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Argentina

Irish Diplomatic and Consular Information for Argentina
**********************************************************************
Address:
Embassy of Ireland
Suipacha 1380
2nd Floor
1011 Buenos Aires
Telephone:
+54-1
-4325-8588 / 4325-0849
Fax:
+54-11-4325-7572
Email:

Ambassador:
Her Excellency Paula Ní Shlattara
Secretary:

Jonathan Conlon
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Argentina - US Consular Information Sheet
October 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Last year, Argentina's charm, natural beauty and diversity attracted more than 400,000 American citizen visitors, and this year's total is expected to be even higher. Buenos Aires and other large cities have well-developed tourist facilities and services, including many four- and five-star hotels. The quality of tourist facilities in smaller towns outside the capital varies. The country suffered a major financial crisis in 2001-2002. While it has made a dramatic recovery, continued economic hardship has been linked to a rise in street crime. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Argentina for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required for U.S. citizens to enter Argentina. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for visits of up to 90 days for tourism and business. U.S. citizens who arrive in Argentina with expired or damaged passports may be refused entry and returned to the United States at their own expense. The U.S. Embassy cannot provide guarantees on behalf of travelers in such situations, and therefore encourages U.S. citizens to ensure their travel documents are valid and in good condition prior to departure from the United States. Different rules apply to U.S. citizens who also have Argentine nationality, depending on their dates of U.S. naturalization. For more information, check the Argentine Ministry of the Interior web site at www.mininterior.gov.ar/migraciones/. Most dual nationals are permitted 60-day visits. Dual nationals who stay beyond their permitted time are required to depart on an Argentine passport.
The application process for an Argentine passport is lengthy, and the U.S. Embassy is not able to provide assistance in obtaining Argentine passports or other local identity documents. Children under 21 years of age who reside in Argentina, regardless of nationality, are required to present a notarized document that certifies both parents' permission for the child's departure from Argentina when the child is traveling alone, with only one parent, or in someone else's custody (click on the "international child abduction" link below for more information). An airport tax is collected upon departure, payable in dollars or Argentine pesos.

American citizens wishing to enter Brazil are required to obtain a visa in advance from the Brazilian Embassy or consulate nearest to the traveler's place of residence. The U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires cannot assist travelers to obtain Brazilian visas. For more information, see the Country Specific Information for Brazil.
Visit the Embassy of Argentina’s web site at http://www.embassyofargentina.us/ for the most current visa information. Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Traffic accidents are the primary threat to life and limb in Argentina. Pedestrians and drivers should exercise caution. Drivers frequently ignore traffic laws and vehicles often travel at excessive speeds. The rate and toll of traffic accidents has been a topic of much media attention over the past year. The Institute of Road Safety and Education, a private Buenos Aires organization dedicated to transportation safety issues, reports that Argentina has the highest traffic mortality rate in South America per 100,000 inhabitants.

Care should be exercised when traveling in Brazil and Paraguay, near the Argentine border, where criminal entities are known to operate. These organizations are involved in the trafficking of illicit goods, and some individuals in the area have been designated by the U.S. Treasury Department for financially supporting terrorist organizations.
The U.S. government is supportive of coordinated efforts by Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay to combat illegal activity in that region. Americans crossing from Argentina into Paraguay or Brazil may wish to consult the most recent Country Specific Information for those countries.

Demonstrations are common in metropolitan Buenos Aires and occur in other major cities as well. Protesters on occasion block streets, highways, and major intersections, causing traffic jams and delaying travel. While demonstrations are usually nonviolent, hooligans in some of the groups sometimes seek confrontation with the police and vandalize private property. Groups occasionally protest in front of the U.S. Embassy and U.S.-affiliated businesses. U.S. citizens should take common-sense precautions and avoid gatherings or any other event where crowds have congregated to protest. Information about the location of possible demonstrations is available from a variety of sources, including the local media. Additional information and advice may be obtained from the U.S. Embassy at the telephone numbers or email address listed at the end of this document.

Domestic flight schedules can be unreliable. Occasional work stoppages, over-scheduling of flights and other technical problems can result in flight delays, cancellations, or missed connections. Consult local media for information about possible strikes or slow-downs before planning travel within Argentina.
Public transportation is generally reliable and safe. The preferred option for travel within Buenos Aires and other major cities is by radio taxi or "remise" (private car with driver). The best way to obtain safe taxis and remises is to call for one or go to an established stand, rather than hailing one on the street. Hotels, restaurants, and other businesses can order remises or radio taxis, or provide phone numbers for such services, upon request. Passengers on buses, trains, and the subway should be alert for pickpockets and should also be aware that these forms of transport are sometimes interrupted by strikes or work stoppages.

Argentina is a geographically diverse country with mountains, forests, expansive deserts, and glaciers, making it a popular destination for outdoor and adventure sports. Despite the best efforts of local authorities, assisting visitors lost or injured in such remote areas can be problematic. American citizens have been killed in recent years while mountain climbing, skiing, trekking, and hunting. Travelers visiting isolated and wilderness areas should learn about local hazards and weather conditions and always inform park or police authorities of their itineraries. Reports of missing or injured persons should be made immediately to the police so that a search can be mounted or assistance rendered.

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 United States, or for callers outside the United States 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 pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Most American citizens visit Argentina without incident. Nevertheless, street crime in the larger cities, especially greater Buenos Aires and Mendoza, is a problem for residents and visitors alike. As in any big city, visitors to Buenos Aires and popular tourist destinations should be alert to muggers, pickpockets, scam artists, and purse-snatchers on the street, in hotel lobbies, at bus and train stations, and in cruise ship ports. Criminals usually work in groups and travelers should assume they are armed. Criminals employ a variety of ruses to distract and victimize unsuspecting visitors.
A common scam is to spray mustard or a similar substance on the tourist from a distance. A pickpocket will then approach the tourist offering to help clean the stain, and while doing so, he or an accomplice robs the victim. Thieves regularly nab unattended purses, backpacks, laptops, and luggage, and criminals will often distract visitors for a few seconds to steal valuables. While most American victims are not physically injured when robbed, criminals typically do not hesitate to use force when they encounter resistance. Visitors are advised to immediately hand over all cash and valuables if confronted. Thieves will target visitors wearing expensive watches or jewelry.

Your passport is a valuable document and should be guarded. Passports and other valuables should be locked in a hotel safe, and a photocopy of your passport should be carried for identification purposes. The U.S. Embassy has observed a notable rise in reports of stolen passports in the past year. Some travelers have received counterfeit currency in Argentina. Unscrupulous vendors and taxi drivers sometimes pretend to help tourists review their pesos, then trade bad bills for good ones. Characteristics of good currency can be reviewed at the Argentine Central Bank web site at www.bcra.gov.ar.
Along with conventional muggings, so-called express kidnappings continue to occur. Victims are grabbed off the street based on their appearance and vulnerability. They are made to withdraw as much money as possible from ATM machines, and then their family or co-workers are contacted and told to deliver all the cash that they have on hand or can gather in a couple of hours. Once the ransom is paid, the victim is usually quickly released unharmed. There have been some foreign victims. Visitors are particularly advised not to let children and adolescents travel alone.
Travelers worldwide are advised to avoid packing valuables in their checked baggage. In Argentina, officials have publicly acknowledged the systematic theft of valuables and money from checked baggage at Buenos Aires airports. Authorities are working to resolve the problem and have made a number of arrests, but travelers should exercise continued care and caution. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm
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 can 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 Argentine Federal Police have established a special Tourist Police Unit to receive complaints and investigate crimes against tourists. The unit, located at Corrientes 436 in Buenos Aires, responds to calls around the clock at 4346-5748 or toll-free 0800-999-5000 from anywhere in the country. The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in the city of Buenos Aires or in the surrounding Province of Buenos Aires is 911 for police assistance. In the city of Buenos Aires, dial 100 in case of fire and 107 for an ambulance. In the Province of Buenos Aires, fire and ambulance numbers vary by location. See our information for Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: The public health system in Argentina provides emergency and non-emergency services free of charge to all, regardless of nationality or immigration status. However, the quality of non-emergency care in public hospitals is generally below U.S. standards. Medical care in private hospitals in Buenos Aires is generally good, but varies in quality outside the capital. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization in private facilities and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Private physicians, clinics, and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
HIV/AIDS restrictions. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Argentina.
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 Preventions hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's Internet site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policies apply overseas and will cover prior conditions and emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars. If not covered, visitors are encouraged to consider purchasing travel insurance. No Medicare benefits are available abroad. 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 Argentina is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Argentina is generally more dangerous than driving in the United States. By comparison, drivers in Argentina tend to be very aggressive, especially in the capital city of Buenos Aires, and frequently ignore traffic regulations. U.S. driver's licenses are valid in the capital and the province of Buenos Aires, but Argentine or international licenses are required to drive in the rest of the country. For further information, please contact the Argentine Automobile Club, Av. Libertador 1850, 1112 Capital Federal, telephone (011) (54)(11) 4802-6061, or contact the Embassy of Argentina as listed in the above section on Entry Requirements. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the websites of Argentina's national tourist office and national roadways office at www.turismo.gov.ar and www.vialidad.gov.ar.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Argentina’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Argentina’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: In addition to being subject to all Argentine laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Argentine citizens. In some instances, dual nationality may hamper U.S. Government efforts to provide protection abroad. Please see our information on Customs Regulations.

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 also be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Argentina's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Argentina are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children and using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country are crimes prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children's Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Argentina are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Argentina. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it much easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Avenida Colombia 4300 in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires (near the Plaza Italia stop on the "D" line subway). The main Embassy switchboard telephone is (54) (11) 5777-4533. Recorded consular information, including instructions on whom to contact in case of an American citizen emergency, is available at tel. (54) (11) 4514-1830. The Consular Section fax is (54) (11) 5777-4293. The Consular Section is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to noon and 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, except on American and Argentine holidays. Additional information on Embassy services is available on the Internet at http://argentina.usembassy.gov or by e-mail: BuenosAires-ACS@state.gov
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This replaces the Country Specific Information December 28, 2007 to update Sections on Country Description, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Registration/Embassy Locations.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 14 May 2020 00:34:07 +0200 (METDST)
By Maria Lorente

Buenos Aires, May 13, 2020 (AFP) - One of Buenos Aires' poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods has shown a spike in the number of COVID-19 infections, worrying authorities hoping to ease the Argentine capital's two-month lockdown later this month.   The number of infections in the infamous Villa 31 slum, a teeming central district synonymous with violence and poverty, soared from one case at the end of April to 511 by late Tuesday.

To make matters worse, large parts of the barrio were left without water for eight days as people tried to resist the pandemic. Many see it as a continuation of decades of government neglect and discrimination.   "We are screwed because our water has been cut off. I am a domestic worker and I lost my job," said one resident, 37-year-old Maria Chaile.   In Buenos Aires, only a fraction of the population -- mostly essential workers -- are out on the streets every day.   But in Villa 31, dozens of people like Chaile go about their business as though the pandemic were not happening.   The area's shops, small restaurants and hairdressers are open, in contrast to businesses in rest of the city.

- Social distancing impossible -
Several generations of the same family often live together in the barrio's tiny concrete-block houses, making social distancing impossible.   The shoddily built homes with tin roofs seem precariously piled on top of one another, and are accessed by outside spiral staircases.    Tangled electricity cables -- used to illegally tap current from nearby power lines -- hang precariously over the narrow streets.

Luis Fernando Guispert, a 28-year-old student, has lived in Villa 31 since his family moved here from Bolivia when he was two.   "The number of infections has exploded. The worrying thing is that it could be impossible to control, this being the kind of place it is, a slum with closed-in streets," he says.   Guispert said a large proportion of Villa 31's estimated 40,000 people simply ignored the government's mandatory quarantine orders issued on March 20, because they subsist from day to day. They have to work, or search for food.   Most people here work in the informal economy, which makes up more than 25 percent of Argentina's labor force.   "The order is to stay at home, but if you stay at home, you can't eat, so you either die from the coronavirus or you starve," said Guispert.

- Immigrants to a new world -
The country's economic crisis, with inflation of more than 50 percent and rising unemployment, has contributed to rising numbers of poor people, who now make up 35 percent of the total population of 44 million.   The sprawling shantytown shot up around Buenos Aires port in the late 1940s, a refuge for thousands of rural Argentines seeking work along with a flood of immigrants from Italy, said Valeria Snitcofsky, a professor of history at Buenos Aires University.

Aptly dubbed a "villa miseria" -- the Argentine term for a slum -- Villa 31 is located close to the city's main tourist areas and alongside the chic business district of Puerto Madero, where President Alberto Fernandez has his home.   "It has a level of density that resembles that of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro," says Fabio Quetglas, a planning specialist with Buenos Aires University.   Nearly two months after the start of compulsory isolation, the government remains concerned about sectors that threaten to derail its plan to contain the virus -- particularly prisons, nursing homes and vulnerable neighbourhoods like Villa 31.   Coronavirus testing has focused on these areas. In Villa 31, more than 50 percent of the tests so far have been positive.

Many of the people who live there have service and cleaning jobs in the city.   "The results are worrying," said Fernandez as he extended a lockdown in the Buenos Airs metropolitan area -- which has 80 percent of Argentina's cases --
to May 24.     Villa 31 has rapidly become the epicenter of Argentina's COVID-19 outbreak, a fact of which 32-year-old Bolivian seamstress Shirley Ruth Aduviri is keenly aware.   "You go out to buy something and you see the ambulances going and coming," she said.   "It's so contagious that you go shopping and think you're sure to get it."
Date: Thu, 7 May 2020 03:29:07 +0200 (METDST)

Buenos Aires, May 7, 2020 (AFP) - President Alberto Fernandez on Wednesday ruled out an immediate exit from Argentina's coronavirus lockdown, saying to do so would "lead to the death of thousands."   Opposition parties, economists and business leaders have stepped up demands for the government to relax strict quarantine measures to allow industries to reopen.

Exiting the quarantine "in the terms they are demanding, will lead to the death for thousands Argentines because we cannot control" the virus, said Fernandez in a radio interview.   A campaign on social media has called for protests on Thursday against the government's lockdown measures, as the country's already battered economy sinks deeper into recession.

"You cannot quarantine and make the economy work. Those who chose to prioritize the economy ended up gathering the dead in refrigerated trucks and burying them in mass graves," the leftist president told Radio con Vos.   He said the government's policy had succeeded in slowing down the rate of infections, and held out the possibility of gradually loosening the lockdown measures starting on Monday.

Argentina's economy, rocked by 50 percent inflation and rising numbers of poor and jobless, has stuttered through two years of recession.   The Fernandez administration is in talks with bondholders to restructure
Argentina's debt as the country's GDP is forecast to drop by 6.5 percent this year.

On March 20 the government decreed compulsory social isolation for 15 days and has been extending it every two weeks.    The measures were relaxed in some rural areas, but they remain firm in the greater Buenos Aires region, where a third of the country's 45 million people live.   By Wednesday, Argentina had registered 5,100 infections with 273 deaths.
Date: Tue 28 Jan 2020
Source: Food Safety News [abridged, edited]

Authorities in Argentina are investigating 2 suspected cases of foodborne botulism linked to a brand of pickled wild boar. The National Administration of Drugs, Foods and Medical Devices (ANMAT) reported those ill are associated with eating "Escabeche de jabali" 400 g [14 oz] of the "Fatto in casa" brand with a date of 1 Jul 2020, produced by Norma Coatti.

A 27 year old woman and a 30 year old man are affected, and both needed hospital treatment.

An inspection of the production plant by authorities in Cordoba found processing conditions do not guarantee that the product is safe for consumption. The site was stopped from producing and marketing such items for preventative reasons. The manufacturing firm was asked to recall all units of pickled "Fatto in casa" branded products nationally. These include chicken, pork, Viscacha (a type of rodent), and eggplant.  ANMAT advised consumers not to eat the affected recalled products.
===================
[Most cases of foodborne botulism are associated with homemade foods, not commercially prepared. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Argentina:
Date: Mon 13 Jan 2020
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

An emergency committee to control the sale of food has been created in a city in northwest Argentina after a spike in _Salmonella_ cases in early 2020. There have been 51 confirmed cases of salmonellosis in Salta so far in 2020. At least 5 people have been hospitalized but recovered after treatment.

The committee will be responsible for controlling food sold on public roads at street stalls and at commercial premises. It includes experts from the National University of Salta (UNSA) and Catholic University of Salta (Ucasal). Officials hope by increasing controls they can bring the rise in infections under control and minimize the risk to the public. The group, created by the Mayor of Salta Bettina Romero and Undersecretary of Health and Human Environment Monica Torfe, held a meeting with Juan Jose Esteban, manager of the Hospital Senor del Milagro, and teams from the department of epidemiology of the province on preventive measures to tackle the salmonellosis rise this past week.

Norma Sponton, head of the microbiology sector; Teresita Cruz, of the epidemiological surveillance program of the province; Paula Herrera, from the Ministry of Health, and Jose Herrera, from the hospital also participated. Experts from the 2 universities are involved in training the inspectors who will be in charge of carrying out the control tasks.

Food contaminated with _Salmonella_ bacteria does not usually look, smell, or taste spoiled. Symptoms of salmonellosis infection can include diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for 4 to 7 days. In some cases, however, diarrhoea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.
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[The serotype of _S. enterica_ is not stated and it is not clear what the food reservoir for this ongoing outbreak is. A food diary of affected persons may be helpful.

The city of Salta is located in north-western Argentina in the province of the same name which can be found on a map at

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Argentina:
Date: Sun 22 Sep 2019
Source: La Voz [in Spanish trans. Mod.TY, edited]

Viruses transmitted by mosquitoes are emerging in the Americas. To historic dengue in recent years have been added Zika and chikungunya [viruses], 2 pathogens that before were restricted only to Africa. Madariaga has now been added to that list [of viruses new in the Americas].

Researchers from the Instituto de Medicina Regional of the Universidad Nacional del Nordeste (IMR-Unne) and from the Instituto de Virologia, and J. M. Vanella of the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba (Inviv, UNC) detected its presence in mosquitoes captured in the Chaco. "Madariaga is a virus that causes disease in equine animals and is of low pathogenicity for humans, but in 2010 caused an outbreak in humans in Panama with 10 cases," said Marta Contigiani, who works in the UNC laboratory. It was also isolated in 2015 and 2016 from human samples in Haiti.

Ornella Stechina, of the IMR-Unne, was the person who detected presence of the virus in the mosquitoes. The work was done with the financial support of this institution with Mariana Stein, a researcher from CONICET [the national science agency] as the person in charge.

Contigiani explained that there have been no subsequent cases in horses since 1988. "In other provinces in the country, serological studies have detected [Madariaga] virus infections. There is a vaccine for equine animals, but its application is not obligatory," she said.

However, she warned that global climate change (including deforestation in the Amazon Basin) influences the geographic distribution and emergence of diseases, with appearance of new environments that are favorable for the development of vectors and that favor the development of the [transmission] cycle.

"To this we must add the genetic changes that are observed in these viruses," she stated.

For some time, experts have been issuing alerts about the emergence and reemergence of arboviruses, pathogens that are transmitted by insects.

"West Nile virus rapidly invaded North America, and now cases are being found in Central and South America. Also, Mayaro and eastern equine encephalitis viruses have increased their activity and have been found in new regions," said Raquel Gleiser, a researcher at the Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biologia Vegetal of the UNC (Imbiv) in an article published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Madariaga virus is a strain of eastern equine encephalitis virus, which was early on detected in Argentina. Contigiani did not discard the possibility that a variant that had greater capacity to replicate, the proliferation of competent vectors, and propitious environmental conditions could cause an outbreak in the region.

The evidence for warning about Madariaga virus is not at the same level as for chikungunya [virus], although they are in the same family (Togaviridae). "For now, the epidemiological behavior is different. Chikungunya virus has _Aedes aegypti_ as its vector, whereas the vector of Madariaga virus is within the _Culex_ genus," she said.

This study detected the virus in mosquitoes of the _Culex_ genus in wildland areas in Choco province. Thus, they identified this vector in Argentinian territory for the 1st time.

Although the mosquito species or species that had the virus could not be detected, the genus _Culex_ has more than 1000 species, many of which are of urban habits such as _Culex pipiens_ that we hear buzzing at night.

Madariaga virus can infect various mammals that could serve as hosts, such as rats and bats, as well as birds.

In Argentina, it was found for the 1st time in animals in the decade of the 1930s. The strain found in the Chaco belongs to the same lineage discovered in those years, which indicates that the virus is endemic in the region.

For now, the infections studied in humans has been for the most part mild and asymptomatic.

Adrian Diaz of the Cordoba Institute, Griselda Oria (IMR-Unne), and Carolina Torres of the Universidad de Buenos Aires participated as part of the work that was published a week ago in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene [reference below].

The researchers suggest that more epidemiological studies be done to determine the vectors and potential hosts and do deeper studies about the genetic characteristics of the [virus] strains that circulate in the country in order to know whether this virus is endemic in the region or is reintroduced.

"Ideally, studies will be done [in the field] with sentinel animals to detect virus circulation as well. In other countries, they use sentinel chickens for these types of studies," Contigiani commented, and clarified that in case [virus] circulation was detected, animal health officials must take relevant measures.

"There is no human vaccine, so [human] health officials must indicate measures [needed] for prevention and control," she added.

The vector is the most common, _Culex_. However, there is no virus circulation in Cordoba.

_Culex_ is a genus of hematophagous mosquitoes in the Culiidae family, many species of which act as vectors of important diseases, such as West Nile, filariasis, virus encephalitis (Japanese, Venezuelan, equine, and St. Louis) and avian malaria, as well as Madariaga virus. There are more than 80 varieties [of what?].  [Byline: Lucas Viano]
=================
[The isolation of Madariaga virus from Culex mosquitoes in northern Argentina is interesting, but, as the authors point out, merits additional studies to determine whether it is a human or animal (especially equine) pathogen of importance for human or animal health in Argentina. Studies of the Culex species involved in transmission of the virus and determination of the animal hosts are essential to understand cycles of transmission.

Reference:
Ornela Sofia Stechina, Griselda Ines Oria, Carolina Torres, Luis Adrian Diaz, Marta Contigiani and Marina Stein. First Detection of Madariaga virus in Mosquitoes Collected in a Wild Environment of Northeastern Argentina. 2019. Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg., 00(0), 2019, pp. 1-3 DOI: <https://doi.org/10.4269/ajtmh.19-0475>.

Chaco province is in the far north of Argentina. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Chaco Province, Argentina: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/54342>]
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Jamaica

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Healthy Travelling In Jamaica
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General Information;
Jamaica is the 3rd largest of the Caribbean islands and is situated about 600 miles south of Miami, Florida. The climate in Jamaica remains fairly steady throughout the
year with temperatures averaging 27 - 35 C during the summer months (May to September) and 21 - 27 C during their winter! The ambient temperature and rainfall are both affected markedly by the changes in elevation and geography throughout the island. Rainfall varies from an annual average of 25" in the capital, Kingston, to an average of 250" at Blue Mountain Peak. Most of the rain tends to fall between April/May or October/November. The relative humidity in Kingston ranges from an average low of 63% in February to 86% in October.
Health Care Facilities;
The US Department of State’s consular information sheet states that medical care may be limited. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. A list of some of the IAMAT doctors in Jamaica follows;
- Dr. Luois S. Grant - Kingston - tel 927 1106
- Dr. B.A. Morgan - May Pen - tel 986 2370
- Dr. Noel Black - Ochos Rios - tel 972 2296
Sun Exposure;
Frequently travellers from Ireland to Jamaica will want to soak up the sunshine before returning to our rather less exposed shores. Some will tan easily but even they need to take care with the extent of their sun exposure. Many fair skinned Irish travellers will burn easily and so remember to limit your exposure especially during the first week. Use high sun blocking lotions (15+) while you acliamatise and then only drop down the protective factor (10+) if you are sure you will not burn. Watch out especially for the back of your neck, the front of your ankles and the top of your legs. Many of these areas will be unused to such exposure! Also remember if you are travelling in a car or coach watch out that you cover your exposed elbow which may be cooled by the passing breeze.
Sun Stroke / Dehydration;
In such a warm climate you can become quite significantly dehydrated without realising it. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids and, if you have no blood pressure problems or heart difficulties, then increase the amount of salt you put on your normal meals. This will help to maintain your energy levels.
Mosquito Borne Disease;
Malaria transmission does not normally occur in Jamaica so taking prophylactic tablets is not necessary. Nevertheless mosquitoes abound and so remember to use insect repellants, especially when there are mosquitoes about, day or night.
Animals;
Unfortunately Jamaica is not free of rabies and transmission is reported in some areas. The main animal appears to be the mongoose but obviously try and make sure that you have no exposure to any warm blooded animals. If by any chance you are bitten immediatly wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek medical attention.
Asthmatics;
Because of the dense foliage and high pollen levels the climate may adversly affect some asthma sufferers.
Food & Water Borne Disease;
By comparison to many of the hotter areas throughout the world Jamaica has high health standards. Despite this it would be unwise to take risks so follow simple common- sense rules
* Drink only bottled water (and use it for brushing your teeth)
* Don’t use ice cubes in your drinks
* Eat only food served hot and avoid all shell fish
* Only pasturised dairy products should be consumed
* Don’t eat food from street vendors
Blood Borne Disease
Unfortunately, as in most other countries, AIDs does occur and the blood supply may not be adequately screened.
Swimming in Jamaica;
Beautiful beaches make swimming a must for your holiday but be careful of the coral and also jellyfish. The hot sand may burn your feet so always use flip flops when walking on the beach.
Vaccinations;
None are essential for entry/exit purposes but it is wise to at least protect yourself against * Polio
* Typhoid
* Tetanus
* Hepatitis A
Other vaccines may be required for travellers intending to trek through Jamaica or those who will be undertaking extensive adventure sports. Also remember that if you initially visit a Central or South American country before Jamaica then Yellow Fever vaccine may be required.
General Comments;
Some of the items above may seem too serious to consider a holiday in Jamaica. Nevertheless the vast majority of travellers have a marvellous holiday and develop no sickness following their visit. Some simple commonsense is mainly all that is required. For further information please contact the Tropical Medical Bureau - Dublin.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 29 Jan 2020 05:54:30 +0100 (MET)

Port Moresby, Jan 29, 2020 (AFP) - Papua New Guinea shut air and seaports to all foreign travellers coming from Asia on Wednesday, in a desperate bid to prevent the deadly coronavirus from reaching the impoverished Melanesian nation.  In a note to airlines and boat operators, the ministry of immigration said "all citizens originating from the Asian ports will be refused entry to the country effective today".

The ministry also announced that Papua New Guinea's only official land border -- with Indonesian-controlled Papua province -- would be shut from Thursday.   No cases of coronavirus have been reported in Papua New Guinea, but the country's health service is already buckling under the weight of underfunding and rampant public health problems.   Papua New Guinea is one of only a handful of countries where polio is still endemic, leaving doctors and the United Nations scrambling to revive long-lapsed vaccination programmes.

Papua New Guinea residents returning from Asian countries will be held in quarantine for 14 days.   It will only be possible for anyone to leave or enter the country via Port Moresby's international airport.  Most flights into the airport are domestic, or from Australia, but officials told AFP arrivals from Chinese cities, Singapore and any other Asian cities would also be affected.   It was not clear how long the measures will be in effect. "This is a preventative measure taken to ensure the spread of the coronavirus that is rapidly spreading in the world is minimised," Immigration and Border Security Minister Westly Nukundi Nukundj said.
Date: Wed, 29 Jan 2020 00:22:50 +0100 (MET)

Miami, Jan 28, 2020 (AFP) - A major 7.7 magnitude quake struck Tuesday in the Caribbean between Jamaica and Cuba, triggering a brief tsunami alert and sending hundreds of people pouring onto the streets of Havana.  The tremors were felt as far as the US mainland as police in Miami evacuated some buildings as a precaution.   The US Geological Survey said the quake hit at a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles), at 1910 GMT -- 125 kilometres northwest of Lucea, Jamaica.

It estimated there was a low likelihood of casualties or damage, and there were no immediate reports of either. Hours later, a 6.1 magnitude aftershock hit off the coast of the Cayman Islands, the USGS said.   The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned there was a threat of tsunami waves reaching 0.3 to 1 meters (about 1 to 3 feet) above tide level for the coasts of Jamaica, Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico and the Cayman Islands. But it lifted the alert update about two hours later.  The first, bigger quake rattled several tall buildings in the Cuban capital Havana, which were immediately evacuated.

The earthquake was felt in several provinces including Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba in the east, Cienfuegos in the centre and Havana in the northwest, the official Cubadebate website reported.   But there were no preliminary reports of damage or injuries, however.  Jawara Rawjers, a resident of Kingston, Jamaica told AFP: "I felt the house trembling and realized that it was a quake.  "It lasted about 20 seconds. I checked my watch and it was 2:12 pm. I checked on my family but they didn't feel anything in their part of the house."

Machel Emanuel, a doctor in the same city, added: "I was on the second floor of a building and there was a sustained shaking of the building. I felt dizzy. The door was slamming consistently for a while."  Many Jamaicans took to social media in the immediate aftermath to post pictures, unverified by AFP, of swimming pools shaking violently.   In Miami, police said some buildings were being evacuated as a precaution after reports of tremors being felt in some areas of the city.

21 Feb 2019

https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/news/390/dengue-outbreak-in-the-caribbean
Dengue outbreak in the Caribbean

Dengue outbreak in the Caribbean

Reported via Travel Health Pro:  As of 17 January 2019 and following a recent report of increased cases of dengue in Jamaica in January 2019 [1], the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has advised that there is a possibility of an outbreak of dengue in the Caribbean region [2]. The last major regional outbreak occurred in 2009 [1]. Countries in the region have been advised to increase their disease surveillance measures. Residents and travellers are advised to take measures to reduce mosquito breeding sites and follow mosquito bite prevention advice.

Dengue is a viral infection transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. Although most patients with dengue will recover spontaneously, a small number will develop more severe life-threatening forms of the disease. Dengue is common in the tropics including the Caribbean, South and Central America, Africa, SE Asia, the Indian sub-continent and the Pacific Islands.

Check our Country Information pages for individual country recommendations.

Date: Mon 14 ay 2918
Source: Loop [edited]

A new species of mosquito has been discovered in Jamaica. It is the Asian tiger mosquito or _Aedes albopictus_, which is similar to the _A. aegypti_ mosquito, which is endemic to Jamaica and which transmits the dengue, chikungunya, Zika, and other viruses.

Acting Chief Public Health Inspector for St Catherine, Grayston Hutchinson told last Thursday's [10 May 2018] monthly meeting of the St Catherine Municipal Corporation that the Asia tiger mosquito was discovered following surveillance throughout the island.

He was responding to questions from councillors attending the monthly meeting.

The tiger mosquito is so named because of its striped appearance, which resembles that of the tiger.

Similar to the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito, the female is the carrier of several viruses, including yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.
===================
[_Aedes albopictus_ has been expanding throughout the world including in North, Central America, and Caribbean: Barbados (not established), Belize, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Trinidad (not established), and USA (<https://ecdc.europa.eu/en/disease-vectors/facts/mosquito-factsheets/aedes-albopictus>). It is not surprising that it has been found in Jamaica. It was found last year (2017) in several locations in southern California and is distributed across the southern USA and more recently in the northern states.

Reference
---------
Bonizzoni M, Gasperi G, Chen X, James AA. The invasive mosquito species _Aedes albopictus_: current knowledge and future perspectives. Trends Parasitol. 2013; 29(9): 460-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pt.2013.07.003; <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3777778/> - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map
Date: Fri 23 Oct 2015
Source: Jamaica Observer [edited]

Consultant congenital cardiologist Dr Sandra Williams-Phillips says she has treated at least 12 cases of the feared mosquito-borne Zika virus (ZIK-V) [infection] and that she has written to Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson on the matter.

Speaking on a daytime radio programme yesterday [22 Oct 2015], Dr Williams-Phillips said she had received no response to her e-mail to Dr Ferguson, although she could not confirm that the minister had received her correspondence.

The medical doctor of 34 years said she was among the 1st local doctors to identify the presence of the chikungunya virus, which wreaked havoc on the country last year [2014], but that her diagnoses had not been taken seriously.

Dr Williams-Phillips, who treats paediatric as well as adult cases of congenital heart disease, said some of her patients who presented symptoms of the Zika virus [infection] were children. She argued strongly that the symptoms she had seen were convincing enough to diagnose the virus even in the absence of lab tests.

Late yesterday afternoon [22 Oct 2015], on another radio programme, chief medical officer (CMO) in the health ministry, Dr Marion Bullock Ducasse, said the ministry would be launching an investigation into the matter. She said that, even if the patients had recovered, tests could still prove whether they had in fact been infected with the virus.

The CMO said she could not speak on whether Dr Ferguson was in receipt of a report about the cases, but that no official report had come to the ministry from St Catherine [parish], where Dr Williams-Phillips said she treated patients, via the standard reporting system for these types of events.

The CMO has maintained over the past several months, that there are no confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Jamaica. Earlier this month [October 2015], the ministry said a sample which it had sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in September [2015] tested negative for chikungunya, dengue and Zika viruses. "Outside of Brazil [and more recently, Colombia], there have been no cases confirmed in any country in the Latin American and Caribbean region, including Jamaica," Dr Ferguson said at a hand, foot and mouth disease press conference on 2 Oct [2015].

The ministry has also refuted claims by Opposition spokesperson on health, Senator Marlene Malahoo-Forte, that she had been reliably informed about 3 confirmed cases of Zika virus. "I have heard that there are confirmed cases of the Zika virus here.... I got a call from someone whose employee was tested, and I'm reliably advised that it is a confirmed case," Malahoo-Forte stated at a press conference a few weeks ago.

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) in May [2015] issued a warning about an outbreak of Zika in Brazil and said there was potential for it to spread to other countries.

The virus causes symptoms which are similar to CHIKV [chikungunya virus] and is transmitted by the same vector -- the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito.

Communities have been plagued by mosquitoes over the past few weeks, with residents in Portmore [Saint Catherine parish] in particular complaining bitterly about the insects, which they say have descended on their homes in droves. The nuisance is also evident in the Corporate Area [Kingston area], and has citizens concerned about whether the country could soon find itself in the throes of yet another mosquito-borne disease.  [Byline: Alphea Saunders]
====================
[The situation in Jamaica is not clear at the moment. Because infections with Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses are difficult to distinguish from each other clinically, laboratory confirmation is essential. One hopes that laboratory tests will be carried out to confirm or rule out Zika virus infections in these cases. It would be of interest to know where the confirmed cases reported by the Opposition Senator were tested, if they were tested at all. ProMED awaits further news from Jamaica with interest.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Jamaica can be accessed at
More ...

Saudi Arabia

Travelling to the Hajj
============================
Background
Every devout Muslim seeks to perform the Hajj on at least one occasion during their life. This pilgrimage, which is a central duty of Islam, brings Muslims from all over the wor
d together as they visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Each year over two million gather to celebrate the five 'pillars' of Islam.
Coping with the Climate
The dates for this festival vary from year to year but this year it is in December. In the evenings it can be significantly cold in 'tent city' and so travellers should bear this in mind when packing.
Travel Restrictions
With this massive influx of people travel in and out of Saudi can be difficult and, where possible, plans should be made well in advance.
Care for the pilgrims
The Saudi government seek to provide the highest level of health care possible for those visiting their Kingdom. This has involved the setting up of a series of rules and regulations which need to be observed. Nevertheless every pilgrim should ensure that their own personal health is sufficient before agreeing to travel. This may involve a consultation with their GP - especially if they have any underlying medical conditions.
Food Restrictions
No food is allowed into Saudi during this time and will be confiscated on arrival.
Vaccine Requirements
In order to reduce the risk of certain diseases the Saudi authorities insist on all travellers providing correctly certified evidence of vaccination against some diseases.
Meningitis
All travellers are required to provide evidence of vaccination against Meningococcal Meningitis (ACYW-135). This vaccine has to have been given to every traveller within the previous three years and at least 10 days before arrival into Saudi Arabia. (Other vaccinations against Meningitis C or Meningococcal A&C are not acceptable.)
Compulsory Medications
Some travellers arriving from what are regarded as 'higher risk' countries will also be given prophylactic antibiotics to lessen the possibility of their carrying Meningococcal Meningitis into the country. This is a compulsory requirement - though the medication given varies depending on the age of the individual and whether or not the female traveller is pregnant.
Yellow Fever
It is also essential for some travellers to have evidence of Yellow Fever vaccination certification. Generally this is only required for those arriving from the countries of Africa and South America. This vaccine needs to have been given within the previous 10 years and at least 10 days before arrival.
Other Recommended Vaccines
Even though it is not a requirement of entry to perform the Hajj or visit Saudi Arabia, travellers are strongly advised to consider the following vaccinations;
Influenza / Pneumococci
These are air-borne diseases and the close proximity of so many pilgrims will make the risk of contracting either or both of these highly infectious diseases much higher. Influenza vaccine needs to be given each year where as Pneumococcal vaccine is often only given on one occasion in a lifetime.
Poliomyelitis
This viral disease is disappearing from much of the world and may be eradicated within a few years. However during 2005 a significant number of outbreaks occurred in various African countries and India. The Hajj was linked to outbreaks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia itself. Vaccination is recommended for all unprotected travellers.
Hepatitis A / Typhoid
With such a massive number of people to be catered for it is hardly surprising that the level of food and water borne disease is high. These vaccines are strongly recommended for all travellers. They provide excellent protection but all travellers will still need to exercise extra care to lessen their personal exposure.
Hepatitis B
The main specific risk of contracting Hepatitis B probably relates to the ritual head shaving which is performed as part of the celebrations. Professional barbers are used and long lines of men wait for their turn. In some cases the blade is not changed between shaves and this potentially presents a serious risk of contamination with Hepatitis B infection.
Ritual sacrifice
It should also be noted that during the celebrations a ritual sacrifice of a small animal is performed. Pilgrims are strongly advised not to undertake the actual act of sacrifice themselves - unless they are very experienced - as otherwise they could seriously injury themselves.
Avoiding Accidents and Dehydration
The desire to perform the Hajj is strong and it is an emotional time for any Muslim. Unfortunately the presence of so many other pilgrims in a very confined space at the same time does increase the risk of various diseases and accidents. This includes the risk of being crushed, as has occurred with disastrous consequences in the past. The degree of dehydration can also be high as there is a significant amount of exercise and walking involved. A good pair of comfortable walking shoes is certainly worth the investment. It will also be important to bring some plasters to treat minor injuries and blisters.
Being Separated from Companions
Due to the numbers involved it is very easy to become separated from travelling companions. It is wise to have a plan in place before arriving so that each member of the party knows where to meet.
Overview
It is extremely important that all those undertaking this pilgrimage recognise the necessity to stay constantly alert to the personal health and accident risks which are present and do everything within their power to avoid them. The Tropical Medical Bureau centres throughout Ireland usually carry both the required and the recommended vaccines for travellers to the Hajj. Appointments should be made well in advance of visa application to ensure that these are given in sufficient time.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 13 May 2020 04:48:26 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, May 13, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will enforce a round-the-clock nationwide curfew during the five-day Eid al-Fitr holiday later this month to fight the coronavirus, the interior ministry said Tuesday, as infections spike.   The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf region, is scrambling to limit the spread of the deadly disease.   A full lockdown will be reimposed around the country from May 23-27, the ministry said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency. The period coincides with the Muslim festival that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Most parts of the kingdom were put under full lockdown following the outbreak, but last month the government relaxed the curfew between the hours of 9am and 5pm.   Malls and retailers have been allowed to reopen, except in major hotspots including the holy city of Mecca -- where confirmed cases have soared, despite a stringent lockdown.   The health ministry said Tuesday the number of COVID-19 deaths had risen to 264 and confirmed infections to 42,925, while 15,257 people have recovered.   In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.   The Arab world's biggest economy has also closed cinemas and restaurants and halted flights as it attempts to contain the virus.   King Salman has warned of a "more difficult" fight ahead against COVID-19, as the kingdom faces the double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.
Date: Sun, 26 Apr 2020 17:25:00 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, April 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday a $265 million deal with a Chinese firm to ramp up coronavirus testing as the kingdom eased a 24-hour curfew, except in hotspots including Islam's holy city of Mecca.   The agreement with China's Beijing Genome Institute (BGI) will provide for nine million COVID-19 tests, the government said in a statement.   It said in line with the agreement "500 experts, specialists, and technicians" would come from China to conduct the tests.   The deal, which has a total value of 995 million riyals, also includes "the establishment of six large regional laboratories in a number of areas in the kingdom, including a mobile laboratory with a production capacity of 10,000 tests daily", it added.

Earlier the government decided to relax a nationwide curfew between 9am and 5pm, with malls and retailers allowed to reopen until May 13, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.   But a round-the-clock lockdown will be maintained in some areas including Mecca, where the highest number of infections have been recorded in recent days despite the city being sealed off.   Many countries around the Middle East and North Africa have the easing of lockdown restrictions to coincide the holy fasting month of Ramadan which began on Friday.

Saudi Arabia, which has reported the highest number of infections in the Arab world, is scrambling to limit the spread of coronavirus at home.    On Sunday, the health ministry said the number of deaths from COVID-19 had risen to 139, confirmed infections to 17,522 while  2,357 people have recovered.   Last month, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading in Islam's holiest cities.   Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj, scheduled for the end of July, but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.

Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.   The Arab world's biggest economy has also closed cinemas, malls and restaurants and halted flights as it attempts to contain the virus.   King Salman has warned of a "more difficult" fight ahead against the virus, as the kingdom faces the economic impact of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.
Date: Thu, 23 Apr 2020 20:22:39 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, April 23, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest shrines, has announced that the holy fasting month of Ramadan will start Friday, as Muslims worldwide face unprecedented restrictions to counter coronavirus.   "Based on the sighting of the new month's moon ... it has been decided that Friday is the start of the month of Ramadan," the royal court said Thursday in a statement cited by the SPA news agency.

King Salman said he is saddened that Muslims cannot pray at mosques because of coronavirus restrictions.   "I am pained that the holy month arrives amid circumstances that make us unable to perform group prayers and Taraweeh -- special Ramadan night prayers -- at mosques due to precautionary measures to protect the peoples' lives and health in combating the coronavirus pandemic," the king said in a statement cited by SPA.

Observant Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk during Ramadan and gather with family to break the fast in the evening.   It is also a month of prayers during which Muslims traditionally converge in large numbers at mosques, especially at night.   But due to the coronavirus, almost all Muslim majority countries have closed mosques and asked people to pray at home in addition to imposing curfews to limit the spread of the deadly virus.

In Yemen, the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Sanaa noted that Ramadan comes as the country struggles with war and affliction.   "People across Yemen will mark Islam's holy month this year amid ongoing conflict, seasonal diseases, floods and rising prices, in a country where the economic situation doesn't allow two thirds of the population to access or afford enough food," the ICRC said in a statement.

The United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen called for the cessation of hostilities in a war which has killed tens of thousands of civilians.   "To the parties to the conflict, I say: be guided by the spirit of the Holy month and put an end to the suffering of your people," Martin Griffiths said.   "Put down the arms. Release all those who lost their liberty due to the conflict. Open humanitarian corridors. Focus on coordinating your efforts to help your country respond to the pandemic outbreak and other emergency needs," he added.

Most Arab countries including Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and Bahrain have announced Friday as the first day of Ramadan.   Several countries have eased restrictions on the occasion of the holy month with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other countries reducing the duration of the lockdowns.

The UAE said on Thursday it has decided to ease a total lockdown to an eight-hour nightly curfew and also moved to partially reopen malls and markets.   The start date of Ramadan, the holiest Muslim month, is set by both lunar calculations and physical sightings which determine when one month ends and another begins.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 15:38:38 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia's health minister on Tuesday warned of a huge spike in coronavirus cases of up to 200,000 within the coming weeks, state media reported.   "Within the next few weeks, studies predict the number of infections will range from a minimum of 10,000 to a maximum of 200,000," the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah.
Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2020 15:39:06 +0100 (MET)

Riyadh, March 24, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Tuesday reported its first death from the new coronavirus as the total number of infections spiked to 767, according to the health ministry.   An Afghan resident in the western city of Medina died from the virus, the ministry said, while reporting 205 new infections -- the biggest jump in the kingdom in a single day.

Saudi Arabia, which has reported the highest number of infections in the Gulf, began implementing a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew on Monday to limit the spread of the deadly COVID-19.   The Arab world's biggest economy has also closed down cinemas, malls and restaurants, halted flights and suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage as it steps up efforts to contain the virus.   King Salman warned on Thursday of a "more difficult" fight ahead against the virus, as the kingdom faces the double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.

Last week, the kingdom unveiled stimulus measures amounting to 120 billion riyals ($32 billion) to support businesses and said it plans to raise borrowing to 50 percent of GDP.   Similar restrictions and stimulus measures have been reported by other countries in the Gulf, where more than 2,100 coronavirus infections have been reported so far.

Bahrain recorded its third death from the virus on Tuesday, while Oman said it would from March 29 suspend all passenger flights -- except to and from Musandam bordering the United Arab Emirates.   Meanwhile, Kuwait's cabinet on Tuesday said anyone caught intentionally spreading the virus could face up to 10 years in jail, according to state media.   Kuwait -- which has recorded 191 cases so far -- has taken the strictest measures in the Gulf by largely locking down the country to combat the spread of COVID-19.
More ...

Seychelles

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 4 May 2020 17:53:05 +0200 (METDST)

Victoria, Seychelles, May 4, 2020 (AFP) - Life in the Seychelles began returning to normal on Monday as authorities relaxed confinement measures, with no new coronavirus cases recorded in almost a month and only 11 people infected in the island nation.

The archipelago went into lockdown on April 8, two days after the last case of the virus was recorded, shutting non-essential services and banning all movement aside from grocery shopping.   A few days later a nighttime curfew was added to the measures.   The restrictions were applied to Mahe, the main island as well as the second and third most-populated islands Praslin and La Digue.   On Monday most businesses were allowed to re-open and people were once again moving freely and going to work -- few of whom wore a mask.

Authorities have called on citizens to nevertheless maintain social distancing measures and remain vigilant.   "We have won the battle but we have not won the war. We must remain vigilant and prevent the spread of the virus in the Seychelles at all cost," said Public Health Commissioner Jude Gedeon.   Only three of the original patients remain ill.    Some restrictions will remain in place. Schools will not open until mid-May and bars and restaurants in June. Gatherings of more than four people are still banned.

The Indian Ocean archipelago of 115 islands is a paradise for luxury tourism, and welcomed more than 360,000 visitors in 2018 -- a figure four times its population.   The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global tourism has hit the islands hard. The government banned cruise ships and shut its international airport when the first cases were announced on March 14.

The airport is due to re-open on June 1, although borders will remain closed to countries which still count active cases of the virus.    Authorities do not expect tourists to return until September.   The absence of tourists has led the Seychellois rupee to drop 30 percent to the US dollar and the euro in recent weeks.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 09:58:17 +0100 (MET)
By Nicolas DELAUNAY

Les Mamelles, Seychelles, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - On a plain suburban street in Seychelles, far from the idyllic coastline and luxury resorts pampering honeymooners and paradise-seekers, heroin addicts queue anxiously for their daily dose of methadone.   It is a scene few outsiders would associate with the tropical nirvana adrift in the Indian Ocean, and one rarely, if ever, glimpsed by tourists as they shuttle from the airport to five-star luxury on white-sand beaches.

But life for many Seychellois is far from picture perfect: the tiny archipelago nation is battling what officials say are the world's highest rates of heroin addiction.   Nearly 5,000 people are hooked, government figures show, equivalent to nearly 0 percent of the national workforce -- a statistic that has startled the government into action.

In comparison, 0.4 percent of the global population consumed opioids in 2016, half of them in Asia, according to a United Nations report that puts Seychelles among the top consumers alongside producing countries such as Afghanistan.   The Seychelles' heroin boom, which took off over the past decade, gripped young and old alike and cut across class lines.   Among those queueing in the town of Les Mamelles for methadone -- a substitute narcotic used to wean users off heroin -- are parents with young children, an old man leaning on a cane and a taxi driver between shifts.

Graham Moustache, a 29-year-old father of two, described how the arrival of affordable and high-quality heroin in Seychelles swept up his entire family.   "I have four brothers and two sisters, and we have all been heroin addicts at one point," he told AFP, tracing his fingers over the needle scars on his arms.   "I've been to prison twice," he said, adding his mother had turned him in as "she didn't know what to do any more".   "Sometimes, I didn't have enough to eat and I had to choose between eating and buying heroin. I chose heroin."

- Soaring addiction -
The rise of new trafficking routes through East Africa in the late 2000s, coupled with porous borders and relatively high purchasing power among Seychellois, flooded the paradisal islands with heroin.   The average salary in the archipelago is $420 (390) -- high compared to other African nations.   The World Bank considers the Seychelles the only high-income country on the continent, thanks to the growing tourism industry.    But around 40 percent of the population still lives in poverty.

By 2011, around 1,200 people were addicted, prompting a punitive crackdown.   "We did not make a difference between the victim and the trafficker," said Patrick Herminie, director of the state-run Agency for Drug Abuse Prevention and Rehabilitation (APDAR).   By 2017, addiction had risen four-fold, placing Seychelles among the world's most drug-dependent nations.   The government, realising its war on drugs had failed, changed tack and declared a public health emergency.   "The magnitude of the problem is simply because we reacted a bit late," Herminie said.

Money has poured into combating the scourge, with state funds for drug prevention and rehabilitation programmes soaring to 75 million Seychelles rupees ($5.5 million) in 2020 -- almost 10 times the 2016 budget.    APDAR, a specialist drug agency created in 2017 to tackle the problem, employs four times as many staff as the body that preceded it.   A state-run methadone programme has reached 2,500 people, with medical follow-ups helping to track their progress.    But the free availability of methadone has also prompted drug dealers to lower their prices.

Mobile clinics drive around offering methadone to addicts and providing free health checks and advice.    "I've been clean for more than a year. I found a job as a fisherman, and I can see my two kids," said Moustache proudly, as he queued at the white methadone van staffed with healthcare workers.   Others have struggled to stay the course.   "Methadone helps me a lot, but it's difficult not to take heroin at all," said Gisele Moumou, an emaciated 32-year-old addict, drawing ragged breaths and sweating as she waits for her small cup of methadone.

- Stopping the scourge  -
Schoolchildren are being taught about the damage done by drugs through awareness campaigns and billboards in classrooms.    But there is much work to be done, especially among children from families affected by drug use, says Noellie Gonthier from CARE, a local harm-reduction charity.   "Sometimes, four- or five-year-olds at school mimic injecting heroin," she said.   "Our challenge is to make them understand that what they consider normal -- because of their family context -- actually isn't at all."   On Mahe, a small, mountainous island with lush vegetation, most of the population lives near the water. Life is quiet here, without traffic, and the streets are mostly clean.

Poverty is largely hidden, concentrated in a few neighbourhoods behind faded walls or in the hills.   So why do so many Seychellois take drugs? The authorities admit they haven't quite figured it out, but say it appears that while poverty does not quite allow people to live well, it allows them enough money to buy drugs to forget their woes.   "The root of the cause, we're still working on it," said Herminie.   Early studies show that health and social problems associated with heroin use have declined since the government switched its response from punishment to prevention, officials say.

Crime has nearly halved and annual cases of new hepatitis C infections have fallen 60 percent.    Youth unemployment, meanwhile, has shrunk from 6.5 percent to 2.1 percent in recent years.   One recovering addict, a taxi driver who did not want to be named, offered a bleak assessment as he waited for his daily methadone in an empty car park in Les Mamelles.    "We're a small island in the middle of the ocean. What else is there to do here?" he said.
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:59:31 +0100 (MET)
By Nicolas DELAUNAY

Cousin Island, Seychelles, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Giant tortoises amble across Cousin Island as rare birds flit above.   The scene attests to a stunning success for BirdLife International, a conservation group that bought the tiny Seychelles isle in 1968 to save a songbird from extinction.   Thick vegetation smothers ruins that are the only reminder of the coconut and cinnamon plantations that covered the island when the group stepped in to protect the Seychelles Warbler.

Now teeming with flora and fauna and boasting white beaches, Cousin Island is firmly on the tourist map, with managers scrambling to contain visitor numbers and soften their negative environmental impact.    More than 16,000 people visited the island in 2018, compared with 12,000 a decade earlier.   "Tourism is important for Cousin. That's what allows us to finance the conservation projects we run here.    "But 16,000 tourists... that was too much," said Nirmal Shah, director of Nature Seychelles, which is charged with running the special reserve.

Before the island was in private hands, the population of Seychelles Warblers was thought to have shrunk to just 26, barely hanging on in a mangrove swamp after much of their native habitat had been destroyed.    Now, they number more than 3,000 and the greenish-brown bird has been reintroduced to four other islands in the archipelago.   The former plantations have transformed into native forests, teeming with lizards, hermit crabs and seabirds, and the island is the most important nesting site for hawksbill turtles in the western Indian Ocean.   The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) waxes lyrical about the "unique biodiversity and conservation achievements" of Cousin, "the first island purchased for species conservation", a model since replicated around the world.

- Nature first -
Tourists have been allowed onto the island since 1972, but the message is clear: nature comes first.   In a well-oiled routine, every morning a handful of luxury sailboats and small motorboats anchor off the island, where their occupants wait for Nature Seychelles to skipper them ashore on their boats.   "Tourist boats cannot land directly on the island, the biohazard risk is too big," Shah said.   "Non-indigenous animals who may accidently be on board could come to the island and threaten its (ecological) balance."   Too many tourists can also upset this balance.

Nature Seychelles in July increased the price of visits from 33 to 40 euros ($36 to $44) and removed a free pass for children under 15, resulting in a welcome 10-percent reduction in visitor numbers.   "Something had to be done, there was too much pressure on the environment," said Dailus Laurence, the chief warden of the island.   "When there are too many tourists it can bother nesting birds and turtles who want to come and lay their eggs on the island."

One guide said that some tourists, bothered by the island's ubiquitous mosquitos, would "leave the paths, move away from the group and walk where they are not supposed to", putting fragile habitats at risk.   Shah said that if they wanted to increase the number of tourists, it would require hiring more wardens and guides who live on the island, which would also have a negative impact on nature.   "Our absolute priority is nature, and it comes before tourists. If we have to take more steps to protect it and reduce the number of tourists, we will," he said.
Date: Mon, 30 Dec 2019 08:31:15 +0100 (MET)

Victoria, Seychelles, Dec 30, 2019 (AFP) - A French tourist was seriously injured after being attacked by a shark while swimming in the Seychelles, a popular tourist destination, the French ambassador said Monday.   The attack on the 45-year-old woman took place Sunday night off the island of Praslin, the second-largest in the picturesque archipelago famed for its pristine beaches.    The victim was injured in one arm and was transported to a hospital.    "She underwent an operation last night and her life is not in danger," Ambassador Dominique Mas told AFP.    The attack comes during the high tourist season for the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands located off the coast of East Africa in the Indian Ocean.

Such incidents are rare in the Seychelles, though two tourists -- one French and one British -- were killed in shark attacks off Praslin in August 2011.    Officials said Praslin's relatively cool waters could attract sharks during breeding.     The Seychelles Maritime Safety Administration (SMSA) cordoned off the area where Sunday's attack occurred to search for the shark.    The SMSA also imposed a temporary ban on swimming in the area.
18th Oct 2017
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/seychelles-plague-negative/en/ 

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

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

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

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

WHO currently assesses the risk of spread of plague in the Seychelles to be low.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 19 May 2020 16:23:23 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 19, 2020 (AFP) - This year's Dublin marathon scheduled for October 25 was cancelled on Tuesday despite Ireland's move to lift coronavirus lockdown measures, indicating potential long-term disruption caused by the outbreak.   Ireland plans to have fully lifted restrictions well before October, in a staggered process that began on Monday.   But organisers indicated the race -- which had 22,500 entrants last year -- would still not go ahead because of safety fears.   "We made the difficult decision in the best interest of the health and well-being of all those involved in making our events such a success from runners, supporters, volunteers, sponsors, to suppliers," said race director Jim Aughney.   "We explored many alternatives for running the events safely but ultimately none were viable."    Ireland's five-stage "roadmap" to reopen the nation is due to be completed in August, when the current ban on mass gatherings of more than 5,000 people is set to expire.   The cancellation suggests coronavirus fallout may last longer than suggested by official plans and could hit similar events.

The London Marathon, which attracts tens of thousands of runners, has been postponed until October 4.    "We need to be aware that we will continue to be in the acute emergency phase of this crisis for some time with further waves an ever present danger," the health department Secretary-General Jim Breslin told a special parliamentary committee on the crisis.   "This is not a one, a two or even a three-day storm, after which we move to a recovery phase. The acute phase of this crisis will definitely be measured in months and most probably in years."   Ireland has suffered 1,547 deaths from COVID-19, according to the department of health.   On Monday the number of daily deaths had fallen from a peak of 77 to just four.   "We have suppressed the virus and limited its impact on public health," said chief medical officer Tony Holohan on Monday.   "We need to sustain this in the weeks and phases ahead."
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 18:54:14 +0200 (METDST)

Paris, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Air France said Monday it hoped to double the number of cities it serves, including over 40 European destinations, by the end of June as nations begin to lift coronavirus travel restrictions.   "Between now and the end of June and subject to travel restrictions being lifted, Air France plans to gradually resume its flights,"  the airline said.   Like other airlines, Air France grounded most of its planes as governments imposed stay-at-home orders and demand for travel evaporated. 

Air France said it was currently operating between three and five percent of its usual schedule and serving 43 destinations for essential passenger traffic as well as cargo.   The airline, which received a 7-billion-euro rescue package from the French government, listed more than 90 destinations it hopes to serve by the end of June.   That would be equivalent to 15 percent of its normal schedule, and use 75 of its fleet of 224 aircraft.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 18:20:03 +0200 (METDST)

Abuja, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Nigeria's government on Monday extended a coronavirus lockdown on the northern region of Kano after it became a hotspot for new infections.    The head of the country's coronavirus taskforce, Boss Mustapha, said the lockdown on the economic hub -- which includes Nigeria's second biggest city -- would be prolonged for two weeks.    The authorities will also start to impose "precision" lockdowns in any other areas that report a "rapidly increasing number of cases, when the need arises", he said.    The outbreak in Kano has become a major cause of concern after medics and residents last month began reporting a spike in deaths.

Regional officials at first put the "unexplained" fatalities down to other ailments, but government investigators later said coronavirus was suspected in most cases.    Neighbouring states to Kano have also begun reporting suspicious surges in death tolls that authorities are scrambling to investigate.    Nigeria has confirmed 5,959 infections and 182 deaths from the novel coronavirus across the country.    Kano is the second hardest hit region with 825 confirmed cases and 36 fatalities.   The region has already been under lockdown for a month but enforcement has been lax and measures have been eased sporadically for people to buy food during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Testing has been a key problem across Nigeria and only 35,345 samples have so far been screened in Africa's most populous nation of 200 million people.    Mustapha insisted there had been a slowdown in the transmission rate of the virus, "elongating the doubling time" from seven to 11 days.    But he announced that measures would remain in place limiting businesses and restricting crowds across the rest of the country despite earlier plans to gradually roll them back.     "Nigeria is not yet ready for full opening of the economy and tough decisions have to be taken for the good of the greater majority," he said.   The government has also imposed a night-time curfew and made mask wearing mandatory in all regions.     Mustapha complained that "non-compliance was rampant" with social distancing measures.     "The fight against COVID-19 is long-term as the virus is not likely to go away very soon," he said.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 17:21:58 +0200 (METDST)

Stockholm, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Sweden, whose softer approach to the new coronavirus pandemic has garnered worldwide attention, recorded its deadliest month in almost three decades in April, according to statistics released on Monday.   Sweden has stopped short of introducing the restrictive lockdowns seen elsewhere in Europe, instead opting for an approach based on the "principle of responsibility".

The Scandinavian country has kept schools open for children under the age of 16, along with cafes, bars, restaurants and businesses, and urged people to respect social distancing guidelines.   A total of 10,458 deaths were recorded in the country of 10.3 million inhabitants in April, Statistics Sweden said.   "We have to go back to December 1993 to find more dead during a single month," Tomas Johansson, population statistician at Statistics Sweden, said in a statement.

In total, 97,008 deaths were recorded in Sweden during the whole of 1993, which in turn was the deadliest year since 1918, when the Spanish flu pandemic ravaged the country.   Johansson told AFP there was no official breakdown explaining the high death toll in December 1993 but said there was a flu epidemic at the time.   According to preliminary data, the number of deaths has been on the decline since the end of April, including in Stockholm -- the epicentre of the Swedish epidemic -- where the highest number of deaths were recorded in early April.

The Swedish approach to the novel coronavisrus has come under criticism both at home and abroad, particularly as the number of deaths has far exceeded those in neighbouring Nordic countries, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures.   On Monday, Sweden reported a total of 30,377 confirmed cased of the new coronavirus and 3,698 deaths.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 16:52:05 +0200 (METDST)

Helsinki, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Finland's national airline will restart routes between Europe and Asia in July once countries begin to lift coronavirus restrictions on travel, the company announced on Monday.   Beijing and Shanghai will be the first long-haul destinations to reopen, alongside Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok and three Japanese routes, Finnair said in a statement.

Flights to Delhi and New York will follow in August.    The move makes Finnair one of the first European carriers to restart intercontinental flights, after the Lufthansa Group announced on Friday it would resume 19 long-haul routes by early June.   "We expect aviation to recover gradually, starting in July," Finnair chief commercial officer Ole Orver said in a statement, adding that the company intends to bring its operations back to one-third of normal capacity.

Finnair cut 90 percent of its flights on April 1 and issued a profit warning as coronavirus restrictions brought international passenger travel almost to a standstill.     Facemasks will be mandatory on all Finnair flights "until at least the end of August," Finnair spokeswoman Paivyt Tallqvist told AFP.     "We have also taken a number of steps to avoid unnecessary movement on board," Tallqvist said, including having passengers disembark in smaller groups, and limiting capacity of shuttle bus transport between aircraft and the terminal to 50 percent.

Flights along the so-called "shorter northern route" between Helsinki and Asia, bypassing the Middle East, have been a key part of the Finnish carrier's growth strategy in recent years, with passenger numbers on its Asian routes doubling between 2010 and 2018.    On Monday, Finnair also announced it would restart 26 European routes in July, including to Brussels, Moscow, Prague and Paris.    Destinations including Rome, Madrid and Warsaw would be added in August, the firm said.     Finnair said it would open further routes on a monthly basis depending on demand and how travel restrictions change over the summer.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 10:28:18 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland launched the first tentative step in its plan to lift coronavirus lockdown on Monday, with staff returning to outdoor workplaces as some shops resumed trade and sports facilities unlocked their doors.   The modest tweaks to the restrictions in place since 28 March start a staggered process set to stretch until August.

"I'm both pleased and nervous," health minister Simon Harris told state broadcaster RTE.    "I'm pleased that we've gotten to this point because of the incredible efforts of the Irish people in suppressing this virus."   "I'm nervous because the virus hasn't gone away, there still isn't a vaccine, there's still people in our country getting very sick, and there's still people dying every day."

Shops such as garden centres, hardware stores and farmers markets were permitted to open their doors whilst outdoor staff such as builders and gardeners returned to workplaces.   Football pitches, tennis courts and golf courses were also allowed to resume business whilst maintaining strict social distancing.

Meanwhile citizens were permitted to meet in small gatherings outside of people from different households.   But Harris urged caution as the republic took its first step in trying "to live successfully and safely alongside the virus".   "Just because somewhere is open doesn't mean we need to go," he said.   There have been 1,543 deaths from COVID-19 in Ireland according to the department for health.

Reported daily deaths peaked at 77 on 20 April, but by Sunday the figure had fallen to just 10.   As with other nations officials remain fearful a second wave of infections could inundate the healthcare system.   But Prime minister Leo Varadkar confirmed on Friday that Ireland would press ahead to the first of its five step plan to reopen the nation.   "This gives us reason to hope, but it is not a cause for celebration.  We have a long way to go yet," Varadkar said in a statement.

The fallout of the lockdown changes will be monitored for three weeks before the government decides whether to move to the next stage in the "roadmap" to reopening.   "Coronavirus is an inferno that is raging around the world", said Varadkar.   "In Ireland it is now a fire in retreat but it's not defeated -- we must extinguish every spark."
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 22:46:20 +0200 (METDST)
By Román ORTEGA, Iván DUARTE y Germán CAMPOS

Puebla, Mexico, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Scores of Mexicans are dying from drinking adulterated liquor, a consequence of the shortage of mainstream alcoholic beverages during the coronavirus pandemic, authorities say.   The first of at least 121 deaths in recent weeks occurred at the end of April in the western state of Jalisco, almost exactly a month after the government declared a health emergency over the spread of COVID-19.   Much of Mexico has run out of beer after factories producing liquor and beer were shut down, along with other non-essential firms.

Beer stocks were practically depleted within a month, and in some areas the prices of what was left doubled, according to industry sources.    Many of the 53 deaths in central Puebla province have been linked to a wake where people drank moonshine containing methanol -- a wood alcohol that in non-lethal doses can cause blindness and liver damage.    Twenty-three people died in the hours following the gathering in the town of Chiconcuautla, according to authorities.   The town's mayor said the popular "refino" drink, made from sugarcane, had been adulterated.

German Hernandez said his father died after being poisoned by drink known locally as "tejon" -- a blend of brandy with tejocote fruit (a type of hawthorn), in the Puebla town of Cacaloxuchitl.   "They sell it in the stores, and you can buy it and take it out. My father began trembling and feeling weak. He told us he felt bad, and we took him to the hospital," Hernandez told AFP.   "This has never happened before."    Deaths have also been recorded in the central state of Morelos and Yucatan and Veracruz in the east.

- Mafia trade -
Gangs specializing in bootleg booze are trying to take advantage of the lack of alternative alcohol sources during the shutdown.    "They usually have very well-structured mafias, and some escape the surveillance of the authorities," Ricardo Cardenas of the Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risks told AFP.   "We presume that, as a result of this shortage and demand being very high, some people are offering or trying to sell methanol instead of ethyl alcohol," said Denis de Santiago, head of Sanitary Risks in Jalisco.

Methanol is used in fuel, solvents and antifreeze.   The country's largest beer producers, Grupo Modelo -- which makes the popular Corona beer -- and Heineken, which makes Sol, halted production in early April.   Alcohol sales have been banned in some states, including Yucatan. In others, alcoholic beverages can only be purchased at certain times.   Some drinks companies have switched production to antibacterial gel that they are donating to the federal government and health workers.

- 'Who would have thought?' -
In Yucatan, where 38 people have died so far, victims unknowingly drank methanol in their usual "pajaretes" -- a common cocktail that includes milk, coffee, vanilla and brand-name sugarcane alcohol.   Humberto Macias, 36, said he saw three of his relatives die within days of each other after drinking a pajarete cocktail, made using a trusted brand of alcohol.   "We had always drunk it, including myself, many people. Who would have thought it was like this?" Macias said.

In the Yucatan peninsula town of Acanceh, seven people have died from alcohol poisoning.   "It's the first time I've heard of a case like this. I don't remember anything similar," the town's mayor Felipe Medina told AFP.   In Veracruz, Morelos and Yucatan, investigators are still trying to determine what drinks the victims consumed.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 19:55:15 +0200 (METDST)
By Gregory WALTON

Doha, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Qatar on Sunday began enforcing the world's toughest penalties of up to three years' in prison for failing to wear masks in public, in a country with one of the highest coronavirus infection rates.   More than 32,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the tiny Gulf country -- 1.2 percent of the 2.75 million population -- although just 15 people have died.   Only the micro-states of San Marino and the Vatican have had higher per-capita infection rates, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.   Violators of Qatar's new rules will face up to hree years in jail and fines of as much as $55,000.

Drivers alone in their vehicles are exempt from the requirement, but police erected checkpoints across the capital Doha on Sunday evening to check compliance by motorists.   Most customers gathered outside money lenders on Banks Street wore masks, while others produced a face covering when asked.   "From today it's very strict," said Majeed, a taxi driver waiting for business in the busy pedestrian area, who wore a black mask.   Heloisa, an expat resident, saw the steep penalties as "a bit of a scare tactic".   Wearing a mask is currently mandatory in around 50 countries, although scientists are divided on their effectiveness.

Authorities in Chad have made it an offence to be unmasked in public, on pain of 15 days in prison. In Morocco, similar rules can see violators jailed for three months and fined up to 1,300 dirhams ($130).   Qatari authorities have warned that gatherings during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan may have increased infections.   Abdullatif al-Khal, co-chair of Qatar's National Pandemic Preparedness Committee, said Thursday that there was "a huge risk in gatherings of families" for Ramadan meals.   "(They) led to a significant increase in the number of infections among Qataris," he said.   Neighbouring Saudi Arabia will enforce a round-the-clock nationwide curfew during the five-day Eid al-Fitr holiday later this month to fight the coronavirus.

- Labourers at risk -
Mosques, along with schools, malls, and restaurants remain closed in Qatar to prevent the disease's spread.   But construction sites remain open as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, although foremen and government inspectors are attempting to enforce social distancing rules.    Officials have said workers at three stadiums have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus. Masks have been compulsory for construction workers since April 26.   A 12-strong team of masked labourers kept their distance from one another as they worked under baking sun on a road project in Doha's blue-collar Msheireb district on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers were quarantined in Doha's gritty Industrial Area after a number of infections were confirmed there in mid-March, but authorities have begun to ease restrictions.   Khal said that most new cases were among migrant workers, although there has been a jump in infections among Qataris. He said the country had not yet reached the peak of its contagion.   Rights groups have warned that Gulf labourers' cramped living conditions, communal food preparation areas and shared bathrooms could undermine social distancing efforts and speed up the spread of the virus.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 13:43:50 +0200 (METDST)

Tehran, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Iran said Friday it had recorded nearly 7,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus, warning of infection clusters in new regions after it partially eased lockdown measures.   Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the COVID-19 illness had claimed a further 51 lives over 24 hours into Sunday.   The ministry raised the overall death toll to 6,988 since Iran announced its first fatalities in the Shiite pilgrimage city of Qom in February.   Jahanpour warned that cases were rising "in the province of Lorestan, and to some extent in Kermanshah, Sistan and Baluchistan".   "Khuzestan province is still in a critical situation," he added.

The southwestern province has become Iran's new coronavirus focal point, with the most critical "red" ranking on the country's colour-coded risk scale.   It is the only region so far where authorities have reimposed business lockdowns after a country-wide relaxation in April.   Iran stopped publishing provincial figures for the coronavirus last month, but the health ministry's latest report said there is a "rising trend or the beginning of a peak" in eight provinces, including Khuzestan.   The country on Friday reported its highest number of new infections in more than a month.   A virus taskforce official said Sunday that the increase was due to a surge in testing, not just of COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms.

Early in the outbreak "our focus was on severe cases that had to be hospitalised, but as we started to manage the disease we looked at those infected and not hospitalised," said Ali Akbar Haghdoost, head of the taskforce's epidemiology committee.   "It is possible that the reported number of infections have gone up, but this in no way means more have been infected with COVID-19," he told ISNA news agency.   According to Jahanpour, 1,806 new cases had been confirmed across Iran in the past day, bringing the total to 120,198.   Over 1,460 of the new cases were "outpatients, including those who had been in close contact with the infected," he said.

The ministry said 94,464 people hospitalised with the virus have recovered and been discharged.   Experts both at home and abroad have voiced scepticism about Iran's official figures, saying the real toll could be much higher.   Iran also cancelled rallies held annually in solidarity with the Palestinians, set for Friday next week.    President Hassan Rouhani had said Saturday that the Qods (Jerusalem) Day parades would go ahead with some measures against the virus.    But organisers said Sunday the event could not be held "decently" and would be scrapped apart from a televised speech by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 13:31:10 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar on Sunday reported the first death of a patient suffering from novel coronavirus nearly two months after it was first detected in the country, official statistics showed.   The Indian ocean island which has reported 304 cases has hit the headlines over a home-grown herbal concoction that President Andry Rajoelina claims can cure people infected with the virus.

Several African countries have ordered or expressed interest in the purported remedy, which is known as Covid-Organics.   The tonic drink is derived from artemisia -- a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment -- and other indigenous herbs.   But the World Health Organization has warned against "adopting a product that has not been taken through tests to see its efficacy".