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Aruba

Aruba US Consular Information Sheet
April 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Aruba is an autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Tourist facilities are widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Aruba for addi
ional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All Americans traveling by air outside the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.
This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009.
Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other WHTI compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S.
Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.

Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted.
We expect cards will be available and mailed to applicants in spring 2008.
The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the Passport Card is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.
We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel.
American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.

In addition visitors to Aruba may be asked to show onward/return tickets, proof of sufficient funds and proof of lodging accommodations for their stay. Length of stay for U.S. citizens is granted for thirty days and may be extended to 180 days by the office of immigration.
For further information, travelers may contact the Royal Netherlands Embassy, 4200 Linnean Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone (202) 244-5300, or the Dutch Consulate in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Houston or Miami.
Visit the web site for the Embassy of the Netherlands at http://www.netherlands-embassy.org and the Aruban Department of Immigration at http://www.aruba.com/about/entryrequirements.php 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: There are no known extremist groups, areas of instability or organized crime on Aruba, although drug trafficking rings do operate on the island.
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 Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found.

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

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

CRIME: The crime threat in Aruba is generally considered low although travelers should always take normal precautions when in unfamiliar surroundings.
There have been incidents of theft from hotel rooms and armed robberies have been known to occur. Valuables left unattended on beaches, in cars and in hotel lobbies are easy targets for theft.
Car theft, especially that of rental vehicles for joy riding and stripping, can occur. Vehicle leases or rentals may not be fully covered by local insurance when a vehicle is stolen or damaged.
Be sure you are sufficiently insured when renting vehicles and jet skis.

Parents of young travelers should be aware that the legal drinking age of 18 is not always rigorously enforced in Aruba, so extra parental supervision may be appropriate. Young female travelers in particular are urged to take the same precautions they would when going out in the United States, e.g. to travel in pairs or in groups if they choose frequenting Aruba’s nightclubs and bars, and if they opt to consume alcohol, to do so responsibly.

Anyone who is a victim of a crime should make a report to Aruban police as well as report it immediately to the nearest U.S. consular office.
Do not rely on hotel/restaurant/tour company management to make the report for you.

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, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Please see our information for American Victims of Crime Overseas.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care is good in Aruba. There is one hospital, Dr. H.E. Oduber Hospital, whose medical standards can be compared with an average small hospital in the U.S. The hospital has three classes of services and patients are accommodated according to the level of their insurance (i.e. first class: one patient to a room, TV, better food; second class: two to three patients to a room, shared bathroom, etc; third class: 15 to 20 people in one hall). There is a small medical center in San Nicolas. The many drug stores, or “boticas” provide prescription and over the counter medicine. Emergency services are usually quick to respond.
There are no country-specific health concerns.

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

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

Driving in Aruba is on the right-hand side of the road. Local laws require drivers and passengers to wear seat belts and motorcyclists to wear helmets. Children under 5 years of age should be in a child safety seat; older children should ride in the back seat. Right turns on red are prohibited in Aruba.

Aruba's main thoroughfare, L.G. Smith Boulevard, is well lit and most hotels and tourist attractions can be easily located.
There is a speed limit in Aruba and driving while intoxicated may result in the loss of a driver’s license and/or a fine.
However, these are not consistently enforced.
Drivers should be alert at all times for speeding cars, which have caused fatal accidents.
In the interior areas of the island, drivers should be alert for herds of goats or donkeys that may cross the roads unexpectedly.
Buses provide convenient and inexpensive service to and from many hotels and downtown shopping areas.
Taxis, while expensive, are safe and well regulated.
As there are no meters, passengers should verify the price before entering the taxi.
The emergency service telephone number is 911. Police and ambulance tend to respond quickly to emergency situations.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Also, travelers may wish to visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety in Aruba for information: http://www.aruba.com/pages/traffictips.htm.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Aruba’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Aruba’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: The time-share industry and other real estate investments are two of the fastest-growing tourist industries in Aruba. Time-share buyers are cautioned about contracts that do not have a "non-disturbance or perpetuity protective clause" incorporated in the purchase agreement.
Such a clause gives the time-share owner perpetuity of ownership should the facility be sold.
Americans have also sometimes complained that the time-share units are not adequately maintained, despite generally high annual maintenance fees.

Potential investors should be aware that failed land development schemes involving time-share investments could result in financial losses. Interested investors may wish to seek professional advice regarding investments involving land development projects. Real estate investment problems that reach local courts are rarely settled in favor of foreign investors.

An unusually competitive fee to rent jet skis or other water sports equipment could indicate that the dealer is unlicensed or uninsured. Visitors planning to rent jet skis or other water sports equipment should carefully review all liability and insurance forms presented to them before signing any contracts or agreements. The renter is often fully responsible for replacement costs and fees associated with any damages that occur during the rental period. Visitors may be required to pay these fees in full before being allowed to leave Aruba, and may be subject to civil or criminal penalties if they cannot or will not make payment.

Dutch law in principle does not permit dual nationality. However, there are several exceptions to the rule. For example, American citizens who are married to Dutch citizens are exempt from the requirement to abandon their American nationality when they apply to become a Dutch citizen by naturalization. For detailed information, contact the Embassy of the Netherlands in Washington, DC, or one of the Dutch consulates in the U.S.
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 be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Aruba’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Aruba are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web pages.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Aruba are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Aruba. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Consulate General is located at J.B. Gorsiraweg 1, Willemstad, Curaçao, telephone number (599-9) 461-3066; fax (599-9) 461-6489; e-mail address: acscuracao@state.gov
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated January 3, 2008, to update Entry/Exit Requirements and Crime sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 20 Jun 2009 10:52:09 +0200 (METDST)

MADRID, June 20, 2009 (AFP) - A Spanish cruise ship was turned away from three Caribbean islands after swine flu cases emerged among the crew and the 800-odd passengers finally got off in Aruba, the tour operator said Saturday.   The "Ocean Dream" docked in Aruba late Friday after being denied entry in Grenada, Saint Lucia and Barbados, Pullmantur said. Three swine flu cases were reported among the crew but the passengers were unaffected.

On Thursday, 376 Venezuelan passengers were allowed to disembark on the island of Margarita, which belongs to Venezuela.   The ship's nine-day cruise through the Caribbean was hampered by the flu outbreak and the ship could not dock at three destinations on the itinerary.   The A(H1N1) virus has infected more than 44,000 people around the world, resulting in 180 deaths since late March, WHO figures show.
Date: Wed 14 Jan 2009
Source: Amigoe.com [Dutch, machine trans., edited]

Department of Health has called an urgent press conference on Tuesday [13 Jan 2009] to issue a dengue update. The department has done this following the hundreds of calls that have come into Health, after media reports of a 53-year-old woman who died of dengue [virus infection].

According to Trevor Gellecum, Director of Health, it is still not clear that this woman indeed died of dengue. "First, certain tests can be carried out, and it will be 3 weeks before the results could be known," says Van Gellecum. "These tests should be carried out in a laboratory abroad."

According to Wilmer Salazar, microbiologist at Health, the woman had a fever at the weekend, but on Monday [12 Jan 2009] she felt better and she went to work. "Later that day, she was admitted to the hospital in shock. At night she died, "said Salazar. "Until now, there is no confirmed diagnosis of the cause of death, but dengue is suspected. Today [14 Jan 2009], an autopsy was performed so that the tests to be done abroad can take place."

Maribel Tromp, manager at the department of epidemiology and research of the Infectious Disease Service, has indicated that so far 612 suspected cases of dengue have been registered. "Of these, 218 cases [have been] confirmed as positive by the laboratory, and 394 are still under investigation, reports Tromp. "This does not mean that they are negative" [The dates over which these cases occurred are not specified. - ProMed Mod.TY].

 From the moment the news of a potentially fatal dengue victim arose lately, Charline Koolma, director of the Yellow Fever Fight Unit (GKMB), indicated that they have been overwhelmed with calls from people reporting family members possibly with dengue-like symptoms or who want information about the disease. "It is good that we now receive phone calls, although it also had previously been possible. These kinds of extreme cases can be avoided," according Koolman.

"From November last year [2008], the GKMB made several visits to monitor presence of [the dengue virus vector mosquito _Aedes_] breeding sites and adult mosquitoes. Often, the residents are not home, and then a letter was left with an invitation to make contact with the GKMB for the transmission of important information. But there is never a return call until something bad happens, and then it is often too late."

The more information and reports the GKMB gets, the better the service and their work, said Tromp. Finally, all speakers [at the press conference] called on the population and general practitioners to join forces against breeding of the _Aedes_ dengue vector mosquito. Health officials indicated that is the only way to avoid [virus] infection and prevent dengue.
------------------------
[A map showing the location of Aruba in the Caribbean can be accessed at <http://www.aruba-travelguide.com/map/index.html>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Sun, 2 Sep 2007 19:04:55 +0200 (METDST) MIAMI, Sept 2, 2007 (AFP) - Hurricane Felix barreled through the Caribban Sunday, with forecasters predicting a brush with Aruba and warning of its potential to strengthen into a devastating storm. Forecasters issued a tropical storm warning and hurricane watch for the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao -- popular tourist destinations in the Netherlands Antilles. A tropical storm watch also has been issued for Jamaica, which was gearing up for violence-marred elections Monday, after Felix was upgraded overnight to Category Two strength on the Saffir-Sampson scale, which peaks at five. At around 1500 GMT Felix's maximum sustained winds were 105 miles (165 kilometers) per hour, and its trek across the open waters of the Caribbean could allow it to attain "major hurricane" status, US forecasters said. "I see no reason why Felix will not become a major hurricane within 12 hours or so," said Richard Pasch, a hurricane specialist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. On Saturday, a weaker Felix passed close to Grenada, reportedly ripping roofs, downing power lines and knocking radio and TV stations off the air. No injuries were reported. The center of the hurricane around 1600 GMT Sunday was about 50 miles (75 kilometers) north of Aruba and about 550 miles (900 kilometers) southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. Felix was moving in a west-northwesterly direction at around 18 miles (30 kilometers) per hour, and was expected to follow the same course throughout Sunday. The storm was not expected to hit Jamaica directly, but its strong outer squalls could rock the island ahead of the elections on Monday. Jamaican officials had already postponed the general election from August 27, after the island was struck last month by Hurricane Dean. Last week, Dean swept through the southern Caribbean with severe winds and rains, leaving a wide swathe of damage and a death toll of 30 from Martinique to Mexico. Felix's track was expected to take it toward Belize or the Yucatan in Mexico, possibly making landfall as a major Category Three hurricane Wednesday. The storm could dump two to four inches (five to 10 centimeters) of rain over islands off the Venezuela coast and the Netherlands Antilles, US forecasters said. On its current path Felix is expected to graze the coastlines of Nicaragua and Honduras late Tuesday and make landfall in Belize on Wednesday. Felix is the second hurricane of the three-month-old Atlantic season, and the first in September, historically the busiest month for hurricanes.
Date: Thu, 9 Sep 2004 10:12:08 +0200 (METDST) CARACAS, Sept 9 (AFP) - Hurricane Ivan has killed at least 11 people in Tobago, Grenada and Venezuela as the it churned off Venezuela's coast Thursday, strengthening to the top Category 5 storm, officials and local media said. Ivan was 135 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of Aruba and 915 kilometers (570 miles) from Jamaica, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said at 0600 GMT. Its category was raised to a Category 5 hurricane -the top level on the Saffir Simpson hurricane scale, with maximum sustained winds near 255 kilometers (160 miles) per hour. "Some fluctuations in strength are likely," the center said. The "extremely dangerous" hurricane was moving west-northwest at 28 kilometers (17 miles) per hour with urricane force winds extend outward from Ivan's eye up to 95 kilometers (60 miles). Storm surges of 1.0-1.5 meters (three to five feet) as well as rains of 13-18 centimeters (seven five to seven inches) are to be expected. The center issued hurricane warnings for Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. A television station in Trinidad and Tobago said nine people had died in Grenada, a tiny island nation of 90,000 inhabitants, which Prime Minister Keith Mitchell said was 85 percent destroyed. Power lines were down and hundreds of persons have taken refuge in shelters. Mitchell, whose own house was destroyed, told a Trinidad radio station that the island is without electricity. Another woman was killed by a falling tree in Tobago, according to local media. Prime Minister Patrick Manning headed to Tobago to view the destruction. His government has promised 1.6 million dollars to St. Vincent to help with the construction. Hundreds were evacuated to shelters. Cuba has also begun preparing for the storm in 11 of its 14 provinces, although the island has not fully recovered from Hurricane Charley, which struck August 13. Children in the Netherlands Antilles were sent home from school, as were many workers. Several Venezuelan airports, including the oil-exporting country's main international airport, Maiquetia, which serves Caracas, suspended operations until conditions improve, Air Force colonel Francisco Paz Freitas told Union Radio. In Venezuela, a man was crushed to death when hurricane-force winds toppled a wall in a coastal town near Caracas, emergency service officials said, adding that another person was hurt and 150 people were affected by flooding. Along the low-lying Caribbean coast, authorities reported mudslides and road closings just as early rain bands from the storm unleashed the first downpours. The storm was expected to be off the central coast later in the day, triggering heavy rains and rough surf. The capital, Caracas, lies just a bit inland from there, protected somewhat by the El Avila mountain range. Though the storm is not expected to make landfall in Venezuela, Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon was urging calm and said heavy winds and rain associated with the storm could last for 72 hours. Ivan was expected to pass just north of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao on Friday as the Caribbean islands were under a hurricane warning, which means hurricane winds could hit them within 24 hours or less, the US hurricane center said. A hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning remain in effect for the Guajira peninsula of Colombia and for the entire northern coast of Venezuela, it noted. Haiti also issued a hurricane watch, meaning it could experience hurricane conditions within 36 hours.
Date: Wed, 8 Sep 2004 05:03:07 +0200 (METDST) PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad Sept 7 (AFP) - Ivan, an "extremely dangerous" hurricane Tuesday knocked out power in Barbados and threatened eastern Caribbean islands, forecasters and emergency officials said. The eye of the powerful storm moved over Barbados Tuesday afternoon, and headed for the eastern Caribbean, where officials issued a hurricane warning for St Vincent, the Grenadines, Grenada and the Netherlands Antilles islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Ivan packed sustained winds of 215 kilometers (135 miles) per hour, which made it "an extremely dangerous category four hurricane," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. In Barbados, "there is an island-wide power outage, expect for the major health care facility, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital," the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) said. "There are also reports of roof loss, downed utility poles and trees," the agency said, adding that there were also reports of coastal damage from storm surge. Late Tuesday night, the center of the powerful hurricane, the second in just days, was located 175 kilometers (110 miles) west of Grenada. The Netherlands Antilles Tuesday morning put the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao under a hurricane watch, which means the storm could hit them within 36 hours. In central and eastern Venezuela, officials suspended all air and maritime traffic. Long-term forecasts, which have a wide margin of error, have the hurricane slamming into Jamaica on Friday and then into Cuba on Sunday. This would bring the storm dangerously close to Florida, which has just been pounded by Frances, the second hurricane to hit the southeastern US state in three weeks. The Bahamas islands also were severely impacted by the passage of Frances last week.
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Belgium

