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Bangladesh

Bangladesh - US Consular Information Sheet
June 17, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Bangladesh is a democratic republic with a parliamentary form of government.
On January 11, 2007, President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergenc
.
On May 12, 2008, the Chief Adviser announced that national parliamentary elections would be held in the third week of December, 2008.
Bangladesh remains a developing country with poor infrastructure.
Tourist facilities outside major cities and tourist areas are minimal.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Bangladesh for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport, visa and onward/return ticket are required.
All travelers to Bangladesh, including American citizens, must have a valid visa in their valid passport prior to arrival.
Although airport visas (landing permits) are available upon arrival by air, the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka does not recommend this option for most categories of travelers as working hours may not coincide with flight arrival times and precise formalities can vary.
Additionally, if issued, landing permit validity is usually limited to a maximum of fifteen days.
A valid visa in an expired or cancelled U.S. passport is not acceptable to the Bangladeshi authorities; if you are issued a new U.S. passport, you will need a new visa.

If you intend to use Dhaka as a hub from which to visit other countries in the region, ensure that you obtain a multiple-entry visa before arrival.
If you intend to work for a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Bangladesh, you should ensure that your sponsor has provided you with up-to-date advice on the kind of visa you must obtain before arrival.
It is difficult and time-consuming to change your immigration status once you have arrived in Bangladesh.

Visas to Bangladesh which are expiring may be extended at the Directorate of Immigration and Passport, located at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Agargaon, Dhaka.
The phone numbers are (880-2) 913-1891 and 913-4011.

New visa rules, introduced in October 2006, require foreign nationals who come to Bangladesh to work or for long-term visits to have the appropriate work permits and clearances on arrival.
There are increased financial penalties for overstaying visas.
Additionally, those who overstay for more than 90 days face the possibility of being charged with violating the Foreigners Act of 1946.
For further information on these rules, please check with the nearest Bangladeshi Embassy or Consulate (U.S. addresses listed below) before traveling, or visit the Bangadeshi Immigration Police web site at www.immi.gov.bd, which provides further details on rules relating to foreigner registrations.

There are two exit requirements:
A.
When traveling by air, there is a departure tax on all foreigners except children under the age of two.
This tax is often included when air tickets are purchased.
Otherwise, it is collected at the airport at the time of departure.
The amount of the departure tax varies, depending on the destination (e.g., the departure tax for the U.S. is the most expensive, at USD $43).
There is no travel tax for transit passengers transiting Bangladesh without a visa and in country for 72 hours or fewer.
These requirements may be subject to change, and travelers are advised to check with the Embassy of Bangladesh before traveling.

B.
Departing foreign nationals are also required to comply with the income tax ordinance of 1984 and submit an income tax clearance certificate/income tax exemption certificate to local airline offices upon departure from Bangladesh.
More information can be obtained from the Bangladesh Board of Revenue web site at http://www.nbr-bd.org/.

For further information on entry requirements and possible exceptions to the exit requirements, please contact the Embassy of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, 3510 International Drive NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone 202-244-0183, fax 202-244-5366, web site http://www.bangladoot.org, or the Bangladeshi Consulates in New York at 211 E. 43rd Street, Suite 502, New York, NY 10017, telephone 212-599-6767 or Los Angeles at 10850 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1250, Los Angeles, CA 90024, telephone 310-441-9399. Visit the Embassy of Bangladesh web site at http://www.bangladoot.org 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:
Bangladesh is currently under a state of emergency.
As of May, 2008, national parliamentary elections have been scheduled for the third week of December, 2008.
The security situation in Bangladesh is fluid, and Americans are urged to check with the U.S. Embassy for the latest information.
Spontaneous demonstrations take place in Bangladesh from time to time.
American citizens are reminded that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence quickly and unexpectedly.
American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.
American citizens should stay up-to-date with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times.
Information regarding demonstrations in Bangladesh can be found on the U.S. Embassy Dhaka’s web site at http://dhaka.usembassy.gov/.

A terrorist bombing campaign in the second half of 2005, political violence throughout the country at the end of 2006, and threats to U.S. and Western interests led to increased security around U.S. Government facilities.
On August 17, 2005, a banned Islamist terrorist group, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), claimed responsibility for nearly 500 coordinated small bomb blasts in virtually every part of Bangladesh that killed two persons and injured several dozen.
The most recent JMB bombing occurred on December 8, 2005, and the Bangladeshi government subsequently apprehended the known senior leadership of JMB.
Six JMB leaders convicted of complicity in JMB attacks were executed on March 29, 2007.
JMB and other extremist groups are small in number but remain active and may resume violent activities.

Demonstrations, political activity, and hartals (nationwide strikes) were initially banned during the state of emergency, but the rules restricting political activity have been slightly relaxed as part of the process leading up to the planned elections in the third week of December 2008.
Prior to the state of emergency, rallies, marches, demonstrations and hartals took place frequently.
In August 2007, violent protests involving thousands of demonstrators occurred in several cities in Bangladesh, including Dhaka.
Authorities imposed a curfew to restore calm.
Protests involving workers from the large garment-manufacturing industry are not uncommon.
Visitors to Bangladesh should check with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka for updated information on the current political situation.

U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to the Khagrachari, Rangamati and Bandarban Hill Tracts districts (collectively known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts) due to kidnappings and other security incidents, including those involving foreign nationals.
Foreigners traveling in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are required to register with local authorities.
Additionally, the U.S. Embassy has in the past received reports of incidents of kidnapping, arms and narcotics smuggling and clashes between local Bangladeshis and Rohingyan refugees in areas near Rohingyan refugee camps in the Teknaf, Kutupalong, Ukhia, and Ramu areas of the Cox’s Bazar district.
The U.S. Embassy also recommends against travel to these areas.
Individuals who choose to visit these districts are urged to exercise extreme caution.

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, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Americans traveling to or living in Bangladesh who are registered at the U.S. Embassy will receive updated security information about Bangladesh via e-mail.
All Demonstration Notices and Warden Messages are posted on the Embassy’s web site at http://dhaka.usembassy.gov/.
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:
Urban crime can be organized or opportunistic, conducted by individuals or groups, and commonly encompasses fraud, theft (larceny, pick-pocketing, snatch-and-grab), robbery (armed and unarmed), carjacking, rape, assault, and burglary (home and auto).
Incidents of crime and levels of violence are higher in low-income residential and congested commercial areas, but are on the rise in wealthier areas as well.
Visitors should avoid walking alone after dark, carrying large sums of money, or wearing expensive jewelry.
Valuables should be stored in hotel safety deposit boxes and should not be left unattended in hotel rooms.
Police are generally responsive to reports of crimes against Americans.
Crimes, however, often go unsolved.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Bangladesh is 999.
This connects you to the Dhaka Metro Police Exchange.
There is no guarantee that English will be spoken or understood at the Dhaka Metro Police Exchange.
The Police Exchange can only transfer calls to the appropriate police station within the Dhaka metropolitan area, and then the caller will have to speak with that police station in order to actually have any police services performed.
There is similarly no guarantee that English will be spoken or understood at the local police station.

Outside of Dhaka, the caller will need to add the city code for Dhaka, so dial 02-999.
The caller will again be connected to the Dhaka Metro Police Exchange, which should be able to provide the number of the appropriate police station within Bangladesh, but the Dhaka Metro Police Exchange is unlikely to be able to transfer the call to a police station outside Dhaka.
The caller would have to hang up and dial the number provided by the Dhaka Metro Police Exchange.
The ability to speak and/or understand English is even more unlikely at local police stations outside of Dhaka.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Bangladesh do not approach U.S. standards, even in tourist areas.
There is limited ambulance service in Bangladesh.
Several hospitals in Dhaka (e.g., Apollo Hospital and Square Hospital) have emergency rooms that are equipped at the level of a community hospital.
Hospitals in the provinces are less well equipped and supplied.
There have been reports of counterfeit medications within the country, but medication from major pharmacies and hospitals is generally reliable.
Medical evacuations to Bangkok or Singapore are often necessary for serious conditions or invasive procedures.

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 Bangladesh is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Conditions differ around the country.

The Bangladeshi road network is in poor condition and poorly maintained.
The streets of Dhaka are extremely congested; bicycle rickshaws compete with three-wheeled mini-taxis (CNGs), cars, overloaded buses, and trucks on limited road space.
Also, driving on the left-hand side of the road may be confusing to American visitors.
Inter-city roads are narrow.
Driving at night is especially dangerous.
Streetlights are rare even in cities.
Road accidents are common in Bangladesh.
Fatal head-on collisions on inter-city roads are common.
When vehicle accidents occur, a crowd quickly gathers and violence can occur when the crowd becomes unruly.
Travelers are strongly urged not to use public transportation, including buses, rickshaws, and three-wheeled baby taxis due to their high accident rate and crime issues.
An alternative to consider is a rental car and driver.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of Bangladesh’s National Tourism Organization at http://www.parjatan.org, e-mail bpcho@bangla.net.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Bangladesh is a country crisscrossed with rivers, and thus uses a wide network of water-based public transportation.
Ferries and other boats compete with the railroads as a major means of public transport.
Typically overloaded and top-heavy, ferries do capsize, particularly during the monsoon season from May to October or during unexpected thunderstorms or windstorms.
Every year there are dozens of fatalities resulting from ferry accidents.

Bangladeshi customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Bangladesh of items such as currency, household appliances, alcohol, cigarettes and weapons.
There is no restriction as to the amount of U.S. currency visitors may bring into Bangladesh; however, they must declare to customs authorities if they are carrying more than USD $5,000 at the time of arrival.
It is advisable to contact the Bangladeshi Embassy or Consulates for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Please see our Customs Information.

Land disputes are extremely common in Bangladesh and are extremely difficult to resolve through legal channels.
Court cases can last for months, and sometimes years, without there ever being a final and accurate determination of which party has legitimate claim to the title.

The U.S. Embassy currently has on file nearly twenty cases of American citizens who claim to be victimized in land-grabbing disputes.
Rarely are these simple cases of a legitimate property owner and an opportunistic land-grabber.
More often, it is a case of disagreement between an owner who believes he has historical ownership of the property and a new owner who has just purchased the same property.
One of them has been swindled, both of them have deeds, and it is next to impossible to determine whose deed is valid.

The dangers in becoming involved in a property dispute range from being threatened by bullies to being involved in a lengthy court dispute.
Those involved in a court dispute run the risk of having cases filed against them, and may be arrested and jailed, sometimes for months.

American Citizens wishing to purchase property in Bangladesh should be thoroughly aware of the risks they take and should only purchase property from a seller whose ownership is beyond doubt.
Additionally, they should recognize the risks associated if they are not physically present to oversee their property.
American Citizens should bear in mind that the U.S. Embassy cannot protect personal property in the absence of owners and cannot take sides in a legal dispute.

A marriage must be entered into with the full and free consent of both individuals.
The parties involved should feel that they have a choice.
If an American citizen is being forced into a marriage against his/her will, help and advice are available.
For more information, please and the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka information on forced marriage at http://dhaka.usembassy.gov/forced_marriage_home.html, or contact the American Citizens Services unit directly at DhakaACS@state.gov, or 011-88-02-885-5500 from the United States, 02-885-5500 from inside Bangladesh, or 885-5500 from anywhere in the city of Dhaka.
All travelers to Bangladesh should retain their passports and their return plane tickets to ensure independence to travel.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Bangladesh’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Bangladesh’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.

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 Bangladeshi laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bangladesh 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, international parental child abduction and the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka information on forced marriage at http://dhaka.usembassy.gov/forced_marriage_home.html.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Bangladesh 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 Bangladesh.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located approximately four miles south of Zia International Airport, and five miles north of downtown in the Diplomatic Enclave, Madani Avenue, Baridhara, Dhaka, telephone (88-02) 885-5500, fax number (88-02) 882-3744.
The workweek is Sunday through Thursday.
The Consular Section is open for American Citizens Services Sunday through Thursday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
For emergency services and general information during business hours, please call (88-02) 882-3805.
For emergency services after hours, please call (88-02) 885-5500 and ask for the duty officer.
The Embassy's Internet home page is http://dhaka.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Bangladesh dated November 23, 2007 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, and Children’s Issues.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

2 Aug 2019

A record 19,513 people have been infected [as of] yesterday [1 Aug 2019], including 3464 outside Dhaka, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said, adding that 1712 new dengue cases were reported at hospitals in the last 24 hours since 8:00 am on Wednesday [31 Jul 2019]. Two pregnant women die of dengue at BSMMU [Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University]. With the latest development, the death toll in dengue disease has risen to at least 48 this year [2019], according to different hospital sources.
Date: Tue, 13 Aug 2019 13:34:30 +0200 (METDST)

Dhaka, Aug 13, 2019 (AFP) - At least 40 people have died in Bangladesh's worst-ever outbreak of dengue, officials said Tuesday, as overburdened hospitals struggled to treat thousands of patients.   Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne viral infection, which causes flu-like symptoms but can be deadly if it develops into a haemorrhagic fever, usually occur in the South Asian nation during the monsoon season between June and September -- but this year the disease has reached epidemic proportions.

More than 44,000 people have been admitted to hospitals with the illness since January, including some 2,100 on Monday alone, said health ministry official Ayesha Akhter.    "We have confirmed 40 dengue-related casualties so far to Monday," she told AFP.   Local media put the number much higher, reporting that the death toll passed 100 last week.   The week-long holiday marking the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha has seen hundreds of thousands of people leaving Bangladeshi cities to return to their family homes in the countryside, raising concerns that the disease will spread further.

The country's health minister said the outbreak was "gradually reducing" while inaugurating an emergency dengue ward at a public hospital in Dhaka this week.   For the first time on record, holidays for all public health workers have been cancelled to help respond to the crisis, said health ministry director general Abul Kalam Azad.   "It is getting very tough to cope up with the amount of work pressure," one medical officer told AFP.
Date: Mon, 29 Jul 2019 14:58:38 +0200

Dhaka, July 29, 2019 (AFP) - Bangladesh is in the grip of the country's worst-ever dengue fever outbreak, officials said Monday, with hospitals overflowing and social media flooded with pleas for blood donors.   Eight people have died and there have been 13,637 cases of the disease so far this year, with nearly 1,100 people -- most of them children -- diagnosed in the last 24 hours, according to official figures.   "This number is the highest since we started keeping record on dengue patients nearly two decades ago," senior health ministry official Ayesha Akter told AFP.

Local media reported that the number of victims could be much higher and the Amader Shomoy newspaper said at least 30 people had died of dengue this year.   The capital Dhaka is the worst-hit, with the city launching a fumigation drive to kill the Aedes mosquito, which is capable of spreading devastating diseases like dengue, Zika and chikungunya.

Dengue, which causes flu-like symptoms, can be deadly if it develops into a haemorrhagic fever. There is no vaccine or any specific medicine to treat dengue, according to the World Health Organisation.   An AFP correspondent visited major hospitals in Dhaka and saw patients lying on floors and in corridors as they waited for treatment.   The country's largest hospital -- Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) -- has treated some 1,858 dengue patients this month, according to director general A.K.M Nasir Uddin.   "We have opened a special corner for dengue patients," he told AFP.

Doctors have been working overtime to cope with the large volume of patients.   "Our facilities are overstretched and overwhelmed. We are struggling to cope," a medical officer at Dhaka's Mitford Hospital said.   There have been reports of blood banks struggling to meet the needs of seriously ill patients, with appeals for blood launched on social media sites such as Facebook.   One mother said she was worried about her sick daughter, aged four.   "Doctors have done all they could do. All I am doing now is calling Allah for help," Nasima Khatun told AFP.
Date: Sun, 7 Jul 2019 18:22:45 +0200

Dhaka, July 7, 2019 (AFP) - Monsoon-triggered landslides in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh have killed one person and left more than 4,500 homeless, aid officials said Sunday.   About 35 centimetres (14 inches) of rain fell in 72 hours before the landslides started Saturday in camps around Cox's Bazar that house more than 900,000 of the Muslim minority who fled Myanmar, the UN said.   Twenty-six landslides were reported in makeshift camps built on hills near the border with Myanmar. Trees there have been torn up to build huts and for firewood, leaving the terrain unstable.   UN refugee agency official Areez Rahman said about 30 shanty camps have been affected by the storms. One woman in her 50s died after being hit by a wall that collapsed, he told AFP.

