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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

Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 09:07:42 +0100 (MET)

Athens, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - Greece was hit with a 24-hour strike Tuesday over a pension reform encouraging people to stay longer in the workforce.   The labour action paralysed public transport in Athens, intercity trains and ferry ship services.   Civil servants are also walking off the job and journalists will stage a three-hour work stoppage against the pension reform.   "This bill is practically the continuation of (austerity) laws introduced in 2010-2019," civil servants' union ADEDY said.

Unions will hold street protests in Athens, Thessaloniki and other major cities later in the day.   The new conservative government says the reform, to be voted by Friday, will make the troubled Greek pension system viable to 2070.   The labour ministry says the overhaul -- the third major revamp in a decade -- will contain pension increases and reduce penalties for pensioners still working.

Successive governments have attempted to reform the pension system, whose previously generous handouts are seen as one of the causes of the decade-long Greek debt crisis.   Chronic overspending and the inaccurate reporting of the budget deficit spooked creditors in 2010, and required three successive bailouts by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to avert a Greek bankruptcy.   In return for billions of euros in rescue funds, Greece had to adopt unpopular austerity reforms and pension cuts.
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:
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Indonesia

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Information for Bali
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General
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Bali is one of the main tourist destinations for many Irish travellers to Indonesia. The island is well developed for the tourist industry and genera
ly the climate is tropical and humid throughout the year. Many Irish travellers will use the island as a stopover. If this is for only 24 to 28 hours the extent of your jetlag may leave you little time to enjoy the country and its people.
Safety & Security
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Throughout Indonesia there are many regions where it is unsafe to travel. The Parliament in Indonesia may impeach the President in the near future. Civil disturbance with student demonstrations in the capital Jakarta, earthquakes in the island of Sumatra, unrest regarding the independence of Timor and profound warring fractions on the island of Borneo has the potential to spill over into Bali. Nevertheless during the past years Bali has remained stable and there have been few reports of serious disturbances that have affected tourists or business travellers. Lombok is an island close to Bali often visited by tourists. It is regarded as more unstable and recently (Dec 2000) four explosions during fighting between two villages (Bongor & Parampuan). The main tourist region around Senggigi has remained quiet.

Local Customs
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The laws against illegal drugs are severe and travellers should ensure that they carry sufficient well-marked medication that they may require for their time in Indonesia. Travellers are required to show identification at any time and so carrying photocopies of your passport is a wise precaution. Keep all valuable documents in a safe place and do not flaunt personal wealth while travelling around the island.
Night Activities
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The nightlife in Bali is one of the main attractions for many tourists but sensible precautions are required. Travelling alone is unwise. Take care to ensure that your drink could not be spiked at any stage and do not walk at night, use an authorised taxi where possible. The level of HIV infection among the bar workers is high and close personal contact is very unwise.
Medical Facilities
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The level of available health facilities varies greatly through Bali and other parts of Indonesia. In general most of the main hotels will have English speaking doctors but care would be required if your illness requires hospitalisation.
Food and Water
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It is wise to maintain a high level of care with regard to your food and water while in Indonesia. This includes even those in high quality hotels but also particularly for those eating from street vendors. Bivalve shellfish (e.g. oysters, mussels, clams etc) should be avoided at all times due to inadequate cooking. Bottled water should be purchased from your hotel or good quality shops to ensure that it is pure.
Mosquitoes and Insect Bites
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Malaria transmission occurs throughout Indonesia all year but the risk in Bali is so low that prophylaxis is not generally recommended for most tourists. Nevertheless for those visiting Lombok (overnight visits) the risk exists and prophylaxis should be considered. Other mosquito borne diseases also occur throughout Indonesia and care must be taken to avoid insect bites. In Jakarta and other main cities there is a particular problem with a viral disease called Dengue Fever. The mosquito, which transmits this disease, typically bites during the day and in main urban centres.
Sun Exposure
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The strength of the sun in Bali is considerable higher than that experienced in Ireland at any time of the year. Sufficient head covering should be worm when exposed and travellers should ensure that their fluid intake is sufficient. Salt depletion also needs to be replaced in times of significant perspiration.
Swimming
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If swimming in pools, make sure that sufficient chlorination has been used. Take care with small children when close to the deep end of the pool. If sea swimming make sure that there are always others around and that you heed any local advice and warning signs. Never swim soon after alcohol or for an hour after mealtime.
Jet Lag
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The extent of jet lag, which you will experience, depends on the duration of your flight and the amount of rest you were able to get before arrival. Try to rest for the first 24 hours to allow your body to acclimatise and make sure you do not fall asleep beside the swimming pool during this initial period.
Vaccinations for Bali
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There are no essential vaccines or entry to Bali from Western Europe. However for your personal protection travellers are recommended to consider vaccination cover against;
*
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water disease)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water disease)
Other travellers planning a more rural or extensive trip may need to consider other vaccine cover against diseases like Hepatitis B, Japanese B Encephalitis, Rabies.
Summary
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The majority of those visiting Bali will enjoy the many tourist attractions on the island. However commonsense and care is required to ensure that you do not expose yourself to unnecessary risk. The staff of the Tropical Medical Bureau can be contacted at either of the numbers below if you require further information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 11:14:36 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, Feb 13, 2020 (AFP) - Indonesia's Mount Merapi, one of the world's most active volcanoes, erupted Thursday as fiery red molten lava streamed down from the crater and it belched clouds of grey ash 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) into the sky.   Authorities did not raise the rumbling volcano's alert status after the early-morning eruption, but they advised commercial planes to take caution in the area.   But any activity at Merapi raises concern and local residents were ordered to stay outside a three-kilometre no-go zone around the rumbling crater near Indonesia's cultural capital Yogyakarta.    Volcanic ash rained down on a 10-square kilometre area, according to the Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Centre.

Mount Merapi's last major eruption in 2010 killed more than 300 people and forced the evacuation of some 280,000 residents.   It was Merapi's most powerful eruption since 1930, which killed around 1,300 people, while another explosion in 1994 took about 60 lives.   The Southeast Asian archipelago has more than 17,000 islands and islets -- and nearly 130 active volcanoes.   It sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", a vast zone of geological instability where the collision of tectonic plates causes frequent quakes and major volcanic activity.
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2020 11:48:53 +0100 (MET)

Tomohon, Indonesia, Feb 12, 2020 (AFP) - Bats, rats and snakes are still being sold at an Indonesian market known for its wildlife offerings, despite a government request to take them off the menu over fears of a link to the deadly coronavirus.   Vendors at the Tomohon Extreme Meat market on Sulawesi island say business is booming and curious tourists keep arriving to check out exotic fare that enrages animal rights activists.   But scientists are debating how the new virus, which has killed more than 1,100 people in China and spread to dozens of countries around the world, was transmitted to humans.

A wildlife market in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, is thought to be ground zero and there is suspicion it could have originated in bats.    The possible link wasn't on many radar screens at the Indonesian market, however.   Its grubby stalls feature a dizzying array of animals including giant snakes, rats impaled on sticks and charred dogs with their hair seared off by blowtorches -- a gory scene described by some critics as "like walking through hell".

Bat seller Stenly Timbuleng says he's still moving his fare for as much as 60,000 rupiah ($4.40) a kilogram to buyers in the area, where bats are a speciality in local cuisine.   "I'm selling between 40 and 60 kilograms every day," the 45-year-old told AFP.   "The virus hasn't affected sales. My customers still keep coming."   Restaurateur Lince Rengkuan -- who serves bats including their heads and wings stewed in coconut milk and spices -- says the secret is preparation.   "If you don't cook the bat well then of course it can be dangerous," she said.   "We cook it thoroughly and so far the number of customers hasn't gone down at all."

This despite a request from the local government and the health agency to take bats and other wildlife out of circulation -- a call that has been all but ignored.   "We're also urging people not to consume meat from animals suspected to be carriers of a fatal disease," said Ruddy Lengkong, head of the area's government trade and industry agency.   Indonesia has not yet reported a confirmed case of the virus.   In the capital Jakarta, vendors selling skinned snakes and cobra blood on a recent Saturday night didn't have any trouble finding takers.   "It's good for you, sir," said one vendor of his slithering fare.   "Cures and prevents all diseases."
Date: Fri, 7 Feb 2020 11:30:24 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, Feb 7, 2020 (AFP) - Charter flights offered to thousands of Chinese tourists stranded in Bali after Indonesia halted flights over coronavirus fears have been delayed because travel permits have yet to be approved, Jakarta said Friday.   A diplomatic notice said Beijing was arranging flights for Friday back to Wuhan -- the epicentre of the deadly outbreak which has killed over 600 people and spread around the world.

