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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: Sat, 2 May 2020 17:14:39 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, May 2, 2020 (AFP) - A 6.0 magnitude quake struck off the Greek island of Crete on Saturday but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.   The Athens Geodynamic Institute said the epicentre was about 55 kilometres (35 miles) south of the city of Ierapetra. It hit at 1251 GMT (15:51 pm).   "No victims or serious damage has been reported so far," a local police officer told AFP by telephone.

Tremors were felt across the island and landslides were reported on some roads in Lasithi, where Ierapetra is located, the fire service said.    "Luckily the quake happened at a depth of 19 kilometres in the sea and there has not been any serious damage so far," said Giorgos Aspadrakis, the head of the fire brigade in Lasithi.   "The quake went on for a long time," said Georgia Santamouri, 29, who lives at Heraklion -- almost 100 km from Ierapetra.   "I was in bed. I was really scared in the beginning and I couldn't move initially but then I ran out," she said.

Greece is prone to earthquakes, with many occurring offshore.   The last deadly quake occurred on the island of Kos in the Aegean Sea in July 2017. The 6.7-magnitude quake killed two people.   The deadliest temblor in recent years struck the Athens region in 1999, killing 143 people.
Date: Thu, 23 Apr 2020 12:20:54 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, April 23, 2020 (AFP) - Greece is extending coronavirus lockdown measures by a week to May 4, the government said Thursday.   The country has managed to keep fatalities at a low level after registering its first virus death on March 12, despite a decade of cuts imposed on its public health system during the post-2010 debt crisis.

Supermarkets, banks and food delivery restaurants are among the few businesses still operating, and Greeks must inform authorities when leaving their homes for necessities, or risk fines.   "Restrictive measures that apply until April 27 are extended by a week to May 4," government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week will be announcing steps to remove some of the nationwide lockdown measures imposed on March 22, Petsas added.   The relaxation of the restrictions is set to begin with a partial reopening of courts and land registers on April 27.   The education ministry has also announced plans for final-year school pupils to hold university entry exams in June.   Greece has so far officially announced 121 deaths, with 55 people still in intensive care.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 12:55:32 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Hundreds of Greek healthcare workers demonstrated on Tuesday to protest at working conditions and lack of manpower and equipment in public hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.   The demonstrations were staged to coincide with World Health Day, according to the federation of hospital personnel.   "You only saw us when we covered our faces," proclaimed a poster printed by hospital trade unions, bearing a picture of doctors wearing anti-coronavirus masks.    Demonstrators at the large Evangelismos hospital in central Athens held up signs demanding job hiring, virus testing and hospital equipment.

Police tried to enter the hospital courtyard where the rally was taking place before being forced back by demonstrators, an AFP photographer said.   A similar protest was held at the main hospital in Larissa in central Greece, according to images from public television ERT.    Despina Tossonidou, president of the doctors' union at Voula hospital in southern Athens, said that in addition to the hiring of medical staff, intensive care units in private clinics should be requisitioned "to overcome the shortcomings of the public sector" during the virus crisis.   Health care in Greece was drastically affected by the country's 2010-2018 financial crisis and tough austerity required by creditors in exchange for bailouts.

As part of its measures to deal with the pandemic, the government has offered clinics 30 million euros ($32.6 million) and announced the hiring on short-term contracts of 2,000 doctors and 2,000 nursing staff.    "These measures are just a drop in the ocean," said Tossonidou, a radiologist.    "The hospital system needs 30,000 additional permanent doctors," she said, also citing the lack of protective equipment and COVID-19 testing in hospitals.    "The majority of tests are currently carried out in private hospitals at costs ranging from 150 to 300 euros ($163-326)," said Tossonidou.    Greece, a country of around 10.7 million people, has suffered relatively less than other European nations in the pandemic, recording 81 deaths out of 1,755 cases.
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.
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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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Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

St. Vincent and the Grenadines US Consular Information Sheet
April 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is an English-speaking developing Caribbean island nation. Tourism facilities are widely available. Read the De
artment of State Background Notes on St. Vincent and the Grenadines for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
For information concerning entry requirements, travelers can contact the Embassy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 3216 New Mexico Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20016, telephone (202) 364-6730, or the consulate in New York.

All Americans traveling by air outside the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.
This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009.
Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other WHTI compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S.
Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.

Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted.
It is expected that the cards will be available and mailed to applicants in spring 2008.
The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the Passport Card is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.
We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport 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.

U.S. citizens should take special care to secure these documents while traveling, as it can be time-consuming and difficult to acquire new proof of citizenship to facilitate return travel should the original documents be lost or stolen.

U.S. citizens traveling to St. Vincent and the Grenadines must also present an onward or return ticket.
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 at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. 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 pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Petty street crime occurs in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. From time to time, property has been stolen from yachts anchored in the Grenadines. Valuables left unattended on beaches are vulnerable to theft. Persons interested in nature walks or hikes in the northern areas of St. Vincent should arrange in advance with a local tour operator for a guide; these areas are isolated, and police presence is limited.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and can explain how funds can be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are limited.
The main hospital is Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (Telephone (784) 456-1185). There is a hospital in the capital, Kingstown, but serious medical problems may require evacuation to another island or the United States. There is no hyperbaric chamber; divers requiring treatment for decompression illness must be evacuated from the island. The closest hyperbaric chamber is located in Barbados. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and the hospital often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

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 at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
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 St. Vincent and the Grenadines is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Vehicles travel on the left side of the road. Roads are narrow, and generally poorly paved, with steep inclines throughout the islands. Taxis and buses are relatively safe, but buses are often overcrowded. Vans are generally overcrowded and frequently travel at high rates of speed. Night driving is discouraged in mountainous areas because the roads are not well marked; there are few, if any, guardrails, and roads are steep and winding.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning St. Vincent and the Grenadines driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Tourist Organization in New York at http://www.svgtourism.com/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
All Caribbean countries can be affected by hurricanes. The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Information on hurricane preparedness abroad is provided in Hurricane Season: Know Before You Go.
There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados is responsible for consular issues on the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, including American Citizens Services. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their citizenship documents with them at all times so that if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available.
Please see the State Department’s Customs Information.

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 St. Vincent and the Grenadines laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in St. Vincent and the Grenadines 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 St. Vincent and the Grenadines 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 St. Vincent and the Grenadines. 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 in Bridgetown is located in the Wildey Business Park in suburban Wildey, south and east of downtown Bridgetown.
The main number is (246) 431-0225; after hours, the Embassy duty officer can be reached by calling (246) 436-4950.
The web site for Embassy Bridgetown is http://barbados.usembassy.gov/. Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, except Barbados and U.S. holidays.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for St. Vincent and the Grenadines dated April 2, 2007, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 8 Mar 2016 21:55:36 +0100

Kingstown, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, March 8, 2016 (AFP) - Police on the Caribbean island of St Vincent say they are investigating the murder of a German tourist killed when masked gunmen attacked his yacht last week.   No arrests have been made over the assault, which took place in Wallilabou Bay on the resort island's northwest coast, a popular tourist destination where scenes from the hit Hollywood movie franchise "Pirates of the Caribbean" were filmed.   Martin Griff, 49, died from gunshot wounds to his neck, police say.    The two attackers also wounded the boat's captain, Reinhold Zeller, a 63-year old German who was shot in the arm. He was treated in the hospital in the capital Kingstown.   The assailants stole money and credit cards.

Griff was on vacation with his wife and two children, German media reported.   Writing in a letter to St Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on Tuesday, the German Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Lutz Gorgens -- whose jurisdiction extends to St Vincent and other Caribbean islands -- described the incident as "tragic and gruesome," saying it was "difficult to bear for Germans as well as Vincentians."   Gorgens said he hoped the police "bring to justice those responsible for this cruel crime."   Gonsalves on Friday described the killing as a "terrible stain" on the Caribbean island -- part of the nation St Vincent and the Grenadines, located north of Venezuela -- that could cost it "millions of dollars because we sell peace, security, tranquillity."
Date: Wed 7 May 2014
Source: I-Witness News [edited]

On mainland St Vincent, 2 cases of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus [infection] have been confirmed, as the total number of confirmed cases in the country has climbed to 39.

The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment said on Wed 7 May 2014 that there are 37 confirmed cases of the virus on the northern Grenadine island of Bequia, where an outbreak began in late April [2014].

The illness was first detected in the Caribbean in December 2013, in St Martin, and Antigua and St Vincent and the Grenadines have become the latest countries to declare an outbreak.

Luis de Shong, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment said on Wednesday that his ministry continues to implement vector control activities against the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito, which causes [transmits] the chikungunya virus.

He said private sector and other key stakeholders such as the National Emergency management Organisation, the Roads, Bridges and General Services Authority, the Ministry of Tourism and the Central Waster and Sewerage Authority are all engaged in the multi-sectorial approach towards fighting this disease.

"The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment will continue active surveillance and island-wide intense vector control campaign. Additionally, several public outreach programmes have been held and more are scheduled throughout St Vincent and the Grenadines to sensitise Vincentians about the virus and the Ministry urges the participation of all individuals in fighting the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito and the chikungunya virus," de Shong said.

The ministry said it was reiterating the importance of avoiding mosquito bites by implementing vector control measures at the individual and community levels, such as keeping water drums and tanks covered, getting rid of unused tires, keeping the general surroundings clean, the use of appropriate clothing to avoid mosquito bites, and the use of insect repellents.
----------------------------------
Communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
====================
[Maps of St Vincent and the Grenadines can be accessed at
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/36>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Fri 1 Nov 2008
Source: The Daily Herald [edited]

As authorities scramble to stem the dengue outbreak in St Maarten, the number of confirmed cases continues to climb.  The Dengue Action Response Team (DART) announced on Thursday [23 Oct 2008] that 90 laboratory-confirmed cases of dengue had been recorded 1-25 Oct [2008]. The results of 48 lab tests are pending, and DART said the figure was expected to surpass 100 this month [November 2008].

Meanwhile, St Maarten Laboratory Services (SLS) has introduced a new laboratory system for dengue testing. The new system will enable Dutch-side health officials to obtain immediate results of laboratory tests carried out by SLS rather than having to send hem to Curasao or the lab on the French side, as was being done in the past.Sector Health Care Affairs (SHCA) Preventive Health Department head Dr Rachel Eersel met with family physicians on Tuesday evening [21 Oct 2008] to inform them about the latest strategies being implemented to fight dengue fever and to inform them about the new laboratory form. "The DART team is requesting every household to take immediate measures as the outbreak continues to (worsen). The only way to stop the dengue outbreak from growing is by every household taking mosquito-breeding preventive action. By taking measures, you are protecting your family from getting dengue fever," the Government Information Service said.

In the meantime, the Hygiene and Veterinary Department is continuing with its fogging campaign in the various districts, weather conditions permitting. The house-to-house/yard inspections are part of the public health response to dengue on the island and are part of an intensified community campaign to eradicate the mosquito that transmits dengue fever.
-------------------
[This report is from the Dutch side of St. Maarten/St. Martin Island. The Daily Herald <http://www.thedailyherald.com/news/daily/l142/dengue142.html> reported that authorities are continuing their efforts to stem the spread of dengue fever in St Maarten with intensified house-to-house inspection around the Island Territory. Inspections will focus on potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and inspectors are hoping to inspect some 15 000 households by the end of the campaign.

A number of civil servants who have been reassigned to carry out the inspections will start the inspections, and the final logistics are currently being put into place, the Government Information Service (GIS) said in a press release on Wednesday [22 Oct 2008].  Maps showing the location of St Maarten/St Martin in the Caribbean can be accessed at <http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/namerica/caribb/stmartin.htm>, and the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map can be found at <http://healthmap.org/promed?g=3578421&amp;v=18.067,-63.067,10>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Sat 4 Oct 2008 Source: The Daily Herald [edited] Health experts have concluded that collated information produced by local authorities and Institute Veille de Sanitaire (INVS) confirms St Martin is at the beginning of a fresh outbreak of dengue, that effectively began 10 days ago [23 Sep 2008] and urges preventative treatments be "rigorously" implemented. In a release issued by the Prefecture Thursday [2 Oct 2008], La Cellule Inter-Regionale d'Epidemiologie (CIRE) of Antilles-Guyana met with the Committee of Experts for Infectious Diseases in the Northern Islands on Wednesday [1 Oct 2008] to analyse the current situation. The release contained no statistics or figures, but went on to say "given the favourable climatic conditions for development of mosquitoes, preventative measures already known by the population must be implemented without delay and in a rigorous manner. It is at this early stage that preventative measures can be most effective." In accordance with this information, an intensive fogging campaign begins as of today [4 Oct 2008], Friday. It is advised to leave house doors and windows open when the truck passes for the chemical to be most effective. The dengue management committee is due to meet again on 16 Oct [2008] to assess the local situation. The Prefecture of St. Martin and St. Barths once again reminds the population of the action to be taken to prevent the spread of dengue [virus] which is transmitted by the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito. Anti-mosquito sprays and creams should be used liberally. Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants in the evenings. Make sure mosquito screens are installed on windows and doors. Young children, babies, and elderly persons should sleep under mosquito netting. Throw out any stagnant water collecting in flower vases, or other receptacles, around the house or in the yard and make sure rain gutters are unblocked after heavy rainfall. Stagnant pools of water are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Cisterns must be covered with mosquito netting. It is also encouraged to breed Guppy fish, which feed on mosquito larvae. Check the septic tank is functioning properly. Currently there is no specific treatment or vaccine for dengue. ================= [Maps showing the location of the French overseas collectivity of Saint Martin in the Caribbean can be accessed at and the Health Map/ProMED interactive map at . - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Tue, 7 Sep 2004 18:10:31 +0200 (METDST) PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad Sept 7 (AFP) - Hurricane Ivan Tuesday threatened several Caribbean islands, where residents were urged to rush preparations to safeguard their lives and properties. On Tuesday morning the center of the powerful hurricane, the second in just days, was located 75 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Trinidad's sister island of Tobago. The two islands, as well as St Vincent, the Grenadines and Grenada were placed under a hurricane warning. The Netherlands Antilles Tuesday morning also put the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao under a hurricane watch, which means the storm could hit them within 36 hours. "Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. It warned that with sustained winds of 185 kilometers (110 miles) per hour and higher gusts, Ivan was "a dangerous" hurricane and that it could strengthen further. On Tuesday morning, Bardados already reported wind gusts of 145 kilometers (90 miles) per hour and pounding rain flooded the streets of Port-of-Spain and roads on Tobago. Long-term forecasts, which have a wide margin of error, have the hurricane slamming into Jamaica on Friday and then into Cuba on Sunday. This would bring the storm dangerously close to Florida, which has just been pounded by Frances, the second hurricane to hit the southeastern US state in three weeks.
More ...

Japan

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 1 May 2020 12:01:09 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, May 1, 2020 (AFP) - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday the government would plan for an approximately month-long extension of a state of emergency declared over the coronavirus pandemic.    Abe put in place an initial month-long state of emergency for seven regions on April 7, later expanding it to cover the entire country.   But with the measures due to expire on May 6, Abe said he had instructed his minister for the virus outbreak Yasutoshi Nishimura to plan for an extension.   "After receiving this report from the panel of experts, I asked Minister Nishimura to use extending the current framework of the state of emergency by about one month as the base scenario for swiftly drafting plans that will fit the needs of the regions," Abe said.

An expert panel advising the government is reviewing the situation in different parts of the country, he added.   "We will listen to their opinions and we hope to make a decision on May 4th."   Abe said Japan had so far managed to avoid the sharp increase in infections seen in some other parts of the world, but cautioned that vigilance was still needed.   "The view of experts is that we will continue to need cooperation of the Japanese people for the foreseeable future."

An extension of the state of emergency had been widely expected, despite the comparatively small scale of the outbreak in Japan, with nearly 14,300 infections recorded and 432 deaths so far.   The state of emergency is significantly less restrictive than measures seen in parts of Europe and the United States. It allows governors to urge people stay at home and call on businesses to stay shut.   But officials cannot compel citizens to comply, and there are no punishments for those who fail to do so.   Despite the relatively small scale of Japan's outbreak, there have been persistent fears about a spike in infections that could quickly overwhelm the country's healthcare system.

Doctors' associations have warned that hospitals are already stretched thin, with officials in Osaka even calling for donations of raincoats to serve as protective equipment for health workers stuck using trash bags.   Measures have been implemented to try to ease the pressure, including sending coronavirus patients with mild symptoms to hotels for quarantine, rather than keeping them in overcrowded hospitals.   The government has also said it is increasing testing capacity, but continues to face criticism for the relatively low numbers of tests being carried out, in part because of stringent criteria.
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2020 07:46:52 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 20, 2020 (AFP) - Japanese medics are warning more must be done to prevent the coronavirus from overwhelming the country's healthcare system as confirmed cases passed 10,000, despite a nationwide state of emergency.   Experts have been alarmed by a recent spike in COVID-19 infections, with hundreds detected daily.

Japan's outbreak remains less severe than in hard-hit European countries, but its caseload is one of Asia's highest after China and India, and is roughly on par with South Korea.   There have been 171 deaths recorded so far in Japan and 10,751 cases, with the country under a month-long state of emergency, initially covering seven regions but now in place nationwide.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has urged residents to reduce contact with other people by 70 to 80 percent, and the number of people on Tokyo's normally packed transport system has dropped significantly.   But the measures do not prevent people from going out, and many shops and even restaurants remain open, even as medical associations warn the country's healthcare system is struggling to cope.   "The system is on the verge of collapse in many places in Japan," said Kentaro Iwata, an infectious diseases specialist from Kobe University who has repeatedly criticised the government's response to the crisis.

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Iwata said Japan's strategy of limited testing and intensive contact-tracing worked well in the initial phase of the local outbreak, when numbers were small.   But he charged that Japan failed to adapt as the outbreak grew.   "We needed to prepare for once the situation changes, once the cluster-chasing became not effective and we needed to change strategy immediately," he said.   "But traditionally speaking, and historically speaking, Japan is not very good at changing strategy," he added.   "We are very poor at even thinking of plan B because thinking of plan B is a sign of admitting failure of plan A."

- Not a 'worst-case scenario' -
Japan's government argues it has adjusted its strategy, boosting testing capacity, changing rules that required all positive cases to remain in hospitals where wards quickly became full, and imposing the state of emergency to reduce the spread.   But medical experts have called the measures insufficient.   "Beds for novel coronavirus patients continue to be almost full," Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association, warned last week.   The association has been increasing beds but with a large number of new cases coming in every day, "beds are being occupied instantly," he said.

The health minister has acknowledged that hospitals have in some cases turned away suspected coronavirus patients in ambulances.   "Japan hasn't built a system in which ordinary hospitals can take infectious disease patients in an emergency, when designated hospitals can't cope," Ozaki said on Friday.   "We are doing our best... but infections are spreading faster than expected," he added.   And hospitals are also struggling with equipment shortages, with the mayor of Osaka calling for donations of unused raincoats for health workers currently forced to use garbage bags for protective equipment.

Both Iwata and Ozaki warned that the state of emergency now in place until at least May 6 was not sufficient.   "While they talk about border controls and decreasing person-to-person contacts, they let stores stay open," Ozaki complained.   Iwata said he was "half-encouraged and half-discouraged" by the infection numbers in Tokyo, which he called "relatively stable."    "My biggest fear was the explosion of diagnoses... like in New York City, which didn't happen," he said.   "These numbers are much better than the worst-case scenario."
Date: Sun, 19 Apr 2020 23:32:13 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 19, 2020 (AFP) - A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck off the east coast of Japan early Monday, according to the US Geological Survey, but no tsunami warning was issued.   The epicentre of the earthquake was 41.7 kilometres (26 miles) beneath the Pacific seabed, less than 50 kilometres off the coast of Miyagi prefecture, the USGS said on its website, rating the risk of casualties and damage as low.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) put the quake at a magnitude of 6.1 and a depth of 50 kilometres. Japan's Kyodo News Agency said no tsunami warning had been issued after the tremor, which hit just after 5.30 am (2030 GMT).    Japan sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.   In 2011, a devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck roughly 130 kilometres east of Miyagi prefecture, unleashing an enormous tsunami, triggering the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown and killing nearly 16,000 people.
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2020 10:43:39 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 16, 2020 (AFP) - Japan's government will convene a key panel of medics Thursday to advise on its state of emergency over the coronavirus, as local media reported the prime minister would expand the measures to cover the entire country.   Shinzo Abe has already declared a month-long state of emergency in seven regions, including Tokyo.   People in these places are being urged to stay inside but the rules stop far short of the tight lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.

Since the emergency came into effect on April 8, several regional governors have called for the measures to be expanded to cover their areas -- warning of a growing number of coronavirus infections and overwhelmed medical facilities.   Some have declared their own local emergencies, even though they carry no legal force.   "Today, an advisory committee will be held. We should listen to the opinions of experts about areas subject to a state of emergency," government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters at a regular afternoon briefing.   "If we limit areas (under the state of emergency), people are increasingly flowing to neighbouring ones. We have to deal with it while discussing what to do during the holidays," he added, referring to the Golden Week period in late April and early May, when much of the country travels.

Japan has so far seen a relatively small outbreak of the virus, despite recording its first case in mid-January, with around 8,500 infections and 136 deaths by Thursday.   But local medical associations and experts have sounded the alarm, and Abe has asked people in areas already under a state of emergency to reduce contact with others by 70 to 80 percent to avoid an explosive growth in infections.   The state of emergency allows governors to ask people to stay indoors and request that businesses close, but there are no enforcement mechanisms and no penalties for those who fail to comply.

In Tokyo, the governor has called on people to work from home, and significant drops have been seen in the number of people commuting each day on the city's notoriously crowded transport system.   But while some central areas have been uncharacteristically deserted, local neighbourhoods have remained relatively bustling, raising concerns about whether the measures will be sufficient.   Japan's two emergency medical associations this week issued a joint statement warning they are "already sensing the collapse of the emergency medical system," with hospitals unable to deal with patients suffering from non-coronavirus ailments.   And in Japan's third-biggest city Osaka, the mayor has appealed for donations of raincoats to serve as personal protection for health workers who he said were being forced to resort to garbage bags.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 11:28:32 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Japan on Tuesday declared a state of emergency over a spike in coronavirus cases, ramping up efforts to contain infections but stopping short of the strict lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.  The government has come under mounting pressure to tackle an outbreak that remains small by global standards but has raised concerns among Japanese medical experts, with warnings that local healthcare systems are already overstretched.   "As I decided that a situation feared to gravely affect people's lives and the economy has occurred... I am declaring a state of emergency," Abe said.   The move allows governors in seven affected regions including Tokyo to ask people to stay indoors and request businesses close.

But many supermarkets and other shops will stay open, transport will continue to run and there are neither enforcement mechanisms nor penalties laid out for those who fail to comply with government requests.   "Although a state of emergency is declared, it won't mean a city lockdown as seen overseas," Abe said.   "We will prevent the spread of infection while maintaining economic and social services such as public transport as much as possible."   Pressure to declare an emergency had increased after Tokyo reported several days of record infections, with 143 new cases logged on Sunday.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has already asked residents of the capital to avoid unnecessary outings and work from home, but had pushed for an emergency declaration to give her requests legal strength.   Seven regions are covered by the month-long declaration: Tokyo, neighbouring Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, the western hub of Osaka and neighbouring Hyogo, and the southwestern region of Fukuoka.   The measure will last through to the end of the Golden Week holiday period, when much of the country travels in a rare break.

- 'Lives at stake' -
"It may cause inconvenience in daily life, but I call for everyone's cooperation because lives are at stake," Koike told reporters earlier.   The measure also allows governors to commandeer property for medical purposes and close public facilities like schools, many of which have already shut down.   The economic impacts of the measure and the broader global pandemic have raised concern of a recession in Japan, and Abe on Monday unveiled plans for a stimulus package worth around $1 trillion, or 20 percent of gross domestic product.

Japan has so far been spared the sort of virus outbreak seen in parts of Europe and the United States, with close to 4,000 confirmed infections and 80 deaths.   But medical experts have repeatedly sounded the alarm in recent weeks, citing the rapid increase of infections in parts of the country.    And on Monday, doctors in Tokyo said the situation in the capital was already in "critical condition".

- Public backing -
In a bid to ease the pressure, rules requiring people infected with the virus to stay in hospital even if their symptoms are mild have been relaxed, with Koike saying hotels would be designated as quarantine facilities for those in non-serious condition.   The government has also pledged to step up testing capacity and the number of beds and ventilators available to treat those in serious condition.

The state of emergency is a relatively relaxed approach to lockdown compared to other parts of the world, a function of Japan's legal system, which restricts the government's ability to limit the movement of citizens.   "Japan is still haunted by the negative legacy of the war and the oppression of its citizens," said Yoshinobu Yamamoto, an emeritus professor of international politics at the University of Tokyo.   But he warned that there could be calls for stronger measures if the outbreak continues to spread.

Japan saw its first case of the virus in mid-January, and came under heavy criticism for its handling of the coronavirus-wracked Diamond Princess, where an on-board quarantine ended with over 700 people contracting the virus and 11 deaths.   In the capital, people expressed support for the state of emergency, with some saying they felt it should have been declared sooner.   "When you see on TV what's going on in New York with the cases doubling within three, four days, it really sends chills down my spine," 76-year-old Mitsuo Oshiyama told AFP.   "I don't understand why the government waited so long."
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 19 May 2020 16:23:23 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 19, 2020 (AFP) - This year's Dublin marathon scheduled for October 25 was cancelled on Tuesday despite Ireland's move to lift coronavirus lockdown measures, indicating potential long-term disruption caused by the outbreak.   Ireland plans to have fully lifted restrictions well before October, in a staggered process that began on Monday.   But organisers indicated the race -- which had 22,500 entrants last year -- would still not go ahead because of safety fears.   "We made the difficult decision in the best interest of the health and well-being of all those involved in making our events such a success from runners, supporters, volunteers, sponsors, to suppliers," said race director Jim Aughney.   "We explored many alternatives for running the events safely but ultimately none were viable."    Ireland's five-stage "roadmap" to reopen the nation is due to be completed in August, when the current ban on mass gatherings of more than 5,000 people is set to expire.   The cancellation suggests coronavirus fallout may last longer than suggested by official plans and could hit similar events.

The London Marathon, which attracts tens of thousands of runners, has been postponed until October 4.    "We need to be aware that we will continue to be in the acute emergency phase of this crisis for some time with further waves an ever present danger," the health department Secretary-General Jim Breslin told a special parliamentary committee on the crisis.   "This is not a one, a two or even a three-day storm, after which we move to a recovery phase. The acute phase of this crisis will definitely be measured in months and most probably in years."   Ireland has suffered 1,547 deaths from COVID-19, according to the department of health.   On Monday the number of daily deaths had fallen from a peak of 77 to just four.   "We have suppressed the virus and limited its impact on public health," said chief medical officer Tony Holohan on Monday.   "We need to sustain this in the weeks and phases ahead."
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 18:54:14 +0200 (METDST)

Paris, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Air France said Monday it hoped to double the number of cities it serves, including over 40 European destinations, by the end of June as nations begin to lift coronavirus travel restrictions.   "Between now and the end of June and subject to travel restrictions being lifted, Air France plans to gradually resume its flights,"  the airline said.   Like other airlines, Air France grounded most of its planes as governments imposed stay-at-home orders and demand for travel evaporated. 

Air France said it was currently operating between three and five percent of its usual schedule and serving 43 destinations for essential passenger traffic as well as cargo.   The airline, which received a 7-billion-euro rescue package from the French government, listed more than 90 destinations it hopes to serve by the end of June.   That would be equivalent to 15 percent of its normal schedule, and use 75 of its fleet of 224 aircraft.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 18:20:03 +0200 (METDST)

Abuja, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Nigeria's government on Monday extended a coronavirus lockdown on the northern region of Kano after it became a hotspot for new infections.    The head of the country's coronavirus taskforce, Boss Mustapha, said the lockdown on the economic hub -- which includes Nigeria's second biggest city -- would be prolonged for two weeks.    The authorities will also start to impose "precision" lockdowns in any other areas that report a "rapidly increasing number of cases, when the need arises", he said.    The outbreak in Kano has become a major cause of concern after medics and residents last month began reporting a spike in deaths.

Regional officials at first put the "unexplained" fatalities down to other ailments, but government investigators later said coronavirus was suspected in most cases.    Neighbouring states to Kano have also begun reporting suspicious surges in death tolls that authorities are scrambling to investigate.    Nigeria has confirmed 5,959 infections and 182 deaths from the novel coronavirus across the country.    Kano is the second hardest hit region with 825 confirmed cases and 36 fatalities.   The region has already been under lockdown for a month but enforcement has been lax and measures have been eased sporadically for people to buy food during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Testing has been a key problem across Nigeria and only 35,345 samples have so far been screened in Africa's most populous nation of 200 million people.    Mustapha insisted there had been a slowdown in the transmission rate of the virus, "elongating the doubling time" from seven to 11 days.    But he announced that measures would remain in place limiting businesses and restricting crowds across the rest of the country despite earlier plans to gradually roll them back.     "Nigeria is not yet ready for full opening of the economy and tough decisions have to be taken for the good of the greater majority," he said.   The government has also imposed a night-time curfew and made mask wearing mandatory in all regions.     Mustapha complained that "non-compliance was rampant" with social distancing measures.     "The fight against COVID-19 is long-term as the virus is not likely to go away very soon," he said.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 17:21:58 +0200 (METDST)

Stockholm, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Sweden, whose softer approach to the new coronavirus pandemic has garnered worldwide attention, recorded its deadliest month in almost three decades in April, according to statistics released on Monday.   Sweden has stopped short of introducing the restrictive lockdowns seen elsewhere in Europe, instead opting for an approach based on the "principle of responsibility".

The Scandinavian country has kept schools open for children under the age of 16, along with cafes, bars, restaurants and businesses, and urged people to respect social distancing guidelines.   A total of 10,458 deaths were recorded in the country of 10.3 million inhabitants in April, Statistics Sweden said.   "We have to go back to December 1993 to find more dead during a single month," Tomas Johansson, population statistician at Statistics Sweden, said in a statement.

In total, 97,008 deaths were recorded in Sweden during the whole of 1993, which in turn was the deadliest year since 1918, when the Spanish flu pandemic ravaged the country.   Johansson told AFP there was no official breakdown explaining the high death toll in December 1993 but said there was a flu epidemic at the time.   According to preliminary data, the number of deaths has been on the decline since the end of April, including in Stockholm -- the epicentre of the Swedish epidemic -- where the highest number of deaths were recorded in early April.

The Swedish approach to the novel coronavisrus has come under criticism both at home and abroad, particularly as the number of deaths has far exceeded those in neighbouring Nordic countries, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures.   On Monday, Sweden reported a total of 30,377 confirmed cased of the new coronavirus and 3,698 deaths.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 16:52:05 +0200 (METDST)

Helsinki, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Finland's national airline will restart routes between Europe and Asia in July once countries begin to lift coronavirus restrictions on travel, the company announced on Monday.   Beijing and Shanghai will be the first long-haul destinations to reopen, alongside Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok and three Japanese routes, Finnair said in a statement.

Flights to Delhi and New York will follow in August.    The move makes Finnair one of the first European carriers to restart intercontinental flights, after the Lufthansa Group announced on Friday it would resume 19 long-haul routes by early June.   "We expect aviation to recover gradually, starting in July," Finnair chief commercial officer Ole Orver said in a statement, adding that the company intends to bring its operations back to one-third of normal capacity.

Finnair cut 90 percent of its flights on April 1 and issued a profit warning as coronavirus restrictions brought international passenger travel almost to a standstill.     Facemasks will be mandatory on all Finnair flights "until at least the end of August," Finnair spokeswoman Paivyt Tallqvist told AFP.     "We have also taken a number of steps to avoid unnecessary movement on board," Tallqvist said, including having passengers disembark in smaller groups, and limiting capacity of shuttle bus transport between aircraft and the terminal to 50 percent.

Flights along the so-called "shorter northern route" between Helsinki and Asia, bypassing the Middle East, have been a key part of the Finnish carrier's growth strategy in recent years, with passenger numbers on its Asian routes doubling between 2010 and 2018.    On Monday, Finnair also announced it would restart 26 European routes in July, including to Brussels, Moscow, Prague and Paris.    Destinations including Rome, Madrid and Warsaw would be added in August, the firm said.     Finnair said it would open further routes on a monthly basis depending on demand and how travel restrictions change over the summer.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 10:28:18 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland launched the first tentative step in its plan to lift coronavirus lockdown on Monday, with staff returning to outdoor workplaces as some shops resumed trade and sports facilities unlocked their doors.   The modest tweaks to the restrictions in place since 28 March start a staggered process set to stretch until August.

"I'm both pleased and nervous," health minister Simon Harris told state broadcaster RTE.    "I'm pleased that we've gotten to this point because of the incredible efforts of the Irish people in suppressing this virus."   "I'm nervous because the virus hasn't gone away, there still isn't a vaccine, there's still people in our country getting very sick, and there's still people dying every day."

Shops such as garden centres, hardware stores and farmers markets were permitted to open their doors whilst outdoor staff such as builders and gardeners returned to workplaces.   Football pitches, tennis courts and golf courses were also allowed to resume business whilst maintaining strict social distancing.

Meanwhile citizens were permitted to meet in small gatherings outside of people from different households.   But Harris urged caution as the republic took its first step in trying "to live successfully and safely alongside the virus".   "Just because somewhere is open doesn't mean we need to go," he said.   There have been 1,543 deaths from COVID-19 in Ireland according to the department for health.

Reported daily deaths peaked at 77 on 20 April, but by Sunday the figure had fallen to just 10.   As with other nations officials remain fearful a second wave of infections could inundate the healthcare system.   But Prime minister Leo Varadkar confirmed on Friday that Ireland would press ahead to the first of its five step plan to reopen the nation.   "This gives us reason to hope, but it is not a cause for celebration.  We have a long way to go yet," Varadkar said in a statement.

The fallout of the lockdown changes will be monitored for three weeks before the government decides whether to move to the next stage in the "roadmap" to reopening.   "Coronavirus is an inferno that is raging around the world", said Varadkar.   "In Ireland it is now a fire in retreat but it's not defeated -- we must extinguish every spark."
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 22:46:20 +0200 (METDST)
By Román ORTEGA, Iván DUARTE y Germán CAMPOS

Puebla, Mexico, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Scores of Mexicans are dying from drinking adulterated liquor, a consequence of the shortage of mainstream alcoholic beverages during the coronavirus pandemic, authorities say.   The first of at least 121 deaths in recent weeks occurred at the end of April in the western state of Jalisco, almost exactly a month after the government declared a health emergency over the spread of COVID-19.   Much of Mexico has run out of beer after factories producing liquor and beer were shut down, along with other non-essential firms.

Beer stocks were practically depleted within a month, and in some areas the prices of what was left doubled, according to industry sources.    Many of the 53 deaths in central Puebla province have been linked to a wake where people drank moonshine containing methanol -- a wood alcohol that in non-lethal doses can cause blindness and liver damage.    Twenty-three people died in the hours following the gathering in the town of Chiconcuautla, according to authorities.   The town's mayor said the popular "refino" drink, made from sugarcane, had been adulterated.

German Hernandez said his father died after being poisoned by drink known locally as "tejon" -- a blend of brandy with tejocote fruit (a type of hawthorn), in the Puebla town of Cacaloxuchitl.   "They sell it in the stores, and you can buy it and take it out. My father began trembling and feeling weak. He told us he felt bad, and we took him to the hospital," Hernandez told AFP.   "This has never happened before."    Deaths have also been recorded in the central state of Morelos and Yucatan and Veracruz in the east.

- Mafia trade -
Gangs specializing in bootleg booze are trying to take advantage of the lack of alternative alcohol sources during the shutdown.    "They usually have very well-structured mafias, and some escape the surveillance of the authorities," Ricardo Cardenas of the Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risks told AFP.   "We presume that, as a result of this shortage and demand being very high, some people are offering or trying to sell methanol instead of ethyl alcohol," said Denis de Santiago, head of Sanitary Risks in Jalisco.

Methanol is used in fuel, solvents and antifreeze.   The country's largest beer producers, Grupo Modelo -- which makes the popular Corona beer -- and Heineken, which makes Sol, halted production in early April.   Alcohol sales have been banned in some states, including Yucatan. In others, alcoholic beverages can only be purchased at certain times.   Some drinks companies have switched production to antibacterial gel that they are donating to the federal government and health workers.

- 'Who would have thought?' -
In Yucatan, where 38 people have died so far, victims unknowingly drank methanol in their usual "pajaretes" -- a common cocktail that includes milk, coffee, vanilla and brand-name sugarcane alcohol.   Humberto Macias, 36, said he saw three of his relatives die within days of each other after drinking a pajarete cocktail, made using a trusted brand of alcohol.   "We had always drunk it, including myself, many people. Who would have thought it was like this?" Macias said.

In the Yucatan peninsula town of Acanceh, seven people have died from alcohol poisoning.   "It's the first time I've heard of a case like this. I don't remember anything similar," the town's mayor Felipe Medina told AFP.   In Veracruz, Morelos and Yucatan, investigators are still trying to determine what drinks the victims consumed.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 19:55:15 +0200 (METDST)
By Gregory WALTON

Doha, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Qatar on Sunday began enforcing the world's toughest penalties of up to three years' in prison for failing to wear masks in public, in a country with one of the highest coronavirus infection rates.   More than 32,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the tiny Gulf country -- 1.2 percent of the 2.75 million population -- although just 15 people have died.   Only the micro-states of San Marino and the Vatican have had higher per-capita infection rates, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.   Violators of Qatar's new rules will face up to hree years in jail and fines of as much as $55,000.

Drivers alone in their vehicles are exempt from the requirement, but police erected checkpoints across the capital Doha on Sunday evening to check compliance by motorists.   Most customers gathered outside money lenders on Banks Street wore masks, while others produced a face covering when asked.   "From today it's very strict," said Majeed, a taxi driver waiting for business in the busy pedestrian area, who wore a black mask.   Heloisa, an expat resident, saw the steep penalties as "a bit of a scare tactic".   Wearing a mask is currently mandatory in around 50 countries, although scientists are divided on their effectiveness.

Authorities in Chad have made it an offence to be unmasked in public, on pain of 15 days in prison. In Morocco, similar rules can see violators jailed for three months and fined up to 1,300 dirhams ($130).   Qatari authorities have warned that gatherings during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan may have increased infections.   Abdullatif al-Khal, co-chair of Qatar's National Pandemic Preparedness Committee, said Thursday that there was "a huge risk in gatherings of families" for Ramadan meals.   "(They) led to a significant increase in the number of infections among Qataris," he said.   Neighbouring Saudi Arabia will enforce a round-the-clock nationwide curfew during the five-day Eid al-Fitr holiday later this month to fight the coronavirus.

- Labourers at risk -
Mosques, along with schools, malls, and restaurants remain closed in Qatar to prevent the disease's spread.   But construction sites remain open as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, although foremen and government inspectors are attempting to enforce social distancing rules.    Officials have said workers at three stadiums have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus. Masks have been compulsory for construction workers since April 26.   A 12-strong team of masked labourers kept their distance from one another as they worked under baking sun on a road project in Doha's blue-collar Msheireb district on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers were quarantined in Doha's gritty Industrial Area after a number of infections were confirmed there in mid-March, but authorities have begun to ease restrictions.   Khal said that most new cases were among migrant workers, although there has been a jump in infections among Qataris. He said the country had not yet reached the peak of its contagion.   Rights groups have warned that Gulf labourers' cramped living conditions, communal food preparation areas and shared bathrooms could undermine social distancing efforts and speed up the spread of the virus.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 13:43:50 +0200 (METDST)

Tehran, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Iran said Friday it had recorded nearly 7,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus, warning of infection clusters in new regions after it partially eased lockdown measures.   Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the COVID-19 illness had claimed a further 51 lives over 24 hours into Sunday.   The ministry raised the overall death toll to 6,988 since Iran announced its first fatalities in the Shiite pilgrimage city of Qom in February.   Jahanpour warned that cases were rising "in the province of Lorestan, and to some extent in Kermanshah, Sistan and Baluchistan".   "Khuzestan province is still in a critical situation," he added.

The southwestern province has become Iran's new coronavirus focal point, with the most critical "red" ranking on the country's colour-coded risk scale.   It is the only region so far where authorities have reimposed business lockdowns after a country-wide relaxation in April.   Iran stopped publishing provincial figures for the coronavirus last month, but the health ministry's latest report said there is a "rising trend or the beginning of a peak" in eight provinces, including Khuzestan.   The country on Friday reported its highest number of new infections in more than a month.   A virus taskforce official said Sunday that the increase was due to a surge in testing, not just of COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms.

Early in the outbreak "our focus was on severe cases that had to be hospitalised, but as we started to manage the disease we looked at those infected and not hospitalised," said Ali Akbar Haghdoost, head of the taskforce's epidemiology committee.   "It is possible that the reported number of infections have gone up, but this in no way means more have been infected with COVID-19," he told ISNA news agency.   According to Jahanpour, 1,806 new cases had been confirmed across Iran in the past day, bringing the total to 120,198.   Over 1,460 of the new cases were "outpatients, including those who had been in close contact with the infected," he said.

The ministry said 94,464 people hospitalised with the virus have recovered and been discharged.   Experts both at home and abroad have voiced scepticism about Iran's official figures, saying the real toll could be much higher.   Iran also cancelled rallies held annually in solidarity with the Palestinians, set for Friday next week.    President Hassan Rouhani had said Saturday that the Qods (Jerusalem) Day parades would go ahead with some measures against the virus.    But organisers said Sunday the event could not be held "decently" and would be scrapped apart from a televised speech by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 13:31:10 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar on Sunday reported the first death of a patient suffering from novel coronavirus nearly two months after it was first detected in the country, official statistics showed.   The Indian ocean island which has reported 304 cases has hit the headlines over a home-grown herbal concoction that President Andry Rajoelina claims can cure people infected with the virus.

Several African countries have ordered or expressed interest in the purported remedy, which is known as Covid-Organics.   The tonic drink is derived from artemisia -- a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment -- and other indigenous herbs.   But the World Health Organization has warned against "adopting a product that has not been taken through tests to see its efficacy".