WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

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

6th December, 2019
HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre

On 27/11/2019, a possible case of diphtheria was reported to the Department of Epidemiological Surveillance and Intervention through the Mandatory Notification System in Greece. It concerned an 8 years old boy of Greek nationality, who was hospitalized in the ICU of General Children's Hospital  where he died.  This child had underlying conditions (severe pulmonary hypertension) and was admitted to ICU  on 22/11/2019 with clinical presentation of laryngitis (without the presence of characteristic pseudo membranes) and pneumonia, immediately intubated, covered with double antibiotic regimen and died due to deterioration of his clinical presentation on 26/11/2019.
 
According to the epidemiological data given , there is no travel history, group living, no connection to another case and the child does not belong to a specific population group. Regarding his immunization status, the child was vaccinated with at least 3 doses against diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis.
 
Laboratory investigation of bronchial exudate isolated Corynebacterium diphtheriae via VITEK. Further laboratory testing was performed by the Public Health England  reference Laboratory for Corynebacteria. On Thursday 5/12/2019, the National Public Health Organization was informed that multiplex PCR testing was positive for C. Diphtheriae and positive for the diphtheria toxin gene. The Elek test was also positive for toxin production. The results of the child's post-mortem exam are pending.

Contact tracing and management is ongoing and has identified most of the close contacts of the patient. The National Public Health Organization provided recommendations on obtaining nasopharyngeal cultures in close contacts to evaluate carriage as well as the necessary preventive measures to protect the child's close contacts as well as the medical staff involved in direct patient care (i.e. awareness for potential compatible with diphtheria symptoms and administration of antibiotic prophylaxis together with booster or complete vaccination series as appropriate) according to the WHO’s Diphtheria Surveillance Standards (September 2018). In addition we have initiated the procedure for the procurement of a limited stockpile of DAT.
Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2019 09:20:47 +0100 (MET)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
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.
More ...

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

Congo, Democratic Republic

Democratic Republic of the Congo US Consular Information Sheet
23rd September 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) located in central Africa, is the third largest country on the continent. The capital
s Kinshasa. French is the official language. Years of civil war and corruption have badly damaged the country's infrastructure. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport, visa and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required for entry. Some travelers arriving in the DRC without proper proof of yellow fever vaccination have been temporarily detained, had their passports confiscated, or been required to pay a fine. Information about yellow fever vaccination clinics in the U.S. may be found at http://www2.ncid.cdc.gov/travel/yellowfever/.
Visas must be obtained from an embassy of the DRC prior to arrival.
Travelers to the DRC frequently experience difficulties at the airport and other ports of entry, such as temporary detention, passport confiscation and demands by immigration and security personnel for unofficial “special fees.”
All resident foreigners, including Americans, are required to register at the office of the Direction General de Migration (DGM) in the commune of their place of residence.
Visitors who wish to travel in any mining areas must first obtain government approval from various government agencies or ministries, an often cumbersome and time consuming process.
Dual nationals arriving in the DRC should carefully consider which passport they use to enter the DRC. For departure from the DRC, airlines will require a valid visa for all destination countries before they will issue a ticket or allow a passenger to board. Airlines also require that the passenger have the correct entry stamp in the passport they wish to use to exit the country. Passengers who are unable to leave the country on the passport they used to enter the DRC may not be able to continue on their travel itinerary.
Additional information about visas may be obtained from the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1726 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, tel. (202) 234-7690, or the DRC's Permanent Mission to the UN, 866 United Nations Plaza, Room 511, New York, NY 10017, tel. 212-319-8061, fax: 212-319-8232, web site http://www.un.int/drcongo. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Congolese embassy or consulate. 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:
See the Department of State’s Travel Warning for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Though the DRC is now significantly more stable than it has been over the past decade, security remains problematic. The first democratic elections in more than forty years were held in 2006, and a new government is now in place. Post-election disturbances occurred as recently as March 2007 in Kinshasa, resulting in deaths of civilians and military personnel. During civil disturbances in 2007 there were incidents of hostility towards U.S. citizens and other expatriates.

Both inside and outside Kinshasa, there can be roadblocks, especially after dark. Vehicles are often searched for weapons and valuables, and travelers are checked for identity papers. Security forces regularly seek bribes. If confronted with such a situation, it is suggested that U.S. citizens remain courteous and calm. If detained, report the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa as soon as possible.

The United Nations has its largest peacekeeping operation in the world in the DRC. Known by its French acronym of MONUC, it has close to 17,000 peacekeepers deployed in the country – primarily in the east. Violence nevertheless persists in the eastern DRC due to the presence of several militias and foreign armed groups, with sporadic outbreaks occurring in North Kivu, South Kivu, and northern Katanga provinces, as well as in the Ituri District of Orientale province. Members of the Lord’s Resistance Army entered into northeastern DRC from Sudan in 2005, and have camps in an isolated region of the DRC, Garamba National Park, where they killed eight MONUC peacekeepers in January 2006.

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 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 overseas callers, 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:
In the DRC, poor economic conditions continue to foster crime, especially in urban areas. Travel in many sections of Kinshasa, Kisangani, Lubumbashi and most other major cities, is generally safe during daylight hours, but travelers are urged to be vigilant against criminal activity which targets non-Congolese, particularly in highly congested traffic and areas surrounding hotels and stores. Outlying, remote areas are less secure due to high levels of criminal activity and the lack of adequate training, supervision, and salary payments to the security forces present.

Vehicle thefts, burglaries, and armed robbery occur throughout the country; there have been recent reports of after-dark carjackings, resulting in deaths in the North Kivu area. It is recommended to drive with doors locked and windows closed at all times. If confronted by members of the military or security forces, visitors should not permit soldiers or police officers to enter their vehicles nor get into the vehicle of anyone purporting to be a security official. It is recommended that in such instances U.S. citizens remain courteous and calm and, if threatened, not resist. All incidents should be reported to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa.

Consistency in administering laws and regulations is notably absent. Travelers should note that in cases of theft and robbery, legal recourse is limited. Therefore, valuable items may be safer if kept at home or another secure location.

Security officials and/or individuals purporting to be security officials have detained and later robbed American citizens and other foreigners in the city of Kinshasa. This type of crime has increased in recent months, but generally occurs more frequently during the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Travelers using public transportation or visiting high pedestrian traffic areas of any type are advised to be vigilant against robbery and pick-pocketing which is a persistent problem in all major cities in the DRC. The presence of “street children”, who can be persistent and sometimes aggressive, remains a problem particularly in Kinshasa.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
In the DRC, medical facilities are severely limited, and medical materials are in short supply. Travelers should carry properly labeled prescription drugs and other medications with them and should not expect to find an adequate supply of prescription or over-the-counter drugs in local stores or pharmacies. Payment for any medical services required is expected in cash, in advance of treatment.

Malaria is common throughout the DRC and outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, the Ebola virus, and hemorrhagic fever occur.
Travelers should take appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in the DRC.
For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB at: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of the DRC.

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:
For planning purposes, the minimum estimated cost of medical air evacuation to the nearest suitable health care facility (in South Africa) is $35,000.

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 the DRC is provided for general reference only, and may vary according to location or circumstance.

Inter-city roads are scarce, and throughout the DRC roads are generally in poor condition, and often impassable in the rainy season. When driving in cities, keep windows up and doors locked. At roadblocks or checkpoints, documents should be shown through closed windows. In the event of a traffic incident involving bodily injury to a third party or pedestrian, do not stop to offer assistance under any circumstances. Proceed directly to the nearest police station or gendarmerie to report the incident and request official government intervention. Attempting to provide assistance may further aggravate the incident, resulting in a hostile mob reaction such as stoning or beating.

Presidential and other official motorcades pose serious risks to drivers and pedestrians in Kinshasa. When hearing sirens or seeing security forces announcing the motorcade's approach, drivers should pull off the road as far as possible, stop their vehicles, and extinguish headlights. Vehicles should not attempt to move until the entire motorcade has passed by; the security forces will physically indicate when this has occurred. Failure to comply may result in arrest, and/or vehicle damage with possible personal injury.

Public transportation of all forms is unregulated and is generally unsafe and unreliable. Taxis, mini-buses, and trains are in poor mechanical condition and are invariably filled beyond capacity.

Visitors who wish to travel in any mining areas must first obtain government approval from various government agencies or ministries, an often cumbersome and time consuming process.

Drivers should stop their cars and pedestrians should stand still when passing a government installation during the raising and lowering of the Congolese flag. This ceremony occurs at roughly 7:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the DRC’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of the DRC’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
Civil aviation in the DRC continues to experience air incidents and accidents; more than a dozen crashes and in-flight accidents resulted in more than 300 fatalities between 2000 and August 2008. Incidents included hard landings, engine failures, collapsed landing gear, and planes veering off the runway.
In-country air travel schedules are unreliable and planes are frequently overloaded with passengers and/or cargo.
The U.S. Embassy in the DRC has prohibited official travel by U.S. government employees and contractors on all DRC-owned and -operated commercial air transportation services due to concerns regarding safety and maintenance.
International flights on foreign-owned and -operated carriers are not affected by this notice.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Photography: Travelers should note that photography in public places in Kinshasa and around any public or government building or monument in the DRC is strictly forbidden. Persons caught photographing such sites will likely have their photographic equipment confiscated and risk detention and possible arrest.

Travel to and from Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of Congo): Ferry service to and from Kinshasa and Brazzaville stops running in the late afternoon, does not operate on Sundays, and may close completely with minimal notice. If ferry service is functioning, a special exit permit from the DRC's Immigration Service and a visa from the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) are required for U.S. citizens to cross the Congo River from Kinshasa to Brazzaville.

Ferry and riverboat service to the Central African Republic is suspended due to rebel control of the Ubangui River.
Phone Service: In the DRC, cellular phones are the norm, as other telephone service is unreliable. Depending on the type of phone, it may be possible to locally purchase a SIM card to use an American-compatible cell phone in the DRC.

Currency: U.S. currency is widely accepted in the urban areas, but most vendors and banking institutions will accept only Series 1996 bills or newer, with the large, off-center portraits, that provide stronger protection against counterfeiting. In addition, bills must be in near perfect condition; even those with minor stains or small tears will be rejected. One dollar bills are rarely accepted, even if in mint condition. U.S. bills should be examined before they are accepted to ensure that they are legitimate, as counterfeit currency is widely circulated. It is recommended that currency exchange be conducted at reputable banks and not on the street where several schemes exist to either short-change the unwitting customer or to pass counterfeit bills.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in any 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. 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.

Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe in the DRC than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Congolese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the DRC are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Accusations of engaging in crimes against the security of the State, which are loosely defined, often result in detention for prolonged periods without being formally arrested. The DRC’s justice system remains plagued by corruption and uneven application of the law. Attorney fees can be expensive and are expected to be paid in advance of services rendered.

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 the DRC are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within the Congo. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs; tel. 243-081-225-5872 (do not dial the zero when calling from abroad). Entrance to the Consular Section of the Embassy is on Avenue Dumi, opposite the Ste. Anne residence. The Consular Section of the Embassy may be reached at tel. 243-081-884-6859 or 243-081-884-4609; fax 243-081-301-0560 (do not dial the first zero when calling from abroad).
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, dated April 29, 2008, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 18 Jan 2020 03:15 WAT
Source: Actualita [in French, machine trans., edited]
<https://actualite.cd/2020/01/18/rdc-une-maladie-inconnue-fauche-des-vies-kiri-5-morts>

An unknown disease has already killed 5 people at Kiri General Hospital, in the province of Mai-Ndombe, in the west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to the authorities. The provincial minister of public health has said that all measures are underway to detect [diagnose?] the mysterious disease. "Admittedly, this was an abnormal situation; however, the situation is manageable because we have just gone into this health facility and we have tried to carry out investigations. My collaborators and I took some samples which have quickly been sent to the National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa for the appropriate medical tests which can give us accurate [diagnosis] on this abnormal situation," declared the minister Jean Claude Bola. First, added the same official, "it is not an Ebola epidemic, contrary to the rumour circulating in the Kiri territory and in the social networks."

In an exclusive interview with actualita.cd, the provincial authority also confirmed the deaths. "However, I warn all those who broadcast through the various media and social networks that there is Ebola in Mai-Ndombe that they have neither qualification nor competence to do so, because the only authority having jurisdiction in the provinces to declare an epidemic is the provincial governor," declared Paul Mputu Boleilanga. "Severe and disciplinary sanctions will be reserved against usurpers of power," he threatened. According to provincial authorities, a team from the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB), a team is expected in the Kiri territory for "rapid" management of all patients and to determine the disease underlying deaths in this region.
=============================
[Other than the number of deaths and the geographical location of the cases there is no additional information to permit reasonable speculation as to the aetiology or dates of illnesses. ProMED Mod.MPP noted that Ebola denial leads one to suspect this is a viral haemorrhagic fever.

Laboratory tests should confirm or rule out diseases such as yellow fever or Lassa fever. However, there is no indication that these cases are due to a virus or other infectious agent. Toxicants should also be ruled out. Additional information about these or new cases would be appreciated. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Maps of DR Congo: <http://goo.gl/DM2AT8> and
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/194> and
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/65284>]
Date: Tue 7 Jan 2020
Source: WHO Africa [edited]

With the death toll from the world's worst measles epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) surpassing 6000, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for more funding to stop the outbreak.

Under the leadership of the DRC Ministry of Health, WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and other partner aid agencies vaccinated more than 18 million children under 5 across the country in 2019. However, in some areas, routine vaccination coverage remains low, and 25% of the reported measles cases are in children over the age of 5, who are the most vulnerable.

"We are doing our utmost to bring this epidemic under control. Yet to be truly successful we must ensure that no child faces the unnecessary risk of death from a disease that is easily preventable by a vaccine. We urge our donor partners to urgently step up their assistance," said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Since the start of 2019, around 310 000 suspected measles cases have been reported. The epidemic has been aggravated by low vaccination coverage among vulnerable communities, malnutrition, weak public health systems, outbreaks of other epidemic-prone diseases, difficult access by vulnerable populations to health care and insecurity that has hampered response in some areas.

Lack of funding remains a huge impediment to successfully curbing the outbreak. So far, USD 27.6 million have been mobilized. However, a further USD 40 million are required for a 6-month plan to extend the vaccination to children between 6 and 14 years and to reinforce elements of the outbreak response beyond vaccination, including improving treatment, health education, community engagement, health system strengthening, epidemiological surveillance and response coordination.

"We recognize the Government's engagement in the efforts to end the outbreak and we are grateful for the generosity of our donors. But we still need to do more," said Dr. Amedee Prosper Djiguimde, Officer in charge of WHO office in the DRC. "Thousands of Congolese families need our help to lift the burden of this prolonged epidemic from their backs. We cannot achieve this without adequate finances."

The European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Medecins du Monde, Medecins Sans Frontieres, United Nations Children's Fund, WHO and other partners have been supporting the Government to bring the long-running epidemic under control. In December 2019, WHO trained 60 health professionals from the Ministry of Health to conduct a range of services, including community engagement, health education and surveillance. These health professionals are being deployed this week as part of the response.
======================
[Also see Healio:
Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2020 19:01:55 +0100 (MET)

Kinshasa, Jan 7, 2020 (AFP) - Measles has killed more than 6,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo since January, the world's worst outbreak and nearly triple the toll in the country's Ebola epidemic, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.   DR Congo declared its latest measles epidemic in June, and last September the country launched an emergency vaccination campaign to counter the outbreak.

In 2019, more than 18 million children under the age of 5 were vaccinated across the DR Congo, the WHO said in a statement.   Around 310,000 suspected cases were reported during the year, it said.   WHO said an additional $40 million in emergency funds was needed from donors for a six-month immunisation plan for children to help curb the epidemic.

Efforts to halt the spread of both Ebola and measles are hampered by a lack of access, weak health care and unrest across the country, especially in the east.   Measles is a highly-contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks mainly children. The most serious complications include blindness, brain swelling, diarrhoea, and severe respiratory infections.   The rapid spread of measles in DRC has garnered far less attention than the Ebola epidemic that has also been raging in the east of the country since August 2018. That outbreak has killed more than 2,230 people.
Date: Sun 29 Dec 2019
Source: WHO Regional Office for Africa weekly bulletin on outbreaks and other emergencies, week 52: 23-29 Dec 2019 [edited]

Since the beginning of 2019, a cumulative total of 5060 monkeypox cases, including 103 deaths (CFR [case-fatality rate] 2%), were reported from 18 provinces. In week 49 (week ending 8 Dec 2019), 56 cases and one death were reported nationally.
=======================
[It is curious that this many monkeypox (MPX) cases (5060) during 2019 did not come to our attention until now. MPX virus is endemic and widespread geographically in the DR Congo, with cases in 18 provinces; fatal cases occasionally occur. The 2% CFR is relatively low for the clade of MPX that occurs in the DRC, which can reach 10% or more. There is no additional information about the circumstances under which these cases acquired their infection. Monkeys are not the reservoirs of the virus, despite the name that the virus has received.

Studies of prevalence of MPX virus in populations of rodent hosts are not mentioned in this or previous reports. The main reservoirs of MPX virus are suspected to be rodents, including rope squirrels (_Funisciurus_ spp., an arboreal rodent) and terrestrial rodents in the genera _Cricetomys_ and _Graphiurus_. Halting the bushmeat trade and consumption of wild animals to halt MPX virus exposure will be culturally and economically difficult, so continued occurrence of cases can be expected. MPX virus can be transmitted between people but not readily. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Sun, 29 Dec 2019 18:28:40 +0100 (MET)

Beni, DR Congo, Dec 29, 2019 (AFP) - A total of 2,231 people have died out of 3,373 declared cases of Ebola in the current epidemic in the DR Congo, according to the agency overseeing the response, health officials said Sunday.   Deadly unrest in the fragile state has hampered the fight against the disease during the latest epidemic, which broke out on August 1, 2018, with the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri particularly badly hit.

Both areas, beset by violence for two decades, have seen repeated attacks on Ebola health workers by dozens of armed groups as well as on health sites set up to treat victims.   More than 200 civilians have been killed in the troubled east since November in clashes blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a militia group of Ugandan origin which officials blame for a string of massacres in recent weeks.

Health authorities meanwhile said Sunday that 341 suspected Ebola cases were being investigated, a day after the Multisectoral Committee for Epidemic Response (CMRE) monitoring the disease unveiled its latest batch of data Saturday.   The current epidemic is the tenth overall and the second deadliest on record since a 2014-16 outbreak struck west Africa, killing more than 11,300.
More ...

Central African Republic

Central African Republic US Consular Information Sheet
April 01, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Central African Republic is one of the world’s least developed nations and has experienced several periods of political instability since inde
endence from France in 1960.
Despite an on-going peace process and the presence of a democratically-elected government in the capital, Bangui, rebels still control large portions of the northern provinces in the country, and highway bandits prey on civilians and travelers in much of western CAR. In the country’s Dzanga-Sangha National Park in the southwest, facilities for tourists are being developed but remain limited. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the CAR at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/4007.htm for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport, visa, and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required for entry. Travelers should obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of the Central African Republic, 1618 22nd Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone: (202) 483 – 7800/7801, fax: (202) 332 – 9893. Overseas, inquiries should be made to the nearest Central African Republic Embassy or Consulate. NOTE: In any country where there is no Central African Republic diplomatic mission, the French Embassy has authorization to issue a visa for entry into the Central African Republic.
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:
See the Department of State’s Travel Warning for the CAR.
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 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 pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Crime remains a significant problem in the capital, Bangui, though it has decreased notably in recent years. Americans should exercise caution while traveling around the city and immediate environs. Petty theft remains a problem in large market areas, particularly in the crowded markets near KM 5 on the outskirts of the city. Armed gangs may operate in outlying residential areas. During previous periods of civil unrest and civil conflict, including most recently in 2002 and 2003, foreign mercenaries and citizens engaged in widespread looting and damaged much of the city’s infrastructure. In the northern and western parts of the country, there are consistent reports of armed robbery and kidnapping by highway bandits (called “coupeurs de routes” or “zaraguinas”), especially during the December to May dry season. When a crime does occur in Bangui, the victim may have to pay to send a vehicle to pick up police officers due to the shortage of police vehicles and fuel.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are extremely limited in the CAR, and the quality of acute care is unreliable. Sanitation levels are low. Many medicines are not available; travelers should carry properly labeled prescription drugs and other medications with them.
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 CAR is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
In Bangui, road conditions vary, and many roads have large holes and degraded points that prevent the normal flow of traffic. Only a small portion of the roads in the country, including in the capital, are paved, and many of the compacted dirt roads have been degraded. Drivers tend to prefer to drive on the smoothest portion of the road and ignore basic traffic laws, thus slowing the flow of traffic and increasing the risk of collision. The city of Bangui does have a public transportation system consisting of green buses and yellow taxis, though these vehicles are often dangerously overcrowded and very badly maintained.
Due to the risk of armed attacks on motorists in the northern and western regions of the country, overland travel in these areas should be avoided.
Any driving outside the capital should be only during daylight hours.
Most remote areas in the CAR that are frequented by tourists are accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles, although some roads are not passable at all during the rainy season, from May to October.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in the Central African Republic, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the CAR’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Taking photographs of police or military installations, or any other government buildings, is prohibited. Unauthorized photography may result in the seizure of photographic equipment by CAR authorities. Police or other government authorities can provide information and grant permission for photographing a particular subject or location.
Corruption remains a serious problem among CAR security forces, some members of which have harassed travelers for bribes and small amounts of money. At night, the roads in the capital are often manned with impromptu checkpoints, at which police or other military members ask motorists and travelers for money.
Banking infrastructure remains limited in the CAR, and facilities for monetary exchange exist only in the capital. There are no ATMs in the CAR, and exchange bureaus normally accept dollars and euros but not West African Francs (CFA).

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 Central African laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the CAR 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:
The U.S. Embassy in Bangui resumed operations in January 2005, following the evacuation of all American staff in 2002 during the civil conflict and looting in Bangui in 2002. The Embassy’s American presence increased in 2006, and a new American Ambassador to the CAR presented his credentials to President Bozize in 2007. Nonetheless, the Embassy continues to operate with limited staffing, and can only provide basic services to American citizens in the CAR.