Many of the marooned tourists are from the stricken city and surrounding Hubei province, the consulate had said.   But Indonesia's foreign affairs ministry said Friday it had not received the necessary paperwork to greenlight charter trips after the Southeast Asian nation shut down all commercial flights to and from mainland China.   "The Chinese embassy (in Jakarta) has not yet submitted technical details of the airplanes to relevant authorities which are required to apply for a permit," ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told AFP.   Chinese diplomats in Indonesia could not be immediately reached for comment.

Earlier, Bali airport authorities had said at least one empty commercial plane was set to arrive from Shanghai to pick up tourists who wanted to return.   It was not clear how many holidaymakers would take up the offer or who would pay for their tickets.   Indonesia attracts about 2.1 million Chinese visitors annually but the number has fallen from about 6,000 arrivals per day to just 1,000 since the outbreak began in mid-December.

The sprawling archipelago -- the world's fourth most populous country with over 260 million people -- has not reported a confirmed case of coronavirus.   That has stirred concerns cases may be going undetected in a nation with strong tourism and business links to China.   Indonesia has repatriated about 240 of its own citizens from the epicentre of the outbreak -- mostly university students studying in China.   The evacuees landed Sunday and have been quarantined for two weeks at a military hangar on Natuna island, which lies between Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia.

Indonesia's health ministry has released images on social media showing the evacuees doing morning exercises, playing games and singing karaoke.   But the move has set off protests by locals angry that the quarantine site was near a residential neighbourhood.    In response, Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD said Jakarta was mulling a plan to build a quarantine site elsewhere on the 17,000 island archipelago in case it was needed in future.
Date: Wed, 5 Feb 2020 13:47:50 +0100 (MET)

Bali, Indonesia, Feb 5, 2020 (AFP) - Thousands of Chinese tourists risk being stranded in Bali after the Indonesian government suspended flights to and from mainland China over fears of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.   With flights to be suspended at midnight Wednesday, at least 5,000 Chinese tourists are currently on the holiday island, according to Gou Haodong, the Chinese Consul General in Denpasar.

Some are hoping to secure visa extensions offered by Bali deputy governor Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati.   "Many foreign tourists want to extend their vacation in Bali and it is fine," he said.   But concerns surround delayed departures.   "We hope that Bali immigration office could facilitate Chinese tourists who have to overstay due to the policy," Haodong said.   Some hotels had given assurances the visitors would be treated well during their extended stay, Haodong said, but he noted one establishment had "rejected Chinese tourists who have earlier checked in and entered their rooms due to panic over coronavirus".

The number of Chinese tourists has already fallen from about 6,000 per day to just to 1,000 since the outbreak started in mid-December.    Indonesia has yet to report a confirmed case of the virus, which emerged in a Chinese market at the end of last year and has since killed almost 500 people in China and spread around the world.
Date: Thu, 30 Jan 2020 08:18:35 +0100 (MET)

Medan, Indonesia, Jan 30, 2020 (AFP) - Flash floods and landslides have killed at least nine people and forced thousands into temporary shelters on Indonesia's Sumatra island, the local disaster agency said Thursday.   Torrential rain in North Sumatra this week sparked the disaster, with most victims drowning or hit by logs swept away in the current, the agency added.   "We suspect (two victims) were killed after getting hit by logs," said Safaruddin Ananda Nasution, head of Central Tapanuli's disaster mitigation agency.  Rampant illegal logging in the area may have contributed to the disaster by loosening the soil and making it susceptible to landslides, he added.  Several thousand residents have fled to shelters.

This month, record rains triggered flooding and landslides that killed nearly 70 people in and around Jakarta, which is on neighbouring Java island.   Entire neighbourhoods in Indonesia's capital -- a megalopolis home to around 30 million people -- were submerged in floodwaters that forced tens of thousands into shelters.   The Southeast Asian archipelago is regularly hit by floods during the rainy season, which started in late November.
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Niue

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

20th July 2012

- Niue Island. 20 Jul 2012. Two tourists visiting Niue have been taken to hospital with dengue fever. More than 100 people, or about 8 percent of the population, are believed to be suffering from the fever, and visitors are being warned to use insect repellent during early morning and evening. Dengue, which does not often occur on Niue, has been afflicting  the island since February [2012]. It was originally confined to a small area of Niue's main village but has now spread throughout the island. One local man recently died from a serious form of the virus.
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[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map showing the location of Niue Island in the Pacific Ocean can be accessed at <http://healthmap.org/r/1ZWb>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Monday 30th April 2012
A ProMED-mail post
<http://www.promedmail.org>

- Niue Island. 24 Apr 2012. The Niue Health Department says it believes the dengue outbreak has peaked. The department says there have been 47 recorded cases of dengue fever, but only one case has been picked up in the last 7 days. The Acting Director of Health, Manila Nosa, says it's a relief to see the wane in cases, but it's too early to say that dengue is completely gone. He said that there has been a lot of rain lately, and it's hoped this won't contribute to a further spread.
======================
[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map of Niue Island can be accessed at <http://healthmap.org/r/1ZWb>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Monday 16th April 2012
A ProMED-mail post
<http://www.promedmail.org>

- Niue Island. 12 Apr 2012. Health authorities on Niue are confident that they are on top of the latest dengue outbreak that has infected 20 people to date. The chief medical officer, Dr Eddie Akau'ola, says this outbreak began about 3 weeks ago but they believe they have been able to contain it. He says it is peaking now and they expect a decline in a week or 2. Dr Akau'ola says none of the cases have been too serious.
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[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map showing the location of Niue Island in the Pacific can be accessed at <http://healthmap.org/r/2bMz>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Tuesday 13th March 2012
A ProMED-mail post
<http://www.promedmail.org/>

- Niue Island. 6 Mar 2012. Niue health authorities are hopeful they've contained a rare outbreak of dengue fever on the island where 3 people were reported with dengue last week, with 2 admitted to hospital.
======================
[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map showing the location of Niue Island in the Pacific can be accessed at <http://healthmap.org/r/1ZWb>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Sun, 24 Jul 2011 10:42:49 +0200 (METDST)
by Neil Sands

ALOFI, Niue, July 23, 2011 (AFP) - In a once-thriving village on the Pacific island of Niue, homes lie abandoned, their stucco-clad walls mildewed and crumbling as the jungle slowly reclaims them. "These villages used to be bustling with people -- now you go there in the afternoon and there's no one," says the Niue Tourism Authority chairman Hima Douglas. The number of people living on the lush coral atoll, about 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) northeast of New Zealand, has been declining for decades as inhabitants seek a better life overseas.

The population, which peaked at more than 5,000 in the mid-1960s, has dwindled to just 1,200, according to a New Zealand parliamentary report, raising doubts about the island nation's economic viability.  Douglas said a major cyclone in 2004, which destroyed much of Niue's infrastructure, accelerated the exodus, and the threat of future natural disasters was discouraging people from returning. "Of course it's concerning but it's not something we can do too much about until we can build an economy that will give them the confidence to come back," Niue's Premier Toke Talagi told reporters this month. "There aren't simple and easy answers to people leaving. We've got to build a strong economy and hope to attract them back." Known locally as "The Rock", Niue was settled by Polynesian seafarers more than 1,000 years ago and the palm-dotted island's name in the local language means "behold, the coconut".

The British explorer captain James Cook tried to land there three times in 1774 but was deterred by fearsome warriors, eventually giving up to set sail for more welcoming shores and naming Niue "savage island" on his charts. But modern day Niueans are desperate for visitors, with Talagi unveiling plans this month to turn it into a boutique tourism destination in a bid to put his nation on a sound economic footing. Using aid from New Zealand, with which Niue has a compact of free association giving its people dual citizenship, Talagi has overseen construction of a new tourism centre and expansion of the island's Matavai Resort.

