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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: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 03:03:18 +0100 (MET)
By Pierre-Henry DESHAYES

Half Moon Island, Antarctica, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - The swimsuit-clad tourists leap into the icy water, gasping at the shock, and startling a gaggle of penguins.   They are spectators at the end of the world, luxury visitors experiencing a vulnerable ecosystem close-up.   And their very presence might accelerate its demise.   Antarctica, a vast territory belonging to no one nation, is a continent of extremes: the coldest place on Earth, the windiest, the driest, the most desolate and the most inhospitable.   Now, it's also a choice destination for tourists.

All around Half Moon Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, blocks of ice of all sizes float by on a calm sea, their varying forms resembling weightless origami shapes.    On this strip of land, that juts out of the Antarctic Polar and towards South America, visitors can see wildlife normally only viewed in zoos or nature documentaries along with spectacular icy landscapes.   The ethereal shades of white that play across the pillowy peaks change with the light, acquiring pastel hues at dawn and dusk.   "Purity, grandeur, a scale that's out of this world," says Helene Brunet, an awestruck 63-year-old French pensioner, enjoying the scene.    "It's unbelievable, totally unbelievable. It's amazing just to be here, like a small speck of dust."

AFP joined the 430 passengers on board the Roald Amundsen, the world's first hybrid electric cruise ship, on its maiden voyage in the Southern Ocean.    "It's not your typical beach, but it's awesome to do it," says a numb Even Carlsen, 58, from Norway, emerging from his polar plunge in the three-degree C (37.4 F) water.   When tourists go ashore, bundled up in neon-coloured windbreakers and slathered in SPF50 sunscreen, they have to follow strict rules: clean your personal effects so you don't introduce invasive species, keep a respectful distance from wildlife to avoid distressing them, don't stray from the marked paths and don't pick up anything.   "We mucked up the rest of the world. We don't want to muck up Antarctica too," says an English tourist, as she vacuums cat hair off her clothes before going ashore.

- 'Heart of the Earth' -
The Antarctic peninsula is one of the regions on Earth that is warming the fastest, by almost three degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization -- three times faster than the global average.    In March 2015, an Argentinian research station registered a balmy 17.5 degrees Celsius, a record.    "Every year you can observe and record the melting of glaciers, the disappearance of sea ice... (and) in areas without ice, the recolonisation of plants and other organisms that were not present in Antarctica before," said Marcelo Leppe, director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

Antarctica is "like the heart of the Earth," he added, saying that it expands and contracts like a heart beating, while the mighty current which revolves around the continent is like a circulatory system as it absorbs warm currents from other oceans and redistributes cold water.   The Antarctic Treaty, signed 60 years ago by 12 countries -- it now has 54 signatories -- declared the area a continent dedicated to peace and science, but tourism has gradually increased, with a sharp rise in the past few years.   Tourism is the only commercial activity allowed, apart from fishing -- the subject of international disputes over marine sanctuaries -- and is concentrated mainly around the peninsula, which has a milder climate than the rest of the continent and is easier to access.

Cruise ships have roamed the region for around 50 years, but their numbers only started to increase from 1990, as Soviet ice-breakers found new purposes in the post-Cold War era.   Some 78,500 people are expected to visit the region between November and March, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).   That's a 40-percent increase from last year, due in part to short visits by a few new cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers, too many to disembark under IAATO regulations.     "Some might say 'Well, 80,000 people, that doesn't even fill a national stadium'... (and that it) is nothing like Galapagos which welcomes 275,000 a year," says IAATO spokeswoman Amanda Lynnes.    "But Antarctica is a special place and you need to manage it accordingly."

- 'Leave Antarctica to the penguins' -
It is Antarctica's very vulnerability that is attracting more and more visitors.   "We want to see this fantastic nature in Antarctica before it's gone," Guido Hofken, a 52-year-old IT sales director travelling with his wife Martina, says.    They said they had paid a supplement to climate compensate for their flight from Germany.

But some question whether tourists should be going to the region at all.   "The continent probably would be better off being left to penguins and researchers, but the reality is, that is probably never going to happen," said Michael Hall, professor and expert on polar regions at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.   "Vicarious appreciation never seems to be enough for humans. So with that being the case, it needs to be made as low risk to the Antarctic environment and as low carbon as possible," said Hall.    "However, when the average tourist trip to Antarctica is over five tonnes of CO2 emissions per passenger (including flights), that is a serious ask."

Soot or black carbon in the exhaust gases of the scientific and cruise ships going to the region is also of concern, said Soenke Diesener, transport policy officer at German conservation NGO Nabu.   "These particles will deposit on snow and ice surfaces and accelerate the melting of the ice because the ice gets darker and will absorb the heat from the sun and will melt much faster," he told AFP.   "So the people who go there to observe or preserve the landscape are bringing danger to the area, and leave it less pristine than it was," he added.

- Responsible tourism -
Antarctic tour operators insist they are promoting responsible tourism.   The trend is for more intimate, so-called expedition cruises, in contrast to popular giant cruise liners elsewhere which are criticised for being invasive and polluting.   With greener ships -- heavy fuel, the most commonly used for marine vessels, has been banned in Antarctica since 2011 -- cruise companies have sought to make environmental awareness a selling point, occasionally earning them accusations of greenwashing.

Global warming, pollution and microplastics are the result of human activities on other, faraway continents, say tour operators.   Here, their motto is "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, keep nothing but memories".   But before they've even set foot on the cruise ships departing from South America -- the most common itinerary -- visitors to Antarctica will already have flown across the world, causing emissions that harm the very nature they have come so far to admire.

Most visitors hail from the Northern Hemisphere, and almost half are from the United States and China, IAATO says.   "I'm a tourist who feels a little guilty about taking a flight to come here," admits Francoise Lapeyre, a 58-year-old globetrotter om France.   "But then again, there are priorities. There are some trips I just won't take, because they leave a big footprint and they're not worth it.   "Crisscrossing the planet to go to a beach for example," she says.

- Don't mention climate change -
Like other expedition cruises where accessible science is part of their trademark, the Roald Amundsen, owned by the Hurtigruten company, has no dance floor or casino.  Instead, there are microscopes, science events and lectures about whales and explorers like Charles Darwin.   But they steer clear of climate change, which is only mentioned indirectly.   That's a deliberate decision as the subject has proven "quite controversial", said Verena Meraldi, Hurtigruten's science coordinator.   "We held several lectures dedicated specifically to climate change but it leads to conflicts. There are people who accept it as a fact, others who don't," she said.   Onboard, "passengers" are referred to as "guests" and "explorers" rather than "cruisers".   "Explorers" are typically older, well-heeled, often highly travelled pensioners who are handed walking sticks as they step ashore.   "My 107th country," says a Dane, stepping ashore onto Antarctica.

The Roald Amundsen "guests" choose between three restaurants, from street food to fine dining -- a far cry from the conditions endured by the Norwegian adventurer for whom the ship is named, who had to eat his sled dogs to survive his quest to reach the South Pole in 1911.   They have paid at least 7,000 euros ($7,700) each for an 18-day cruise in a standard cabin, and up to 25,000 euros ($27,500) for a suite with a balcony and private jacuzzi.   Other cruises are banking on ultra-luxury, with James Bond-like ships equipped with helicopters and submarines, suites of more than 200 square metres (2,153 square feet) and butler services.   With a seaplane to boot, the mega-yacht SeaDream Innovation will offer 88-day cruises "from Pole to Pole" starting in 2021. The two most expensive suites, with a price tag of 135,000 euros per person, are already booked.
 
- Worlds collide -
Outside, in the deafening silence, wildlife abounds.   All around are penguins, as awkward on land as they are agile in water. Massive and majestic whales slip through the waves, and sea lions and seals laze in the sun.   On Half Moon Island, chinstrap penguins -- so called because of a black stripe on their chin -- strut about in this spring breeding season, raising their beaks and screeching from their rocky nests.   "This is to tell other males 'This is my space' and also, maybe, 'This is my female'," ornithologist Rebecca Hodgkiss, a member of the Hurtigruten's scientific team, explains, as a group of tourists stroll around ashore.   The colony of 2,500 penguins has been gradually declining over the years, but it's not known if that is man's fault or they have just moved away, according to Karin Strand, Hurtigruten's vice president for expeditions.   Invisible to the naked eye, traces of humankind are however to be found in the pristine landscape.   Not a single piece of rubbish is in sight but microplastics are everywhere, swept in on ocean currents.   "We've detected them in the eggs of penguins for example," Leppe told AFP.

- Venice under water -
The Antarctic, which holds the world's largest reserve of freshwater, is a ticking time bomb, warn experts and studies.   They say that the future of millions of people and species in coastal areas around the world depends on what is happening here.   As a result of global warming, the melting ice sheet -- especially in the western part of the continent -- will increasingly contribute to rising sea levels, radically re-drawing the map of the world, says climate scientist Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.   This meltwater will contribute 50 centimetres (almost 20 inches) to the global sea level rise by 2100, and much more after that, he said.   "For every degree of warming, we get 2.5 metres of sea level rise. Not in this century, but in the long run," he said.

Even if the international community meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to under two degrees Celsius, sea levels will still rise by at least five metres.   "Which means that Venice is under water, Hamburg is under water, New York, Shanghai, Calcutta," he said.   It's impossible to predict when, but the scenario appears unavoidable, says Levermann.   In the same way that a cruise ship powering ahead at full speed can't immediately stop, sea levels will continue to rise even if all greenhouse gas emissions were to cease immediately, a study has said.

- Changing the world? -
The tourism industry says it hopes to make "ambassadors" out of Antarctica visitors.   "It's good for the animal life and for the protection of Antarctica that people see how beautiful this area is, because you cherish what you know and understand," said Hurtigruten chief executive Daniel Skjeldam.   Texan tourist Mark Halvorson, 72, says he is convinced.   "Having seen it, I am that much more committed to having a very high priority in my politics, in my own inner core convictions to being as environmentally friendly in my life as I can," he said.   So, do Guido and Martina Hofken see themselves as future "ambassadors of Antarctica"?    "Just a little bit, probably. But I don't think I will change the world," Guido Hofken concedes.    "The best thing would be for nobody to travel to Antarctica."
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."
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Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 11:56:28 +0100 (MET)

Tokyo, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - Organisers said Monday they are cancelling the amateur portion of the Tokyo marathon, affecting around 38,000 runners, on fears about the spread of the new coronavirus in Japan.   "We reached the conclusion that unfortunately it is difficult to organise the event... after several cases (of the virus) were confirmed in Tokyo," the Tokyo Marathon Foundation said in a statement.
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 10:59:27 +0100 (MET)

Cairo, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh has welcomed the first British charter flights since 2015, when the Islamic State group's bombing of a Russian airliner dealt a devastating blow to the Red Sea resort.   Britain halted flights to Sharm el-Sheikh following the attack, which killed all 224 people on board the plane that took off from the resort, long popular with British tourists.

After multiple airport inspections and visits by aviation security experts, Britain announced in October that it was lifting the flight restrictions.   "Sharm el-Sheikh airport received the first two direct charter flights... from London's Gatwick airport carrying 184 passengers and Manchester airport carrying 190 passengers," Egypt's civil aviation ministry said in a statement late Sunday.    The flights were operated by Britain's biggest travel agency, TUI.

The company has scheduled three flights a week between London's Gatwick Airport and Sharm el-Sheikh until late March, the statement said.   British budget airline easyJet said in January it would restart flights to the resort town in June.   On Sunday, flag carrier EgyptAir said it would start operating a weekly flight between London and Sharm el-Sheikh later this month.   British tourists have long been vital to the tourism industry in Sharm el-Sheikh, which was left reeling after the airliner bombing.