Americans living or traveling in the CAR are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within the CAR. 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 is located on Avenue David Dacko, B.P. 924, Bangui, tel: 2161-0200; fax: 2161-4494.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Cameroon dated December 21, 2007, to update sections on Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2019 11:56:44 +0100 (MET)

Bangui, Central African Republic, Oct 29, 2019 (AFP) - The worst flooding in two decades in the Central African Republic has left at least 28,000 people homeless, the country's Red Cross said Tuesday, with the government calling the disaster a "huge natural catastrophe".   Torrential rains have pounded the country for several days, causing the Oubangui River and its tributaries to overflow.   "The latest toll is 28,000 people made homeless" across the former French colony, Central African Red Cross president Antoine Mbao-bogo told AFP, adding that entire neighbourhoods are "underwater".

In the capital Bangui, with a population of about one million, mud homes have literally dissolved in the floods.   "Today our country, and not just the city of Bangui, faces a huge natural catastrophe," government spokesman Ange-Maxime Kazagui said in a television address late Monday.   "The Oubangui River has burst its banks, and its tributaries can no longer flow into it, creating a phenomenon of massive overflow."   The country's main river overflows about once a decade, with a 1999 disaster causing major destruction -- but Mbao-bogo said the current flooding is even worse.   "Add to that the deep poverty of our compatriots," he said.

The country of some 4.7 million people, which faces brutal violence from armed groups despite a peace pact signed this year, is one of the world's poorest countries.    With more than two-thirds of the country controlled by militias fighting the government or each other, about a quarter of the population have fled their homes.   Kazagui said Bangui residents living on the banks of the Oubangui had been hit especially hard.   "Drinking water is lacking. There are problems with latrines, mosquitos, cold and the risk of epidemics such as cholera," he said.   "We don't have the infrastructure to shelter people, but we expect that NGOs will provide tents and shelters," Kazagui said.
Date: Sun 1 Sep 2019
Source: WHO Weekly Bulletin on Outbreaks and Other Emergencies, Week 35 [edited]

On 19 Aug 2019, the Institut Pasteur of Bangui (IPB), Central Africa Republic, reported a confirmed case of Rift Valley fever (RVF) in Bossembele health district, Boali sub-prefecture. The case-patient is a 45-year-old male farmer from Bogoin village who initially fell ill on 5 Aug 2019 and presented, on 8 Aug 2019, to the local health facility with fever, chills, headache, nausea, asthenia, myalgia, arthralgia and retro-ocular pain. As part of influenza surveillance, a blood specimen was collected on 9 Aug 2019 and transported to the IPB. Test results released on 19 Aug 2019 confirmed RVF infection by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. As of 24 Aug 2019, the case-patient remained in admission in good clinical condition.

Outbreak investigations carried out by the rapid response team identified 7 additional suspected RVF cases from the same health district, 5 through records review in the local health facility and 2 by active case search in the affected community. A total of 12 blood specimens (5 from suspected cases and 7 from healthy control cases) were collected and are being analysed at the IPB; the test results are pending. The suspected cases, with ages ranging from 5 to 45 years, are being followed as outpatients.

Additionally, animal health investigations carried out in the affected community reportedly identified sick domestic animals (mainly cows and sheep), manifesting symptoms such as runny nose, cough and diarrhoea. A total of 21 blood specimens were collected from the sick animals (cows and small ruminants) and taken for laboratory analysis and the test results are pending.

Further epidemiological and entomological investigations are ongoing, and updates will be provided as new information becomes available.

Public health actions
The Ministry of Health is coordinating the response to the RVF outbreak through the emergency operations centre, with support from the health partners.

A multisectoral national rapid response team, comprising of both public and animal health specialists, and entomologists was deployed from 21-24 Aug 2019 to conduct in-depth outbreak investigation.

The epidemiological and laboratory surveillance have been enhanced, and healthcare workers have been oriented on the standard case definition for RVF to facilitate early case detection. Data collection and reporting tools have been distributed to the health facilities.

Case management is ongoing in the affected health district, with some suspected cases being managed as outpatients.

Risk communication activities using various channels are ongoing in the affected communities, however this needs to be enhanced.

Situation interpretation
Health authorities in Central African Republic have reported a new outbreak of RVF, the 1st time such an event has been formally reported in the country. Information on the circulation of RVF virus (RVFV) in Central African Republic is limited, partly due to gaps in the surveillance system, and specifically due to limited surveillance for RVF disease. Literature indicates that RVFV was 1st isolated in Central African Republic in 1969 from a pool of _Mansonia africana_ mosquitoes. However, a recent study in Central African Republic detected RVFV-specific antibodies in humans, and 15 strains [isolates] of RVFV were isolated from humans and sylvatic mosquitoes.

The current confirmation of RVF in the country should alert health authorities to strengthen surveillance for the disease and other zoonoses. Additionally, in-depth epidemiological and entomological investigations should be undertaken to properly understand the epidemiology of the disease and identify all potential vectors species in the country. The ongoing rainy season, running from May to October 2019, may result in increased [mosquito] vector density, constituting another risk factor for escalation of RVF.
======================
[It is interesting that this year (2019) it was a human case that signaled the presence of Rift Valley fever virus RVFV) in the country. The results of the subsequent field studies by the multidisciplinary rapid response team found additional human cases and evidence that the virus is being transmitted to livestock.

Finding evidence of RVF virus in the Central African Republic (CAR) is not surprising. Last year (2018), human and animal cases occurred in neighboring South Sudan (see Valley fever - South Sudan (09): (EL) human, animal, WHO http://promedmail.org/post/20180410.5735975). If focal geographic areas of transmission are identified in this CAR situation, increased surveillance of people and livestock should be initiated and livestock vaccination considered. RVF-infected livestock can pose a significant risk to humans in contact with them, often livestock owners and veterinarians. Abortions in livestock with a loss in productivity present an economic problem for many ethnic groups that depend on them for livelihoods. Apparently, this RVF outbreak did not result in an abortion storm that could have had serious economic, social and public health consequences. It is likely that RVF virus will persist in this area in transovarially infected eggs of _Aedes_ mosquito vectors. These eggs can remain viable for long periods of time and hatch when flooded during future rain events, with subsequent emergence of infected females ready to transmit the virus. This risk provides justification for maintaining livestock of the area well vaccinated into the future. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Central African Republic: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/66>]
Date: Fri 1 Feb 2019
Source WHO Weekly Bulletin on Outbreaks and Other Emergencies [edited]

During the period 2 Mar 2018 - 27 Jan 2019, 34 cases of monkeypox, of which 25 are confirmed, have been reported to the WHO. There have been 2 deaths.

Since 2 Oct 2018, clusters of cases have been identified across 3 health districts, namely; Mbai-ki district with 9 cases including 8 confirmed, Bangassou district with 5 cases including 3 confirmed, and Bossembele district with 4 cases including 3 confirmed. One death was reported in Bossem-bele. Previous clusters have occurred in 3 districts: Bangassou (weeks 9-11, 9 cases including 6 confirmed), Bambari (weeks 13-16, 15 cases including 3 confirmed) and Mbaiki (weeks 26-27, 5 cases including 2 confirmed).
====================
[ProMED-mail has been reporting sporadic cases of monkeypox (MPX), which are not new to the Central African Republic (CAR). Since 2013, CAR has been experiencing at least one MPX outbreak every year, especially in its eastern region. The case fatality rate continues to be very low.

Prevention of MPX virus infections will not be possible without knowing the source of infection. The question remains about the source of these recent infections within Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, and more recently in CAR. Monkeys are not the reservoirs of the virus, despite the name that the virus has received.

One wonders whether there is an MPX virus epizootic going on in rodent hosts across a relatively wide geographic area in CAR and the other affected countries. Studies of prevalence of MPX virus in populations of rodent hosts are not mentioned in this or in previous reports. The main reservoirs of MPX virus are suspected to be rodents, including rope squirrels (_Funisciurus_ spp., an arboreal rodent) and terrestrial rodents in the genera _Cricetomys_ and _Graphiurus_. Halting the bushmeat trade and consumption of wild animals to halt MPX virus exposure will be culturally and economically difficult, so continued occurrence of cases can be expected.

The MPX virus clade involved in this outbreak and previous ones is not mentioned. As noted in previous ProMED-mail posts, the monkeypox virus clade in the Congo Basin causes more severe disease in humans -- with a case fatality rate of 11-17 percent -- than the clade in Ghana, which causes few fatalities. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Central African Republic: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/66>]
Date: Mon 3 Dec 2018
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

In a follow-up to the hepatitis E outbreak in Bocaranga-Koui Health District, Central African Republic, since late October 2018, 67 new cases of acute jaundice syndrome were reported, of which 51 were confirmed with hepatitis E virus infection. As of 23 Nov 2018, a total of 119 cases of acute jaundice syndrome were recorded, including 2 deaths (case fatality ratio, 1.7%). Of the 119 cases, 80 (67%) have been confirmed positive for hepatitis E virus infection by the Institut Pasteur Bangui. The outbreak has largely been localized to Bocaranga City.

The outbreak of hepatitis E was declared by the Minister of Health on 2 Oct 2018. Epidemiological investigation revealed that the 1st suspected cases emerged in July 2018. Health officials report an increasing trend being observed lately.

Hepatitis E infection is found worldwide. The virus is shed in the stools of infected persons and enters the human body through the intestine. It is transmitted mainly through contaminated drinking water. Usually the infection is self-limiting and resolves within 2 to 6 weeks. Occasionally a serious disease, known as fulminant hepatitis (acute liver failure) develops, and a proportion of people with this disease can die [especially pregnant women - ProMED Mod.LL].

According to WHO, every year, there are an estimated 20 million hepatitis E infections worldwide, leading to an estimated 3.3 million symptomatic cases of hepatitis E, and 56 600 hepatitis E-related deaths.
======================
[Hepatitis E is found worldwide, and different genotypes of the hepatitis E virus determine differences in epidemiology. For example, genotype 1 is usually seen in developing countries and causes community-level outbreaks, whereas genotype 3 is usually seen in developed countries and does not cause outbreaks. Acute epidemic hepatitis E is attributable to infection with hepatitis E virus genotypes 1 and 2. Many of the deaths are in pregnant women, characteristic of genotype 1.

The highest seroprevalence rates (number of persons in a population who test positive for the disease) are observed in regions where low standards of sanitation increase the risk for transmission of the virus.

Ouham-Pende is one of the 16 prefectures of the Central African Republic (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouham-Pend%C3%A9>). Located in the west of the country, its capital is Bozoum. In the north it has a border with Cameroun and Chad. In the south is the prefecture Ombella-Mpoko; in the southwest, the prefecture Nana-Mambere; and in the east, the prefecture Ouham. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Central African Republic: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/66>]
Date: Thu, 6 Dec 2018 06:36:12 +0100
By Charles BOUESSEL

Bangui, Central African Republic, Dec 6, 2018 (AFP) - The line of parents waiting to see doctors stretches back outside the hospital into the dusty courtyard. Mums and dads carrying weak, starving children. Many hanging limply in their arms like half empty sacks of rice.  The scene at the paediatric complex in Bangui, capital of Central African Republic, is not dissimilar to a war zone.

And as conflict tears through the country, people here are desperately fighting another deadly foe: hunger.   In a doorway, a young girl stands with the round shape of her belly protruding out above her skinny legs.   A few metres away another malnourished girl sits barefoot, joints protruding, with shoulder blades poking out of her skin like blades, a baggy top the only clothing to cling to her perished frame.   "Central African Republic is one of the most difficult countries to be a child," Donaig Le Dru, UNICEF spokesperson in CAR, told AFP.

The statistics underline the horrors that stalk childhood in the country.   Infant mortality in CAR is the highest in the world, according to the UN.    One in 24 children die in the first 28 days of life.   The number of children with severe or acute malnutrition rose from around 32,000 to 43,000 between 2014 and the end of 2018.   And two out of three children -- 1.5 million youngsters in total -- are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UNICEF.   The UN's World Food Programme warned last month that CAR was facing the worst situation of food insecurity in four years, with nearly two million people in urgent need of food aid.


- 'More dangerous for children' -
Civil unrest has lacerated this impoverished but mineral-rich country for years, leaving the economy in tatters and causing misery for those caught in the violence.    In a report released last month, the UN expressed alarm over a "sharp increase in fighting" and said "life may be even harder and more dangerous for children" than it was at the height of the last outbreak of civil war five years ago.    One of the world's poorest countries, the CAR spiralled into bloodshed after longtime leader Francois Bozize was overthrown in 2013 by a predominantly Muslim rebel alliance called the Seleka.

Nominally Christian militias called the anti-Balaka emerged in response, accelerating a cycle of sectarian violence.   France intervened militarily from 2013 to 2016 to push out the Seleka, winding down the operation after Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected president.   Touadera governs today with the support of a large UN peacekeeping operation. But most of the country is controlled by ex-rebels and militias, many of them claiming to act as guardians for the Muslim or Christian communities.

- Severe malnutrition -
The Bangui hospital is just a few kilometres from the mainly Muslim PK5 district -- an area that has become a flashpoint in the troubled country.   But just five paediatricians work here, struggling with limited equipment or support eked out of the creaking healthcare system.   Inside the hospital, a group of parents and children stare at a malnourished girl crying during what has become a daily routine -- being weighed on scales in a large blue bucket.   One by one, the children are lifted onto the scales as other emaciated infants and parents look on, waiting their turn.

In the overcrowded hospital grounds, a father called Theodore hugs his young daughter who is suffering from malnutrition.   His wife is in hospital after having a nervous breakdown, he says, after the couple's first child died. He struggles to earn enough money to buy food.   In general, children are hospitalised for a little over a week until their weight recovers.   But not all survive, with some losing the fight against severe malnutrition or disease -- the lasting consequences of violence and poverty in a nation wracked by conflict.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 17:57:34 +0100 (MET)
By Eva XIAO

Beijing, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - The first fatality of China's new virus would come to represent a common set of traits for those who died to the disease: he was over the age of 60 and in poor health.   Since China reported the emergence of a new coronavirus at the end of December, the SARS-like virus has infected more than 500 and killed 17.   So far, the majority of the victims were elderly individuals with pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes and liver cirrhosis.   All hailed from central Hubei province, where a local seafood market in the capital city of Wuhan is believed to be the epicentre of the epidemic.   But while older individuals have died from the Wuhan virus, some younger patients -- including a 10-year-old boy -- have since been released from the hospital.   Here's what we know so far about the deaths:

Most victims were over 60
According to details released by China's National Health Commission (NHC) on Thursday, the 17 victims of the virus were between 48 and 89 years old.   Only two were under the age of 60, while the average age of the victims was 73.   Most of them died this week, according to the NHC.   Among those who have been discharged from the hospital were younger patients, including a 35-year-old man from Shenzhen, a bustling tech hub in southern Guangdong province.   He was released from the hospital on Thursday, according to the local health commission, as well as the 10-year-old boy who had visited relatives in Wuhan before falling ill.

Many had pre-existing health conditions
Many of those who died from the virus also had pre-existing health issues before contracting the Wuhan disease, such as diabetes and hypertension.   One man, an 86-year-old who was hospitalised on January 9, had surgery for colon cancer four years prior, on top of suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes.   Another, an 80-year-old woman surnamed Hu, had Parkinson's Disease and more than 20 years of high blood pressure and diabetes in her medical history.

Some were hospitalised for weeks before dying
Several of the 17 victims were hospitalised for weeks before dying -- raising questions on the preparedness of hospitals that may have to treat patients for long periods of time.   The youngest victim of the Wuhan virus, a woman surnamed Yin, was hospitalised for more than a month before succumbing to the virus.   On December 10, the 48-year-old woman reported a fever, coughing, body soreness, and fatigue, and underwent anti-infection treatment for two weeks, according to the NHC.   Later in the end of the month, Yin suffered shortness of breath and chest tightness, and she passed away on January 20.

Not all of them had a fever
Currently, Wuhan authorities are screening passengers for fever at the airport, railway stations, and bus terminals.   At four airports in Thailand, authorities introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving from high-risk areas of China.   But not all those who died after being infected reported a fever before being hospitalised, according to the NHC.   A 66-year-old man surnamed Luo reported a "mainly dry cough" but no fever on December 22 before suffering from shortness of breath more than a week later.

By mid-January, Luo required a ventilator to help him breathe.   "A major concern is the range of severity of symptoms this virus is causing," said Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust.   "It is clear some people are being affected and are infectious while experiencing only very mild symptoms or possibly without experiencing symptoms at all," he said in an emailed statement.   "This may be masking the true numbers infected and the extent of person to person transmission," he added.
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 16:05:30 +0100 (MET)

Singapore, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - Singapore Thursday confirmed its first case of the new SARS-like virus which has killed 17 people in China and spread to multiple countries including the United States.   The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the patient was a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family on Monday.    He was immediately isolated after arriving at a hospital with a fever and cough, and test results later confirmed he was infected with the coronavirus.   One of his travelling companions, a 37-year-old man from Wuhan, has also been admitted to hospital as a suspect case.

Prior to admission, they had stayed at a hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, the ministry said.   It added that Singapore was expecting more cases and alarms "given the high volume of international travel".   Singapore's Changi Airport started screening flights from Wuhan at the beginning of the month, and on Wednesday extended the checks to all flights from China.   The travel hub receives over 430 flights from China every week.   The virus has caused alarm in China and abroad because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Singapore was among the hardest hit by SARS with 33 deaths.   Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in Davos for the World Economic Forum, said there was "no need to panic".   Speaking to reporters travelling with him, Lee said Singapore has beefed up its hospital facilities and laid out response measures since the SARS epidemic.   "I think we are much better prepared now," he said in remarks carried by the Straits Times newspaper.
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 14:43:33 +0100 (MET)

Barcelona, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - The death toll from a violent storm which has wrought havoc on huge swathes of Spain's eastern and southern coastline rose to nine on Thursday as rescuers pressed the hunt for at least five missing people.    The latest death was that of a man whose body was found in a flooded river near Jorba, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) northwest of Barcelona, the emergency services said.    Rescuers in Catalonia had been searching for a missing person in the same area but said it was too early to confirm if it was him.

Catalan rescuers had late on Wednesday found another body of a man who died after falling into the water in Palamos, a port town about 100 kilometres up the coast from Barcelona.    They are also searching for a man who went missing from a merchant ship in the same area, as well as a person in Cadaques near the French border.   Earlier on Thursday, regional officials confirmed the death of a 75-year-old woman whose house collapsed because of heavy rain in Alcoi, a town in the eastern Alicante region.

Storm Gloria hit the region on Sunday, bringing strong winds, torrential rains and heavy snow, battering Spain's southern and eastern flanks before moving north.   Gale-force winds and huge waves smashed into seafront towns, with dramatic images showing massive flooding that has damaged shops, houses and restaurants.   National weather agency Aemet had on Wednesday said the storm was starting to abate although it kept Catalonia and the Balearic Islands on alert.   As the storm eased, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was on Thursday visiting some of the worst-hit areas, overflying parts of Catalonia before heading to the Balearic Islands which on Tuesday were hit by record waves, the port authority said.

Rescuers on the islands are still searching for three people, including a 25-year-old Briton who went missing on a beach in northern Ibiza, and a 27-year-old Spaniard who disappeared in Mallorca while practising canyoning -- a mix of rappelling, climbing and watersliding through deep gorges.   Rescuers had found three other bodies on Wednesday, including that of a 67-year-old man who went missing in his car near the southeastern resort town of Benidom.    They also found two bodies in the southern Andalusia region, one of a 77-year-old man who died when a greenhouse collapsed on him in a hailstorm in Nijar as well as that of a homeless man who died of hypothermia.
Date: Wed 22 Jan 2020 1:04 PM EAT
Source: Uganda Red Cross Twitter [edited]

One confirmed case of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, 4 others suspected, in Kagadi [western Uganda]

A district Task Force has been formed to manage and coordinate the cases across the district @MinofHealthUG @robert_kwesiga @inakasiita1
========================
[Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) can cause serious disease in humans, with a case fatality rate of 10-40%. It can be responsible for severe outbreaks in humans, but it is not pathogenic for ruminants, their amplifying hosts. WHO states that the onset of symptoms in humans is sudden, with fever, myalgia, (muscle ache), dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes and photophobia (sensitivity to light). There may be nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and sore throat early on, followed by sharp mood swings and confusion. After 2-4 days, the agitation may be replaced by sleepiness, depression, and lassitude, and the abdominal pain may localize to the upper right quadrant, with detectable hepatomegaly (liver enlargement). Other clinical signs include tachycardia (fast heart rate), lymphadenopathy (enlarged lymph nodes), and a petechial rash (a rash caused by bleeding into the skin) on internal mucosal surfaces, such as in the mouth and throat, and on the skin.

Public education, especially among individuals in contact with livestock or their products, is needed to prevent cases of CCHF infection. A One Health approach is needed for effective surveillance, with effective communication between animal health and human health professionals.

The information in the tweet above indicates that there is one confirmed and at least 4 suspected cases of CCHF in Kagadi district, in the western region of Uganda.  Any updates on the epidemiology of these cases, occupational exposure, and public health response measures to control the transmission will be highly appreciated. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[Maps of Uganda:
Date: Mon 20 Jan 2020
Source: Global News [edited]

A doctor working with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) in Saskatchewan is urging caution to residents in and around Onion Lake First Nation following 2 people contracting a rare, deadly bacterial infection. Medical health officer Dr. Ibrahim Khan wrote a letter to the chief of the Onion Lake First Nation that said both patients were admitted to medical facilities shortly after New Years Day with diphtheria. He said one patient is under 18, while the other is an adult and was suffering from skin abrasions [? cutaneous diphtheria], which Khan said is rare for that disease.

In the letter, he said the disease is very uncommon in the province and can lead to "severe complications like breathing problems, heart failure, and paralysis, and without appropriate treatment can result in death." He applauded the medical team in Onion Lake, saying they contained the infection and made sure everyone in the community was aware of the risk and vaccinated.

"Everybody gets that vaccination, and they have that protection. That's why we don't see it. We don't see that many measles cases. We don't see that many prostatitis [pertussis?] cases, and we do not see any tetanus cases, because there is a good immunization for it. A good vaccination for it (and) people are aware of it," he told Global News. He said other local agencies, like pharmacies, made sure those on the front lines were supplied if they came across someone who wasn't vaccinated.

The letter to Chief Henry Louis said vaccination is the best method for preventing diphtheria and that the disease could virtually be eradicated if everyone who could be vaccinated received the shot. He said the target is for 97% of the population to receive the vaccination to prevent further spread in the community and noted the rates in Onion Lake are below that benchmark.  [Byline: Kyle Benning]
=====================
[Although the news report above says that one of the 2 patients with diphtheria was an adult "suffering from skin abrasions, which is rare for that disease," perhaps implying that this patient had cutaneous diphtheria, we are not told specifically the patients' clinical manifestations, i.e., whether they had respiratory diphtheria, cutaneous diphtheria, or both; if the strains of _Corynebacterium diphtheriae_ were toxin-producers; or if the patients were vaccinated against diphtheria.

Diphtheria became nationally notifiable in Canada in 1924, and that year 9057 cases were reported, the highest annual number of cases ever recorded in Canada  (<https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/vaccine-preventable-diseases/diphtheria/health-professionals.html>).

The diphtheria vaccine was 1st introduced in 1926, and routine immunization in infancy and childhood has been widely practiced since 1930 in Canada. By the mid-1950s, routine immunization had resulted in a remarkable decline in the morbidity and mortality of the disease. Another steep decline in cases occurred in 1980, which has been attributed, in part, to a change in case definition to exclude carriers from reported cases in all provinces and territories. Since 1993, a total of 19 cases have been reported with a range of 0-4 cases annually  (<https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/vaccine-preventable-diseases/diphtheria/health-professionals.html>).

In the USA, the case definition for reporting to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System includes only respiratory diphtheria
(<https://wwwn.cdc.gov/nndss/conditions/diphtheria/case-definition/2010/>).

Similarly, the WHO case definition for reporting diphtheria only includes clinical respiratory diphtheria. Although no longer reportable, cutaneous diphtheria still occurs in the USA and has been most often associated with homelessness, poor sanitation, poverty, and crowded living conditions  (<https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/dip.html>).

However, the Canadian case definition includes both respiratory diphtheria and infection at another site (e.g., wound, cutaneous)
(<https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/vaccine-preventable-diseases/diphtheria/health-professionals/national-case-definition.html>).

Cutaneous diphtheria is contagious and can be a source of both respiratory and cutaneous infections in contacts. Acquisition of _Corynebacterium diphtheriae_, the cause of diphtheria, can occur even in vaccinated contacts, as vaccine-induced immunity is anti-toxin. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Saskatchewan province, Canada: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/262>]
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 17:37:27 +0100 (MET)
By Helen ROXBURGH

Beijing, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - A new SARS-like virus has killed 17 people in China, infected hundreds and reached as far as the United States, with fears mounting about its spread as hundreds of millions travel for Lunar New Year celebrations, which start Friday.   Many countries have stepped up screening of passengers from Wuhan, the Chinese city identified as the epicentre, and the World Health Organization has called an emergency meeting.   Here's what we know so far about the virus:

- It's entirely new -
The pathogen appears to be a never-before-seen strain of coronavirus -- a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003.   Arnaud Fontanet, head of the department of epidemiology at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, told AFP the current virus strain was 80 percent genetically identical to SARS.   China has already shared the genome sequencing of this novel coronavirus with the international scientific community.   It has been named "2019-nCoV".

- It's being passed between humans -
The WHO said Monday it believed an animal source was the "primary source" of the outbreak, and Wuhan authorities identified a seafood market as the centre of the epidemic.   But China has since confirmed that there was evidence the virus is now passing from person to person, without any contact with the now-closed market.

The virus has infected more than 400 people across the country, with most cases in Wuhan, according to officials. Li Bin of China's National Health Commission on Wednesday said 1,394 people were still under medical observation.   Doctor Nathalie MacDermott of King's College London said it seems likely that the virus is spread through droplets in the air from sneezing or coughing.   Doctors at the University of Hong Kong published an initial paper on Tuesday modelling the spread of the virus which estimated that there have been some 1,343 cases in Wuhan -- similar to a projection of 1,700 last week by scientists at Imperial College, London.   Both are much higher than official figures.

- It is milder than SARS -
Compared with SARS, the symptoms appear to be less aggressive, and experts say the death toll is still relatively low.   "It's difficult to compare this disease with SARS," said Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at China's National Health Commission at a press conference this week. "It's mild. The condition of the lung is not like SARS."   However, the milder nature of the virus can also cause alarm.

The outbreak comes as China prepares for the Lunar New Year Holiday, with hundreds of millions travelling across the country to see family.   Professor Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, told AFP that the fact that the virus seems milder in the majority of people is "paradoxically more worrying" as it allows people to travel further before their symptoms are detected.   "Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high," said Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust.

- International public health emergency? -
The WHO will hold a meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a "public health emergency of international concern" and if so, what should be done to manage it.   Cases have so far been confirmed in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau and the United States.

The WHO has only used the rare label a handful of times, including during the H1N1 -- or swine flu -- pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.   The Chinese government announced Tuesday it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as the SARS outbreak, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel.   But if the WHO decides to take this step, it would put the Wuhan virus in the same category as a handful of very serious epidemics.

- Global precautions -
As the number of confirmed deaths and infections has risen, so has concern worldwide about the disease spreading to other countries.   In Thailand, authorities have introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving at airports in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi from high-risk areas in China.

In Hong Kong, where hundreds died during the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003, authorities have said they are on high alert, carrying out scans at the city's airport -- one of the world's busiest -- and at other international land and sea crossing points.

The United States also ordered the screening of passengers arriving on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan, including at airports in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.   Taiwan has issued travel advisories, and went to its second-highest alert level for those travelling to or from Wuhan. Vietnam has also ordered more border checks on its border with China.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 16:53:32 +0100 (MET)
By Beiyi SEOW

Beijing, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - The death toll from a new SARS-like virus that has infected hundreds in China rose to 17 on Wednesday, as authorities urged people to steer clear of the city at the centre of the outbreak.   The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   With hundreds of millions of people travelling across China this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, the National Health Commission announced measures to contain the disease -- including sterilisation and ventilation at airports and bus stations, as well as inside planes and trains.

In Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, large public events were cancelled and international football matches were moved to a new location. Visitors were urged to stay away, while residents were advised to not to leave the central city, which is home to 11 million people.   "If it's not necessary we suggest that people don't come to Wuhan," Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV.    The illness is mainly transmitted via the respiratory tract and there "is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease", health commission vice minister Li Bin told a news conference in Beijing.   More than 500 cases have now been reported, with the majority in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province.

The virus has now infected at least 444 people in Hubei province alone, said provincial officials at a press conference, adding that the death toll had risen from nine to 17.   Major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing have also reported cases, as well as provinces in northeastern, central, and southern China.   The World Health Organization started an emergency meeting Wednesday to decide whether or not to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has now been detected in the United States, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Macau.

The Chinese government has classified the outbreak in the same category as the SARS epidemic, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the illness and the potential to implement quarantine measures.   But they still have not been able to confirm the exact source of the virus.   "We will step up research efforts to identify the source and transmission of the disease," Li said, adding that "the cases are mostly linked to Wuhan".   Countries have intensified efforts to stop the spread of the pathogen -- known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).   Passengers are facing screening measures at five US airports and a host of transport hubs across Asia. Britain and Italy on Wednesday also announced enhanced monitoring of passengers from Wuhan.

- Virus source -
A prominent expert from China's National Health Commission confirmed this week that the virus can be passed between people.   However, animals are suspected to be the primary source of the outbreak.   A Wuhan market is believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak.

A price list circulating online in China for a business there lists a menagerie of animals or animal-based products including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies and rats. It also offered civets, the animal linked to SARS.   "We already know that the disease originated from a market which conducted illegal transaction of wild animals," said Gao Fu, director of the Chinese centre for disease control and prevention.   He said it was clear "this virus is adapting and mutating".   Hong Kong and British scientists have estimated that between 1,300 and 1,700 people in Wuhan may have been infected.

- Containment -
Health authorities are urging people to wash their hands regularly, avoid crowded places, get plenty of fresh air and wear a mask if they have a cough.   Anyone with a cough or fever was urged to go to hospital.   In Wuhan, city authorities made it mandatory to wear a mask in public places on Wednesday, according to state-run People's Daily.

In response to skyrocketing demand for masks -- which were starting to sell out at pharmacies and on some popular websites -- China's industry and information technology ministry said it would "spare no effort in increasing supply", state media reported.   "These days, I wear masks even in places that are not too crowded, although I wouldn't have done so in the past," said Wang Suping, 50, who works at a Beijing arts school.   At the capital's main international airport, the majority of people were wearing masks.

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it had agreed to allow staff to wear surgical masks on mainland China flights, and that passengers from Wuhan would be offered masks and antiseptic wipes.   In Wuhan, police were conducting vehicle spot checks for live poultry or wild animals leaving and entering the city, state media said.   Officials also screened people on roads, the airport and the train station for fever.   The local government has cancelled major public activities and banned tour groups from heading out of the city.   Women's Olympics football qualifiers scheduled for February 3-9 in Wuhan have been moved to the eastern city of Nanjing.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 15:49:25 +0100 (MET)

Montreal, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - A Canadian guide died and five French tourists were missing after at least one snowmobile plunged through ice in northern Quebec, police said Tuesday.   The group were riding close to where a river exits the Saint-Jean lake, and were outside the approved area for snowmobiles, police spokesman Hugues Beaulieu told AFP.   Nine people, including the guide, were on the trip on Tuesday evening when the ice broke underneath them.   Police said they were alerted by two of the tourists who had rescued a third tourist from the freezing water.

The 42-year-old guide was pulled out by emergency response teams and taken to hospital, but he died overnight, Beaulieu said, adding "five French tourists are still missing."   The police and army were searching the area on Wednesday, assisted by divers.   "This sector was not part of a marked trail, they were off-piste," said the spokesman.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 04:55:57 +0100 (MET)

Hong Kong, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - Macau on Wednesday reported its first confirmed case of the new SARS-like coronavirus as authorities announced all staff in the city's bustling casinos had been ordered to wear face masks.   The former Portuguese colony is a huge draw for mainland tourists as the only place in China that allows gambling.

With the Lunar New Year approaching this weekend, a huge influx of mainland tourists is expected in the city.   Asian countries have ramped up measures to block the spread of the new virus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has so far killed at least nine people.

On Wednesday, Macau announced its first confirmed case -- a 52-year-old businesswoman from Wuhan who arrived in the city by high-speed rail on Sunday, via the neighbouring city of Zhuhai.    "A series of tests found that she was positive for the coronavirus and had symptoms of pneumonia," Lei Chin-lon, the head of Macau's health bureau, told reporters.    The woman had been staying at the New Orient Landmark Hotel with two friends who were being monitored since her admission to hospital on Tuesday.

Ao Ieong Iu, Macau's Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, said staff in all casinos would be required to wear masks while anyone arriving at entry ports along the city's border with the mainland would need to fill out health declaration forms.    "We have not banned tourism groups from Wuhan but we are not encouraging them," Ao Ieong said.    "We will stay in close contact with tourism agencies and require them to notify us of all groups going to and coming from Wuhan," she added.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 22:23:22 +0100 (MET)
By Issam Ahmed with Helen Roxburgh

Washington/Beijing, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - The United States on Tuesday announced its first case of a new virus that has claimed six lives in China and sickened hundreds, joining countries around the world in ramping up measures to block its spread.   The man, a US resident in his 30s who lives near Seattle, is in good condition, according to federal and state officials, and approached authorities himself after reading about the SARS-like virus in news reports.   He is "currently hospitalized out of an abundance of precaution, and for short term monitoring, not because there was severe illness," said Chris Spitters, a Washington state health official.  "This is an evolving situation and again, we do expect additional patients in the United States and globally," added Nancy Messonier, a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but stressed that the overall risk to Americans remained low.

The man entered the country on January 15 after traveling to Wuhan, two days before the US began deploying health officials at major airports to screen passengers arriving from that central Chinese city which is at the heart of the outbreak. The efforts are to be extended now to a total of five US airports.   It came as countries ramped up measures to block the spread of the virus -- known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus or 2019-nCoV -- as the number of cases surpassed 300, raising concerns in the middle of a major Chinese holiday travel rush.

Fears of a bigger outbreak rose after a prominent expert from China's National Health Commission confirmed late Monday that the virus can be passed between people.   That conclusion is shared by the CDC, which said "person-to-person spread is occurring, although it's unclear how easily the virus spreads between people," even as the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a more cautious approach, saying it is still investigating.   The UN agency will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to determine whether to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has also been detected in Thailand, Japan and South Korea and Taiwan.

- Holiday rush -
Authorities previously said there was no obvious evidence of person-to-person transmission and animals were suspected to be the source, as a seafood market where live animals were sold in Wuhan was identified as the center of the outbreak.   Hundreds of millions of people are criss-crossing China this week in packed buses, trains and planes to celebrate the Lunar New Year with relatives.

More than 80 new cases have been confirmed, bringing the total number of people hit by the virus in China to 315, with the vast majority in Hubei, the province where Wuhan lies, according to officials.   But cases have also been confirmed around the country, including Beijing and Shanghai.   The first case on the self-ruled island of Taiwan was also confirmed Tuesday, with a woman taken to hospital on arrival at the airport from Wuhan.   Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV Tuesday that the death toll had risen from four to six.   The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

- Fever checks -
At four airports in Thailand, authorities introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving from high-risk areas of China.   In Hong Kong, authorities said they were on "extreme high alert," with passengers from Wuhan required to fill out health declarations and face possible jail time if they do not declare symptoms.   Enhanced screening measures have also been set up at airports in Australia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore and Russia, Malaysia and Vietnam.   A man showing symptoms of the disease who had travelled to Wuhan has been put in isolation in Australia as health officials await test results, authorities said Tuesday.   In China, the government announced it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as SARS, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed ith the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel.

In Wuhan, authorities banned tour groups and police were conducting spot checks for animals in vehicles leaving and entering the city, state media said.   It added that city health authorities had scheduled 800 beds to be made available in three hospitals and 1,200 more would soon be ready, and passengers were being screened for fever at the airport, railway stations and bus terminals.   Doctors at the University of Hong Kong released a study on Tuesday estimating that there have been 1,343 cases of the new virus in Wuhan.   The WHO has only called a global public health emergency a handful of times, including during the H1N1 -- or swine flu -- pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.