Paths have also been cut through the jungle to give visitors access to swimming spots on the rugged limestone coastline, and cruise liners are being encouraged to include Niue on their itineraries. "We can become self-sustaining in the long term (and) reduce New Zealand assistance to Niue," Talagi said, estimating that visitor numbers could quadruple to 20,000 a year in the next decade. Addressing a visiting delegation of New Zealand business executives this month, Talagi acknowledged doubts about the nation's ability to meet the challenge. "I know some of you are a bit sceptical about our ability to become self sustaining... (but) tourism is not going to fail and I don't expect it to fail given the numbers that are being generated," he said.

The New Zealand parliamentary report, released last December, estimates that about 50,000 Niueans and their children now live in Australia and New Zealand, creating a shortage of skilled labour in one of the world's smallest states. "Niue is caught in a vicious cycle, with its economic difficulties both exacerbated by, and reflected in, the long-term decline of its population," it said, adding that 40 years of New Zealand aid "has yielded almost no return". The report's authors suggested Niue should concentrate on promoting itself as a retirement destination for elderly New Zealanders, who could help revitalise the economy. "The climate is excellent, existing buildings could be brought into service, and health facilities are satisfactory," it said. "Retirees would bring steady cash flow and contribute to stable employment options."

Asked about the suggestion, Talangi said "we'll look at everything", although one long-time resident, who asked not to be named, was unenthusiastic at the prospect. "How depressing to think that we might be turned into a major geriatric ward," she said. "Not that I have anything against old people, mind." Another resident said that whatever steps Niue took to improve its economy must result in major changes, pointing out people could earn more by moving to New Zealand and claiming unemployment benefits than working on the island. "It's pretty hard when your cuzzies (cousins) call you and say 'we're getting more on the dole in Auckland than you're getting paid'," he said.
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Antartica

General:
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Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
the northern parts of the country. Temperatures of between 20C to 35C are fairly standard throughout the year. Generally the winter effects of the American continent only last for short periods.
Safety & Security:
**********************************
The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Road Safety:
**********************************
Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
**********************************
When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.

Currency:
**********************************
Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Health Facilities:
**********************************
Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
**********************************
The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
***********************************************
Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
************************************
The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
**********************************
This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
**********************************
There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
**********************************
Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 03:03:18 +0100 (MET)
By Pierre-Henry DESHAYES

Half Moon Island, Antarctica, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - The swimsuit-clad tourists leap into the icy water, gasping at the shock, and startling a gaggle of penguins.   They are spectators at the end of the world, luxury visitors experiencing a vulnerable ecosystem close-up.   And their very presence might accelerate its demise.   Antarctica, a vast territory belonging to no one nation, is a continent of extremes: the coldest place on Earth, the windiest, the driest, the most desolate and the most inhospitable.   Now, it's also a choice destination for tourists.

All around Half Moon Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, blocks of ice of all sizes float by on a calm sea, their varying forms resembling weightless origami shapes.    On this strip of land, that juts out of the Antarctic Polar and towards South America, visitors can see wildlife normally only viewed in zoos or nature documentaries along with spectacular icy landscapes.   The ethereal shades of white that play across the pillowy peaks change with the light, acquiring pastel hues at dawn and dusk.   "Purity, grandeur, a scale that's out of this world," says Helene Brunet, an awestruck 63-year-old French pensioner, enjoying the scene.    "It's unbelievable, totally unbelievable. It's amazing just to be here, like a small speck of dust."

AFP joined the 430 passengers on board the Roald Amundsen, the world's first hybrid electric cruise ship, on its maiden voyage in the Southern Ocean.    "It's not your typical beach, but it's awesome to do it," says a numb Even Carlsen, 58, from Norway, emerging from his polar plunge in the three-degree C (37.4 F) water.   When tourists go ashore, bundled up in neon-coloured windbreakers and slathered in SPF50 sunscreen, they have to follow strict rules: clean your personal effects so you don't introduce invasive species, keep a respectful distance from wildlife to avoid distressing them, don't stray from the marked paths and don't pick up anything.   "We mucked up the rest of the world. We don't want to muck up Antarctica too," says an English tourist, as she vacuums cat hair off her clothes before going ashore.

- 'Heart of the Earth' -
The Antarctic peninsula is one of the regions on Earth that is warming the fastest, by almost three degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization -- three times faster than the global average.    In March 2015, an Argentinian research station registered a balmy 17.5 degrees Celsius, a record.    "Every year you can observe and record the melting of glaciers, the disappearance of sea ice... (and) in areas without ice, the recolonisation of plants and other organisms that were not present in Antarctica before," said Marcelo Leppe, director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

Antarctica is "like the heart of the Earth," he added, saying that it expands and contracts like a heart beating, while the mighty current which revolves around the continent is like a circulatory system as it absorbs warm currents from other oceans and redistributes cold water.   The Antarctic Treaty, signed 60 years ago by 12 countries -- it now has 54 signatories -- declared the area a continent dedicated to peace and science, but tourism has gradually increased, with a sharp rise in the past few years.   Tourism is the only commercial activity allowed, apart from fishing -- the subject of international disputes over marine sanctuaries -- and is concentrated mainly around the peninsula, which has a milder climate than the rest of the continent and is easier to access.

Cruise ships have roamed the region for around 50 years, but their numbers only started to increase from 1990, as Soviet ice-breakers found new purposes in the post-Cold War era.   Some 78,500 people are expected to visit the region between November and March, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).   That's a 40-percent increase from last year, due in part to short visits by a few new cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers, too many to disembark under IAATO regulations.     "Some might say 'Well, 80,000 people, that doesn't even fill a national stadium'... (and that it) is nothing like Galapagos which welcomes 275,000 a year," says IAATO spokeswoman Amanda Lynnes.    "But Antarctica is a special place and you need to manage it accordingly."

- 'Leave Antarctica to the penguins' -
It is Antarctica's very vulnerability that is attracting more and more visitors.   "We want to see this fantastic nature in Antarctica before it's gone," Guido Hofken, a 52-year-old IT sales director travelling with his wife Martina, says.    They said they had paid a supplement to climate compensate for their flight from Germany.

But some question whether tourists should be going to the region at all.   "The continent probably would be better off being left to penguins and researchers, but the reality is, that is probably never going to happen," said Michael Hall, professor and expert on polar regions at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.   "Vicarious appreciation never seems to be enough for humans. So with that being the case, it needs to be made as low risk to the Antarctic environment and as low carbon as possible," said Hall.    "However, when the average tourist trip to Antarctica is over five tonnes of CO2 emissions per passenger (including flights), that is a serious ask."

Soot or black carbon in the exhaust gases of the scientific and cruise ships going to the region is also of concern, said Soenke Diesener, transport policy officer at German conservation NGO Nabu.   "These particles will deposit on snow and ice surfaces and accelerate the melting of the ice because the ice gets darker and will absorb the heat from the sun and will melt much faster," he told AFP.   "So the people who go there to observe or preserve the landscape are bringing danger to the area, and leave it less pristine than it was," he added.

- Responsible tourism -
Antarctic tour operators insist they are promoting responsible tourism.   The trend is for more intimate, so-called expedition cruises, in contrast to popular giant cruise liners elsewhere which are criticised for being invasive and polluting.   With greener ships -- heavy fuel, the most commonly used for marine vessels, has been banned in Antarctica since 2011 -- cruise companies have sought to make environmental awareness a selling point, occasionally earning them accusations of greenwashing.

Global warming, pollution and microplastics are the result of human activities on other, faraway continents, say tour operators.   Here, their motto is "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, keep nothing but memories".   But before they've even set foot on the cruise ships departing from South America -- the most common itinerary -- visitors to Antarctica will already have flown across the world, causing emissions that harm the very nature they have come so far to admire.

Most visitors hail from the Northern Hemisphere, and almost half are from the United States and China, IAATO says.   "I'm a tourist who feels a little guilty about taking a flight to come here," admits Francoise Lapeyre, a 58-year-old globetrotter om France.   "But then again, there are priorities. There are some trips I just won't take, because they leave a big footprint and they're not worth it.   "Crisscrossing the planet to go to a beach for example," she says.

- Don't mention climate change -
Like other expedition cruises where accessible science is part of their trademark, the Roald Amundsen, owned by the Hurtigruten company, has no dance floor or casino.  Instead, there are microscopes, science events and lectures about whales and explorers like Charles Darwin.   But they steer clear of climate change, which is only mentioned indirectly.   That's a deliberate decision as the subject has proven "quite controversial", said Verena Meraldi, Hurtigruten's science coordinator.   "We held several lectures dedicated specifically to climate change but it leads to conflicts. There are people who accept it as a fact, others who don't," she said.   Onboard, "passengers" are referred to as "guests" and "explorers" rather than "cruisers".   "Explorers" are typically older, well-heeled, often highly travelled pensioners who are handed walking sticks as they step ashore.   "My 107th country," says a Dane, stepping ashore onto Antarctica.

The Roald Amundsen "guests" choose between three restaurants, from street food to fine dining -- a far cry from the conditions endured by the Norwegian adventurer for whom the ship is named, who had to eat his sled dogs to survive his quest to reach the South Pole in 1911.   They have paid at least 7,000 euros ($7,700) each for an 18-day cruise in a standard cabin, and up to 25,000 euros ($27,500) for a suite with a balcony and private jacuzzi.   Other cruises are banking on ultra-luxury, with James Bond-like ships equipped with helicopters and submarines, suites of more than 200 square metres (2,153 square feet) and butler services.   With a seaplane to boot, the mega-yacht SeaDream Innovation will offer 88-day cruises "from Pole to Pole" starting in 2021. The two most expensive suites, with a price tag of 135,000 euros per person, are already booked.
 
- Worlds collide -
Outside, in the deafening silence, wildlife abounds.   All around are penguins, as awkward on land as they are agile in water. Massive and majestic whales slip through the waves, and sea lions and seals laze in the sun.   On Half Moon Island, chinstrap penguins -- so called because of a black stripe on their chin -- strut about in this spring breeding season, raising their beaks and screeching from their rocky nests.   "This is to tell other males 'This is my space' and also, maybe, 'This is my female'," ornithologist Rebecca Hodgkiss, a member of the Hurtigruten's scientific team, explains, as a group of tourists stroll around ashore.   The colony of 2,500 penguins has been gradually declining over the years, but it's not known if that is man's fault or they have just moved away, according to Karin Strand, Hurtigruten's vice president for expeditions.   Invisible to the naked eye, traces of humankind are however to be found in the pristine landscape.   Not a single piece of rubbish is in sight but microplastics are everywhere, swept in on ocean currents.   "We've detected them in the eggs of penguins for example," Leppe told AFP.

- Venice under water -
The Antarctic, which holds the world's largest reserve of freshwater, is a ticking time bomb, warn experts and studies.   They say that the future of millions of people and species in coastal areas around the world depends on what is happening here.   As a result of global warming, the melting ice sheet -- especially in the western part of the continent -- will increasingly contribute to rising sea levels, radically re-drawing the map of the world, says climate scientist Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.   This meltwater will contribute 50 centimetres (almost 20 inches) to the global sea level rise by 2100, and much more after that, he said.   "For every degree of warming, we get 2.5 metres of sea level rise. Not in this century, but in the long run," he said.

Even if the international community meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to under two degrees Celsius, sea levels will still rise by at least five metres.   "Which means that Venice is under water, Hamburg is under water, New York, Shanghai, Calcutta," he said.   It's impossible to predict when, but the scenario appears unavoidable, says Levermann.   In the same way that a cruise ship powering ahead at full speed can't immediately stop, sea levels will continue to rise even if all greenhouse gas emissions were to cease immediately, a study has said.

- Changing the world? -
The tourism industry says it hopes to make "ambassadors" out of Antarctica visitors.   "It's good for the animal life and for the protection of Antarctica that people see how beautiful this area is, because you cherish what you know and understand," said Hurtigruten chief executive Daniel Skjeldam.   Texan tourist Mark Halvorson, 72, says he is convinced.   "Having seen it, I am that much more committed to having a very high priority in my politics, in my own inner core convictions to being as environmentally friendly in my life as I can," he said.   So, do Guido and Martina Hofken see themselves as future "ambassadors of Antarctica"?    "Just a little bit, probably. But I don't think I will change the world," Guido Hofken concedes.    "The best thing would be for nobody to travel to Antarctica."
Date: Thu, 17 May 2018 09:57:07 +0200

Buenos Aires, May 17, 2018 (AFP) - Tourism regulation in Antarctica has become an urgent matter due to environmental threats, officials from the 53 member countries of the Antarctic Treaty warned at their annual meeting, held this week in Buenos Aires.

In the absence of rules, travel agencies offer trips to the region on boats sometimes equipped with helicopters or submarines, according to Segolene Royal, French ambassador for the Arctic and Antarctic poles.   "This activity creates considerable disturbance ... we are witnessing a race toward large-scale tourism that is dangerous for ecosystems," she said at the assembly on Wednesday.

During the austral summer of 2016/2017, around 44,000 tourists set off for Antarctica, compared with just 9,000 in 1995/1996, according to French authorities.   However, the push for regulation is not about banning tourism, former environmental minister Royal said, but rather about ensuring it is managed in compliance with the treaty and its environmental protection protocol.

In Buenos Aires, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting  -- whose mission is to regulate human activity on the continent -- also sought to encourage scientific cooperation between countries that have collectively set up around 100 research bases across the ice.   Also up for analysis is China's proposed fifth permanent scientific station in Antarctica, which would be located in the Ross Sea area south of New Zealand.
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2017 13:01:49 +0200
By Marlowe HOOD

Paris, July 5, 2017 (AFP) - A chunk of ice bigger than the US state of Delaware is hanging by a thread from the West Antarctic ice shelf, satellite images revealed Wednesday.   When it finally calves from the Larsen C ice shelf, one of the biggest icebergs in recorded history will be set adrift -- some 6,600 square kilometres (2,550 square miles) in total, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

The iceberg's depth below sea level could be as much as 210 metres (almost 700 feet), or about 60 storeys, it said.   "The crack in the ice is now around 200 kilometres (125 miles) long, leaving just five kilometres between the end of the fissure and the ocean," the ESA said in a statement.   "Icebergs calve from Antarctica all the time, but because this one is particularly large its path across the ocean needs to be monitored as it could pose a hazard to maritime traffic."

Scientists tracking the berg's progression expect it to break of within months.    The Larsen C shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its total surface area.   The massive ice cube will float in water and by itself will not add to sea levels when it melts.   The real danger is from inland glaciers.   Ice shelves float on the sea, extending from the coast, and are fed by slow-flowing glaciers from the land.    They act as giant brakes, preventing glaciers from flowing directly into the ocean.   If the glaciers held in check by Larsen C spilt into the Antarctic Ocean, it would lift the global water mark by about 10 centimetres (four inches), researchers have said.

The calving of ice shelves occurs naturally, though global warming is believed to have accelerated the process.   Warming ocean water erodes the underbelly of the ice shelves, while rising air temperatures weaken them from above.   The nearby Larsen A ice shelf collapsed in 1995, and Larsen B dramatically broke up seven years later.   The ESA is keeping an eye on Larsen C with its Copernicus and CryoSat Earth orbiters.

Man-made global warming has already lifted average global air temperatures by about one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial levels.    Antarctica is one of the world's fastest-warming regions.   The world's nations undertook in the Paris Agreement, inked in 2015, to cap average global warming at "well under" 2 C.
Date: Wed, 22 Jun 2016 21:35:09 +0200
By Jean-Louis SANTINI

Washington, June 22, 2016 (AFP) - Two sick workers were evacuated from a remote US research station near the South Pole on Wednesday in a risky rescue mission carried out in the dead of Antarctica's winter, a US official said.   A Twin Otter turboprop plane flew in dark and cold conditions to pick up the workers from the Amundsen-Scott station, about 250 meters from the geographic South Pole, a spokesman for the US National Science Foundation (NSF), Peter West told AFP.

The plane's crew and a medical team had made the 10-hour journey to the South Pole in the middle of Antarctica's 24-hour winter on Tuesday night to reach the unidentified patients, who could not be treated on site.   The NSF -- the US research agency that operates the Amundsen-Scott Station -- organized the rescue mission last week given the condition of the first patient, which was not disclosed for privacy reasons.   "It was really an emergency," West said.   It later became apparent that the second worker also needed to be evacuated.

