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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: Wed, 2 Oct 2019 12:31:30 +0200 (METDST)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Zakynthos, officials ordered the evacuation of the villages of Agalas and Keri in the south of the island. Some 120 tourists were also relocated to a safe area.   The Greek fire department on Sunday said it had been called to nearly 80 fires over the past 24 hours.   It has already faced more than 9,600 rural and urban fires this year.
Date: Tue, 13 Aug 2019 11:40:19 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, Aug 13, 2019 (AFP) - Dozens of firefighters Tuesday battled a major wildfire that forced the evacuation of a monastery on the Greek island of Evia as smoke from the blaze reached as far as Athens, authorities said.   Authorities also placed on alert two villages threatened by the blaze on the island, Greece's second largest after Crete and located northeast of Athens.   The fire started at about 3 am (0000 GMT) at the side of a road and was quickly spread by strong winds through the dry and dense vegetation in the centre of the island, the semi-official news agency ANA said.

The monastery of Panagia Makrymallis was evacuated as a precaution and residents of the villages of Kontodespoti and Stavros were told to be ready to leave also, TV SKAI said.   "Everything is ready in case it is necessary to evacuate the villages. The evacuation can be done in a few minutes. We are totally prepared," Fani Spanos, the governor of central Greece who was coordinating the operations, told SKAI.   He warned the fire was not yet under control and was spreading in an area that was inaccessible overland.

Around 80 firefighters were fighting the blaze backed by some 40 fire trucks and two water-bombing helicopters and a plane.   The strong winds blew the smoke from the blazing pine forest north toward the Magnesia region and south to the Attica peninsula and Athens.   ANA said the pine forests on Evia are part of the "Natura 2000" European network of protected areas and habitats.   Greece has been hit by a spate of wildfires since the weekend amid gale-force winds and temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 F).

On Monday, a major forest fire threatening homes in Peania, an eastern suburb of Athens, was brought under control. At least two houses were burned but there were no reports of injuries.   On Sunday, a fire on the small island of Elafonissos, in the Peloponnese region, was brought under control after a two-day battle.   Two more fires were doused on Saturday in Marathon, close to Mati, the coastal resort where last year 102 people died in Greece's worst fire disaster.
Date: Sun, 11 Aug 2019 14:32:21 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, Aug 11, 2019 (AFP) - A French man was charged in Greece on Sunday over a boat accident that left two dead and another person seriously injured, state TV ERT reported.   The 44-year-old was charged with negligent manslaughter by a prosecutor and given 24 hours to prepare his defence, ERT said.  The man's lawyer Nikos Emmanouilidis had earlier told reporters that his client "will assist in every way any request by the Greek authorities."

The suspect has admitted to driving a 10-metre (32-foot) speedboat which struck a smaller wooden fishing boat on Friday evening near the Peloponnese resort of Porto Heli, 170 kilometres (105 miles) southwest of Athens.   The collision killed two elderly Greek men on board. A 60-year-old Greek woman, reportedly their sister, was seriously injured and taken to Athens for treatment.

The suspect could not be located for several hours after the incident before turning himself in on Saturday.   He has denied trying to evade arrest, and claims he was also injured in the incident and had sought first aid.   The suspect has said he did not see the fishing boat, which may have had insufficient lighting, state news agency ANA reported.   He has taken a blood alcohol test, with the results to be available on Monday.   "The first indications point to excessive speed by the powerboat driver," Merchant Marine Minister Yiannis Plakiotakis told ERT on Saturday.

Ten other French nationals who were also on the speedboat -- two men, three women and five children aged three to 14 -- were initially taken to Porto Heli for questioning after helping to bring the injured woman and one of the bodies to shore, the coastguard said.   They were all released on Saturday.   Speedboat accidents involving swimmers or other boats are common in Greece during the busy summer holiday season.

Another speedboat on Friday injured a 32-year-old swimmer at the Athens coastal suburb of Glyfada. The driver was arrested.   In 2016, four people including a four-year-old girl were killed when a speedboat sliced into their wooden tourist vessel near the island of Aegina.   Nobody was sanctioned as the prime suspect, an elderly Greek man, died a year after the accident.
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Saudi Arabia

Travelling to the Hajj
============================
Background
Every devout Muslim seeks to perform the Hajj on at least one occasion during their life. This pilgrimage, which is a central duty of Islam, brings Muslims from all over the wor
d together as they visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Each year over two million gather to celebrate the five 'pillars' of Islam.
Coping with the Climate
The dates for this festival vary from year to year but this year it is in December. In the evenings it can be significantly cold in 'tent city' and so travellers should bear this in mind when packing.
Travel Restrictions
With this massive influx of people travel in and out of Saudi can be difficult and, where possible, plans should be made well in advance.
Care for the pilgrims
The Saudi government seek to provide the highest level of health care possible for those visiting their Kingdom. This has involved the setting up of a series of rules and regulations which need to be observed. Nevertheless every pilgrim should ensure that their own personal health is sufficient before agreeing to travel. This may involve a consultation with their GP - especially if they have any underlying medical conditions.
Food Restrictions
No food is allowed into Saudi during this time and will be confiscated on arrival.
Vaccine Requirements
In order to reduce the risk of certain diseases the Saudi authorities insist on all travellers providing correctly certified evidence of vaccination against some diseases.
Meningitis
All travellers are required to provide evidence of vaccination against Meningococcal Meningitis (ACYW-135). This vaccine has to have been given to every traveller within the previous three years and at least 10 days before arrival into Saudi Arabia. (Other vaccinations against Meningitis C or Meningococcal A&C are not acceptable.)
Compulsory Medications
Some travellers arriving from what are regarded as 'higher risk' countries will also be given prophylactic antibiotics to lessen the possibility of their carrying Meningococcal Meningitis into the country. This is a compulsory requirement - though the medication given varies depending on the age of the individual and whether or not the female traveller is pregnant.
Yellow Fever
It is also essential for some travellers to have evidence of Yellow Fever vaccination certification. Generally this is only required for those arriving from the countries of Africa and South America. This vaccine needs to have been given within the previous 10 years and at least 10 days before arrival.
Other Recommended Vaccines
Even though it is not a requirement of entry to perform the Hajj or visit Saudi Arabia, travellers are strongly advised to consider the following vaccinations;
Influenza / Pneumococci
These are air-borne diseases and the close proximity of so many pilgrims will make the risk of contracting either or both of these highly infectious diseases much higher. Influenza vaccine needs to be given each year where as Pneumococcal vaccine is often only given on one occasion in a lifetime.
Poliomyelitis
This viral disease is disappearing from much of the world and may be eradicated within a few years. However during 2005 a significant number of outbreaks occurred in various African countries and India. The Hajj was linked to outbreaks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia itself. Vaccination is recommended for all unprotected travellers.
Hepatitis A / Typhoid
With such a massive number of people to be catered for it is hardly surprising that the level of food and water borne disease is high. These vaccines are strongly recommended for all travellers. They provide excellent protection but all travellers will still need to exercise extra care to lessen their personal exposure.
Hepatitis B
The main specific risk of contracting Hepatitis B probably relates to the ritual head shaving which is performed as part of the celebrations. Professional barbers are used and long lines of men wait for their turn. In some cases the blade is not changed between shaves and this potentially presents a serious risk of contamination with Hepatitis B infection.
Ritual sacrifice
It should also be noted that during the celebrations a ritual sacrifice of a small animal is performed. Pilgrims are strongly advised not to undertake the actual act of sacrifice themselves - unless they are very experienced - as otherwise they could seriously injury themselves.
Avoiding Accidents and Dehydration
The desire to perform the Hajj is strong and it is an emotional time for any Muslim. Unfortunately the presence of so many other pilgrims in a very confined space at the same time does increase the risk of various diseases and accidents. This includes the risk of being crushed, as has occurred with disastrous consequences in the past. The degree of dehydration can also be high as there is a significant amount of exercise and walking involved. A good pair of comfortable walking shoes is certainly worth the investment. It will also be important to bring some plasters to treat minor injuries and blisters.
Being Separated from Companions
Due to the numbers involved it is very easy to become separated from travelling companions. It is wise to have a plan in place before arriving so that each member of the party knows where to meet.
Overview
It is extremely important that all those undertaking this pilgrimage recognise the necessity to stay constantly alert to the personal health and accident risks which are present and do everything within their power to avoid them. The Tropical Medical Bureau centres throughout Ireland usually carry both the required and the recommended vaccines for travellers to the Hajj. Appointments should be made well in advance of visa application to ensure that these are given in sufficient time.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2019 12:04:37 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Oct 6, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together as the ultraconservative kingdom begins offering up tourist visas for the first time.   The tourism authority said in a statement published on Twitter that Saudi women travelling alone would also be able to check into a hotel by presenting valid ID.

In the past, couples wanting to stay in a hotel had to prove they were married.    "This is no longer required for tourists," the statement said.   Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it was opening its doors to holidaymakers with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy.   The kingdom had previously only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   On September 28, Saudi authorities warned that tourists who violated "public decency", including with immodest clothing and public displays of affection, would be subject to fines.
Date: Sun, 29 Sep 2019 17:39:45 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Sept 29, 2019 (AFP) - Five people were injured in a fire that broke out at a new high-speed train station in Saudi Arabia's western city of Jeddah on Sunday, state television reported, with huge palls of smoke seen rising into the air.    The station serves the main Haramain High Speed Rail system. The route opened to the public in October last year, transporting passengers between Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest sites.

"Five people who sustained minor injuries because of the fire were transported to hospital," Al-Ekhbariya state television reported.   The General Directorate of Saudi Civil Defence said in an earlier tweet that it was working to extinguish the fire.   A video uploaded on Twitter by the Mecca provincial government showed plumes of grey smoke rising from what looked like the inside of the complex.   An AFP correspondent said security forces closed the main road linking Mecca and Jeddah and cordoned off the site.   The blaze erupted at 12:35 pm local time (0935 GMT), according to the Haramain High Speed Rail's Twitter account.

The railway runs 450 kilometres (280 miles) via the Red Sea port of Jeddah, transporting passengers at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour.   Saudi King Salman inaugurated the railway in September 2018. Officials described it as the biggest transportation project in the region.   In 2011, the kingdom signed a deal for a Spanish consortium to build the rail track, supply 35 high-speed trains and handle a 12-year maintenance contract.   Saudi is boosting its infrastructure spending and expanding its railways -- including a $22.5 billion metro system under construction in the capital Riyadh -- as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.
Date: Sat, 28 Sep 2019 19:56:29 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Sept 28, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Saturday said it would impose fines for violations of "public decency", including immodest clothing and public displays of affection, a day after the austere kingdom opened up to foreign tourists.   The interior ministry said it had identified 19 such "offences" but did not specify the penalties, as the ultra-conservative Islamic country begins issuing tourist visas for the first time as part of a push to diversify its oil-reliant economy.   "The new regulations require men and women to dress modestly and to refrain from public displays of affection. Women are free to choose modest clothing," a statement said.   "The regulations are meant to ensure that visitors and tourists in the kingdom are aware of the law relating to public behaviour so that they comply with it."

Saudi Arabia on Friday said citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   But the conservative country, which forbids alcohol and is notorious for sex segregation, is seen as an unlikely destination for global tourists aside from Muslim pilgrims visiting holy sites in Mecca and Medina.   Men and women must avoid "tight fitting clothing" or clothes with "profane language or images", read an instruction on an English language website launched by the tourism authority.   "Women should cover shoulders and knees in public," it added.

But tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb said foreign women were not obligated to wear the body-shrouding abaya robe that is still mandatory public wear for Saudi women.   Prince Mohammed has sought to shake off his country's ultra-conservative image -- lifting a ban on cinemas and women drivers while allowing gender-mixed concerts and sporting extravaganzas.   The relaxed social norms in a kingdom have been welcomed by many Saudis, two-thirds of whom are under 30.   But new public decency guidelines, first approved by cabinet in April, are widely perceived to be vague and have sparked public concern that they would be open to interpretation.   They have also stoked fears of a revival of morality policing.   Saudi Arabia's religious police once elicited widespread fear, chasing men and women out of malls to pray and berating anyone seen mingling with the opposite sex.   But the bearded enforcers of public morality, whose powers have been clipped in recent years, are now largely out of sight.
Date: Fri, 27 Sep 2019 03:42:05 +0200 (METDST)
By Anuj Chopra

Riyadh, Sept 27, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia said Friday it will offer tourist visas for the first time, opening up the ultra-conservative kingdom to holidaymakers as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil.   Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.

The announcement comes just two weeks after devastating attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure -- blamed by Washington on Iran -- which roiled global energy markets and raised fears of a wider regional conflict.   "Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country," tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb said in a statement.   "Visitors will be surprised... by the treasures we have to share -- five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty."

Saudi Arabia will open applications for online tourist visas to citizens of 49 countries on Saturday, Bloomberg News quoted Khateeb as saying.   Khateeb said the kingdom will also ease its strict dress code for foreign women, allowing them to go without the body-shrouding abaya robe that is still mandatory public wear for Saudi women.   Foreign women, however, will be required to wear "modest clothing", he added, without elaborating.   Visas in the desert kingdom, endowed with rich bedouin heritage and archaeological sites, are currently restricted to expat workers, their dependents and Muslim pilgrims travelling to holy sites in Mecca and Medina.

- Hard sell -
In a rare move, Saudi Arabia last year began issuing temporary visas to visitors to attend sporting and cultural events in a bid to kickstart tourism.   But the austere kingdom, which forbids alcohol and has a strict social code, is seen by many as a hard sell for tourists.   Prince Mohammed is seeking to change that through a sweeping liberalisation drive that has brought new cinemas, mixed-gender concerts and sporting extravaganzas to Saudi Arabia.

International criticism of the kingdom's human rights record, including the gruesome murder last year of critic Jamal Khashoggi and a crackdown on female activists, could further put off foreign visitors, observers say.   Fears of a regional conflict after the September 14 attacks on state oil giant Aramco may also dampen the kingdom's appeal to holidaymakers.   The government, reeling from low oil prices, says it hopes tourism will contribute up to 10 percent of the gross domestic product by 2030, compared to three percent currently.   It says by 2030 it aims to attract up to 100 million annual visits by both domestic and foreign tourists.

But the kingdom currently lacks the infrastructure to accomodate visitors in such high numbers, with officials estimating 500,000 new hotel rooms will be required nationwide over the coming decade.   The sector is expected to create up to one million tourism jobs, the government says, as it battles high youth unemployment.   Saudi Arabia has splurged billions in an attempt to build a tourism industry from scratch.

In 2017, the kingdom announced a multi-billion dollar project to turn 50 islands and other pristine sites on the Red Sea into luxury resorts.   Last year, construction of Qiddiya "entertainment city" was launched near Riyadh, which would include high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari area.   The country is also developing historic sites such as the centuries-old Mada'in Saleh, home to sandstone tombs of the same civilisation which built the Jordanian city of Petra.
Date: Wed 19 Jun 2019 [date accessed]
Source: WHO/EMRO Epidemic and pandemic-prone diseases [edited]

MERS situation update, May 2019
--------------------------
- At the end of May 2019, a total of 2442 laboratory-confirmed cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), including 842 associated deaths (case fatality rate: 34.5%), were reported globally; the majority of these cases were reported from Saudi Arabia (2051 cases, including 765 related deaths with a case fatality rate of 37.3%). During the month of May [2019], a total of 14 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS were reported globally. All 14 cases were reported from Saudi Arabia with 4 associated deaths.

- This month [May 2019], Saudi Arabia has not reported any new cases related to the Al-Khafji city outbreak. The outbreak has presumed to have stopped due to the effective response measures taken by Saudi Arabia. This month [May 2019], one household cluster was reported from Al-Kharj city, including 2 symptomatic national females aged 22 and 44. One 23-year-old national female healthcare worker was also infected this month [May 2019] in Riyadh. All 4 cases that died this month [May 2019] were symptomatic males with one or more co-morbidities.

- The demographic and epidemiological characteristics of reported cases, when compared during the same corresponding period of 2013 to 2019, do not show any significant difference or change.

Summaries:
- Laboratory-confirmed cases reported since April 2012: 2442
- Deaths reported since April 2012 globally: 843
- Number of countries that have reported cases since April 2012: 27
- Number of countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region that have reported cases since April 2012: 12
- 13 laboratory-confirmed cases reported linked to an outbreak in Saudi Arabia in April [2019]
- The age group 50-59 years continues to be at highest risk for acquiring infection of primary cases. The age group 30-39 years is most at risk for secondary cases. The number of deaths is higher in the age group 50-59 years for primary cases and 70-79 years for secondary cases.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Fri 11/10/2019 14:43
WorldHealthOrganizationNews@who.int

Attributable to the Federal Ministry of Health in Sudan, WHO and UNICEF

KHARTOUM, 11 October 2019 -  "Sudan has launched an oral cholera vaccination campaign in response to the ongoing outbreak of cholera. More than 1.6 million people aged one year and above in the Blue Nile and Sinnar states will be vaccinated over the coming five days.  “The announcement of the Federal Ministry of Health in Sudan on the cholera outbreak last month allowed national and state authorities, and health partners, to act quickly and respond to the outbreak.

“Since the announcement on 8 September, 262 cases of suspected cholera and eight related deaths have been reported as of 9 October in the Blue Nile and Sinnar states. No cholera-related deaths have been reported since mid-September. “The vaccines were procured and successfully shipped using funding from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. In addition, Gavi is providing nearly US$ 2 million to cover operational costs for the campaign.

“We joined efforts to respond as quickly as possible to contain the current outbreak of cholera and prevent it from spreading further in Sudan. The vaccination campaign kicking off today in combination with other measures including scaling up water, sanitation and hygiene activities, enhancing surveillance, prepositioning supplies and case management, will help protect people who are at highest risk.

“The first round of the campaign will conclude on 16 October and will be followed by a second round in four to six weeks to provide an additional dose to ensure people are protected for at least the next three years.  “As part of the campaign, over 3,560 vaccinators, more than 2,240 social mobilizers, and almost 70 independent monitors have been trained and deployed to the two affected states.”
Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2019 21:29:49 +0200 (METDST)

Paris, Oct 20, 2019 (AFP) - French rail services ground to a halt in parts of the country Sunday as workers walked off the job for a third day in a dispute over train staffing levels, stranding holiday travellers.   Services in the Paris suburbs, the northeastern Champagne-Ardenne region and the southern Occitanie region, which includes Toulouse and Montpellier, were particularly affected.   The state railway company SNCF said most services would return to normal on Monday.

The industrial action began on Friday after a train in north-eastern France slammed into a truck at a level crossing, injuring 11 people.  The train driver was himself among those hurt but being the sole employee of state railway company SNCF on board had to help take care of passengers.   Unions said the incident highlighted understaffing on trains, notably the absence of ticket inspectors on some lines.

Since Friday, staff have been exercising their "right to withdraw" their labour -- a clause that allows workers to walk off the job in case of "clear and present danger to their life or health".   SNCF's management has accused the workers of abusing that right on a busy weekend for train travel, at the start of the mid-autumn school holidays.   It argues that some train lines have not had ticket inspectors for decades.
Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2019 17:53:19 +0200 (METDST)

Frankfurt am Main, Oct 20, 2019 (AFP) - Cabin crew at four Lufthansa subsidiary airlines staged a day-long strike Sunday, causing dozens of cancellations at German airports in a battle for better pay and conditions.   The walkout, called by the UFO cabin crew union, was initially set to last from 5:00 am until 11:00 am (0300-0900 GMT) but a worsening spat with Lufthansa bosses prompted the union to extend the strike until midnight.

The industrial action at Eurowings, Germanwings, SunExpress and Lufthansa CityLine led to over 100 flight cancellations, mainly hitting short-haul journeys at Hamburg airport, Munich, Berlin-Tegel, Cologne and Stuttgart, according to DPA news agency.   Frankfurt airport, the country's busiest, reported "only a few" cancellations, affecting CityLine flights.

In a statement, UFO said it had ramped up the strike after the Lufthansa group told employees the walkouts were "illegal" and "endanger your jobs".   "This is not only wrong, it also signals the next level in the threats against cabin crew colleagues," UFO said. "This behaviour must be stopped."   But the Lufthansa group downplayed the impact of the strike, with a spokesman telling DPA that "more than 90 percent of the crew members showed up on time for their shift".

The union had previously called off plans for Lufthansa workers to join Sunday's warning strike after the company offered a surprise two-percent pay hike to flight attendants at the flagship airline.   But other demands for better conditions have yet to be met and UFO has not ruled out further action, with fresh talks at all five airlines scheduled for Monday.   Bosses at the Lufthansa group believe UFO may no longer have the legal right to speak for workers and have challenged its status in court.   Internal disputes at the union have cost it members and support among cabin crew, some of whom have now turned to other representative organisations.
Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2019 06:45:19 +0200 (METDST)

Niamey, Oct 20, 2019 (AFP) - Floods in southeast Niger have forced 23,000 people to flee their homes since early October, officials said Saturday, threatening a new humanitarian crisis in a region already wracked by Boko Haram Islamist violence.   Heavy rains have caused the Komadougou Yobe river that flows through the semi-desert Diffa region into Lake Chad to burst its banks, inundating villages, flooding fields and damaging crops.   Two villages near the city of Diffa were "completely submerged" and 2,500 households have been forced to move, according to national radio the Voice of the Sahel.

Some 400 families were sheltering in a gym in the city, it added.   "We have been fighting for days to stop the water rising, but it's not working," Amadou Issa, a rice farmer, told AFP. "The sandbags we've been using to keep the water out are completely under water."   Extreme weather events are common in Niger, one of the world's poorest countries.   Between June and September 57 people were killed and more than 130,000 affected by flooding according to government figures.

The capital Niamey was hit badly in September, with the waters of the Niger river -- the third biggest in Africa -- rising to a level not seen in more than 50 years and swamping parts of the city.   Last year, drought and flooding led to food shortages in a crisis which, exacerbated by jihadist violence, left more than 10 percent of the population needing humanitarian aid.   Niger, along with neighbouring Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania is also struggling against escalating attacks by armed Islamists.   According to the UN's human rights agency UNHCR, the Diffa region is home to almost 120,000 refugees and 109,000 internally displaced people.
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 22:45:46 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - The US moved to further hurt Cuba's vital tourism industry by tightening the ability of the country's airlines to lease aircraft.   The US Department of Commerce said it was revoking existing licenses for US companies leasing aircraft to Cuban carriers, and will deny future applications for aircraft leases.   The move could make it harder for Cuba to service its rapidly growing tourism sector, a key source of foreign revenue for the poor country.

Washington has stepped up pressure on Havana due to its support for the embattled regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.   "This action by the Commerce Department sends another clear message to the Cuban regime -- that they must immediately cease their destructive behaviour at home and abroad," Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear how many aircraft the move would impact.   Cuba's cash-poor carriers depend on aircraft rented from leasing companies or other airlines, which are often very old.   In May 2018, 112 people died in the crash of a 39-year-old Boeing 737 leased by national carrier Cubana de Aviacion from a small Mexican firm, Global Air.

In June of this year, US President Donald Trump announced a US ban on cruise ship stopovers by Americans on the island, forcing Havana to cut its 2019 tourism target by 15 percent to 4.3 million visitors.   Nearly 900,000 tourists visited the island on cruise ships last year, and almost 40 percent were American, according to official figures.   The announcement Friday also expanded restrictions on imports from Cuba and on products with US content that can be sold to the country.
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 15:43:29 +0200 (METDST)

Accra, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - Floods caused by eight days of torrential downpours in north-eastern Ghana have left 28 people dead and displaced hundreds, officials said Friday.     "At the moment the death toll is 28. About 640 people in some six communities have been displaced and we are providing shelters for them," George Ayisi, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Organisation, told AFP.    "We've counted about 286 collapsed houses during this disaster and that is making life difficult for the people."

Relief items were being transported 800 kilometres (500 miles) by road from the capital Accra to the affected region on the border with Burkina Faso as meteorologists warned the rains could last into November.    "We have to just prepare for anything," Ayisi said.   So far this year 46 people have been killed in floods in the West African nation, the disaster relief agency said.   Flooding in northern and other parts of Ghana happens each year during the rainy season.    Last year, 34 people died in northern Ghana during flooding caused by heavy rains and waters spilling from a dam in Burkina Faso.
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 04:33:10 +0200 (METDST)
By Patrick FORT

Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - "They've placed us in the red zone, which means the tourists aren't coming like before. Even the aid workers don't come," said Antoine Atiou, governor of Burkina Faso's Hauts-Bassins region.   The "red zone" refers to the risk of jihadist attacks -- a top-end warning by Western embassies to travellers wanting to visit southwest Burkina and the economic capital, Bobo-Dioulasso, once a popular tourist destination.   The impact has been brutal for local businesses. The city's hotels have emptied, its heritage sites are quiet and the souvenir shops shuttered.    "It's hard, hard, hard!... We haven't seen a tourist for a fortnight," said Sanou Moumouni, a guide at the city's mosque and in the historic Kibidwe district for 22 years.   In the past he could sometimes earn 100,000 CFA francs ($167, 150 euros) in two days, he said, but he has not made 5,000 francs in the last three months.    "I'm living on loans," he said. "We no longer have work because of the murderers. We're sick of it."    The north and the east of the landlocked country in West Africa endure frequent Islamist attacks, which have claimed some 600 lives in the past four years. There have also been some raids in the west.

In December 2018, an Italian man and his Canadian companion were kidnapped on the road from Bobo to the capital Ouagadougou. Last April, the Burkinabe government said it had information that the couple was still alive, but might have been taken to another country.   Bobo-Dioulassou itself has been relatively spared as the jihadist threat expands across poor nations of Africa's Sahel region.   Ministry of tourism statistics from 2017 show that of about half a million annual visitors to Burkina Faso, fewer than 150,000 came from abroad -- down 5.6 percent from 2015.   The number of nights stayed in the country by Westerners fell from 30,000 in 2012 to fewer than 15,000 in 2017. "This trend has probably sped up in 2018 and 2019," a local tour operator said.

- Crafts and wonders -
Renowned for its traditional masks, its batik print textiles and the balafon -- a West African instrument like a xylophone -- Bobo attracted thousands of Western tourists.   The Lonely Planet guide, which notes the security situation currently prohibits travel, says the city's "tree-lined streets exude a languid, semitropical atmosphere that makes it a favourite rest stop for travellers", adding that highlights include a "thriving live-music scene and excellent restaurants". 

The city itself has an array of charms, with its grand railway station, bustling market and striking Great Mosque -- an undulating white-plastered mud structure studded with wooden poles that dominates the historic centre.   Bobo-Dioulasso is a jumping-off point to visit regional highlights like the ruined fortress of Loropeni, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also a base for exploring the Dogon country in Mali, Ivory Coast and Ghana.   "Everyone came through Bobo. We really were a tourist region. Now it's over," said Benjamin Ouedraogo, owner of the Watinoma hotel and president of the professional association of hotel and restaurant owners in High Basins.   He said hotels in the region only do a third of the business they did before the attacks   To avoid closing his hotel, Ouedraogo took on a second job in the building trade. "We asked for help, but state aid is a disaster," he said, explaining that the authorities rejected applications for tax rebates and preferential tariffs on water and electricity.

- 'We subsist' -
In Kibidwe, an old neighbourhood of the city near the mosque, children play in alleys and women wash clothes in the open air, but most of the shops that catered for tourists are now shut.   Sanon Bissiri, an artist, was quick to bring out his batik prints on spotting Western journalists.    "I don't hang them every day any more, that's pointless. Since July, I haven't even sold two. All this because of those jihadists. Now I have to do masonry whenever I'm wanted."   Bissiri used to sell his textiles to an Italian association that made regular visits.   "That's over. We just get by. It's my wife who meets our needs," he said. "I come in to work each day on foot, six kilometres (nearly four miles). I can't afford medicine for my son with his cough."   Bobo's nightlife is not what it was, though the locally-brewed beer is the same.    "There's still a little activity with Burkinabe visitors," said musician Gaoussou Ben Sanou. But "there's less money, fewer dates, fewer gigs. We can't sell records".   Governor Atiou said people were reluctant to go out.   "All that weighs on economic activity. Unfortunately, this is the aim of the terrorists."
Date: Thu, 17 Oct 2019 12:37:14 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 17, 2019 (AFP) - Five people were killed and dozens were injured after a powerful earthquake hit the southern Philippines, authorities said Thursday.   The 6.4-magnitude quake struck the Mindanao region on Wednesday night, reducing dozens of houses to rubble on the southern third of the Philippines.   On Thursday afternoon, authorities said five people were killed and 53 injured, mainly in a cluster of small farming towns.   Three people were killed in landslides while another was crushed by the collapsed wall of a house. The fifth suffered a fatal heart attack, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.   No fatalities were reported in Mindanao's major cities. Local authorities had earlier told AFP three children were among the dead.   The Philippine seismology office has recorded more than 300 weaker aftershocks in the area since the big quake, but authorities said they do not expect the toll to rise significantly.

The disaster council's spokesman Mark Timbal told local television it had not received any reports of missing people from any of the quake-hit areas.   "People have returned home... They are OK now, unlike last night when they were terrified and slept on roads beside their homes," Zaldy Ortiz, civil defence officer of Magsaysay town, told AFP.   Local school and government holidays were announced in Magsaysay, where the landslides struck, to allow building inspectors to check structures for damage, Ortiz added.   Power was being restored in the bigger cities, but there was substantial damage to some hospitals, government buildings, schools, churches and houses in the small towns, the council said in a report.   In General Santos City, firefighters on Thursday finally put out a blaze that started at a shopping mall shortly after the quake.   The Philippines is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.
Date: Thu, 17 Oct 2019 05:32:08 +0200 (METDST)
By Tom LITTLE

Kulusuk, Denmark, Oct 17, 2019 (AFP) - Kayaking past blue-white icebergs drifting along near a pristine harbour, wandering around colourful houses or trekking in the snow-capped wilderness: July and August are high season for tourists in eastern Greenland.   Many of the 85,000 tourists who visit each year head to the west coast, but eastern Greenland, with its glaciers, wilderness and wildlife starring whales and polar bears, is also drawing visitors.

Sarah Bovet, a 29-year-old Swiss artist, said it's hard to know what to expect.   "Thinking you're going to be surprised, you are even more so in reality," she said standing outside a hostel in the tiny village of Kulusuk.   Bovet was on an artistic residency in Greenland when she visited Kulusuk and its 250 souls.   Although she had imagined a small village before arriving, its stunning views and bright colours still came as a surprise.   With just one supermarket, an airport built in the 1950s by the US military to serve a Cold War radar base, and a harbour surrounded by brightly painted wooden houses, most of the villagers appreciate the extra revenue from tourism.

Justus Atuaq, a young hunter in Kulusuk, takes tourists out on sled tours in March and April -- the spring high season -- earning money that helps him feed and care for the dogs he uses for racing and hunting.   "Now I can take dogsleds for hunting, and sometimes tourists coming from other countries also want to dogsled," he said outside his wooden house.   Tourists also take boat trips during the summer high season from July to August.   Arrivals to the island grew 10 percent year-on-year from 2014 to 2017, and three percent in 2018, according to the tourist board, Visit Greenland.   Many adventure seekers and nature lovers arrive by plane, but cruise ships also bring admirers, hugging the picture perfect coastline.

- Growing strategic importance -
But they are not alone in taking an interest in the world's largest island.   The Danish territory's rich natural resources and growing strategic importance as the Arctic ice sheet melts have attracted the attention of US President Donald Trump.   The Arctic region has untapped reserves of oil, gas and minerals, as well as abundant stocks of fish and shrimp.   In August, Trump offered to buy Greenland, then called off a visit to Copenhagen over its refusal to sell.

Denmark colonised Greenland in the 1700s, granting it autonomy in 1979.    Today, many Greenlandic political parties advocate full independence.   The territory still receives an annual subsidy from Copenhagen, which was 4.3 billion Danish kroner (576 million euros) in 2017, and tourism could help it to become economically self-reliant.   Like many parts of Greenland, Kulusuk has no tarmac roads and visitors must travel by plane or boat.   The growth in tourism could put a strain on the village's infrastructure, and the sector faces unique challenges given Greenland's location, weather and the cost of travelling there.

Day tours of Kulusuk with flights from the Icelandic capital Reykjavik are 97,000 Icelandic kronur ($780, 700 euros).   Jakob Ipsen, a 48-year-old who grew up between Denmark and Greenland's west coast, runs Kulusuk's sole hotel.   The 32-room hotel stands beside a fjord, and from its dining room, guests can watch icebergs drift by during the summer.    But the region's isolation can be problematic, Ipsen admits.    "We have to get all our supplies in with the first ship for the whole summer season, and for the winter season when everything is frozen over, we have to get all our supplies in with the last ship for the whole winter," he said.

- 'They go back as different people' -
Greenland must tackle its infrastructure challenges if it wants to develop tourism, Visit Greenland says.   Government-funded work is under way to extend runways at the capital Nuuk and Ilulissat, both on the west coast, and a new airport is planned in the south.   The tourist body said it would weigh the environmental impact of boosting infrastructure, both on the environment and on local communities.    Ipsen worries about the effects of uncontrolled tourism to the region.   "We want to try to maintain it as it is, so it's not exploding," he said.

Already, said Johanna Bjork Sveinbjornsdottir, who runs tours in Kulusuk for an Iceland-based company, the rise in visitor numbers is making itself felt.   "In the campsites here out in nature where you used to be alone, there's two, three groups at a time," she said.   Like Ipsen, she is also concerned about the effect that rising visitor numbers could have on the wilderness around the village.    "If you want nature to survive that, you have to build up the infrastructure," she said, pointing to the lack of officially designated campsites around Kulusuk, with no rubbish bins or toilets for travellers outdoors and no one supervising the sites.   Despite the concerns, Sveinbjornsdottir hopes visitors will keep coming.   "They go back as different people," she said. "Everything is beyond what you ever imagined."
Date: Tue, 15 Oct 2019 19:33:58 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, Oct 15, 2019 (AFP) - Lebanon has turned to its neighbours for help battling forest fires that have ravaged homes and killed a volunteer firefighter in the Mediterranean country, its premier said on Tuesday.   Heavy rain fell on parts of the country including Beirut in the evening, after Cyprus dispatched help and as Greece and Jordan vowed to follow suit.   "We have contacted the Europeans who will send means of help," Prime Minister Saad Hariri said earlier in comments carried by national news agency NNA.

Dozens of blazes have hit Lebanon in recent days, fire chief Raymond Khattar told NNA, amid unusually high temperatures and strong winds.   Thick smoke had been seen drifting over the outskirts of Beirut, the mountainous Chouf region to its southeast, and the southern city of Saida.   In the Chouf, an area famed for its forests, a volunteer firefighter lost his life trying to put out the flames, his family said.   In an area south of Beirut, firefighters have for two days been unable to stop the blaze, which has burnt four homes to the ground and caused dozens to suffer breathing difficulties, NNA said.

Interior Minister Raya El-Hassan said nearby Cyprus and Greece had responded to Lebanon's call for help.   "Two Cypriot planes have been working to put out the fires since yesterday," she said on Twitter.   "Greece has responded to our request and will send two planes to help us," she added.   Jordan's army said the king had ordered two firefighting planes to be dispatched.   NNA said the army was working together with helicopters and the Cypriot planes to fight the blaze, with access sometimes impeded by thick smoke and high-voltage power lines.   Personnel from UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL, who usually patrol the country's southern border with Israel, have also joined in the efforts, the agency said.   Lebanese on social media criticised the government's apparent inability to respond fast enough on its own.

In neighbouring war-torn Syria, fires also killed two people, Syrian state media said.   Flames have ripped through parts of the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus, as well as the central province of Homs but most have been brought under control, state news agency SANA said.   Two members of the Latakia forestry department were killed while fighting the blaze, it added.   In Tartus, the fires -- mostly stamped out -- coincided with the olive harvest, the governor told SANA.   In Homs, trees were burnt and electricity networks disrupted in mountainous areas, the agency reported.