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Burundi

Burundi US Consular Information Sheet
April 21, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
One of the poorest countries in the world, Burundi is a small, densely populated central African nation bordering Lake Tanganyika, Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democrati
Republic of Congo. After more than 12 years of civil and ethnic strife, an electoral process deemed free and fair resulted in the installation of a democratic government in 2005. Years of fighting have devastated a historically fragile economy that depends largely on subsistence agriculture. Poor public health and education, weather disasters such as drought and floods, crop diseases and lack of infrastructure exacerbate the effects of conflict and delay recovery. Facilities for tourism, particularly outside the capital, are limited. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Burundi for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport, visa and evidence of immunization against yellow fever are required for entry. Travelers with an expired visa are not permitted to leave the country without acquiring an exit visa prior to departure. The latest information about visas may be obtained from the Embassy of the Republic of Burundi, Suite 212, 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20007, telephone (202) 342-2574, or from the Permanent Mission of Burundi to the United Nations in New York at telephone (212) 499-0001 thru 0006.
For information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction, please refer to related web pages at http://travel.state.gov. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
See the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Burundi.
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 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: Crime, often committed by groups of armed bandits, poses a high risk for foreign visitors to Bujumbura and Burundi in general. Common crimes include mugging, purse-snatching, pick pocketing, burglary, automobile break-ins and carjacking. Many criminal incidents involve armed attackers. Armed criminals often ambush vehicles, particularly on the roads leading out of Bujumbura. Criminals in Bujumbura often operate in pairs or in small groups involving six or more individuals. Due to insufficient resources, local authorities in any part of Burundi are often unable to provide timely assistance in case of need.
U.S. Government personnel are prohibited from walking on the streets during the hours of darkness and using local, public transportation. Foreigners, whether in vehicles or at home, are always potential crime targets. Americans should exercise common sense judgment and take the same precautions as one would in any major city.

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 the local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, help 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: Medical facilities in Burundi generally do not meet Western standards of care. Travelers should carry an ample supply of properly-labeled prescription drugs and other medications with them, as certain medications and prescription drugs are unavailable or in short supply. Sterility of equipment is questionable, and treatment is unreliable. Ambulance assistance is non-existent. Hospital care in Burundi should be considered in only the most serious cases and when no reasonable alternatives are available.
Malaria prophylaxis is recommended for travel to all parts of Burundi.

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 companies prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policies apply overseas and/or cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: When in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Burundi is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
While travel on most roads is generally safe during the day, travelers must maintain constant vigilance. There have been regular reports of violent attacks on vehicles traveling the roads throughout the country outside of Bujumbura. U.S. Government personnel are required to travel upcountry via two-vehicle convoys and have their trips pre-approved by the Regional Security Officer. The Embassy recommends that Americans not travel on the national highways from dusk to dawn. Drivers without valid permits, and the ease with which a driver's license can be acquired without training, make Burundian drivers less careful, predictable, or mindful of driving rules than Western drivers may expect.
There are no traffic signals in Bujumbura, and virtually nothing of the kind elsewhere in the country. Roadways are not marked, and the lack of streetlights or shoulders makes driving in the countryside at night especially dangerous. Additionally, drivers may encounter cyclists, pedestrians, and livestock in the roadway, including in and around the capital. Mini-vans used as buses for 18 persons should be given a wide berth as they start and stop abruptly, often without pulling to the side of the road.
Large holes or damaged portions of roadway may be encountered anywhere in the country, including in Bujumbura; when driving in the countryside, it is recommended that travelers carry multiple spare tires. During the rainy season, many side roads are passable only with four-wheel drive vehicles. Burundi’s supply of gasoline and diesel fuel are imported predominantly from Kenya and Tanzania, and are relatively expensive due to high transportation costs. Service stations are rare outside of the major cities.

Third-party insurance is required, and it will cover any damages (property, injury, or death). If you are found to have caused an accident, you automatically will be fined 10,000 Burundian francs (approximately $10 U.S.) and your driver's license will be confiscated until the police investigation is completed. Although the law provides for the arrest of drunk drivers, in practice, the police do not act on this law. In the city of Bujumbura, the number for police assistance is 22-22-37-77; there is no comparable number outside the capital. If you are involved in an accident causing death, it is advised that you leave the scene of the accident and proceed to the nearest police station.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Burundi, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Burundi’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
There are no ATMs located in the country and most Burundian hotels and businesses do not accept credit cards. Many hotels in Bujumbura accept payment in U.S. dollars or Euros from non-Burundians. Travelers should be aware that Burundian banking practices prohibit acceptance of U. S. currency printed before the year 2003.
The Embassy recommends that visitors do not photograph airports, military installations, or other government buildings, and obtain permission from individuals before taking their photographs. Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Burundian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled from the country, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Burundi 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 intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Burundi are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel within Burundi and the Embassy’s current security policies, including areas that are off-limits to U.S. Government personnel for security reasons. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located on Avenue des Etats-Unis, telephone (257) 22-22-34-54, fax (257) 22-22-29-26. The Embassy's web site is http://burundi.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Burundi dated July 18, 2007, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 8 Jan 2020
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

In a follow-up on the malaria situation in Burundi in 2019, the World Health Organization reports a progressive increase in cases in the past year across all 46 districts of Burundi.

Since the beginning of the year [2019], 8 392 921 malaria cases, including 3113 deaths have been reported. The population in the landlocked country in Southeast Africa is estimated at 11.53 million in 2019.

Malaria has been a scourge in Burundi in recent years. In fact, World Vision International reports since 2015, more than 19.7 million cases of malaria have been recorded in Burundi through 2017. With a population of 11.5 million, that's the equivalent of nearly every Burundian getting malaria twice in those 2 years.
=======================
[Please see our extensive comment to the malaria situation in Burundi in the ProMED posting http://promedmail.org/post/20190808.6611871 from the 8 Aug 2019. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Wed, 14 Aug 2019 17:49:51 +0200 (METDST)

Nairobi, Aug 14, 2019 (AFP) - The World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday that Burundi had begun vaccinating frontline workers against Ebola at its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an outbreak of the virus has killed close to 1,900 people.   The campaign to vaccinate at-risk staff against the deadly hemorrhagic fever started Tuesday at Gatumba, the main crossing point from Burundi to its much-larger neighbour, WHO said.

Burundi has received doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine, an unlicensed product that has been shown to be effective against the Zairian strain of the virus raging in DR Congo.   It would be administered to those at greatest risk such as health workers along the border, laboratory staff and burial teams, WHO said.   "The vaccination of health and frontline staff is a significant step forward in preparing for the response to this disease," said Dr Kazadi Mulombo, WHO representative in Burundi. 

The vaccine, developed by US pharmaceutical group Merck, proved "highly effective" in a trial conducted in Guinea in 2015 during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, he added.    The vaccination campaign will be overseen by WHO and Burundi's health ministry.   The Ebola outbreak in eastern DR Congo is the second-worst in history. A total of 1,892 deaths have been recorded since the outbreak began on August 1 2018.   No cases of Ebola have been recorded so far in Burundi, a tiny nation of 11 million.    But its border with DR Congo is 236 kilometres (147 miles) long and considered highly porous, and the whole region is on high alert.

In June, three people from one family died in Uganda from Ebola after returning from DR Congo via an unofficial crossing point.   Burundi also shares a border with Rwanda and Tanzania.   The Congo outbreak is the first where vaccines have been rolled out on a large-scale.   The rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine has already been administered to some 170,000 people, especially frontline workers, in DR Congo.   This week, US researchers announced that two prototype drugs being tested among Ebola patients in eastern DR Congo boost chances of surviving the disease.
Date: Thu 8 Aug 2019 05.00 BST
Source: The Guardian [edited]

A serious outbreak of malaria in Burundi has reached epidemic proportions, killing almost as many people as the Ebola crisis in the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The outbreak in the tiny Great Lakes country has infected almost half the total population, killing about 1800 people since the beginning of the year [2019].  According to figures gathered by the World Health Organisation, almost 6 million cases have been recorded since the 1st week of January to the end of July [2019], with infections reaching crisis levels in May. The figures look on course to outstrip the epidemic of 2017, when more 6 million cases were recorded for the whole year. The situation has continued to worsen as the government of Burundi has refused to declare an emergency.

The scale of the outbreak was described in the latest report for the UN's office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which warned that the outbreak had reached "epidemic" proportions.  "The national malaria outbreak response plan, which is currently being validated, has highlighted a lack of human, logistical, and financial resources for effective response," reported the organisation.  The organisation and other experts have blamed a number of issues for the crisis, including low use of preventative measures and a vulnerable population with low levels of resistance. Experts have also noted an increase in drug resistant strains of the disease in common with other parts of the world.

The climate crisis has been cited as a contributing factor. Mosquitoes, which spread the disease, are reaching higher altitudes in the mountainous country, and have displayed behavioural changes including more aggressive feeding habits.  The country's agricultural policies have also encouraged an increase in rice production that has seen farmers encroach on mosquito-infested areas.  While Burundi has long struggled with malaria, the figures for the current outbreak suggest a 50% increase compared to the equivalent period last year [2018]. The UN organisation noted bleakly that the number of health districts that have passed the epidemic threshold had continued to increase.

Although Burundi declared a national health emergency in 2017 after 1.8 million cases and 700 deaths were recorded, it has declined to declare one for the current outbreak, apparently concerned of the potential impact ahead of elections slated for next year [2010]…  [Byline: Peter Beaumont]
========================
[The WHO profile of malaria in Burundi can be found at

In 2017, the entire population of an estimated 10.9 million people lived in _Plasmodium falciparum_ high-endemic areas. In 2017 the annual incidence of _P. falciparum_ was estimated at 800 cases per 1000 population (WHO 2017 as above).

In 2017 there was an estimated 2.1M [range: 1.3M, 3.4M] cases with an estimated number of deaths of 5300 [range: 4300, 6200] (WHO). The 1st line treatment is artesunate-amodiaquine (AS-AQ) introduced in 2003. Malaria control relies on insecticide treated nets (ITN) but only around 30% of the population used a net the previous night one survey found (WHO 2017 as above) and it was also found that 80% of the mosquitoes were resistant to pyrethroids, the usual class of insecticides used for impregnating nets.

In 2005 the annual incidence was estimated at less than 50 cases per 1000 population (WHO 2017 as above) illustrating that since then the national malaria control programme has failed to improve the situation.

It is particularly worrying that the report above mentions treatment failure and possible drug resistance. With artemisinin resistance spreading in southeast Asia (see ProMED post http://promedmail.org/post/20190723.6583616) any signs of a slow parasite clearance need to be followed up by molecular analysis looking for mutations in key genes. No studies have looked at mutations in key genes predicting reduced susceptibility to the artemisinins or the 4-aminoquinolones (amodiaquine).

Since Burundi's independence in 1962, 2 genocides have taken place in the country: the 1972 mass killings of Hutus by the Tutsi-dominated army (<http://www.preventgenocide.org/edu/pastgenocides/burundi/resources/>), and the mass killings of Tutsis in 1993 by the Hutu majority. Both were described as genocides in the final report of the International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi presented in 2002 to the United Nations Security Council (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burundi>). - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Burundi:
Date: Tue, 6 Aug 2019 10:38:45 +0200 (METDST)

Nairobi, Aug 6, 2019 (AFP) - Malaria has killed more than 1,800 people in Burundi this year, the UN's humanitarian agency says, a death toll rivalling a deadly Ebola outbreak in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.   In its latest situation report, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said 5.7 million cases of malaria had been recorded in Burundi in 2019 -- a figure roughly equal to half its entire population.   Of those cases, a total of 1,801 died from the mosquito-born disease in Burundi between January 1 and July 21, OCHA said.

The tiny country of 11 million people in the African Great Lakes region has still not declared a national emergency, despite OCHA saying the outbreak crossed "epidemic proportions" in May.   "The national malaria outbreak response plan, which is currently being validated, has highlighted a lack of human, logistical and financial resources for effective response," OCHA said in its latest weekly bulletin on humanitarian emergencies.   "All stakeholders, including the national authorities and partners are called upon to provide the requisite resources to mount a robust response to this event before it escalates."   A lack of preventative measures like mosquito nets, climatic changes and increased movements of people from mountain areas with low immunity to malaria were driving the crisis, OCHA said.

- 'Many crises' -
An OCHA official told AFP that "the decision to declare an epidemic is the sovereignty of the Burundian state".   The country declared a malaria epidemic in March 2017, when the country had recorded 1.8 million cases and 700 deaths, but was resisting doing the same now.   A senior government official, who declined to be named, said the government did not want to admit weakness with elections set for 2020.   "We are less than a year away from the presidential election. (President Pierre) Nkurunziza, who is facing many crises, does not want to recognise what could be considered a failure of his health policy," the official told AFP.   Burundi has been in crisis since 2015, when Nkurunziza ran for a third term and was re-elected in elections boycotted by most of the opposition.

At least 1,200 people were killed and more than 400,000 displaced in violence the UN says was mostly carried out by state security forces.   Nkurunziza announced in 2018 that he would not stand again, confounding critics who accused him of working to extend his grip on power.   UN investigators said in July that "drastic" steps were needed to boost democratic freedoms in Burundi if the government wanted the elections to be considered credible.

Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the region, abuts DR Congo, where the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history has killed more than 1,800 people amid fears the infectious fever could spread beyond its borders.   But malaria is a much bigger killer on the continent.   The World Health Organization recorded nearly 220 million cases of the parasitic illness in 2017, with an estimated 435,000 deaths. More than 90 percent of malaria cases and deaths were in Africa.
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2018 14:39:07 +0100

Nairobi, March 16, 2018 (AFP) - Nine workers at a construction site outside Burundi's capital Bujumbura were killed in a landslide on Friday, police said.   Heavy seasonal rains caused the hillside next to the Gasenyi river, east of the city, to collapse burying the workers who were building a channel to redirect the river's floodwaters.   Police said in a statement that nine bodies had so far been found, while rescue efforts continue.
More ...

Estonia

Estonia US Consular Information Sheet
October 28, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Estonia is a stable democracy with an economy that has developed rapidly in recent years.
Tourist facilities in Tallinn are comparable to other western Europe
n cities, but some amenities may be lacking in rural areas.
Some goods and services may not be available outside of major cities.
Please read the Department of State Background Notes on Estonia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport is required.
Estonia is a party to the “Schengen” –Agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Estonia 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. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen Fact Sheet.
For further information concerning entry requirements and residency permits, contact the Estonian Embassy, located at 2131 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202)588-0101, or the Consulate General of Estonia in New York City, telephone (212) 883-0636. Visit the Embassy of Estonia web site at http://www.estemb.org for the most current visa information. American citizens who wish to reside in Estonia (e.g. for work, studies, retirement, etc.) can also consult with the Estonian Citizenship and Migration Board at http://www.mig.ee
Information about dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Civil unrest generally is not a problem in Estonia, and there have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Large public gatherings and demonstrations may occur on occasion in response to political issues, but these have been, with few exceptions,
without incident in the past.

During periods of darkness, (roughly October through April), reflectors must be worn by pedestrians.
Violators of this law may be subject to a fine of up to 600 EEK (Estonian Kroon), or up to 6,000 EEK if the pedestrian is under the influence of alcohol. Reflectors are inexpensive and are available at most supermarkets and many smaller shops.
To meet legal requirements, the reflector’s packaging must include a reference to European safety standard EN13356.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.

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 others callers, 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:
Estonia is a relatively safe country, although crime in Tallinn’s “Old Town” is an ongoing concern, particularly during the summer tourist season.
Travelers should exercise the same precautions with regard to their personal safety and belongings they would take in major U.S. cities.
The most common crimes encountered by foreign tourists are purse snatching, pick-pocketing, and mugging.
Tourists are often targeted by individuals and small groups of thieves working together.
In public places such as the “Old Town,” in particular the Town Hall Square (“Raekoja Plats”), as well as the airport, train stations, bus stations and the Central Market, one must exercise special care in safeguarding valuables against purse-snatchers and pickpockets.
Valuables should never be left unattended in vehicles and car doors should be kept locked at all times.
Some violent crime does occur, mainly at night and often in proximity to nightlife areas.
Public drunkenness, car theft and break-ins also continue to be a problem in Tallinn.

The Estonian Police agencies are modern, well-equipped law enforcement entities on a standard comparable to most Western European police, with only isolated instances of corruption. However, large-scale reductions in the police force are scheduled for this year, which may decrease some of their capabilities. Many police officers speak only very limited English.

Credit card fraud is an ongoing concern, as is internet-based financial fraud and “internet dating” fraud.
Travelers should take precautions to safeguard their credit cards and report any suspected unauthorized transaction to the credit card company immediately.
Racially motivated verbal harassment and, on occasion, physical assault of Americans and other nationals of non-Caucasian ethnicity has occurred.
If an incident occurs, it should be reported to the police and to the Embassy.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft of a U.S. passport abroad 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 Estonia is: 112. The level of English spoken by the operator answering may be minimal.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
The quality of medical care in Estonia continues to improve but still falls short of Western standards.
Estonia has many highly trained medical professionals, but hospitals and clinics still suffer from a lack of equipment and resources.
Elderly travelers and those with health problems may be at increased risk.
Visitors to forest areas in warm weather should also guard against tick-borne encephalitis.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Estonia.
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.
In recent years, a number of American citizens have been disembarked from cruise ships and hospitalized due to serious medical problems. Holding a policy providing for medical evacuation coverage can be critical to ensure access to timely emergency medical care. 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 is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Driving in Estonia can be more dangerous than in much of the United States.
Many roads, especially in rural areas, are poorly lit and are not up to Western standards.
Some drivers can be aggressive, recklessly overtaking vehicles and traveling at high speed, even in crowded urban areas.
Despite strict Estonian laws against driving under the influence of alcohol, accidents involving intoxicated drivers are very frequent. It is not uncommon for the police to set up checkpoints on major streets and highways; drivers should pull over when asked.
Drivers should always remain alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians.

Estonian traffic laws require drivers to stop for all pedestrians in marked crosswalks.
Nevertheless, Estonian motorists do not always comply with this regulation, and pedestrians should always be careful when crossing the streets.
In rural areas, wild animals, such as deer and moose, and icy road conditions can create unexpected hazards.
Dark-clothed or drunken pedestrians walking along unlit roads or darting across dimly-lit streets or highways pose a risk to unsuspecting drivers.
Winter roads are usually treated and cleared of snow, but drivers should remain vigilant for icy patches and large potholes.

Estonian laws against driving under the influence are strict and follow a policy of zero tolerance. Penalties are severe for motorists caught driving after consumption of even a small amount of alcohol. Local law requires that headlights be illuminated at all times while driving.
Use of a seatbelts by all passengers is required, and children too small to be secure in seatbelts must use child car seats.
The speed limit is 50 km/h in town and 90 km/h out of town unless otherwise indicated.
A right turn on a red light is prohibited unless otherwise indicated by a green arrow.
According to Estonian law vehicles involved in accidents should not be moved to the side of the road until the police reach the scene. Americans planning to drive in Estonia must obtain an international driving permit prior to arrival.

For information about international driving permits, contact AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance.
The Eesti Autoklubi (Estonian Auto Club – www.autoclub.ee), which is affiliated with AAA, provides emergency roadside assistance.
Drivers do not need to be a member to receive assistance; however, the fees charged are higher for non-members.
The number to call for roadside vehicle assistance and towing service is 1888.
For ambulance, fire or police assistance the number is 112.
Please note that for both numbers, the level of English spoken by the operator answering may be minimal.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
You may also visit the website of Estonia’s national tourist office at http://www.visitestonia.com.
For specific information concerning Estonian driving permits, vehicles inspections and road tax mandatory insurance, contact the Estonian Motor Vehicle Registration Center at http://www.ark.ee/atp.
Additional information may be obtained from the website of the Estonian Road Administration at http://www.mnt.ee/atp, or from Baltic Roads at http://www.balticroads.net
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Estonia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Estonian Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Commercial and financial transactions in Estonia are increasingly automated and on-line.
Cash is almost always acceptable. The national currency is the Estonian Kroon (EEK), the value of which is pegged to the Euro (15.65 EEK= 1 Euro). Most credit cards are widely recognized throughout the country.
ATM machines are common and many U.S.-issued bankcards are compatible with them. Bank checks are virtually unknown, and checks drawn on a U.S. bank are of little use in the country.

Estonia’s customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes.
ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States.
For additional information call (212) 354-4480, send and email to acarnet@uscib.org, or visit http://www.uscib.org for details.

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 Estonian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Estonia 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 both in Estonia as well as in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

DUAL NATIONALITY:
Estonian law requires that individual with dual nationality must choose between Estonian citizenship and his of her other citizenship at age 18. After that time, Estonian law does not permit the individual to carry passports of two (or more) different countries. However, the Estonian government reportedly has not regularly enforced this law in the past with respect to persons of Estonian background, and thus a number of individuals have continued to carry both Estonian and American passports. Any American citizen who also carries an Estonian passport should be aware that the Estonian government may not recognize the person as an American citizen in certain circumstances, thus limiting the consular services that can be provided by the U.S. Embassy (e.g. in case of arrest, etc.).

Please note that this discussion of dual nationality relates only to person who have a claim to Estonian citizenship, and not to persons who merely acquire an Estonian “residence” permit. For more information on citizenship and dual nationality, please see our web page.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Estonia are encouraged to register with the U.S Embassy in Tallinn through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Estonia.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn by visiting in person.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The latest security information is available from the Embassy, including on its web site, http://estonia.usembassy.gov.

The U.S. Embassy is available 24 hours a day for emergency assistance for American citizens visiting or residing in Estonia. The Embassy is located approximately 1 km outside of Tallinn’s “Old Town.” The address is: Kentmanni 20, 15099 Tallinn, Estonia.
The Embassy’s main switchboard number is telephone (372) 668-8100.
The Consular Section can be reached directly at (372 668-8128, 8111, 8197 or 8129. The Consular Section’s fax number is (372) 668-8267. The Consular Sections’ email address for American Citizen Services is ACSTallin@state.gov. For after-hours emergencies, an Embassy Duty Officer may be contacted by mobile phone at (372) 509-2129, if dialing from the U.S., and 509-2129 if dialed from within Estonia.
The Embassy’s web site is http://estonia.usembassy.gov.
The American Citizen Services Unit email address is ACSTallinn@state.gov
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 26, 2008 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Medical Insurance, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, Criminal Penalties, Dual Nationality, and Registration/Embassy location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:58:42 +0100 (MET)

Tallinn, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Estonia reported its first coronavirus case on Thursday, a day after the man returned to the Baltic nation of just 1.3 million people from his homeland Iran.    "The person, a permanent resident of Estonia who is not a citizen, arrived in Estonia on Wednesday evening," Social Affairs Minister Tanel Kiik told public broadcaster ERR.   He said the Iranian citizen is currently hospitalised.

Local media said the man arrived in Tallinn by bus from the Latvian capital Riga.   "For now, there are no plans of putting cities in quarantine following this one case," Kiik said.    "The patient is isolated, there is no risk of the disease spreading, now we have to identify all the people the patient was in contact with."   Iran has announced a total of 19 deaths and more than 130 infections, including the country's deputy health minister.   Iran's coronavirus death toll is the highest after that of China, where more than 2,700 people have died from the disease.
Date: Sat 14 Apr 2018 09:35
Source: Err [edited]

A man who had returned from an overseas trip and a woman with whom he came in contact were diagnosed with measles in Saaremaa this week [week of Sun 8 Apr 2018].

This year [2018], 4 cases of measles have been diagnosed in Estonia, which in 2016 had been listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as among the countries which had eliminated endemic measles. Last month [March 2018], an unvaccinated child contracted the disease on an overseas trip; their mother caught it in turn upon their return to Estonia.

It is not currently known whether the woman to contract measles this week [week of Sun 8 Apr 2018] was vaccinated or not; the man had been vaccinated with only 1 of 2 doses of the measles vaccine.

In the course of the Health Board's epidemiological study, persons who have been in contact with the 2 individuals as well as their vaccination status were determined. Those who have come in contact with them were also advised regarding the nature of the disease, prevention measures as well as vaccination.

Last week [week of Sun 1 Apr 2018], a case of rubella was diagnosed in Rapla County as well. The previous 2 instances of rubella in Eesti were recorded in 2013.

Measles and rubella are considered highly contagious diseases, but the modern measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is over 95 percent effective in preventing measles and rubella.

According to the immunization schedule in Estonia, children are administered the 1st dose of the MMR vaccine at 1 year of age and the 2nd dose at age 13. The MMR vaccine is free for children in Estonia.

Measles symptoms
Some of the earliest symptoms in the onset of measles include fever, malaise, cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis and light sensitivity. A few days later, the signature rash appears, which begins behind the ears and spreads to the face and neck before covering the entire body. A measles patient is contagious beginning 4 -- 5 days before and for up to 5 days following the onset of the rash.

There is no treatment for the disease itself; only symptoms can be treated. Complications can include pneumonia, middle ear infections and inflammation of the brain.  [Byline editor: Aili Vahtla]
====================
[According to <https://news.err.ee/591626/number-of-unvaccinated-children-in-estonia-on-rise>, despite the fact that a number of serious infectious diseases have been beaten due to vaccination [in Estonia], there has been a steady increase in the number of parents refusing vaccination and number of children being left unprotected from various diseases.

"While the percentage of refusals in relative to the total number of vaccinations isn't high -- 3-3.9 percent in 2016 -- the steady increase of those refusing and the steady growth in the number of children being left unprotected from a number of infectious diseases is worrisome," said Director General of the Health Board Tiiu Aro.

For example, at the end of 2016, 95.4 percent of children ages 1-14 were vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

"Considering the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommended level of vaccination for halting the spread of diseases, which is 95 percent, we should be satisfied, however the coverage level among children up to 2 years of age was 93.2 percent, which means that we did not achieve the recommended level of coverage," Aro noted.

As of the end of 2016, a total of 7481 children were unvaccinated against MMR, over 60 percent of whom live in Tallinn.

A Healthmap/ProMED of Estonia can be found at
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2013 13:51:13 +0100 (MET)

TALLINN, Feb 13, 2013 (AFP) - Officials in Estonia raised the alarm Wednesday after a report into drug use in Europe found that the small Baltic nation had the highest incidence of deaths from drug overdoses in the EU. Last year, 160 people died from overdoses, data from the Europe Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions (EMCDDA) showed, an increase of 21 percent from last year. Most of the deaths were caused by taking a highly addictive form of synthetic heroin known as China White, which is often smuggled in from Russia.

"More people per million inhabitants perish in Estonia than in any other EU country due to drug overdoses, and most of these deaths are related to drugs called 'China White'," Ave Talu, head of Estonia's Drug Monitoring Centre, told AFP. While the average number of deaths from overdoses across the 27-member EU bloc stands at up to 20 people per million, in Estonia the figure is five times higher, at over 100 per million. In 2011, 132 people died from overdoses in the former Soviet nation of 1.3 million people.

Most of the people who died in 2012 were ethnic Russian men, the EMCDDA data showed. Using a new antidote to synthetic heroin, naloxone, could "cut the death rates from overdose nearly in half," Talu said. But the drug is not yet available on a community outreach basis, she said. "In Estonia, naloxone is used only by medical staff and unlike some other countries like the US, we do not yet have community-based naloxone distribution and training programmes, but they are urgently needed."
Date: Fri, 21 Dec 2012 16:42:17 +0100 (MET)

TALLINN, Dec 21, 2012 (AFP) - Pilots at the struggling Baltic carrier Estonian Air announced on Friday they would go on strike from January 7, demanding a return to a collective pay deal that was voided by the company.   The Estonian Airline Pilots Association, which represents all of the carrier's 75 pilots, warned that it could not accept plans to end a five-year-old agreement from February.   "We expect most of the pilots to be on strike," Rauno Menning, chairman of the association's board, told AFP.   In a statement, Estonian Air said the strike call was a surprise.

"Estonian Air has offered pilots a collective agreement that is line with the market and competitive situation and follows all EU flight safety requirements," the carrier's chief executive Jan Palmer was quoted as saying.   Menning faulted that stance.   "We are surprised that the company is surprised by the strike news, because we made the decision in November to go strike if needed, so Estonian Air knew this was a possibility," he told AFP.   Estonian Air had just warded off industrial action by other employees through a deal last week with the Estonian Air Cabin Crew Union, which is valid to the end of 2013.   State-controlled Estonian Air has made repeated efforts to cut its losses.   In November, the airline said it would slash staff numbers by half, from 318 to 146.   Estonian Air operates a small fleet of 10 planes.

Created in 1991, the year the Baltic republic of 1.3 million regained its independence from the Soviet Union, the airline has had mixed fortunes.   It was privatised in 1996, and from 2003 to 2010 was almost evenly split between the state, which owned 51 percent, and Scandinavian carrier SAS, with 49 percent.   Since then, the state has gradually raised its holding to the current 97 percent, but says its wants to find a new strategic investor.   Estonian Air's revenues in the first nine months of 2012 were 70.4 million euros ($93 million), compared with 58.7 million euros in the same period of 2011.   But nine-month losses reached 20.2 million euros, up from 11.2 million euros in the same period a year earlier.
Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2012 14:00:20 +0200 (METDST)

TALLINN, Oct 08, 2012 (AFP) - Striking Estonian doctors on Monday extended their week-long labour action to major hospitals in the Baltic state's capital and second city Tartu and curbed inpatient care in some other regions. The Estonian Doctors' Union said however that emergency care and treatment for children, pregnant women and patients with cancer would not be affected.

Terming the union's wage demands "unrealistic", the Estonian authorities last week repeated an offer to raise doctors' salaries by 6.6 percent as of January, but the union turned it down. It is demanding a 20 percent increase in the minimum wage to 1,400 euros ($1,800) next year and another 20 percent hike in 2014. The average monthly income of doctors in the EU state and eurozone member was 1,700 euros ($2,185) in 2011, compared to a national average of 839 euros ($1,078), according to Estonia's social affairs ministry.

After failed talks last week between the Estonian Health Insurance Fund, Hospital Union and the Doctors' Union, the delegations were to resume negotiations Monday. European Commission deputy chief Siim Kallas, a former Estonian prime minister, weighed into the dispute at the weekend saying the Estonian health care system created 20 years ago "has failed" and called for major reforms to give patients the option to choose from a number of health insurance providers. "Patients are not the priority in Estonia's current health care system," Kallas added.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: Q Costa Rica News [edited]
<https://qcostarica.com/costa-rica-is-the-first-country-in-america-where-very-resistant-antibiotic-bacteria-for-meningitis-is-isolated/>

A 50-year-old man and a senior became the 1st 2 people in Costa Rica -- and in the Americas -- found to be infected with the bacteria most resistant to antibiotics used in the treatment of meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia that cause serious brain damage and even death. The Centro Nacional de Referencia en Bacteriolog­a (CNRB) -- National Center of Reference in Bacteriology, of the Instituto Costarricense de Investigacian y Enseaanza en Nutricin y Salud (Inciensa) -- Costa Rican Institute for Research and Education in Nutrition and Health (Incense), issued an alert, in early February [2020], after documenting the circulation of _Neisseria meningitidis_ (_N. meningitidis_) serogroup Y, resistant to penicillin and not sensitive to cefotaxime [and ceftriaxone?], two 3rd generation antibiotics, reports La Nation.
====================
[Invasive meningococcal disease (meningococcaemia and meningitis) is a life-threatening infection caused by _Neisseria meningitidis_ that evolves rapidly, often even when appropriate treatment has been started promptly. Because antimicrobial treatment for invasive meningococcal disease with a 3rd-generation cephalosporin (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone) is the widely accepted standard recommendation (<https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/39/9/1267/402080>), resistance of _N. meningitidis_ to cefotaxime and ceftriaxone is very worrisome.

The news report above says that 2 patients in Costa Rica were infected with _N. meningitidis_ serogroup Y resistant to penicillin and 2 3rd generation cephalosporins, one of which was cefotaxime. The other 3rd generation cephalosporin is not specified, but is perhaps ceftriaxone, the other 3rd generation cephalosporin usually used to treat this disease. We are also not told in the news report above if the 2 patients were epidemiologically linked, nor are we told the extent (that is, MICs [minimum inhibitory concentration] of penicillin or cefotaxime), the mechanisms of resistance, or resistance to any of the other antimicrobial drugs used to prevent or treat this disease.

More information would be appreciated from knowledgeable sources. Reduced susceptibility of _N. meningitidis_ to penicillin has been reported in the past in many countries, including the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>), usually due to decreased affinity of target penicillin-binding proteins for penicillin and less commonly to beta-lactamase production (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC89938/>, <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3134848-relative-penicillin-g-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-and-reduced-affinity-of-penicillin-binding-protein-3/>, and <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC162989/pdf/392577.pdf>).

Meningococcal isolates with reduced susceptibility to penicillin G usually were reported susceptible to 3rd-generation cephalosporins (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone). For example, despite the decrease in susceptibility to penicillin G in 33% of 2888 isolates of _N. meningitidis_, all isolates were susceptible to ceftriaxone in Brazil from 2009 to 2016 (<https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29717974-surveillance-of-antimicrobial-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-strains-isolated-from-invasive-cases-in-brazil-from-2009-to-2016/>). Similar data have been reported for the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>).

However, one previous study reported 8 clinical isolates _N. meningitidis_ in Delhi, India in 2006 that were resistant to ceftriaxone and cefotaxime, with most also resistant to penicillin, ciprofloxacin, and chloramphenicol (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1698303/>). All of the isolates were identified as serogroup A _N. meningitidis_, but no further details concerning these isolates were given in this report (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1865813/>).

Resistance to other antimicrobial agents that may be used for therapy of meningococcal infections or for prophylaxis of case contacts has been reported in several countries. This includes resistance to chloramphenicol, fluoroquinolones, and rifampin. Horizontal exchange of genes that encode resistance for penicillin, rifampin, and the fluoroquinolones from other _Neisseria_ species that share a common ecological niche with _N. meningitidis_ in the nasopharynx has been proposed as one possible mechanism of acquisition of meningococcal antibiotic resistance (<http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/49/3/545>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Costa Rica: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/17>]
Date: Tue 25 Feb 2020
From: Anne Laudisoit, PhD [edited]
<laudisoit@ecohealthalliance.org>

A suspect plague outbreak cluster has been noted in the the Godjoka health area as of 19 Feb 2020. The chief medical officer of the Rethy Health zone, the head nurse and the laboratory team from the Rethy General reference hospital investigated the outbreak site. The Godjoka village is located in the Linga health zone, Djugu territory, Ituri province, in the Congo DR (N 02.01'47.9'' and E030.44'56.6'', 1940m) in the plague endemic area.
 
There have been 6 suspected cases of plague, including 5 deaths and 1 recovering patient. The index case is a young boy who died on 19 Feb 2020. His mother, the neighbour and her child all died on 21 Feb 2020 and were buried the night of 24 Feb 2020, under pressure from the villagers. Finally the traditional healer ["tradipraticien"] who took care of the mother (who was the 2nd case) died in turn on 25 Feb 2020, and samples were taken that same day. The rapid diagnostic test was positive for plague.  Because of their rapidly fatal course, pneumonic plague is suspected for one or more of the 5 fatal cases. 

The only survivor has been under treatment at the Godjoka Health center since 22 Feb; he is the 20 year-old brother of the index case. The test on the sputum of this patient was negative.
-------------------------------------
Francoise Ngave Nyisi, Rethy General Reference Hospital, DR Congo
Mandro Michel, Provincial Division of Health, Bunia, DR Congo
Adroba Pascal, Provincial Division of Health, Bunia, DR Congo
Laudisoit Anne, Ecohealth Alliance, New York, USA
=====================
[ProMED thanks Dr Laudisoit and her hardworking Congolese colleagues for this important report.  Thus far the diagnosis of plague rests on the single positive diagnostic test obtained from the traditional healer, as it appears that the first 4 fatal cases were buried before diagnostic tests could be obtained. Following this logic, It is possible that the sole survivor thus far has the bubonic form of the disease, and thus a negative sputum result.  We seek and hope to obtain further information on all of these cases, including age, nature and duration of symptoms, presence or absence of buboes, etc.

This putative plague cluster is in a known historic plague-endemic region, where there were 31 cases and 8 deaths between Jan - Oct 2019, as previously reported by ProMED (Plague - Congo DR (02): (IT) fatal http://promedmail.org/post/20191016.6731137).  The Ituri district, of course, has also been affected by the still smouldering North Kivu-Ituri Ebola outbreak that began in July 2018.  This district has also been, and continues to be, a region of great civil unrest, with multiple armed insurgency groups operating near and across the Ugandan border.

The following background information on plague by Mod.LL is copied from our most recent ProMED post on plague [see below under See Also]:

"The bacterium that causes plague is _Yersinia pestis_. Most cases of plague are due to bubonic plague following the bite of an infected rodent flea causing a swollen and very tender lymph gland. The swollen gland is called a "bubo." Bubonic plague should be suspected when a person develops a swollen gland, fever, chills, headache, and extreme exhaustion, and has a history of possible exposure to infected rodents, rabbits, or fleas. A person usually becomes ill with bubonic plague 2-6 days after being bitten. At this point in the illness, there is no risk of person-to-person spread, so if this was indeed a case of bubonic plague, no isolation or quarantine is necessary.

When bubonic plague is left untreated, plague bacteria invade the bloodstream. As the plague bacteria multiply in the bloodstream, they spread rapidly throughout the body and cause a severe and often fatal condition. Infection of the lungs with the plague bacterium causes the pneumonic form of plague, a severe respiratory illness. The infected person may experience high fever, chills, cough, and breathing difficulty and may expel bloody sputum. If plague patients are not given specific antimicrobial therapy, the disease can progress rapidly to death. At this stage, as appears to have happened in this case, person-to-person spread can occur, causing other cases of "primary" plague pneumonia. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A ProMED/HealthMap of DR Congo is available at: DR Congo:
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:14:05 +0100 (MET)
By Anuj Chopra and Haitham El-Tabei

Riyadh, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for visits to Islam's holiest sites for the "umrah" pilgrimage, an unprecedented move triggered by coronavirus fears that raises questions over the annual hajj.   The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in the cities of Mecca and Medina, also suspended visas for tourists from countries with reported infections as fears of a pandemic deepen.

Saudi Arabia, which so far has reported no cases of the virus but has expressed alarm over its spread in neighbouring countries, said the suspensions were temporary. It provided no timeframe for when they will be lifted.   "The kingdom's government has decided to take the following precautions: suspending entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visit to the Prophet's mosque temporarily," the foreign ministry said in a statement.   "Suspending entry into the kingdom with tourist visas for those coming from countries, in which the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is a danger."

The move comes as Gulf countries implement a raft of measures, including flight suspensions and school closures, to curb the spread of the disease from people returning from pilgrimages to Iran.  Even as the number of fresh coronavirus cases declines at the epicentre of the disease in China, there has been a sudden increase across the Middle East.

Since its outbreak, the United Arab Emirates has reported 13 coronavirus cases, Kuwait has recorded 43, Bahrain has 33 and Oman is at four cases.   Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, with 19 fatalities from 139 infections -- the highest death toll outside China, where COVID-19 originated.   While no cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, one citizen is reported to be infected in Kuwait along with four Saudi women in Bahrain -- all of whom had returned from Iran.

- 'Unprecedented' move -
The umrah, which refers to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year, attracts millions of devout Muslims from all over the globe each year.    There was no clarity over how the move would affect the annual hajj pilgrimage due to start in late July.   Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in last year's hajj -- one of the five pillars of Islam.

The event is a key rite of passage for Muslims and a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites.   "This move by Saudi Arabia is unprecedented," Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based risk consultancy Cornerstone Global Associates, told AFP.   "The concern for Saudi authorities would be Ramadan, which starts at the end of April, and hajj afterwards, should the coronavirus become a pandemic."

The holy fasting month of Ramadan is considered a favourable period by Muslim pilgrims to perform the Umrah.   Saudi Arabia's custodianship of Mecca and Medina -- Islam's two holiest sites -- is seen as the kingdom's most powerful source of political legitimacy.     But a series of deadly disasters over the years has prompted criticism of the Sunni kingdom's management of the pilgrimage.

In September 2015, a stampede killed up to 2,300 worshippers -- including hundreds of Iranians -- in the worst disaster ever to strike the pilgrimage.   The pilgrimage forms a crucial source of revenue for the government, which hopes to welcome 30 million pilgrims annually to the kingdom by 2030.   De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform plan seeks to shift the economy of Saudi Arabia -- the world's top crude exporter -- away from oil dependency towards other sources of revenue, including religious tourism.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 05:04:04 +0100 (MET)

Kuala Lumpur, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Badminton's German Open will not go ahead next week and the Polish Open has been postponed, officials said as two more Olympic qualifying events fell victim to the coronavirus.   It hasn't yet been decided whether the German Open, originally scheduled for March 3-8, will be postponed or cancelled entirely, the Badminton World Federation said late Wednesday.   New dates are being sought for the Polish Open, which was meant to take place on March 26-29, but it will not now fall in the qualifying period for the Tokyo Olympics.

Both events were in the same month as the All England Open, one of the biggest events in the badminton calendar, although that tournament is currently still set to go ahead.   "The BWF is continuing to monitor all official updates on COVID-19 with no change to the intention to stage other HSBC BWF World Tour or BWF-sanctioned tournaments," said a statement.   This week the Vietnam International Challenge, which also carried rankings points for the Olympics, was shifted from late March to early June.

The loss of qualifying tournaments will pose a problem for many players including two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan, who needs a rapid rise up the rankings to win a place on the Chinese team.   Many of China's players are currently in Britain and have been cleared to play during what is a "critical period" of Olympic qualifying, the Chinese Badminton Association said last weekend.   China have been the dominant force in badminton at recent Olympics, sweeping all five titles at London 2012 and winning the men's singles and doubles gold medals four years ago in Rio.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:58:42 +0100 (MET)

Tallinn, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Estonia reported its first coronavirus case on Thursday, a day after the man returned to the Baltic nation of just 1.3 million people from his homeland Iran.    "The person, a permanent resident of Estonia who is not a citizen, arrived in Estonia on Wednesday evening," Social Affairs Minister Tanel Kiik told public broadcaster ERR.   He said the Iranian citizen is currently hospitalised.

Local media said the man arrived in Tallinn by bus from the Latvian capital Riga.   "For now, there are no plans of putting cities in quarantine following this one case," Kiik said.    "The patient is isolated, there is no risk of the disease spreading, now we have to identify all the people the patient was in contact with."   Iran has announced a total of 19 deaths and more than 130 infections, including the country's deputy health minister.   Iran's coronavirus death toll is the highest after that of China, where more than 2,700 people have died from the disease.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 19:27:33 +0100 (MET)

Vynnyky, Ukraine, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Ukrainian authorities began the task of destroying 37,000 bottles of illicit adulterated vodka on Wednesday, a national "record" in a country where consumption of illegal alcohol regularly poisons and even kills.    Minister of Justice Denys Malyuska launched the operation in the city of Vynnyky in the central Lviv region where the bottles, holding 14 tonnes of alcohol, have been stored since their seizure in 2014.   "It is difficult to say what is in there but consumption is strictly not recommended," said the minister.    "This adulterated alcohol poses a huge threat to people's health and their lives."    In front of the media, the contents of several bottles were poured into plastic tanks or blue dye was added, to rule out any illegal re-sale of the beverage.

The procedure should last about a week, after which the liquid will be poured into the sewers at a secret location, according to the minister.   "This is the first time this procedure has been used so that everyone can see that the alcohol that has been seized is really destroyed," said Maliouska.   The minister said that in the past there had been "complaints" from the business community that because of corruption within the police, the illicit alcohol had often turned up in shops after being seized.   Cases of poisoning from adulterated drinks are a regular occurence in Ukraine, where the consumption of alcohol, especially spirits, remains high. And they are often fatal.

In 2016, 73 people died from a total of 150 people who were poisoned by adulterated alcohol.    The following year, six poisoning cases killed three people and, according to Ukrainian media, ten poisonings recorded by the authorities in 2018 led to nine deaths.   The tax department of the Lviv region told AFP on Wednesday that the most adulterated alcohol was vodka, which is then sold in shops in small towns or cafes located along the roads.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 07:21:09 +0100 (MET)

Copenhagen, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Denmark reported its first coronavirus case Thursday, a man who had returned from a skiing holiday in northern Italy which has become a hotspot for the disease.   "The man who came back from a skiing trip with his wife and son on February 24 has been suffering since then from a cough and a temperature," Denmark's public health agency said in a statement.   "The man tested positive, but the results of his wife and son are negative," it said.   The man is relatively well and has returned to his home, where he remains in isolation with his family, it added.   According to public TV station TV2, the man is one of its employees.   Italy has reported 400 coronavirus cases, mostly in the north, and 12 deaths.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 23:18:10 +0100 (MET)

Bucharest, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Romania reported its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday -- a man who was in contact with an Italian who visited the country last week.    "The patient, who is in good health and is showing no symptoms, will be transferred to Bucharest's hospital of infectious diseases," Health Minister Victor Costache told a press conference.

Seven other people who live at the same address as the man in the south-eastern Gorj county have all tested negative but will be quarantined for 14 days as a precaution, emergency department official Raed Arafat said.   The Italian believed to be the source of Romania's first diagnosis tested positive for the deadly virus upon returning to Italy after a four-day visit to Gorj.

New cases have been emerging across Europe, many linked to the continent's coronavirus hotspot in northern Italy.    Several governments have advised against travel to Italy, which has now recorded 400 cases and 12 deaths.   The COVID-19 outbreak has killed over 2,700 people and infected more than 80,000 in 34 countries, although the vast majority of cases remain in China, according to the World Health Organization.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 21:33:56 +0100 (MET)

Oslo, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Norwegian health authorities on Wednesday announced the first case of coronavirus in the Nordic nation in someone who returned from China last week, but said the patient was not "in danger".   "The person is not ill, they are in good health and do not present any symptoms," Line Vold, an official at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, told reporters. "We think it is very unlikely that they have infected" others.   Routine tests had given a "weekly positive result" and detected traces of the new coronavirus, the institute said.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 20:03:47 +0100 (MET)

Tbilisi, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Georgia on Wednesday announced its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in the South Caucasus region.   "A Georgian national has tested positive for the novel coronavirus," Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze told a news conference, adding that the infected man has been placed in isolation in a Tbilisi hospital.   "Three different tests of the 50-year-old man's nasopharyngeal smear gave positive results, but he is doing well, he is clinically healthy," head of Georgia's national centre for disease control, Amiran Gamkrelidze told journalists.

The man had arrived in Georgia from Iran via Azerbaijan, Gamkrelidze said.   Tikaradze said Georgia would introduce a two-week ban on Iranian nationals entering Georgia, but flatly dismissed fears of a coronavirus epidemic in the ex-Soviet country "at this point".   On Sunday, Georgia's neighbour Armenia closed its border with Iran and suspended flights as fears over an outbreak of coronavirus in Iran sent neighbouring countries scrambling to contain the outbreak.