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Antartica

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 17 May 2018 09:57:07 +0200

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approximately 30 nations operate permanent research stations on the continent including the US, China, Russia, Australia, Britain, France and Argentina, and more are on the way.   China's state media said in December that the country was building its fourth base and a fifth was being planned.   Fellow study author Hugh Possingham, from NERP, said that without better protection "this unique and fragile ecosystem could be lost".   "Although we show that the risks to biodiversity from increasing human activity are high, they are even worse when considered together with climate change," he added.    "This combined effect provides even more incentive for a better system of area protection in Antarctica."
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2013 12:27:56 +0100 (MET)

WASHINGTON, Nov 17, 2013 (AFP) - A powerful 7.8 magnitude undersea earthquake struck in the Scotia Sea, a remote region in the far south Atlantic near Antarctica, US earthquake monitors reported Sunday.   The quake struck at 0904 GMT in the ocean some 893 kilometers (550 miles) southwest of Grytviken, South Georgia, and 1,140 kilometres (710 miles) southeast of Ushuaia, Argentina, said the US Geological Survey, which monitors earthquakes worldwide.   The epicenter was at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), and was near that of a 6.8 magnitude undersea earthquake that the USGS registered in the Scotia Sea some 30 hours earlier.

The quake occurred at the boundary between the Antarctic tectonic plate and the Scotia Sea plate, said geophysicist Randy Baldwin at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado.   "They're sliding past one another horizontally, it's not a subduction zone," Baldwin told AFP. "There will be aftershocks probably for weeks."   There were no tsunami warnings since there were no vertical movements in the seafloor as occur in a subduction quake, when one tectonic plate moves under another one, Baldwin said.   Yet despite the enormous energy unleashed the area is so remote that there is little or no impact to humans, he said.   "You couldn't pick a more remote area for an earthquake," he said.
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New Caledonia

New Caledonia US Consular Information Sheet
August 29, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
New Caledonia is a French overseas territory located in the Southwest Pacific near Australia. It consists of the large island of New Caledonia, the Loyalty Is
ands, the Isle of Pines, and several smaller island groups. The capital is Noumea. New Caledonia's moderately developed economy is based on mining and, to a lesser degree, tourism. Tourist facilities can be found throughout New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands, and the Isle of Pines. The French Government Tourism Office, which has a wide range of information available to travelers, can be contacted by telephone at (212) 838-7800.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport valid for six months beyond duration of stay is required. Visas are not required for stays of up to one month. Extensions for up to three months may be granted locally by applying to the Haut Commissionaire (The French High Commissioner). For longer stays, you must apply for a visa at your nearest French Embassy or Consulate well beforehand, as the processing time is quite long. For further information about entry requirements, travelers, particularly those planning to enter by sea, may contact the French Embassy at 4101 Reservoir Road NW, Washington, DC 20007, telephone 202 944-6200, fax 202-944-6212, or visit the Embassy of France web site at http://www.info-france-usa.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:
Marches highlighting labor or political issues take place in the greater Noumea area from time to time. Demonstrations in January 2008 resulted in clashes between demonstrators and the police. American citizens are advised to avoid large public gatherings and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations, as they could turn violent at any time.
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: The crime rate in New Caledonia is low; however, petty crime such as pick-pocketing and purse-snatching does occur. Visitors should be aware that fights and assaults sometimes occur outside discotheques and bars, especially over weekends and holidays and at closing time.
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 equivalents to the “911” emergency lines in New Caledonia are 17 for police (gendarmes), 18 for fire, 15 for ambulance and medical emergencies, and 16 for rescue at sea.

See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical treatment on the main island is generally good, but it is more limited on the outer islands. The Centre Hospitalier Territorial in Noumea provides emergency and outpatient services, as does the smaller Centre Hospitalier Nord in Koumac in the northern part of the main island of New Caledonia and the Centre Hospitalier Est in Poindimie on the east coast of the main island. Patients with more serious illnesses are often referred to Noumea, Australia or France for treatment. In the event of a medical evacuation to Australia, before issuing a visa, Australian visa authorities will require a referral from a doctor in New Caledonia, proof of acceptance by an Australian doctor, and proof of the patient's ability to pay for the medical treatment. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
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 New Caledonia.

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 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 New Caledonia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:
Roads are generally well maintained except in remote areas. Animals and unwary pedestrians walking in the road make night driving on unlit secondary roads hazardous. To obtain information on operation of motor vehicles or for specific information concerning New Caledonian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance in New Caledonia, contact the New Caledonia Southern Province Tourism Office at www.new-caledoniatourism-south.com and go to the e-mail address provided for specific inquiries.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: Civil aviation operations in New Caledonia fall under the jurisdiction of French authorities. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of France’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of France’s air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa/.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available. If detained, U.S. citizens are encouraged to request that a consular officer at the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji, be notified.
Customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from New Caledonia of items such as agricultural products. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of France in Washington or one of the French consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
The cyclone season is November through April. The Fiji Meteorological Service maintains a Tropical Cyclone Warning Center (TCWC) in Nadi serving the Southwest Pacific Region. It collaborates with the French Meteorological Service and the French High Commission, which in turn alert the press and general public when necessary. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet at http://travel.state.gov/crisismg.html, and from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
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 those in the United States for similar offences. Persons violating New Caledonia’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in New Caledonia 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 page on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in New Caledonia. The U.S. Embassy in Fiji provides assistance for U.S. citizens in New Caledonia. Americans living or traveling to New Caledonia are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji, or through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain up-to-date information on travel and security within New Caledonia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Fiji is located at 31 Loftus Street in the capital city of Suva, telephone (679) 331-4466; fax (679) 330-2267. Information may also be obtained by visiting the Embassy’s home page at http://suva.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for New Caledonia dated February 26, 2008, to update sections on Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

17th February 2019

- Tahiti ex New Caledonia. 13 Feb 2019. A health alert has been issued in French Polynesia after one case of dengue type 2 was diagnosed. A man who had arrived from New Caledonia has come down with the mosquito-borne illness in Mahina. He has been transferred to the main hospital in Tahiti. The neighbourhood of Mahina he stayed in is being sprayed in the hope of eliminating mosquitoes that could transmit the virus. French Polynesia has been spared a dengue type 2 epidemic for about 2 decades, which means that the public has low immunity to the disease. Last year, 2 cases were diagnosed in Raiatea, but the outbreak was contained.
Date: Wed, 5 Dec 2018 10:55:37 +0100
By Claudine WERY

Noumea, Dec 5, 2018 (AFP) - A powerful 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck near New Caledonia Wednesday, triggering a tsunami alert and emergency evacuations across a swathe of the South Pacific, but there were no reports of serious damage or injuries.   Authorities said the quake, followed by at least 20 strong aftershocks, was centred about 170 kilometres (100 miles) southeast of New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands at a depth of just 10 kilometres.

Island residents said the initial quake shook the walls of buildings and in places turned the sea foamy.   Tsunami waves were recorded moving out from the epicentre, prompting people to flee to high ground.   The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned surges of up to three metres (10 feet) could be expected and shallow quakes of that magnitude can be devastating.   But the centre later reported waves measured by its monitors around the region only reached about 72 centimetres (2.4 feet) on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu.

Civil defence officials in Noumea said tsunami waves hit parts of the Loyalty Islands and the Isle of Pines, but caused no damage.   "Reports from the area confirm that the strength of the tsunami has fallen significantly and there is no longer a major risk for the population," said a spokesman for the civil defence department.   "There have been no injuries or damage," he said.

Almost three hours after the quake, the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported the threat stemming from the initial quake "has now passed".   Multiple aftershocks of up to magnitude 6.6 hit the area in the hours following the initial quake, according to the US Geological Survey.   The quake triggered emergency warning systems in New Caledonia, where residents received an urgent text message directing them to go to refuges immediately.

- Ring of fire -
Basile Citre, a municipal official on the Loyalty Island of Mare, said he had been in a meeting at the town hall when he felt a small tremor followed by a bigger shock.   "The building shook, but there was no damage," he told AFP. "When the sirens sounded, the population headed for higher ground for safety. For now, nothing serious has happened."

A spokesman for the Vanuatu geohazards observatory said the sparsely populated island of Tanna was expected to be most affected but no evacuations had been ordered.   "There are no sirens on Tanna but the people on the island are familiar with these situations and they will have taken precautions and gone to higher ground," he told AFP.   CCTV footage showed bathers still frolicking in crystalline seas off Noumea, seemingly unaware of the seriousness of the threat on the other coast, just 50 kilometres away.

New Caledonia, with a population of 269,000 people, is a French Pacific territory.   It sits along the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide and many of the world's volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.   The island's citizens last month rejected independence in a referendum, though the vote revealed lower-then-expected support for remaining part of France.   New Caledonia is home to a quarter of the world's known supplies of nickel -- a vital electronics component -- and is a foothold for France in the Pacific, with French troops stationed on the island.
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2018 07:21:01 +0200

Sydney, Aug 29, 2018 (AFP) - A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck off the eastern coast of New Caledonia on Wednesday and generated small tsunami waves, seismologists said, but there were no immediate reports of damage.   The tremor hit at a depth of 27 kilometres (16 miles) in the southern Pacific Ocean, some 231 kilometres from the nearest town Tadine in the lightly populated Loyalty Islands, the US Geological Survey said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said "small tsunami waves have been observed".   "Persons along coastal areas near the earthquake should be observant and exercise normal caution. Otherwise, no action is required," it added.   Geoscience Australia said shaking would have been felt throughout New Caledonia, but it put the damage radius at 103 kilometres -- well away from land.   New Caledonia, a French overseas territory, is located within the "Ring of Fire", a zone of tectonic activity around the Pacific that is subject to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
22nd March 2018

- New Caledonia.16 Mar 2018. Since start of March [2018], 134 cases [of Dengue] diagnosed and 1 death.
23rd February 2018

- New Caledonia. 23 Feb 2018. A dengue epidemic has been declared in New Caledonia. The government said there was a significant rise in the number of infections this year [2018]. It said about 100 cases of type 2 dengue have been diagnosed since the beginning of the year, suggesting that the people are not immune to the virus. The government said the disease had been found mainly in Noumea and Yate. Last year's [2017] epidemic claimed 11 lives and officially affected 4500 people.
<https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/351063/dengue-epidemic-declared-in-new-Caledonia>
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Oman

Oman US Consular Information Sheet
February 11, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Sultanate of Oman, a land of great natural beauty on the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, has a long and proud heritage.
Oman has seen rapid economic a
d social development in the past three decades.
The Government of Oman estimated its population at 2,340,815 in its 2003 census, but the current number is likely to be significantly higher due to an influx of expatriate workers in numerous sectors of the economy.
The CIA World Factbook estimates Oman’s population to be 3,311,640 in its latest on-line update as of December 18, 2008.
A monarchy governed by Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the country does not have political parties or a legislature, although a bicameral representative body (the lower house of which is directly elected) provides the government with advice and reviews draft legislation.
While Oman is traditionally Islamic and Islam is the state religion, Omanis have for centuries lived with people of other faiths.
Non-Muslims are free to worship at churches and temples built on land donated by the Sultan.
The economy is largely dependent on the production and export of oil and natural gas, but is becoming increasingly diversified.
Excellent tourist facilities are available in the major cities of Muscat, Salalah, Sohar, and Nizwa and can increasingly be found elsewhere in the country.
Travelers may wish to visit the Sultanate’s tourism web site at http://www.omantourism.gov.om/ for more information.
Travelers may also wish to read the Department of State Background Notes on Oman for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport and visa are required for entry into Oman.
Omani embassies and consulates issue multiple-entry tourist and/or business visas valid for up to two years.
Omani immigration officials at the port of entry determine the length of stay in Oman, which varies according to the purpose of travel.
Alternatively, U.S. citizens may obtain a 30-day visa by presenting their U.S. passports on arrival at all Oman land, sea, and air entry points.
Note: The validity period of the applicant's passport should not be less than six months.
Adequate funds and proof of an onward/return ticket, though not required, are strongly recommended.
The fee is Rials Omani 6.00 (approximately USD 16.00).
This visa can be extended for an extra 30 days only; a completed extension application form and the fee of Rials Omani 6.00 (USD 16.00) should be submitted to the Directorate General of Passports and Residence or to its branches at regional Royal Omani Police offices.
Other categories of short-term visit/business/work contract visas are available, but these must be arranged in advance through an Omani sponsor.
To obtain a visa or for details on entry and travel requirements, please contact the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, 2535 Belmont Road NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone (202) 387-1980/2.
Evidence of yellow fever immunization is required if the traveler enters from an infected area.
Visit the Embassy of Oman web site 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.
Forbidden items:
The Sultanate prohibits pornographic materials and firearms from entering Oman.
Local law limits each traveler to two bottles of alcohol.
Items subject to confiscation at the airport due to content considered culturally inappropriate include, but are not limited to, compact discs, digital video discs, and video and audiocassettes.
Please refer to our Customs Information to learn more about customs regulations.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
There have been no instances in which U.S. citizens or facilities in Oman have been subject to terrorist attacks.
However, the Department of State remains concerned about the possibility of terrorist attacks against United States citizens and interests throughout the region.
American citizens in Oman are urged to maintain a high level of security awareness.
The State Department suggests that all Americans in Oman maintain an unpredictable schedule and vary travel routes and times whenever possible.
Americans are also urged to treat mail or packages from unfamiliar sources with suspicion.
Unusual mail or packages should be left unopened and reported to local authorities.
U.S. citizens with security concerns are encouraged to contact local authorities and the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Muscat.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts 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 information on A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
The incidence of street crime is low in Oman; violent crime is rare by U.S. standards, but can occur.
Crimes of opportunity remain the most likely to affect visitors.
Visitors to Oman should, therefore, take normal precautions, such as avoiding travel in deserted or unfamiliar areas and after dark.
Visitors should also protect personal property from theft.
In particular, valuables and currency should not be left unsecured in hotel rooms.
Common sense and caution are always the best methods for crime prevention.

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 Oman is:
9999
See our information on Victims of Crime.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: By Omani custom and law, expressing frustration either verbally or through otherwise innocuous hand gestures is considered insulting and abusive.
Any individual, regardless of citizenship and residency status, may file a personal defamation charge, and accusation of wrongdoing is sufficient to initiate a legal process.
While not commonplace, the incidence of American citizens charged with personal defamation has been on the rise in recent months.
These cases are normally resolved by a formal apology and a payment of damage to the aggrieved party, but one American citizen’s case went to trial in 2008.
Omani law typically does not permit a foreigner accused of a crime, including defamation, to depart the country while legal proceedings are ongoing.
Confrontations leading to defamation charges occur mostly on Oman’s roads, and visitors should exercise caution when dealing with difficult drivers.
Omani employers often ask that expatriate employees deposit their passports with the company as a condition of employment.
While to an extent still customary, this practice is contrary to Omani law.
The U.S. Embassy in Muscat advises Americans to exercise caution on the issue of permitting an employer to hold their passports, since this can operate as a restraint on travel and could give undue leverage to the employer in a dispute.
U.S. passports are the property of the U.S. government.
Islamic ideals provide the conservative foundation of Oman's customs, laws, and practices.
Foreign visitors are expected to be sensitive to Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative style, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts.
Athletic clothing is worn in public only when the wearer is obviously engaged in athletic activity.
Western bathing attire, however, is the norm at hotel pools and beaches.

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

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
There are a number of modern medical facilities in Oman.
Local medical treatment varies from quite good to inadequate, depending in large part on location.
Many Western pharmaceuticals can be found in Oman.
Hospital emergency treatment is available.
Doctors and hospitals often expect cash payment for health services.

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 the CDC’s web site.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization (WHO).
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.

Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Oman.
Oman requires persons seeking work or residence visas to take an HIV/AIDS test after arriving in the country; U.S. HIV/AIDS tests are not accepted.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Oman at (202) 387-1980/2 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 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 Oman is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road Conditions and Hazards: Road conditions, lighting, and traffic safety in cities and on major highways are good.
The condition of rural roads varies from good to poor.
Travel between cities, especially at night, may be dangerous due to poor or no lighting, wandering livestock, and speeding drivers.
The safety of public transportation is generally good.
Taxis, minivans, and small buses may swerve to the side of the road to pick up passengers with little notice or regard for other vehicles.

Local Laws and Practices:
Traffic laws in Oman are strictly enforced and the consequences for violating them may be severe by U.S. standards.
For example, running a red light results in a mandatory, non-bailable detention period of 48 hours, followed by confiscation of one’s driver’s license, vehicle registration, and car registration plate until the Omani judicial process is concluded, which may take as long as several months.
Other common traffic violations that carry strict penalties, up to and including jail sentences, fines, and/or deportation, include: driving without a license, driving under the influence of alcohol, failure to wear a seat belt, talking on cellular telephones while driving (other than using hands-free technology), speeding excessively, overtaking another vehicle, screeching a car’s tires or failing to keep one’s car clean.
In the event of a traffic violation and fine, drivers should cooperate with police officers and should not attempt to pay or negotiate payment at the time of the traffic stop.

Effective June 1, 2007, the Royal Oman Police (ROP) introduced new procedures for minor Road Traffic Accidents (RTA) to reduce traffic jams.
According to the ROP, the new procedure is currently in force in the Governorate of Muscat area and will eventually be implemented in the other governorates and regions of the Sultanate.
American citizens considering driving in Oman are advised to familiarize themselves with the new procedures available on the ROP web site under “Minor Road Traffic Accidents.”
Note:
Minor RTA are accidents that cause minor damage to one or more vehicles but do not result in injuries, deaths, or material damage to public/private properties.
Parties involved in such accidents should immediately move their vehicles to the side of the road.

American citizens involved in accidents outside of the Muscat area are advised not to move their vehicles from the accident location until the ROP gives them permission; moving a vehicle may be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

The use of European-style traffic circles is prevalent in Oman.
However, unlike European traffic practice, the driver on the inside lane always has priority.
A driver flashing his/her high beams is generally asking for a chance to pass.
Turning right on a red traffic signal is prohibited.
Visitors should not drive without a valid license.
Short-term visitors in possession of a valid U.S. driver's license may drive rental vehicles, but residents must have an Omani driver's license.
To obtain an Omani license, a U.S. citizen must have a U.S. license that has been valid for at least one year or must take a driving test.
Visitors hiring rental cars should insure the vehicles adequately against death, injury and loss or damage.
Residents may insure their vehicles outside the Sultanate; however, third party liability insurance must be purchased locally.

Emergency Services:
A modern ambulance service using American equipment and staff trained in the U.S. was instituted in 2004 and has been assessed as very good.
The service currently serves only certain urban locations in Oman, including the capital area, but is eventually expected to provide coverage for motor vehicle accident victims throughout the entire Sultanate.
For all traffic-related emergencies, the Royal Omani Police can be contacted by dialing "9999."
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of Oman’s national tourist office for further information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Oman’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Oman’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web.

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

The U.S. Embassy is located on Jamiat A’Duwal Al Arabiya Street, Al Khuwair Area (Shatti Al-Qurum), in the capital city of Muscat.
The mailing address is: PO Box 202, Medinat Al Sultan Qaboos 115, Sultanate of Oman, telephone: (968) 24-643-400, fax: (968) 24-643-535.
The Embassy’s Consular e-mail address is ConsularMuscat@state.gov.
American Citizens Services are available on a walk-in basis from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The U.S. Embassy is closed on Omani and American holidays.
In the event of an emergency outside of normal office hours, American citizens may call the number above for assistance.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Oman dated December 3, 2007 to update the sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Special Circumstances, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 14 Feb 2019
Source: Muscat Daily [edited]

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MoAF) has announced that it has imposed veterinary quarantine on a farm in the wilayat [district] of Shinas in North Batinah [governorate] after it registered a case of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) in a citizen. MoAF has also confirmed that the citizen infected is undergoing treatment at Sohar Hospital and his condition is stable.

Experts took samples of tick insects, a carrier of the disease from the animals at the citizen's farm and other animals in the area and sent them to the laboratory for examination. MoAF elaborated that experts are guiding the citizen's family on how to handle animals. CCHF is caused by a virus carried by ticks.

Animals like sheep, goats, and cows become carriers after they are bitten by the infected ticks. Humans get infected either by tick-bites or through direct contact with the infected animal's blood and tissues during or after slaughtering. Human-to-human transmission can occur resulting from close contact with blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids from infected persons, the ministry said.
=====================
[CCHF virus has the greatest geographic range of any tick-borne virus and there are reports of viral isolation and/or disease from more than 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern and Southern Europe, and the Middle East. Numerous domestic and wild animals, such as cattle, goats, sheep, and small mammals, such as hares and rodents, serve as asymptomatic hosts for amplification of the virus, which is transmitted through _Ixodid_ ticks, especially _Hyalomma_ spp that act as both reservoirs and vectors  (<https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2018/12/20/502641.full.pdf>).

Oman is situated in the south-eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Cases of CCHF were first detected in Oman in 1995 with 3 unrelated sporadic cases, and another in 1996. A 1996 survey in Oman revealed asymptomatic seropositivity for CCHFV in 1/41 (2.4 percent) of Omanis compared to 73 (30.3 percent) of 241 non-Omani citizens with occupational animal contact. No further human cases of CCHF were reported in Oman until 2011 and there has been a steady increase in cases since then. Asia lineage 1 (clade IV) of CCHF virus has been identified in one of 1996 confirmed cases from Oman. Al-Abri et al have published a detailed report on CCHF cases from Oman from 2011-17 and describe a higher mortality rate of over 36 percent in their study (<http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/502641>).

The Oman MoH has undertaken a number of activities and initiatives to educate and inform the public about the risks of CCHF infection associated with slaughtering. A joint strategic initiative was developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources. Education and information on prevention of CCHF in different languages has been targeted at those involved in slaughtering and handling animals. In addition, guidelines have been produced for culturally acceptable safe burials. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Oman:
Date: 28 Jan 2019
Source: Times of Oman [edited]

Four new cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus have been detected in Oman, according to the Ministry of Health. "This brings the total number of recorded cases from various governorates in the Sultanate to 18 since 2013," the ministry said in a statement. The new cases are receiving necessary medical care at one of the hospitals.

"The ministry affirms its continued effort to monitor and control the disease through the effective Epidemiological Surveillance System," the ministry added. "All hospitals are capable of dealing with such cases," the ministry said, "We urge all citizens and residents to comply with preventative measures to control infection and to maintain hygiene when sneezing and coughing."

MERS is a viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV) that was 1st identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Symptoms: "Typical MERS symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, have also been reported. Some laboratory-confirmed cases of the MERS-CoV infection are reported as asymptomatic, meaning that they do not have any clinical symptoms, yet they are positive for a MERS-CoV infection following a laboratory test. Most of these asymptomatic cases have been detected following aggressive contact tracing of a laboratory-confirmed case," the World Health Organization (WHO) said. Approximately 35 per cent of patients reported to be infected with MERS-CoV have died.

"Although most human cases of MERS-CoV infections have been attributed to human-to-human contact in health care settings, current scientific evidence suggests that dromedary camels are a major reservoir host for MERS-CoV and an animal source of MERS infection in humans. However, the exact role of dromedaries in the transmission of the virus and the exact route(s) of transmission are unknown. "The virus does not seem to pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact, such as when providing unprotected care to a patient. Health care associated outbreaks have occurred in several countries, with the largest outbreaks seen in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Republic of Korea," the WHO added.
=======================
[According to the above media report (and the MOH press release available at: <https://www.moh.gov.om/en/-/---951>, this now brings the total number of MERS-CoV infected individuals occurring in Oman to 18. According to prior reports, as of the date of the last reported case of MERS-CoV infection by Oman in March 2018, there had been a total of 11 cases reported by Oman (see MERS-CoV (10): Oman, Saudi Arabia, WHO http://promedmail.org/post/20180315.5690014). The addition of these 4 newly confirmed/reported cases would bring the total to 15, unless there were 3 previously reported cases that we have missed. Another explanation might be the addition of 3 Omanis who were diagnosed to have MERS-CoV infection after travelling to other countries. There were 2 reported Omani travelers to Thailand confirmed to have MERS-CoV infections in 2015 and 2016 (MERS-CoV (70) - Thailand ex Oman, 1st report, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20150618.3447631, and MERS-COV (08): Thailand ex Oman, Saudi Arabia corr http://promedmail.org/post/20160124.3962172) and an Omani confirmed to have a MERS-CoV infection in the United Arab Emirates in 2013 (MERS-CoV - Eastern Mediterranean (81): Saudi Arabia, UAE ex Oman, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20131108.2044846). Clarification of this would be greatly appreciated. In addition, more information on the newly confirmed cases including age, gender, governorate of presumed exposure, dates of onset of illness, and history of possible high-risk exposures (direct or indirect camel contact, consumption of raw camel products, contact with other confirmed cases of MERS-CoV infection) would be greatly appreciated. Are the 4 newly reported cases a defined cluster with common contacts?

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Oman: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/124>  - ProMED Mod.MPP]
Date: 15 Mar 2018
Source: WHO Emergencies preparedness, response, Disease Outbreak News (DONs) [edited]

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) - Oman 15 Mar 2018
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
On [4 Mar 2018], the National IRH focal point of Oman reported 1 additional case of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

The patient was a 74-year-old male Omani national, living in Batinah, who had symptom onset on [23 Feb 2018]. The patient had neither recently travelled nor had any contact with any person with respiratory symptoms or with a known MERS-CoV case. The patient took care of camels that were reportedly ill. The investigation of the patient's exposure in the 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms is still ongoing.

Prior to this patient, the last laboratory-confirmed case of MERS-CoV from Oman was reported in November 2017.

Globally, 2144 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV, including at least 750 related deaths, have been reported to WHO.
==================
[This is the 1st laboratory confirmed case of MERS-CoV infection reported by Oman in 2018, bringing the total number of laboratory confirmed cases reported by Oman to 11. During 2017, there were 2 cases reported by Oman. One on 5 Nov 2018 (see MERS-CoV (69): Oman, Saudi Arabia (RI, QS) RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20171105.5425993) and one reported to WHO on 30 Aug 2017, and reported by WHO on 12 Oct 2017 (see MERS-CoV (59): Oman, Saudi Arabia, WHO http://promedmail.org/post/20170913.5313874). In addition, there have been 2 cases reported in Omani citizens travelling to Thailand and confirmed by Thailand. A common observation in the cases reported by Oman is a history of contact with camels in the 14 days preceding onset of illness.

In total, there have been 2144 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV reported to WHO since September 2012, including at least 750 related deaths (reported case fatality rate 35.0 percent). (This total includes cases reported by Saudi Arabia up through 11 Jan 2018).

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Oman can be found at:
Date: Thu 15 Feb 2018
Source: Muscat Daily [summarised, edited]

A study conducted by Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) shows that goats and other [livestock] in Jebel Akhdar, Saham and some areas in Dhofar are infected by brucellosis - a disease caused by [the] bacteria Brucella.

The study titled, 'A Novel Molecular Approach to Study Brucellosis in Cattle, Sheep, Goats and Camels in the Sultanate of Oman' shows that cattle in the area have been infected by brucellosis. In Jebel Akhdar, 11.4 per cent goats were found infected and in Saham one per cent cattle and one per cent sheep were infected.

Speaking to Muscat Daily, Dr Yasmin el Tahir, assistant professor at the Department of Animal and Veterinary at the College of Agriculture and Marine Sciences in SQU said that brucellosis is a major bacterial zoonosis - a disease that can be transmitted to humans from animals.

The study which started in 2014 will be concluded by April 2018.

In Dhofar, blood samples were randomly collected from 50 farms during March and April 2015.

"In Batinah, the study was carried out to determine the sero-prevalence of brucellosis in livestock including sheep, goats and camels in different areas from March to April 2015. Blood samples of 248 animals (102 goats, 104 sheep and 42 camels) were tested for brucellosis."

Elaborating on who can be affected by it, Dr Yasmin said, "Different mammals including man, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, swine, rodents and marine mammals can be carriers. In the host species, the disease primarily affects the reproductive system with concomitant loss in productivity of animals. In human beings, infection is associated with a spectrum of non-pathognomonic symptoms which are often misdiagnosed resulting in serious and debilitating manifestations," she added.

In order to control brucellosis, comprehensive surveillance, pre and post-import testing is of paramount importance, Dr Yasmin said. "The overall aim of this study is firstly to determine the seroprevalence of brucellosis in the most common domestic animals in Oman. It seeks to identify the risk factors associated with the disease, determine the prevalence of brucellosis in different regions of the sultanate, and above all shed light on the important reservoirs that serve to transmit brucella. This information will facilitate development of suitable control strategies to reduce the risk of this malady in man and animals," she added.

A French team comprising, Dr Jay Maryne, Dr Virginie Mick and Corde Yannick from the Brucellosis Reference Laboratory in Paris has also approved the study, said Dr Yasmin.
==================
[_Brucella melitensis_ is endemic in Oman, as in most if not all Near Eastern countries, with serious zoonotic impact. The species mostly affected are sheep and goats, but as indicated in the above report, camels and cattle may be affected as well.

During 2016, 23 outbreaks in small ruminants were reported to the OIE; during the 1st 6 months of 2017, 12 outbreaks were reported. Later information on the disease in animals is not yet available.
        
The brucellosis situation in humans is presented by the following numbers of human cases, as reported to the OIE: 2012 (148 cases), 2013 (192), 2014 (217), 2015 (379), 2016 (416). In humans, children constitute the most vulnerable sector.

These statistics may be indicative of a deteriorating situation. An example, addressing a cluster of 55 brucellosis cases identified during the period May to July 2016 from the coastal area in the North Batinah Governorate, was described in an Aug 2016 posting (http://promedmail.org/post/20160809.4404332). This concerning situation should not surprise in view of the vaccination coverage, as reported for the year 2016 (most recent available):
        
species/doses used/population   
Goats/  12 681/ 2 212 839
Sheep/  937/    581 787

A 2011 review on Brucellosis in Oman is available in ref 1. For a recent (2017) review on _B. melitensis_, worldwide, see ref 2.

References:
1. Yeh El Tahir, RR Nair. (2011). Prevalence of brucellosis in the Sultanate of Oman with reference to some Middle East countries. Vet Res,4 (3), 71-76.

2. Rossetti CA, Arenas-Gamboa AM, Maurizio E (2017) Caprine brucellosis: A historically neglected disease with significant impact on public health. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 11(8): e0005692.

A map of (Dhofar Governorate, Oman):
Date: Sat, 23 Dec 2017 04:18:14 +0100
By Khaled Orabi

Haima, Oman, Dec 23, 2017 (AFP) - The Gulf sultanate of Oman is looking to carve itself a new niche in ecotourism by opening up a sanctuary for one of the desert's most fabled creatures -- the Arabian oryx.   Once extinct in the wild, the rare member of the antelope family famed for its elegant horns has been dragged back from the precipice in a sprawling reserve fenced off for decades from the public.

That changed last month when authorities for the first time officially opened the sanctuary to visitors -- part of a broader bid by Oman to boost tourism as oil revenues decline.   On a recent outing, wildlife rangers in SUVs patrolled the sandy plains of the reserve in central Oman's Haima province, spotting groups of grazing oryx and other indigenous species.

For years, the main goal has been a basic one -- ensuring the oryx can survive by focusing on "helping the animals here reproduce and multiply", said sanctuary spokesman Hamed bin Mahmoud al-Harsousi.   But now, as numbers have ticked up from just 100 some two decades ago to almost 750 today, the authorities began eyeing another role for the reserve.    "There has been more interest in its tourism potential -- to take advantage of its uniqueness and rare animals," Harsousi told AFP.

- 'Arabian unicorn' -
The story of the Arabian oryx -- sometimes referred to as the Arabian "unicorn" due to its distinctive profile -- is one of miraculous survival.    Hunted prolifically, the last wild member of the species was killed in Oman by suspected poachers in 1972.    The species only clung to existence thanks to a programme to breed them in captivity and in the early 1980s a batch of 10 were released into Oman's Arabian Oryx Sanctuary.   Since then, regenerating the oryx has been an often precarious process.

The Omani sanctuary sprawls over 2,824 square kilometre (1,100 sq miles) of diverse terrain -- from flat plains to rocky slopes and sandy dunes.   Its own fate has been nearly as tortured as that of the oryx it houses.   In 2007, the sanctuary became the first place ever to be removed from UNESCO's World Heritage list as the government of Oman turned most of it over to oil drilling.

- On guard against poachers -
Now, as oil prices have plunged over the past few years, it is the wildlife once again that has become an increasing priority for the authorities.   Harsousi puts the current number of Arabian oryx in the sanctuary at 742 and says that other species are flourishing there too.    "In the past three years, we have been able to increase the number of the Arabian gazelle, known as sand gazelles, from 300 to about 850," he added.   In addition to the animals, there are 12 species of trees that provide a habitat for diverse birds.   Oman has been on a push to transform itself into a tourist draw -- pitching its beach resorts to luxury travellers and desert wilderness to the more adventurous.

Officials in the sultanate told AFP that a major tourism plan would be announced within a matter of weeks.   Those working at the oryx sanctuary hope that it can help play a lead role in luring visitors to the country.   But there are also fears that greater openness could see the return of an old foe -- hunters.    With that in mind security is being kept tight, said Abdullah Ghassab Obaid, a wildlife guard at the reserve.   "Thirty guards and a police patrol are working to provide security in the reserve to prevent any infiltration."
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2019 16:11:10 +0200

Kinshasa, June 24, 2019 (AFP) - More than 1,500 people have died in a nearly 10-month-old outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the health ministry said Monday.   As of Sunday, 1,506 people have died out of 2,239 recorded cases, it said.   Earlier this month, the virus claimed two lives in neighbouring Uganda among a family who had travelled to the DRC.   Nearly 141,000 people have been vaccinated in the affected eastern DRC provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Ebola spreads among humans through close contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected person, or objects contaminated by such fluids.   The current outbreak in the DRC is the worst on record after an epidemic that struck mainly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone between 2014-2016, killing more than 11,300 people.   Chronic violence and militia activity in Ituri and North Kivu as well as hostility to medical teams among locals have hampered the response.

On Monday, a crowd of people opposed to the burial of two Ebola victims in the Beni area burnt the vehicle of a health team, local police chief Colonel Safari Kazingufu told AFP.   He said a member of the medical team had been injured in the attack and taken to hospital.    The United Nations in May nominated an emergency coordinator to deal with the crisis. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this month the outbreak currently did not represent a global threat.
Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2019 20:27:21 +0200

Ouagadougou, June 24, 2019 (AFP) - Hundreds of doctors and nurses demonstrated Monday in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou to protest against declining health facilities and to demand better working conditions.   The main doctors' union also warned it would stage a general strike from June 30 to July 7 to demand "concrete responses" to their grievances.

Health professionals staged a series of strikes at the end of May, seriously disrupting work at health centres in the poor West African country.   "We are... asking health authorities not to underestimate the health crisis," said Alfred Ouedraogo, general secretary of the Union of Burkina Doctors.   "For several months, there have been recurring breakdowns in laboratories," he said. "In most health centres, there are no X-ray films."    The protesters marched to the health ministry and submitted their demands.

Health worker Idrissa Compaore said that ever since the introduction of free medical care for children under five and pregnant women, "basic goods were regularly lacking" at health facilities.   "The situation is the same in health centres," he said.   The doctors also want the implementation of an accord signed with the government in 2017 promising better working conditions which they say remains only on paper.   If their demands are not met, the health workers could launch an open-ended strike which would affect consultations and surgeries, Ouedraogo said.
Date: Wed 19 Jun 2019
Source: InSight crime [edited]

Disease outbreaks show desperate Venezuelans have migrated to illegal gold mining areas for work.

Outbreaks of malaria and diphtheria in a region of Venezuela where these diseases are rare has revealed how armed groups are organizing a vast migration to illegal mines.

The outbreaks show that criminals operating in the state of Miranda found a way to make money amid the country's worsening crisis by moving into the illegal gold mines of Bolivar state, in the south of Venezuela.

In the middle of 2017, doctors witnessed an unusual, sustained, and inexplicable malaria outbreak in Valles del Tuy, a region in the state of Miranda located between the coast and the center of Venezuela where the mosquito-borne disease is seldom seen, Efecto Cocuyo reported.

The startling epidemic offered the 1st clue to the changing criminal dynamics in the region.

"Malaria was not a disease native to states in the center of the country, so this caught our attention. We started to ask patients about it to find out how they contracted it. The surprise came when one of the patients told me that he had caught it in the mining region in the state of Bolivar, where they went to work in gold mining," explained a doctor whose practice is in Charallave, the municipal seat in Cristobal Rojas municipality in Miranda state. The doctor asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

Pressured by the economic situation and massive inflation, residents of the Valles del Tuy region began working during their vacations in the illegal mines in Bolivar, more than 500 kilometers [about 311 mi] away. The doctor said that they were recruited by 'pranes', or prison gang bosses, who had previously been the leaders of local 'megabandas' in Valles del Tuy.

The megabandas' grip on Valles del Tuy began in 2013, when various sites were converted into so-called peace zones, areas where security forces could not enter.

Later, when kidnappings and extortion stopped being profitable in the poor areas where they operated, members of the same megabandas migrated to the mining region in search of other sources of income, and to escape police and military raids.

InSight crime analysis
----------------------
Criminals are not immune to the effects of Venezuela's current economic, political, and social crisis.

Many criminals, primarily pranes and leaders of megabandas, have been forced to abandon their former strongholds and change the pattern of their criminal activities, according to investigations conducted by InSight Crime.

Criminals are trading robbery, petty theft, and kidnappings for drug trafficking and illegal mining. Additionally, they are migrating to states where these illicit economies are strongest: Sucre, Zulia, Tachira, and Bolivar. In the south of Venezuela, Bolivar has become the principal destination for the pranes of Valles del Tuy.

Ramon Teran Rico, alias "Monchi," for example, was the leader of one of the largest criminal organizations in the state of Miranda. Community representatives told InSight Crime that he fled to Bolivar's mines 2 years ago.

Monchi was the 1st crime boss to try his luck at the Orinoco Mining Arc, a transnational mining project created in 2016. He gradually moved his henchmen there from the Valles del Tuy. Sources in his circle of friends say that he even purchased his own dredge to extract gold.

Leaders of other criminal structures operating in the Valles del Tuy have also had to reinvent themselves in order to survive, and have moved into southern Venezuelan states where they operate comfortably.

Hundreds of residents of the towns in Valles del Tuy have migrated to the mining region. "All of the families here have at least one person that has gone to work in the mines," said a resident of Ocumare del Tuy in Miranda state, who reports seeing his neighbors' children and relatives head for the mines.

In November 2016, a case of diphtheria, an acute infectious disease [that most commonly affects the throat and the tonsils], was detected in the Sucuta sector of Ocumare del Tuy, alerting health authorities to the re-emergence of a disease rarely seen in the center of the country.

Follow-up with the patient found that he had contracted the infection in the Bolivar mines.

Health authorities developed prevention plans targeted at the neighborhoods where criminal groups operate. Investigations conducted by health authorities demonstrated that the men that go to work in the mines, as well sex workers or women who work in the kitchens there, carried these diseases back to the Valles del Tuy.

The public health problem shed light on the fact that an illegal gold mining fever had emerged -- an economic lifeline that is now strengthening organized crime.  [Byline: Venezuela Investigative Unit]
=======================
[Malaria has surged in Venezuela over the past 9 years (see ProMED reports below). Control measures have ceased to exist and drugs for treatment have become difficult to find. The association with illegal haphazard mining was reported from Bolivar state in 2012, and the present report underlines that such activities constitute high risk for malaria and other diseases.

The diphtheria outbreak that began in July 2016 remains ongoing. Through February 2019, Venezuela has seen a total of 2726 suspected cases (1612 confirmed), including 164 in 2019 to date (<http://outbreaknewstoday.com/diphtheria-update-venezuela-60872/>). - ProMED Mod.EP]

[Maps of Venezuela:
Date: 23 Jun 2019
Source: Outbreak News [edited]

The Malaysia Ministry of Health is reporting a methanol poisoning cluster believed linked to counterfeit alcohol.

For the period of 11-21 Jun 2019, 3 methanol poisoning clusters were reported to the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Center (CPRC). The incidents involved 19 cases from the following states:
Penang (8), Johor (6) and Negeri Sembilan (5). The cause of the methanol poisoning was believed to be due to the counterfeit liquor branded by Myanmar Whiskey, Miludeer Beer, Whiskey 99 and Martens Extra Strong.

The cluster of methanol poisoning cases in Penang began on 11 Jun 2019 and involved 8 Myanmar citizens. Two of the cases have died. They had been drinking Myanmar branded whiskey. The drink was purchased from the same seller who sells directly at the premises where these poisoning victims work. On 21 Jun 2019, one methanol poisoning case was still being treated at a Penang hospital in critical condition, while 5 others were discharged.

In the state of Johor, reporting of methanol poisoning cases has been received since 18 Jun 2019. It involves 6 cases, 3 Malaysians and one Pakistani, Nepalese and Indian, respectively. Three of the cases involved were found to have consumed a drink believed to be counterfeit branded Miludeer Beer. Four of the cases of methanol poisoning have died. On 21 Jun 2019, one case was still being treated at the Sultanah Aminah Hospital (HSA) in critical condition, and one more reported case of blurred vision was being treated in a regular ward at Sultan Ismail Hospital, Johor Bahru, Johor.

The Negeri Sembilan Health Department (JKNNS) reported one methanol poisoning cluster on 20 Jun 2019 involving 5 cases from the Port Dickson district including 2 deaths. It involves 3 Malaysians, one Indian citizen and one Myanmar citizen. Investigations found cases involved drinking alcoholic beverages allegedly branded Miludeer Beer (2 cases), Whisky 99 (1 case) and Martens Extra Strong (1 case), while one case had no brand information. On 21 Jun 2019, 3 cases were being treated at Port Dickson Hospital, 2 critical cases, and one case in a regular ward.

Clinical samples were taken from all 19 cases for methanol test analysis. The results showed 5 positive cases of methanol and one negative case of methanol but showed symptoms and clinical signs of methanol poisoning. Laboratory results for the remaining 13 cases are still pending.

The Penang State Health Department, Negeri Sembilan and the State of Johor have collaborated with the Royal Malaysian Police and Royal Malaysian Customs in an investigation to identify the sources of the counterfeit alcoholic drink.

The MOH continues to monitor the situation and take preventative and control measures to address these methanol poisoning incidents. Consumers are advised to ensure each purchased alcohol product has a label containing complete manufacturer, importer, agent and listing information.

Consumers are also advised to avoid consuming home-brewed alcoholic beverages or alcohol being sold at low prices.

If individuals have symptoms of methanol intoxication such as stomach-ache, nausea, vomiting, headache, and vision loss within 5 days of consuming an alcoholic drink, MOH advises them to seek immediate treatment at any clinic or the closest hospital.
===========================
[Methanol toxicity initially lacks severe toxic manifestations. Its pathophysiology represents a classic example of lethal synthesis in which toxic metabolites cause fatality after a characteristic latent period. In other words, these people may not realize they are sick or ill until some time after consumption.

Methanol is sometimes used as an ethanol substitute for alcohol. Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fruit juices, fermented beverages, and diet soft drinks containing aspartame are the primary sources of methanol in the human body, but [they contain] minute quantities.

Wood alcohol is also known as methanol. It is a commonly used toxic organic solvent causing metabolic acidosis, neurologic issues, and death when ingested. It is a part of many commercial industrial solvents and of adulterated alcoholic beverages or is mistaken as being the same as alcohol for ingestion. Methanol toxicity remains a common problem in many parts of the developing world, especially among members of lower socioeconomic classes.

Neurological complications are recognized more frequently due to advanced technologies and because of early recognition of the toxicity and advances in supportive care. Hemodialysis and better management of acid-base disturbances remain the most important therapeutic improvements.

Serum methanol levels of greater than 20 mg/dL correlate with ocular injury. Funduscopic changes are notable within only a few hours after methanol ingestion. The mechanism by which the methanol causes toxicity to the visual system is not well understood. Formic acid, the toxic metabolite of methanol, is regarded as being responsible for ocular toxicity, and blindness can occur in humans.

The prognosis in methanol poisoning correlates with the amount of methanol consumed and the subsequent degree of metabolic acidosis; more severe acidosis confers a poorer prognosis. Methanol has a relatively low toxicity. The adverse effects are thought to be from the accumulation of formic acid, a metabolite of methanol metabolism. The prognosis is further dependent on the amount of formic acid that has accumulated in the blood, with a direct correlation existing between the formic acid concentration and morbidity and mortality. Little long-term improvement can be expected in patients with neurologic complications.

The minimal lethal dose of methanol in adults is believed to be 1 mg/kg of body weight. The exact rates of morbidity and mortality from methanol intoxication are not available.

Rapid, early treatment is necessary for survival, but sequelae such as blindness may be permanent.

Metabolic acidosis in methanol poisoning may necessitate the administration of bicarbonate and assisted ventilation. Bicarbonate potentially may reverse visual deficits. In addition, bicarbonate may help to decrease the amount of active formic acid.

Antidote therapy, often using ethanol or fomepizole, is directed towards delaying methanol metabolism until the methanol is eliminated from the patient's system either naturally or via dialysis. Like methanol, ethanol is metabolized by ADH, but the enzyme's affinity for ethanol is 10-20 times higher than it is for methanol. Fomepizole is also metabolized by ADH; however, its use is limited because of high cost and lack of availability.

Hemodialysis can easily remove methanol and formic acid. Indications for this procedure include (1) greater than 30 mL [1 oz] of methanol ingested, (2) serum methanol level greater than 20 mg/dL, (3) observation of visual complications, and (4) no improvement in acidosis despite repeated sodium bicarbonate infusions.

Intravenous administration of ethanol in a 10 percent dextrose solution may be helpful. As ethanol prolongs the elimination half-life of methanol, the treatment may take several days, and the patient should be hospitalized. Dialysis may be necessary to prevent kidney failure as well. Hemodialysis remains an effective treatment.

Portions of this comment were extracted from:

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Fri 21 Jun 2019
Source: WHO/EMRO (Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean) [edited]

Situation reports on Al-Hol camp, Al-Hasakah
--------------------------------------------
- Over the past 2 weeks, a total of 633 people have left the camp. This number includes 107 people who returned to their homes in north-east Syria. There were no new arrivals during the reporting period.
- 9 medical points are reporting regularly to the disease Early Warning And Response System (EWARS). Leishmaniasis, acute diarrhoea, bloody diarrhoea, and severe acute malnutrition (SAM) remain the most commonly reported diseases.
- 38 new cases of leishmaniasis were detected. All patients are being treated by a WHO-supported mobile team in coordination with the Al-Hasakeh Directorate of Health.
- 7 suspected cases of measles were reported. No new cases of tuberculosis were detected during the reporting period.
- 30 children with severe acute malnutrition with medical complications were admitted to Al-Hikmah hospital during the reporting period, of whom 22 were discharged, one died, and the remainder are still under treatment. Mortality rates related to severe acute malnutrition remain below the emergency threshold.
- 2 new static health care points have been established, bringing the total number to 12. There is still an acute shortage of health care points in the Foreign Annex.
- 35 water sources were tested for microbial contamination in Al-Hasakeh water national laboratory during the reporting period. All 35 samples tested negative for contamination. WHO continues to test the quality of water from different sources in the camp.
- Stool samples from patients with diarrhoea were tested for
_Salmonella_, _E. coli_, and cholera, with all samples testing negative. Blood samples from patients with suspected measles were also sent for testing, and all samples tested negative.
- Following intensive negotiations by WHO, the local authorities have given their approval in principle to evacuate a patient requiring advanced mental health treatment
===================
[Leishmaniasis has surged throughout Syria during the civil war on all sides and continues to be a health problem in the refugee population. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Syria:
Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2019 05:38:33 +0200

Jakarta, June 24, 2019 (AFP) - A powerful magnitude 7.3 quake struck eastern Indonesia on Monday, US seismologists said, but no tsunami warning was issued and there were no immediate reports of major damage or casualties.   The quake hit at a depth of 208 kilometres (129 miles) south of Ambon island in the Banda Sea at 11:53 local time, the US Geological Survey said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no threat of a tsunami as the quake was too deep.   The strong temblor came hours after a 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit Papua, also in the eastern part of the Southeast Asian archipelago.   That quake hit about 240 kilometres (150 miles) west of the town of Abepura in Papua province, at a relatively shallow depth of 21 kilometres, according to the USGS.

There were also no immediate reports of casualties after the earthquake.   A shallower 6.3-magnitude hit the area last week, but the damage was not extensive.   Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide.   Last year, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island killed more than 2,200 with a thousand more declared missing.   On December 26, 2004, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck Aceh province, causing a tsunami and killing more than 170,000.
Date: Sat, 22 Jun 2019 21:45:46 +0200
By Anna SMOLCHENKO with Irakli METREVELI in Tbilisi

Moscow, June 22, 2019 (AFP) - Russia's government on Saturday banned Georgian airlines from flying into its territory, extending restrictions imposed by President Vladimir Putin as part of growing tensions between Moscow and its ex-Soviet neighbour.   Putin had signed a decree late Friday banning Russian airlines from flying to pro-Western Georgia from July 8 in response to anti-Moscow rallies in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

The protests broke out after a Russian lawmaker addressed parliament from the speaker's seat earlier this week, a hugely sensitive move for two countries whose relations remain tense after a brief war in 2008.   The rallies have morphed into a broader movement against the Georgian authorities while the Kremlin has branded them a "Russophobic provocation".   On Saturday, protesters took to the streets of the Georgian capital for a third day of rallies, with some 3,000 demanding snap elections and electoral reform.   The crowd sang a profanity-laced, anti-Putin chant and some of the demonstrators held up placards insulting the Russian president.   Demonstrators also shot paper airplanes into the sky in response to the Russian bans.

Russia's transportation ministry said that from July 8 two Georgian airlines would be banned from flying to Russia, citing the need to ensure "aviation safety" and debt owned by the Georgian companies.   The Kremlin has said the ban against travel to Georgia was to "ensure Russia's national security and protect Russian nationals from criminal and other unlawful activities."

Authorities recommended travel companies stop selling holiday packages to Georgia and advised Russian tourists to return home.   Russia's travel industry and ordinary Russians hit out at the decision by the Kremlin, saying it was a politically motivated move that has little to do with safety concerns.   "Tourism in Georgia is on the rise, and the decision has shocked the whole industry," Aleksan Mkrtchyan, head of Pink Elephant, a chain of travel agencies, said in a statement.

- 'This is politics' -
The ban during high season is expected to hit the travel industry in both countries hard and become a major nuisance for Russian holidaymakers.   Russia and Georgia fought a brief but bloody war in 2008 and tensions between the two governments remain high.   But Georgia -- known for its picturesque Black Sea resorts, rich national cuisine and generous hospitality -- has emerged as one of the most popular destinations for Russian tourists over the past few years, with more than 1.3 million visiting last year.

Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Tourism Union, said that most in the industry believed that Georgia was not a dangerous destination.   "Georgians have traditionally treated Russians well," Tyurina told AFP.    It was too early to estimate potential industry losses from the ban, she said.   More than 7,000 people have signed a petition calling on Moscow to resume flights.

Russian tourists in Tbilisi expressed regret at the restrictions.   "We are against the ban," Nina Guseva told AFP in the Georgian capital. "We are not guilty and we do not have to suffer."   Fellow traveller Mikhail Strelkov added: "This is politics and has nothing to do with people on holidays."   In Russia, many struck a similar note.   Elena Chekalova, a prominent chef and culinary blogger, said the latest Kremlin move "shocked" her.   "Why are they deciding for us what we cannot eat, where we cannot fly, who we cannot be friends with?" she wrote on Facebook.

- Simmering discontent -
Moscow has suspended flights to Georgia before -- during a spike in tensions in October 2006 and in August 2008 following the outbreak of the five-day war over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.   "Putin decided to punish Georgia because there are street protests there," opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter.   A senior government official in Tbilisi said the Kremlin ban was politically motivated.   "Putin's decision is of course political and has nothing to do with safety concerns," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Analysts say the latest restrictions may further fuel simmering discontent with Kremlin policies.   Since 2014, Russians have been chafing under numerous rounds of Western sanctions over Moscow's role in Ukraine and other crises, with real incomes falling for the fifth year in a row.    During an annual phone-in with Russians this week, Putin dismissed calls to "reconcile" with the West to alleviate economic hardship, saying Moscow needed to protect its interests and "nothing" would change anyway.
Date: Sat, 22 Jun 2019 04:35:24 +0200
By Alexandre MARCHAND

Chennai, India, June 22, 2019 (AFP) - Angry residents fight in queues at water taps, lakes have been turned into barren moonscapes and restaurants are cutting back on meals as the worst drought in living memory grips India's Chennai.   The hunt for water in south India's main city has become an increasingly desperate obsession for its 10 million residents after months with virtually no rain.   The bustling capital of Tamil Nadu state usually receives 825 million litres of water a day, but authorities are currently only able to supply 60 percent of that.   With temperatures regularly hitting 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), reservoirs have run dry and other water sources are dwindling each day.

A rainstorm on Thursday night, the first for about six months, brought people out onto the streets to celebrate, but provided only temporary relief.   "We don't sleep at night because we worry that this well will run out," said Srinivasan V., a 39-year-old electrician who starts queueing for water before dawn in his home district near Chennai airport.   The 70 families who use the well are allowed three 25-litre pots each day. Most pay high prices to private companies to get the extra water they need to survive.   Local officials organise a lottery to determine who gets to the front of the queue. The lucky first-comers get clear, fresh water. Those at the end get an earth-coloured liquid.

- Long, hot wait -
Srinivasan said he waits about five hours each day in water queues and spends around 2,000 rupees ($28) a month on bottled water or paying for a tanker truck to deliver water.   It is a big chunk of his 15,000-rupee monthly salary. "I have loans, including for the house, and I can't repay them now," he said.

The desperation has spilled over into clashes in Chennai. One woman who was involved in a water dispute with neighbours was stabbed in the neck.   In another suffering Tamil Nadu city, Thanjavur, an activist was beaten to death by a neighbouring family after he accused them of hoarding water.   Many in Chennai do not have the money to pay for extra supplies, and arguments in queues for free water often turn violent.   The hunt for H2O dominates daily life.   Some Chennai restaurants now serve meals in banana leaves so that they do not have to wash plates. Others have stopped serving lunch altogether to save water.

- Isolated showers -
Families have had to reorganise daily life, setting up schedules for showers and devoting up to six hours a day to line up for water -- three in the morning, three in the afternoon.   Most of those queuing are women, including housewife Nagammal Mani, who said looking for water was like "a full time job".   "You need one person at home just to find and fill up the water while the other person goes to work," she said.   Chennai gets most of its water from four lakes around the city. But it had a poor monsoon last year and levels have not recovered since.   The bones of dead fish now lie on the cracked bottoms of the lakes.   While weak rainfall is a key cause of Chennai's crisis, experts say India's poor record at collecting water does not help, particularly as the country of 1.3 billion people becomes increasingly urbanised.   The drought is seen as a symbol of the growing threat faced in many of India's highly vulnerable states, which have been hit by longer periods each year of sweltering heat that has devastated food production.

Hundreds of villages have already emptied in the summer heat this year because their wells have run dry.   Pradeep John, a local weather expert known online as "Tamil Nadu Weatherman", said if families in the area had spent their money on rain-collection equipment instead of truckloads of water they would be "self-sufficient" now.   "We've got almost 1,300-1,400 millimetres of rainfall every year. So that is a very significant amount of rainfall," he told AFP.   "So we have to find out where the problem lies, where the problem of urbanisation lies -- whether we are encroaching into the (rain) catchment areas -- improve these catchment areas, and then find a long-term solution."   John said there is no immediate hope for rains to end the crisis, with the monsoon not expected before October.   "If the water doesn't come, people will be shedding blood instead of tears," said housewife Parvathy Ramesh, 34, as she endured her daily queue in Chennai's stifling heat.
Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2019 22:49:46 +0200
By Laure FILLON

Paris, June 21, 2019 (AFP) - Forecasters say Europeans will feel sizzling heat next week with temperatures soaring as high as 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in an "unprecedented" June heatwave hitting much of Western Europe.   From Great Britain to Belgium to Greece, a wave of hot air coming from the Maghreb in North Africa and Spain will push up temperatures starting this weekend and hitting a peak around mid-week.    Spain's meteorological agency (Aemet) has issued a "yellow alert" for severely bad weather for Sunday and says it expects the country to see a "hotter than usual" summer, like last year.

In Germany, forecasters are predicting temperatures up to 37 degrees C on Tuesday and 38 C on Wednesday, with similar hot weather also expected in Belgium and Switzerland.   The British MetOffice said it was particularly concerned that the heatwave could trigger "violent storms" and warned Britons to expect "hot, humid and unstable" weather.   Greece will be one of the countries most affected by the heatwave with temperatures hitting 39 degrees C at the weekend.

In France, meteorologist Francois Gourand said the heatwave is "unprecedented for the month of June" and will no doubt beat previous heat records.    Back in the summer of 2003, France suffered an intense heatwave that led to the deaths of nearly 15,000 mostly elderly people.   Starting on Tuesday, France will see temperatures from 35 to 40 degrees C, which will remain high at night offering little respite from the heat, forecasters predicted.   "Since 1947, only the heatwave of 18 to 28 June, 2005, was as intense," said Meteo France, adding the scorching weather would probably last a minimum of six days.   This latest intense heatwave again shows the impact of global warming on the planet, and such weather conditions are likely to become more frequent, meteorologists said.
Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2019 13:08:42 +0200

Berlin, June 20, 2019 (AFP) - German cabin crew union UFO called Thursday for a strike against airline giant Lufthansa in July, threatening travel chaos during the busy summer holiday season over a wage dispute.   Employees of Lufthansa's subsidiaries Eurowings and Germanwings are expected to vote next week on whether to take action.   Depending on the ballot, dates for the walkout are to be announced for July.   In the coming weeks, UFO union members will also decide whether to go on strike at main company Lufthansa.   "Lufthansa has deliberately managed to escalate wage disputes with its employees," said UFO vice-president Daniel Flohr in a statement.

Lufthansa called off talks with UFO last week and Flohr warned that strike action could cause "flight attendants, passengers and shareholders an additional worry this summer".   With most German schools shut for summer holidays in July, the industrial action could seriously disrupt travel plans in the peak season.   However, a Lufthansa spokesman insisted "there can be no strike, as currently there are neither wage agreements still open nor concrete demands".  The German airline reacted angrily with spokesman Boris Ogursky telling AFP it wants a "reliable collective bargaining partner" to be able to "jointly  develop solutions in the interest of employees and the company.  "At present we cannot see when and how UFO can once again fulfil its role  as a predictable, constructive bargaining partner.    "Therefore, no talks are currently taking place."