Nur Mohammad, a 40-year-old Rohingya in the main Kutupalong camp, said 12 relatives had fled their tarpaulin-clad huts on the hills to take shelter with him.   "My home is already overcrowded. I'm worried how I will feed all these people," he said.   Officials said some 5,000 Rohingya on a strip of no man's land between Bangladesh and Myanmar had also been badly hit by the storms.   "Children are suffering from diarrhoea and we don't have enough drinking water," camp leader Dil Mohammad told AFP by phone.   He said most of the camp was knee deep in water as Myanmar authorities had put a dam on a nearby river.   Bangladesh's refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said on Sunday emergency preparations were being made.

Monsoon storms killed 170 people in the refugee camp in 2017.    Last year the UN refugee agency moved 30,000 Rohingya out of areas considered at high risk of landslides and floods.   Some 740,000 Rohingya fled a military crackdown in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar's Rakhine state in August 2017, joining about 200,000 already living in camps across the border.   Bangladesh wants to relocate up to 100,000 of the refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal but this is opposed by the refugees and international rights groups.
Date: Sun 23 Jun 2019
Source: The Independent [edited]

The number of encephalitis-affected children has almost doubled from last year's [2018's] count in different hospitals in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country. According to data provided by Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), more than 1200 patients affected by encephalitis were admitted in different hospitals across the country till 20 Jun this year [2019]. The number of affected patients was about 650 in 2018.

Experts say that though the number of patients has increased this year [2019] from last year [2018], there is no cause for panic. However, they suggest all to remain alert about the disease. Recently, encephalitis has claimed 142 lives in neighboring India. But the condition of Bangladesh is still under control, say doctors.

Sources say 2-3 children affected by encephalitis have been admitted to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).

IEDCR director Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora told The Independent that the number of affected patients has increased this year [2019]. "However, there is nothing to worry [about] right now," she said. "We collect data from across the country. Our surveillance team is working at the field level. In case of any trouble, we'll take immediate steps."

Dr Sayeeda Anwar, head of paediatrics at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said there was nothing to worry.

Encephalitis, a rare life-threatening disease, is an inflammation of the brain tissue. The most common cause is viral infection. Symptoms of encephalitis can range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, stiff neck, and lethargy. Patients should call the doctor immediately if anyone displays symptoms of encephalitis.

There are 2 main types of encephalitis: primary and secondary. Primary encephalitis occurs when a virus directly infects the brain and spinal cord. Secondary encephalitis occurs when an infection starts elsewhere in the body and then travels to the brain.

Mosquitoes are carriers of this disease [virus]. In addition, the disease can spread if anyone eats fruits that are eaten by bats and birds.

Prof. Khan Abul Kalam Azad, chairman of the medicine department of DMCH, said the disease resistance among children was low. In this case, there is no alternative to vigilance. "If we can take enough protection to protest this disease in due time, we'll able to minimise the number of patients in Bangladesh," he added.
========================
[The above report, quoting health authorities, implicates aetiological agents responsible for these cases of encephalitis only indirectly. It mentions disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which implies cases due to infection with Japanese encephalitis (JE) virus. Bangladesh is well within that geographic area where JE virus is endemic. The officials also mention fruit eaten by bats, implying Nipah virus infection. Giant flying fox fruit bats (_Pteropus_ spp) are reservoir hosts of Nipah virus. The bats contaminate fruit as well as palm sap in collection pots, with cases occurring following human consumption in the Bangladeshi "Nipah belt" annually. Interestingly, no mention is made of other etiologies of encephalitis proposed in neighboring India, including consumption of lychees, as causes of acute encephalitis syndrome of children.

Encephalitis cases have been reported in Bangladesh before. Research from Bangladesh, published in the July 2017 edition of The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (see Ref. 1), has proven that it is not the fruit but a banned pesticide that is the actual culprit.

It would be interesting to know if laboratory tests have been done to confirm or rule out possible etiological agents of these recent cases in Bangladesh. Any further information from knowledgeable sources would be highly appreciated. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Ref. 1: Islam MS, Sharif AR, Sazzad HMS, et al.: Outbreak of Sudden Death with Acute Encephalitis Syndrome Among Children Associated with Exposure to Lychee Orchards in Northern Bangladesh, 2012; The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene; 2017: 97(3): 949-957. doi:

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue 17 Sep 2019
Source: Boston Globe [edited]

Rhode Island officials announced Tuesday [17 Sep 2019] that 2 more human cases of eastern equine encephalitis [EEE] were confirmed in the state.

The 2 people -- one a Coventry child younger than 10 and the other a person in their 50s from Charlestown -- have been discharged from the hospital and are recovering, according to a statement from the state's Department of Public Health.

Authorities think the 2 people contracted EEE in late August [2019]. The cases were confirmed by tests done at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 3 confirmed EEE cases in Rhode Island this year [2019]. A West Warwick resident diagnosed with the mosquito-borne illness died this month [September 2019].

