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Greece

Background
Greece offers a great variety of attractions for the international traveller. A beautiful climate linked with great beaches, a vibrant nightlife and historical monuments to rival any other location throughout the world. All of this located
within western Europe and a short flight away from many of the cooler northern destinations - like Ireland. Travellers from these regions descent on Greece in very significant numbers each year and for the vast majority of them they will have a splendid and healthy time. However for some this may not be the case and serious illness and accidents are regularly reported. Following some commonsense rules would go a long way to avoiding disaster and ensuring that this trip is truly one to be remembered for all the right reasons.
Climate
Situated in southern Europe the country enjoys mild winters but very hot summers. There may be occasional cool breezes (meltemia) but these can serve only to fool the traveller into thinking that they are unlikely to burn. Rain is very uncommon during the height of summer (July and August) and all travellers should be advised to use very adequate sun-block lotion at all times.
Slip, Slop, Slap
Following the Australian mantra of Slip, Slop and Slap makes perfect sense. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat when out and about during the day and this should help protect against the intense suns rays. Nevertheless, despite all their best intentions, travellers get burnt. This is particularly a problem in the first few days after their arrival when they do not realise the intensity of the suns rays and how easily they can be exposed. Falling asleep beside the hotel's swimming pool or on the beach is a very common problem and must be avoided against. The tips of the ears, shoulders (especially along the bra-strap line, ankles and behind the knees are commonly exposed and forgotten areas.
After Sun care
To treat significant sunburn it is important to increase fluid intake but also to take extra salt on your food (unless medically contraindicated for some specific condition like high blood pressure etc). Soothing water soluble lotions (especially ones containing a mild anaesthetic and/or steroid cream) are probably best but certainly avoid any of the ones which paste the skin with a thick layer - which is almost impossible to remove without causing serious pain! The more severe sunburn cases may need medical care and even hospitalisation which really ruins a holiday.
Food & Water
As a European destination Greece has a good level of food and water hygiene. Unfortunately this can vary - especially as you move away from the main tourist destinations and also as the summer temperatures rise and food goes 'off' more quickly. Eating hot food, avoiding cold foods (side-salads, lettuce etc) and never eating undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) makes perfect sense. Eating food or taking fruit juice drinks from street vendors is a risk just not worth taking.
Insect bites
There may be both mosquitoes and sandflys about so having good repellents (DEET based ones) is worthwhile. The biggest problem will be early in the morning and towards the end of the daylight hours. However sitting in the shade while having lunch may be nice and cool but it is also often a place where these insects tend to hover looking for their next meal. Just don't allow that meal to be the blood in your unguarded ankle!
Seeing the Monuments
As mentioned previously Greece is covered with ancient monuments and these attract many thousands of tourists each year. The ruins are often not the most hospitable places for sun-sensitive tourists so taking care against the suns rays is essential - especially while standing carefully listening to the tour guide explain some complicated piece of history while the back of your legs get roasted! The other issue, for those trekking through the ruins, is the distinct possibility of a nasty twisted ankle.
Laser Night shows
Many of the ancient sites have beautiful night shows which depict something of the past splendour and are definitely worth seeing. However it is wise to wear good shoes as stumbling across loose stones is a particular problem at night and also bring a small torch, if possible, to guide your way. Getting separated from your travelling companions, or not being able to find your return bus, can lead to some understandable panic so listen carefully to any instructions and look out for some land marks before you get too far away into the night time crowd.
Animal bites
Some tourists may forget that rabies is a problem in many countries throughout the world and, even though Greece is regarded as rabies-free', there is always a problem if someone should get bitten. The possibility that this animal could have been recently smuggled into the country cannot be out ruled and so many would advise full post exposure treatment should this contact occur. Children may be at particular risk due to their inquisitive nature.
Swimming
Sunburn and swimming go hand in hand but drowning can also occur all too frequently within this region. Strong currents, swimming after meals (or alcohol) and the ever popular romantic midnight swim are all serious risk factors. Also children running around the deep end of the pool may lose their footing and topple in without warning. Unfortunately a very small child sinks instantly with very little sign of the emergency to those close by. Parents need to keep aware of this risk at all times.
The summer working holiday
Many of our students head towards Greece for 2 to 3 months during the summer to work. The attractions are obvious but commonsense and sensible life-style choices are needed throughout their stay to lessen the risk of illness or them returning home with an infection they had not bargained for. Unfortunately many return home with life-long illnesses which have been contracted from a single unprotected sexual contact.
Vaccinations for Greece
As a general rule the usual travel vaccines are not recommended for most short-term travellers to this region. However for the student planning to spend a more prolonged period it would be sensible to consider cover against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and also to check that their Tetanus cover is up-to-date.
Summary
This is still one of the most popular destinations for northern European travellers and, in the vast majority of cases, they will have a fantastic time with only good memories. Unfortunately some less prepared folks will end up with serious sunburn and other illnesses or diseases which perhaps are frequently associated with their own lack of care and protection rather than anything specific to this beautiful country.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2019 09:20:47 +0100 (MET)

Athens, Nov 27, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.1-magnitude undersea earthquake shook the Greek island of Crete on Wednesday and was felt in other parts of the country, officials said.   "It was a major earthquake, the whole island shook but fortunately so far no damage has been reported," Crete regional governor Stavros Arnaoutakis told state TV ERT.   The Athens observatory said the quake struck at 9:23 am (0723 GMT) and had a depth of over 70 kilometres (44 miles).

The tremor occurred a day after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in Albania that has left more than 20 dead and hundreds injured.   Shortly after the Albania tremor, a 5.4-magnitude shock hit Bosnia, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center reported on Tuesday.   Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes but they rarely cause casualties.   In July 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage.
Date: Wed, 2 Oct 2019 12:31:30 +0200 (METDST)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travelling to Australia
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Introduction
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Travelling to Australia for business or pleasure can be a most memorable experience and each year many Europeans travel this
route to experience something of life ‘down-under’. Staying healthy and well is essential if you want to enjoy your trip to its fullest extent. Australia is a huge continent and the climatic conditions vary considerably throughout. The main southern cities have a temperate climate similar to North West Europe, Perth enjoys a Mediterranean climate while Queensland and the Northern Territories have a sub-tropical weather pattern.
Preparation
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It is important that all travellers are in good general health before undertaking any long-haul trip. Patients who tire easily on light exercise or who have a significant underlying medical condition will need to take extra care. If you are concerned about this aspect of your proposed trip arrange for a meeting with a doctor at an early stage in your preparations.
Long Haul Flights
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On these long flights you will be travelling across many time zones. You will lose or gain hours depending on the direction of your flight. Your body will take time to adjust to the new time zone and so it is important to allow this to occur naturally. If you arrive during the daylight hours try to stay out in the sun for a period of time as this will help your body release a hormone which counteracts jet lag. (Watch you don’t get sun burnt!) Don’t plan to be too energetic during the first day or two after you arrive. Be sensible. If this is a business trip try not to make any major decisions over the first 24 hours. Even the relatively short flight from South East Asia down to Australia crosses time zones and again it will be important to allow your body to settle.
Stop-Overs in SE Asia
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Frequently travellers will stop-over in Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong or Bangkok on their way to or from Australia. During these short stops it is essential that travellers take all possible precautions to ensure that they rest and are careful about what they eat or drink as contaminated food or water is more common in some of these regions.

Mosquito protection in SE Asia
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Mosquito borne diseases are present depending on the location (Malaria, Dengue Fever, Japanese B Encephalitis etc) One of particular concern is Dengue Fever, which is a viral disease transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. These mosquitoes tend to bite during the day time. This is in contrast to the mosquitoes which transmit malaria which mainly bite at night. Many of the main tourist destinations throughout SE Asia are malaria free and so tablets to protect against the disease are not usually required. Those going off the usual routes will need to talk this through in depth before leaving.
Road Traffic Accidents
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Frequently, cars are purchased by tourists to Australia for the duration of their stay. Often the cost is low and the maintenance and safety of the vehicle may be somewhat questionable! Long monotonous driving associated with a lack of concentration can cause serious accidents. Car breakdown in the middle of ‘nowhere’ may lead to the risk of dehydration and potential animal attack (kangaroo, dingos, snakes etc). Make sure you always have sufficient food and water and some means of communication (fully charged mobile phone) before leaving to travel across the continent. Make sure other responsible friends or relations back home know of your intended route and inform them of any changes. Get contact numbers for essential services for your journey.

Health Concerns in Australia
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Many travellers feel that Australia is the same as at home in Europe and so little care with personal health needs be taken. This is not always the case as there are many local health variations throughout the country which should be considered.
Sun Exposure
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The northern European skin is usually unaccustomed to intensity of the sun exposure experienced in many parts of Australia. Unfortunately this regularly leads to sun burn among tourists but, more seriously, it also significantly increases the risk of potentially fatal skin cancers. Always use plenty of adequate sun block, cover exposed areas of your body where possible (especially by wearing a wide brimmed hat) and drink plenty of water. (You may also need to replace salt lost through increased perspiration ~ assuming no underlying blood pressure problem)
Northern Australia
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As mentioned previously, the northern parts of Australia are sub-tropical and mosquito borne diseases are more common. Malaria transmission does not occur and many of the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes or other insects cause mild discomfort. Unfortunately some are which are much more severe and can cause long term difficulties.
Ross River Fever
This viral disease is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes a severe arthritic type condition. The disease is often short lived but in some patients the disease may continue to cause arthritis for months and even years. There is no specific treatment and travellers need to be careful about avoiding bites.
Typhus
This disease occurs in isolated parts of Northern Australia through the bite of infected ticks. The disease can cause a skin rash, fever and general unwellness. Antibiotics can help to ease the symptoms but avoiding bites is essential at all times.
Dengue
This mosquito borne disease also occurs in parts of Northern Australia usually by day-biting mosquitoes. (See Dengue leaflet - TMB)
Other Risks
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The sea waters in parts of Australia are infested by sharks and jelly fish. Always take competent local advice before undertaking any sea activities. Drowning occurs regularly each year among tourists who disregard some of the basic rules of water safety. If in desert regions, take care with disturbing rocks in case you awaken a peaceful snake or scorpion.
Medical Care for Travellers
********************************************
If travellers have stopped in South East Asia and then become ill on arrival in Australia, they should make contact with a medical centre dealing with Tropical Medicine. Details of the centres in the major cities throughout Australia are available from the Tropical Medical Bureau.
Vaccinations for Stop-Overs
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Usually travellers will have vaccination cover for Typhoid, Poliomyelitis, Tetanus and Hepatitis A. Malaria prophylaxis may not be required depending on your actual itinerary. There is a higher risk of Hepatitis B in central Australia and so this may need to be considered if the risk of contact (mainly blood following accidents) is thought to be higher than usual. Rabies risk in Australia is almost non existent though obviously contact with all warm blooded animals should be avoided at all times.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 04:23:51 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - Three hundred animals have been evacuated from a wildlife park north of Sydney as massive bushfires encircled Australia's largest city and foreign firefighters arrived to relieve beleaguered local forces.   Walkabout Wildlife Park said it had shipped out lizards, dingoes, peacocks and marsupials, as firefighters battled more than 100 fires up and down the eastern seaboard.   "This fire has been doing some crazy things, so we have to be prepared," general manager Tassin Barnard told AFP.

Prolonged drought has left much of eastern Australia tinder dry and spot fires have raged every day for the past three months, leaving firefighters struggling to cope.   New South Wales rural fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons said Friday that some US and Canadian firefighters had arrived to help out, easing the strain on the exhausted largely volunteer Australian force.

The incident-management and aviation specialists will help ease "fatigue and crew rotations" he said.   "We are not only appreciative of their presence here today, but of their sacrifice," said Fitzsimmons -- who has become a fixture on Australian television screens for weeks, updating the public on blazes in towns, national parks and backwaters.    "They are volunteering to sacrifice time from loved ones, from families, to give up that special time of the year around Christmas and New Year to come down here and lend us a hand," he said.

More than 600 homes have been destroyed and six people have died since the crisis began in September. That is many fewer than Australia's deadliest recent fire season in 2009 when almost 200 people died, but 2019's toll belies the scale of devastation.    Millions of hectares have burned -- the size of some small countries -- across a region spanning hundreds of kilometres (miles).   Bushfires are common in Australia but scientists say this year's season has come earlier and with more intensity due to a prolonged drought and climatic conditions fuelled by global warming.

The fires have taken a toll in Sydney and other major cities, which have been blanketed in toxic smoke for weeks and occasionally sprinkled with snow-like embers.   Fitzsimmons said he could not "overstate the effect that this profound drought is having" as he warned of a long, painful summer ahead.   "There is an absolute lack of moisture in the soil, a lack of moisture in the vegetation... you are seeing fires started very easily and they are spreading extremely quickly, and they are burning ridiculously intensely."
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:24:08 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - A man and woman have been rescued after surviving two weeks in Australia's arid outback on little more than vodka, groundwater and biscuits, but a third person is still missing, police said Tuesday.   The three friends set out to explore the country's vast sun-baked interior near Alice Springs on November 19 when their car became bogged down in a river bed.   After three days staying put and waiting for a rescue, the group feared supplies were dwindling and two of them decided to walk along a property fence line in the hope of finding help.   Police said Tuesday that a local rancher had found the man, 40-year-old Phu Tran, "slightly disorientated" but in a "good condition" a two-day walk from the vehicle.

His discovery came after Tamra McBeath-Riley, 52, was found on Sunday less than two kilometres from the same vehicle suffering from dehydration.   McBeath-Riley told public broadcaster ABC that the trio -- accompanied by their blue Staffordshire terrier Raya -- had survived by drinking pre-mixed vodka drinks and water from a hole dug for cattle, eating biscuits and sheltering in a hole dug under her car.   But the third person, 46-year-old Claire Hockridge, has not been seen since splitting from Phu two days ago.   "She was still fine when he left but we obviously are now focusing our search to identify where she is," police superintendent Pauline Vicary said.   Police were "hopeful that she's still in that condition," Vicary added, as her colleagues resumed an aerial search.   McBeath-Riley and Hockridge live in Alice Springs, while Phu was visiting from elsewhere in Australia.
Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2019 02:53:22 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Nov 26, 2019 (AFP) - Australian police on Tuesday found a body they believed to be that of a British backpacker who ran from a campsite on the weekend, prompting an intensive search.   "Officers are yet to formally identify the body" police said in a statement. "However, it is believed to be Aslan King."

King was last seen at a camping ground in Princetown, on the popular and picturesque Great Ocean Road, at about 2 am on Saturday.   He had been camping with friends near the Twelve Apostles about three hours from Melbourne when he had a "medical episode" and hit his head, before suddenly running into bushland.

Fearing King -- who had been on holiday in Australia for two weeks -- had become disorientated and lost in the bush, police deployed a helicopter, horses, motorcycle riders, specialist rescue teams and volunteers to find him.   "The body was located about 10:15 am this morning in a creek just over a kilometre from the camping ground where Aslan was last seen," police said.   "Investigators will prepare a report for the coroner."
Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2019 01:25:15 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Nov 21, 2019 (AFP) - The fire danger was elevated across wider swathes of southern Australia on Thursday, with residents warned to avoid at-risk areas as smoke from bushfires choked Sydney and other major cities.   Devastating fires along the country's east coast have claimed six lives and destroyed more than 500 homes since mid-October, with climate change and unseasonably hot, dry conditions fuelling the unprecedented blazes.   Now the fire danger has moved into states further south, with a so-called "Code Red" -- the highest possible fire risk in Victoria -- being declared in the state's northwest for the first time in a decade.   "What that means is that if we see fires in those areas they will be fast moving, they will be unpredictable, they will be uncontrollable," emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp told reporters.

Country Fire Authority chief Steve Warrington told people living in rural areas to leave for the safety of cities.   "We are saying, 'do not be there, do not be there when a fire occurs, because you will not survive if you are there'," he said.   "There is a good chance if a fire occurs that your home will be destroyed."   The fire danger was also elevated to "severe" in the island state of Tasmania off mainland Australia's southeastern coast,  where a total fire ban was declared.   Two bushfires in the state's northeast did not pose an immediate threat to residents, the Tasmania Fire Service said.

For the second time in two days, smoke from bushfires blanketed Sydney, Australia's biggest city and home to more than five million people, sending air quality plummeting to hazardous levels.   More than 110 fires are still burning in worst-hit New South Wales and neighbouring Queensland, while in South Australia more than 40 fires broke out during catastrophic fire conditions Wednesday.    A South Australia Country Fire Service spokeswoman said all of those blazes had been brought under control or extinguished by Thursday, with the exception of a major fire on the Yorke Peninsula that had come perilously close to a small town.

Conditions were expected to ease in the coming days in South Australia, where the state capital Adelaide was also shrouded in bushfire smoke and residents were being told to stay indoors for health reasons.   Bushfire-prone Australia has experienced a horror start to its fire season, which scientists say is beginning earlier and becoming more extreme as climate change pushes temperatures higher and saps moisture from the environment after months of severe drought.   Growing calls to curb fossil fuels and drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions are being ignored by the country's conservative government, which is eager to protect its lucrative mining industry.   The country is bracing for challenging fire conditions to continue throughout the Southern Hemisphere summer.
Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2019 13:10:01 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON, Andrew BEATTY, with Daniel De Cartert in Hillville

Sydney, Nov 12, 2019 (AFP) - Bushfires raging across eastern Australia singed Sydney's suburbs on Tuesday, with firefighters scrambling planes and helicopters to douse a built-up neighbourhood with water and red retardant.   Experts have described the conditions as the worst on record, as spring temperatures climbed toward 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and winds topped 80 kilometres (50 miles) per hour across a zone which has been plagued by persistent drought.   Although the bushfire season is in its infancy, scientists predict it to be one of Australia's toughest ever, with climate change and unfavourable weather cycles helping created a tinderbox of strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures.

Twin blazes in the north shore suburb of Turramurra -- around 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the centre of Australia's largest city -- tore through a eucalypt forest park and sparked spot fires in homes, before eventually being brought under control.   As night fell, authorities said they were bringing another "clearly suspicious" blaze in a national park in the city's southern suburbs under control.    Throughout the day, more than 300 bushfires burned up and down Australia's east coast, fanned by gale-force winds, scorching temperatures and tinder-dry bushland that has brought some of the most dangerous conditions the country has seen.

In Turramurra, gardens smouldered, thick smoke hung heavy in the air and cars, houses and roads were caked in raspberry-red retardant as if hit by a giant paintball.   "It was the embers that floated up that actually went across and set off spot fires in the front yards" resident Nigel Lush told AFP, adding that one roof had been set alight.   Another resident, Julia Gretton-Roberts, said the blaze spread shockingly quickly.   "Next thing I know the fire was opposite our house and it was massive and the police came and grabbed our kids and took them away," she said.   "My daughter is pretty freaked out."   Firefighter Andrew Connon told AFP "a number of homes were threatened but it was contained by the aerial bombing".

- 'Catastrophic conditions' -
From early morning thousands of firefighters spread out across New South Wales in anticipation of what they called "off the scale" fire risk and "catastrophic" conditions.   They were unable to prevent several bushfires from breaching containment lines and trapping residents who had not already evacuated.   New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said so far only a dozen buildings had been damaged Tuesday and a handful non-life-threatening injuries were reported, but the crisis was far from over.

Firefighters will be "working on these fires for days and weeks given the enormity of the firegrounds," he said.    Even before unfavourable weather hit, days of fires had killed three people and destroyed at least 150 homes.   "The conditions are expected to get worse," Fitzsimmons said, warning residents in adjacent areas to stay alert.   "Complacency kills," he added.   Up to 600 schools were closed, as well as many national parks, a total fire ban was introduced for the affected area and Rally Australia -- due to be held in Coffs Harbour at the weekend -- was cancelled.   The military pitched in, helping firefighters with logistics and water-dropping sorties using more than 100 aircraft.

- 'We'll fight it first' -
In the town of Hillville a fire that has ripped through an area the size of 25,000 soccer fields approached the home of Daniel Stevens.   Like many, his family -- including his mother nursing a broken leg -- have packed their bags, but have resisted leaving their house and everything they own.    "We'll fight it first," he told AFP, "but if it jumps the fence line into the paddock, we'll go."

In the nearby town of Taree, dozens of people have already moved to a showground that has become a makeshift evacuation centre.   Fifty-nine-year-old Caroline Watson arrived last night with her husband and their dog.    "The fires are just rife. They are absolutely everywhere" she told AFP. "They didn't ask us to get out, but we figured it was coming."

Further south in the Blue Mountains on the outskirts of Sydney, veteran Winmalee firefighter Alan Gardiner said locals were "terrified and on edge".    The town still bears the scars of a 2013 blaze that destroyed 200 homes, and residents are acutely aware that with few roads in and out of the mountains, a decision to leave late can be fatal.   Efforts to burn fuel in a controlled way have been limited by months of drought-like conditions that made it too dangerous.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 10:30:54 +0100 (MET)

Moscow, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - More than 50 polar bears have gathered on the edge of a village in Russia's far north, environmentalists and residents said, as weak Arctic ice leaves them unable to roam.   The Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund said climate change was to blame, as unusually warm temperatures prevented coastal ice from forming.   The WWF said 56 polar bears had gathered in a one-square-kilometre (0.4-square-mile) area near the village of Ryrkaipy in Chukotka on the north-eastern tip of Russia.

There were concerns they could enter the village, home to fewer than 1,000 people, and patrols had been set up to monitor their movements.   "The number of human and predator encounters in the Arctic is increasing," the WWF said in statement.    "The main reason is the decline of sea ice area due to the changing climate. In the absence of ice cover, animals are forced to go ashore in search of food."

Residents had gathered walrus carcasses in the area to try to keep the bears from wandering into the village.   "We have created a feeding point with walrus carcasses that we gathered along the coast," Tatyana Minenko of the local "Bear Patrol" told news agency RIA Novosti.   "As long as there is no big freeze, the sea ice will not form and the bears will stay on the coast," she said.

Russia's weather service said temperatures in the region should fall from Saturday and that coastal ice should freeze by December 11.    Polar bears regularly visit areas inhabited by humans in Arctic Russia to search for food, often in rubbish tips.   But the number of visits has been growing as the melting of Arctic ice from climate change forces the bears to spend more time on land where they compete for food.
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 10:28:26 +0100 (MET)
By Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - Travellers across France endured a second day of chaos on Friday as unions vowed to keep up their strike until President Emmanuel Macron backs down on controversial pension overhauls.   Rail operator SNCF said 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains were again cancelled, and several airlines dropped flights including Air France, EasyJet and Ryanair.

Nine of the capital's 16 metro lines were shut and most others severely disrupted, sparking some 350 kilometres (220 miles) of traffic jams in the Paris region, well above the usual 200 km, the traffic website Sytadin reported.   Many employees were unable to get to work and several schools again provided only daycare, though fewer teachers were on strike compared with Thursday when some 800,000 people demonstrated across the country according to the interior ministry.   Bike paths were crowded with bikes and electric scooters, with metro operator RATP sponsoring special deals for commuters with a range of ride-hailing companies and other transportation alternatives.

The walkout is the latest test for Macron after months of protests from teachers, hospital workers, police and firefighters as well as the "yellow vest" movement demanding improved living standards.   Unions say his "universal" pension system, which would eliminate dozens of separate plans for public workers, forces millions of people in both public and private sectors to work well beyond the legal retirement age of 62.   Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said Friday that the government had "heard" the protesters' anger and would meet with union leaders to discuss the reform on Monday.   The government has yet to lay out the details of its plan, and Buzyn told Europe 1 radio that "there is indeed a discussion going on about who will be affected, what age it kicks in, which generations will be concerned -- all that is still on the table".

- Macron 'determined' -
Yves Veyrier, head of the hardline FO union, warned Thursday the strike could last at least until Monday if the government did not take the right action.   But it remains to be seen if the protests will match the magnitude of the 1995 strikes against pension overhauls, when France was paralysed for three weeks from November to December in an action that forced the government to back down.

Macron, a former investment banker, has largely succeeded in pushing through a series of controversial reforms, including loosening labour laws and tightening access to unemployment benefits.   But this is the first time the various disgruntled groups have come together in protest.   So far Macron has not spoken publicly on the stoppages though a presidential official, who asked not to be named, said Thursday that the president was "calm" and "determined to carry out this reform" in a mood of "listening and consultation".

While most of Thursday's rallies were peaceful, police fired tear gas to disperse dozens of black-clad protesters smashing windows and throwing stones during the Paris march, with one construction trailer set on fire. Sporadic clashes were also reported in some other cities.   Many people were bracing for further disruptions over the weekend, including the prospect of fuel shortages as unions blocked most of the country's eight oil refineries.

The minimum pension age in France is 62, one of the lowest among developed countries, but there are 42 "special regimes" for railway workers, lawyers, opera employees and others offering earlier retirements and other benefits.   The government says a single system will be fairer for everyone while ensuring its financial viability while acknowledging that people will gradually have to work longer.
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 04:23:51 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - Three hundred animals have been evacuated from a wildlife park north of Sydney as massive bushfires encircled Australia's largest city and foreign firefighters arrived to relieve beleaguered local forces.   Walkabout Wildlife Park said it had shipped out lizards, dingoes, peacocks and marsupials, as firefighters battled more than 100 fires up and down the eastern seaboard.   "This fire has been doing some crazy things, so we have to be prepared," general manager Tassin Barnard told AFP.

Prolonged drought has left much of eastern Australia tinder dry and spot fires have raged every day for the past three months, leaving firefighters struggling to cope.   New South Wales rural fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons said Friday that some US and Canadian firefighters had arrived to help out, easing the strain on the exhausted largely volunteer Australian force.

The incident-management and aviation specialists will help ease "fatigue and crew rotations" he said.   "We are not only appreciative of their presence here today, but of their sacrifice," said Fitzsimmons -- who has become a fixture on Australian television screens for weeks, updating the public on blazes in towns, national parks and backwaters.    "They are volunteering to sacrifice time from loved ones, from families, to give up that special time of the year around Christmas and New Year to come down here and lend us a hand," he said.

More than 600 homes have been destroyed and six people have died since the crisis began in September. That is many fewer than Australia's deadliest recent fire season in 2009 when almost 200 people died, but 2019's toll belies the scale of devastation.    Millions of hectares have burned -- the size of some small countries -- across a region spanning hundreds of kilometres (miles).   Bushfires are common in Australia but scientists say this year's season has come earlier and with more intensity due to a prolonged drought and climatic conditions fuelled by global warming.

The fires have taken a toll in Sydney and other major cities, which have been blanketed in toxic smoke for weeks and occasionally sprinkled with snow-like embers.   Fitzsimmons said he could not "overstate the effect that this profound drought is having" as he warned of a long, painful summer ahead.   "There is an absolute lack of moisture in the soil, a lack of moisture in the vegetation... you are seeing fires started very easily and they are spreading extremely quickly, and they are burning ridiculously intensely."
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 03:03:18 +0100 (MET)
By Pierre-Henry DESHAYES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Changing the world? -
The tourism industry says it hopes to make "ambassadors" out of Antarctica visitors.   "It's good for the animal life and for the protection of Antarctica that people see how beautiful this area is, because you cherish what you know and understand," said Hurtigruten chief executive Daniel Skjeldam.   Texan tourist Mark Halvorson, 72, says he is convinced.   "Having seen it, I am that much more committed to having a very high priority in my politics, in my own inner core convictions to being as environmentally friendly in my life as I can," he said.   So, do Guido and Martina Hofken see themselves as future "ambassadors of Antarctica"?    "Just a little bit, probably. But I don't think I will change the world," Guido Hofken concedes.    "The best thing would be for nobody to travel to Antarctica."
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 16:37:37 +0100 (MET)

Paris, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - French rail operator SNCF said Thursday that it had cancelled 90 percent of all high-speed TGV trains and 70 percent of regional trains for Friday due to a strike over the government's pension reforms.   SNCF said that services would "still be very disrupted" on the second day of the biggest transport strike in the country in years, with the Eurostar service to Britain and the Thalys service to northern Europe set to be "very heavily disrupted".   In Paris, where only two of 16 metro lines were operating normally Thursday, public transport workers voted to remain on strike until Monday.

France's civil aviation authority meanwhile told airlines to cut 20 percent of their flights in and out of airports in Paris, Beauvais, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux on Friday, the same proportion as on Thursday.   Striking transport workers, air traffic controllers, teachers, fire fighters, lawyers and other groups all fear they will have to work longer or receive reduced pensions under the government's proposal to scrap 42 special pension schemes and replace them with a single plan.   Anticipating the worst travel chaos in years, many employees opted to work from home on Thursday. Those who did venture out travelled mainly by car, bicycle, electric scooter or on foot.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 12:19:45 +0100 (MET)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - South African Airways was placed under a state-approved rescue plan on Thursday to avoid the embattled airline's collapse following a costly week-long strike last month.   Thousands of South African Airways (SAA) staff walked out on November 15 after the flag carrier failed to meet a string of demands, including higher wages and job in-sourcing.   The strike was called off the following week after SAA management and unions eventually clinched a deal.

But the walkout dealt a severe blow to the debt-ridden airline, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts.   "The Board of SAA has adopted a resolution to place the company into business rescue," said a statement by South Africa's Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, adding that the decision was also supported by the government.   "It must be clear that this is not a bailout," said Gordhan. "This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline."   The business rescue process will be directed by an independent practitioner. It is meant to prevent a "disorderly collapse of the airline", he added.   Gordhan said the government would provide 2 billion rand ($136 million) to SAA in "a fiscally neutral manner".   Existing lenders will also provide a 2 billion rand loan guaranteed by the government.

- 'Financial challenges' -
South Africa is struggling to get state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.   Its national airline -- which employs more than 5,000 workers and is Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines -- had been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) a day during the strike.   SAA's board said the business rescue, scheduled to start immediately, was decided after consultations with shareholders and the public enterprises department "to find a solution to our company's well-documented financial challenges".

"The considered and unanimous conclusion has been to place the company into business rescue in order to create a better return for the company's creditors and shareholders," said the SAA board of directors in a statement.   The rescue plan will include a "new provisional timetable" and ensure "selected activities... continue operating successfully".   With a fleet of more than 50 aircraft, SAA flies to over 35 domestic and international destinations.   "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board.   "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time.

- 'Lesser evil' -
Unions told AFP they would comment later on Thursday.   They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding.   SAA had initially refused any pay rise.    The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March. But it was unable to cover all of its staff salaries last month.    "Business rescue allows for the airline to continue to operate while it is being restructured, as opposed to liquidation," analyst Daniel Silke told AFP.   He said the rescue was a "lesser evil for SAA" and would save more jobs than a "shutdown".

But Silke still expected jobs to be cut as SAA attempted to reduce costs.   "Various divisions that make of SAA could be privatised," he said. "There will be a review of SAA aircraft and routes covered by SAA."   Unions had already demanded a three-year guarantee of job security following an announcement last month that almost 1,000 SAA employees could lose their jobs as part of another restructuring plan.   SAA pledged to defer that process to the end of January as part of the deal that ended the strike.
Date: Wed 4 Dec 2019
Source: Stock Daily Dish [edited]

Out of the 7 patients who were admitted to the hospital suspecting Nipah virus infection, one has been tested positive while the other 6 have been tested negative.

Kerala health minister K K Shailaja said at a press briefing in Kochi on Thursday [28 Nov 2019] that of "7 patients admitted to the hospital, one patient's result is positive for Nipah virus, while 6 patients' results are negative. No one has been discharged from the isolation ward. The source of the virus is not confirmed yet."

On the other hand, 2 persons suffering from high fever were put under observation at Trivandrum Medical College on Thursday [28 Nov 2019]. Their samples have been sent for examination.

On 4 Jun [2019], a 23-year-old-man had tested positive for Nipah virus infection, which killed 17 people in Kerala last year [2018].

As of now, a total of 15 people are under observation in the state.

Union minister for health and family welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan had said on 4 Jun [2019] that the centre had rushed a team of doctors to Kerala for investigation in the wake of the scare of Nipah virus. Vardhan had asserted that he was "very vigorously" following the situation.

Nipah virus is transmitted from animals [bats] to humans and then spreads through people to people, causing respiratory illness. Its symptoms include fever, muscle pain, headache, fever, dizziness, and nausea.

The Health Department in Karnataka issued a circular asking administration in Chamarajanagar, Mysuru, Kodagu, Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada, Udupi, Shivamogga, and Chikkamagaluru districts to immediately convene interdepartmental coordination committee meetings, including the veterinary department, the Indian Medical Association, and the Indian Academy of Pediatrics.

Authorities in these 8 districts have been directed to identify 2 isolation beds to quarantine suspected human cases. They have been asked to keep all the logistics available at all levels, read the circular. The department has also asked district authorities to direct government and private hospitals to keep an eye on suspected cases.

Once a patient shows symptoms of Nipah, the hospitals have to monitor for acute encephalitis syndrome, check all vital parameters, and take a travel history of the patients.

The district hospitals should have an ICU with ventilator facilities and capacity to receive emergency cases, the circular read.

The department asked the districts to furnish a daily outbreak report regarding Nipah virus. It also directed authorities to sensitise health assistants and ASHA workers.
==================
[This is the 3rd case of Nipah virus infection [NVI] in Kerala state this year (2019). It is prudent that surveillance and patient-care capacity have been increased. Last year (2018), as of 17 Jul 2018, a total of 19 Nipah virus (NiV) cases, including 17 deaths, were reported from Kerala state: 18 of the cases were laboratory confirmed, and the deceased index case was suspected to have NVI but could not be tested. The 2018 outbreak was localized to 2 districts in Kerala state: Kozhikode and Malappuram.

The exact circumstances under which this or the previous confirmed Nipah virus cases this year (2019) acquired their infections are not stated in the above or in previous reports, nor is it stated whether these individuals had contact with flying fox fruit bats (_Pteropus giganteus_), the reservoir hosts of Nipah virus, or fruit that the bats may have contaminated. It is interesting to note that 12 of 36 fruit bats tested at the National Institute of Virology were positive for Nipah virus. Although Kerala health minister KK Shailaja officially had declared Ernakulam district Nipah-free, it may have been free of human cases but is unlikely to have been free of the virus in _Pteropus giganteus_ fruit bats. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Maps of India:
Date: Wed 4 Dec 2019
Source: Stock Daily Dish [edited]

Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey on [Sat 30 Nov 2019] said the state government is doing its best to save children, as the death toll due to acute encephalitis syndrome [AES] in Muzaffarpur mounted to 73.

Pandey said doctors and nurses are being called in from Patna for additional help. "We are trying everything and anything that can save children's lives. Everything is being made available from medicines to doctors. We have even called doctors and nurses from AIIMS in Patna," he said. "There is a protocol regarding what kind of medicines and facilities should be given and we are doing the same. We are monitoring things regularly and trying to save our children."

Recalling the situation that prevailed 5 years ago, Pandey said a team that was formed to ascertain the cause of this disease concluded that sleeping empty stomach at night, dehydration due to humidity and eating lychee on empty stomach were some of the causes of encephalitis.

"Our government has tried to spread awareness which will be beneficial as well. Advertisement in newspapers, radio jingles, pamphlets and mic [microphone] announcements are going to spread awareness regarding the disease. Health ministry is also working on it," he said.

On being asked about spread of ASE in Gorakhpur last year [2018], he said, "From Gorakhpur to Muzaffarpur region, this disease had spread last year and the Union government had worked on this and we will continue to fight it now."

"This incident in Muzaffarpur is very saddening and we also feel bad when children of our nation die like this. Not the whole district is affected but a large part is suffering from it," he added.

From [1 Jan 2019], until now [5 Dec 2019], 220 children were admitted in Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur due to AES, out of which 62 lost their lives.

As per the data of SKMCH hospital, 235 children were admitted, of which 89 died; in 2013 - 90 children were admitted, of which 35 died; in 2014 - 334 children were admitted, of which 117 died; in 2015 - 37 children were admitted, of which 15 died; in 2016 - 31 children were admitted, of which 6 died; in 2017 - 44 children were admitted, of which 18 died; and in 2018 - 43 children were admitted, of which 12 died.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Union ministry for home affairs, Nityanand Rai, visited Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital to review the situation after the outbreak of AES.

Encephalitis is a viral disease, which causes mild flu-like symptoms such as high fever, convulsions and headaches and has been claiming lives in the district for the past few weeks.
======================
[The dates within which these AES cases have occurred is not stated. The urgency that has prompted Behar health officials to request the aid of physicians and nurses from adjoining Patna suggests that the AES outbreak is going on currently. The uncertainty about the etiology of AES continues. It is curious that the above report makes no mention of negative or positive tests for Japanese encephalitis among the AES patients, although that virus is endemic in northeastern India, including Bihar state. Neighboring Uttar Pradesh state has had JE cases as well this summer (2019) but has intensified its JE vaccination program.

The issue of the aetiology of AES has been under discussion for a long time. Lychee fruit contain toxins. Encephalopathy and hypoglycaemia have been associated with consumption of lychee fruit contains phytotoxins, specifically alpha-(methylenecyclopropyl)glycine (see ProMED-mail archive no. http://promedmail.org/post/20150201.3132842). However, the current cases cannot be due to lychee consumption, since the season for that fruit has passed.

AES has continued to be attributed to a variety of aetiologies, including Reye syndrome-like disease, possible enterovirus infection from polluted water, heatstroke, lychee fruit consumption, and scrub typhus (_Orientia tsutsugamushi_). A recent publication (reference below) states that dengue virus is one of the 3 most common agents identified in AES, but existing surveillance for AES does not include routine testing for dengue. Until the etiology (or etiologies) of these AES cases is determined, effective and efficient prevention of these cases will not be possible.

Reference:
Ravi V, Hameed SKS, Desai A, et al. Dengue virus is an under-recognised causative agent of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES): results from a 4-year AES surveillance study of Japanese encephalitis in selected states of India. Int J Infect Dis 2019;84 Suppl:19-24. <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijid.2019.01.008>.

Available at:

[Maps of India:
HealthMap/ProMED maps available
at:<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/364>, and Bihar, India:
Date: Thu 5 Dec 2019 6:11 PM EET
Source: Enab Baladi [edited]

[Leishmaniasis] is spreading widely among residents of Deir ez-Zor, and especially children. Some of the areas affected are controlled by the Kurdish self-administration while others are under the control of the Syrian regime. Medical sources counted hundreds of infected civilians and confirmed the disease's rapid spread.

According to Atef al-Tawil, a manager of the Leishmania & Environmental Health Programme at the Syrian regime's Ministry of Health, most infections in eastern Deir ez-Zor are spread among school children.

In a Facebook comment on a post by Twasol agency, al-Tawil claimed that cases of leishmaniasis were detected, at the end of November [2019], in primary schools in eastern Deir ez-Zor and its surrounding villages (al-Jalaa, al-Salihiyah, al-Tawtha, al-Abbas, al-Mujawdeh, al-Hasarat, al-Saial, al-Ghabrah).

According to al-Tawil, 455 infections of children were detected. A treatment team of 10 members was formed in the affected locations, to help control the disease to aid in early detection.

The Syrian Ministry of Health acted after several appeals by civilians residing in the area as they noticed the disease spreading among their children. Al-Tawil said that this rapid spread was due to the fact that all the infected people have lately returned to their original areas which lack medical centers.

Autonomous administration areas
-------------------------------
According to Euphrates Post network, leishmaniasis is also widely spread in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In its post on [Sun 1 Dec 2019], the network claimed that the spread of leishmaniasis is mostly concentrated in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor.

According to the network, unofficial statistics by the SDF-affiliated local council shows more than 7000 leishmaniasis infections among children in al-Baghouz, Hajin, Diban, al-Sha'afa, al-Kishkiye, Abu Hamam, and Gharanij. The local councils' attempts of controlling the disease are still substandard, according to the Euphrates Post.

The network also quoted doctors and nurses calling for international organizations to interfere and provide hospitals and clinics with the required vaccine [there is no vaccine for leishmaniasis; ed.], and to train specialized medical staff in each clinic to deal with the disease.

The autonomous-administration-affiliated media center in Deir ez-Zor also confirmed the spread of leishmaniasis and pointed out that the authorities took actions, by the end of November [2019], to provide treatments.

According to the media center, special medical teams and cadres were distributed among the clinics to provide 12,000 ampoules of the required [medicine] to treat leishmaniasis with the support of the World Health Organization.

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of infected female phlebotomine sandflies -- a very small yellow fly that is active at night and makes no sound when it bites -- and the main cause for its spread is dirt and lack of hygiene.  [Byline: Enab Baladi]
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[Deir ez-Zor is east and south of the locations in the previous ProMED reports (see below), indicating further increase in cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis beyond its historical concentration in western Syria (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4861536/>) and beyond the area of the MENTOR initiative in northern Syria (<https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/24/11/17-2146_article>).

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is endemic in Syria with its reservoir in rodents. It has been a problem throughout the Syrian civil war and in ISIS controlled areas during the war due to a breakdown in rodent and vector control. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[Maps of Syria:
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Twitter feed in Arabic [machine trans., edited]

Taiz health official: 24 laboratory-confirmed cases of West Nile virus and more than 300 suspected cases. #Republic_Yemen
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[Any information on the actual number of WNV cases, their lab confirmation, and public health response activities in this regard will be highly appreciated. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Yemen: