WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Greece

Background
Greece offers a great variety of attractions for the international traveller. A beautiful climate linked with great beaches, a vibrant nightlife and historical monuments to rival any other location throughout the world. All of this located
within western Europe and a short flight away from many of the cooler northern destinations - like Ireland. Travellers from these regions descent on Greece in very significant numbers each year and for the vast majority of them they will have a splendid and healthy time. However for some this may not be the case and serious illness and accidents are regularly reported. Following some commonsense rules would go a long way to avoiding disaster and ensuring that this trip is truly one to be remembered for all the right reasons.
Climate
Situated in southern Europe the country enjoys mild winters but very hot summers. There may be occasional cool breezes (meltemia) but these can serve only to fool the traveller into thinking that they are unlikely to burn. Rain is very uncommon during the height of summer (July and August) and all travellers should be advised to use very adequate sun-block lotion at all times.
Slip, Slop, Slap
Following the Australian mantra of Slip, Slop and Slap makes perfect sense. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat when out and about during the day and this should help protect against the intense suns rays. Nevertheless, despite all their best intentions, travellers get burnt. This is particularly a problem in the first few days after their arrival when they do not realise the intensity of the suns rays and how easily they can be exposed. Falling asleep beside the hotel's swimming pool or on the beach is a very common problem and must be avoided against. The tips of the ears, shoulders (especially along the bra-strap line, ankles and behind the knees are commonly exposed and forgotten areas.
After Sun care
To treat significant sunburn it is important to increase fluid intake but also to take extra salt on your food (unless medically contraindicated for some specific condition like high blood pressure etc). Soothing water soluble lotions (especially ones containing a mild anaesthetic and/or steroid cream) are probably best but certainly avoid any of the ones which paste the skin with a thick layer - which is almost impossible to remove without causing serious pain! The more severe sunburn cases may need medical care and even hospitalisation which really ruins a holiday.
Food & Water
As a European destination Greece has a good level of food and water hygiene. Unfortunately this can vary - especially as you move away from the main tourist destinations and also as the summer temperatures rise and food goes 'off' more quickly. Eating hot food, avoiding cold foods (side-salads, lettuce etc) and never eating undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) makes perfect sense. Eating food or taking fruit juice drinks from street vendors is a risk just not worth taking.
Insect bites
There may be both mosquitoes and sandflys about so having good repellents (DEET based ones) is worthwhile. The biggest problem will be early in the morning and towards the end of the daylight hours. However sitting in the shade while having lunch may be nice and cool but it is also often a place where these insects tend to hover looking for their next meal. Just don't allow that meal to be the blood in your unguarded ankle!
Seeing the Monuments
As mentioned previously Greece is covered with ancient monuments and these attract many thousands of tourists each year. The ruins are often not the most hospitable places for sun-sensitive tourists so taking care against the suns rays is essential - especially while standing carefully listening to the tour guide explain some complicated piece of history while the back of your legs get roasted! The other issue, for those trekking through the ruins, is the distinct possibility of a nasty twisted ankle.
Laser Night shows
Many of the ancient sites have beautiful night shows which depict something of the past splendour and are definitely worth seeing. However it is wise to wear good shoes as stumbling across loose stones is a particular problem at night and also bring a small torch, if possible, to guide your way. Getting separated from your travelling companions, or not being able to find your return bus, can lead to some understandable panic so listen carefully to any instructions and look out for some land marks before you get too far away into the night time crowd.
Animal bites
Some tourists may forget that rabies is a problem in many countries throughout the world and, even though Greece is regarded as rabies-free', there is always a problem if someone should get bitten. The possibility that this animal could have been recently smuggled into the country cannot be out ruled and so many would advise full post exposure treatment should this contact occur. Children may be at particular risk due to their inquisitive nature.
Swimming
Sunburn and swimming go hand in hand but drowning can also occur all too frequently within this region. Strong currents, swimming after meals (or alcohol) and the ever popular romantic midnight swim are all serious risk factors. Also children running around the deep end of the pool may lose their footing and topple in without warning. Unfortunately a very small child sinks instantly with very little sign of the emergency to those close by. Parents need to keep aware of this risk at all times.
The summer working holiday
Many of our students head towards Greece for 2 to 3 months during the summer to work. The attractions are obvious but commonsense and sensible life-style choices are needed throughout their stay to lessen the risk of illness or them returning home with an infection they had not bargained for. Unfortunately many return home with life-long illnesses which have been contracted from a single unprotected sexual contact.
Vaccinations for Greece
As a general rule the usual travel vaccines are not recommended for most short-term travellers to this region. However for the student planning to spend a more prolonged period it would be sensible to consider cover against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and also to check that their Tetanus cover is up-to-date.
Summary
This is still one of the most popular destinations for northern European travellers and, in the vast majority of cases, they will have a fantastic time with only good memories. Unfortunately some less prepared folks will end up with serious sunburn and other illnesses or diseases which perhaps are frequently associated with their own lack of care and protection rather than anything specific to this beautiful country.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

6th December, 2019
HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre

On 27/11/2019, a possible case of diphtheria was reported to the Department of Epidemiological Surveillance and Intervention through the Mandatory Notification System in Greece. It concerned an 8 years old boy of Greek nationality, who was hospitalized in the ICU of General Children's Hospital  where he died.  This child had underlying conditions (severe pulmonary hypertension) and was admitted to ICU  on 22/11/2019 with clinical presentation of laryngitis (without the presence of characteristic pseudo membranes) and pneumonia, immediately intubated, covered with double antibiotic regimen and died due to deterioration of his clinical presentation on 26/11/2019.
 
According to the epidemiological data given , there is no travel history, group living, no connection to another case and the child does not belong to a specific population group. Regarding his immunization status, the child was vaccinated with at least 3 doses against diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis.
 
Laboratory investigation of bronchial exudate isolated Corynebacterium diphtheriae via VITEK. Further laboratory testing was performed by the Public Health England  reference Laboratory for Corynebacteria. On Thursday 5/12/2019, the National Public Health Organization was informed that multiplex PCR testing was positive for C. Diphtheriae and positive for the diphtheria toxin gene. The Elek test was also positive for toxin production. The results of the child's post-mortem exam are pending.

Contact tracing and management is ongoing and has identified most of the close contacts of the patient. The National Public Health Organization provided recommendations on obtaining nasopharyngeal cultures in close contacts to evaluate carriage as well as the necessary preventive measures to protect the child's close contacts as well as the medical staff involved in direct patient care (i.e. awareness for potential compatible with diphtheria symptoms and administration of antibiotic prophylaxis together with booster or complete vaccination series as appropriate) according to the WHO’s Diphtheria Surveillance Standards (September 2018). In addition we have initiated the procedure for the procurement of a limited stockpile of DAT.
Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2019 09:20:47 +0100 (MET)

Athens, Nov 27, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.1-magnitude undersea earthquake shook the Greek island of Crete on Wednesday and was felt in other parts of the country, officials said.   "It was a major earthquake, the whole island shook but fortunately so far no damage has been reported," Crete regional governor Stavros Arnaoutakis told state TV ERT.   The Athens observatory said the quake struck at 9:23 am (0723 GMT) and had a depth of over 70 kilometres (44 miles).