All 3 people contracted EEE before areas at critical risk for the disease were aerially sprayed with pesticide, state officials said.

EEE is a rare but potentially fatal disease that can cause brain inflammation and is transmitted to humans bitten by infected mosquitoes, according to federal authorities. About 1/3 of infected people who develop the disease will die, officials have said, and those who recover often live with severe and devastating neurological complications. There is no treatment for EEE.

"This [2019] has been a year with significantly elevated EEE activity, and mosquitoes will remain a threat in Rhode Island until our 1st hard frost, which is still several weeks out," said Ana Novais, the deputy director for the state's health department. "Personal mosquito-prevention measures remain everyone's 1st defence against EEE. If possible, people should limit their time outdoors at sunrise and sunset. If you are going to be out, long sleeves and pants are very important, as is bug spray [repellent]."

EEE was also confirmed in a deer in Exeter this week [week of Mon 16 Sep 2019].

In Massachusetts, 8 human cases of EEE have been confirmed this year [2019]. Last month [August 2019], a Fairhaven woman with EEE died.
========================
[The 1st Rhode Island case died. Now there are 2 additional EEE cases who have recovered sufficiently to have been discharged from the hospital. Although most reported cases of EEE this year [2019] have occurred in horses, there have been several recent human cases as well. Individuals living in areas where human or equine EEE cases have occurred should heed the above recommendations to prevent mosquito bites. Avoidance of mosquito bites is the only preventive measure available. Fortunately, horses can be vaccinated, but there is no vaccine available for humans.

The risk of EEE virus infection for humans and horses will continue in Rhode Island and the other affected states until the 1st killing frosts occur, likely in October (2019). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Rhode Island, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/241>]
Date: Tue 17 Sep 2019
Source: Detroit Free Press [edited]

State health officials said Tuesday [17 Sep 2019] that 3 Michiganders have died from the rare and dangerous mosquito-borne virus eastern equine encephalitis [EEE], and 4 others have been sickened by the disease, amid the biggest outbreak in more than a decade.

Those who live in all 8 of the affected counties -- Kalamazoo, Cass, Van Buren, Berrien, Barry, St. Joseph, Genesee, and Lapeer counties -- are urged to consider canceling, postponing, or rescheduling outdoor events that occur at or after dusk, especially those that involve children, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. This would include events such as late-evening sports practices or games or outdoor music practices "out of an abundance of caution to protect the public health, and applies until the 1st hard frost of the year [2019]," according to an MDHHS news release.

The 3 people who died were all adults and lived in Kalamazoo, Cass, and Van Buren counties, [respectively], said Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The 4 other confirmed cases are in Kalamazoo, Berrien, and Barry counties.

Animals have also been confirmed to have the virus in St. Joseph, Genesee, and Lapeer counties.

The Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department also issued a recommendation to local communities and school districts to consider canceling outdoor events at dusk or after dark, when mosquitoes are most active, or move [the events] indoors.  "Michigan is currently experiencing its worst eastern equine encephalitis outbreak in more than a decade," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. "The ongoing cases reported in humans and animals and the severity of this disease illustrate the importance of taking precautions against mosquito bites."

EEE is one of the deadliest mosquito-borne viruses in the US. One in 3 people who are infected with the virus die. The only way to prevent it is to avoid mosquito bites. The MDHHS says residents should
- apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET or other US Environmental Protection Agency-registered product to exposed skin or clothing, and always follow the manufacturer's directions for use;
- wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Apply insect repellent to clothing to help prevent bites;
- maintain window and door screening to help keep mosquitoes outside;
- empty water from mosquito breeding sites around the home, such as buckets, unused kiddie pools, old tires, or similar sites where mosquitoes may lay eggs; and
- use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas.

Symptoms of EEE include
- sudden onset of fever, chills;
- body and joint aches, which can progress to a severe encephalitis;
- headache;
- disorientation;
- tremors;
- seizures;
- paralysis; and
- coma.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should visit a doctor.

[Byline: Kristen Jordan Shamus]
=======================
[The number of human cases remains at 7. However, 3 of these have died since the 6 Sep 2019 report (see Eastern equine encephalitis - North America (18): USA human, horse, deer http://promedmail.org/post/20190910.6667626). However, even among the survivors, there is a significant risk of permanent neurological damage following clinical encephalitis. CDC reports that many individuals with clinical encephalitis "are left with disabling and progressive mental and physical sequelae, which can range from minimal brain dysfunction to severe intellectual impairment, personality disorders, seizures, paralysis, and cranial nerve dysfunction. Many patients with severe sequelae die within a few years" (<https://www.cdc.gov/easternequineencephalitis/tech/symptoms.html>). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Michigan, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/225>
Michigan county map:
Date: Mon 16 Sep 2019
Source: Patch [edited]

The state Department of Public Health is warning that an adult resident of East Lyme has tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). This is the 1st human case of EEE identified in Connecticut this season [2019].  The patient became ill during the last week of August [2019] with encephalitis and remains hospitalized. Laboratory tests, which were completed today at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Laboratory in Ft. Collins, Colorado, confirmed the presence of antibodies to the virus that causes EEE.  "EEE is a rare but serious and potentially fatal disease that can affect people of all ages," said DPH commissioner Renee Coleman Mitchell in a release. "Using insect repellent, covering bare skin, and avoiding being outdoors from dusk to dawn are effective ways to help keep you from being bitten by mosquitoes."  The EEE virus has been identified in mosquitoes in 12 towns and in horses in 2 other towns.

Towns where mosquitoes have tested positive for EEE include Chester, Haddam, Hampton, Groton, Killingworth, Ledyard, Madison, North Stonington, Plainfield, Shelton, Stonington, and Voluntown. Horses have tested positive for EEE virus in Colchester and Columbia this season, and the virus has been detected in a flock of wild pheasants.  Other states throughout the northeast are also experiencing an active season for EEE. In addition to the virus being found in mosquitoes, there have been a total of 8 human cases of EEE infection in Massachusetts and one human case in Rhode Island, with one case in each state resulting in a fatality. "This is the 2nd human case of EEE ever reported in Connecticut," said Dr. Matthew Cartter, director of infectious diseases for the DPH. "The 1st human case of EEE reported in Connecticut occurred in the fall of 2013."

The DPH advises against unnecessary trips into mosquito breeding grounds and marshes, as the mosquitoes that transmit EEE virus are associated with freshwater swamps and are most active at dusk and dawn. Overnight camping or other substantial outdoor exposure in freshwater swamps in Connecticut should be avoided. Even though the temperatures are getting cooler, the DPH is advising that mosquito season is not over, and residents should continue to take measures to prevent mosquito bites, including wearing protective clothing and using repellents.  Although EEE-infected mosquitoes continue to be detected in the south-eastern corner of the state, the numbers are declining, and we are not experiencing the excessively high levels of activity seen in Massachusetts. There are currently no plans to implement widespread aerial pesticide spraying in the state.

Severe cases of EEE virus infection (involving encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain) begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting. The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, and coma. Approximately 1/3 of patients who develop EEE die, and many of those who survive have mild to severe brain damage, according to the DPH.

There is no specific treatment for EEE. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and no effective anti-viral drugs have been discovered. Severe illnesses are treated by supportive therapy, which may include hospitalization, respiratory support, IV fluids, and prevention of other infections. It takes 4-10 days after the bite of an infected mosquito to develop symptoms of EEE.

The management of mosquitoes in Connecticut is a collaborative effort involving the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and the DPH, together with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Connecticut. These agencies are responsible for monitoring and managing the state's mosquito population levels to reduce the potential public health threat of mosquito-borne diseases.

Information on what can be done to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes and the latest mosquito test results and human infections is available online.  [Byline: Rich Kirby]
===========================
[This has been an active year for EEE virus transmission in the eastern USA from the upper Midwest to the northeastern states and south to Florida. Although historically, EEE human cases in Connecticut have been very rare, the occurrence of a human case in the state this year (2019) is not surprising. There have been equine and/or human EEE cases this summer (2019) in the 3 bordering states: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York. Interestingly, pheasants are mentioned in the above report. They are susceptible and, after being infected with the virus from the bite of an EEE-carrying mosquito, become ill or moribund with viremia titers that can reach 10^9 per ml. Ill or moribund pheasant can be attacked and cannibalized by pen mates that, in turn, are infected orally and may become ill and die as well. As the above report cautions, the only way to avoid infection is for people to avoid mosquito bites. Although the incidence of EEE cases and virus-positive mosquitoes may be declining, there is a risk of infection until the 1st killing frost occurs in autumn, when the mosquitoes are no longer active. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Connecticut, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/210>]
Date: Wed 11 Sep 2019
Source: BBC Afrique [In French, trans. Mod.LXL, edited]

At least 18 people died in 10 days after eating pesticide-contaminated food in 2 localities in Burkina Faso. A dozen still remain under observation in hospitals, according to the Minister of Health.  The 1st cases were reported on [1 Sep 2019] in the town of Didyr in the centre-west of the country, said Professor Claudine Lougue, Minister of Health.  About 15 members of the same families felt unwell after eating local dishes made from bean leaves and small millet seeds, which are actually seed remains. Thirteen died later despite medical care.

On Monday [2 Sep 2019], the ministry received another alert, this time from the central-eastern region. Here again, 14 people from the same family were admitted to the health centres. Five have lost their lives. After analysis, doctors diagnosed massive food poisoning, said the minister. Complementary examinations incriminate pesticides, she said.  "Investigations have been made on samples of biological products such as blood and urine, and we found an unusually high level of pesticides in foods that were consumed. There was an abnormally high level of pesticides, and these pesticides were strongly incriminated," said the minister.

The remains of food have been secured, announced Professor Lougue, who calls on citizens to observe strict hygiene measures in the use of plant leaves for consumption. Pesticides are used for the needs of field work, especially in the countryside during this period of wintering.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 16:44:19 +0200 (METDST)

London, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - British Airways pilots on Wednesday cancelled a strike that had been due September 27, the British Airline Pilots Association union said after two walkouts last week that cost the company dear.   "Someone has to take the initiative to sort out this (pay) dispute and with no sign of that from BA the pilots have decided to take the responsible course," BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said in a statement.    The union chief added that the airline's "passengers rightly expect BA and its pilots to resolve their issues without disruption and now is the time for cool heads and pragmatism to be brought to bear.    "I hope BA and its owner IAG show as much responsibility as the pilots," he added.   It was now "time for a period of reflection before the dispute escalates further and irreparable damage is done to the (BA) brand."

However the union added that should the airline "refuse meaningful new negotiations, BALPA retains the right to announce further strike dates".   British Airways, which likes to call itself "the world's favourite airline", flew into turbulence last week as pilots staged a costly and historic two-day strike, tarnishing its global reputation according to aviation analysts.   Pilots walked out for the first time in the company's 100-year history, sparked by a bitter and long-running feud over pay.   BA faced the embarrassment of grounding its entire UK fleet on September 9 and 10, causing the cancellation of about 1,600 flights.   The move sparked travel chaos for about 200,000 passengers who had been due to fly in and out of London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

The disruption continued into September 11 because half of BA's 300 aircraft and more than 700 pilots were mostly in the wrong place.   As a result, BA was forced to cancel approximately ten percent of its daily 850 flights in and out of Britain that day.    BALPA and its members are demanding a bigger share of British Airways profits.   The airline has offered a salary increase of 11.5 percent over three years, which it argues would boost the annual pay of some captains to £200,000 ($250,000 or 226,000 euros).   However, the union has rejected the proposal made in July.   BALPA meanwhile estimates that last week's 48-hour strike cost the airline £80 million.   BA is owned by IAG, which was formed in 2011 with the merger of British Airways and Spain's Iberia. IAG has since added other carriers, including Austria's Vueling and Ireland's Aer Lingus.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:26:37 +0200 (METDST)
By Sam Reeves

Kuala Lumpur, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Toxic haze from Indonesian forest fires closed schools and airports across the country and in neighbouring Malaysia Wednesday, while air quality worsened in Singapore just days before the city's Formula One motor race.   Illegal fires to clear land for agriculture are blazing out of control on Sumatra and Borneo islands, with Jakarta deploying thousands of security forces and water-bombing aircraft to tackle them.

Indonesian blazes belch smog across Southeast Asia annually, but this year's are the worst since 2015 and have added to concerns about wildfire outbreaks worldwide exacerbating global warming.   On Wednesday, air quality deteriorated to "very unhealthy" levels on an official index in many parts of peninsular Malaysia, to the east of Sumatra, with the Kuala Lumpur skyline shrouded by dense smog.    Nearly 1,500 schools were closed across Malaysia due to the air pollution, with over one million pupils affected, according to the education ministry.

A growing number of Malaysians were suffering health problems due to the haze, with authorities saying there had been a sharp increase in outpatients at government hospitals -- many suffering dry and itchy eyes.   Indonesian authorities said hundreds of schools in hard-hit Riau province on Sumatra were shut, without providing a precise number, while about 1,300 were closed in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo.    Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.   Poor visibility closed seven airports in the Indonesian part of Borneo, the transport ministry in Jakarta said. Scores of flights have already been diverted and cancelled in the region in recent days due to the smog.

- Singapore smog race? -
Air quality in Singapore worsened to unhealthy levels and a white smog obscured the striking waterfront skyline, featuring the Marina Bay Sands casino resort with its three towers and boat-shaped top level.    The worsening pollution increased fears that this weekend's Formula One race may be affected. Organisers say the possibility of haze is one of the issues in their contingency plan for Sunday's showpiece night race, but have not given further details.

The city-state's tourism board said spectators would be able to buy masks as protection from the haze if conditions did not improve and assistance would be provided for those who feel unwell, the Today news portal reported.   The fires have sparked tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia.    Indonesia's environment minister initially suggested the haze was from Malaysian fires despite satellite data showing hundreds of blazes in Indonesia and only a handful in its neighbour, prompting anger from her Malaysian counterpart.

Indonesia later sealed off dozens of plantations where it said fires were blazing, including some owned by Malaysia-based firms, deepening the row.   But Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has struck a diplomatic tone throughout the crisis, said Malaysia may pass legislation forcing its companies to tackle fires on plantations abroad.   Malaysia wants its firms with sites overseas to put out blazes contributing to the haze, he said, adding: "Of course, if we find they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law to make them responsible."

The Indonesian government has insisted it is doing all it can to fight the blazes. But this year's fires have been worsened by dry weather and experts believe there is little chance of them being extinguished until the onset of the rainy season in October.   Indonesia's meteorology, climate and geophysics agency said Wednesday that over 1,000 hotspots -- areas of intense heat detected by satellite that indicate a likely fire -- had been sighted, most of them on Sumatra.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:14:44 +0200 (METDST)
By Aishwarya KUMAR

New Delhi, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - India announced on Wednesday a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes, as a backlash gathers pace worldwide due to health concerns about a product promoted as less harmful than smoking tobacco.   The Indian announcement, also outlawing production, import and distribution, came a day after New York became the second US state to ban flavoured e-cigarettes following a string of vaping-linked deaths.   "The decision was made keeping in mind the impact that e-cigarettes have on the youth of today," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters in New Delhi.

E-cigarettes do not "burn" but instead heat up a liquid -- tasting of everything from bourbon to bubble gum and which usually contains nicotine -- that turns into vapour and is inhaled.   The vapour is missing the estimated 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke but does contain a number of substances that could potentially be harmful.   They have been pushed by producers, and also by some governments including in Britain, as a safer alternative to traditional smoking -- and as a way to kick the habit.

However critics say that apart from being harmful in themselves, the flavours of e-cigarette liquids appeal particularly to children and risk getting them addicted to nicotine.   Some 3.6 million middle and high school students in the United States used vaping products in 2018, an increase of 1.5 million on the year before.   The New York emergency legislation followed an outbreak of severe pulmonary disease that has killed seven people and sickened hundreds.   President Donald Trump's administration announced last week that it would soon ban flavoured e-cigarette products to stem a rising tide of youth users.

- Big E-Tobacco -
Although few Indians vape at present, the Indian ban also cuts off a vast potential market of 1.3 billion consumers for makers of e-cigarettes.   Tobacco firms have been investing heavily in the technology to compensate for falling demand for cigarettes due to high taxes and public smoking bans, particularly in the West.

In 2018 Altria, the US maker of brands such as Marlboro and Chesterfield, splashed out almost $13 billion on a stake in one of the biggest e-cigarette makers, Juul.   A few Indian states have already banned e-cigarettes although the restrictions have been ineffective since online sale of vaping products continue.   The new ban does not cover traditional tobacco products in India.   According to the World Health Organization, India is the world's second-largest consumer of tobacco products, killing nearly 900,000 people every year.

Nearly 275 million people over 15, or 35 percent of adults, are users, although chewing tobacco -- which also causes cancer -- is more prevalent than smoking.   India is also the world's third--largest producer of tobacco, the WHO says, and tobacco farmers are an important vote bank for political parties.   According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, an estimated 45.7 million people depend on the tobacco sector in India for their livelihood.   Tobacco is also a major Indian export, and the government holds substantial stakes, directly or indirectly, in tobacco firms including in ITC, one of India's biggest companies.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 03:56:31 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Humberto strengthened to a major Category 3 storm on Tuesday and was expected to pass near Bermuda, threatening it with dangerous waves and heavy rain, the US National Hurricane Center said.   "Hurricane conditions are expected to reach Bermuda by Wednesday night and continue into early Thursday morning," the Miami-based NHC said.   "Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or so, but Humberto should remain a powerful hurricane through Thursday," it said.   As of 8:00 pm (0000 GMT), the storm had maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) and was moving east-northeast at 12 miles per hour.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 01:36:21 +0200 (METDST)

Dakar, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Four people died after a boat carrying dozens of tourists capsized during heavy storms in Senegal, authorities and emergency services said Tuesday.   The death toll could rise as three passengers were said to be missing after the accident.  The boat was carrying several Senegalese nationals, six French people, two Germans, two Swedes and one person from Guinea-Bissau, when it turned over Monday in driving rain and a heavy swell, fire department chief Papa Angel Michel Diatta said.   All the dead were Senegalese, officials and emergency services said.

Two worked in a national park, one was a woman and the other victim was a child, Diatta said.   The boat was heading for the Madeleine islands, site of an offshore national park popular with tourists who travel from Dakar, coastal capital of the West African country.   Senegalese President Macky Sall appealed for "greater caution and respect for existing security norms duing the rainy season" in a tweet.

Emergency services continued to look for those missing on Tuesday. AFP journalists saw a dozen divers at the scene. Distressed families were waiting on the shore to get news of their loved ones.    "The gendarmerie called us at 5:00 am (GMT and local time). My brother was on the boat. The worst thing is not knowing," said Aminata Diop, who was among the relatives on the beach.   There are "four dead bodies and between three and four people are missing. Thirty-five people were on the boat. Search and rescue operations are continuing this morning," Interior Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye told AFP by telephone.

The causes of the accident were unclear. The interior minister told Senegalese media overnight that several tourists were worried about the heavy rains and wanted to return to the pier but others wanted to stay on the boat.   The survivors spent the night on the island, Ndiaye told local radio on Tuesday. Blankets and food were sent to them and they were to be ferried back to the mainland in the morning, he added.   The rainy season arrived late this year and heavy storms have resulted in several casualties this month.    Two fishermen were killed on their canoe in the same area nearly two weeks ago.
Date: Tue, 17 Sep 2019 15:38:37 +0200 (METDST)

Jakarta, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Massive forest fires in Indonesia that have caused a toxic haze to spread as far as Singapore and peninsular Malaysia are also seriously affecting endangered orangutans and their habitat, a rescue foundation said Tuesday.   Jakarta has deployed thousands of troops as temporary fireman and deployed dozens of water-bombing aircraft to battle blazes that are turning pristine forest into charred landscape in Sumatra and Borneo islands.   The fires -- usually started by illegal burning to clear land for farming -- have unleashed a choking haze across parts of southeast Asia.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation said Tuesday that the haze was affecting hundreds of great apes in its care at rescue centres and wildlife re-introduction shelters.   "The thick smoke does not only endanger the health of our staff... but also it affects the 355 orangutans we currently care for", the foundation said in a statement, referring to just once cetre in Kalimantan   "As many as 37 young orangutans are suspected to have contracted a mild respiratory infection," it added.   Conditions were so bad at their Samboja Lestari facility in East Kalimantan that outdoor activities for the animals had been restricted to a few hours a day.

Orangutans have been particularly vulnerable to commercial land clearances and have seen their natural habitat shrink dramatically in the last few decades.   The population of orangutan in Borneo has plummeted from about 288,500 in 1973 to about 100,000 today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.   The toxic smoke caused by the forest fires is an annual problem for Indonesia and its neighbours, but has been worsened this year by particularly dry weather.   On Borneo island, which Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei, pollution levels were "hazardous", according to environment ministry data.   Hundreds of schools across Indonesia and Malaysia were shut.