The sick workers -- employees of the US company Lockheed Martin who worked on base logistics -- were then taken to the Rothera base, a British research station some 2,200 kilometers (about 1,365 miles) away, the spokesman said.   The pair, who were not identified, were then to be transferred to a hospital in South America, West said, without giving further details.   The Amundsen-Scott base was home to 48 people -- 39 men and nine women -- who work on-site throughout the austral winter, which spans February through October.

- Rare rescue mission -
Near the world's southernmost point, workers spend this period withstanding nearly complete darkness and dramatically low temperatures -- on Tuesday, the thermometer dropped to -60 degrees Celsius (-76 degrees Fahrenheit).   It was only the third time that an emergency rescue operation has been launched in the middle of winter.   In 2001, the only doctor at the Amundsen-Scott station was suffering from a life-threatening pancreatic condition and required urgent evacuation. A second medical evacuation was carried out that year.

In 1999, the US station's doctor Jerri Nielsen, who was self-treating her own breast cancer, required medical evacuation but weather conditions were more favorable, as the mission took place in the spring.  The Twin Otter plane, operated by the Canadian company Kenn Borek Air, is specially designed to operate in extremely cold temperatures.

Research projects at the Amundsen-Scott station include monitoring long-term levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.     The station also operates two telescopes that observe "cosmic microwave background" radiation -- the faint light signature left by the Big Bang -- to study the origins of the universe, dark energy and dark matter.
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2014 09:04:56 +0200 (METDST)
by Martin PARRY

SYDNEY, June 18, 2014 (AFP) - Antarctic scientists warned Wednesday that a surge in tourists visiting the frozen continent and new roads and runways built to service research facilities were threatening its fragile environment.   Tourist numbers have exploded from less than 5,000 in 1990 to about 40,000 a year, according to industry figures, and most people go to the fragmented ice-free areas that make up less than one percent of Antarctica.   A growing number of research facilities are also being built, along with associated infrastructure such as fuel depots and runways, in the tiny ice-free zones.

It is these areas which contain most of the continent's wildlife and plants, yet they are among the planet's least-protected, said a study led by the Australian government-funded National Environmental Research Programme (NERP) and the Australian Antarctic Division.   "Many people think that Antarctica is well protected from threats to its biodiversity because it's isolated and no one lives there," said Justine Shaw from the NERP of the study published in the journal PLoS Biology.   "However, we show that there are threats to Antarctic biodiversity.   "Most of Antarctica is covered in ice, with less than one percent permanently ice-free," she added.   "Only 1.5 percent of this ice-free area belongs to Antarctic Specially Protected Areas under the Antarctic Treaty System, yet ice-free land is where the majority of biodiversity occurs."   Five of the distinct ice-free areas have no protection at all while all 55 of the continent's protected zones are close to sites of human activity.

- Fragile ecosystems -
Steven Chown of Monash University, another collaborator in the study, said the ice-free areas contain very simple ecosystems due to Antarctica's low species diversity.   This makes its native wildlife and plants extremely vulnerable to invasion by outside species, which can be introduced by human activity.   "Antarctica has been invaded by plants and animals, mostly grasses and insects, from other continents," he said.    "The very real current and future threats from invasions are typically located close to protected areas.    "Such threats to protected areas from invasive species have been demonstrated elsewhere in the world, and we find that Antarctica is, unfortunately, no exception."

The study said the current level of protection was "inadequate by any measure" with Shaw saying more was needed to guard against the threat posed by the booming tourism industry.   "(We need) to protect a diverse suite of native insects, plants and seabirds, many of which occur nowhere else in the world," she said.   "We also need to ensure that Antarctic protected areas are not going to be impacted by human activities, such as pollution, trampling or invasive species."   Antarctica is considered one of the last frontiers for adventurous travellers.   Most travel by sea, some paying in excess of US$20,000 for a luxury cabin in the peak period from November to March. There is also a healthy market for sightseeing flights.

Approximately 30 nations operate permanent research stations on the continent including the US, China, Russia, Australia, Britain, France and Argentina, and more are on the way.   China's state media said in December that the country was building its fourth base and a fifth was being planned.   Fellow study author Hugh Possingham, from NERP, said that without better protection "this unique and fragile ecosystem could be lost".   "Although we show that the risks to biodiversity from increasing human activity are high, they are even worse when considered together with climate change," he added.    "This combined effect provides even more incentive for a better system of area protection in Antarctica."
More ...

Japan

General
***************************
Japan is a highly developed country with excellent tourist facilities. The country covers a number of islands and the population is estimated at over 125 million. English is widely spoken in the main tourist a
d urbanised centres.
Weather Profile
***************************
Due to the strong influence from the sea, Japan tends to have a high rainfall but milder winters than the adjacent mainland of China. This is similar to the climate experienced in Ireland by comparison to the rest of Europe. Spring and Autumn are usually the most pleasant months but during the Summer the climate can be significantly humid and tiring. During this time it will be essential that fluid intake is increased and that salt (lost through perspiration) is replaced - usually by increasing the amount eaten on your food providing this is not contraindicated by any personal medical condition such as blood pressure etc.
Alcohol Consumption
***************************
The Japanese authorities have limited patience with those arrested while under the influence of alcohol. For some travellers visiting the country this may mean a prolonged stay in the local jail and the subsequent missing of important appointments.
Natural Disasters
***************************
Japan is situated in a region of the world which regularly experiences earthquakes and other climatic changes including typhoons. A number of relatively small earthquakes are reported each year but, to date, this has seldom affected any tourist itinerary. However, further information is available at http://www.tokyoacs.com
Safety and Security
***************************
The risk to personal security for tourists while travelling throughout Japan is small though commonsense care of personal belongings is always essential. Where available, use the hotel safety boxes to store valuables and your passport, return air tickets. During the mid 1990’s a number of terrorist incidents occurred but no recent serious problems are being reported.
Airport Taxes
***************************
Many countries now include the cost of their ‘departure tax’ within the ticket. In Japan this will depend on which airport you leave from. The fee is collected in Yen at Kansai - Osaka International Airport but usually included in the ticket cost if flying via Narita - Tokyo International Airport.
Cost of living
***************************
Japan is not a cheap country for tourists. The cost of living is one of the highest throughout the world. Credit cards may be used in main cities but the ATM’s machines may not be available at all hours. Before taking a taxi from the airport it would be wise to check the costs and then assess whether or not it might be more prudent to use the local bus transport!
Medical Care
***************************
The level of medical care throughout most tourist regions in Japan is excellent. However, there may be limited English-speaking doctors in some more rural areas and even where this facility is available in the main cities the cost of healthcare can be very expensive. It is wise to carefully check your travel health insurance premium before you leave home.
Local Medications
***************************
Some commonly used European over-the-counter medications
may not be available in Japan. Also, there are strict laws governing the importation of certain medications which can be strictly enforced. Certain inhalers, sinus preparations etc may be confiscated on arrival. If you are taking any personal medications it may be wise to check before you leave. Obviously never carry packages for anybody else while travelling unless you are certain of the contents.
Avoiding Prickly Heat
***************************
The term prickly heat is used in a variety of ways but the cause is generally the same. In a hot climate the body perspires to maintain the internal temperature at a correct level. In the perspiration there will be fluid and your personal salts. The fluid evaporates but the salt dries against the skin. It is your individual reaction to this salt that leads to the ‘prickly heat rash’. The reaction to these salts can be minimised by removing the salts from the skin surface as soon as possible. Change your clothes regularly, use plenty of talcum powder to absorb the perspiration and dry off well after showering.
Food & Water Care in Japan
***************************
Any international traveller should recognise the risks of a ruined trip from unwise indulgence in local food and beverages. In Japan the level of food hygiene is high but the consumption of Sushi (uncooked raw fish) is unwise. Bivalve shellfish also carry a significant risk due to the limited level of sterilisation during the cooking process.
Malaria & Mosquitoes
***************************
No malaria transmission occurs throughout Japan although avoiding mosquito bites during the humid months is wise.
Airborne Disease
***************************
In any situation where you will be crowded together with many others the risk of a variety of airborne diseases will be higher. This will include serious diseases such as Meningococcal Meningitis but also others such as Influenza and the common cold. The risk of Meningococcal Meningitis in Japan is regarded as small and vaccine is not routinely recommended. However, having the Flu vaccine may be a wise precaution. It is also sensible to carry a small supply of lozenges to treat the inevitable sore throat which may occur.
Driving in Japan
***************************
The road system throughout Japan is excellent but unfortunately the road signs may prove too much of a hurdle for those unfamiliar with the language! The congestion within the cities tends to be high and tolls on some of the major roads may be quite expensive. The traffic moves on the left side of the road but for many tourists it will be wiser to consider using local transportation rather than risking a ruined holiday.
English Help Lines
***************************
Tourists can obtain important information and assistance in English while visiting Japan through the following numbers;
In Tokyo - 03-3968 4099
Rest of Japan - 0120-461 997
Vaccines for Japan
***************************
For the majority of short-term travellers visiting Japan no particular vaccines will be recommended. Those planning to live for longer periods within the country will need to discuss this through in greater detail.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 11:56:28 +0100 (MET)

Tokyo, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - Organisers said Monday they are cancelling the amateur portion of the Tokyo marathon, affecting around 38,000 runners, on fears about the spread of the new coronavirus in Japan.   "We reached the conclusion that unfortunately it is difficult to organise the event... after several cases (of the virus) were confirmed in Tokyo," the Tokyo Marathon Foundation said in a statement.
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 10:11:30 +0100 (MET)

Tokyo, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - An additional 99 people have tested positive for coronavirus on a cruise ship off the Japan coast, Japanese media said Monday, citing new figures from the health ministry.   That would take the total number of positive cases on the Diamond Princess to 454. The health ministry declined to confirm the reports immediately.   It was also not clear whether the figures included 14 US citizens who tested positive for the virus but were allowed to board evacuation flights home.

The Diamond Princess vessel moored in Yokohama near Tokyo has become the second-largest cluster of coronavirus cases outside the epicentre in China.    Passengers have been largely confined to quarters since February 5 with only brief and occasional breaks to take air on deck -- with face masks.   The quarantine period is over on Wednesday but many countries have decided to repatriate their citizens after an alarming climb in cases on board.

The US was the first country to evacuate its citizens from the ship but Australia, Canada, Italy and Hong Kong have indicated they will follow suit.   On land, cases in Japan have risen to 65, with authorities warning that the outbreak is entering a "new phase" and advising people to avoid large gatherings.    A public celebration of the new emperor's birthday on Sunday has been scrapped and organisers of the Tokyo Marathon scheduled on March 1 are reportedly considering cancelling the amateur part of the race.
Date: Tue, 4 Feb 2020 08:54:33 +0100 (MET)
By Behrouz MEHRI

Yokohama, Japan, Feb 4, 2020 (AFP) - Japan has quarantined a cruise ship carrying 3,711 people and was testing those onboard for the new coronavirus Tuesday after a former passenger was diagnosed with the illness in Hong Kong.   Eight people on the vessel, which arrived in Yokohama Bay on Monday, have symptoms such as fever, top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said.   Television footage showed several quarantine officers boarding the Diamond Princess on Monday evening to check all 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew.

The move comes after an 80-year-old passenger who disembarked on January 25 in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus, which has killed 425 people in China.   The man "did not visit a medical centre inside the ship while he was sailing with us", cruise operator Carnival Japan said in a statement.   "According to the hospital where he is staying, his condition is stable and infection was not found among his family members who sailed with him," the statement said.   A woman in her twenties on the ship with her mother told private broadcaster TBS on Tuesday that all passengers had been asked to stay in their rooms and wait for tests.   The vessel's departure from Yokohama would be delayed by at least 24 hours to Wednesday or later, Carnival Japan said.

- 'Quarantine station' -
The cruise ship had already been through a quarantine procedure on Saturday at a port in Naha in Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, and quarantine officials had issued certificates allowing passengers and crew to land, Suga said.   A health ministry official said no-one aboard at that time showed any symptoms, and the case of the man who disembarked in Hong Kong was not known at that time.   After his case emerged, a second quarantine was organised.  Quarantine officials are now checking the condition of everyone on board and testing those with symptoms of illness for the new coronavirus, as well as other infectious diseases, including malaria and Dengue fever, a second health ministry official told AFP.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told parliament that tests for the virus would be administered to three groups: those with symptoms, those who got off in Hong Kong, and those who had close contact with the infected passenger.   Until the results are in "everyone on board... will stay there". he said.   The decision on whether to allow the vessel to dock at Yokohama port and let passengers land on Japanese soil "will be made at the quarantine station," taking into consideration the WHO's estimate of a 10-day incubation period, Suga said.

Since Saturday, Japan has been barring foreign nationals who have been to Hubei in recent weeks, as well as holders of passports issued in Hubei -- the Chinese province at the epicentre of the crisis.   Arrivals displaying symptoms of the new virus can also be denied entry.   A total of 11 foreigners have been barred from entering so far, the immigration service agency said Tuesday.

The health ministry said as of Monday that 20 people in Japan have tested positive for the new virus, of whom four showed no symptoms.   Japan has also flown more than 500 citizens out of Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated.   Local carriers have suspended flights to the centre of the outbreak, with All Nippon Airways saying Tuesday its suspension would now be extended through March 28. It also announced it would reduce the number of flights to Beijing from Tokyo's Haneda and Narita airports.
Date: Sat, 1 Feb 2020 11:59:22 +0100 (MET)

Tokyo, Feb 1, 2020 (AFP) - Two people, including a British man, were killed separately on Saturday as two avalanches struck mountains in Japan, local officials and media said.   The 34-year-old Briton was caught in an avalanche on northern Hokkaido island while skiing with two other people, a local official said.   "He was sent to hospital but was later confirmed dead," Takahiro Sumiya, a local fire department official, told AFP, adding that the remaining two -- another British national and a Japanese -- were unhurt.   Further details, including the person's name, were not immediately available.

Separately, a man was killed after he was hit by another avalanche near a ski resort in Nagano, central Japan, local media reported.   "He was caught in an avalanche when he was snowboarding with two other people outside a ski slope on Mount Norikura," a local fire department official said.   Public broadcaster NHK reported the man, identified as a 47-year-old freelance cameraman, was later confirmed dead.

On Friday, a 38-year-old French man was found dead after an avalanche struck a mountain near another ski resort in southern Hokkaido.   The avalanche happened Thursday afternoon when the group of eight went off the resort's ski courses to venture into the untouched snow on the mountain.
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 16:38:39 +0100 (MET)
By Hiroshi HIYAMA

Tokyo, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Japan has confirmed a case of a mystery virus that first emerged in China and is from the same family as the deadly SARS pathogen, authorities said Thursday.   It appears to be only the second time the novel coronavirus has been detected outside China, after the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed a case in Thailand.   Japan's health ministry said a man who had visited the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the apparent epicentre of the outbreak, was hospitalised on January 10, four days after his return to Japan. He reported a persistent fever.

Tests on the patient, who was released from hospital on Wednesday, confirmed he was infected with the new virus.   "This is the first domestic discovery of a pneumonia case related to the new coronavirus," the ministry said in a statement.   "We will continue active epidemiological research while also coordinating efforts with the World Health Organization and related agencies to conduct a risk assessment."   The outbreak has killed one person so far, with 41 patients reported in Wuhan.

The outbreak has caused alarm because the new virus is from the same family as the pathogen that causes SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed 349 people in mainland China and 299 in Hong Kong in 2002 and 2003.   Authorities in Wuhan said a seafood market was the centre of the outbreak. It was closed on January 1.   Japanese authorities said the man had not visited the market and that it was possible he had been in contact with a person infected with the virus while in Wuhan.

- Outbreak in Japan 'unlikely' -
Health ministry official Eiji Hinoshita told reporters that the risk of the disease spreading from the patient was considered low, with careful checks done on those who had been in close contact with him.   "At this point, we feel it is unlikely this will lead to a dramatic outbreak," he said, adding that the patient was no longer suffering a fever and was recuperating at home.

Officials declined to give further information on the man, including his nationality, citing privacy concerns.   Local media said the patient was a Chinese national in his 30s living in Kanagawa, just southwest of Tokyo.   Public broadcaster NHK said he had already recovered and was resting at home, as quarantine officials at Tokyo's Narita airport boosted health checks on all travellers.

The health ministry urged people who develop a cough or fever after visiting Wuhan to wear a surgical mask and "swiftly visit a medical institution".   Hinoshita said Japan would need to be on guard ahead of the Lunar New Year, a popular travel period in China.   "It is expected that Japan will see many visitors from China," he said.   It is not yet clear whether the mystery virus can be transmitted between humans, but on Wednesday authorities said it was possible it had spread inside a family.

The woman diagnosed in Thailand, who is in a stable condition, also said she had not visited the Wuhan seafood market.   And WHO doctor Maria Van Kerkhove on Tuesday said she "wouldn't be surprised if there was some limited human-to-human transmission, especially among families who have close contact with one another".   Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday said several dozen people had been hospitalised with fever or respiratory symptoms after travelling to Wuhan, but no cases of the new virus have so far been confirmed.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 12:29:01 +0100 (MET)
By David Vujanovic

Tehran, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Iran's government vowed Monday to be transparent after being accused of covering up the deadliest coronavirus outbreak outside China, dismissing claims the toll could be as high as 50.

The authorities in the Islamic republic have come under mounting public pressure since it took days for them to admit to "accidentally" shooting down a Ukrainian airliner last month, killing 176 people.   The government said on Monday that Iran's coronavirus death toll had jumped by four to 12 -- by far the highest outside China -- as its neighbours closed their borders and imposed strict quarantine measures.

But Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a lawmaker from the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran, alleged the government was "lying" about the full extent of the outbreak.   The ILNA news agency, which is close to reformists, said the lawmaker spoke of "50 deaths" in Qom alone.   "The rest of the media have not published this figure, but we prefer not to censor what concerns the coronavirus because people's lives are in danger," ILNA editor Fatemeh Mahdiani told AFP.

Farahani was wearing a face mask during the closed session of parliament but left after speaking, as he felt unwell, state news agency IRNA reported, adding sanitary workers then cleaned his seat.   Iran's government rejected his claim that the virus had killed 50 in Qom.   "I categorically deny this information," Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said in a news conference aired live on state television.   "This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem," he added.

- Transparency pledge -
The government pledged transparency over the outbreak.   "We will announce any figures (we have) on the number of deaths throughout the country. We pledge to be transparent about the reporting of figures," its spokesman Ali Rabiei said.   Iran has been scrambling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak since it announced the first two deaths in the holy city of Qom on Wednesday last week.   Authorities have since ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres across the country as a "preventive measure".

A spokesman for Iran's parliament, Assadollah Abbassi, announced the latest four deaths among more than 60 infections after Monday's closed-door gathering of lawmakers.   Citing Health Minister Said Namaki, he said that "the cause of coronavirus infections in Iran are people who have entered the country illegally from Pakistan, Afghanistan and China".   Iran has yet to give a breakdown of where the other deaths occurred.   The worst-hit province for infections is Qom, with 34 cases, according to health ministry figures.

The others are in Tehran with 13 infections, Gilan with six, Markazi with four, Isfahan with two and one each for Hamedan and Mazandaran.   But the health minister said that one person who died of coronavirus in Qom, south of Tehran, was a businessman who had made several trips to China.   Namaki had unsuccessfully pleaded in January for Iran's government to order the suspension of all commercial flights between Iran and China.   In his remarks to state television on Sunday, the minister said direct flights between Iran and China were now suspended, but the Qom businessman had travelled there "on a connecting flight".

- Border closures -
Since it emerged in December, the new coronavirus has killed more than 2,500 people in China.   Iran now accounts for nearly half of the deaths elsewhere in the world, which currently stand at 30.   Many of Iran's neighbours have reported cases of coronavirus in people who had travelled to the Islamic republic.   Afghanistan on Monday reported its first case in a person who had travelled to Qom.   Baghdad also reported its first case on Monday -- an elderly Iranian citizen living in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf.

Iraq has shut its border with the Islamic republic and imposed a travel ban.   Similar preventive measures were imposed by Afghanistan, Armenia, Pakistan and Turkey.    Qom is a centre for Islamic studies and pilgrims, attracting scholars from Iran and beyond.   Kuwait and Bahrain also confirmed their first novel coronavirus cases, all of whom had come from Iran.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 12:00:17 +0100 (MET)

Quetta, Pakistan, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Pakistan began quarantining at least 200 people near the Iranian border, officials said Monday, as fears spiralled over the growing toll from the coronavirus in the region amid allegations of a coverup in Iran.

The quarantine announcement came hours after Pakistan sealed off its land border with Iran while neighbouring Afghanistan said it had detected its first infection.    It also came as Iranian authorities denied allegations of an official coverup following reports that dozens of deaths had gone unreported in the country.

In Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province authorities moved fast to quarantine at least 200 people after Shiite Muslim piligrims returning from Iran entered the country and briefly interacted with other residents.   "We have decided not to take a chance and keep all of them under observation for the next 15 days," Najeebullah Qambrani, assistant commissioner at the Taftan border crossing, told AFP, saying 250 people were being quarantined.

Balochistan's secretary of health Mudassir Malik confirmed the quarantine but estimated that between 200 and 250 were being held.   He added that around 7,000 pilgrims had returned to Pakistan from Iran this month alone.   Afghanistan and Pakistan share long, porous borders with Iran that are often used by smugglers and human traffickers, while millions of Afghan refugees currently live in the Islamic Republic -- raising fears that the virus could easily spread over the border.

Pakistan -- bordered by China to the north and Iran to the south -- also suffers the additional burden of having a lacklustre healthcare system following decades of under-investment by the state, leaving impoverished, rural communities especially vulnerable.

Balochistan in particular is woefully unprepared to handle a public health emergency after being beset for decades by a separatist insurgency, jihadist violence, and neglect from the central government.   The novel coronavirus has spread to more than 25 countries, with more than 2,500 dead in China, and is causing mounting alarm due to new pockets of outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 09:00:05 +0100 (MET)

Kabul, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Afghanistan has detected its first novel coronavirus case, the country's health minister said Monday, a day after Kabul announced it would suspend air and ground travel to Iran, where 12 people have died from the outbreak.   "I announce the first positive coronavirus (case) in Herat," health minister Firozuddin Feroz told a press conference, calling on citizens to avoid travel to the western province which borders Iran.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 08:04:46 +0100 (MET)

Dubai, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Kuwait and Bahrain confirmed on Monday their first novel coronavirus cases, the countries' health ministries announced, adding all had come from Iran.  Kuwait reported three infections and Bahrain one in citizens who had returned home from the Islamic republic.
Date: Sun, 23 Feb 2020 19:13:29 +0100 (MET)

Rome, Feb 23, 2020 (AFP) - An elderly cancer patient became the third person known to be infected with the coronavirus to die in Italy, health officials said on Sunday, as the number of people contracting the virus continued to mount.    The death of the woman in a hospital in the small city of Crema in Lombardy, the centre of Italy's coronavirus scare, followed that of a 77-year-old woman on Saturday and a 78-year-old man on Friday, the first victim of coronavirus in Europe.

The head of Italy's civil protection department, Angelo Borrelli, said during a news conference that 152 people had now tested positive for the virus, including the three deceased.    The cancer patient had been hospitalised for a few days, said Lombardy's health chief, Giulio Gallera.    "She'd been tested and they already knew she had the coronavirus," Gallera said, adding that it was too early to know whether the virus was the actual
cause of death.

The deaths, and steadily rising cases of infected people, have prompted a series of security measures to try to check the spread of the contagion.    Eleven towns -- 10 in Lombardy and 1 in Veneto -- are under lockdown, with residents prohibited from leaving. Regional authorities have ordered gathering spots, such as bars, restaurants and discos to close.     Schools throughout the affected areas are to remain closed next week.    Most of the cases in Italy are in Lombardy, a prosperous region in the country's north, and can be traced back to a 38-year-old man whom authorities have called "patient one." 

The man, who is intensive care, dined last month with another man who had visited China in January. He exhibited flu-like symptoms at the time of the dinner, but has since tested negative for the virus, media reports said.    And health officials are still puzzled over certain cases with no obvious links with infected persons.    "The rapid increase in reported cases in Italy over the past two days is of concern," the World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said on Sunday.     "What is also worrying is that not all reported cases seem to have clear epidemiological links, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case," he added.

Experts from WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control plan to arrive in Italy on Tuesday, he said.    Mounting worries over the spread of the virus have  disrupted fashion shows at Milan Fashion Week and cancelled operas at the famed La Scala.
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2020 14:55:57 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Feb 21, 2020 (AFP) - The first case of the novel coronavirus in Lebanon was confirmed on Friday, the health minister said, adding that two other suspected cases were being investigated.   "We confirmed the first case today," Hassan Hamad said at a press conference in Beirut.

The COVID-19 virus was found in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had travelled from Qom in Iran, he said.   A medical source at the hospital where the woman is being treated told AFP that she returned from Iran with a high fever, but that her immunity was good and her condition stable.

Hamad said that all the people who were on the same flight from Iran had been contacted by the health authorities.   He said that anyone returning from Iran would be asked to observe a two-week home quarantine.   The COVID-19 outbreak first appeared in Iran on Wednesday.

Tehran has now confirmed a total of four deaths and 18 infections by the SARS-like virus, which first emerged in China in late December.   Thousands of Lebanese travel to Iran every year to visit Shiite holy sites in Qom and other cities.   China on Friday raised the death toll to 2,236 -- most of them in the province of Hubei, where the virus was first detected. More than 75,000 have now been infected in China and over 1,100 abroad.
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2020 10:38:16 +0100 (MET)

Seoul, Feb 21, 2020 (AFP) - North Korea has cancelled the Pyongyang Marathon -- its biggest tourist money-spinner of the year -- because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, tour companies said Friday.   Beijing-based Koryo Tours, the official partner of the marathon, said on its website it had "received official confirmation today that the Pyongyang Marathon 2020 is cancelled".   "This is due to the ongoing closure of the North Korean border and COVID-19 virus situation in China and the greater region," it added.   Young Pioneer Tours, which specialises in budget trips to the isolated country, issued a similar statement.

The annual marathon is held in April as part of the anniversary commemorations for founder Kim Il Sung's birth in 1912, and attracts curious foreigners eager to run through the streets of the tightly controlled city.   Almost 1,000 Westerners took part last year, according to organisers, paying entry fees of up to $150 to do so.

North Korea has put itself into self-imposed isolation to protect itself from the outbreak raging in neighbouring China, which has infected more than 75,000 people and killed over 2,200.   Pyongyang has suspended flights and train services, banned tourists, and imposed 30 days of quarantine on resident foreigners.   North Korea is subject to multiple international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and its medical infrastructure is weak, with chronic shortages of medicines and equipment.

As a result an outbreak would wreak havoc, analysts say.   It has taken similar measures before: it banned tourists for more than four months from October 2014 to keep out the Ebola virus, even though no cases had been reported in Asia.   North Korea clamped down for six months during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-03, which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong.
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2020 05:56:39 +0100 (MET)

Jukkasjaervi, Sweden, Feb 21, 2020 (AFP) - High above the Arctic Circle and nestled in the snow-dusted forests of northern Sweden, gaggles of tourists gathered on a February morning for a glimpse of hallways, bedrooms and a wedding chapel sculpted from ice, part of the 30th incarnation of Sweden's ice hotel.   Stopping in blue-white hallways to take snaps of a chandelier and ornately decorated bedrooms entirely carved from ice, the tourists are among the 50,000 day visitors to the hotel every year, founded in 1989 by a hotelier looking to attract visitors to the remote town of Jukkasjarvi, 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of the Arctic Circle.   Built every October from the frozen waters of the nearby river Torne, the winter hotel has 35 bedrooms.

Temperatures reach -5 degrees Celsius (23 Fahrenheit) in the rooms, which start at around three times the average price of a night in a three-star establishment in Stockholm.   Individual suites cost more, and feature sculptures and designs by artists from around the world.   One room inspired by the aurora borealis -- the northern lights that can be seen in the skies nearby -- features lighting that changes colour, as well as a giant snow sculpture of a reindeer's head, all set to a soundtrack of ambient music and, occasionally, reindeer grunts.   Around 20,000 guests spend a night in the hotel every year.   But 25-year-old guide Julia Hansers said guests usually react less to the cold than to the tranquillity.   "A lot of people coming here live in the city, and there you always have some sort of sounds and noise around you, and inside the ice hotel it's completely quiet," said Hansers, peering out from under a thick woolly hat.

Bo Bjerggaard, a gallerist from Copenhagen, spent a night wrapped in a sleeping bag and a reindeer-skin throw.   "During the night I had to get up and then it was of course cold," Bjerggaard said, standing outside in the hotel's dazzling white courtyard made from snow.   "Then (it's) great again when you come back into the sleeping bag -- you sleep so well because of the temperature," he said with a smile.   Guests can also enjoy a drink in the ice bar, where all beverages are served in glasses made from ice.   Since 2016 the hotel has also used solar panels to generate electricity to cool a nearby building to below zero to allow them to keep 20 rooms frozen all year round.   When spring arrives, the winter hotel's rooms are closed and it melts back into the river until October, when construction begins again.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 21:01:10 +0100 (MET)

Paris, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - The French government launched a campaign Thursday, complete with emergency number, to combat an influx of unwelcome visitors that have left Parisians in despair: bedbugs that have settled in homes and hotels to feed uninvited on human blood.

After disappearing from France in the 1950s, the infuriating insects have made a resurgence, according to the ministry of housing, which cited international travel and growing resistance to insecticide as the main causes.   "We can all be affected," the government warned on a webpage dedicated to the parasitic problem, complete with advice on how to prevent and treat an infestation, and a number to call for expert help.   The common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, is found in temperate climates in
the United States and parts of Europe.

The six-legged pest posed only a minor nuisance after World War II because of the widespread use of insecticides such as DDT. But the banning of such potent poisons, because they were too dangerous, hailed a bed bug revival.   By the late 1990s, the critters were thriving in New York and a 2010 outbreak saw them invade high-end apartment buildings, hotels, even clothing stores like lingerie outlet Victoria's Secret.   There has also been an explosion of bed bugs in Paris.   The tiny invaders cost billions of dollars annually in extermination by businesses and homeowners.

- 400,000 addresses -
In 2016, a study found that the reclusive, flightless creatures had become resistant to pesticides, further aiding their global conquest.   Another study the following year said the insects sought out human scents and snuggled up in worn clothes before tagging along home, explaining their meteoric spread around the world.   They hide in linen by day and come out at night to bite people, often while they are sleeping, leaving red, itchy welts. They do not transmit disease.   In Paris, extermination experts say 400,000 addresses including hotels, apartments and houses were treated in 2018, the latest year for which information is available.   This represented a third more than the previous year.

Illustrating how annoying the issue has become, bed bugs have even featured in the Paris 2020 electoral campaign, with mayoral hopeful Benjamin Griveaux promising to clean up the capital in 100 days.    The plan of the candidate, who has since bowed out over a sex-tape scandal, included specialised anti-pest "brigades" targeting bed bugs, rats and cockroaches, which would intervene free of charge for low-income households, and at the lowest market price for others.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 19:02:28 +0100 (MET)

Oslo, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - Two German tourists were killed Thursday in an avalanche while on a snowmobile tour in Norway, authorities said.    A helicopter carrying rescue personnel and a sniffer dog were dispatched to search for the missing pair, who were discovered dead in the Svalbard archipelago, about a thousand kilometres (miles) from the North Pole.    "Two German citizens are confirmed dead in an avalanche," the office of the Governor of Svalbard said in a statement.

They had been on a snowmobile tour run by a Russian tour operator, about 15 to 20 kilometres (about 9 to 12 miles) south of Barentsburg, the second largest settlement on Svalbard, according broadcaster NRK.    Authorities said they received reports that two people were missing shortly before 3:00 pm (1400 GMT), and a few hours later the pair were discovered.    The Svalbard archipelago covers an area twice the size of Belgium and is home to some 2,900 inhabitants who rely on tourism, scientific research and mining.