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Antartica

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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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Norfolk Island

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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Albania

Albania US Consular Information Sheet November 04, 2008

 COUNTRY DESCRIPTION

Albania is a parliamentary democracy that is transforming its economy into a market-oriented system. Albania's per capita income is among the lowest in Eu

ope, but economic conditions in the country are steadily improving. Tourist facilities are not highly developed in much of the country, and though Albania's economic integration into European Union markets is slowly underway, many of the goods and services taken for granted in other European countries are not yet available. Hotel accommodations are limited outside of major cities. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Albania for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS

 A passport is required. All travelers entering or exiting Albania must have six months or more validity on their passport. Customs officers strictly enforce this law. U.S. citizens do not require a visa prior to entering Albania, but those traveling without a visa will be charged a fee for an entry stamp at the point of entry, which is valid for a stay of up to 90 days. This fee is currently 10 Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Travelers without a visa who intend to stay in Albania for more than 90 days should be aware that Albanian law allows a traveler without a visa to remain in Albania for 90 days only within a specific 180-day period. That 180-day period is defined from the first day of entry. For example, a traveler entering without a visa on January 1 may remain in Albania for 90 days total during the period of time between January 1 and June 28. Departing Albania during this time period does not "restart the clock." Travelers attempting to reenter Albania without a visa and within 180 days of a previous entry and after an aggregate stay of 90 days may be denied entry. For stays exceeding 90 days within a 180-day period, those interested must apply for a Residency Permit at the police station with jurisdiction over the city of residence. Information on how to apply for a residency permit is available on the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/. There is also a departure fee of ten Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Visit the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/consular.html#visa for the most current visa information. Dual Nationality: The Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. If such persons are found guilty of draft evasion in Albania, they are subject to prosecution by the Albanian court. Those who might be affected should inquire at an Albanian Embassy or Consulate outside Albania regarding their status before traveling. In some instances, dual nationality may hamper U.S. Government efforts to provide protection abroad. 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

Although the overall security situation in Albania has improved in recent years, organized criminal activity continues to operate in all regions, and corruption is pervasive. US Government employees need permission to travel to the northern administrative districts of Shkoder, Malesi E Madhe and Tropoje (with the exception of the route along the national road to Montenegro and the city of Shkoder) and to the southern town of Lazarat, with such travel restricted to secure vehicles with escort. Travel restrictions for U.S. Government employees have been lifted for overnight stays in the city of Shkoder. In most cases, police assistance and protection is limited. A high level of security awareness should be maintained at all times. Photographing anything that authorities regard as being of military or security interest may cause travelers problems. All gatherings of large crowds should be avoided, particularly those involving political causes or striking workers. 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME

In the latest State Department assessment, Albania’s crime rating is “medium.” Crime against foreigners is rare in Albania, as targeting foreigners is often viewed as too risky. Visitors should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Caution should be exercised in bars in Tirana where violent incidents, some involving the use of firearms, have occurred in the past, particularly in the early morning hours. Within the last years there have been fewer cases of carjacking compared with previous years. Anyone who is carjacked should surrender the vehicle without resistance. Armed crime continues to be more common in northern and northwestern Albania than in the rest of the country. Street crime is fairly common in Albania, particularly at night. Criminals do not seem to deliberately target U.S. citizens or other foreigners, but do seek targets of opportunity, and select those who appear to have anything of value. Vehicle theft is still one of the biggest problems in Albania. Pick-pocketing is widespread; U.S. citizens have reported the theft of their passports by pick-pockets. 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 is 129, though coverage is inconsistent at best. See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION

Medical facilities and capabilities in Albania are limited beyond rudimentary first aid treatment. Emergency and major medical care requiring surgery and hospital care is inadequate due to lack of specialists, diagnostic aids, medical supplies, and prescription drugs. Travelers with previously diagnosed medical conditions may wish to consult their physicians before travel. As prescription drugs may be unavailable locally, travelers may also wish to bring extra supplies of required medications. Recent electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country, which can affect food storage capabilities of restaurants and shops. While some restaurants and food stores have generators to properly store food, travelers should take care that food is cooked thoroughly to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. Water in Albania is not potable. Visitors should plan to purchase bottled water or drinks while in country. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Albania. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en

MEDICAL INSURANCE

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

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Albania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Major roads in Albania are often in very poor condition. Traveling by road throughout Albania is the most dangerous activity for locals and tourists. Vehicle accidents are the major cause of death, according to police statistics. Electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country that can happen any hour of the day or night. Such outages affect traffic signals and street lights, making driving increasingly treacherous at any time of day. Travel at night outside the main urban areas is dangerous and should be avoided due to deplorable road conditions. During the winter months, travelers may encounter dangerous snow and icy conditions on the roads throughout mountainous regions in northern Albania. Buses travel between most major cities almost exclusively during the day, but they are often unreliable and uncomfortable. Many travelers looking for public transport prefer to use privately owned vans, which function as an alternate system of bus routes and operate almost entirely without schedules or set fares. Please note that many of these privately owned vans may not have official permission to operate a bus service and may not adhere to accepted safety and maintenance standards. Persons wishing to use privately owned vans should exercise caution. There are no commercial domestic flights and few rail connections. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at www.albaniantourism.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Albania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Albania's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Albania's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Albania of some items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Albania in Washington, D.C. or one of Albania's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. As noted previously, the Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. See our information pertaining to dual nationality. Albania is a cash economy. Credit cards and travelers checks are not generally accepted, except at the major new hotels in Tirana and some international airline offices. Travelers' checks can be changed at banks in larger towns. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in most cities. Please see our Customs Information CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Albania’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Albania 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. Under Albanian law, police can detain any individual for up to 10 hours without filing formal charges. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times to show proof of identity and U.S. citizenship if questioned by local officials.

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 Albania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Albania. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rruga Elbasanit 103, tel. (355)(4) 2247285; fax (355)(4) 2232222. The U.S. Embassy web site is http://tirana.usembassy.gov/ * * * This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2019 09:28:12 +0100 (MET)
By Briseida MEMA

Tirana, Nov 26, 2019 (AFP) - Six people died and some 150 were injured in Albania after the strongest earthquake in decades rocked the Balkan country early Tuesday, destroying buildings and burying victims in rubble.

The epicentre of the 6.4 magnitude quake was about 34 kilometres (about 20 miles) northwest of the capital Tirana, at a depth of 10 km, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.   "We have victims," Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter. "We are working to do everything possible in the affected areas."   The quake struck at 3:54 am local time (0254 GMT) and sent panicked residents running out onto the streets of Tirana, with people huddling in the open, an AFP correspondent said.

The worst damage appeared to be around the coastal town of Durres. The quake was the strongest to hit this region since 1926, Albanian seismologist Rrapo Ormeni told local television.   Three bodies were pulled from the ruins of damaged buildings in the port town, where a three-story hotel collapsed and other buildings were damaged, according to the defence ministry.   The bodies of a man and a woman were uncovered in rubble in the nearby town of Thumane, the ministry said.

A man in his fifties died after he jumped out of his building in panic in the town of Kurbin, the defence ministry said.   Some 300 armed forces personnel have rushed to Durres and Thumane for rescue operations, where "there are people trapped under the ruins", defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qahajaj said.

In Thumane, around a dozen rescuers used an excavator to dig through a mountain of debris in search of possible victims.   At least 150 people with injuries have sought first aid in Tirana and Durres, Health Minister Ogerta Manasterliu said.

- Trapped under rubble -
In Thumane, soldiers, rescuers and families were sifting through the rubble of a collapsed five-storey building as cries of people trapped under debris were heard, an AFP reporter said.   Thoma Nika, a 58-year-old who lived in the building, said there were at least six people under rubble.    Another man, Arben Allushi said with tears in his eyes, that his wife and niece missing after the building collapsed.

A man in Durres told local television that his daughter and niece were trapped in the rubble of a collapsed apartment building.    "I talked with my daughter and niece on the phone. They said they are well and are waiting for the rescue. I could not talk to my wife. There are other families, but I could not talk to them," the man said.

The tremors were felt across the Balkan region, from Sarajevo to Bosnia and even in the Serbian city of Novi Sad almost 700 kilometres away, according to reports in local media and on social networks.   It was followed by several aftershocks, including one of 5.3 magnitude, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre said. It was described by authorities as the strongest earthquake in the last 20-30 years.   The Balkans is an area prone to seismic activity and earthquakes are frequent.
Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2019 20:39:17 +0200 (METDST)

Tirana, Sept 21, 2019 (AFP) - Albania was rattled by its strongest earthquake in decades Saturday, officials said, sending people fleeing into the streets in several cities, damaging buildings and triggering power cuts in the capital.   The epicentre of the shallow 5.6-magnitude quake, was near Durres, less than 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of the capital Tirana, according to the US Geological Survey.

Albania's defence ministry said it was the "strongest earthquake in the country in the last 20 to 30 years".   "There are no deaths," defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qajaj said.   Some 80 people sought medical help in both Tirana and Durres, 21 of whom were hospitalised due to injuries caused by falling objects or parts of walls as well as for panic attacks, Health Minister Ogerta Manasterilu said.   Qajaj told AFP that houses and buildings in Tirana had been damaged but were still standing and that the ministry was accessing damage in other towns and villages.   Prime Minister Edi Rama cancelled his scheduled trip to the United States following the quake, which cut electricity and telephone lines in Tirana and a number of other towns and villages.

Many people remained outside their homes for several hours in the capital, fearful of aftershocks.   "I fear to return because such a strong earthquake could be followed with others," Drita Lohja, a resident in her fifties, told AFP.    Falling debris pulverised parked cars in parts of the city.   AFP reporters and witnesses saw windows broken and deep fissures in the facades of buildings in Durres, as well as in the capital.   Media reported that a large building in Tirana was seriously damaged and that residents were being evacuated.   A University of Tirana building was also damaged, witnesses said.

According to local media reports, at least two people were lightly injured and a dozen houses collapsed in the village of Helmes, 10 kilometres from Tirana.   Two other earthquakes followed the strong one that occurred at around 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) and was felt in neighbouring Montenegro and Italy, but also on the Greek island of Corfu according to some Twitter users.
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2018 16:28:50 +0100

Tirana, March 9, 2018 (AFP) - The military has been deployed in northern Albania to help hundreds of people trapped by floods following heavy rainfall, authorities said on Friday.   More than 9,230 hectares (22,800 acres) of agricultural land is underwater in the Shkodra region, including villages where the only means of transport is by boat, the defence ministry said.

Army personnel are evacuating residents and securing food supplies in the affected areas, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the capital, Tirana.   The torrential rain in recent days has caused landslides damaging dozens of homes and flooding roads, said the transport ministry.   The rain has also forced the Albanian authorities to release excess water from a hydroelectric plant, which has added to the flooding in northern areas of the country.   Weather forecasters say the rain is likely to ease from Saturday.
Date: Sun, 3 Dec 2017 12:29:40 +0100

Tirana, Dec 3, 2017 (AFP) - Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed in Albania to rescue stranded residents after heavy rainfall triggered major flooding, and caused the death of a utility worker, officials and the power company said Sunday.   The victim, Sabri Vlinga, died while he was working on a electricity pole at Roskovec in the flooded south of the country, the power company said in statement.   Two other people were injured in similar accidents. it added.   Some 6,400 police and soldiers have been sent to help rescue people stranded by the floods, Prime MInister Edi Rama said Saturday, calling the situation "very critical".

Around 1,500 people in the affected areas have been rescued, while several thousand homes were without electricity as many utility poles have been swept away by mudslides, said Shemsi Prenci, head of civil protection.   More than 7,874 hectares (19,450 acres) of farm land as well as 3,193 homes are under water and several roads in the south remained impassable.

Army forces have built a temporary bridge at Darezeze, about 70 kilometres (44 miles) from the capital Tirana, to come to the aid of 2,000 residents stranded by the floods, the defence ministry said.    In neighbouring Macedonia, the heavy rains have also caused flooding as several rivers include the main Vardar river have burst their banks, the MIA news agency reported.
Date: Sat 5 Aug 2017
From: Edmond Puca <edmond_puca@yahoo.com> [edited]

Here in Albania, we have 2 imported cases of haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS), one imported from the north of Greece and another from Macedonia in a village near the border with Albania.

The patient from Macedonia is 25 years old. He presented in the emergency room on 31 Jul [2017]. Right now, he is in good condition and will survive. He presented with fever, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and lower back pain.

The other patient from Greece had been in our service for the previous 2 weeks and now is at home in good condition.

The disease is caused by Dobrava-Belgrade virus infection.
---------------------------------
Dr Edmond Puca
Infectologue
Department of Infectious Disease
UHC "Mother Teresa"
Tirana, Albania
===================
[ProMED-mail thanks Dr Edmond Puca for sending in this report.  This and the previous report are the 1st reports of hantavirus infections in Macedonia that ProMED-mail has posted. There is also evidence of HFRS in Greece, although ProMED-mail has not posted reports previously. Sero-epidemiological investigations conducted in several Balkan countries revealed an overall seroprevalence of 4 per cent in Greece (<http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168170213004887#>). There doubtless have been Dobrava-Belgrade virus infections in Greece and the Balkans over the years, given that this virus is known to circulate widely in the Balkans.

The yellow-necked field mouse (_Apodemus flavicollis_) is the principle vertebrate host for Dobrava-Belgrade virus. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 13:58:41 +0100 (MET)
By Suy SE

Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Feb 13, 2020 (AFP) - A US cruise ship blocked from several Asian ports over concerns that a passenger could have been infected with the new coronavirus docked at a Cambodian pier Thursday, as frustrated holidaymakers expressed hope their ordeal may soon be over.   The Westerdam was supposed to be taking its 1,455 passengers on a dream 14-day cruise around east Asia, beginning in Hong Kong on February 1 and disembarking on Saturday in Yokohama, Japan.   But the ship was turned away from Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand over fears of the novel coronavirus epidemic that has killed more than 1,300 people in China.

Cruise operator Holland America has insisted there are no cases of the SARS-like virus on board and Cambodia announced Wednesday that the boat would be able to dock in Sihanoukville, on its southern coast.   By evening, the ship moved into the beach town's port, moving past the small fishing vessels that usually ply the waters.   As it slowly approached the pier, people onshore snapped selfies of themselves with the massive vessel.   The mood was equally buoyant on the boat.   "Thank you Cambodia! You believed in us when no one would!" tweeted passenger Lydia Miller around 7 pm (1200 GMT). "We promise to spend lots of money in your country."

Fellow cruiser Christina Kerby -- who has been posting light-hearted updates from the Westerdam -- tweeted she was "feeling rebellious tonight so I'm wearing sneakers in the dining room".   But all passengers would have to remain onboard until flights have been arranged, said provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun.    "The arrangement of the planes to take them from (Sihanoukville) airport to Phnom Penh airport is underway," he said, explaining that three flights were scheduled Friday morning.    Buses were lined up by the pier ready to transfer passengers to Sihanoukville's airport. Holland America has said they would foot the bill to return all guests.

- 'Disease of fear' -
Before the ship docked, doctors conducted health checks for the passengers.    The samples of 20 on board who were sick were sent to the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh to test for the virus, said transport minister Sun Chanthol.    Cambodian premier Hun Sen is a staunch Chinese ally and has been vocal in his support of Beijing's handling of the epidemic, even going so far as to visit China last week in a show of solidarity.   "The permission to dock is to stop the disease of fear that is happenin
around the world," he told state-affiliated media website Fresh News on Wednesday.    "We must help them when they asked us for help," he added.   Neighbouring Thailand, which blocked the Westerdam from docking in its eastern seaboard port, on Thursday received two cruise liners in holiday resort town Phuket. 

Both Seabourne Ovation and Quantum of the Seas were allowed to dock, and passengers to alight for roughly 10 hours as part of the scheduled stop.    "They were all checked by their doctors on the ship, and we also examined them when they disembarked," Phuket governor Pakapong Tawipat told AFP.    He added that the passengers and the crew members "were not Chinese", and that Phuket was part of their regular routes, unlike the Westerdam.    Japan's premier Shinzo Abe expressed worries last week over a possible infection on the Westerdam, and said measures will be taken to "reject entries" for foreigners into the country.    Cambodia, which has one confirmed case of the virus, is the recipient of billions of dollars in soft loans, infrastructure, and investment from China.
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 11:14:36 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, Feb 13, 2020 (AFP) - Indonesia's Mount Merapi, one of the world's most active volcanoes, erupted Thursday as fiery red molten lava streamed down from the crater and it belched clouds of grey ash 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) into the sky.   Authorities did not raise the rumbling volcano's alert status after the early-morning eruption, but they advised commercial planes to take caution in the area.   But any activity at Merapi raises concern and local residents were ordered to stay outside a three-kilometre no-go zone around the rumbling crater near Indonesia's cultural capital Yogyakarta.    Volcanic ash rained down on a 10-square kilometre area, according to the Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Centre.

Mount Merapi's last major eruption in 2010 killed more than 300 people and forced the evacuation of some 280,000 residents.   It was Merapi's most powerful eruption since 1930, which killed around 1,300 people, while another explosion in 1994 took about 60 lives.   The Southeast Asian archipelago has more than 17,000 islands and islets -- and nearly 130 active volcanoes.   It sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", a vast zone of geological instability where the collision of tectonic plates causes frequent quakes and major volcanic activity.
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 08:13:16 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Feb 13, 2020 (AFP) - Australia on Thursday announced a ban on travellers from China would extend for at least a week beyond Saturday's planned deadline, as the death toll from the coronavirus soared.    Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would maintain "entry restriction on foreign nationals who have recently been in mainland China" for further week "to protect Australians from the risk of coronavirus".   A decision to extend the ban further will be taken week-to-week, he said.   The decision is a blow to Australian tourism operators who have seen business from Chinese visitors dry up, as well as for tens of thousands of Chinese students hoping to return to Australia for the new academic year.

China's official death toll and infection numbers from a new coronavirus spiked dramatically on Thursday after authorities changed their counting methods, fuelling concern the epidemic is far worse than being reported.   The virus has now officially killed more than 1,350 people in China and the World Health Organisation has warned the disease has not yet peaked.   "I just want to assure all Australians, that we are doing everything we can to keep Australians safe at this time, and to ensure that we are mitigating everything that is possible to address any of the threats," Morrison said.
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 06:46:12 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Feb 13, 2020 (AFP) - Dams near Sydney overflowed Thursday after days of torrential rain, as Australia braced for more storms expected to bring dangerous flash flooding to the country's east.   Recent downpours have brought relief to areas ravaged by bushfires and drought -- as well as chaos and destruction to towns and cities along the eastern seaboard.   On Thursday, Nepean Dam south of Sydney was at full capacity and spilling over, with video footage showing excess water cascading over the dam wall and downstream.   Two other dams in New South Wales, Tallowa and Brogo, were also overflowing and more dams could reach capacity in the coming days, a WaterNSW spokesman told AFP.

Sydney's dams have seen water levels spike dramatically -- the Nepean was just a third full less than a week ago -- though many inland areas are facing severe water shortages missed out on the flows.   A devastating months-long bushfire crisis that killed 33 people has effectively been ended by the downpours, with just one blaze yet to be brought under control in New South Wales.   Hundreds of people have been rescued from floodwaters in recent days.   Police said a man's body was discovered in a flooded river on Queensland's Sunshine Coast on Thursday, though the cause of his death was not immediately clear.

Wild weather is set to ramp up again from Friday, with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting ex-Tropical Cyclone Uesi would bring "damaging to destructive winds" and heavy rainfall to remote tourist destination Lord Howe Island.   Senior meteorologist Grace Legge said storms were also expected for Queensland and New South Wales -- with areas still recovering from bushfires likely to be hit again.   "Any showers and thunderstorms that do develop are falling on already saturated catchments, so there is a risk with severe thunderstorms of flash flooding," she said.   Emergency services have warned residents in affected areas to be cautious in the dangerous conditions.
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 06:24:23 +0100 (MET)

Vinh Phuc, Vietnam, Feb 13, 2020 (AFP) - Vietnam announced Thursday that a commune of 10,000 people will be placed under quarantine due to fears over the spread of the new coronavirus.    "As of February 13, 2020, we will urgently implement the task of isolation and quarantine of the epidemic area in Son Loi commune," said a health ministry statement.    "The timeline... is for 20 days".    There are 15 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in Vietnam, five of them in Son Loi commune.
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2020 21:09:17 +0100 (MET)

Geneva, Feb 12, 2020 (AFP) - The UN health agency on Wednesday said it was extending its global emergency designation for the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo but said the sharp decline in cases was "extremely positive".   The recent outbreak was first identified in August 2018 and has since killed more than 2,300 people in eastern DR Congo -- an area where several militia groups are operating.   "As long as there is a single case of Ebola in an area as insecure and unstable as eastern DRC, the potential remains for a much larger epidemic," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva.

The WHO, however, said it was downgrading the national and regional risk of the disease from very high to high, while it kept the global risk at low.    Tedros also voiced hope that the emergency could be lifted within the next three months on the advice of the WHO's Emergency Committee of international experts.   The World Health Organization last July declared it a "public health emergency of international concern" -- a designation that gives the WHO greater powers to restrict travel and boost funding.   Tedros, who will be travelling to DRC on Thursday to meet President Felix Tshisekedi, on Tuesday said only three cases had been reported in the past week.

But for the epidemic to be declared over, there have to be no new cases reported for 42 days -- double the incubation period.   The health emergency designation last year came a few days after a patient was diagnosed with the virus in the provincial capital Goma -- the first case in a major urban hub.   More than a month before that, the WHO reported that the virus had spread to Uganda for the first time.   The Ebola virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person.   The death rate is typically high, ranging up to 90 percent in some outbreaks, according to the WHO.

This is the second worst outbreak of the disease since 2014 when it killed about 11,000 people -- mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.   Efforts to contain the current outbreak have been hindered by attacks on health workers and conflicts in the east.   The WHO said in November it had moved 49 staff out of the Beni region in eastern DRC because of the insecurity.   The Beni region, straddling the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, has been repeatedly attacked by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group, which activists say has massacred more than 300 people since October.
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2020 11:48:53 +0100 (MET)

Tomohon, Indonesia, Feb 12, 2020 (AFP) - Bats, rats and snakes are still being sold at an Indonesian market known for its wildlife offerings, despite a government request to take them off the menu over fears of a link to the deadly coronavirus.   Vendors at the Tomohon Extreme Meat market on Sulawesi island say business is booming and curious tourists keep arriving to check out exotic fare that enrages animal rights activists.   But scientists are debating how the new virus, which has killed more than 1,100 people in China and spread to dozens of countries around the world, was transmitted to humans.

A wildlife market in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, is thought to be ground zero and there is suspicion it could have originated in bats.    The possible link wasn't on many radar screens at the Indonesian market, however.   Its grubby stalls feature a dizzying array of animals including giant snakes, rats impaled on sticks and charred dogs with their hair seared off by blowtorches -- a gory scene described by some critics as "like walking through hell".

Bat seller Stenly Timbuleng says he's still moving his fare for as much as 60,000 rupiah ($4.40) a kilogram to buyers in the area, where bats are a speciality in local cuisine.   "I'm selling between 40 and 60 kilograms every day," the 45-year-old told AFP.   "The virus hasn't affected sales. My customers still keep coming."   Restaurateur Lince Rengkuan -- who serves bats including their heads and wings stewed in coconut milk and spices -- says the secret is preparation.   "If you don't cook the bat well then of course it can be dangerous," she said.   "We cook it thoroughly and so far the number of customers hasn't gone down at all."

This despite a request from the local government and the health agency to take bats and other wildlife out of circulation -- a call that has been all but ignored.   "We're also urging people not to consume meat from animals suspected to be carriers of a fatal disease," said Ruddy Lengkong, head of the area's government trade and industry agency.   Indonesia has not yet reported a confirmed case of the virus.   In the capital Jakarta, vendors selling skinned snakes and cobra blood on a recent Saturday night didn't have any trouble finding takers.   "It's good for you, sir," said one vendor of his slithering fare.   "Cures and prevents all diseases."
Date: Mon, 10 Feb 2020 17:59:57 +0100 (MET)

Malé, Maldives, Feb 10, 2020 (AFP) - The Maldives' speaker of parliament on Monday apologised to a British tourist after footage of her arrest by several policemen triggered a social media storm.   Tourism is a major earner for the Maldives, a tropical island paradise in the Indian Ocean popular with honeymooners and celebrities.   Police said the bikini-clad woman, who was walking on a main road, was "inappropriately" dressed and allegedly unruly and drunk when she was detained after refusing to comply with requests to cover up on Thursday.   The Maldives previously confined tourists to resort islets separate from the local Muslim population, but in recent years has allowed foreigners to stay on inhabited islands.

Tourists can wear swimwear such as bikinis in the resorts but are subject to local dress codes elsewhere.   Videos shared on social media showed three men trying to detain the traveller, while a fourth person tried to cover her with a towel.   The woman was heard shouting "you're sexually assaulting me" during the incident.   The speaker, Mohamed Nasheed, told parliament he was extending an apology to the woman over the incident, which saw her detained by police for two hours before they released her.

The tourist has since left the nation of 340,000 Sunni Muslims, but Nasheed said he hoped tourism authorities would invite her to return to the luxury vacation spot.   Maldives Police Service Commissioner Mohamed Hameed said on Twitter after the footage was shared online that the incident "seems to be badly handled".   "I apologise to the tourist & the public for this. The challenge I have taken up is to professionalise the police service & we are working on that. This matter is being investigated."   A police statement on Friday called on tourists to respect "cultural sensitivities and local regulations".

The video of the incident also sparked anger among Maldivians. Some took to social media to criticise the tourist's behaviour after other videos showed her grabbing the sunglasses of a police officer.   Former foreign minister Dunya Maumoon criticised both the tourist and the police.   "She should have respected the religious and cultural norms of the country in terms of modest attire in a residential area," Maumoon said on Twitter.   "Condemn the man-handling by the Maldivian police. It could have been handled better and more professionally."
Date: Fri 7 Feb 2020
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

Almost 250 new infections have been recorded in a multi-country outbreak of salmonellosis linked to eggs from Poland. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reported that as of January 2020, 18 countries have reported 656 confirmed and 202 probable cases since February 2017. There are 385 historically confirmed and 413 historical probable cases going as far back as 2012, making it the largest European _Salmonella_ Enteritidis outbreak ever recorded. However, ECDC officials said the true extent of the outbreak was likely underestimated. Since the last update in November 2018, 248 new cases have been reported, of which 124 were confirmed, 36 probable, 42 historical-confirmed and 46 historical-probable infections.

Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK have recorded 1656 infections since 2012. The UK has the most with 688 confirmed and probable cases, Netherlands has 280, Belgium has 202 and Czech Republic has 111. Information on hospitalization is available for 427 patients in 12 countries, and 136 needed hospital treatment among the confirmed and historical-confirmed cases. Two historical-confirmed deaths, a child and an elderly patient, were also reported.

In each year from 2016 to 2018, outbreak cases peaked in September, with large waves reported between late spring and early autumn. Such a large seasonal increase was not seen in 2019. Epidemiological, microbiological and food tracing investigations have linked cases before 2018 to eggs from laying hen farms of a Polish consortium. Despite control measures in 2016 and 2017, farms of the Polish consortium were positive in 2018 and 2019 with outbreak strains, suggesting persistent contamination, according to officials. Investigations on the laying hen production and feed supply chains did not find the possible origin of contamination.

One of the outbreak strains was found from 2017 to 2019 in primary production in Germany. This outbreak strain represents two-thirds of confirmed cases.

In September 2018, a cluster of 9 confirmed cases was associated with the consumption of an RTE raw liquid egg-white drink distributed by Dr. Zak's. _Salmonella_-positive samples of RTE liquid egg whites from 2 batches matched those from this outbreak cluster. Both batches were produced by a French company. One was produced with raw materials such as pasteurized white egg from a Spanish company. The other used raw materials from 13 German laying hen farms and 11 Dutch laying hen farms. An investigation of this outbreak showed positive batches were produced with eggs from Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, who all supplied _Salmonella_-free eggs to the French company.

On the same day as production of one of the contaminated batches, a different batch of liquid eggs was produced at the French company with eggs supplied by a Polish packing center from a Polish laying farm belonging to the Polish consortium. However, the possibility of cross-contamination was ruled out due to the different production line used with different equipment (tanks, filling machine) and because of heat treatment on packaged products.

Investigations in the UK identified 14 cases potentially part of the outbreak travelling to Cyprus and staying in the same place between end of May and end of June 2018. This site received eggs from a Polish laying farm through the Polish packing center and a Dutch wholesaler.

Measures taken in 2016 and 2017, including depopulation of positive flocks, were not enough to eliminate contamination in the Polish consortium. So, the laying hen farms of this group were still positive for outbreak strains in 2018 and 2019. Between August 2018 and December 2019, 7 of 13 sampled Polish laying hen farms belonging to the Polish consortium tested positive for _Salmonella_ Enteritidis. >From November 2019 to January 2020, all flocks belonging to the Polish group were tested in accordance with Regulation 2160/2003, but _Salmonella_ was not detected.

Polish authorities reported that all _Salmonella_ Enteritidis positive flocks belonging to the Polish consortium were depopulated, including flocks found positive in May 2019. From 2015 to 2019, 16 laying hen farms, 13 of which belonged to the Polish consortium, were positive for at least one of the 4 SNP addresses causing human infections. Four rearing farms belonging to the Polish company were positive for _Salmonella_ Enteritidis between January 2017 and July 2019.

ECDC officials said the outbreak was still ongoing, and more infections were expected. "Since no evidence has been provided that the source of contamination has been eliminated, it is expected that further infections will occur and that new cases will be reported in the coming months. Additional investigations are necessary to identify the source of contamination."  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
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[Salmonellosis is often thought to be associated with cracked eggs or eggs dirty with fecal matter, a problem controlled by cleaning procedures implemented in the egg industry. It is clearly the case, however, that most of the salmonellosis outbreaks linked to eggs were associated with uncracked, disinfected grade A eggs, or foods containing such eggs. The undamaged eggs become contaminated during ovulation and thus were contaminated with the bacteria before the egg shell was formed. To avoid this, uncooked eggs should be used only as an ingredient, if pasteurized.

The continuing outbreak was summarized in this 2019 report: Pijnacker R, Dallman TJ, Tijsma ASL, et al. An international outbreak of _Salmonella enterica_ serotype Enteritidis linked to eggs from Poland: a microbiological and epidemiological study. Lancet Infect Dis. 2019;19(7):778-786.

Abstract
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Background: _Salmonella_ spp. are a major cause of food-borne outbreaks in Europe. We investigated a large multi-country outbreak of _Salmonella enterica_ serotype Enteritidis in the EU and European Economic Area (EEA).

Methods: A confirmed case was defined as a laboratory-confirmed infection with the outbreak strains of _S._ Enteritidis based on whole-genome sequencing (WGS), occurring between 1 May 2015 and 31 Oct 2018. A probable case was defined as laboratory-confirmed infection with _S._ Enteritidis with the multiple-locus variable-number tandem repeat analysis outbreak profile. Multi-country epidemiological, trace-back, trace-forward, and environmental investigations were done. We did a case-control study including confirmed and probable cases and controls randomly sampled from the population registry (frequency matched by age, sex, and postal code). Odds ratios (ORs) for exposure rates between cases and controls were calculated with unmatched univariable and multivariable logistic regression.

Findings: A total of 18 EU and EEA countries reported 838 confirmed and 371 probable cases; 509 (42%) cases were reported in 2016, after which the number of cases steadily increased. The case-control study results showed that cases more often ate in food establishments than did controls (OR, 3.4 [95% CI, 1.6-7.3]), but no specific food item was identified. Recipe-based food trace-back investigations among cases who ate in food establishments identified eggs from Poland as the vehicle of infection in October 2016. Phylogenetic analysis identified 2 strains of _S._ Enteritidis in human cases that were subsequently identified in _Salmonella_-positive eggs and primary production premises in Poland, confirming the source of the outbreak. After control measures were implemented, the number of cases decreased but increased again in March 2017, and the increase continued into 2018.

Interpretation: This outbreak highlights the public health value of multi-country sharing of epidemiological, trace-back, and microbiological data. The re-emergence of cases suggests that outbreak strains have continued to enter the food chain, although changes in strain population dynamics and fewer cases indicate that control measures had some effect. Routine use of WGS in _Salmonella_ surveillance and outbreak response promises to identify and stop outbreaks in the future. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Sun 9 Feb 2020
Source: San Francisco (CA) Chronicle [subscription required, edited]

Several cases of hepatitis A were confirmed in customers who ate in the same California restaurant, health officials said. The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services announced [Fri 31 Jan 2020], that the patients ate at 555 East American Steakhouse on or around [24 Dec 2019], KABC-TV reports.

The department did not disclose how many cases were diagnosed. The source of the illness is still under investigation, officials said.

Hepatitis A can be transmitted through consumption of contaminated food or water. Symptoms can include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, dark urine, nausea, and jaundice. Most patients eventually recover completely, but some may require hospitalization or develop severe illness, health officials said.

The restaurant's management and staff are cooperating with health officials and there is no continuing risk to the public, officials said.

"We are notifying the public of the exposure so that people can immediately seek medical care if they begin to develop symptoms," Long Beach health officer Dr. Anissa Davis said in a statement. "Individuals who have been vaccinated for hepatitis A or have had the disease are protected," Davis said. "Those who are not immune to hepatitis A should consult their medical provider if they develop symptoms, and let their provider know they may have been exposed to hepatitis A."
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[This cluster (the number of cases is not stated) may be related to an HAV-contaminated food (such as shellfish) or an infected food service worker. If the former were the case, one might expect to see cases related to other restaurants. It would be interesting to know if the HAV strain is that from the still on-going multistate outbreak. This outbreak has been controlled in California and involved primarily homeless and substance abusing individuals and is related to poor sanitation rather than food/water vehicles. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
California, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/204>]