Egypt has since sought to lure tourists back, boosting airport security and allowing international inspections of security procedures there.   Russia, another major source of tourists to Egypt, initially suspended all direct flights to the North African country following the attack.   It resumed direct flights to Cairo in 2018 but has yet to restart them to popular Red Sea resorts.   Egypt's tourism industry has shown signs of recovery in recent years with arrivals reaching 11.3 million in 2018, compared with 5.3 million in 2016.
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 10:43:58 +0100 (MET)

Hong Kong, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - A gang of knife-wielding men jumped a delivery driver in Hong Kong and stole hundreds of toilet rolls, police said Monday, in a city wracked by shortages caused by coronavirus panic-buying.   Toilet rolls have become hot property in the densely packed business hub, despite government assurances that supplies remain unaffected by the virus outbreak.   Supermarkets have found themselves unable to restock quickly enough, leading to sometimes lengthy queues and shelves wiped clean within moments of opening.

There has also been a run on staples such as rice and pasta, as well as hand sanitiser and other cleaning items.     Police said a truck driver was held up early Monday by three men outside a supermarket in Mong Kok, a working-class district with a history of "triad" organised crime gangs.   "A delivery man was threatened by three knife-wielding men who took toilet paper worth more than HK$1,000 ($130)," a police spokesman told AFP.   A police source told AFP the missing rolls were later recovered and two suspects were arrested on scene although it was not clear if they were directly involved in the armed robbery.

Footage from Now TV showed police investigators standing around multiple crates of toilet roll outside a Wellcome supermarket. One of the crates was only half stacked.   Hong Kongers reacted with a mixture of bafflement and merriment to the heist.   One woman passing by the scene of the crime who was interviewed by local TV station iCable quipped: "I'd steal face masks, but not toilet roll."   The city, which has 58 confirmed coronavirus cases, is currently experiencing a genuine shortage of face masks.    The hysteria that has swept through Hong Kong since the coronavirus outbreak exploded on mainland China is partly fuelled by the city's tragic recent history of confronting a deadly disease.

In 2003, some 299 Hong Kongers died of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), an outbreak that began on the mainland but was initially covered up by Beijing -- action that left a lasting legacy of distrust towards the authorities on public health issues.   The new coronavirus outbreak also comes at a time when the city's pro-Beijing leadership has historic low approval ratings after refusing to bow to months of angry pro-democracy protests last year.   Authorities have blamed online rumours for the panic-buying and say supplies of food and household goods remain stable.   But the panic-buying has itself created shortages in one of the world's most densely populated cities where supermarkets and pharmacies have limited
floor space.

Photos posted online have shown some people proudly stuffing their cramped city apartments with packets of hoarded toilet rolls.    On Sunday, the head of the city's Consumer Council warned people not to stockpile toilet rolls in their flats as they were prone to mould in the notoriously humid climate.   She also reiterated that there were ample stocks of paper.    Supermarket chain Wellcome called Monday's robbery a "senseless act", and called on people not to bulk buy or hoard toilet roll.    "We want to emphasize that we have sufficient toilet roll supply to meet demand," it said in a statement. "The temporary shortage was caused by the sudden and unusual surge in demand."
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 10:11:30 +0100 (MET)

Tokyo, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - An additional 99 people have tested positive for coronavirus on a cruise ship off the Japan coast, Japanese media said Monday, citing new figures from the health ministry.   That would take the total number of positive cases on the Diamond Princess to 454. The health ministry declined to confirm the reports immediately.   It was also not clear whether the figures included 14 US citizens who tested positive for the virus but were allowed to board evacuation flights home.

The Diamond Princess vessel moored in Yokohama near Tokyo has become the second-largest cluster of coronavirus cases outside the epicentre in China.    Passengers have been largely confined to quarters since February 5 with only brief and occasional breaks to take air on deck -- with face masks.   The quarantine period is over on Wednesday but many countries have decided to repatriate their citizens after an alarming climb in cases on board.

The US was the first country to evacuate its citizens from the ship but Australia, Canada, Italy and Hong Kong have indicated they will follow suit.   On land, cases in Japan have risen to 65, with authorities warning that the outbreak is entering a "new phase" and advising people to avoid large gatherings.    A public celebration of the new emperor's birthday on Sunday has been scrapped and organisers of the Tokyo Marathon scheduled on March 1 are reportedly considering cancelling the amateur part of the race.
Date: Sat, 15 Feb 2020 15:25:00 +0100 (MET)
By Benoît Pavan à Moûtiers avec Thomas Rossi dans les Pyrénées

Moûtiers, France, Feb 15, 2020 (AFP) - French protests at planned labour reforms hit ski resorts on Saturday, with chairlift operators and other seasonal staff downing tools over fears their livelihoods could be on a slippery slope.   Hundreds of staff at a clutch of resorts in the Alps and Pyrenees walked out in response to calls for action by the CGT and FO unions, forcing some runs to be closed or partially closed.   They are concerned that reforms extending the required period of employment before people are eligible for benefits, set to take effect from April 1, could stop thousands of seasonal workers from claiming.

Some voiced their protest in song at the bottom of pistes at Serre-Chevalier close to the Italian border, chanting: "We're going down the mountain to get rid of Macron," referring to French President Emmanuel Macron.   The French leader's attempts to overhaul pensions and welfare have led to months of bitter protests and strikes.    "Our situation will become even more precarious with these reforms," explained Christophe Dupuis, who works as a ski patroller at La Plagne, one of the world's most popular ski areas.   "We will need six months instead of four before we can apply for unemployment benefit," added Dupuis, who works as a lifeguard during the summer.   "We don't have six-month seasons, not least as the winter seasons are tending to get shorter rather than longer," said Maud Goret, a seasonal worker and CGT member at Font-Romeu in the Pyrenees -- where half the workforce had downed tools.

Many relatively low altitude resorts are suffering from a lack of snow owing to climate change, compounding fears over what the future holds.   As the workers voiced their grievances, further signs of the shortage of snow increasingly hitting resorts came as local authorities at Luchon-Superbagneres in the French southwest told AFP they had decided to have extra snow helicoptered in to three areas running short.

A union official said some 50 tons were being brought in for between 5,000 and 6,000 euros ($5,500-6,500) "in the knowledge that in terms of return on the investment you need to multiply that at least by ten," for an operation lasting around two-and-a-half hours.   He added that it might not be a "particularly ecological" solution but "we had no choice" at the height of the season when many children in French are on half-term holiday.
Date: Wed 12 Feb 2020
Source: Teresina Municipal Health Foundation [in Portuguese, machine trans., edited]

Health Surveillance Directorate - Epidemiology Management
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Given the laboratory confirmation of 5 human cases of melioidosis (ICD-10 A24.4) that occurred in the state of Piaui in 2019 (including one death), the FMS Health Surveillance Directorate recommends Hospital Infection Control Commissions, to the Hospital Surveillance Centers, public and private microbiology laboratories, infectious disease specialists, pulmonologists, microbiologists, biochemists and physicians in general who are attentive, immediately report any case with a result of a culture of biological material (blood culture, urine culture, wound culture, tracheal secretion, cerebrospinal fluid, bronchial lavage, ascitic fluid, abscess, tissues, etc.) positive for the bacterium _Burkholderia pseudomallei_ (or _Burkholderia_ sp.). The notification must be made through the individual notification form of SINAN (available at <http://portalsinan.saude.gov.br/images/documentos/Agravos/NINDIV/Notificacao_Individual_v5.pdf>) and sent to the FMS, with the code appended ICD10: A24.4.

The positive bacterial isolate should be sent to the Central Public Health Laboratory, Dr. Costa Alvarenga (LACEN - PI) for confirmatory examination (Nested - PCR), upon registration in the GAL system (research: _Burkholderia pseudomallei_ sample: swab), in swab with Stuart's medium, at room temperature, along with a copy of the notification form.
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[This 2016 article (Limmathurotsakul D, Golding N, Dance DA, et al., Predicted global distribution of _Burkholderia pseudomallei_ and burden of melioidosis. Nat Microbiol. 2016;1:15008. <https://doi.org/10.1038/nmicrobiol.2015.8>; article available at <http://www.nature.com/articles/nmicrobiol20158.pdf>) for 2015 estimates the burden of melioidosis for the areas of major and some risk as follows:

Area / Population at risk in millions / Melioidosis cases in thousands / Melioidosis deaths in thousands
South Asia / 1525 / 73 / 42
East Asia and Pacific / 858 / 65 / 31
Sub-Saharan Africa / 602 / 24 / 15
Latin America and Caribbean / 246 / 2 / 1
Middle East and North Africa / 49 / less than 1 / less than 1

Although a classical infection in eastern Asia and northern Australia, cases have been acquired in Africa, the Caribbean basin, Central America, and, as in this case, South America. - ProMED Mod.LL]

Date: Tue 11 Feb 2020
Source: SABC News [edited]

A 56-year-old was admitted at the Klerksdorp Tshepong Hospital on Saturday [8 Feb 2020] with a history of tick bite followed by flulike symptoms including headaches and fatigue.

The North West Health Department says while no active bleeding was noted, treatment was started immediately.

Crimean-Congo fever, also known as Congo fever/haemorrhagic fever, is a disease caused by a tick-borne virus with a case fatality rate of 10% to 40%.

Transmission to humans occurs through contact with infected animal blood or ticks. It can be transmitted from one infected human to another by contact with infectious blood or body fluids.

Symptoms include high fever, vomiting and abdominal pain, but as the illness progresses, large areas of severe bruising and severe nosebleeds are also common.

Clinical Manager at the Klerksdorp Hospital Dr. David Leburu says: "Crimean-Congo fever can make a person bleed. It can make people bleed just like Ebola but not as aggressive as Ebola."
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[Occupational groups such as herders, farmers, abattoir workers, veterinarians/animal health workers, hunters and persons informally slaughtering domestic/wild animals are at higher risk of infection. These persons often have exposure to ticks on the animals and in the animal environment, and also often have exposure to animal blood/tissues (e.g., during castration of calves, vaccination, notching/tagging of ears, slaughtering).

Humans can become infected in the following ways:
- Being bitten by infected ticks;
- Squashing infected ticks (if fluid from the ticks enters into cuts/grazes on the skin, or splashes onto mucous membranes, including the eyes, nose and mouth);
- If blood/tissue from infected animals (during the short period that the animals have virus in circulation) comes into contact with cuts/grazes on the skin, or splashes onto mucous membranes, including the eyes, nose and mouth;
- Needle-stick/sharps injuries in healthcare workers from infected patients.

The patient in the above report had a history of tick bite, but no other epidemiological information is available.

Human CCHF cases have been reported annually from South Africa since 1981, when it was first recognized in the country; between 0 and 20 cases of CCHF are reported each year. Through nearly 30 years of passive surveillance, more than 180 cases have been laboratory-confirmed. Although cases have been reported from all 9 provinces in the past 30 years, more than half of the cases originate from the semi-arid areas of Northern Cape Province (31.5% of cases) and Free State Province (23% of cases) (<http://www.nicd.ac.za/assets/files/CCHF_FAQ-General_Public.pdf>). - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
North West Province, South Africa:
Date: Wed 12 Feb 2020 05:23 PM EST
Source: ABC27/WHTM [edited]

Two Newberry Township [York County] men are getting treatments for rabies after a coyote that attacked them tested positive for the deadly virus.

One man was with his dog when the coyote attacked [Mon 10 Feb 2020] on Red Bank Road. The 2nd man was working nearby in his garage when the coyote entered and bit him.

A neighbour shot and killed the coyote the following day and gave the carcass to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. A test confirmed the animal was rabid.
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[[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Pennsylvania, United States:
Pennsylvania county map:

Rabies is a serious disease, and is always fatal in animals. In humans there is post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which must be given within a prescribed amount of time. Individuals bitten by a rabid animal who do not seek treatment within the narrow window for PEP in all likelihood will die if they develop rabies. Heroic measures have succeeded in preserving the lives of only a handful of individual, and yet their live is never a complete return to normal.

Rabies is a serious disease and should be taken seriously by all individuals, whether you are a pet owner or not. Animal owners, regardless of whether your animal is a horse, or dog, or cow, or cat, or goat, or other animal, vaccinate the animal against this fatal disease. Protect your investment in your farm animals, and protect yourself by vaccinating farm animals and pets.

Rabies can be in wildlife, as these stories note. However, we seldom get one involving an otter. While otters are cute and playful on the nature programs, they are susceptible to rabies, as is any mammal, so it is imperative we be alert to the animals around us, no matter where we are or what animal is involved. - ProMED Mod.TG]
Date: Sat 8 Feb 2020 05:16 PM EST
Source: Fox 8 [edited]

A Florida mom says she had to tackle an otter to protect her daughter and dog, WFLA reports. We don't often hear about aggressive river otters. But by fighting its way inside a home in Florida, experts say the otter was definitely not acting normal.  "My husband's like 'you just alligator wrangled an otter in the living room!'" [CE] said. The otter learned to not mess with a mother's instincts. "I think life is full of surprises, and you should just be ready for whatever," [she] said.

The story starts after 17-year old [GE] let their dog Scooter out before dawn Tuesday morning [4 Feb 2020]. Scooter had found an enemy.  "I sprinted to the backdoor, and I was like 'Scooter!' All I saw was like a big black ball just all over the place. So he stumbled in the door, and I tried to shut it as fast as possible, but then the otter got stuck," [GE] said.

By this time, the whole house is awake and her mother bursts in.  "I snatched it by the tail," [CE] said. "And then I held it up like a prize. And the otter's going crazy. It was like clawing at me and grabbing on to the backs of the furniture in my house." [CE] tossed the otter outside and discovered it had bit her daughter in the leg.

Several rabies shots later, [GE] and Scooter are on the mend. Now Florida Fish and Wildlife is trying to find the otter. It is unknown whether the otter has rabies because it has not been caught. His behaviour was definitely abnormal.  "Any time an otter's onshore going for a human, there's something not right. Usually, they see you, they're gone," said Dustin Hooper, an animal trapper, and owner of All Creatures Wildlife Control.
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[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Florida, United States:
Florida county map:
Date: Tue 4 Feb 2020
Source: Robesonian [edited]

A 9-year-old boy is undergoing treatment after being bitten by a rabid fox, according to the [Robeson] County Department of Public Health.

The boy was riding his bicycle Sunday evening [2 Feb 2020] on Barnhill Road in Lumberton when he was attacked by a fox, according to the Health Department. The fox was killed at the scene and its head was submitted for testing on [Mon 3 Feb 2020]. The results came back positive for rabies on [Tue 4 Feb 2020].

The boy will undergo a series of shots to prevent the onset of rabies, according to the Health Department. Area residents have been alerted and advised to monitor their children's and pets' activities.

According to the Health Department release, Sunday's bite case was properly reported "and as such, the system responded correctly. After-hour calls go to communications who contact the Animal Control officer on call."

Sunday's attack by a rabid wild animal is the 1st confirmed case of rabies in Robeson County this year [2020], said Bill Smith, Health Department director.

"I believe we had 3 this past year," he said. Those cases were animal-on-animal attacks, Smith said. "I think they were all pets last year," he said.

County residents need to be aware there are many more rabid animals in the area, he said. But the rate of confirmed contact between rabid animals and humans or pets is low because Robeson County is a rural county with large tracts of forests.

In rural areas the most likely scenario is an animal attacking a pet or human and then running into the woods, where it will die without anyone knowing if it had rabies or not, Smith said. In urban areas, there is more contact between humans and pets and animals known to be rabid because the attacking animal has no woods into which to run and hide. Therefore, the animal is easier to catch and test.

If someone is bitten by an animal that runs into the woods and is not caught and tested then precautions have to be taken, he said.

"We would treat that as a rabid animal," Smith said.

Sunday's incident prompted the county Health Department to issue the following advisories:
- all dogs, cats, and ferrets 4 months and older are required to be vaccinated against rabies and wear a current rabies vaccination tag per North Carolina law;
- if an animal is destroyed, try not to damage the head because it jeopardizes the testing of the brain;
- avoid feeding wild animals. Foxes and raccoons are the main sources of rabies in the Robeson County area and feeding them increases the likelihood of interaction between the wildlife and dogs, cats and humans.
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[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of North Carolina, United States:
North Carolina county map: