States to ensure that they are ready for COVID-19, preparing for the arrival of cases and possible localized spread. It is vital that we treat patients with dignity and compassion, put measures in place to prevent onward transmission, and protect health workers,” commented Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

Health authorities in Italy are implementing measures to prevent onward transmission, including closing of schools and bars and cancelling of sports events and other mass gatherings in the areas affected. This aligns with the containment strategy currently being implemented globally in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. “WHO stands by the Government of Italy in its efforts and commitment to mitigate this outbreak and manage the cases effectively. Now is the time for solidarity and cooperation, to work together to protect everyone’s health,” added Dr Kluge.

Countries across the European Region continue to prepare for and respond to cases of COVID-19. This includes establishing how to promptly detect sick people, testing samples from suspect cases, ensuring appropriate infection control and case management to minimize the risk of the virus spreading, and maintaining communication with the public.

Best Regards,
WHO Media Team

Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 12:29:01 +0100 (MET)
By David Vujanovic

Tehran, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Iran's government vowed Monday to be transparent after being accused of covering up the deadliest coronavirus outbreak outside China, dismissing claims the toll could be as high as 50.

The authorities in the Islamic republic have come under mounting public pressure since it took days for them to admit to "accidentally" shooting down a Ukrainian airliner last month, killing 176 people.   The government said on Monday that Iran's coronavirus death toll had jumped by four to 12 -- by far the highest outside China -- as its neighbours closed their borders and imposed strict quarantine measures.

But Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a lawmaker from the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran, alleged the government was "lying" about the full extent of the outbreak.   The ILNA news agency, which is close to reformists, said the lawmaker spoke of "50 deaths" in Qom alone.   "The rest of the media have not published this figure, but we prefer not to censor what concerns the coronavirus because people's lives are in danger," ILNA editor Fatemeh Mahdiani told AFP.

Farahani was wearing a face mask during the closed session of parliament but left after speaking, as he felt unwell, state news agency IRNA reported, adding sanitary workers then cleaned his seat.   Iran's government rejected his claim that the virus had killed 50 in Qom.   "I categorically deny this information," Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said in a news conference aired live on state television.   "This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem," he added.

- Transparency pledge -
The government pledged transparency over the outbreak.   "We will announce any figures (we have) on the number of deaths throughout the country. We pledge to be transparent about the reporting of figures," its spokesman Ali Rabiei said.   Iran has been scrambling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak since it announced the first two deaths in the holy city of Qom on Wednesday last week.   Authorities have since ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres across the country as a "preventive measure".

A spokesman for Iran's parliament, Assadollah Abbassi, announced the latest four deaths among more than 60 infections after Monday's closed-door gathering of lawmakers.   Citing Health Minister Said Namaki, he said that "the cause of coronavirus infections in Iran are people who have entered the country illegally from Pakistan, Afghanistan and China".   Iran has yet to give a breakdown of where the other deaths occurred.   The worst-hit province for infections is Qom, with 34 cases, according to health ministry figures.

The others are in Tehran with 13 infections, Gilan with six, Markazi with four, Isfahan with two and one each for Hamedan and Mazandaran.   But the health minister said that one person who died of coronavirus in Qom, south of Tehran, was a businessman who had made several trips to China.   Namaki had unsuccessfully pleaded in January for Iran's government to order the suspension of all commercial flights between Iran and China.   In his remarks to state television on Sunday, the minister said direct flights between Iran and China were now suspended, but the Qom businessman had travelled there "on a connecting flight".

- Border closures -
Since it emerged in December, the new coronavirus has killed more than 2,500 people in China.   Iran now accounts for nearly half of the deaths elsewhere in the world, which currently stand at 30.   Many of Iran's neighbours have reported cases of coronavirus in people who had travelled to the Islamic republic.   Afghanistan on Monday reported its first case in a person who had travelled to Qom.   Baghdad also reported its first case on Monday -- an elderly Iranian citizen living in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf.

Iraq has shut its border with the Islamic republic and imposed a travel ban.   Similar preventive measures were imposed by Afghanistan, Armenia, Pakistan and Turkey.    Qom is a centre for Islamic studies and pilgrims, attracting scholars from Iran and beyond.   Kuwait and Bahrain also confirmed their first novel coronavirus cases, all of whom had come from Iran.