The tremor occurred a day after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in Albania that has left more than 20 dead and hundreds injured.   Shortly after the Albania tremor, a 5.4-magnitude shock hit Bosnia, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center reported on Tuesday.   Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes but they rarely cause casualties.   In July 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage.
Date: Wed, 2 Oct 2019 12:31:30 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, Oct 2, 2019 (AFP) - Greek workers staged a fresh 24-hour strike Wednesday against government plans to deregulate the labour market, paralysing road and rail transport, closing banks and shutting down news outlets.   Buses and trams stayed in their depots, the Athens metro was shut down and ferries serving islands on both sides of Greece stayed in port. The action also hit rail services, including to Athens airport.   Banks were closed Wednesday and Poesy, the journalists' union, said there would be no news bulletins over the 24-hour strike period.

The strike caused long traffic jams in Athens as the GSEE, the largest union representing private-sector workers, organised a rally in the city centre to protest the planned legislation.    It denounced "the suppression of collective conventions" and what it said was an assault on the unions.   This was the second strike in a week against the planned reforms of conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, which he argues will open the way to investment and encourage growth of more than two percent.   A strike last week hit transport, hospitals, schools and the courts.   The unions say the proposed reforms will undermine collective agreements and make it harder to organise strikes.

The proposed law would require a more-than 50 percent turn-out of the workforce in any strike vote for it to be valid.   Union leaders have also denounced a law passed in August which they say makes it easier to sack people in the private sector.   Adedy, the federation of public-sector unions, which organised last week's strike, called on its members to join Wednesday's action.   Mitsotakis came to power in July, replacing the left-wing government of Alexis Tsipras.
Date: Thu 12 Sep 2019, 7:54 PM
Source: Ekathimerini [edited]

The death toll from the West Nile virus since June this year has risen to 20, according to this week's report by the National Health Organization (EODY).

Up until [12 Sep 2019], authorities had diagnosed a total of 176 cases of the mosquito-borne virus. Of these, 109 developed illnesses affecting the central nervous system such as encephalitis or meningitis.

EODY is urging the public to spray insect repellent on bare skin and clothing, to install mosquito nets and screens, to remove stagnant water from basins, vases and gutters, to regularly mow lawns and to water plants in the morning.
=============================
[The first report mentions 20 fatal human cases as compared to the latest ECDC update that mentions 19 and the total case number is 176 versus 171 (ECDC report).

West Nile fever is a disease caused by West Nile Virus (WNV), which is a _Flavivirus_ related to the viruses that cause St. Louis encephalitis, Japanese encephalitis, and yellow fever. It causes disease in humans, horses, and several species of birds. Most infected individuals show few signs of illness, but some develop severe neurological illness which can be fatal. West Nile Virus has an extremely broad host range. It replicates in birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, mosquitoes and ticks <https://www.oie.int/doc/ged/D14013.PDF>.

The reservoir of the virus is in birds. Mosquitoes become infected when they bite an infected bird ingesting the virus in the blood. The mosquitoes act as carriers (vectors) spreading the virus from an infected bird to other birds and to other animals. Infection of other animals (e.g. horses, and also humans) is incidental to the cycle [as also evident in the ECDC update above] in birds since most mammals do not develop enough virus in the bloodstream to spread the disease.

Key to preventing the spread of West Nile fever is to control mosquito populations. Horses should be protected from exposure to mosquitoes. Likewise, people should avoid exposure to mosquitoes especially at dusk and dawn when they are most active, use insect screens and insect repellents, and limit places for mosquitoes to breed. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
Date: Sun, 15 Sep 2019 15:38:29 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, Sept 15, 2019 (AFP) - More than 160 firefighters on Sunday battled to contain a large fire near Athens blazing for a second day amid gale force winds, officials said.   And in another emergency, authorities evacuated dozens of people from two villages and a hotel on the island of Zakynthos after a new fire broke out on Sunday.

The fire department said the blaze near Athens burned in the mountains above Loutraki, a coastal resort some 60 kilometres (35 miles) west of Athens.   "The fire is burning near the top of the mountain," Stefanos Kolokouris, the fire department's deputy chief of operations, told state TV ERT.   "We are trying to create a perimeter but the terrain is very difficult, with ravines," he said.   Four water bombers and six helicopters were participating in operations. Given a lack of roads in the area, two squads of firefighters had to be carried to the mountaintop by Super Puma helicopter, state agency ANA said.   Officials had already evacuated 50 people from a local monastery when the fire broke out on Saturday, but stressed that other inhabited areas were not in danger.

On Zakynthos, officials ordered the evacuation of the villages of Agalas and Keri in the south of the island. Some 120 tourists were also relocated to a safe area.   The Greek fire department on Sunday said it had been called to nearly 80 fires over the past 24 hours.   It has already faced more than 9,600 rural and urban fires this year.
More ...

Bahamas

The Bahamas Consular Information Sheet
July 14, 2005

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Bahamas is a developed, English-speaking Caribbean nation composed of hundreds of islands covering a territory approximately the size of California.
To
rism and financial services comprise the two largest sectors of the economy. Independent from the United Kingdom since 1973, The Bahamas is a Commonwealth nation with a centuries-old democratic tradition.
The capital, Nassau, is located on New Providence Island.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on The Bahamas at http://travel.state.gov for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
On December 31, 2005, the U.S. Government will begin to phase in new passport requirements for U.S. citizens traveling in the Western Hemisphere.
By December 31, 2007, all U.S. citizens will be expected to depart and enter the United States on a valid passport or other authorized document establishing identity and U.S. citizenship.
The Department of State strongly encourages travelers to obtain passports well in advance of any planned travel.
Routine passport applications by mail take up to six weeks to be issued.
For further information, go to the State Department's Consular website: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.

U.S. citizens must present original proof of U.S. citizenship (valid U.S. passport or certified U.S. birth certificate with a government-issued photo ID) and a return ticket. A passport is recommended as it eases processing upon return to the United States.
Voter registration cards, Social Security cards, driver's licenses, affidavits, and other similar documents are not acceptable as proof of U.S. citizenship. U.S. citizens do not need to obtain visas for stays of up to one month. Travelers arriving via private watercraft are charged docking fees.
See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for information on entry to The Bahamas and other countries.
U.S. citizens may also contact The Embassy of The Bahamas at 2220 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-319-2660), its Consulates in Miami and New York, or by email at bahemb@aol.com.

For entry and exit requirements pertaining to dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction, read our information at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1469.html.
For Customs Information see http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1468.html.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The water sports and scooter rental industries in The Bahamas are not carefully regulated.
Visitors should rent equipment only from reputable operators, and should insist on sufficient training before using the equipment.
Every year, people are killed or injured by the improper use of scooters, jet-skis, and personal watercraft or by the careless or reckless operation of such equipment by others.
You should insist on seeing proof that operators have sufficient medical and liability insurance. Travelers should also invest in low-cost traveler's insurance that includes medical evacuations, as most American insurance companies do not cover this.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1747.html.

CRIME:
While The Bahamas has a relatively low crime rate, visitors should exercise caution and good judgment. Although most criminal incidents take place in a part of Nassau not usually frequented by tourists (the "over-the-hill" area south of downtown), crime and violence has moved into more upscale tourist and residential areas.
Criminals also target restaurants and nightclubs frequented by tourists.
The most common approach for criminals is to offer victims a ride, either as a "personal favor" or by claiming to be a taxi, and then robbing and/or assaulting the passenger once they are in the car. Visitors should take care to ride only in licensed taxis, identifiable by their yellow license plates.

In the last year the U.S. Embassy has received several reports of sexual assaults, including against teen-age girls. Most assaults have been perpetrated against intoxicated young women, some of whom were reportedly drugged. To minimize the potential for sexual assault, the Embassy recommends that young women stay in groups, consume alcohol in moderation or not at all, ride only in licensed taxis, and not accept rides or drinks from strangers.
Travelers should avoid walking alone after dark or in isolated areas, and avoid placing themselves in situations where they are alone with strangers. Be cautious on deserted areas of beaches at all hours. Hotel guests should always lock their doors and should never leave valuables unattended, especially on beaches.
Visitors should store passport/identity documents, airline tickets, credit cards, and extra cash in hotel safes. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, particularly Rolex watches, which criminals have specifically targeted. Use only clearly marked taxis with yellow license plates and make a note of the license plate number for your records.

The legal age in the Bahamas for consumption of alcoholic beverages is 18. Parents should be aware, however, that enforcement of the drinking age is weak.
It is easy for teenagers to obtain alcoholic beverages and underage drinking is prevalent.
Many of the arrests, accidents and violent crimes suffered by U.S. citizens in The Bahamas involve alcohol.

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 understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/emergencies/emergencies_1748.html.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
High quality medical care is generally available, but expensive, in Nassau and Freeport. Medical care is limited outside of Nassau and Freeport. Bahamian doctors and hospitals do not usually accept U.S. medical insurance policies and typically expect immediate cash payment for professional services. It is the patient's responsibility to seek reimbursement later from their insurance companies. Serious health problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Persons with serious or life-threatening conditions who wish to return to U.S. medical facilities for treatment normally must be airlifted.
There is a chronic shortage of blood at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, where most emergency surgery is performed.
Travelers with rare blood types should know the names and locations of possible blood donors should the need arise.
The Lyford Cay Hospital has a hyperbaric chamber for treatment of decompression illness.
Ambulance service is available, but may not be able to respond quickly in the event of a major emergency or disaster.

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); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1470.html.

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 The Bahamas is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic in The Bahamas moves on the left side of the roadway. Roads in Nassau and Freeport are generally adequate, but traffic congestion in those cities is endemic.
Rural roads can be narrow, winding, and in poor repair.
Flooding frequently occurs on roads in low-lying areas throughout The Bahamas, including Nassau and Freeport.
Drivers should be alert for unmarked construction zones throughout The Bahamas.
Travel by moped or bicycle can be quite hazardous, especially in the heavy traffic conditions prevalent in Nassau and Freeport. Travelers should exercise appropriate caution when renting motorbikes. Accidents involving U.S. tourists on motorbikes have caused severe injuries and fatalities. Those who choose to ride a moped or bicycle should wear helmets and drive defensively.
Pedestrians need to remember that vehicular traffic comes from the right.
Pedestrians have been hit by cars after failing to check properly for oncoming traffic.

Emergency ambulance service is generally available and can be reached by dialing 911. Roadside assistance is also widely available through private towing services, listed in the phone book.

For specific information concerning driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance in The Bahamas, please contact The Bahamas Tourist Board in New York at http://bahamas.com, (tel:
1-800-823-3136).

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1179.html.
Visit the website of the country's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of The Bahamas as being in compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards for oversight of The Bahamas' air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
CUSTOMS:
The Bahamas customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or exportation from The Bahamas of firearms. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas in Washington or one of the Bahamian consulates in the U.S. for specific information regarding customs requirements. Tourists who arrive by private boat are required to declare firearms to Bahamian Customs and leave firearms on the boat while in The Bahamas. Please see our information on customs regulations at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1468.html.

BOATING/FISHING:
Boaters should be aware that long-line fishing in Bahamian waters is illegal. All long-line fishing gear is required to be stowed below deck while transiting through Bahamian waters. Fishermen should note that stiff penalties are imposed for catching crawfish (lobster) or other marine life out of season or in protected areas.

TIME-SHARES:
U.S. citizens should exercise caution when considering time-share investments and be aware of the aggressive tactics used by some time-share sales representatives. Bahamian law allows time-share purchasers five days to cancel the contract for full reimbursement. Disputes that arise after that period can be very time-consuming and expensive to resolve through the local legal system.
HURRICANES:
The Bahamas, like all countries in the Caribbean basin, is vulnerable to hurricanes. Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30, although hurricanes have been known to occur outside that time period. Visitors to The Bahamas during hurricane season are advised to monitor weather reports in order to be prepared for any potential threats. General information about disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

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 The Bahamas' laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in The Bahamas are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
For more information visit http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1467.html.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://www.travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in The Bahamas are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within The Bahamas.
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 next to McDonald's restaurant on Queen Street in downtown Nassau; telephone (242) 322-1181, after hours: (242) 328-2206.
Consular Section hours are 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 10:00-12:00 on Fridays. The Embassy is closed on local and U.S. holidays.
You may wish to visit the Embassy's website at http://bahamas.usembassy.gov/ or contact the Consular Section by e-mail at acsn@state.gov .

The U.S. Embassy is also responsible for consular services in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCIS), a United Kingdom (British) overseas territory.
U.S. citizens may obtain updated information on travel and security in TCIS from the U.S. Embassy in Nassau or the Consular Information Sheet for the Turks and Caicos.
*

*

*
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated October 15, 2004, to update Sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location; to include a Section on Information For Victims of Crime; and to combine and update the Sections on Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2019 11:42:27 +0200 (METDST)

Geneva, Sept 2, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Dorian has caused "extensive damage" across the Bahamas, the Red Cross said Monday, warning that as many as 13,000 houses may have been severely damaged or destroyed.   "We don't yet have a complete picture of what has happened," Sune Bulow, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' Emergency Operation Centre in Geneva, said in a statement.   "But it is clear that Hurricane Dorian has had a catastrophic impact," he said, adding that "we anticipate extensive shelter needs, alongside the need for short-term economic support, as well as for clean water and health assistance."

Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas with ferocious wind and rain on Sunday, the monstrous Category 5 storm wrecking towns and homes as it churned on an uncertain path toward the US coast where hundreds of thousands were ordered to evacuate.   There was no immediate word on casualties in the low-lying islands.   But IFRC said that up to 13,000 houses may have been severely impacted.

The organisation also warned that extensive flooding on the island of Abaco was believed to have contaminated wells with saltwater.   IFRC said it had released 250,000 Swiss francs ($252,000, 230,000 euros) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to bolster the initial response to the crisis, and to provide some 500 families with emergency shelter assistance.   Packing sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (295 kilometre per hour), Dorian crashed onshore in the Abacos Islands, in the northwest of the Bahamas, as the strongest storm ever to hit the Caribbean chain.

After days of nerve-wracking uncertainty surrounding the storm's path, the southeastern US states of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina finally ordered coastal residents to evacuate in a mass exodus set to affect hundreds of thousands of people.    The American Red Cross estimated that some 19 million people live in areas that could be impacted by the storm, with as many as 50,000 people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina potentially in need of emergency shelter, depending on the impact.   IFRC said that hundreds of Red Cross volunteers, emergency response vehicles and more than 30 truck loads of relief supplies were being mobilised to help people living in the path of the hurricane.
Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2019 00:55:48 +0200 (METDST)
By Leila MACOR

Riviera Beach, United States, Sept 1, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Dorian blasted the northern Bahamas as a monster Category 5 storm on Sunday, pummeling the low-lying island chain with torrential rains and winds of a violence unprecedented in its history.   Packing winds of 185 miles per hour (295 kilometers per hour), Dorian made landfall twice in the Bahamas' Abaco Islands, and was tied for the second most powerful hurricane ever in the Atlantic basin, the National Weather Service said.

Footage posted on social media showed major destruction. There was no immediate word on casualties.   Parts of the Abaco Islands were reported to be under water as forecasters warned it was facing a towering 18 to 23 foot storm surge. Winds were gusting over 220 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.   Video posted on the website of the Bahamian newspaper Tribune 242 showed water up to the roofs of wooden houses in what ppeared to be a coastal town. Capsized boats floated in muddy brown water dotted with wooden boards, tree branches and other debris.

In other social media footage of what appears to be an inland area, cars were smashed or turned over, telephone poles and trees were snapped like twigs and debris filled the yards of severely damaged homes. AFP could not immediately confirm the authenticity of any of this footage.   Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis broke down in tears as he addressed a news conference, calling it "probably the most sad and worst day of my life," the Nassau Guardian reported.   "We're facing a hurricane... one that we've never seen in the history of the Bahamas," he said.

Footage shot in Cooper's Town, Abaco and obtained by AFP showed waves crashing violently onshore, sending up huge clouds of spray along the coastline.   Local radio reported that people were calling for help after winds blew the roof off the Island Breezes Hotel in Marsh Harbour, a commercial hub in the Abacos.   "Things are really starting to rock and roll," a post on the Facebook page of the Hope Town Bulletin in Abacos said at 10:00 am local time.    As of 2200 GMT, the storm was 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama and moving slowly west.   In Grand Bahama, thousands have evacuated to get out of Dorian's predicted path.   "It feels like we are standing in a line waiting for a beating," Yasmin Rigby, a resident of Freeport, the island's main city, told AFP.

- Strongest storm to hit Bahamas -
The NHC said Dorian had become "the strongest hurricane in modern records for the northwestern Bahamas."   Describing "catastrophic" conditions in the Abacos Islands, it said the storm was "heading with all its fury towards Grand Bahama," where it was expected Sunday night into Monday.  NHC director Ken Graham on Facebook Live said the Bahamas would be under major hurricane conditions for a punishing 30 hours or more.   "That's major hurricane winds, that's storm surge of 10 and even 20 feet in some of those areas," he said. "That's also torrential rainfall of 15 to 20 inches, isolated 30 inches."

In Washington, US President Donald Trump met with his emergency management chiefs and declared "this looks monstrous."   "We expect that much of the eastern seaboard will be ultimately impacted and some of it very, very severely," he said.   Tropical storm warnings were in effect for parts of the Florida coast, and residents up and down the Atlantic coast braced for a brush with danger.   Florida issued its first evacuation orders in parts of Palm Beach, home of Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, and Martin Counties.

- 'Very great danger' -
Kevin McAleenan, acting homeland security secretary, said hurricane force winds could hit Florida, followed by a prolonged rain event combined with a storm surge.   "That's going to be very difficult as the storm starts to move northward, mostly like, up the coast of Florida and toward Georgia and South Carolina," he said on ABC's "This Week."   While Miami appeared likely to be largely spared, 30-year-old David Duque, picking up sandbags there on Saturday, noted that "everything could change... I know it could be a scare, but better prepare instead of doing nothing."   The Florida National Guard said roughly 2,000 service members had been mobilized, with another 2,000 poised to join them.

- 'Absolute monster' -
Trump has declared a federal state of emergency in Florida, authorizing US assistance to supplement state and local efforts.   Following a similar state order in Florida, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency Saturday, saying, "Given the strength and unpredictability of the storm, we must prepare for every possible scenario."   Neighboring North Carolina also declared a state of emergency, and Georgia announced a state of emergency for 12 counties.   Orlando International Airport was to protectively halt commercial flights at 2:00 am (0600 GMT) Monday, and Florida's NASA Kennedy Space Center said it was moving an enormous mobile rocket launcher inside to protect it.
Date: Wed 25 Jul 2018
Source: Eyewitness News [edited]

Cases of reported conch poisoning are on the rise in the capital, according to Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands. The health minister confirmed Tue 24 Jul 2018 that over 3 dozen persons have sought medical attention for conch poisoning since the Ministry of Health announced the new outbreak in New Providence nearly a month ago.

Luckily, there have been no reports of conch poisoning in the Family Islands. Dr. Sands confirmed that the outbreak has been isolated to New Providence. "We can now confirm 25 clinical cases with laboratory testing," he said. "There are an additional 15 clinical cases that meet the definition but are still awaiting finalization of their laboratory data, so there may be as many as 40 clinical cases that might have been presented to the hospital. There are some people who get conch poisoning but it's not severe enough for them to come to the hospital for treatment."

The health minister continued to issue warning to patrons and vendors. "I continue to say that this is a preventable problem, so to the vendors, you have to wash the conch in fresh water. To the patrons, it is a good idea to insist that [the conch] is washed in fresh water."

Conch poisoning occurs when raw conch meat is not thoroughly washed in fresh water. Bacteria that resides on the skin of conch is what leads to the treacherous poisoning. The most recent major outbreak of conch poisoning in the Bahamas dates back to the 1990s.  [Byline: Theo Sealy]
=====================
[The aetiology is _V. parahaemolyticus_, a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera. It lives in brackish saltwater and causes gastrointestinal illness in humans. Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever and chills. Usually these symptoms begin within 24 hours of exposure. Illness is usually self-limited and lasts approximately 3 days. Severe disease is rare and occurs more commonly in persons with weakened immune systems.

