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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

*****
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)
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
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
************************************
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: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 04:50:33 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Dozens of Jakarta neighbourhoods were flooded Tuesday after torrential rains pounded Indonesia's capital, less than two months after nearly 70 people were killed in some of the megacity's worst flooding in years.   There were no immediate reports of casualties after the latest deluge, but parts of the city ground to a halt as whole neighbourhoods were swamped in muddy water, while power outages hit some districts.   At least 81 neighbourhoods were inundated with a dozen toll roads closed and some commuter train lines shuttered, according to an announcement by Indonesia's Disaster Mitigation Agency.

More torrential rains were expected later in the day.    "So the flooding will likely spread," agency spokesperson Agus Wibowo said on Twitter.   Floodwaters in some districts were as high as 127 centimetres (4 feet).   The low-lying city is prone to flooding during the wet season which starts around November.   Torrential rain in January triggered flooding and landslides that killed nearly 70 people in and around Jakarta while thousands more were forced to evacuate to shelters.
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.
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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.
====================
[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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Chile

Chile US Consular Information Sheet
August 20, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Chile is a rapidly developing country with a large, educated middle class and a robust free-market economy.
Tourist facilities are generally good and are continu
usly improving.
Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Chile for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
U.S. citizens entering Chile must have a valid passport.
U.S. visitors will be charged a reciprocity fee at the port of entry, and a small receipt for the fee will be stapled in the last page of the passport.
This visa is valid for multiple entries and remains valid until the expiration of the passport.
In addition, visitors will be issued a tourist visa consisting of a single sheet of paper placed in the passport. This visa is valid for a stay of up to 90 days.
An extension of stay for an additional 90 days is possible, but requires payment of an extension fee.
The visa document must be surrendered to immigration authorities upon departure.

Chilean entry and exit control laws require that a minor child under age 18 traveling unaccompanied must have permission from the parents or legal guardians.
The document must be notarized and, if issued in the United States, authenticated by a Chilean consul in the United States.

If the child is traveling in the company of only one parent or guardian, the non-traveling parent or guardian will also be required to grant permission for travel.
In this case, the document will also need to be notarized and authenticated by a Chilean consul.
The permission to travel may also be notarized by a Chilean notary in Chile.

Parents are required to have documentary evidence of their relationship to the child.
An original birth certificate or certified copy of an original birth certificate is required.
This requirement applies to all foreigners as well as Chileans.
This requirement is increasingly being enforced by Chilean immigration officers.
When traveling with a minor child in Chile on a tourist visa, having such documentation on hand will facilitate entry and departure.

Visit the Embassy of Chile web site www.chile-usa.org for the most current visa information and entry/exit requirements.
Visitors should be aware of the severe Chilean restrictions on the importation of fruit, vegetables & agricultural products.
Check the Ministry of Agriculture web site www.sag.gob.cl for current requirements.

Information about dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The potential for terrorist activity is low.
There has been some politically-motivated violence among indigenous communities in southern Chile, none of which has affected Americans.
Potential for civil disturbance is low, although demonstrations, sometimes violent, do occur.
Particularly violent days are March 29, the Day of the Young Combatant, and the anniversary of the September 11, 1973, coup against the government of President Salvador Allende.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's web site where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Crime rates are low to moderate throughout Chile and are moderate in Santiago, Valparaiso, and other major cities.
American citizens visiting Chile should be as careful in cities as they would be in any city in the United States.
There have been few violent crimes committed against Americans.
However, American tourists are at a heightened risk for pick-pocketing, purse or camera snatching, and theft from backpacks and rental cars.
Such crimes have been reported in all areas of Chile frequented by tourists.
In Santiago, visitors should be especially alert to the possibility of crime at the Plaza de Armas and the Mercado Central; at major hotels and restaurants in the Las Condes, Vitacura, and Providencia areas, and in the Suecia and Bellavista entertainment districts.
In Valparaiso, visitors should be especially alert in the port and adjoining tourist areas.
Tourists using taxis in Santiago should be alert to possible scams involving currency switching.
Tourists should also be especially alert while using public transportation, such as the Santiago Metro Subway and public buses and while in the vicinity of Metro stations and bus terminals. The emergency number for the police (Carabineros) is 133.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. You will find information about the Chilean legal system at the following website www.ministeriopublico.cl.
Women that are victims of domestic violence will find helpful information at the website www.sernam.cl.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Chile is:
131 – AMBULANCE (SAMU)
132 – FIRE DEPARTMENT (BOMBEROS)
133 – POL
ICE DEPARTMENT (CARABINEROS)
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care, though generally good, may not meet U.S. standards, especially in remote areas.
Although emergency rooms in some major hospitals accept credit cards, many doctors and hospitals in Chile expect immediate payment in cash.
Prescriptions written by local doctors and over-the-counter medicines are widely available.
Air pollution is a major source of health concern in Santiago, resulting in severe bronchial ailments affecting infants, small children and the elderly.
The most severe air pollution occurs during the winter (May through August). Additional information on air quality levels is available at the National Air Quality Information Service (SINCA) web site - www.sinca.conama.cl.

The ozone layer is especially thin at the bottom of the world.
Travelers should take proper precautions to protect themselves from ultraviolet radiation.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRI (1-877-394-8747) or from the CDC’s web site http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at www.who.int/countries/chl/en/.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Chile.

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

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Chile is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance
Driving in Chile is on the right-hand side of the road.
Traffic laws in Chile differ from traffic laws in the United States in some respects.
Right-hand turns are generally prohibited at red lights unless otherwise posted.
Seat belts are mandatory. Several modern toll highways have recently been opened in and around Santiago, dramatically improving transit into and through the city.
Major roads are generally in good condition throughout the country.
Some secondary roads, however, may be poorly maintained.
At night, occasional heavy fog in rural areas may lead to vehicle accidents with occasional deaths and injuries.
Care should be taken while driving in the mountains because the roads tend to have many tight switchbacks and may not have guardrails.
Chains are often required and should be used on mountain roads during the winter.
Many major highways in Chile are toll roads; drivers should carry a sufficient amount of local currency to cover the tolls.
The new major highways in and around Santiago generally collect tolls through use of an electronic transmitter issued by the concessionaire and placed on the vehicle.
“Day passes” may be purchased separately.
Vehicles rented at Santiago airport generally are equipped with the electronic transmitter and the rental car companies charge a surcharge for its use.
Some major arteries remain under construction in Santiago and drivers should be alert for detours and delays. Information on the major highways in the Metropolitan Region requiring an electronic transmitter is found at www.concesiones.cl.
Throughout Chile, care should be exercised when changing lanes or merging because many drivers do not signal lane changes and rarely yield to merging traffic.
Many Chilean drivers exceed posted speed limits, do not maintain safe distances, and do not observe posted road signs.
Buses are especially aggressive in moving between lanes.
Speeding is common, including in urban areas.
Traffic jams and detours in Santiago and other areas are common.
Taxis are plentiful and relatively inexpensive.
Drivers should drive with car doors locked at all times, especially in the southern parts of the city and near the airport, as there have been reports of thieves entering cars stopped at traffic lights or moving in slow traffic.
In Santiago, certain major arteries switch directions during morning and evening rush hours.
Visitors to Santiago should obtain up-to-date information on these changes from their auto rental company or the Chilean Automobile Association (please see below).
Visitors that wish to use the public bus and subway system in Santiago should visit the following websites for information on purchasing a “BIP” card, a prepaid ticket required for public buses, routes and other helpful information regarding the public transportation systems: www.transantiagoinforma.cl; www.metrosantiago.cl and www.micros.cl.
Driving under the influence of alcohol in Chile is severely punished, and can result in incarceration if the driver is involved in an accident. In accidents involving injuries or death, police may detain both drivers for many hours.
Visitors must have an international driver’s permit in order to drive legally in Chile. The international driver’s license must be obtained in the United States before traveling to Chile.
Although car rental firms may rent to customers with only a U.S. driver’s license, the police fine foreigners for driving without a valid international permit.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of Chile’s national tourist office at www.sernatur.cl and national authority responsible for road safety at www.vialidad.cl.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Chile’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Chile’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Visitors should take care to use only the services of government licensed tour operators throughout Chile as the Embassy is aware of at least one accident involving American fatalities with an unauthorized tour operator.
Special care should be taken by arriving cruise ship passengers if arranging land tours not authorized by the cruise line.
Chile is an earthquake-prone country.
Information on Chilean earthquake preparedness is available from the Oficina Nacional de Emergencia de Chile (ONEMI) at www.onemi.cl.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at www.fema.gov.
Information about emergency preparedness is also available on the Embassy web site at http://santiago.usembassy.gov/.
The U.S. Geological Survey provides earthquake information on Chile at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/world/index.php?regionID=8.
Minefields are found in Chile’s northern border with Peru and Bolivia and on the southern border with Argentina in Patagonia.
Minefields are generally marked, but markers may have been shifted, become obscured or been vandalized.
Travelers should pay attention to markers and follow clearly identified roads and trails when traveling in minefield areas.
Border crossings should only be made at authorized locations.
Persons visiting wilderness areas in the border regions mentioned above should check with park or other local officials concerning minefields and other potential hazards.
Chile is a popular destination for outdoors and adventure sports.
Much of the country is mountain, forest, desert, or glacier.
Despite the best efforts of local authorities, assisting persons lost or injured in such areas can be problematic.
American citizens have been killed in recent years in mountain climbing and whitewater rafting accidents, and seriously injured while skiing.
Persons planning to travel in isolated and wilderness areas should first learn about local hazards and weather conditions.
Information about parks and wilderness areas can be obtained from the Chilean Forestry Service at www.conaf.cl.
Information about mountain climbing in Chile can be obtained from the Federacion de Andinismo de Chile at www.feach.cl.
Current weather forecasts are available from the Chilean Meteorological Service at www.meteochile.cl.
Reports of missing or injured persons should be made immediately to the police so that a search can be mounted or assistance rendered.
Travelers in isolated areas should always inform park rangers, police, or other local authorities of their itinerary before starting off.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Chilean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Chile are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Just as in the United States, foreigners in Chile must have proper immigration status and pay taxes on income earned in Chile.
Recently, Americans have been deported for working in Chile without authorization.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties and ensure compliance with all Chilean immigration regulations; consult the web site of the U.S. Embassy in Chile for more information at http://santiago.usembassy.gov/
CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
See our Office of Children’s Issues web pages for information on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
Chile has demonstrated patterns of noncompliance with the Hague Child Abduction Convention. Chile’s patterns of noncompliance fall in its judicial performance. The courts continue to demonstrate a clear bias toward Chilean mothers.

REGISTRATION/ EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Chile are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Chile.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Avenida Andres Bello 2800, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile.
The telephone number is (56) (2) 330-3000.
The Embassy web site is http://santiago.usembassy.gov, and the email address for the American Citizen Services Unit is SantiagoAMCIT@state.gov.
The Consular Section fax number is (56) (2) 330-3005.
The American Citizen Services Unit is open to the public from 8:30am-11:30am, Monday through Friday, except U.S. and Chilean holidays and the first Friday of each month.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated October 23, 2007 to update all sections except Aviation Safety Oversight.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 30 Nov 2019
Source: 24 Horas [in Spanish trans. ProMED Mod.TY, edited]

The ISP [Public Health Institute] confirmed the 1st hantavirus [infection] case in the O'Higgins region [of 2019]. The affected individual is a 32-year-old woman, resident of San Vicente. Moreover, the Health SEREMI [Regional Health Ministerial Secretariat] stated that they are studying a suspected case in a minor.

"Chile is an endemic country for hantaviruses in the Coquimbo y Aysen regions. Because of this, the inhabitants of our region must always observe preventive measures," stated the Health SEREMI Dr. Daniela Zavando. The chief of this agency added, "Sadly, the ISP confirmed the 1st case of hantavirus [infection] in our region."

Dr. Zavando added that, "there is a suspected hantavirus [infection] case in a minor, and we await the confirmation or elimination of the case. People who visit the countryside, rivers, mountains, among other sites, must follow the recommendations to walk along established trails, ventilate sheds or cabins before entering them, do not gather and eat wild fruit, protect food materials adequately, and do not kill natural predators of the long-tailed mouse such as owls, foxes etc.," stated the regional sanitary authority.

The SEREMI added that, "Our Epidemiological and Sanitary Action team is currently carrying out monitoring and investigation of the case with the object of preventing new cases in the areas visited by the patient in rural localities in San Vicente."
==================
[An additional report of 1 Dec 2019 indicated that the patient was taken to the intensive care unit in the Hospital del Torax in metropolitan Santiago

A 3rd report of 1 Dec 2019 indicates that although in serious condition, the patient is progressing well

As noted in previous comments, much of central and southern Chile is endemic for Andes hantavirus. The report above provides no information about the circumstances under which the woman acquired her hantavirus infection, but it may have been due to exposure to rodent reservoir hosts of the virus or to virus-contaminated rodent excreta while in contact with the environment where rodents were present. Cases of human hantavirus infections occur fairly frequently in the endemic region.

Although not specified in this or previous reports from the region, the hantavirus involved in these cases no doubt is Andes virus. This virus is endemic in Chile, and cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome occur every year. In Chile, Andes virus can be transmitted directly person-to-person but only with very close physical proximity, usually within the family.

Images of the long-tailed pygmy rice rat (_Oligoryzomys longicaudatus_), the sigmodontine rodent host of Andes hantavirus, can be seen at

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Sat 23 Nov 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

A salmonellosis outbreak in Maipu commune in Santiago Province has now affected 80 people, according to the Chile news source, T13 (computer translated). This is up from 45 cases reported ill at the El Carmen Hospital with symptoms of salmonella infection on [Tue 19 Nov 2019].

Health officials have linked to outbreak to the consumption of sushi at a Bokado sushi store. "This is an important call for the preparation of these products, they must be cooked. They must not use salmon or raw seafood, they must use cooked products," said health SEREMI [Secretaria Regional Ministerial de Salud; regional ministerial secretariat of health], Rosa Oyarce.
=======================
[Fish are not considered to be reservoirs for salmonellosis but can certainly be contaminated after harvesting. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Chile:
Date: Mon, 4 Nov 2019 23:47:26 +0100 (MET)

Santiago, Nov 4, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.0-magnitude earthquake shook Chile on Monday, rattling buildings in the capital while a big anti-government demonstration was under way.   The quake struck at 6:53 pm (2153 GMT) with its epicentre near the northern town of Illapel, the US Geological Survey said.   A strong and prolonged shaking was felt in the capital.   Chile's National Seismological Center measured the quake at magnitude 6.1, revising down an earlier estimate of 6.3.   There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.   "There have been no reports of damage to people, disruption of basic services or infrastructure," the National Emergency Office said.   The Army Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service said the quake was unlikely to cause a tsunami on Chile's Pacific coast.

When the quake hit, police in Santiago were dispersing protesters at the start of the third week of anti-austerity protests targeting the conservative government.   Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries.   The 9.5-magnitude 1960 Valdivia earthquake was the strongest ever recorded on the magnitude scale, according to the USGS.   In 2010 an 8.8-magnitude followed by a tsunami killed more than 500 people.   Chile lies on the Ring of Fire -- an arc of fault lines that circles the Pacific Basin and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Date: Thu, 24 Oct 2019 02:27:37 +0200 (METDST)
By Miguel SANCHEZ

Santiago, Oct 24, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of Chileans flooded the streets of Santiago and other cities in a general strike on Wednesday, upping the pressure on beleaguered President Sebastien Pinera after days of social unrest that left 18 dead.   Students, professors and state workers walked off the job at the urging of the country's largest union, ignoring a package of measures announced by Pinera aimed at quelling the violence.   "THE STRIKE IS ON! We say it loud and clear: enough of the increases and abuses," said the Workers' United Center of Chile, which organized the two-day action alongside about 20 other groups.   In the capital Santiago, police used water cannons to disperse protesters.   "Chile has awakened," read the sign of one protester -- a slogan that has been popular since the protests against social and economic woes, and a yawning gap between rich and poor, began last week.

The country, usually one of the most stable in Latin America, has experienced its worst violence in decades since protests against a now-scrapped hike in metro fares escalated dramatically on Friday.   A four-year-old child and a man were killed on Tuesday when a drunk driver rammed into a crowd of demonstrators, Interior Undersecretary Rodrigo Ubilla said.   A third person died after being beaten by police, according to the victim's family.   The armed forces announced a nighttime curfew for the fifth day running, although at just six hours, Wednesday night's is the shortest yet.   In an address to the nation late on Tuesday, Pinera apologized for failing to anticipate the outbreak of social unrest.   "I recognize this lack of vision," Pinera said after a meeting with some of Chile's opposition leaders.   Beyond the dead, another 269 people have been injured and about 1,900 have been arrested, according to the National Institute for Human Rights.

- Pinera's proposals -
Having initially taken a confrontational line -- declaring that Chile was "at war" and imposing a state of emergency in Santiago and most of Chile's 16 regions --  Pinera has rapidly changed tack and sought cross-party support to find a solution.   He says he will increase the universal basic pension by 20 percent, cancel a recent 9.2 percent increase in electricity bills and propose a law that would see the state cover the costs of expensive medical treatment.   He also pledged a state subsidy to increase the minimum wage from 301,000 to 350,000 pesos ($482) a month and said the government would introduce health insurance for medications, which is among the most expensive in the region.

Chileans were unconvinced by the promises.   "It seems like a joke to me. Does he think with this the people will calm down?" protester Ximena Gutierrez told AFP.   "No, they won't calm down, this will continue because we won't be silenced!"   After widespread scenes of violence, destruction, arson and looting last week, protests have become more peaceful this week, particularly in Santiago.   But it's the worst violence to hit Chile since the country returned to democracy after the 1973-1990 right-wing dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet.   Some 20,000 police and troops have been deployed.   Strike organizers issued a statement demanding that the government end the state of emergency and send troops back to their barracks.   The country's powerful copper mine workers' unions joined the strike movement, but the state copper company insisted that operations continued nonetheless. 

Chile is the largest producer of copper in the world, much of which is sold to China.   Despite 2.5 percent growth, ordinary Chileans are deeply unhappy.    In a poll by Ipsos, two thirds of respondents said their economic, health and pensions situation was "unequal and unfair."    "Pinera has always been a liar and now... he is asking for forgiveness," said 23-year-old Carlos Morales.   Before Pinera's announcement, one of Chile's largest conglomerates, Quinenco, promised to increase its minimum salaries to 500,000 pesos a month from January 1 -- 60 percent more than the current minimum wage.   Chile's big business conglomerates are one of the major factors in the huge wealth disparity that has angered protesters.

- Back to normal -
Life in the capital has been returning to normal, with three of seven metro lines open on Wednesday.   More than half of Santiago's 136 metro stations suffered heavy damage during last week's protests and remained guarded by soldiers.   Shops and businesses -- even banks -- appeared to be reopening, but some Santiago-area schools were still closed.   LATAM, South America's largest airline, said more than 98 percent of its flights to and from Santiago's international airport took off following dozens of cancelations during days of chaos caused by the curfews.   Chile's Central Bank dropped interest rates from 2.0 percent to 1.75 percent and said the crisis would affect the country's economy.
Date: Mon, 21 Oct 2019 13:34:35 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, Oct 21, 2019 (AFP) - Chile, reeling from its worst social unrest in decades, has since the 1990s been considered a Latin American hub of political stability and economic growth after 17 years of dictatorship.   Here is some background.

- From dictatorship to democracy -
In 1973 General Augusto Pinochet toppled Socialist President Salvador Allende in a military coup. Allende committed suicide in the presidential palace as troops closed in.   Pinochet imposed a right-wing dictatorship that lasted for 17 years, during which at least 3,200 people were killed or disappeared as a result of political repression. Around 38,000 were tortured.   In 1988 he lost a plebiscite on remaining in power and handed over to democratically elected Patricio Aylwin in 1990, remaining head of the armed forces until 1998.    Pinochet died in 2006 without standing trial for atrocities under his regime.   In 2006 Socialist Michelle Bachelet became Chile's first female president. Re-elected in 2013, she was barred constitutionally from standing again immediately and appointed UN right commissioner in 2018.   The 2017 elections were won by conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera, who had already been president in 2010-2014.

- Model economy -
Pinochet applied neo-liberal free-market methods, privatising healthcare, education and pensions.   Chile turned to exports and in the 1980s became the preferred Latin American host for foreign investors.   With this economic model still largely in place, growth reached a strong 4% in 2018. The country of 18 million people also has the highest per capita income of Latin America at $20,000.   GDP, however, fell to 1.8% in the first half of 2019 -- due to a challenging external context, adverse climatic conditions and a delay in reforms -- and is expected at 2.5 percent for the year.   Despite slashing poverty from 30% in 2000 to 8.6% in 2019, the country has high social inequalities including in healthcare, education and pensions.   It is the world's biggest producer of copper, with lithium, timber, fisheries, gold, silver, avocados and oil also driving exports.

- Paedophile priests scandal -
The staunchly Roman Catholic country has been rocked by allegations of sexual abuse within the church going back decades.   In May 2018 Pope Francis summoned all 34 Chilean bishops to Rome over the crisis and all tendered their resignations, although only a handful have been accepted.   Since 2000 about 80 priests have been reported to authorities in Chile for alleged sexual abuse, including of children and adolescents.   Prosecutors said in August 2018 they were investigating 158 members of the church, both priests and lay people.   Ultra-conservative Chile allowed divorce only from 2004 and legalised abortion in certain cases in 2017.

- World's most seismic -
Bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountain range to the east, long and narrow Chile is the world's most seismic country.   In 1960 it was struck by the most powerful earthquake ever registered which measured 9.5 and struck at Valdivia. More than 5,700 people were killed.   In 2010 a 8.8-magnitude quake in the south and centre unleashed a tsunami that swept away entire villages, leaving around 520 people dead.

- Astronomy heaven -
Benefitting from a totally clear sky for most of the year, northern Chile is home to some of the world's most powerful telescopes.   The construction of the planet's biggest telescope was launched in May 2017 in the Atacama desert by ESO, the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020
13:15:00 +0100 (MET)
By Ella IDE and Jastinder KHERA

Rome, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Italy's new coronavirus spread south on Tuesday to Tuscany and Sicily, as the civil protection agency reported a surge in the number of infected people and Rome convened emergency talks.    Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has blamed poor management in a hospital in the country's north for the outbreak, which has caused seven deaths in Italy so far and infected the largest number of people in Europe.    Tuscany reported its first two cases, including one in the tourist destination of Florence, while Sicily marked one: a tourist from the worst-hit Lombardy region, where 212 people have tested positive. The female tourist in Sicily, who had been staying in a hotel in Palermo, tested positive on the first swab but was awaiting the definitive result from Italy's institute of infectious diseases, civil protection agency chief Angelo Borrelli said.

Health ministers from neighbouring countries were to meet in Rome as the 
number of confirmed infections jumped to 283, with over 50 new cases reported since Monday.    The EU's health commissioner and other international health officials were also expected in the Italian capital Tuesday.    Hundreds of people were confined to their rooms at a Tenerife hotel after an Italian tourist was hospitalised with a suspected case of coronavirus, health officials in the Canary Islands said.  While no neighbouring country has closed its borders with Italy, several governments have announced additional measures for travellers arriving from Italy, in particular from the two northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.  They range from medical screening to recommendations to self-isolate.

- 'Mission Impossible' -
Several upcoming matches in Italian Serie A and the Europa League will be played behind closed doors to combat the spread of the disease.    Production of the latest "Mission: Impossible" film starring Tom Cruise in Venice has been stopped following the outbreak.    The main centre of infection in Italy has been the town of Codogno, a town of some 15,000 people around 60 kilometres (35 miles) to the south of Milan. Codogno and several others in northern Italy have been put under isolation in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

The 38-year-old man dubbed "Patient One" by Italian media was admitted to 
hospital last Wednesday in Codogno, and it is thought a large number of the cases in the worst-hit region of Lombardy can be traced back to him.    His heavily pregnant wife, several doctors, staff and patients at the hospital are thought to have caught the virus from him.    As well as the towns placed under quarantine, further wide-ranging measures have affected tens of millions of inhabitants in the north of Italy, with schools closed and cultural and sporting events cancelled.    Elsewhere in the country officials have also been recommending precautionary measures.  In Calabria in the south, bishops have asked their worshippers not to make the sign of peace during mass, media reported.    All seven of those who have died so far in Italy were either elderly or had pre-existing medical conditions.
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 11:48:12 +0100 (MET)

Madrid, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Hundreds of people were confined to their rooms at a Tenerife hotel Tuesday after an Italian tourist was hospitalised with a suspected case of coronavirus, health officials in the Canary Islands said.   "Hundreds of hotel clients are being monitored for health reasons and the degree of supervision will be assessed during the day, but so far, we're not talking about quarantine," health authority spokeswoman Veronica Martin told AFP, confirming that the Italian tourist "was staying at this hotel while on holiday in Tenerife".
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 11:40:20 +0100 (MET)
By Laurent Thomet with Dario Thuburn in Geneva

Beijing, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Fresh deaths and a surge in new coronavirus cases in Iran, Japan and South Korea on Tuesday fuelled fears of a pandemic, as the disease took root in some of the world's poorest -- and worst-equipped -- countries.  The rapid spread abroad came as the World Health Organization announced that the epidemic had peaked at its epicentre in China, where it has killed more than 2,600 people and infected over 77,000 others.

But the situation has worsened elsewhere with nearly 2,700 other cases and more than 40 deaths globally, prompting restrictions on travellers from infected nations, the cancellation of football matches and national efforts to isolate suspected patients.    South Korea, Italy and Iran have each logged sharp increases in infections and deaths, while several Middle Eastern countries also reported their first confirmed COVID-19 cases.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted the virus could still be contained, praising China's drastic quarantine measures in several cities for helping to prevent an even bigger spread.   "For the moment we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large-scale deaths," Tedros told reporters in Geneva on Monday.   He added, however, that countries should do everything they can to "prepare for a potential pandemic" -- a term is used to describe an illness that spreads across numerous communities.   The White House plans to spend $2.5 billion to combat the epidemic, according to US media. There are 53 cases in the United States so far.

- Iran hotspot -
Iran has emerged as a major hotspot with the death toll rising to 15 on Tuesday as three more people succumbed to the disease.   The country has been scrambling to contain the epidemic since last week when it announced its first two deaths in Qom, a centre for Islamic studies and pilgrims that attracts scholars from abroad.

Iran has confirmed 61 cases so far, making its mortality rate exponentially higher than anywhere else in the world and raising suspicion that many more people have contracted the disease there.   A WHO team was due in Iran on Tuesday.   Several neighbours have enacted measures to block arrivals from Iran but the virus has already spread to Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East.   The WHO has warned that poorer countries with weak health care systems are the most at risk.

- Games off -
South Korean President Moon Jae-in warned that the outbreak was "very grave" as the country's death toll rose to 10 and the number of confirmed infections approached 1,000 -- the largest total outside China.   Scores of events have been cancelled or postponed as the outbreak has spread in the world's 12th-largest economy, from K-pop concerts to the World Team Table Tennis championship.   Parliament closed for cleaning Tuesday after confirmation a person with the coronavirus had attended a meeting last week.   More than 80 percent of the infections have been in and around Daegu, South Korea's fourth-largest city.

Streets there have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale.   Most of the country's infections are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, an entity often accused of being a cult.   The US Centers for Disease Control warned Americans against "all nonessential travel to South Korea".   In Japan, a fourth former passenger of the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship died, according to local media. The man was in his 80s.   Nearly 700 people from the quarantined ship have tested positive for the illness so far.

Infections have also spiked inside Japan, with at least 160 cases including one death.   The government has expanded the number of hospitals that can receive suspected patients and asked people with moderate symptoms to stay home.   Businesses were asked to "let people stay away from offices, to avoid rush hour commuting hours, and to encourage telecommuting," Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said.   Italy -- which has reported seven deaths and over 200 cases -- has locked down 11 towns, while upcoming football matches in its Serie A and the Europa League will be played behind closed doors.    Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that residents could face weeks of lockdown.

- China cases slow -
In China, 508 new cases were reported, with all but nine at the outbreak's epicentre in central Hubei province.   The death toll nationwide reached 2,663 on Tuesday after 71 more people died, the lowest rise in almost three weeks.   Reassured by the official numbers, the country is gingerly returning to business.   Beijing is seeing more cars on the street, factories are resuming work, Apple is reopening several stores, and some regions are relaxing traffic restrictions.   But schools remain closed, the capital has a mandatory 14-day quarantine for returning residents, and authorities are keeping some 56 million people in Hubei under lockdown.
Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: ZBC News [edited]

Mbire, Mashonaland Central Province has been affected by an outbreak of anthrax prompting the Veterinary Services Department to place an embargo on the movement of cattle from the province.

The acting provincial coordinator, Richard Chipfuwa, said 34 beasts had so far succumbed to the disease in the remote district, which sits on the border with Mozambique and Zambia. "These (the 34) are the reported cases, but we suspect there could be many more that were not reported. We have since mobilized vaccines to the district's 5 dip tanks: Nyatsengwa, Masomo, Tengu, Bonga and Sapa, so that farmers can have the remaining herd saved," he said.

But a poor road network in the district is making it difficult for veterinary officials to access some of the dip tanks, a situation made worse by the ongoing rains. The officials, in addition to treating infected animals, are also educating communities against consuming meat from dead animals, because this could pose health risks to people.

The anthrax outbreak in Mbire, an arid district rich in an assortment of wildlife, is suspected to have been passed on to livestock by infected wild animals such buffaloes, which are typical carriers of the disease. Last year [2019], the province lost nearly 1300 cattle due to anthrax and other livestock diseases.
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[For a description of Mashonaland, go to: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashonaland>. It is in northern Zimbabwe and is made up of 3 provinces, East, West, and Central. For a map showing the location of Mashonaland Central Province go to: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashonaland_Central_Province>.

In these hard to reach areas, it is a constant concern knowing what is happening where. And this goes a long way as to why some 34 animals are reported affected and probably more. And why it is so important to get the necessary volumes of vaccine out to these communities as soon as possible. We wish the provincial veterinary service well and all the luck that they enjoy. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Mashonaland Central Province, Zimbabwe:
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 16:22:59 +0100 (MET)

Dubai, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - The new coronavirus hit four more Middle Eastern states on Monday, with Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman reporting new cases and the UAE calling on its citizens not to travel to Iran and Thailand.   Oman also halted flights to and from Iran  -- which is battling the deadliest outbreak outside China --with immediate effect.   The move came shortly after two Omani women who had returned from Iran were diagnosed with the disease.

The three cases in Kuwait and the one in Bahrain were also in individuals who had returned from Iran, where the virus has claimed the lives of 12 people.   Bahrain also shut three schools after a man who had transported children to the institutions tested positive after returning from Iran on February 21 via Dubai airport, the health ministry said.

In Kuwait, a 53-year-old Kuwaiti, a 61-year-old Saudi national and a 21-year-old stateless Arab who tested positive had all returned from Iran's holy city of Mashhad, the Kuwaiti health ministry said.   In Iraq, the virus was confirmed in an Iranian national studying in the southern shrine city of Najaf, health officials said.   All seven bourses in the oil-rich Gulf states were down on Monday as fears of a pandemic hit crude prices. The Saudi stock exchange led the slide, shedding 2.95 percent.

- Travel bans -
Iran's confirmed death toll rose to 12 on Monday, with the government vowing to be transparent and dismissing a lawmaker's claim the toll could be as high as 50.   The outbreak has prompted travel bans from nearby countries.

Last week, Kuwait banned entry of all ships from the Islamic republic and suspended flights to and from the country.   Kuwait also banned non-citizens coming from Iran from entering the Gulf state and operated chartered flights to bring back hundreds of Kuwaiti Shiite pilgrims from the Islamic republic.

Around a third of Kuwait's 1.4 million citizens are Shiite Muslims, who travel regularly to Iran to visit religious shrines. Kuwait also hosts roughly 50,000 Iranian workers.   Over half of Bahrain's population of under one million are Shiites, who also travel frequently to Iran.   The United Arab Emirates has already announced 13 cases of the novel coronavirus, all of them foreigners. The latest were a 70-year-old Iranian man, whose condition is unstable, and his 64-year-old wife.

On Monday, Abu Dhabi authorities called on all UAE citizens "to not travel to Iran and Thailand at present and up until further notice" as part of its efforts to monitor and contain the spread of the disease.   UAE airlines have suspended most flights to China -- where the virus first emerged in December -- except to the capital Beijing, but have not yet taken any measures to restrict travel to and from Iran. Around half a million Iranians live and work in the UAE.

Two Gulf states -- Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- remain free of the virus, but all have suspended flights to China.   Qatar Airways said on Monday that people arriving from Iran and South Korea would be asked to stay in home isolation or a quarantine facility for 14 days.   China's death toll from COVID-19 rose to nearly 2,600 on Monday, while the virus has now spread to more than 30 countries.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 17:49:00 +0100 (MET)

Kolkata, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Rangers have suspended safari rides in a popular nature reserve in eastern India after five one-horned female rhinoceroses died from a suspected infectious disease, officials said Monday.  The animals were found dead over four days last week in Jaldapara National Park, nearly 700 kilometres (434 miles) north of West Bengal state's capital Kolkata.

India is home to two-thirds of the world's remaining one-horned rhinos, a vulnerable species on the IUCN red list   "Blood smears from carcasses have been sent to a laboratory in Kolkata," the reserve's chief conservator Ujjal Ghosh told AFP.   "All the five dead rhinos were adult females. We have put our staff on alert."

The park -- spread over 200 square kilometres (77 square miles) in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas -- is home to 204 rhinos according to the last official count in 2015.  More than 70 captive elephants used for safaris and patrolling also live in the reserve. The safari rides are carried out on elephants.   Activists said the animals may have died from anthrax, a communicable disease that attacks herbivores.

Humans can contract anthrax directly or indirectly from animals or animal products.  "We suspect that the animals died from a communicable disease like anthrax. Jaldapara forest has the odd case of anthrax which killed animals earlier," wildlife activist Animesh Bose told AFP.   Rangers were riding on elephants to reach the rhinos and vaccinate them using dart guns, the Hindustan Times reported.   Drones would try to find out if other animals have died or fallen ill, the newspaper said.
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 04:50:33 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, Feb 25, 2020 (AFP) - Dozens of Jakarta neighbourhoods were flooded Tuesday after torrential rains pounded Indonesia's capital, less than two months after nearly 70 people were killed in some of the megacity's worst flooding in years.   There were no immediate reports of casualties after the latest deluge, but parts of the city ground to a halt as whole neighbourhoods were swamped in muddy water, while power outages hit some districts.   At least 81 neighbourhoods were inundated with a dozen toll roads closed and some commuter train lines shuttered, according to an announcement by Indonesia's Disaster Mitigation Agency.

More torrential rains were expected later in the day.    "So the flooding will likely spread," agency spokesperson Agus Wibowo said on Twitter.   Floodwaters in some districts were as high as 127 centimetres (4 feet).   The low-lying city is prone to flooding during the wet season which starts around November.   Torrential rain in January triggered flooding and landslides that killed nearly 70 people in and around Jakarta while thousands more were forced to evacuate to shelters.
Date: Mon 24 Feb 2020
Source: Dhaka Tribune [edited]

In Baliadanga upazila of Thakurgaon district, 2 members of a family have died and 3 other members fell sick of an unknown disease. The deceased are MB 35, wife of HI, and her sister in law PB, wife of H from Songaon village of the upazila.

Quoting family members, local schoolteacher SPL said: "MB fell sick and died on Friday [21 Feb 2020] and on Saturday [22 Feb 2020], PB fell sick. "She came back home after undergoing primary treatment at Baliadanga Health Complex; however, she died early Sunday [23 Feb 2020]."

Soon afterwards, 3 other members of the family -- TA, HK and AA -- fell sick and were taken to Adhunik Sadar Hospital, she added.

Thakurgaon Civil Surgeon Dr MD Mahfuzar Rahman Sarker said a representative team of the health department has visited the village to investigate the cause of deaths.

The reasons of the deaths are yet to be known; however, the ones who fell sick are in better condition now, he added.

In 2019, 4 members of a family died due to Nipah virus in the same upazila. Locals are assuming the current deaths are occurring for the same reason.
===================
[With these cases described only as fatal or ill without mention of symptoms, it is not possible to speculate on what the etiology of thisdisease might be. The above report does mention that 4 fatal Nipah virus infections occurred in the same locality last year (2019). Nipah virus must surely be on the list of rule-outs in these current cases. This is the season when Nipah virus is circulating in Bangladesh in giant fruit bats (_Pteropus_ species) with spill-over of the virus by the bats' contamination of fruit or of palm sap juice in collecting pots on the palms. Person-to-person transmission of the virus can also occur. The transmission season is usually January to April.

As noted earlier, it is unfortunate that the public awareness efforts have not prevented these cases from occurring. Perhaps because cases are sporadic and geographically scattered there is little public perception of risk of infection and serious disease. Until effective public education to prevent infection by avoiding eating contaminated fruit or date palm sap is implemented, sporadic cases will continue to occur.

An image of a Pteropus fruit bat can be found at

HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
A map showing the location of the area where the cases occurred can be accessed at the above URL. - ProMED Mod.TY]

24-02-2020 -- Italy has reported a rapid increase in cases of laboratory-confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) since 21 February 2020. An initial investigation by Italian authorities has found several clusters of cases in different regions of northern Italy, with evidence of local transmission of COVID-19.

A WHO-led team of experts from WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) arrived in Italy on Monday 24 February to support Italian authorities in understanding the situation. WHO experts are providing support in the areas of clinical management, infection prevention and control, surveillance and risk communication. At this stage the focus is on limiting further human-to-human transmission.

While limited local person-to-person transmission of COVID-19 in countries outside of China was expected, the rapid increase in reported cases in Italy over the past two days is of concern. However, it should also be noted that based on current data, in the majority of cases (4 out of every 5) people experience mild or no symptoms.

“COVID-19 is a new virus that we need to take very seriously. This mission to Italy is one of the ways in which WHO/Europe is supporting countries across the Region. We are working hard with our Member States to ensure that they are ready for COVID-19, preparing for the arrival of cases and possible localized spread. It is vital that we treat patients with dignity and compassion, put measures in place to prevent onward transmission, and protect health workers,” commented Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

Health authorities in Italy are implementing measures to prevent onward transmission, including closing of schools and bars and cancelling of sports events and other mass gatherings in the areas affected. This aligns with the containment strategy currently being implemented globally in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. “WHO stands by the Government of Italy in its efforts and commitment to mitigate this outbreak and manage the cases effectively. Now is the time for solidarity and cooperation, to work together to protect everyone’s health,” added Dr Kluge.

Countries across the European Region continue to prepare for and respond to cases of COVID-19. This includes establishing how to promptly detect sick people, testing samples from suspect cases, ensuring appropriate infection control and case management to minimize the risk of the virus spreading, and maintaining communication with the public.

Best Regards,
WHO Media Team

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.