Belgium - US Consular Information Sheet
October 03, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Belgium is a highly developed and stable democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background N
tes on Belgium for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Belgium is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Belgium for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. Sufficient funds and a return airline ticket are required. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. For further information concerning entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Belgium at 3330 Garfield Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 333-6900; or one of the Belgian Consulates General in Atlanta, Los Angeles, or New York.Visit the Belgian Embassy web site at http://www.diplobel.org/usa for the most current visa information.
Belgian law requires that everyone carry some form of official identification at all times, which must be displayed upon request to any Belgian police official. A U.S. passport suffices for these purposes.
See the section on Special Circumstances for information on new business visitor and employee registration requirements.
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: Belgium remains largely free of terrorist incidents. Belgian law enforcement and security officials, in close cooperation with neighboring countries, maintain a solid anti-terrorism effort and a peaceful environment for tourists and business. However, like other countries that are members of the Schengen Agreement on free cross-border movement, Belgium’s open borders with its European neighbors allow the possibility for terrorist groups to enter/exit the country with anonymity.
Prior police approval is required for public demonstrations in Belgium, and police oversight is routinely provided to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Nonetheless, situations may develop that could pose a threat to public safety. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid areas where public demonstrations are taking place.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Belgium remains relatively free of violent crime, but low-level street crime is common. Visitors should always be watchful and aware of their surroundings, however, because muggings, purse snatchings, and pickpocketing occur frequently, particularly in the major cities. Transportation hubs like the Metro (subway) and train stations are also frequented by thieves who take advantage of disoriented travelers. In Brussels, pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft of light luggage and laptops are common at the three major train stations -- the North Station (Noordstation or Gare du Nord), the Central Station (Centraal Station or Gare Central) and especially at the South Station (Zuidstation or Gare du Midi). The latter is a primary international train hub, and travelers are advised to pay very close attention to their personal belongings when in the station. Common ploys are to distract the victim by spraying shaving cream or another substance on his or her back or asking for directions while an accomplice steals the luggage. It is a good idea to remain in physical contact with hand luggage at all times, and not to place carry-on luggage on overhead racks in trains.
Another growing problem, especially in Brussels, is theft from vehicles, both moving and parked. Do not leave valuables in plain sight where a thief may spot them. Thieves will sometimes position themselves at stop lights to scan for valuables in stopped cars. If they see a purse or other valuable item they break the window and steal the item before the victim can even react. Expensive car stereos and GPS navigational devices left in plain sight are often stolen from parked cars. Always drive with windows up and doors locked.
Travelers to Brussels should be aware that small groups of young men sometimes prey on unwary tourists, usually at night and often in Metro stations. Items such as expensive mobile phones and MP3 players are often the target. Travelers should carry only a minimum amount of cash, credit cards, and personal identification. Wearing expensive jewelry and watches is discouraged.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Good medical facilities are widely available in Belgium. The large university hospitals can handle almost every medical problem. Hospitals in Brussels and Flemish-speaking Flanders will probably have English-speaking staff. Hospitals in French-speaking Wallonia may not have staff members who are fluent in English, however. The Embassy Consular Section maintains a list of English-speaking doctors, which can be found on the Embassy web site at http://brussels.usembassy.gov/medical_facilities.html.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Belgium is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Belgian urban highways are generally well built and maintained with extensive lighting systems, but rain and fog often reduce visibility. Rural roads are less likely to be illuminated at night. Belgian rules for right-of-way differ from those in the U.S., and new drivers should thoroughly understand these rules before driving in Belgium. For instance, traffic coming from the right generally has priority at uncontrolled intersections and roundabouts, even if coming from a smaller street. The maximum speed limit on Belgian highways is 120 kilometers (72 miles) per hour, but is not always posted except at Belgium’s borders and on roads leaving major airports. The maximum speed in urban areas is normally 50 km (30 miles) per hour. While Belgian authorities strictly enforce speed limits, many Belgians still drive significantly faster than the posted limit. Claims of ignorance may not prevent a significant fine for speeding, which can also lead to the vehicle’s being impounded if the driver is unable to pay the fine on the spot. Belgian police also conduct breath analysis checks for alcohol use, particularly at night and during major holidays.
Roadside assistance and information on road conditions are available in English from Touring Mobilis, tel: 0900 10280. Belgian police will also provide information on road conditions, tel: 02-642-6666. Emergency services are efficient and responsive. By phone within Belgium, for police emergencies dial 101 and for all other emergencies,112.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Belgium’s national tourist office at http://www.visitbelgium.com/.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belgium’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Belgium’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: While most forms of monetary transactions are available (cash, credit cards), U.S. money orders cannot be negotiated in Belgium. Personal checks may only be cleared through a bank at which a person holds an account and clearance can take from two to four weeks. Banks and exchange facilities may refuse U.S. dollar denominations of $50 and $100 if they are not equipped with devices to identify counterfeit currency. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are widespread in Belgium and accept most U.S. ATM cards to withdraw funds. Travelers seeking to purchase Euros are more likely to find a more favorable exchange rate at banks than at money exchange facilities located at tourist locations, train stations, and airports. Please see our Customs Information.
Non-EU citizens visiting Belgium and staying in a private residence are required by Belgian law to register with local Commune authorities within three days of their arrival. Any change in visa or resident status must also be requested through Commune authorities and must be completed prior to the expiration of the current status. Given the requirements to change status in Belgium, it is nearly impossible to do so within the 90 days permitted to remain in Belgium without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.
BUSINESS VISITOR AND EMPLOYEE REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT: Since April 1, 2007 non-Belgian employers and self-employed persons or their employees who carry out short term assignments in Belgium must declare these activities in advance.
This mandatory "Limosa" declaration applies to: (1) Employees and apprentices, who come to Belgium to execute certain temporary work and who, because of the nature of their short term assignment, are not subject to the Belgian social security system; (2) Self-employed people and self-employed apprentices who come to work in Belgium temporarily, irrespective of whether they are subject to the Belgian social security system.
Some exceptions to this general obligation exist. Certain persons may be exempted, especially for short-term assignments. For more information about the Limosa declaration, visit http://www.limosa.be.
For more information about working in Belgium, please see http://www.employment.belgium.be/home.aspx.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belgian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belgium are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Belgium are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Belgium. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Brussels is located at 25 Boulevard du Regent. The telephone number from the U.S. is 011-32-2-508-2111. Within Belgium, the telephone number is 02-508-2111. The Embassy’s fax number is 02-511-2725. The Consular Section’s fax number is 02-513-0409. The American Citizen Services Unit of the Consular Section is open from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for American and Belgian holidays. Further information can be obtained at the Embassy’s web site at http://belgium.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Belgium dated March 13, 2008, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 17 May 2019
Source: [in French, trans. Corr.SB, edited]

An additional patient, the 19th, was admitted to the hospital in Flanders, [East Flanders province] suffering from legionellosis.

This case comes in addition to the 18 others who have been exposed to _Legionella_ bacteria in the Evergem area [East Flanders], right next to Ghent, and who developed legionnaires' disease, a lung disease that is not transmitted from human to human.

Of the total of 19 patients, 2 men died: one Monday night [20 May 2019] and the other [Wed 22 May 2019], in 2 different Ghent hospitals.

The exact source of _Legionella_ causing the [legionellosis] outbreak in the region has not yet been located. The bacterium normally contaminates people via inhalation of water vapor or micro-droplets, but many exposed individuals do not develop disease.
========================
[This news report above adds 3 cases since the last report posted by ProMED-mail (Legionellosis - Europe (01): Belgium (OV) http://promedmail.org/post/20190514.6468996) for a total now of 19 cases. At the time of the initial report, cooling towers in the vicinity of the Ghent Canal were suspected to be the source of this outbreak. The Ghent Canal separates the town of Evergem, where 7 cases occurred, from the town of Oostakker, where 2 cases occurred. The Ghent-Terneuzen Canal, links Ghent in Belgium to the port of Terneuzen in the Netherlands, thereby providing Ghent with access to the sea (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent-Terneuzen_Canal>).

A map showing the location of Evergem and this area can be found at
<https://goo.gl/maps/y9Z1tQzbKJa1NkSm7>.

The news report above fails to state where the new cases reside, if _Legionella_ genotypes of the clinical isolates match each other, which would indicate a common source outbreak, and the results of environmental testing for _Legionella_. We await the results of the ongoing investigation. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Belgium:
Date: Tue 14 May 2019, 8:24 AM
Source: Brussels Times [edited]

One person has died from [legionellosis] in Evergem, [a municipality] near Ghent, after health authorities declared an outbreak of the bacteria in the region, which accelerated at the weekend. The patient died in Ghent's University Hospital on [Mon 13 May 2019] evening, The Flanders Agency for Care and Health announced in a statement.

The agency has currently identified at least 16 cases after it was reported that 11 infected people had been admitted to the hospital late last week.

The most recently reported cases have prompted authorities to warn that the source of the infection, which has not yet been identified, may still be active. A total of 7 of the 16 cases originated in Evergem or in bordering towns, leading authorities to say that there are strong indications that the source of the infection is in Evergem's vicinity.

The _Legionella_ bacteria develop primarily in warm and stagnant water and can lead to Legionnaires' disease or Pontiac fever.

The Flanders Agency for Care and Health said in a statement that they are examining water samples from 17 companies in order to identify the source of contamination. A spokesperson for the agency said that [legionellosis] symptoms can take up to 17 days to appear, but that most people manifested symptoms within 10 days.
------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Dr. Juan Angel Ferrer Azcona
Area de Prevencion de Legionella
microSERVICES
Benidorm, Alicante, Spain
<ferrer@microservices.es>
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2019 11:38:03 +0100
By Alex PIGMAN

Brussels, Feb 13, 2019 (AFP) - Belgium slowed to a standstill on Wednesday as a national strike closed airports, shuttered businesses and caused major disruption to railways.   The strike, called by three unions, severely disrupted the country's public transport, particularly in Brussels, where a meeting of NATO ministers was set to take place.  The strike affected post offices, schools, hospitals, waste collection, but also companies and shopping centres.

In the Dutch-speaking city of Ghent, two protestors were slightly injured when a vehicle forced a picket line, local police told AFP. The driver was arrested.    "The movement is well followed everywhere and in all sectors," said CSC union general secretary Marie-Helene Ska on Bel-RTL radio.   The national railway company expected half the trains nation-wide would be cancelled because of the movement, but high speed train traffic to London and Paris should be mostly spared.

The air traffic control agency, Skeyes, announced on Tuesday that it would not allow any flights to or from the country because it could not determine with certainty which employees would come to work.    No aircraft flying below 8,000 metres altitude would be allowed to fly over the country, the agency warned.   Skeyes was not able to say how many flights or how many passengers would be affected.    "Even if the terminal will remain open, we ask all passengers not to go to the airport," said Brussels Zaventem airport, the largest in Belgium, in a statement.   Charleroi airport, the second largest in Belgium and a local hub for low-cost giant Ryanair, had already announced its closure.    The German carrier TUI fly will operate its scheduled Belgian flights from the nearest French and Dutch airports.

Unions are calling for higher wages, benefits and pensions, and better end-of-career conditions. The movement is putting pressure on the right-of-centre government ahead of general elections in May.   Brussels, home to NATO, will be hosting a meeting of defence ministers that day, with officials from throughout the transatlantic military alliance converging on the city.   Dozens of supermarkets were closed, mainly in the French-speaking part of Belgium.   "Forty-four supermarkets are closed and we hope that the situation does not change during the day," said Carrefour spokesman Baptiste van Outryve to Belga news agency.   The last general strike in Belgium was in December 2014.
Date: Fri, 8 Feb 2019 16:02:19 +0100

Brussels, Feb 8, 2019 (AFP) - Belgium's biggest carrier Brussels Airlines said it had cancelled all of its flights out of the Belgian capital on Wednesday due to a national strike.   Brussels Airlines is "eliminating its entire 222-flight schedule. The travel itineraries of more than 16,000 passengers are impacted," the Lufthansa subsidiary said in a statement on Friday.

Flights from German carrier TUI fly will also be diverted out of Belgium to airports in neighbouring France and the Netherlands, the company told the Belga news agency.   Unions warned De Morgen newspaper that all commercial flights may be forced out of Belgian airspace Wednesday if air traffic controllers joined the action.

Several Belgian unions are demanding salary hikes for all sectors of the economy, with the whole country expected to be at a standstill on Wednesday.   Brussels, home to NATO, will be hosting a defence ministers meeting that day, with officials from throughout the transatlantic military alliance converging on the city.
Date: Mon, 29 Oct 2018 11:19:43 +0100

Brussels, Oct 29, 2018 (AFP) - A baggage handlers strike at Brussels international airport forced the cancellation of 130 out of 630 flights scheduled for Monday, the fifth day of the dispute, an official said.   Handlers at Belgian firm Aviapartner went on strike last Thursday over demands for better working conditions at Brussels-Zaventem airport, with 100 flights cancelled on Friday and still more over the weekend.

An official at Brussels airport told AFP 130 out of the 630 flights scheduled for Monday had been cancelled.   The Belga news agency said talks over the weekend failed to resolve the dispute and new discussions were scheduled for Monday.   The first day of the strike came at the end of a school holiday in neighbouring Netherlands and the start of one in Belgium that coincides with All Saints Day on November 1.

Brussels airport is the largest in Belgium, with nearly 25 million passengers passing through last year, compared to seven million at Charleroi airport in the south, the country's second biggest.
More ...

Russia

General Information
***************************************
Russia is one of the largest land masses throughout the world covering an expanse of 6,592,849 sq. miles. The country stretches from the Baltic sea in Europe to the Pacific Ocean in the
east and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea in the south. Moscow, the capital city, is situated in the western region of the country. The nation is undergoing profound political and economic changes. There have been Bank closures and this can make access to funds more difficult for travellers.
Safety & Personal Security
***************************************
Certain regions of the country are closed to travellers and it is important to confirm your itinerary before leaving. Entry to the Caucasus region is restricted. Kidnapping of tourists is well reported in some outlying regions. Good tourist facilities are present in Moscow, St Petersburg and many of the other large cities but many shortages can occur at times. Crime against foreigners can be a problem and it is essential not to flaunt personal wealth and to take care if you need to travel at night. The underground walkways, subway, train stations and airports are particular risk locations. Don’t share a taxi with strangers.
Customs Regulations
***************************************
On entry you will need to complete a form declaring all items of value. Keep this form safe as it will be required on leaving. Take care to obtain receipts for any expensive items to purchase while in Russia.
Stringent controls at Customs when leaving the country may cause significant delays if it is felt that the traveller is trying to export items of historical value.
General Health Precautions
***************************************
The medical services available throughout Russia may not reach Western European standards. Severe shortages of even basic medical supplies are regularly reported. It is wise for travellers to ensure that they are in good general health and that dental work should not be required while abroad. Carry an adequate supply of any medications which you normally take, as these may not be available in many parts of Russia. Adequate travel insurance is essential for your trip.
Diphtheria in Russia
***************************************
Again, according to press reports, over 4000 cases of diphtheria were reported during the outbreak in the early 1990’s. Approximately 104 deaths occurred. At that stage the disease was mainly found in St Petersburg, Moscow and Krasnodar and in the eastern parts of Valdivostok and Saratov. Vaccination (with Tetanus) is usually recommended for all travellers. As Diphtheria is mainly an airborne disease it is usually wise to avoid local public transport if possible.
AIDS risk in Russia
***************************************
The blood supply throughout Russia may not be fully screened against blood borne pathogens and so blood transfusion should be avoided where at all possible. The most common reason that a traveller requires blood is following a road accident. Take special care crossing roads etc. The actual extent of the AIDS problem throughout Russia is uncertain with inaccurate reporting of statistics at this time. Obviously all care should be taken to avoid possible infection. AIDS testing is required for persons staying 3 months or longer.
Hiking in Russia
***************************************
Tick-borne encephalitis has been reported in the vicinity of Novosibirsk, Vladivostok and in the Sverdlovsk Oblast.
Pre-exposure vaccination against this disease is recommended for anyone who will be spending prolonged periods outdoors in the infested areas of Russia. Hikers should wear protective clothing and insect repellent against tick bites throughout rural Russia. Any bite should be reported to competent medical personnel as soon as possible.
Insect Bites
***************************************
Mosquitoes do occur during the summer months. Though there is thought to be no risk of malaria in Russia itself, though there are reports from some of the surrounding CIS countries. Sandflys may also be found during the summer months in the hotter southern areas.
Food Precautions
***************************************
Eat only well cooked foods while they are still hot or fruit that you peel yourself. Always avoid roadside stands and street vendors as the level of hygiene is usually far below acceptable standards. Only purchase ice-cream products from established shops and never from the street side seller. Only pasteurised dairy products should be consumed. Outbreaks of a parasitic disease known as Trichinellosis has been reported from some regions of Russia. This disease is transmitted through eating undercooked meat so all food should never be rare when consumed.
Water Precautions
***************************************
Smell the tap water for a distinct chlorine odour. In many regions the water supply may not be potable and so travellers should where possible drink bottled beverages or beverages made from boiled water (tea/coffee). Do not use ice-cubes in your drinks and never use the mains tap water for drinking or brushing your teeth.
Occasional outbreaks of Typhoid, Cholera are reported and the St Petersburg mains water supply has been closely linked with an intestinal parasite, Giardia lambia.
General Vaccine Information
***************************************
Due to the general economic situation throughout Russia it is reported that there has been a significant shortage of vaccines to combat diseases such as measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. This has led to a worsening of the risk for the local population and the possibility that travellers may be more exposed.
Vaccines for Travellers
***************************************
Most travellers to Russia will need to consider routine vaccination cover against the following;
Poliomyelitis, Typhoid,
Tetanus & Diphtheria and Hepatitis A.
Longer term travellers or those trekking may also need to consider vaccination cover against Rabies, Hepatitis B, Meningococcal Meningitis and Tick Borne Encephalitis.
Summary
***************************************
The majority of travellers to Russia who exercise due caution will remain in good health. Special care must be taken regarding your food and water consumption. Care against accidents and sensible precautions to avoid petty crime are also essential. If trekking about the country check your itinerary carefully and keep those at home in touch with your plans.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 8 May 2019 11:35:32 +0200

Moscow, May 8, 2019 (AFP) - Seven hikers were missing and feared dead after an avalanche in Russia's Altai mountains, emergency officials said Wednesday, as search parties were dispatched to the area.   Nine people were caught in the avalanche Monday in the so-called Chuya Alps of Russia's Altai republic in southern Siberia, close to Kazakhstan and China.    "Two people managed to get out" and informed authorities on Wednesday, said the head of Altai's emergency services, Andrei Burlakov.   "Since the avalanche is rather large, the search and rescue operations can stretch out to an indefinite amount of time," he said.

The hikers were experienced adults following a complicated mountain route which was approved by the authorities, their instructor Vladimir Yudin told the BFM news website, adding that a comprehensive search would probably have to wait for the summer season.   He said the hikers were part of a group based in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.
Source: Belsat TV [in Russian, machine trans., edited]

An outbreak [of suspected echinococcosis] among cadets in Ulyanovsk Suvorov Military School, was discovered in early February [2019]. At least, 49 cadets of the military Suvorov school, instead of 26 as reported earlier, are infected with _Echinococcus_.

The Ministry of Defense of Russia excludes that the infection could have been transmitted through the food and believes that it happened by touching contaminated dogs.

Echinococcosis was initially suspected in 5 cadets. Their X-rays showed suspected cysts in the lungs.

On [5 Feb 2019], a criminal case under part 1, article 236 of the criminal code suspected violations of the sanitary and epidemiological rules, which led to mass disease. On [6 Feb 2019], at the Suvorov School, representatives of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation met with the parents of the students. They reported the investigation, rejecting the version of infection through food in the school's canteen. The head of the institution, Vladimir Shkirkov, and the chief parasitologist of the Ministry of Defense, Sergey Kozlov, informed the parents that the cadets could have become ill by stroking an infected dog, Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported. On [14 Feb 2019], the newspaper "Izvestia" published a new version: the students were infected during the use of nasvaya smokeless tobacco mixture made from chicken or camel dung.

The publication refers to an anonymous source close to the investigation, but it gives the opinion of researchers who believe this option unlikely. The newspaper claims to have found several more sick cadets, 2018 graduates. But on [2 Feb 2019] the media reported about disease among staff of the school cafeteria.

The response of the Ministry of Health to [Ulyanovsk Region State Duma Deputy] Alexei Kurinny, it was specified that the ministry had performed a full examination of more than 518 and 305 employees of Suvorov military school.
********************************
Date: Fri 1 Mar 2019
Source: OTR (Public Television of Russia) [in Russian, machine trans.,
abridged, edited]

As of [20 Feb 2019] it is known about 49 cases in the military Suvorov school.

Foci of infection also have been found in the liver, pancreas, brain, eyes, and spleen.
********************************
Date: Mon 4 Feb 2019
Source: Interfax-Russia [in Russian, machine trans., abridged,
edited]

Initially, echinococcosis was detected during routine examination in 5 cadets after X-ray of the lungs. None of them had health complaints. On [4 Feb 2019], Mass Media published information of already 25 cases among cadets.
=====================
[Infection of humans with _Echinococcus granulosis_ happens when eggs are ingested and hatch in the intestines, penetrate the intestinal wall, and migrate to different organs. The infection can happen through eggs from dog feces contaminating water, greens, and berries.

The notions that the subjects has consumed "nasvaya-tobacco mixture made from chicken or camel dung" does not explain infection with _Echinococcus_ and neither camels nor or chickens excrete _Echinococcus_ eggs in their feces. If the "tobacco" was made from dog feces it could be a source of infection.

The incubation period is usually years, and for instance a study from Kirgyzstan estimated an incubation period of 15 years (Usubalieva J et al. Human alveolar echinococcosis in Kyrgyzstan. Emerg Infect Dis. 2013; 19(7): 1095-7. doi: 10.3201/eid1907.121405).

The news report in item [3] above only mentions chest X-rays, but the article in item [1] mentions "suspected cysts in the lungs" and the article in item [2] mentions that foci of infection [cysts?] have been found in multiple other organs. In 95% of human cases the liver is involved because it receives the blood draining the intestines.

Given the long incubation period of _Echinococcus_, an outbreak involving at least 49 persons developing symptoms within a few months with a common source of infection is highly unlikely if not impossible.

What else can it be?
If the lesions were limited to the lungs TB is much more likely, but an outbreak of pulmonary TB would not be associated with multiple lesions in other organs. Foodborne infections could be caused by _Trichinella_, but _Trichinella_ does not result in cystic lesions; it is a multiorgan infection, it is foodborne, and several outbreaks have been reported from Russia.

ProMED will be happy to post more information including more information on the X-ray and CT results, and whether the patients had eosinophilia (sign of a helminth infection). - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Russia:
Date: Fri, 26 Oct 2018 11:57:59 +0200

Moscow, Oct 26, 2018 (AFP) - Six people died in floods in southern Russia which also damaged regional infrastructure including an oil pipeline, authorities said Friday, as emergency workers were struggling to provide food and water to the victims.   Flash floods affected parts of the Krasnodar region, including the area around the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, where Moscow hosted the Winter Olympics in 2014.

Russia's emergencies ministry said it had recovered the bodies of six people while clearing rubble and two people were hospitalised.   Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that all the government services are "working in emergency mode" to battle the "ruthless elements."   The emergencies ministry said over 2,300 houses were flooded in the region.   Flash floods frequently cause devastating damage in the area wedged between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountain range as mountain rivers swell and destroy settlements below.

Similar floods in 2012 killed over 150 people around Krymsk, another town in the region.  A regional subsidiary of Russian oil transport company Transneft said Friday that the flash floods and resulting landslides "damaged a pipeline" in the region's Tuapse district causing "a spill of five cubic metres of oil."   The company is working to keep the oil from getting into the Tuapse river, a major source of water for the town of Tuapse, home to over 60,000 people.

The floods also damaged a major railway line and roads, authorities said. Russian Railways, the country's rail monopoly, said Thursday that 31 passenger trains were stopped due to the damage, and passengers were being bussed to the nearest stations to continue their journeys.
Date: Wed, 25 Jul 2018 18:25:40 +0200

Moscow, July 25, 2018 (AFP) - Russia on Tuesday announced that it will stop running all long-distance trains across its 11 time zones on Moscow time (GMT+3), ending a frequent cause of confusion for travellers.   Russian Railways, the state monopoly, said it made the move to "improve the quality of service for passengers."   From August 1, at all stations, all information boards, clocks and loudspeaker anouncements on the time on arrival and departure of long-distance trains will use the local time, the railway company said.   Since May, the railway company has been printing train tickets for August and beyond showing both the local time and Moscow time.

Currently the time for a train departing from the Pacific city of Vladivostok at the end of the Trans-Siberian route, will be shown on station timetables, display boards and tickets according to Moscow time, even though there is a seven-hour time difference.   This rule was introduced in the Soviet era to achieve consistency across the network and so passengers don't have to keep changing their watches.   But it often causes confusion for passengers joining trains in cities across Russia who may not be familiar with the current Moscow time.   The time difference can even mean that passengers need to buy tickets for a different date than they were expecting.   Under the Soviet Union, all trains across all the republics ran according to Moscow time.    Russia has recently tinkered with its time zones, cutting them down to nine in 2011 and then going back to 11 in 2014.   It has also been on permanent winter time since 2014 after a failed experiment to put the nation on summer time all year round.
Date: Thu 21 Jun 2018
Source: N Engl J Med [edited]
<https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMicm1716138>
Citation Kartashev V and Simon F. Migrating Dirofilaria repens. N Engl J Med. 2018;378(25):e35. doi: 10.1056/NEJMicm1716138.

A 32-year-old woman presented to an ophthalmologist with a 2-week history of nodules that moved around her face. She had first noted a nodule below her left eye (Panel A) [for images see URL]. Five days later, it had moved to above her left eye (Panel B), and 10 days after that to the upper lip (Panel C). She documented these changes by taking photographs of her face (i.e., "selfies"). The nodules occasionally caused a localized itching and burning sensation, but otherwise she had no symptoms.

She had recently travelled to a rural area outside Moscow and recalled being frequently bitten by mosquitoes. A physical examination showed a superficial moving oblong nodule at the left upper eyelid. A parasite was fixed with forceps and removed surgically (Panel D). The parasite was identified by means of a polymerase-chain-reaction assay as _Dirofilaria repens_, which is a zoonotic filarial nematode.

Dogs and other carnivores are the definitive hosts, and mosquitoes serve as vectors. Humans can become aberrant hosts. Surgical excision of the worm is curative. After removal of the worm, the patient had a full recovery. -- Communicated by: ProMED-mail <promed@promedmail.org> [Human infections with _D. repens_ is well known in Russia and a recent review included data from 236 human patients (Ermakova LA, Nagorny SA, Krivorotova EY, Pshenichnaya NY, Matina ON. _Dirofilaria repens_ in the Russian Federation: current epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment from a federal reference center perspective. Int J Infect Dis. 2014 Jun;23:47-52. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2014.02.008).

The reservoir are dogs and the infection is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes and is also described from other European countries (Miterpáková M et al. Heartworm on the rise-new insights into _Dirofilaria immitis_ epidemiology.

Parasitol Res. 2018 Jul;117(7):2347-2350. doi: 10.1007/s00436-018-5912-9;  Blaizot R et al.
Systemic Infection With _Dirofilaria repens_ in Southwestern France.
Ann Intern Med. 2018 Feb 6;168(3):228-229. doi: 10.7326/L17-0426). - ProMED Mod.EP]
===============================
[Until 2014 human dirofilariasis in the Russian Federation was considered as a rare helminthiasis. According to information by the Center of Hygiene and Epidemiology of Rospotrebnadzor, at the end of 2012, 1093 cases infected by _D. repens_ have been recorded in Russian Federation (since 1915, where the 1st case in Russia was recorded). But now, due to the sudden increase of infectious cases, the human dirofilariasis is recording separately from other Helminthiasis in the official statistical reports.

Due to the favorable natural and climatic conditions, as well as the high affection of definitive (dogs and other animals of the family of canines and felines) and intermediate hosts (mosquitoes), the territory of the South of Russia is a risk area for sustainable transmission of infestation. The incidence of human infestation correlated with the extent of infestation in final and intermediate hosts.

Dogs are the most important source for human transmission. The largest number of cases was revealed in the Rostov, Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod regions. At the beginning of 2013, 242 patients with dirofilariasis were recorded in the Rostov region. This is 22.1 percent of all cases recorded in the Russian Federation. Often patients addressed for medical assistance in hospital due to detection under the skin dense fixed formations, up to 1.5 cm, or in cases of the visualization of thread like moving worms under the skin in various localization.

A migration of the parasite we observed in 43.6 percent of patients. In 17.7 percent of cases, worms moved considerable distances: from the knee to the groin area; lower back, upper eyelid or from periorbital region to shin and buttocks. Common localizations of _Dirofilaria_ were head and neck (most often in the periorbital area, and conjunctivitis (face, scalp and forehead), or more rarely in the area of the trunk and extremities. In 6 patients (2.3 percent), worms were found in the external genitals. - ProMED Mod.NP]
 
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map Russia:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/98>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue 18 Jun 2019
Source: The Namibian [edited]

Oyster and black mussel production at Walvis Bay has been halted due to another outbreak of diarrheal shellfish poisoning (DSP), which can be harmful to humans. The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources issued a notice yesterday [17 Jun 2019], warning people not to eat oysters or mussels from Walvis Bay. This comes 3 months after the last outbreak, which was cleared shortly thereafter.

According to the fisheries biologist, contamination is a seasonal occurrence -- mainly during summer from October to April. The recent outbreak could put a dent in the shellfish industry's economy as most exports are to Asia.

The worst affected area is at Walvis Bay's central production sector called "aquaculture production area 1", which is situated near Pelican Point. Once 2 negative results of tested samples are issued, the alert would be withdrawn, and harvesting, consumption and exports would be cleared again. The samples should be taken at 48-hour intervals, the statement from the ministry noted. Marine biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing.

The statement indicated that DSP symptoms in humans who may have been poisoned might include, as the name suggests, diarrhea, although nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps are also common. These symptoms could manifest themselves after about half an hour of eating the infected shellfish, and could last a day. No deaths have been recorded from DSP to date, the statement indicated. People who show such symptoms should immediately consult a doctor or healthcare centre.  [Byline: Adam Hartman]
=======================
[It is not clear if the term outbreak refers to in the shellfish or in humans.  Diarrheal shellfish poisoning (DSP) (<http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20020>) is a gastrointestinal illness caused by the consumption of shellfish contaminated with algal toxins produced by marine dinoflagellates belonging to the genera _Dinophysis_ spp. (_D. fortii_, _D. mitra_, _D. rotundata_, _D. tripos_, _D. acuta_, _D. norvegica_, and _D. acuminata_) and _Prorocentrum_ spp. (_P. lima_, _P. maculosum_, _P. concavum_, and _P. hoffmannianum_).

The DSP toxins, including okadaic acid (OA) and its analogues dinophysistoxin-1 (DTX-1), dinophysistoxin-2 (DTX-2), and dinophysistoxin-3 (DTX-3), belong to the larger group of lipophilic toxins that also includes the azaspiracid, yessotoxin, and pectenotoxin group toxins.

The term diarrhectic (usually diarrhetic) shellfish poisoning (DSP) was used in this report, but this moderator prefers to use diarrheal shellfish poisoning to avoid any confusion between the almost homophones of diarrhetic and diuretic.

DSP is often mistaken for norovirus-like disease. It is treated with rehydration, and affected individuals usually recover in 1 to 2 days. DSP is most commonly found in shellfish in Europe and Japan but can appear anywhere and bears consideration with the appropriate epidemiology. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Wed 19 Jun 2019 [date accessed]
Source: WHO/EMRO Epidemic and pandemic-prone diseases [edited]

MERS situation update, May 2019
--------------------------
- At the end of May 2019, a total of 2442 laboratory-confirmed cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), including 842 associated deaths (case fatality rate: 34.5%), were reported globally; the majority of these cases were reported from Saudi Arabia (2051 cases, including 765 related deaths with a case fatality rate of 37.3%). During the month of May [2019], a total of 14 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS were reported globally. All 14 cases were reported from Saudi Arabia with 4 associated deaths.

- This month [May 2019], Saudi Arabia has not reported any new cases related to the Al-Khafji city outbreak. The outbreak has presumed to have stopped due to the effective response measures taken by Saudi Arabia. This month [May 2019], one household cluster was reported from Al-Kharj city, including 2 symptomatic national females aged 22 and 44. One 23-year-old national female healthcare worker was also infected this month [May 2019] in Riyadh. All 4 cases that died this month [May 2019] were symptomatic males with one or more co-morbidities.

- The demographic and epidemiological characteristics of reported cases, when compared during the same corresponding period of 2013 to 2019, do not show any significant difference or change.

Summaries:
- Laboratory-confirmed cases reported since April 2012: 2442
- Deaths reported since April 2012 globally: 843
- Number of countries that have reported cases since April 2012: 27
- Number of countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region that have reported cases since April 2012: 12
- 13 laboratory-confirmed cases reported linked to an outbreak in Saudi Arabia in April [2019]
- The age group 50-59 years continues to be at highest risk for acquiring infection of primary cases. The age group 30-39 years is most at risk for secondary cases. The number of deaths is higher in the age group 50-59 years for primary cases and 70-79 years for secondary cases.
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2019 06:40:09 +0200
By Sebastien BERGER

Pyongyang, June 18, 2019 (AFP) - On a grey stone column in Pyongyang, a mural shows Chinese and North Korean soldiers rushing into battle against US-led forces in the Korean War. Decades later, the monument is a regular stop for new waves of Chinese going to the North, this time as tourists.   Hundreds of soldiers and workers have been sprucing up the obelisk and its grounds in recent days ahead of a state visit to Pyongyang by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.   An inscription on it lauds "the Chinese People's Volunteer Army, who fought with us on this land and smashed down the common enemy".   Their "immortal exploits" will "last forever", it proclaims, as will "the friendship forged in blood between the peoples of the People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea".   Nearly 70 years after Mao Zedong sent millions of soldiers to save Kim Il Sung's troops from defeat as General Douglas MacArthur's men marched up the peninsula, China remains the isolated, nuclear-armed North's key diplomatic backer and main provider of trade and aid.

Now the Friendship Tower, as the monument is known, attracts growing hordes of Chinese tourists -- and the renovations suggest it may also be on Xi's itinerary.   Ordinary Chinese pay travel companies around 2,500 yuan ($360) for a standard three-day trip, arriving overland by train in Pyongyang to tour the capital's highlights, from the Arch of Triumph to Kim Il Sung Square.   The following day they head south to the Demilitarized Zone that has divided the peninsula since the two sides fought each other to a stalemate in 1953, before returning home.   "I'm very interested in North Korea and wanted to come to see what North Korea looks like," said Yu Zhi, a retiree from Anhui province visiting Pyongyang, telling AFP that she had a "special feeling" for the country.   "China is very friendly with North Korea," added her fellow traveller, a woman surnamed Jin. "We have been friends for generations."

- Lips and teeth -
It was not always so. Mao -- whose eldest son Mao Anying was among those killed in what China still calls the "War to Resist US Aggression and Aid the DPRK" -- described the neighbours as "as close as lips and teeth".   Ties then waxed and waned during the Cold War, when founder Kim Il Sung was adept at playing his Soviet and Chinese allies off against each other, and his grandson, the current leader Kim Jong Un, did not visit Beijing to pay his respects for more than six years after inheriting power.   But as he embarked on a flurry of diplomacy last year he made sure that Chinese President Xi Jinping was the first foreign head of state he met, and he has since done so three more times -- more often than Kim has seen any other leader.    Now Xi is going to reciprocate.

At the same time Chinese tourism to the North has reached record highs, according to travel industry sources -- so much so that Pyongyang has imposed a limit on arrivals.   No official figures are available from authorities on either side, but Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, the market leader for Western visitors, said there had been "a huge increase in Chinese tourists".   At peak times 2,000 people a day had been arriving in Pyongyang, he said. "That's far too many because there is no infrastructure to accommodate that many tourists, so problems with train tickets, with plane tickets, hotel space."   As a result North Korean authorities had themselves set a 1,000-a-day cap, he added, although it was unclear whether this applied across the industry or solely to Chinese, who make up the vast majority of arrivals.   "There are issues with just hundreds of people showing up at the same time."

- 'Choices being made' -
China has a proven willingness to use tourism as a geopolitical negotiating weapon -- it banned group tours to South Korea after it deployed a US anti-missile system, THAAD.   With nuclear negotiations at a stalemate the North remains subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions, and the US imposed a travel ban on its own citizens visiting following the death of student Otto Warmbier, who had been jailed after trying to steal a propaganda poster.   But tourism is not among the sectors targeted by the UN, potentially enabling Beijing to use it as an incentive for its sometimes wayward ally.

The Chinese travel phenomenon is market-driven, rather than prompted by state order -- as well as the market offered by China's huge population, the two countries' border enables cheap overland journeys.   But simply enabling it to take place, said John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul, meant "We can infer some choices are being made" by Beijing.   "We know it's a lever they can turn on and off," he said.   Even with the diplomatic process at a standstill, he added, "The Chinese think you have to use this window of opportunity to move things forward. There has to be a path on both sides and so something like opening up tourism is a good way to enable that."   At the Monument to the Three Charters for Reunification on the edge of Pyongyang, where two giant stone women form an arch over a road, a secondary school teacher from Shanghai called Peng said: "We are both socialist countries. I feel there are more Chinese coming to visit."
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2019 06:14:38 +0200

Mae Sai, Thailand, June 18, 2019 (AFP) - Tourists snap selfies by a bronze statue of the diver who died trying to save the 'Wild Boars' football team from a flooded cave, while momentos from their rescue fly off the shelves -- scooped up by the 1.3 million people who have descended on a once serene mountainside in northern Thailand.   "It's amazing what happened here. I followed everything from Australia," tourist John McGowan told AFP after taking photos at the visitor centre around 100 metres from the Tham Luang cave entrance.   "I wanted to see it with my own eyes," the 60-year-old said, adding he was a little disappointed the cave is still off limits to visitors.

For a few dollars tourists can get framed photos at the site, pick up posters of the footballers and take home a souvenir t-shirt  -- some printed with the face of Saman Gunan the Thai diver who died in the bid to save the group.   There has been extraordinary global interest in the picturesque rural backwater of Mae Sai since 12 youngsters -- aged between 11 and 16 -- and their coach entered the Tham Luang cave on June 23, 2018.   They quickly became trapped by rising water levels and the daring, unprecedented mission to extract them through twisting flooded passageways captivated the world for 18 nail-biting days.   When they emerged -- after being heavily sedated and manoeuvered out by expert divers -- they did so into the centre of a global media frenzy.

The cave, which previously received around 5,000 visitors a year, has since been inundated by visitors both Thai and foreign.   "A miracle has happened here with these children," Singaporean tourist Cheong, giving one name, said but adding Tham Luang "must still have a spiritual side" despite the mass popularity.   - Tragedy and luck -   Mae Sai district, where the cave is located, was considered off the beaten track for foreign visitors.    But between October 2018 and April this year alone "1.3 million people visited," site manager Kawee Prasomphol told AFP.

The government now has big plans for the area around the storied cave, Kawee added, allocating a total of 50 million baht ($1.6 million) including a shopping complex, restaurants, hotels and several campsites outside the national park.   Vans disgorge streams of tourists who explore a visitor hub where the centrepiece is a mural entitled "The Heroes".   It depicts the young footballers, stars of the rescue, and junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha -- a reminder of the governmental fingerprints in aiding their cause.   At the heart of the mural is the beaming face of Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out off oxygen attempting to establish an air line to the children and their coach -- the only fatality across the near three-week rescue mission.

Laying white flowers at the foot of his bronze statue, Thai nurse Sumalee, who travelled four hours to the site, described him as "the hero of the whole country" in a sobering reminder of the risks involved in the rescue amid the blizzard of marketing opportunities now attached to the cave story.    Nearby lottery ticket vendors are capitalising on the perceived good fortune linked to the boys' survival and the folkloric appeal of a nearby shrine. The number of stalls has mushroomed from a few dozen to around 250.    Kraingkrai Kamsuwan, 60, who moved his stall to the site weeks after the rescue, sells 4,000 tickets a month ($2.5) but reckons more will visitors will arrive once the cave reopens.    He told AFP: "People want to gamble after wishing for luck from the shrine."
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 12:02:50 +0200

Patna, India, June 16, 2019 (AFP) - Severe heat has left dozens dead over a 24-hour period in India's Bihar state, as the country enters a third week of searing temperatures, officials said Sunday.   The deaths occurred in three districts of the poor northern state, where temperatures have hovered around 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in recent days, senior health official Vijay Kumar told AFP.

Forty-nine people died in three districts of the Magadh region that has been hit by drought, he said.   "It was a sudden development on Saturday afternoon. People affected by heatstroke were rushed to different hospitals," Kumar added.   "Most of them died on Saturday night and some on Sunday morning during treatment."   Kumar said about 40 more people were being treated at a government-run hospital in Aurangabad.   "Patients affected by heat stroke are still being brought, the death toll is likely to increase if the heatwave continues."

Most of the victims were aged above 50 and were rushed to hospitals in semi-conscious state with symptoms of high fever, diarrhoea and vomiting.   Twenty-seven people died in Aurangabad district, 15 in Gaya and seven in Nawada district, officials said.    State Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has announced a compensation of 400,000 rupees ($5,700) for the family of each victim.   Harsh Vardhan, India's health minister, said people should not leave their homes until temperatures fall.    "Intense heat affects brain and leads to various health issues," he said.

Large parts of northern India have endured more than two weeks of sweltering heat. Temperatures have risen above 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in the desert state of Rajasthan.   A heatwave in 2015 left more than 3,500 dead in India and Pakistan.   In 2017, researchers said South Asia, which is home to one fifth of the world's population, could see heat levels rise to unsurvivable levels by the end of the century if no action is taken on global warming.
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 01:30:52 +0200

Wellington, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - A powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake stuck near the uninhabited Kermadec islands northeast of New Zealand Sunday, the US Geological Survey said as authorities monitored for signs of a tsunami.   New Zealand's civil defence organisation said it was monitoring the situation and if a tsunami was generated it would take at least two hours to reach the country.   The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said "hazardous tsunami waves from this earthquake are possible within 300 km of the epicentre along the coasts of the Kermadec islands."   The earthquake struck at 10:55am (2255 GMT Saturday) some 928 kilometres (575 miles) north-northeast of the New Zealand city of Tauranga in North Island at a depth of 34 km.
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 00:59:42 +0200

Wellington, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - A magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck Sunday centred 97 kilometres (60 miles) north-east of Ohonua, on the Pacific island of Tonga, the US Geological Survey reported.   The quake hit at 2156 GMT Saturday with an epicentre depth of 10 kilometres, the US global quake monitor said.   The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued no alerts, and there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.   The reported epicentre lies within the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of regular seismic activity.   In February 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Papua New Guinea killed 150 people and destroyed hundreds of buildings.
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 00:19:43 +0200

Geneva, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - A woman has drowned in Lake Geneva when her sightseeing boat sank as a violent storm battered parts of Switzerland on Saturday, police said.   A man who was in the same boat was able to swim to another vessel from where he fired "two flares", Joanna Matta, police spokeswoman for the canton (region) of Geneva, told AFP.   The man told officers that the woman had been "passing through Geneva" and that the storm had taken them "by surprise", Matta said.   Three police boats and emergency services rushed to the scene. Police divers later retrieved the woman's body from the lake.

The victim, whose nationality remains unknown, was then taken to a hospital in Geneva where she was declared dead.   In a separate incident, the storm also damaged some of the 465 boats taking part in the 81st edition of the Bol d'Or, an annual regatta on Lake Geneva, the event's press service said.   Heavy rain and strong winds lashed the participants on Saturday afternoon, causing boats to capsize although nobody was injured.

However, the storm broke the mast of the ultra-fast "Real Team" catamaran, which had been in the lead and was forced to pull out of the race.   The bad weather struck western Switzerland on Saturday afternoon, bringing hail and winds reaching up to 110 kilometres (70 miles) per hour, according to the national forecaster MeteoSwiss.   In the neighbouring French region of Haute-Savoie the storm also caused damage and left a 51-year-old German tourist dead after a tree came down at a campsite.
Date: Sat, 15 Jun 2019 16:27:09 +0200

Windhoek, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - Drought-hit Namibia has authorised the sale of at least 1,000 wild animals -- including elephants and giraffes -- to limit loss of life and generate $1.1 million for conservation, the authorities confirmed Saturday.   "Given that this year is a drought year, the [environment] ministry would like to sell various type of game species from various protected areas to protect grazing and at the same time to also generate much needed funding for parks and wildlife management," environment ministry spokesman Romeo Muyunda told AFP.

The authorities declared a national disaster last month, and the meteorological services in the southern African nation estimate that some parts of the country faced the deadliest drought in as many as 90 years.    "The grazing condition in most of our parks is extremely poor and if we do not reduce the number of animals, this will lead to loss of an animals due to starvation," Muyunda said.

In April, an agriculture ministry report said 63,700 animals died in 2018 because of deteriorating grazing conditions brought on by dry weather.   Namibia's cabinet announced this week that the government would sell about 1,000 wild animals.   They include 600 disease-free buffalos, 150 springbok, 65 oryx, 60 giraffes, 35 eland, 28 elephants 20 impala and 16 kudus -- all from national parks.   The aim is to raise $1.1 million that will go towards a state-owned Game Products Trust Fund for wildlife conservation and parks management.

The government said there were currently about 960 buffalos in its national parks, 2,000 springbok, 780 oryx and 6,400 elephants.   The auction was advertised in local newspapers from Friday.   Namibia, a country of 2.4 million people, has previously made calls for aid to assist in the drought emergency that has already affected over 500,000 people.   In April the government announced that it will spend about $39,400 (35,200 euros) on drought relief this year to buy food, provide water tankers and provide subsidies to farmers.
Date: Fri, 14 Jun 2019 18:27:56 +0200
By Rosa SULLEIRO

Sao Paulo, June 14, 2019 (AFP) - A nationwide strike called by Brazil's trade unions disrupted public transport and triggered road blocks in parts of the country Friday, ahead of protests against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's pension reform.   Hours before the opening match of the Copa America in Sao Paulo, some metro lines in the country's biggest city were paralyzed as professors and students also prepared to take to the streets over the government's planned education spending cuts.    It will be the latest mass demonstration against Bolsonaro since he took office in January, but the timing could not be worse for the embattled president as Brazil prepares to play Bolivia in South America's showcase football tournament.

Bolsonaro was expected to attend the opener at Morumbi stadium where police sharpshooters will be deployed as part of increased security for the competition.    One of Brazil's main trade unions estimated 45 million workers had taken part in the strike.   Some 63 cities had been affected by the stoppage, with more than 80 cities recording demonstrations, G1 news site said.   The number of protesters is expected to balloon in the afternoon with demonstrations planned in Brazil's major cities.   Protesters have already blocked some roads in several cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where G1 said police had used tear gas to disperse demonstrators and clear the streets.   Brazilians were divided over the partial strike.   "This current government wants to destroy everything that we built decades ago so that's why I'm in favor (of the strike) and I am fighting against social inequality," Vania Santos, 49, told AFP in Rio.    In Sao Paulo, Flavio Moreira opposed the stoppage, however, saying it "hurts the commercial part" of the city.

- Pension savings cut -
Bolsonaro's proposed overhaul of Brazil's pension system -- which he has warned will bankrupt the country if his plan is not approved -- is seen as key to getting a series of economic reforms through Congress.    But the changes, including an increase in the retirement age and workers' contributions, have faced resistance from trade unions and in the lower house of Congress, where Bolsonaro's ultraconservative Social Liberal Party has only around 10 percent of the seats.    A pared-back draft of the reform presented to Congress on Thursday -- which reduces expected savings from 1.2 trillion reais ($300 billion) in 10 years to around 900 billion reais -- did little to appease union leaders, who vowed to go ahead with the shutdown.   Such savings are seen as vital to repairing Brazil's finances and economy, which were devastated by a 2015-2016 crisis.

Economy minister Paulo Guedes, who is spearheading the government's reform agenda, has threatened to resign if the bill is not passed or is watered down significantly.   It caps a tumultuous six months for Bolsonaro, who has seen his popularity nosedive as he struggles to push his signature reform through a hostile Congress and keep Latin America's biggest economy from sliding back into recession.   More than 13 million people are unemployed, the latest data shows, with a record number giving up looking for a job.     Fighting between military and far-right factions of Bolsonaro's government has fueled chaos in his administration where his sons and right-wing writer and polemicist Olavo de Carvalho wield enormous influence.   Bolsonaro sacked his third minister on Thursday -- retired general Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, who had been the government secretary and seen as a moderate voice.   That came on the same day Bolsonaro broke his silence to defend Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who has been accused of wrongdoing while serving as a judge in the sprawling Car Wash anticorruption investigation.