Infections with this organism, which can be normal microflora in seawater, have been associated with the consumption of raw, improperly cooked, or cooked and recontaminated fish and shellfish. A correlation exists between the probability of infection and warmer months of the year. Improper refrigeration of seafood contaminated with this organism will allow its proliferation, which increases the possibility of infection. ProMED-mail covered a large 2005 outbreak in Chile. It was impressive in its size (more than 10 000 cases), continued to spread despite early recognition, and involved clams and mussels rather than the classical oyster vehicle. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
New Providence Island, New Providence, Bahamas:
Date: 5 Jul 2018
Source: The Nassau Guardian [edited]

The Ministry of Health warned yesterday of a recent outbreak of conch poisoning. Health authorities yesterday [4 Jul 2018] confirmed 4 cases of conch poisoning stemming from Potter's Cay in the past 72 hours but said the outbreak of _Vibrio parahaemolyticus_ could easily be prevented by vendors washing their conch supplies in fresh water.

_V. parahaemolyticus_ is a bacterium found in brackish saltwater, which, when ingested, causes symptoms including abdominal cramps, vomiting, headache, diarrhea and fever. "This is a preventable illness that requires basic hygiene as it relates to conch preparation," said Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands during a press conference at the Ministry of Health of Meeting Street. He continued, "I think there is no reason why we can't say we will ensure that every single vendor is reminded of the requirement to wash the conch with copious amounts of fresh, clean water. To those in the purchasing public, if your vendor does not have access to fresh tap water or distilled water, and is only washing the conch in seawater, until we get the all clear, don't buy from that vendor."

The 4 patients with confirmed cases of vibriosis are Bahamians. There were at least 6 more people exhibiting symptoms awaiting confirmation of conch poisoning.

Sands assured the public that health officials, who received reports of the cases yesterday morning [4 Jul 2018], have mobilized in conjunction with the Ministry of the Environment to take the necessary steps to protect the health of those affected and, through targeted interventions, prevent further cases. The minister also advised all conch vendors will be required to take a food-handling course and maintain fresh potable water at their stalls.

As it relates to the unconfirmed cases, Sands said those patients, who were admitted to the Emergency Room at Doctors Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital in the past 24 hours with gastroenteritis, were awaiting lab results. "Bear in mind that gastroenteritis can occur for a number of reasons," he said, "And so, to ascribe a case of gastroenteritis to vibrio would require confirmatory testing."

Sands said one of the priorities of the ministry is to have the conversation with the public early and spread awareness. "The 2nd thing we would like to do and we have started to do is to ensure the environmental health teams speak directly with the vendors, but throughout New Providence [Bahamas] and anywhere else we may suspect a possibility of exposure," the minister said. "We learned back in the 1990s this is easily controlled if people practice very simple techniques of washing conch with fresh water, which minimizes, if not eliminates, the possibility of transmission. And so, we just redouble those efforts combined with public education."

Additionally, Sands advised conch purchasers to ask vendors and restaurants whether the conch has been washed in fresh water before purchasing and eating it. "If the answer is affirmative, then you ought to feel reasonably comfortable you can eat it," he said. "If the answer is no, then I wouldn't suggest you eat or purchase it." No vendor has been closed down as a result of the cases presented. Sands said that would be premature, noting that conch poisoning from _V. parahaemolyticus_ can be easily prevented.

Thousands of visitors frequent Potter's Cay and other venues to sample conch in the variety of ways it is prepared, such as conch salad, in which the conch is consumed raw with vegetables, pepper and lime. According to health officials, cooking the conch removes the chance of it being contaminated.

There were 223 cases of vibriosis in New Providence [Bahamas] in 2003. In 1991 and 1999, there were also outbreaks of conch poisoning with a combined 1100 cases, Sands said.

Regarding testing, Sands was asked whether the ministry has periodically tested random conch batches from vendors. "This is not an issue of the meat itself," he responded. "Vibrio is a bacteri[um] ordinarily living in sea water and is a part of the surface of the conch. The conch meat itself is not infected with _V. parahaemolyticus_, so you can wash it off. Testing the conch meat itself is not the issue."

Sands continued, "We have learned historically you can eliminate this problem by washing the conch in fresh water. If you are washing the conch with _Vibrio_-containing water, you are not going to solve the problem, even though the conch may appear clean on the surface." Sands said while this is a breaking matter and the ministry has a strategic plan, it has not gotten to the stage of testing batches of conch and the storage water, but "that does not mean that we won't get there."

Symptoms of conch poisoning from _V. parahaemolyticus_ can persist for 72 hours, and some patients may require hospitalization for treatment of dehydration. Those experiencing symptoms are asked to contact the ministry's surveillance unit at +1-242-502-4790 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EDT.  [Byline: Torrell Glinton]
====================
[There is now confirmation the agent involved in the conch poisoning situation is the bacterium _Vibrio parahaemolyticus_. I apologize for the error regarding identification of the agent. Laboratory confirmation is always appreciated. [ProMED would like to thank Mr. Ryan Burke for bringing the laboratory confirmation to our attenttion. - ProMED Mod.JH]

_V. parahaemolyticus_ is a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera. It lives in brackish saltwater and causes gastrointestinal illness in humans. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever and chills. Usually these symptoms begin within 24 hours of exposure. Illness is usually self-limited and lasts approximately 3 days. Severe disease is rare and occurs more commonly in persons with weakened immune systems <http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/vibrio/basics.html>.

Additional information regarding _V. parahaemolyticus_ may be found on the CDC fact sheet <https://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/faq.html> - ProMED Mod.TG]

[Infections with this organism, which can be normal microflora in seawater, have been associated with the consumption of raw, improperly cooked, or cooked and recontaminated fish and shellfish. A correlation exists between the probability of infection and warmer months of the year. Improper refrigeration of seafood contaminated with this organism will allow its proliferation, which increases the possibility of infection. ProMED-mail covered a large 2005 outbreak in Chile. It was impressive in its size (more than 10 000 cases), continued spread despite early recognition, and the involvement of clams and mussels rather than the classical oyster vehicle. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/11584>]
Date: Thu 5 Jul 2018
Source: EW News [edited]

With 4 confirmed cases of conch poisoning in New Providence, [Bahamas], the Ministry of Health cautioned Bahamians against consuming the delicacy in the wake of this latest outbreak. Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands confirmed the 4 Bahamians suffering from the illness. The earliest case, he said, dates back to [Sat 30 Jun 2018].

Dr. Sands revealed that an additional 6 persons have been hospitalized with symptoms of conch poisoning. He said even though the number of cases is considered minimal, the ministry's warning is a proactive measure to prevent future cases. The ministry, he said, is expected to begin dialogue with local vendors to ensure they are utilizing proper cleaning methods in the preparation of conch dishes.

"Conch should be washed with fresh water, and not salt water, to ensure that all bacteria is removed from the conch meat," suggested Dr. Sands. He urged Bahamians to ask local vendors about the processes they employ during the preparation of conch dishes. "If they do not wash the conch in fresh water during the process of preparing it, then do not purchase the conch," he warned.

The early onset of conch poisoning is said to be accompanied by watery diarrhoea and extreme abdominal cramps. Some cases, the health minister said, are severe and can lead to dehydration and subsequent hospitalization.

The last major outbreak of conch poisoning dates back to the 1990s, according to Dr. Sands.  [Byline: Theo Sealy]
=========================
[The group of conchs that are sometimes referred to as "true conchs" are marine gastropod molluscs in the family Strombidae, specifically in the genus _Strombus_ and other closely related genera. For example, see _Lobatus gigas_, the queen conch, and _Laevistrombus canarium_, the dog conch (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conch>).

In ciguatera poisoning, the poisonous ingredient is ciguatoxin. This is a poison made in small amounts by certain algae and algae-like organisms called dinoflagellates. Environmental conditions are right for other organisms, mollusks, or fish to ingest the algae and dinoflagellates. Smaller organisms may be ingested by larger organisms, thus transferring the toxic agent to the larger animal.

Ciguatera is a foodborne illness (food poisoning) caused by eating fish that is contaminated by ciguatera toxin. Ciguatera toxin, a heat-stable, lipid-soluble compound produced by dinoflagellates and concentrated in fish organs, can cause nausea, pain, and cardiac and neurological symptoms in humans when ingested.

Ciguatera toxin is harmless to fish but poisonous to humans. The toxin is odorless and tasteless, and cooking does not destroy the toxin. The toxin activates voltage-dependent sodium channels, causing symptoms in gastrointestinal, cardiac, and nerve tissues of humans and other mammals.

Symptoms in people generally begin 6-8 hr after eating the contaminated fish but can occur as early as 2 or as late as 24 hr after ingestion. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, numbness, tingling, abdominal pain, dizziness, and vertigo. There is no specific antitoxin available for ciguatera toxin.

Some investigators have suggested vomiting should be induced if the victim is awake and alert and has eaten ciguatera toxin-containing fish within the last 3-4 hr. Ipecac, a substance that causes vomiting, was suggested as the medication to use, but many investigators now think ipecac causes too much dehydration. Currently, some physicians recommend gastrointestinal decontamination with activated charcoal. Activated charcoal may absorb the toxin if administered 3-4 hr after ingestion.

Victims should maintain hydration. Intravenous fluids may be necessary for uncontrollable nausea and vomiting. Although there is no specific antidote available, supportive therapy and time usually is curative.

Portions of this comment were extracted from

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
New Providence Island, New Providence, Bahamas:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 16:41:23 +0100 (MET)
By Mariëtte Le Roux and Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - French commuters gritted their teeth for a ninth day of public transport strikes Friday, with unions vowing to keep up their protest against a pension overhaul through the holidays unless the government backs down.   Officials have said they are ready to negotiate, with Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer meeting teachers' representatives on Friday to try and stave off another day of class shutdowns.   "It was an intense and frank meeting... but we still need details, and maintain our call to strike on Tuesday," Stephane Crochet of the SE-Unsa union said.

Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when they forced a rightwing government to back down on pension reforms after three weeks of metro and rail strikes just before Christmas.   The prospect of a protracted standoff has businesses fearing big losses during the crucial year-end festivities, and travellers worried that their Christmas plans may be compromised.   "Right now it's a catastrophe here, but we're hoping there will be a solution before Christmas," Frederic Masse, a foie gras producer at the huge Rungis wholesale food market south of Paris, told AFP on Friday.

The capital city was again choked by huge traffic jams as most metro lines remained shut, only a handful of buses and trams were running, and one in four TGV trains were cancelled.   "I'm sick of this, and I won't be able to keep working if it goes on," Zigo Makango, a 57-year-old security agent, told AFP onboard a bus in the Bobigny suburb northeast of Paris.   To get home at night Makango said he has to use taxis, but "my boss doesn't reimburse me for that".

- 'Historic reform' -
President Emmanuel Macron on Friday expressed his "solidarity" with people impacted by the strike, "but I want the government to continue its work" in forging a single pension system, a key campaign promise.   "It's a historic reform for the country," he told journalists at an EU summit in Brussels. 

The overhaul unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would do away with 42 separate regimes, some of which offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector employees such as train drivers, dockers and even Paris Opera employees.   But Philippe angered unions further by proposing a reduced payout for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of a new, so-called "pivot age" of 64.

They have called for new mass demonstrations for next Tuesday, the third since the action started on December 5 in the biggest show of strength in years by France's notoriously militant unions.   Philippe insisted on Twitter that "My door is open and my hand outstretched".   But Laurent Brun of the hard-line CGT union, the largest among public-sector workers including those at rail operator SNCF, has already warned "There won't be any Christmas truce" unless the government drops the plan entirely.

- France divided -
A poll released Thursday by the Elabe institute found France evenly divided on Philippe's plan, with 50 percent for and 49 percent against.  But 54 percent rejected the mooted 64-year cutoff for a full pension, and 54 percent supported the protest.

Staff at four of France's eight oil refineries were on strike Friday, affecting output and raising fears of shortages down the line.   And both Paris operas, the Garnier and the Bastille, again cancelled Friday performances and others through the weekend.   Macron's government insists the changes will make for a fairer system and help erase pension system deficits forecast to reach as much as 17 billion euros ($19 billion) by 2025.   The average French person retires at just over 60, years earlier than most in Europe or other rich OECD countries.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 14:05:22 +0100 (MET)

Milan, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - More than 300 flights were cancelled Friday in Italy due to a planned one-day strike by workers from Alitalia and Air Italy.   Alitalia said in a statement that 315 flights were cancelled on Friday, with another 40 cancelled Thursday night and Saturday morning. It was not immediately clear how many flights were cancelled at Air Italy.   The 24-hours strike, which involves pilots, flight attendants and ground personnel, was called by three unions to draw attention to what they called "the ongoing crisis at Alitalia and Air Italy."

The strike was felt most in Sardinia, with about 30 flights cancelled.    Money-losing Alitalia has been under special administration since 2017 when employees rejected a restructuring plan that would have laid off 1,700 workers out of an approximately 11,000.   The government has so far looked for buyers without success.    Unions plan to meet on Tuesday with Economy Minister Stefano Patuanelli.    A potential consortium of buyers for the ailing carrier fell apart last month after Atlantia, which operates Rome's airports, pulled out.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 05:24:44 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - Adventure tourism is a key part of New Zealand's international appeal but the White Island volcano eruption is a tragic reminder that such activities carry genuine risk that must be better explained to travellers, experts say.   The South Pacific nation offers a wealth of adrenaline-fuelled pursuits, from heli-skiiing on snow-capped mountains to ballooning and blackwater rafting through caves.

Some, such as bungee-jumping, jet-boating and zorbing -- where you hurl yourself down a hill inside an inflatable ball -- were invented or popularised in a country that prides itself on catering to intrepid visitors.   The tourism industry as a whole is among New Zealand's biggest earners, generating about NZ$16.2 billion ($10.7 billion) and attracting 3.8 million international visitors annually.     "Adventure tourism is a massive sector in New Zealand. We are promoting ourselves as the adventure capital of the world," professor Michael Lueck, a tourism expert at Auckland University of Technology, told AFP.

New Zealand is also renowned for its rugged landscapes, which feature prominently films such as Kiwi director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings".   Day-trips to White Island combined both, taking tourists including cruise ship passengers to a desolately beautiful island off the North Island coast where they could experience the thrill of standing on an active volcano.   Instead, at least 16 people are believed to have died and dozens suffered horrific burns when 47 tourists and guides were caught on the island during Monday's eruption.

The disaster has raised questions about why tourists were allowed on a volcano where experts had recently raised threat levels, as well as broader issues about the regulation of risky activities in the tourism sector.   "There will be bigger questions in relation to this event," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told parliament after the eruption.   "These questions must be asked, and they must be answered."

- 'Slapdash' or world's best? -
The disaster on White Island -- also known as Whakaari -- is not the first mass-fatality accident to affect tourists in New Zealand.   In 2015, seven people were killed when a scenic helicopter flight crashed into Fox Glacier. Two years earlier, a hot-air balloon claimed 11 lives and in 2010 nine died when a plane carrying skydivers plunged into a paddock.

Briton Chris Coker's son Brad, 24, died in the skydive plane crash and since then he has campaigned from afar for tighter regulations in New Zealand's adventure tourism sector.   "In my opinion, the New Zealand authorities... are still slapdash about tourist safety," Coker told news website stuff.co.nz after the White Island eruption.   "To run tourists there is insane. I know they signed a waiver and so on, but it's not really taking care of people."

Trade body Tourism Industry Aotearoa disputes such assessments, saying operators are "working within a world's best regulatory framework", but could not eliminate risk completely.   "Operators put safety first, but adventure activity inherently carries some risk and it's critical that 'adventure' remains in adventure tourism," TIA chief executive Chris Roberts told AFP.   "Operators take all practical actions to minimise the risks and the safety culture of individual operators remains the key factor in preventing accidents."

Roberts said the issue was not tourism operators, but the alert system they relied on at volcanic destinations such as White Island, which attracts about 17,000 visitors a year.   The GeoNet monitoring agency raised White Island's threat level in the week before the eruption but also advised current activity "does not pose a direct hazard to visitors".   "The reviews need to look at the science and specifically the guidance provided about volcanic activity, and whether the operating practices followed for the past 30 years need to change," Roberts said.

- 'Understand the risks' -
Travel companies such as White Island Tours brief customers before setting off and require them to sign a waiver declaring they understand the risk, as well as supplying equipment such as hard-hats and gas masks.   However, some relatives of those affected by the eruption have expressed scepticism that their loved ones truly appreciated the potential danger they faced.   Options for legal redress are limited under New Zealand's Accident Compensation Commission scheme, which covers victims' medical bills and provides modest compensation but does not allow civil suits for damages.

Neither Roberts nor Lueck expected the White Island eruption to hit international arrivals in New Zealand, which have continued to climb despite major earthquakes in 2011 and 2016.   The nature of any review arising from White Island remains uncertain, but Lueck said at the very least tourists needed to be better informed about any risks.   "Operators and tourism boards should have tourists understand what these risks are, and not brush over quickly signing a waiver," he said.   "Only then can tourists make an informed decision and decide whether or not they want to take that particular risk."
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 21:25:36 +0100 (MET)

Kinshasa, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Twenty-three cases of Ebola have been recorded in four days in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where deadly violence is hampering efforts to end the 16-month-old epidemic, authorities said on Thursday.   Ten cases were recorded on Tuesday alone in Mabalako in North Kivu province, after six on Monday, according to the Multisectoral Committee for Epidemic Response (CMRE).   Three out of the six were practitioners of traditional medicine, it said.

On Wednesday, three cases were recorded in North Kivu, including one in the Biena neighbourhood -- which has had no new Ebola cases for the last 85 days.   More than 2,200 people have died since the epidemic was declared on August 1, 2018.   As of November 22, the rate of new cases had fallen to 10 per week.   CMRE said "security reasons" -- attacks on Ebola health workers and sites by armed groups and angry youths -- had "paralysed" work in the key zones of Beni, Biakato and Mangina.   The attacks led to a pullout of locally-employed Ebola workers in Biakato by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 15:59:23 +0100 (MET)

Juba, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Devastating flooding in South Sudan following a fierce drought could tip parts of the country into famine in the next few months, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Thursday.   According to the UN refugee agency nearly one million people were affected by floodwaters that submerged entire towns, compounding an already dire humanitarian situation after six years of war.

The WFP said that 5.5 million people are expected to be going hungry in early 2020 -- the time at which the population is generally benefiting from their harvest in October and November of the previous year.   An earlier harvest failed due to drought. This time crops have been washed away.    "The number of people in need is likely to increase because of the catastrophic level of destruction caused by floods since October following a drought that hammered parts of the country earlier in the year," the agency said in a statement.

The floods wiped out 73,000 metric tons of potential harvests as well as tens of thousands of cattle and goats, said the WFP.   "We know the problems that we've been having in South Sudan, but the rains and the floods have led to a national disaster and are much worse than anyone could have anticipated," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.    "In fact, if we don't get funding in the next few weeks and months, we are literally talking about famine. We need support, we need help and we need it now."   The agency estimated its needs at $270 million (242 million euros) for the first half of 2020.   South Sudan declared a "man-made" famine affecting around 100,000 people in 2017. 

The term "famine" is used according to a scientific system agreed upon by global agencies, when at least 20 percent of the population in a specific area has extremely limited access to basic food; acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two per 10,000 people per day for the entire population.   "Famine in South Sudan was defeated after four months in 2017 by a concerted large-scale humanitarian response," said the WFP.   "Experts now say the country's food security outlook has never been so dire."   Political instability is also high as President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar have again delayed their formation of a power-sharing government, this time by 100 days until February 2020.
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2019 09:33:13 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Dec 11, 2019 (AFP) - Up to 20,000 protesters rallied in Sydney on Wednesday demanding urgent climate action from Australia's government, as bushfire smoke choking the city caused health problems to spike.   Sydney has endured weeks bathed in toxic smoke as hundreds of blazes have raged across the countryside, with hospitals recording a 25 percent increase in the number of people visiting emergency departments last week.   On Tuesday smoke alarms rang out across Australia's biggest city, with thick haze triggering smoke alarms and forcing buildings to be evacuated, school children to be kept indoors, and ferries to be cancelled.   The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought.   Police estimated the crowd size at 15,000, organisers put the figure at 20,000.

Many of the protestors voiced anger at the government's silence in the face of the crisis.   "The country is on fire" said 26-year-old Samuel Wilkie attending his first climate protest. He described politicians' response as "pathetic".    "Our government is not doing anything about it," said 29-year-old landscape gardener Zara Zoe. "No one is listening, no one is doing anything."   Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- a staunch backer of Australia's vast coal industry -- has said little about the smoke since the crisis began, preferring to focus on fire-hit rural communities.   Organiser Chloe Rafferty said that had created anger at the conservative government's inaction.   "I think the wider public can see that we are not expecting the climate crisis in the future but we are facing the climate crisis now," she told AFP.   "People are experiencing it in their day-to-day lives."   As well as a rise in people visiting hospitals with smoke-related health symptoms, the number of emergency calls for ambulances spiked 30 percent last week.    "For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat," top health department official Richard Broome said.   "However, people with conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are at greater risk because the smoke can trigger their symptoms."

Smoke from bushfires is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in Australia, releasing fine particles that can lodge deep within people's lungs and cause "severe" health impacts over time, according to scientist Mick Meyer from government-funded scientific research agency CSIRO.   "The impact of smoke on people remote from the fires may, on occasion, substantially exceed the direct injury to people within the fire zone," he wrote in The Conversation.   "But we currently lack the operational tools to understand the extent of these impacts or to manage them."   Six people have been killed and more than 700 houses destroyed in bushfires this fire season.   Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 -- when almost 200 people died -- the scale of this year's devastation has been widely described as unprecedented.   Three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has been burnt -- the size of some small countries -- and vast swathes of koala habitat scorched.   Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Trinidad Express [abridged, edited]

The number of local deaths from the influenza virus has risen to 24. At the Health Ministry's update last week, 16 fatalities were reported from the flu, with Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh appealing to citizens -- especially those considered at-risk -- to get vaccinated.
Date: Sat 30 Nov 2019
Source: The New Indian Express, Express News Service [edited]

According to official data, 14 swine flu [influenza A/H1N1] deaths across the state were recorded this year [2019] till [17 Nov 2019]. The figure is slightly less than the previous year's [2018] toll of 17. The total number of H1N1 swine flu-positive cases [has] also come down this year [2019] compared with 2018 from 402 to 325. Health officials are setting up isolation wards in hospitals as a preventive measure.

As the winter season has set in and the minimum temperatures are coming down, health officials are instructing the public to take precautions in order to stay away from being infected by swine flu. The health department has initiated steps to set up district-[wide] swine flu testing facilities and isolation wards in every district hospital, area hospital, and community health centre.

As per the requirement of treatment procedure, the government has to set up special isolation wards in all government hospitals and provide protection kits to the healthcare staff, especially to those who will attend to the patients suffering from the flu. Across the state, Visakhapatnam registered the highest number of positive swine flu cases and deaths. Out of 325 positive cases, 180 alone were reported from Visakhapatnam, of which 8 died. West Godavari district registered 3 deaths, and Anantapur, East Godavari, and Srikakulam registered one death case each.

All the district health officials have been instructed to intensify awareness camps and screening centres. As part of the action plan, isolation wards with 5-10 beds are to be set up in every teaching, district, and area hospital. A sufficient stock of drugs, masks, and PPE [personal protective equipment] kits are to be made available. Currently, there are 18 labs eligible for conducting confirmation test in the state. "We are creating awareness by distributing pamphlets and putting up screening centres at bus stops and railway stations," DMHO [district medical and health officer] Dr. TSR Murthy said.

Symptoms of swine flu are generally similar to that of seasonal flu. These include cough, fever, sore throat, stuffiness, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Later on, breathlessness, chest pain, drowsiness, low blood pressure, sputum mixed with blood, and bluish discoloration of nails also develops.
Date: Thu 28 Nov 2019
Source: GDN Online [edited]

Two expatriates living in Oman died after contracting the seasonal influenza (H1N1) or swine flu in the governorate of Dhofar -- the 1st in July and the 2nd in August [2019]. They were among 78 confirmed cases of swine flu registered at the Sultan Qaboos Hospital over the first 9 months of 2019 in the governorate.

The hospital authorities reported a total of 599 registered suspected cases of H1N1 between January and last September [2019]. Doctors working at Sultan Qaboos Hospital dealt overall with 1779 cases of respiratory infections during the same period.

Patients most vulnerable to the respiratory viruses are those over 18 years, particularly pregnant women; those suffering from chronic illnesses, kidney and heart diseases, liver problems, diabetes, asthma, blood disorders, and HIV/AIDS; and even health workers, according to Muscat Daily.
Date: Wed 11 Dec 2019
Source: UNICEF/WHO Situation report 11 Dec 2019 [edited]

Highlights
- 5 new human cases reported in the past week
- In response to 1st human vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1) case from the island province of Basilan, in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), outbreak immunization was conducted
in Maluso, Basilan, with bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) against polio type 1, vaccinating 13 547 children under 10 years old (102% of the target).
- Currently 9 human cases confirmed with circulating VDPV type 2 (cVDPV2), 1 case with VDPV1, 1 case with cVDPV1, and 1 case with immunodeficiency-related VDPV type 2 (iVDPV2).
- A case with VDPV1 from Sultan Kudarat is pending genetic analysis; 1 case of cVDPV1 from Malaysia was confirmed as genetically linked to the Basilan case.
- Synchronized polio vaccination campaign conducted on [25 Nov 2019 - 10 Dec 2019] (including 2 days of extension) vaccinated 4 309 566 children under 5, which is 98% of the target total of 4.4 million children under 5. A total of 1 395 365 children under 5 were vaccinated in National Capital Region (NCR), which is 109% of the target, and 2 914 201 (94%) in Mindanao.
- DOH planning to conduct outbreak immunization with bOPV targeting 710,296 children under 10 in the Sulu Archipelago, Zamboanga City, and Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat, on [6-12 Jan 2020].
- Current polio outbreak resulting from persistently low routine immunization coverage, and poor sanitation and hygiene.
- Philippines is affected by both cVDPV1 and cVDPV2. cVDPV is considered a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

cVDPV1
---------
- In response to the 1st human case confirmed with VDPV1 from Maluso, Basilan (BARMM), outbreak immunization was conducted in the area with bOPV for children under 10 years old, vaccinating 13,547 children under 10 years of age (102% of the target).
- A cVDPV1 case in Sabah state, Malaysia, was confirmed to be genetically linked to the Basilan case by the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) in Australia. Since the 2 viruses are genetically linked, they are both classified as circulating.
- A new VDPV1 case from Sultan Kudarat (Region XII) was confirmed on [6 Dec 2019] and is pending further genetic analysis.
- All 13 cVDPV1 environmental samples found in Manila are genetically linked.

cVDPV2
---------
- All 9 human cases and 17 environmental samples confirmed with cVDPV2 are genetically linked. All human cases were reported from Mindanao (BARMM and Region XII), whereas environmental samples were found in NCR and Davao.
- All samples were tested by the National Polio Laboratory at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), whereas sequencing and genetic analysis is done at the NIID in Japan, and additional genetic characterization is provided by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
=======================
[Given the identification of the cVDPV1 case in Malaysia that is genetically related to the VDPV1 case in Basilan, it is now clear there are at least 2 separate cVDPV outbreaks in the Mindinao region of the Philippines: one of the outbreaks is associated with cVDPV2, and the other with cVDPV1 and one outbreak of cVDPV1 in the Manila Metropolitan area (although only environmental samples have been positive without AFP (acute flaccid paralysis) cases as yet.) What all these areas have in common is pockets of populations with suboptimal vaccination coverages. Clearly, we await further information on the genetic profiling of the newly identified VDPV1 case in Sultan Kudarat, also located in southern Philippines. Note that Basilan Island, Sultan Kudarat, and Sabah state in Malaysia, while all in the same general area, are not contiguous, each being on a different island. In. total, there are 11 cases of AFP in the Philippines that are attributable to infection with a VDPV.

A map showing the provinces in the Philippines can be found at

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of the Philippines: