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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: Sun, 22 Mar 2020 18:02:51 +0100 (MET)

Athens, March 22, 2020 (AFP) - Greece will impose a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, limiting people to their homes except for essential outings, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Sunday.    "I have given orders that all appropriate action be taken to enforce the ban on all unnecessary movement across the country," Mitsotakis said in a televised address to the nation.   The restrictions will come into force from 6:00 am local time (0400 GMT) on Monday, and will require citizens to carry proof of identity to leave their homes. 

Outings are only permitted for people "going to work, the doctor, or to visit someone who needs help, or those who are buying food or medication", the prime minister said.    Citizens are also permitted to leave the house to walk their pets or exercise outdoors alone or with one other person.

There are 15 recorded deaths and 624 infections from the coronavirus in Greece, which has a population of 11 million.    Since reporting its first death from the virus on March 12, the country has gradually rolled out measures to limit gatherings and non-essential travel along with closing schools, shops and entertainment venues.
Date: Sat, 21 Mar 2020 10:59:18 +0100 (MET)

Athens, March 21, 2020 (AFP) - A strong 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck early Saturday in northwest Greece, damaging property in the city of Parga, authorities said.   The quake struck at 0049 GMT (0249 local time), with the epicentre 11 kilometres (around six miles) from Parga in Kanalaki district, and 316 kilometres northwest of Athens, the Athens geodynamic observatory said.   "No casualties have been reported at the moment," Parga mayor Nikolas Zacharias told AFP by telephone.

"Some old abandoned houses in Kanalaki collapsed and some houses suffered significant damage in this district of 2,500 inhabitants," Zaharias said, adding the temblor was strong throughout the area.   Landslides partially damaged the region's roads, he added.   Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes, but they rarely cause casualties.   In 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage.   In 1999, a 5.9-magnitude quake left 143 people dead in Athens and the region northwest of the capital.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 09:33:48 +0100 (MET)

Athens, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Greece has announced a broad shutdown of public areas and travel restrictions, to be activated in case of a coronavirus outbreak.   The measures, formalised in a decree late on Tuesday, include temporary travel bans to and from countries with a large number of infections.

The decree also permits the requisitioning of beds in hotels and private clinics.   It also foresees the temporary closure of "indoor public gathering areas" such as schools, places of worship, cinemas, theatres, sports halls and businesses.   "We are ready to do whatever is necessary to protect public health," government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.   The country has so far registered no confirmed cases of the virus.   Greece's health ministry has earmarked 13 hospitals nationwide equipped to handle virus cases.

A health ministry spokesman earlier this week noted that owing to the virus' long gestation period, health checks at ports and airports had minor chances of success.   On Monday, the Greek Olympic Committee said it had discussed alternative plans for the Olympic Flame lighting ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Games in case of a virus outbreak.

The flame for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is scheduled to be lit on March 12 in ancient Olympia and, following a torch relay on Greek soil, will be handed to the Tokyo organisers at a ceremony on March 19 at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.
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.
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Anguilla

Anguilla US Consular Information Sheet
March 03, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Anguilla is a British overseas territory in the Caribbean, part of the British West Indies. It is a small but rapidly developing island with particularly well-developed
ourist facilities.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 requires all travelers to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico and Canada to have a valid passport to enter or re-enter the United States. U.S. citizens must have a valid U.S. passport if traveling by air, including to and from Mexico.
If traveling by sea, U.S. citizens can use a passport or passport card. We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport or passport card well in advance of anticipated travel.
American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.

In addition to a valid passport, U.S. citizens need onward or return tickets, and sufficient funds for their stay.
A departure tax is charged at the airport or ferry dock when leaving. For further information, travelers may contact the British Embassy, 19 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC
20008; telephone (202) 588-7800; or the nearest consulate of the United Kingdom in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Seattle, or San Francisco. Visit the British Embassy web site for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
While Anguilla's crime rate is relatively low, both petty and violent crimes
do occur. Travelers should take common-sense precautions to ensure their personal security, such as avoiding carrying large amounts of cash or displaying expensive jewelry. Travelers should not leave valuables unattended in hotel rooms or on the beach. They should use hotel safety deposit facilities to safeguard valuables and travel documents. Similarly, they should keep their lodgings locked at all times, whether they are present or away, and should not leave valuables in their vehicles, even when locked.

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 staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local emergency line in Anguilla is 911.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
There is only one hospital, Princess Alexandra Hospital (telephone: 264-497-2551), and a handful of clinics on Anguilla, so medical facilities are limited.
Serious problems requiring extensive care or major surgery may require evacuation to the United States, often at considerable expense.

There are no formal, documented HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to and foreign residents of Anguilla, but there have been anecdotal reports of exclusion.
Please verify this information with the British Embassy before you travel.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site.
Further health information for travelers
is available from the WHO.

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

Unlike the U.S., traffic in Anguilla moves on the left. The few roads on the island are generally poorly paved and narrow. While traffic generally moves at a slow pace, with the increasing number of young drivers in Anguilla, there are occasional severe accidents caused by excessive speed. Although emergency services, including tow truck service, are limited and inconsistent, local residents are often willing to provide roadside assistance. For police, fire, or ambulance service dial 911.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the Government of Anguilla web site for further road safety information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
Civil aviation operations in Anguilla fall under the jurisdiction of British authorities. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Anguilla’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site.

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 Anguilla laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Anguilla are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Anguilla are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Anguilla. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy with consular responsibility over Anguilla is located in Bridgetown, Barbados in the Wildey Business Park in suburban Wildey, southeast of downtown Bridgetown.
The main number for the Consular Section is (246) 431-0225; after hours, the Embassy duty officer can be reached by calling (246) 436-4950.
Visit the U.S. Embassy Bridgetown online for more information.
Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except Barbadian and U.S. holidays.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Anguilla dated April 2, 2008, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Information for Victims of Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 9 Sep 2017 19:31:32 +0200

Paris, Sept 9, 2017 (AFP) - France's meteorological agency on Saturday issued its highest warning for the Caribbean islands of St Martin and St Barts as Hurricane Jose bore down, three days after they were hit by Hurricane Irma.   The alert warned of a "dangerous event of exceptional intensity," with winds that could reach 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour, and strong rains and high waves.

St Barts is a French overseas territory, as is the French part of St Martin, which is divided between France and the Netherlands.   Twelve people were killed on the two islands by Hurricane Irma, thousands of buildings were flattened and the authorities are struggling to control looting.   The French state-owned reinsurer CCR on Saturday estimated the damage at 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion).   Irma is now heading for Florida, where a total of 6.3 million people have been ordered to evacuate, according to state authorities.
Date: Tue 29 Apr 2014
Source: National Institute for Public Health and the Environment [edited]

1 Oct 2013-29 Apr 2014 (week 18) St Maarten - Since the last report (week 15 [17?]) 52 new cases have been confirmed among St Maarten residents. Up to 29 Apr 2014, now a total of 343 confirmed cases have been reported. One of these confirmed cases was hospitalized.

The median age of the confirmed patients was 44 years, range 4-92 years. Of those cases for which gender was available, 201 were female and 130 were male.

- On 6 Dec 2013, the 1st indigenous chikungunya [virus infection] case of St Maarten was reported. Retrospectively, the 1st patient with suspected complaints was reported in mid-October 2013 in St Martin.
------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
=====================
[The report also has graphs showing case numbers over time.

Maps of St Martin/St Maarten can be accessed at
Date: 5-11 May 2014
Source: Institut de Veille Sanitaire (French Institute for Public Health Surveillance, InVS) [edited]

Cases since the beginning of the outbreak in December 2013:
- St Martin: (susp) 3240 cases; deaths 3; stable.
- St Barthelemy: (susp) 500 cases; stable.
- Martinique: (susp) 24 180; deaths 3; increasing.
- Guadeloupe: (susp) 13 600 cases; deaths 1; increasing.
- French Guiana: (susp) not available; (probable or confirmed) 122 cases with 83 locally acquired; increasing, with a new cluster in Kourou and 2 near Cayenne.
======================
[The 16 May 2014 report from Guyaweb (<http://www.guyaweb.com/actualites/news/sciences-et-environnement/le-chik-revient-kourou-setend-cayenne-desormais-saint-laurent/>) states that there are 2 new cases in Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, overlooking the Suriname River, of which one is certainly autochthonous, and a new focal point occurred in Kourou with 4 cases.

Maps of the area can be seen at
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/35574>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: 7-13 Apr 2014
Source: INVS Point Sanitaire No. 14 [in French, trans. ProMed Mod.TY, edited]

Cases since the beginning of the outbreak in December, 2013:
- St. Martin: (susp.) 2980 cases, (probable and conf.) 793 cases; Deaths 3; Decreasing.
- Saint Barthelemy: (susp.) 460 cases, (probable or confirmed) 135 cases; Decreasing.
- Martinique: (susp.) 16 000, (probable or confirmed) 1473 cases; Deaths 2; Increasing.
- Guadeloupe: (susp.) 4710 cases, (probable or confirmed) 1261 cases; Deaths 1; In epidemic status.
- French Guiana: (susp.) 7 cases with 4 locally acquired, (probable or confirmed) 39 cases with 26 locally acquired) 30 cases; (imported) 16 cases; Moderate to increasing; Half of probable and confirmed cases are located in Kourou; however indigenous cases have also been recorded from the Cayenne Matoury, Remire and Macouria communities.
=================
[Maps showing case distributions on each island can be accessed at the above URL. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Thu 27 Mar 2014
Source: The Daily Herald [edited]

As St. Maarten continues to take measures to combat the spread of the chikungunya virus, the number of cases continues to climb.

Health Minister Cornelius de Weever announced on Wednesday [26 Mar 2014], that the total number of confirmed chikungunya cases thus far stood at 224.

De Weever also announced that government will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with French St. Martin as a means of collectively responding to the mosquito threat that puts the population at risk. He said both sides have been working closely together to address the dengue and chikungunya threats.

The MOU will cover, amongst other things, a regular exchange of epidemiological information on vector-borne diseases and collectively publishing and representing data collected under the agreement.

The need for collective information campaigns and enhancement of the mosquito vector-control programme will also be included in the MOU. The MOU also describes the need for planning execution and evaluation of collective responses to the chikungunya threat.
=========================
[The increase in the number of chikungunya virus infections over the past week in St. Maarten is of concern, rising from 123 cases to 224 cases. This number is confirmed in another report that also indicates that there are an additional 325 suspected cases (<http://www.rivm.nl/dsresource?type=pdf&disposition=inline&objectid=rivmp:239786>).  - ProMed Mod.TY]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/35574>.]
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Antartica

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bhutan - US Consular Information Sheet
February 23, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Bhutan is a small, land-locked Himalayan country that completed its transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in June 2008.
Bhutan i
one of the world’s smallest and least developed economies.
The United States does not have full diplomatic relations with Bhutan and there is no U.S. diplomatic presence there.
Consular issues relating to Bhutan, including assistance to U.S. citizens, are handled by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Bhutan for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Independent travel is not permitted in Bhutan. Visitors are required to book travel through a registered tour operator in Bhutan. This may be done directly or through a travel agent abroad.
Further information, including a list of authorized tour operators in Bhutan, may be obtained from the Tourism Council of Bhutan, PO Box 126, Thimphu, Bhutan, telephone +975-2-323251, 2-323252, fax +975-2-323695.
Entry by air is available only via India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Thailand. The border with China is closed. The minimum daily tariff is set by the Bhutanese Department of Tourism and cannot be negotiated. The rate includes all accommodations, all meals, transportation, services of licensed guides and porters, and cultural programs where and when available. The rate is the same for both cultural tours and treks. Travelers should contact the Tourism Council for the latest daily tariff.
At this time, the only carrier servicing Bhutan is Drukair, the Bhutanese government airline. Drukair will board only travelers with visa clearance from the Tourism Authority of Bhutan.

A passport and visa are required for entry into and exit from Bhutan.
Visa applications are available from selected travel agencies.
Travel agencies will usually arrange for a traveler’s entry visa and clearance.
Visitors, including those on official U.S. government business, should obtain visas prior to entering the country.
For additional entry/exit information, please contact the Bhutan Mission to the United Nations (Consul General), 763 First Avenue, New York, NY
10017, telephone (212) 682-2268, fax (212) 661-0551.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Recent efforts to resettle many of the approximately 100,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepali ethnic origin currently living in Nepalese refugee camps, coupled with the transition to democracy, have given rise to some civil unrest in usually peaceful Bhutan.
Bhutanese Maoists and Communist groups (including the Bhutan Communist Party and the Bhutan Tiger Force operating from the camps in Nepal), who denounce the monarchy and demand that the refugees be repatriated to Bhutan, have been linked to violence in the country.
A series of small bombs were set off between October 2006 and December 2008; most took place in small cities and towns on the southwestern border, near India, except for one in the capital, Thimphu.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
There is relatively little crime in Bhutan. Petty crime, such as pick-pocketing and purse snatching, is occasionally reported.
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 U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.
If you are the victim of a crime while in Bhutan, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi for assistance.
(See the contact information below.)
The Embassy’s consular 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 crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line for Bhutan police in Bhutan is 113.
The emergency number for ambulance service is 112.

Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

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 Bhutanese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Bhutan recently implemented extremely strict restrictions on the sale or use of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
A traveler caught selling tobacco products could be charged with illegal smuggling and fined or imprisoned.
Smoking is prohibited in public places.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bhutan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Visitors are advised to carry cash or travelers checks, since credit cards are not widely accepted in Bhutan.
When credit cards are accepted, usually during bank hours, an extra service fee, usually a percentage of the overall purchase, is often charged.

Druk Air, the only carrier servicing Bhutan, has rigid restrictions on the amount and size of luggage passengers may carry into the country. Passengers are advised to book bulky items ahead as unaccompanied baggage, since the aircraft servicing Bhutan have limited space available for large bags, and airline employees may not load large pieces of luggage. Flights into and out of Paro Airport are restricted to daylight hours and are dependent on suitable weather conditions. Flights are sometimes delayed or cancelled, particularly during the monsoon season between June and August. Passengers are advised to allow at least 24 hours' transit time for connecting flights from Paro Airport and to travel on non-restricted air tickets so that they can be rebooked on the first available air carrier if a connecting flight is missed.

Bhutanese customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Bhutan of items such as firearms, ammunition, explosives and military stores; narcotics and drugs (except medically prescribed drugs); tobacco products; wildlife products, especially those of endangered species; and antiques. It is advisable to contact the Bhutan Mission to the United Nations (Consulate General), 763 First Avenue, New York, NY
10017, telephone (212) 682-2268, fax (212) 661-0551, for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in the populated areas in Bhutan such as Thimphu and Paro are available but may be limited or unavailable in rural areas.
If Americans need urgent medical care, they should try to get to the General Hospital in the capital city, Thimphu.
Medical services may not meet Western standards, and some medicines are in short supply.
Certain emergency medical services are provided free of charge to all tourists.
Visitors planning to trek in Bhutan should pay special attention to the risk of altitude illness.
Treks in Bhutan can take visitors days or weeks away from the nearest medical facility.
Helicopter evacuation from remote areas is available in Bhutan through the registered tour operators, or by contacting the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Bhutan.
There are no disclosure regulations or restrictions for HIV/AIDS patients who enter Bhutan on a tourist visas for a maximum two week visit.
For longer stays applicants must present the results of an HIV/AIDS test completed within the six months prior to their visit.
The test can also be administered by Bhutanese officials upon arrival. Travelers should verify this information with the Bhutan Mission to the United Nations at (212) 682-2268.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site.
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
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 Bhutan is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
General road conditions outside of urban areas are poor, and emergency services generally are not available.
Because of the mountainous terrain, roads tend to have steep drop-offs and blind curves.
However, because tourists to Bhutan are required to arrange their trips through registered tour operators, tourists do not drive themselves, but travel in groups with experienced drivers.
Please refer to our Road Safety page and Bhutan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Bhutan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Bhutan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information, see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Bhutan. Although no formal diplomatic relations exist between the United States and Bhutan, informal contact is maintained through the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India. Updated information on travel and security in Bhutan may be obtained at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, at any other U.S. Consulate in India, or at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal, as well as at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand.
Americans living or traveling in Bhutan are encouraged to register through the State Department’s travel registration web site or with the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi to obtain updated information on travel and security within Bhutan.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in person or via mail.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi is located on Shanti Path, Chanakya Puri, New Delhi 110 021, India, telephone +91-11-2419-8000, fax +91-11-2419-8407.

The following U.S. missions are included as they are Drukair destinations:
The U.S. Consulate in Kolkata is located at 5/1 Ho Chi Minh Sarani, Kolkata 700 071, India, telephone +91-33-3984-2400, fax +91-33-2282-2335.
The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu is located at Maharajgunj in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The Consular Section can be reached through the Embassy switchboard at (977) (1) 400-7200 or directly by fax at (977) (1) 400-7281 or contacted by email.
The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok is located at 120/22 Wireless Road, Bangkok, Thailand, telephone +66-2-205-4000, fax +66-2-205-4103.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information dated April 25, 2008, to update the sections on Country Description, Safety and Security, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 6 Mar 2020 05:39:57 +0100 (MET)

Thimphu, Bhutan, March 6, 2020 (AFP) - The isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has reported its first case of the coronavirus after a US tourist tested positive, the prime minister said Friday.   The tiny, land-locked country, famous for measuring Gross National Happiness has emerged as a popular tourist destination in recent years.   But the government immediately shut borders to foreign visitors for two weeks in an effort to limit the impact of a disease that has wreaked havoc in more developed countries around the world.

The 76-year-old man arrived in Bhutan from India on March 2, and was admitted to hospital on March 5 with a fever, where he tested positive for COVID-19, the office of Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said in a Facebook post.   The post added that there would be "two weeks' restriction on all incoming tourists with immediate effect".   Schools in three areas -- including the capital Thimphu -- will be closed for two weeks from Friday.

The patient, who has not been named, left Washington on February 10, touring India from February 21 to March 1.   Health officials say they have traced roughly 90 people he came into contact with in Bhutan, with his 59-year-old partner, driver and guide all being placed in quarantine. None is currently showing symptoms.   Eight Indian nationals who were on the flight to Bhutan have also been quarantined.   More than 3,000 people have died from novel coronavirus, with nearly 100,000 confirmed infections globally.
National. 7 Sep 2019

Dengue fever cases in Phuentsholing are on the rise 2 months after the outbreak was 1st reported. Public awareness and campaigns have been of little help. Phuentsholing hospital saw a total of 2121 dengue-positive cases as of yesterday [6 Sep 2019], 313 more than the [1 Sep 2019] record. With 894 dengue-positive cases reported from private diagnostic centres in the town, Phuentsholing saw 3015 positive cases as of yesterday [6 Sep 2019].

Figures from the diagnostic centres, however, include both Bhutanese and people from across the border. The chief programme officer with Department of Public Health (DoPH), Ministry of Health, Rixin Jamtsho, said that 77% of the total cases in the country were reported from Phuentsholing hospital." The cases were reported from 19 dzongkhags [administrative district] till yesterday [6 Sep 2019]," Rixin Jamtsho said. "[The] majority of the cases reported from other districts had travelled to Phuentsholing prior to their illness."

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Bhutan:

1 Aug 2019. A total of 138 acute undifferentiated fever or dengue fever cases were reported in Doksum in Trashiyangtse as of yesterday [31 Jul 2019]. Health officials in Doksum tested 64 samples using dengue rapid test kit. Two tested positive for dengue NS1, 4 for dengue IgM, and 21 for 8 dengue IgG antibody.

[Dengue IgG antibody test is not confirmatory of acute infection unless serial serum samples have been tested. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

- National. 9 Aug 2019. The number of people affected by the dengue outbreak in Doksum in Trashiyangtse has increased 4-fold since the outbreak was reported on 26 Jul [2019] with 76 cases. A total of 314 cases were reported from Doksum as of yesterday evening [8 Aug 2019]. Most cases presented fever, joint pain, headache, and generalised body pain as symptoms.

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Bhutan:
26th June 2019
http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-06/26/c_138176103.htm

THIMPHU, June 26 (Xinhua) -- Heavy rainfall in Bhutan has killed at least two people, triggered flash floods, landslides and road blocks, and damaged homes, streets and vehicles. The two were buried alive after the landslide washed away their home in southern district of Samtse on Tuesday due to massive landslide that was triggered by heavy rains. The continuous rainfall and flash floods have blocked more than four national highways, damaged bridges and affected many commuters and office goers.

According to the National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology, the southern belt of Bhutan has recorded heavy rainfall on Tuesday. The downpour continued on Wednesday, further affecting the lives of people living in southern part of the country.  People residing in Phuentsholing said that they had to evacuate at early as 3 a.m. due to swollen rivers. The engineering workshops were overflown and drains were invisible due to landslides and flash floods. Falling of boulders and landslides damaged many vehicles, with some being submerged in mud. The schools in Phuentsholing town had to postpone their exams due to the damages caused by the heavy rainfall.

In Gelephu district a highway bridge was damaged. National highways between four districts were blocked. Many public buses and commuters were cancelled due to swollen rivers.  In 2017 a monsoon rainfall washed away an entire town in southern district of Sarpang.

Date: Sat 20 Apr 2019
Source: Kuensel [edited]

The recent [influenza A(H1N1)] outbreak in Bumthang is under control with the number of infected people visiting hospital declining from 30 to 35 a day to about a dozen these days.

Since the 1st case was reported on [8 Apr 2019] about 227 people were reported to have been infected by influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 causing seasonal flu.

Of the total infected, around 90 percent were students of Wangdicholing lower secondary school (WLSS), Bumthang. The 1st incident was reported on [8 Apr 2019] when 45 students did not come to school. Some were sent home and some referred to hospital.

Medical Officer of Wangdicholing hospital Dr Pema Wangchuk said the samples from the infected were sent to the Royal Center for Disease Control for investigation, which confirmed the disease as influenza A(H1N1). However, the doctor said it is a normal seasonal flu that occurs every year, especially during early spring and winter.

Signs and symptoms of influenza are fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pains, sore throat and runny nose, sometimes with vomiting and diarrhoea.

Students are infected easily mainly because of congestion, lack of hand hygiene practice, and not having preventive measures for cough, according to health officials. The hospital organised advocacy and preventive measures to avoid further spreading of the disease.

As per the report from WLSS, about 64 infected students could not attend regular classes until [15 Apr 2019]. Although the number decreased, there are students not being able to attend classes while some teachers were also infected.

This is the 2nd consecutive outbreak. Last winter more than 350 people were infected by the same virus.

The current outbreak falls under the moderate category, where preventive measure and sensitization programme and treatment could work.  [Byline: Nim Dorji]
==================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Bumthang, Bhutan:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 08:29:09 +0200 (METDST)

Hanga Roa, Chile, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Inhabitants of Easter Island are leaning on a traditional form of ancestral discipline to overcome a coronavirus-imposed lockdown that threatens the Pacific island's vital tourism sector, and consequently their livelihoods.   Situated 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) off the coast of Chile, the island of 7,750 people is renowned for its giant humanoid monoliths called moais that were sculpted from basalt more than 1,000 years ago.

So far, there have been just two confirmed coronavirus cases on Easter Island, with two or three more under observation. But the local population can ill afford the outbreak to spread with just one hospital and three ventilators on the island.   Faced with this crisis, the locals have turned to the Tapu, an ancient tradition based on taking care of oneself that has been passed down through generations of the native Rapa Nui people.   "To accompany this self-care concept, we're applying the Rapa Nui tradition, an ancestral rule based on sustainability and respect," said the island's mayor Pedro Edmunds.   "It's called Tapu. You can hear about this concept in all the Polynesian islands."

Tapu is a complex concept related to secrecy, rules and prohibitions from which the English word "taboo" derives.   "If you say the word Tapu to a Polynesian, they will immediately tell you why we have to do Tapu. That's precisely because they know and understand what it signifies," said Edmunds.   It means that the island's lockdown has been diligently respected, leading to the virus being prevented from spreading far and wide.   "We've applied the Tapu concept for all Rapa Nui and the acceptance has been incredible," said Edmunds.   "The virus is contained in two families in the same area, so we know where they are, who they are, and they've been respecting the (isolation) protocols since the beginning," Edmunds told AFP.

- Tourism impact -
But now, there are greater worries about the pandemic's impact on tourism.   On average, 100,000 people visit the volcanic Polynesian island each year, mostly attracted by the mysterious moais.   The local government was quick to react to the spreading pandemic in Latin America, closing the island's borders on March 11 -- a week before Chile's government in Santiago did likewise -- with the apparition of its first positive case.   Throughout Chile, there have now been more than 3,000 cases with 16 deaths.   A week ago, Easter Island was put under total lockdown with a nighttime curfew from 2:00 pm to 5:00 am. On Tuesday, these were extended for a further two weeks.

- Plan B planting -
With streets, beaches and parks deserted, the indigenous inhabitants have turned to the knowledge passed down through generations to deal with the crisis.   Some indigenous Rapa Nui inhabitants have already adapted to their new circumstances and started to cultivate their land, like their ancestors did, said Sabrina Tuki, who has worked in tourism for 20 years.   "Our family and many families are already applying a Plan B and we've already started planting," said Tuki, whose regular work has completely ground to a halt.

Everyone is worried about the coming months. Edmunds says the island's inhabitants can last for a month with the borders closed.   But at the end of April, 3,000 people "will be seen begging in the streets for food from some local or national authority, because they won't be able to eat," said Edmunds.   It won't be the Rapa Nui, though, according to Edmunds, because the community has begun to rally together behind its concept of Tapu.   But the island's other inhabitants, who make up around half the population and mostly work in the service industry, will be in trouble.

- Taken by surprise -
The mayor doesn't expect the recovery to come until August, when tourists would return to the islands.   When it does restart, he's expecting a reduced capacity compared to the two flights a week the island was welcoming until three weeks ago.   Only one airline, Latam, operated the five-hour flights from the continent, but like many airlines its business has been hard hit by the virus.   "We're all affected; the whole chain, from the biggest agency to the craftsman," said Samuel Atan, a hiking guide who says the crisis caught everyone unawares.

The pandemic has highlighted the fragility of such a remote location. Without state subsidies, many could not survive, Edmunds says.   The challenge for the future will be to improve infrastructure and "re-enchant people to come back," said Tuki.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 04:05:11 +0200 (METDST)

New York, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - New York mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday urged all of the city's residents to cover their faces when outside and near others to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.   "Let's be clear. This is a face covering. It could be a scarf. It could be something you create yourself at home. It could be a bandana," de Blasio told reporters.   "It doesn't need to be a professional surgical mask. In fact, we don't want you to use the kind of masks that our first responders need, that our health care workers need. Don't use those," he added.   New York is the epicenter of America's deadly COVID-19 outbreak.   The city has recorded almost 50,000 confirmed cases, including 1,562 deaths, according to the mayor's office.   As of Thursday evening, the United States had a total of more than 243,000 declared cases and over 5,900 fatalities, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

President Donald Trump told reporters at his daily White House briefing on the coronavirus that he was not considering making it mandatory for all Americans to cover their faces.   "For example on the masks, if people wanted to wear them they can. If people wanted to use scarves, which many people have them, they can.   "In many cases, scarves are better. It's thicker. Depending on the material, it's thicker," he said.   Vice President Mike Pence added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would release official guidelines on masks in the coming days.   But Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator at the White House, said it is important people do not think masks replace social distancing or hand-washing.     "We don't want people to get an artificial sense of protection," she said. "They're an additive."

California Governor Gavin Newsom made similar recommendations as de Blasio on Thursday, but stressed that masks were "not a substitute" for social distancing.   "Individuals (who) want to have face coverings... that is a good thing and a preferable thing, in addition to the physical distancing and the stay-at-home order," he said.   More than three-quarters of Americans are currently living under various forms of lockdown, including New Yorkers who have been told not to leave their residences unless absolutely necessary.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 02:16:41 +0200 (METDST)

Lima, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra announced on Thursday a new measure restricting public movement by gender, as the country tries to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.   Men will only be allowed to leave their homes on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, while women are authorized to step outdoors on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.   No one is allowed out on Sundays.   "We have 10 days left, let's make this extra effort to control this disease," said Vizcarra.   He said the restrictions would apply until April 12, the original end date to a lockdown he imposed on March 16.   Panama announced a similar measure on Monday that went into effect two days later and will last for 15 days.

By Thursday, Peru had recorded just over 1,400 coronavirus cases and 55 deaths.   Vizcarra said the new measure aims to reduce by half the number of people circulating in public at any one time.   "The (existing) control measures have given good results, but not what was hoped for," said Vizcarra.   These restrictions will not apply to people employed in essential services, such as grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and hospitals.   Vizcarra added that security forces tasked with patrolling the streets have been told to be respectful toward the gender identities of homosexual and transgender people.   "The armed forces and police have been instructed not to have homophobic attitudes," said the president.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 00:55:21 +0200 (METDST)
By Samir TOUNSI

Kinshasa, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Lack of resources, a muddle over confinement and incipient panic are hobbling the response to coronavirus in DR Congo, fuelling fears especially for Kinshasa, one of Africa's largest and most chaotic cities.

Almost all of the infections in the vast central African nation have occurred in the capital, along with a handful in the east -- a deeply-troubled region hit by Ebola and militia attacks.   "The coming week will be the most difficult for Kinshasa. The numbers will quickly double or triple," Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who is leading DRC's fight against the pandemic, warned in an interview with Jeune Afrique magazine.   According to official figures released late Wednesday, there have been 123 confirmed cases, 11 of them deaths, in a nation of some 80 million people.

Kinshasa, which has been isolated from the rest of the country, has 118 cases but this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg giving the paucity of testing.   "On average, 50 tests are carried out each day at the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB)," said a health official, speaking on condition of anonymity.   Five cases have been recorded in six days in the Democratic Republic of Congo's volatile east, destabilised by 25 years of rebel and militant attacks.   Two of them emerged in Goma, the capital of the eastern North Kivu province, which is officially due to declare an end to the Ebola outbreak on April 12 if no more cases of haemorrhagic fever emerge.

- Fears of looting -
Kinshasa, home to at least 10 million people, was meant to go into lockdown on Saturday for four days under an announcement made unilaterally by the region's governor.   But officials delayed the measure after the announcement triggered fears of a rise in the prices of basic goods and the risk of unrest.   The national intelligence agency "warned the presidency of the threat of looting," an informed source said.   The city witnessed pillaging, led by security forces, in 1991 and 1993.

A day after the lockdown U-turn, President Felix Tshisekedi held an emergency meeting but there have been no announcements since.   "They want to decide on something that works. They can't afford to make mistakes," an observer said.   Later on Thursday, governor Gentiny Ngobila announced that Kinshasa's government district, which is also home to a number of embassies and banks, will be "put in quarantine" for two weeks starting from Monday.   Two globally-renowned names have been enlisted in the campaign against coronavirus: Dr. Muyembe, who helped discover the Ebola virus in 1976, is national coordinator, while the 2018 Nobel Peace laureate, gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, is overseeing the response in the east.

- 'General panic' -
Despite these reassuring appointments, preparations to deal with large numbers of coronavirus cases in Kinshasa are a mess, according to experts.   "The medical facilities are unequipped to take in sick people, apart from a hospital run by the Chinese," a health expert said.   There are only 65 ventilators in all of Kinshasa's hospitals, a researcher said. The INRB has no vehicles or fuel and foreign NGOs are pitching in to help, other sources said.   The problems have been experienced first-hand by some of Tshisekedi's entourage.    The president's special adviser, Vidiye Tshimanga, tested positive on March 23, after spending two days at home during which medical teams failed to arrive.

Tshimanga, who was diagnosed with a mild forum of coronavirus and is on the mend, told AFP that when he went for a lung scan on Monday, he was met by a hospital official "who refused to let me get out of the ambulance."
   One of his friends and a close aide of the president has meanwhile died, he told AFP.   "The medical teams were ill-informed and fearful of COVID-19 and hardly took care of him," Tshimanga said of his deceased colleague.   "I have heard of other cases like this," he said.  "A kind of general panic has set in. COVID-19 patients are being left to one side without receiving care. There is a lack of information... something that we (the government) are going to have to tackle as soon as possible."
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 22:32:53 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Troops and police in Ecuador have collected at least 150 bodies from streets and homes in the country's most populous city Guayaquil amid warnings that as many as 3,500 people could die of the coronavirus in the city and surrounding province in the coming months.   A joint military and police task force sent out to gather corpses in the horror-struck port city had  collected 150 in just three days, government spokesman Jorge Wated said late Wednesday.

Residents had published videos on social media showing abandoned bodies in the streets in the Latin American city worst hit by the pandemic.   Some left desperate messages for authorities to take away the corpses of people who had died in their homes.   Authorities have not confirmed how many of the dead were victims of the coronavirus.

Rosa Romero, 51, lost her husband Bolivar Reyes and had to wait a day for his body to be removed from their home.    A week later, amid the chaos of the city's mortuary system, she does not know where it is.   "In the forensic bureau they told us that they had taken him to the Guasmo Hospital. We went there to find him but he was not registered anywhere," Romero told AFP.   A 15-hour curfew imposed in the city makes further searching difficult.

- Government apology -
The government's spokesman apologized in a message broadcast on state television late Wednesday.   He said mortuary workers had been unable to keep up with the removal of bodies because of the curfew.   "We acknowledge any errors and apologize to those who had to wait days for their loved ones to be taken away," Wated said.    Mortuary workers in masks and protective clothing were seen carrying plastic-wrapped coffins in the city on Wednesday as authorities tried to cope with the backlog of dead.

Work at cemeteries and funeral homes has stalled, with staffers reluctant to handle the dead over contagion fears.   Ecuador is the Latin American country worst hit by the virus after Brazil, with more than 3,160 infections and 120 deaths by Thursday morning.

Guayaquil has Latin America's highest mortality rate from COVID-19 with 1.35 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants -- higher than the 0.92 per 100,000 registered in Brazil's epicenter Sao Paulo -- according to Esteban Ortiz from Ecuador's University of the Americas.    Guayaquil's surrounding province of Guayas has 70 percent of the country's COVID-19 infections.   Ecuador's first reported case of COVID-19 was a 71-year-old Ecuadoran woman who arrived in Guayaquil from Spain on February 14.

- 'Difficult days ahead' -
Wated said the government is preparing for even more difficult days ahead.   "The medical experts unfortunately estimate that deaths from COVID in these months will reach between 2,500 and 3,500 -- in the province of Guayas alone, and we are preparing for that," he said.   Autopsies have been restricted and the government, which has banned usually crowded funeral services, initially insisted that COVID-19 victims be cremated but was forced to relent after a public backlash.   "We are working so that each person can be buried with dignity in one-person spaces," Wated said, referring to a government-run cemetery being made available with capacity for around 2,000 bodies.

Last month, the city's mayor Cynthia Viteri sent municipal vehicles to block an Iberia plane sent to repatriate stranded foreigners from landing at the city's international airport.    But Viteri was unapologetic as the number of cases spiraled in her city.   "I take responsibility for protecting my city," she said.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 20:58:06 +0200 (METDST)

Blantyre, Malawi, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Malawi on Thursday announced its first three coronavirus infections, one of the last African countries to report the potentially deadly disease.   The southern African country was one of the few without any confirmed cases along with the Comoros, Lesotho, Sao Tome and Principe and South Sudan.      President Peter Mutharika said the infections were in the capital Lilongwe.

The first was detected in an elderly woman who had recently travelled to India to visit her relatives.   "Upon arrival in Malawi, she placed herself in self-quarantine for 14 days but later became symptomatic within the quarantine period," said Mutharika in an address to the nation.   Two of her contacts also tested positive.   Mutharika said the government would provide medical care for the three patients and track down their immediate contacts.   To date coronavirus has infected more than 6,720 people across Africa and killed at least 273.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 17:06:55 +0200 (METDST)

Port Louis, Mauritius, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Residents of the Indian Ocean island nation Mauritius rushed to supermarkets on Thursday after they had been shut for 10 days under a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.   Mauritius, usually a paradise holiday destination known for pristine beaches and coral reefs, has the most cases in eastern Africa with 169 infected and seven deaths -- including a 20-year-old woman with no prior health issues who died on Thursday.   The country was one of the first in Africa to impose a lockdown on March 20 -- when cases still stood at seven -- going so far as to shut supermarkets, bakeries and other shops often kept open in other nations.

Aware that people's stocks were starting to run low, the government decided to re-open under strict rules which divide people into three alphabetical groups to decide on which days they are allowed to shop.   Prakash Beeharry, a primary school teacher, told AFP he was lucky his surname starts with a 'B'.   "My neighbour, Mr Jayen Veerasamy, has to wait two more days before he can access the supermarket," he said.   Like many other mask-wearing shoppers, Beeharry stood in line from 6am to 10am before he was allowed in the supermarket.   "We only had 30 minutes to get all the groceries. Quite a challenge. I'm 45 years old and I've never experienced this... I hope things don't get worse."

Snaking long lines spread out from different supermarkets on the island, where shoppers kept a safe distance from each other and had their temperatures taken as they entered the stores.   "I feel relieved now that I have some supplies," said retired citizen Joseph who was one of the first at the Intermart in central Curepipe.   Other rules put in place allow only one member of a family in the store at a time, and masks are obligatory. The purchase of basics such as rice, flour, milk or oil are subject to restrictions.   Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth had initially shut the supermarkets because the situation was "extremely serious" and he saw the move as "the only way to stop the spread of the virus".

The decision was widely criticised, as while the middle and upper classes were able to prepare and stock food, the poor were not -- and many had yet to receive their salaries.   Tourism Minister Joe Lesjongard explained Tuesday that the government was "aware the population is starting to lack supplies".   "We should never have shut the supermarkets," said former prime minister and prominent opposition leader Paul Berenger.   In a bid to assist the poorest members of society, the government has distributed basic necessities to some 30,000 people.

A solidarity fund has also been created by government officials, with all lawmakers donating ten percent of their annual salaries.   Hotels on the island are now mostly empty, aside from a handful used as quarantine centres, while the renowned smiles of tourism staff have been replaced by the exhausted, defeated expressions of health workers.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 15:40:59 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Thailand will introduce a six-hour night curfew in a bid to control the spread of coronavirus, authorities said Thursday, warning anyone who breached the order faced a two-year jail term.   The curfew from 10 pm to 4 am (1500 to 2100 GMT) will begin on Friday and bars everyone in the country from leaving their homes.    Exemptions will be made for essential staff, including medical workers, food and fuel transport staff, and postal services.    The number of infections in Thailand has soared past 1,800 -- up more than 80 percent from a week ago -- and the death toll has nearly quadrupled to 15 as of Thursday.

The government has come under criticism for not acting soon enough to curb the spread of the virus -- introducing incremental measures despite being the first country outside China to confirm a case, which happened in January.   In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha urged citizens not to panic.   "You can buy things in the daytime," he said.   Penalties for hoarding essential supplies such as face masks carry penalties of up to seven years in prison and a 140,000 baht ($4,200) fine, he said.

The stepped-up measures also include an entry ban on all arrivals -- including Thais -- for two weeks.   Thais who insist on returning will be placed under state quarantine, though Prayut implored them to defer travel plans.    On Thursday, Bangkok's popular markets were shuttered, while parks that were ordered to close were empty of joggers.   Thailand's economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus, especially those employed in the informal sector.   The Bank of Thailand expects the economy to shrink by 5.3 percent this year -- a 22-year low -- and nearly 22 million people have registered for cash handouts.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 13:02:41 +0200 (METDST)

Seoul, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - North Korea remains totally free of the coronavirus, a senior health official in Pyongyang has insisted, despite mounting scepticism overseas as confirmed global infections near one million.   The already isolated, nuclear-armed North quickly shut down its borders after the virus was first detected in neighbouring China in January, and imposed strict containment measures.

Pak Myong Su, director of the anti-epidemic department of the North's Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Headquarters, insisted that the efforts had been completely successful.   "Not one single person has been infected with the novel coronavirus in our country so far," Pak told AFP.   "We have carried out preemptive and scientific measures such as inspections and quarantine for all personnel entering our country and thoroughly disinfecting all goods, as well as closing borders and blocking sea and air lanes."

Nearly every other country has reported coronavirus cases, with the World Health Organization saying on Wednesday that there were nearly one million confirmed infections globally.   Aside from China, South Korea endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the virus, which has claimed more than 45,000 lives around the world.   Experts have said the North is particularly vulnerable to the virus because of its weak medical system, and defectors have accused Pyongyang of covering up an outbreak.

The top US military commander in South Korea, General Robert Abrams, said Thursday that Pyongyang's assertion it had no cases was "untrue".   "I can tell you that is an impossible claim based on all of the intel that we have seen," Abrams told VOA News.   The North's military was "locked down" for 30 days in February and early March over the epidemic, he said.   "They took draconian measures at their border crossings and inside their formations to do exactly what everybody else is doing, which is to stop the spread," he added.

US President Donald Trump said previously North Korea "is going through something" and offered "cooperation in the anti-epidemic work", in a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.   And Choi Jung-hun, a former North Korean doctor who fled to the South in 2012, told AFP: "I heard there are many deaths in North Korea but the authorities are not saying that it's caused by the coronavirus."

-- 'Strict control' --
As part of its anti-virus efforts Pyongyang put thousands of its own people and hundreds of foreigners -- including diplomats -- into isolation and mounted disinfection drives, with state media constantly exhorting citizens to obey health directives.   Published images have shown universal face mask use, with the exception of leader Kim, who has never been seen wearing one, even though for several weeks the officers alongside him when he supervised firing exercises donned black coverings.

More recently his aides have also been seen without face masks, although defector Choi said that did not signal the North's containment efforts had been widely successful.   Pyongyang -- which is subject to multiple international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes -- has sought virus-related aid.   In February, Russia's foreign ministry said it provided Pyongyang with 1,500 coronavirus diagnostic test kits at its request "due to the persisting risk of the new COVID-19".

The United Nations has granted sanctions exemptions to relief groups including Doctors without Borders and UNICEF on items such as diagnostic kits, face masks, protective equipment and disinfectants.   Both Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF -- whose shipments were requested by North Korean authorities -- said that their supplies had arrived overland from China.   "DPRK has an overall lack of medical supplies and the latest diagnostic equipment," a Doctors Without Borders spokesperson told AFP, using the initials of the country's official name.   The World Health Organisation plans to spend $900,000 to support Pyongyang's coronavirus response activities, according to data posted on the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs website.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 12:24:14 +0200 (METDST)

Dubai, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Emirates Airline said Thursday it is to resume a limited number of outbound passenger flights from April 6, less than two weeks after its coronavirus-enforced stoppage.   "Emirates has received approval from UAE authorities to restart flying a limited number of passenger flights," its chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, said on Twitter.   "From April 6, these flights will initially carry travellers outbound from UAE," he said, adding that details would be announced soon.      Dubai-owned carrier Emirates, the largest in the Middle East with 271 wide-body aircraft, grounded passenger operations last week as the UAE halted all passenger flights to fight the spread of coronavirus.

The UAE, which groups seven emirates including Dubai, has declared 814 coronavirus cases along with eight deaths.   It has imposed a sweeping crackdown, including the flight ban and closure of borders.   Sheikh Ahmed said Emirates, which owns the world's largest fleet of Airbus A-380 superjumbos with 113 in its ranks, was looking to gradually resume passenger services.   "Over the time, Emirates looks forward to the gradual resumption of passenger services in line with lifting of travel and operational restrictions, including assurance of health measures to safeguard our people and customers," he said.

When Emirates suspended flights, it cut between 25 percent and 50 percent of the basic salary of its 100,000-strong staff for three months, saying it wanted to avert layoffs.   Dubai's crown prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum said Tuesday that Dubai will support the airline by injecting new capital.   Tourism, aviation, hotels and entertainment are key contributors to Dubai's mostly non-oil economy.