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

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.
Date: Tue, 13 Aug 2019 11:40:19 +0200 (METDST)

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

Congo, Republic of the

Republic of Congo US Consular Information Sheet
August 29, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) is a developing nation in central Africa. The official language is French. The largest cities are the capita
, Brazzaville, on the Congo River, and Pointe Noire on the coast. Civil conflict in 1997 and again in 1998-99 damaged parts of the capital and large areas in the south of the country. The last rebel group still engaged in armed struggled signed a cease-fire accord with the government in March 2003. Facilities for tourism are very limited. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville) for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport, visa and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required for entry. Additional information on entry requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of the Republic of the Congo, 4891 Colorado Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20011, telephone (202) 726-5500, or from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Congo to the United Nations, 14 E. 65th St., New York, NY, 10021, telephone (212) 744-7840. 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:
As a result of past conflicts, there is extensive damage to the infrastructure in Brazzaville and in the southern part of the country, and the government is working to reconstruct roads and buildings. Fighting broke out in March and June of 2002 when rebel groups launched attacks first in the Pool region, and later, at the Brazzaville airport. The fighting in Brazzaville was quickly contained and the rebels were repulsed. In March 2003, the rebels and the government signed a cease-fire accord, which remains in effect, although there was some violence in Brazzaville in December 2003.

Occasionally, political unrest in neighboring Kinshasa can affect Brazzaville on the other side of the Congo River. For example, in 2007, stray small arms fire originating in Kinshasa landed in Brazzaville.

Continued security awareness remains a key consideration for all visitors. Night travel outside of cities should be avoided. U.S. citizens should avoid political rallies and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
In the event of a fire, call the fire brigade at 81-53-87.
The Department of State suspended operations at the U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville in 1997. The Brazzaville U.S. Embassy interim offices are located in the B.D.E.A.C (Central African Development Bank) building in Brazzaville. A new embassy compound is under construction and slated to open in 2009. While Brazzaville is still not fully open for normal operations, Embassy personnel are present in Brazzaville to provide information and guidance to American citizens. Staff can be contacted through the Embassy’s interim offices (see Registration/Embassy Location section below). The reduced staff in Brazzaville has limited ability to provide emergency services and non-emergency services generally take a few days to coordinate through Embassy Kinshasa.
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 pamphletA Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: In the Congo, petty street crime targeting foreigners is rare. Incidents of mugging and pick pocketing happen frequently near the ports in Pointe Noire and Brazzaville, and sometimes in the Congolese neighborhoods surrounding Brazzaville's city center.

Criminal elements are known to target middle-class and affluent residences without 24-hour guards for burglary. Roadblocks and robberies by armed groups targeting travelers occur in the Pool region south of Brazzaville. Travel to the Pool region is discouraged due to these elements.

Travelers should note that in the case of theft and robbery, legal recourse is limited and therefore, they may wish to leave all valuable items at home.

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.

While there is no local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Republic of the Congo, the Rapid Response Police Team can be reached at 665-4804. However, police resources are limited and response to emergency calls is often slow (15 minutes or longer).

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities are extremely limited. Some medicines are in short supply, particularly outside the larger cities. Travelers should carry their own supply of properly labeled medications.
Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. Plasmodium falciparum malaria, the type that predominates in the Congo, is resistant to the antimalarial drug chloroquine. Because travelers to the Republic of the Congo are at high risk for contracting malaria, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that travelers should take one of the following antimalarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam™), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™). Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what antimalarials they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, including protective measures, see the CDC Travelers’ Health web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-Malaria.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: 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 Republic of the Congo is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road conditions are generally poor and deteriorate significantly during the rainy season, November-May. Maintenance of the few paved roads is limited. Overland travel off the main roads requires a four-wheel drive vehicle. Poorly marked checkpoints, sometimes manned by undisciplined soldiers, exist in many areas of the countryside.

Taxis are considered an acceptable mode of transport due to availability and low cost. Registered public transportation vehicles are painted green with white roofs and striping. Security is not generally an issue with taxis but buses are often overcrowded and thus less secure. Mechanical reliability of both vehicle types remains in question.
Traffic safety in general is hazardous due to high speeds, aggressive driving, poorly maintained vehicles and general apathy for pedestrians and cyclists.

Roads are narrow, dangerously potholed, frequently wash out during rainy season and are often full of debris, and pedestrians.
Emergency services are limited. Please refer to the medical section above.
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 Republic of the Congo, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Republic of the Congo’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Ferry service between Brazzaville and Kinshasa normally operates from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. Monday through Saturday and 8 A.M. to 12 P.M. Sunday, but it may close completely with minimal notice. A special exit permit from the Republic of the Congo’s Immigration Service and a visa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s embassy/consulate are required to cross the Congo River from Brazzaville to Kinshasa. Passenger travel on the railroad is discouraged, as there are frequent reports of extortion by undisciplined security forces and robberies by criminal elements along the route.
The Congo is primarily a cash economy and uses the Central African Franc (CFA), a common currency with Gabon, Chad, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Equatorial Guinea. U.S. dollars may be exchanged for local currency. Traveler’s checks can be cashed for a fee at some hotels. Two hotels in Brazzaville, and several in Pointe Noire, accept major credit cards, but prefer payment in cash. Prices are usually quoted in CFA or Euros. Other businesses do not normally accept credit cards. Personal checks drawn on foreign accounts are not accepted. Western Union has offices in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, and one bank in Brazzaville has an ATM.
Airport police and customs officials routinely inspect incoming and outgoing luggage, even for internal travel. For a complete list of prohibited items, please contact the nearest Congolese embassy or consulate. Please see our Customs Information.
Local security forces in areas outside Brazzaville and Pointe Noire may detain foreigners to solicit bribes. Detention of U.S. citizens, particularly in remote areas, may not always be promptly reported to the U.S. Government by Congolese authorities. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. If detained or arrested, U.S. citizens should always ask to be allowed to contact the U.S. Embassy. Please see the Registration/Embassy Location section below.
In general there are no restrictions on photography; however photographs of government buildings or military installations, port facilities or the airport should not be taken. When photographing human beings in remote areas where populations adhere to traditional beliefs, it is best to request permission first. If permission is refused, the photo should not be taken.
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 Republic of the Congo’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Republic of the Congo are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Republic of the Congo are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Republic of the Congo. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville has interim offices located in the B.D.E.A.C Building, 4th Floor, Place du Gouvernement, Plateau de Centre Ville, Brazzaville. The web site is http://brazzaville.usembassy.gov. The telephone number during regular business hours (7:30 am until 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday) is 242-81-14-81; email is Consular.Brazzaville@state.gov. For after-hours emergencies, call the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa (see below).

The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs, Gombe; tel. 243-(0)81-225-5872 (do not dial the zero when calling from abroad into the DRC). Entrance to the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa is on Avenue Dumi, opposite Ste. Anne residence. The Consular Section of the Embassy in Kinshasa may be reached at cellular tel. 243-(0)81-884-4609, 243-(0)81-884-6859 or 243-(0)81-225-5872; fax 243-(0)81-301-0560. For after-hours emergencies, use 243-81-225-5872. (Cellular phones are the norm, as other telephone service is often unreliable).
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Republic of the Congo dated August 20, 2008 to update the section on Safety and Security.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 3 Oct 2019 16:35:31 +0200 (METDST)

Brazzaville, Oct 3, 2019 (AFP) - The Republic of Congo on Thursday launched a campaign to distribute anti-malaria bed nets to more than 90 percent of the nation's households.   More than three million insecticide-treated nets will be distributed over the five-day operation, initiated by Prime Minister Clement Mouamba in the capital Brazzaville.

The cost of the operation, put at 12 million euros ($13.39 million), is being met by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.   Health Minister Jacqueline Lydia Mikolo said malaria was the prime cause of death among children aged under five, and the disease was a major cause of absence from school.   Insecticide-treated nets are a time-honoured but highly effective way of preventing transmission of the mosquito-borne malarial parasite.   The last major net distribution in the Republic of Congo was 2012.
Date: Wed 26 Sep 2018
Source: WHO Relief Web [edited]

The Republic of Congo, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners, started today [26 Sep 2018] a vaccination campaign to control the spread of yellow fever in the port city of Pointe Noire and surrounding areas. More than one million people from 9 months of age are expected to be vaccinated in this 6-day campaign.

The vaccination campaign uses doses from the global emergency yellow fever vaccine stockpile managed by the International Coordination Group on Vaccine Provision (ICG) and funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The ICG coordinates the timely and equitable provision of vaccines during outbreaks and maintains an emergency stockpile of 6 million doses of yellow fever vaccine, which is continually replenished. Gavi will also cover operational costs for this campaign.

The immunization drive is a response to a laboratory-confirmed yellow fever case, which tested positive on 21 Aug 2018, after the person visited a rural area. Since then, no other case has been confirmed in the country, but more than 200 suspected cases have been reported since the beginning of the year [2018], with most of these notified by the health authority in Pointe Noire. It is possible that there are also undetected cases, as a large proportion of the Pointe Noire population seeks care in the private system; therefore, the national surveillance system may not be receiving notification.

Yellow fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes that can be deadly but is prevented by an extremely effective vaccine. Urban outbreaks are of particular concern, and Pointe Noire is the country's economic capital, with a population of more than one million people. After declining for many years, yellow fever outbreaks are on the rise globally. The ease and speed of population movements, rapid urbanization and a resurgence of mosquitoes because of global warming have significantly increased the risk of urban outbreaks with international spread.

"Yellow fever has re-emerged as a public health threat in recent years in the African region," said Dr. Ibrahima Soce Fall, WHO's Emergencies Director for Africa. "However, the vaccine is safe and provides life-long immunity. This reactive vaccination campaign is focusing on people who are most at risk and will set up a firewall which will prevent the virus from spreading further."

The neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo has shown solidarity with the Republic of Congo by lending more than 700 000 syringes for the vaccination campaign while Pointe Noire health authorities wait for syringes to arrive from the international stockpile next month [October 2018].

The response to this outbreak is part of a comprehensive strategy to eliminate yellow fever epidemics (EYE) globally by 2026. WHO, UNICEF, Gavi, and more than 50 partners are supporting the Government of Congo and 39 other high-risk countries to assess epidemic risk, roll out vaccination campaigns, engage with communities and deliver other response activities, including surveillance and laboratory diagnosis.

Nationwide preventive actions are also needed to ensure the protection of the entire population at risk. Rapid outbreak detection and response and long-term prevention are integral to a sustained control of yellow fever. As part of the EYE Strategy, more than 4 million additional people are expected to be vaccinated in preventive mass campaigns in the Republic of Congo over the few next years.
=====================
[It is encouraging to see that components of a large yellow fever (YF) vaccination campaign have come together to start the effort 2 days ago [26 Sep 2018]. Although there is only one confirmed YF case, considering the 200 suspected cases and the risk of rapid YF virus spread in Pointe Noir, a city with a dense and susceptible human population and abundant mosquito vectors, the vaccination campaign is prudent. A recent report indicated that entomological surveys in the affected area have revealed high densities of mosquito vectors (_Aedes aegypti_) responsible for urban YF transmission, signaling the potential for human-to-human transmission via _Aedes aegypti_ and rapid amplification. Larval sites have been found around the homes of suspected cases, and this situation could worsen with the arrival of the rainy season. WHO is supporting the Ministry of Health and Population in implementing targeted vector control activities for adult mosquitoes and larvae within a 200-metre [660-foot] perimeter of areas where the confirmed case-patient lives and works. YF outbreaks under conditions like these can spread rapidly and get out of control, as occurred in Angola with spillover into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Republic of Congo: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/166>]
Date: Tue 25 Sep 2018
Source: Africa News [edited]
<http://www.africanews.com/2018/09/25/congo-to-launch-immunization-against-yellow-fever-outbreak-the-morning-call/>

On Thursday [27 Sep 2018], the government of the Republic of Congo will begin what it calls a robust and coordinated response against the yellow fever outbreak recorded in some parts of the country. The planned response follows the health ministry's warning last month [August 2018] of "an emerging event of epidemic proportions." According to the head of the government's epidemics unit, Lambert Kitembo, 186 suspected cases of yellow fever have been detected this year [2018], many of which were reported in the western commercial hub of Pointe Noire. [Byline: Jerry Bambi]
===================
[The numbers of reported yellow fever cases in the Republic of the Congo (RC) is growing, especially in the Pointe-Noire area. Pointe-Noire is a port city and oil industry hub with an international airport and links to other large cities. A previous report indicated that a retrospective search in 16 health centre registers in Pointe-Noire found 69 additional suspected cases during 2018 that meet the clinical case definition for yellow fever; 56 of the suspected cases were already recorded in the national surveillance system. Of these, 2 of the suspected cases reported staying in Angola.

The above report indicates that there are now 186 suspected cases. A recent WHO risk assessment reported that the overall public health risk at the national level is high due to the confirmation of a yellow fever case in the densely populated urban city of Pointe Noire (‎1.2 million inhabitants), with suboptimal immunization coverage in the affected community and the potential risk of spread within the Congo, especially to the capital city of Brazzaville.

The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) declared a yellow fever outbreak in Pointe Noire on 22 Aug 2018, and the national committee for outbreak management was promptly activated. WHO was notified on 23 Aug 2018, in line with the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005). A recent report indicated that entomological surveys in the affected area have revealed high densities of mosquito vectors (_Aedes aegypti_) responsible for urban yellow fever transmission, signalling the potential for human-to-human transmission and rapid amplification. Larval sites have been found around the homes of suspected cases, and this situation could worsen with the arrival of the rainy season.

WHO is supporting the MoHP in implementing targeted vector control activities for adult mosquitoes and larvae within a 200-metre [660 foot] perimeter of areas where the confirmed case-patient lives and works. It is difficult to assess the risk of an ongoing outbreak without knowing the proportion of the unvaccinated population in the areas where the cases occurred. One hopes that the planned vigorous vaccination campaign will be initiated as planned this week. Yellow fever outbreaks can quickly get out of hand, as occurred in Angola and the DRC in 2016-2017.

Frequent movement of individuals across borders of neighbouring countries and beyond underscores the need for prompt action to prevent spread. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at: Republic of Congo: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/166>]
Disease outbreak news
7 September 2018

Event Description
On 5 July 2018, a 20-year-old male living in Bissongo, Republic of the Congo, visited Bissongo health centre in the Loandjili District of Pointe-Noire City, with a fever he had developed the previous day. On 9 July, due to the onset of jaundice and persistent fever, he returned to the same health facility. The patient did not have a history of yellow fever vaccination or haemorrhagic symptoms. The patient had previously travelled to Ngoyo and Tchiamba Nzassi districts two weeks prior to symptom onset; Tchiamba Nzassi is a rural district in Pointe-Noire located along the border with Angola.

He was admitted to the health facility and received antimalarial and antibiotic treatments. As yellow fever was also suspected as a differential diagnosis, a blood sample was collected on 10 July and sent to Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale (INRB) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, for testing; on 26 July, the sample tested positive for yellow fever by serology. On 30 July, INRB sent a sample to Institut Pasteur de Dakar for confirmation; on 21 August, the sample tested positive for yellow fever by seroneutralization with a high titre.

Following the confirmation of yellow fever, an investigation was conducted in the affected area. A retrospective search in 16 health centre registers in Pointe-Noire found 69 additional suspected cases during 2018 which meet the clinical case definition for yellow fever; 56 of the suspected cases were already recorded in the national surveillance system. Two of the suspected cases reported staying in Angola. Samples were collected from 43 of these cases and sent to INRB; all samples tested negative for yellow fever. Entomological surveys in the affected area have revealed high densities of mosquito vectors (Aedes aegypti) responsible for urban yellow fever transmission, signalling the potential for human-to-human transmission and rapid amplification. Larval sites have been found around the homes of suspected cases, and this situation could worsen with the arrival of the rainy season.

Public health response

The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) declared a yellow fever outbreak in Pointe-Noire on 22 August 2018 and the national committee for outbreak management was promptly activated. WHO was notified on 23 August 2018 in line with the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005).

WHO is supporting the country in the preparation of an emergency response plan and an International Coordinating Group (ICG) request for supplies for a reactive mass vaccination campaign targeting the Pointe-Noire area, which has a population of approximately one million people. WHO is also supporting resource mobilization activities, as the country is not eligible for Gavi support.

WHO is supporting the MoHP in implementing targeted vector control activities for adult mosquitoes and larvae within a 200-metre perimeter of areas where the confirmed case-patient lives and works. WHO is also providing technical support to strengthen surveillance at points of entry, case management, and public awareness, as well as recommending the use of mosquito nets during the day time.

WHO risk assessment

The overall public health risk at the national level is high due to the confirmation of a yellow fever case in a densely populated urban city of Pointe-Noire (‎1.2 million inhabitants), with suboptimal immunization coverage in the affected community and the potential risk of spread within the Congo, especially to the capital city of Brazzaville. Entomological surveys in the affected area revealed high densities of Aedes aegypti, responsible for urban transmission of yellow fever, signalling the potential for rapid amplification. The approaching rainy season may potentially increase this risk. Thus, the risk of an urban epidemic needs to be mitigated urgently, although there is no indication of active urban transmission according to the information available.

The risk at the regional level is considered to be moderate due to the lack of information to describe the scope and the dynamics of the outbreak, as well as because of cross-border movements, particularly between to and from Gabon and Cabinda in Angola. Pointe-Noire is a port city and oil industry hub with an international airport and links to other large cities. Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have recently conducted mass preventive and reactive yellow fever vaccination campaigns, respectively. However, population immunity levels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are low in the zones not targeted by the 2016 reactive campaigns, such as the areas neighbouring Pointe-Noire. No other yellow fever cases related to the outbreak in Pointe-Noire have been reported outside the country at this stage.

The risk at the global level is considered low. Risks need to be closely monitored and regularly reassessed.

WHO Recommendations

Vaccination is the primary means for prevention and control of yellow fever. In urban centres, targeted vector control measures are also helpful to interrupt transmission. WHO and partners will continue to support local authorities to implement these interventions to control the current outbreak.

WHO recommends vaccination against yellow fever for all international travellers above nine months of age going to the Republic of the Congo, as there is evidence of yellow fever virus transmission. The Republic of the Congo also requires a yellow fever vaccination certificate for all travellers aged 9 months or older . Yellow fever vaccination is safe, highly effective and provides life-long protection. In accordance with the IHR (2005), the validity of the international certificate of vaccination against yellow fever extends to the life of the person vaccinated. A booster dose of yellow fever vaccine cannot be required of international travellers as a condition of entry.

WHO encourages its Member States to take all actions necessary to keep travellers well informed of risks and preventive measures including vaccination. Travellers should also be made aware of yellow fever symptoms and signs and instructed to rapidly seek medical advice when presenting with these. Viraemic returning travellers may pose a risk for the establishment of local cycles of yellow fever transmission in areas where the competent vector is present.

WHO advises against the application of any restrictions on travel or trade to the Republic of the Congo in relation to this outbreak, based on the information currently available.
Date: Fri 31 Aug 2018
Source: Business Insider [edited]

Congo Republic will launch a country-wide vaccination campaign to control an outbreak of yellow fever near the border with the Angolan enclave of Cabinda, the health ministry said on Friday [31 Aug 2018].

Earlier this week, the authorities said over 180 suspected cases and one confirmed case of the sometimes deadly mosquito-borne virus had been identified this year [2018], many in the western commercial hub of Pointe Noire.

"Congo (Republic) declared a yellow fever epidemic at Pointe Noire on 24 Aug [2018]," the ministry said in a statement.

In response, it said: "The Health and Population Ministry will organize, in collaboration with partners, a national vaccination campaign." It did not specify when the campaign would begin. The vaccinations will be free of charge. Only children under 9 months, pregnant women and mothers breastfeeding infants under 6 months will not be vaccinated, the statement added.

No deaths have yet been reported in the outbreak.

The disease causes fever, body aches and nausea and can quickly spread in areas with large unvaccinated populations.

A major outbreak in 2016 in Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo killed more than 400 people and was believed to have infected thousands more before it was brought under control through an extensive vaccination campaign.  [Byline: Alessandra Prentice]
======================
[The case numbers and locations are essentially the same as reported in the earlier ProMED-mail post, with no increase in the numbers of suspected cases. A country-wide vaccination campaign is planned in response to these cases. As noted in previous posts, this outbreak is fairly widely distributed geographically across 5 health districts. The dates on which these suspected cases were diagnosed are not given, so we do not have a picture of the timeframe of this outbreak. None of these cases resulted in deaths.

It is difficult to assess the risk of an ongoing outbreak without knowing the proportion of the unvaccinated population in the areas where the cases occurred. One hopes that the planned vigorous vaccination campaign will be initiated as soon as possible. Yellow fever outbreaks can quickly get out of hand, as occurred in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2016-2017. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Republic of Congo: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/166>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 09:54:04 +0100 (MET)
By Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - A nationwide strike shut down public transport, schools and other services across France on Thursday as unions kicked off an open-ended strike against President Emmanuel Macron's plans for a "universal" pension system they say will force millions of people to work longer.

Parents scrambled to organise daycare as teachers walked off the job or were unable to get to work, and many employees were working from home or forced to take the day off as trains, metros and buses were cancelled.   Union leaders have vowed to keep up their protest unless Macron drops the pension overhaul, the latest move in the centrist president's push to reform wide swathes of the French economy.   "The idea of social concertation that Macron says is so important in fact doesn't exist," the head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said on BFM television Thursday.

Around 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains as well as regional lines were cancelled, and Air France has axed 30 percent of domestic flights and 15 percent of short-haul international routes.   In Paris, 11 of the 16 metro lines were shut down and others had just bare-bones service during the morning rush hour, and the Eiffel Tower turned away tourists because of the strike.   "There are not enough employees to open the monument in secure conditions," the tower's operator said in a statement.

The strike -- which is open-ended and could last several days -- has drawn comparisons with the showdown between government and unions over pensions in November-December 1995, when the country was paralysed for around three weeks.   Unions won that battle, and are banking on widespread support from both public and private-sector workers against Macron's reform.   The government has yet to unveil the details of the project, but officials have conceded that people will have to work longer for the system to remain financial viable.

- Outcome uncertain -
The strikes will be a major test of whether Macron, a former investment banker who came to power on the back of a promise to transform France, has the political strength to push through one of his key campaign pledges.   He has already succeeded in controversial labour and tax reforms aimed at encouraging hiring, as well as an overhaul of the state rail operator SNCF, long seen as an untouchable union bastion.

He has also largely seen off the "yellow vest" protests against declining living standards that erupted a year ago, but that anger could feed into the latest protest.   "The moment of truth for Macron," the Le Monde daily wrote in Thursday's edition. "The next days are a decisive test for the head of state."   The SNCF said international lines including the Eurostar and Thalys services were severely disrupted, and Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Wednesday that he expected just three in 10 schools would be able to open.

- 'Special regimes' -
The strike is the latest in a series of protests against Macron this year by the "yellow vests" as well as police, firefighters, teachers, hospital workers and lawyers.   Macron wants to implement a "universal" retirement system that would do away with 42 "special regimes" for sectors ranging from rail and energy workers to lawyers and Paris Opera employees, which often grant workers higher pensions or early retirement.

But unions say the changes would effectively require millions of private-sector workers to work beyond the legal retirement age of 62 if they want to receive the full pension they have been promised.   Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who has acknowledged French workers will gradually have to work longer, is set to unveil details of the reform on December 12.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Wednesday that some 250 demonstrations are expected nationwide, warning that a radical fringe of protesters could cause trouble.   Paris police chief Didier Lallement said around 6,000 members of the security forces would be deployed in the capital alone, with 180 motorbikes used to respond fast to any rioting.   Two major demonstrations are planned for Paris that will converge on the Place de la Nation, with officials ordering Paris businesses along the routes to close on Thursday.   British low-cost carrier EasyJet has cancelled 223 domestic and short-haul international flights and warned others risk being delayed.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 08:13:04 +0100 (MET)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

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

But the walkout dealt a severe blow to the debt-ridden airline, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts.   "The Board of SAA has adopted a resolution to place the company into business rescue," said a statement by South Africa's Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, adding that the decision was also supported by the government.   "It must be clear that this is not a bailout," said Gordhan. "This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline."   South Africa is struggling to get state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.

- Costly strike -
Its national airline -- which employs more than 5,000 workers and is Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines -- had been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) a day during the strike.   SAA's board said the business rescue, scheduled to start immediately, was decided after consultations with shareholders and the public enterprises department "to find a solution to our company's well-documented financial challenges".   "The considered and unanimous conclusion has been to place the company into business rescue in order to create a better return for the company's creditors and shareholders," said the SAA board of directors in a statement.

Business practitioners were set to be appointed "in the near future" to oversee the process, they added.   Unions did not immediately respond to AFP's requests for comment.   They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding.   SAA had initially refused any pay rise.    The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March.   "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board.   "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time."
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 07:01:49 +0100 (MET)

Manila, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - The number of people killed by Typhoon Kammuri's pounding of the Philippines this week has hit 13, officials said Thursday, as authorities confirmed reports of storm-related deaths.   Kammuri's fierce winds toppled trees and flattened flimsy homes across a swathe of the nation's north on Tuesday, and forced a rare 12-hour shutdown of Manila's international airport.   Authorities said on Wednesday one person had drowned while three died after being hit by trees and flying objects.

Disaster officials did not offer details on how the other victims died, but local police reports indicated some may have drowned or been crushed by trees.   Mark Timbal, spokesman for the national disaster agency, said no new bodies have been found but the death toll could rise as reports on the ground are verified.    "There is the possibility of an increase in the number, but we are hoping against it," Timbal told AFP.    Hundreds of thousands of people living in exposed or low-lying areas were evacuated from their homes before Kammuri made landfall late Monday, which authorities said had saved lives.

Still the storm damaged 135 schools and destroyed nearly 1,200 homes, with crop damage in the hardest hit areas estimated to reach nearly $16 million.   The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.    President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to visit on Thursday the Bicol region, a peninsula south of Manila which was hit hard by the typhoon.     Ninoy Aquino International Airport was closed half of Tuesday as a precaution, affecting over 500 flights, while roughly half the day's programme at the Southeast Asian Games, hosted by Manila and nearby cities, had to be postponed.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 05:14:37 +0100 (MET)

Bogota, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of protesters took part in anti-government demonstrations in Colombia's capital Bogota and other cities Wednesday during the country's third general strike in two weeks.   Strike leaders say they intend to maintain pressure on right-wing President Ivan Duque's government, after brushing aside his appeals to cancel the strike on the grounds its effects were crippling the economy.   But crowds were smaller than previous demonstrations as protests took place for a 14th consecutive day.   Some roads were blocked in the capital and in the northeastern city of Cali, but many businesses remained open.   Around 250,000 people took part in the first demonstration against Duque's 15-month-old government on November 21, when the initial general strike brought the country to a standstill.

Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez estimated that 40,000 people took part in demonstrations across the country on Wednesday, but organizers said the number of participants was much higher.   "The Colombian people have woken up!" shouted Paola Jiminez, a 41-year-old lawyer taking part in a pot-banging "cacerolazo" demonstration in Bogota.   "Colombians are finding it more and more difficult financially," she said.   A student taking part in one of several peaceful protests in Bogota, who gave his name as Nicolas, held up a banner saying: "The state lies more than my ex."

Police were deployed in nearby streets, but there were no confrontations of the kind that have marred some protests over the last two weeks, during which four people died. Some 500 have been injured.   On Tuesday, the Colombian National Strike Committee -- comprising unions, students and teacher organizations, indigenous groups and the opposition -- met directly with Duque's advisors for the first time, but reached no agreement.    Another meeting was scheduled for Thursday.

Under fire for his economic policies and corruption in the country, Duque launched a national dialogue with mayors and other officials 10 days ago.   The strike committee has presented Duque with a list of 13 demands, including the withdrawal of his proposed tax reforms, and full compliance with the 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas.   Among them is a call to dismantle the feared ESMAD riot police, widely criticized for its heavy handed response to protesters.   Duque has yielded to some of the demands on tax reform, announcing the return of Value Added Tax to the poorest 20 percent of the population and benefits for companies that hire young people.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 00:51:07 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa entered a two-day lockdown Thursday as authorities launched an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign to contain a deadly measles outbreak that has devastated the Pacific island nation.   Officials ordered all businesses and non-essential government services to close, shut down inter-island ferry services and told private cars to keep off the roads.

Residents were advised to stay in their homes and display a red flag if they were not yet immunised as hundreds of vaccination teams fanned out across the nation of 200,000 in the early hours of the morning.   The operation, carried out under emergency powers invoked as the epidemic took hold last month, is a desperate bid to halt an inexorably rising death toll that reached 62 on Thursday, most of them young children.   "I've seen mass mobilisation campaigns before, but not over an entire country like this," UNICEF's Pacific island chief Sheldon Yett told AFP.   "That's what we're doing right now. This entire country is being vaccinated."

Immunisation rates in Samoa were about 30 percent before the outbreak and have risen to more than 55 percent since a compulsory mass vaccination campaign began a fortnight ago.   Yett said the aim of this week's two-day drive was to push the rate above 90 percent, which should help curb the current outbreak and stop future epidemics.   He said the normally busy streets of the capital Apia were almost deserted early Thursday.   "It's very, very quiet out here. I can just hear a few barking dogs. The streets are empty. There are no cars," he said.   "People are staying at home waiting for the vaccination campaign. The teams are getting their supplies together and getting ready to go out."   Even Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi's residence had a red flag fluttering outside it, with the leader saying his nephew had recently arrived from Australia and needed a measles shot.

Malielegaoi said he was angered by anecdotal reports that some parents were encouraging their children to hide from the vaccination teams to avoid the mandatory immunisation injection.    "The message is that we have vaccinated a lot of people and they are OK," he told reporters.   "The only cure for this is vaccination... having your children vaccinated is the only way."   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.

The latest figures show that 54 of the 62 dead were aged four or less and infants account for most of the 4,217 cases recorded since the outbreak began in mid-October.   There have also been measles epidemics in neighbouring Fiji and Tonga, but higher immunisation rates mean they have been more easily contained, with no fatalities.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 22:05:06 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Wednesday it was pulling its non-local staff from an eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo after it said an armed group tried to enter its compound.    The NGO becomes the latest aid agency to withdraw its staff from the Biakato region after an unclaimed attack last week saw three Ebola workers killed at an accommodation camp in Biakato Mines in Ituri province, causing the World Health Organization to withdraw its staff from the area.     MSF and an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC), which is treating two people with confirmed cases of Ebola and nine suspected cases, decided to stay in the Biakato region despite last week's incident.

The NGO said that on Tuesday night a group wielding machetes and sticks broke into the Biakato Health Centre, which houses the ETC, but did not cause any casualties and did not enter the Ebola facility.   A separate group with the same weapons then tried but failed to enter the MSF facility in Biakato Mines. The NGO said they threw stones but did not do any damage.   "Due to a deterioration in the security situation, MSF made the difficult decision to withdraw all non-local staff from the Biakato region," MSF said in a statement.    According to local authorities, the attackers from last week's incident are likely to be members of the Mayi-Mayi militia group.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is undergoing its 10th Ebola epidemic, which is the second deadliest on record.    An outbreak of the much-feared haemorrhagic virus has killed 2,206 people mainly in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri, according to the latest official figures.   Insecurity has complicated the epidemic from the outset, compounding resistance within communities to preventive measures, care facilities and safe burials.   On November 4, the authorities said more than 300 attacks on Ebola health workers had been recorded since the start of the year, leaving six dead and 70 wounded, some of them patients.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 15:50:07 +0100 (MET)
By Ish MAFUNDIKWA, with Zinyange AUNTONY in Bulawayo

Harare, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - The floor is dusty, the walls filthy and the furniture decrepit, but for two weeks last month a tiny flat in a Harare township was transformed into a maternity clinic where scores of babies were born.   Its owner, 69-year-old Esther Gwena, says she helped to deliver 250 infants as Zimbabwe's health sector tottered -- a feat that earned comparisons to Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing.

Hundreds of junior medics at state hospitals began a strike three months ago because their salaries -- less than $200 a month -- are not enough to live on in a country gripped by 500 percent inflation.   Nurses are only working two days a week.   Those who can't afford private care -- the majority of the 14 million people reeling under an economic crisis compounded by acute food shortages -- suffer at home or seek help from people like Gwena.   Senior doctors, in a letter last week, said state hospitals had become a "death trap" and warned of a "slow genocide".   Gwena, a widow and member of the local Apostolic Faith sect, is a self-taught midwife.   When the health services strike peaked last month, she came to the rescue.

- 'I had to do something' -
"A man came to me and said there were two women in advanced labour at (a nearby clinic) but the place was closed because the nurses were on strike," she told AFP in her two-room flat in Mbare township.   She rushed there and found that one of the women had a baby which had died.   "I took the other one to my place, where I helped her. The baby survived. From that time, I knew I had to do something," she said.   Word that she was helping deliver babies for free spread quickly.

The state-owned television ZBC described her as "a modern Zimbabwean version of Florence Nightingale" and First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa visited Gwena and donated food, detergents and blankets.   A funeral services company chipped in with a mobile water tank and pitched a tent outside to serve as a waiting room for women before they went into advanced labour.   "I helped to deliver 250 babies ... (they) are alive and kicking and at home with their mothers," Gwena said.   Two weeks later, the government asked her to stop after a nearby maternity clinic reopened.   Winnie Denhere, 35, cradled her two-day-old baby boy outside the clinic, where she had taken him for an immunisation injection.   "Everything went very well, she didn't ask us for money," she said, speaking of Gwena, who brought her child into the world.

- 'People dying' -
But while some laud Gwena as a selfless do-gooder, doctors worry that she exposed herself, the mothers, the babies to infection.   "We need to do something about our facilities so no one goes to her," Harare's director of medical services Prosper Chonzi, said.   Medicines have been in short supply and broken machines go unrepaired.   The government has fired 448 junior octors for striking.    Senior doctors last week also stopped work in protest over the sacking of junior colleagues. Dozens marched in Harare on Monday.   "People dying has become the order of the day in our hospitals," said the vice-president of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association Raphael Magota.

He told AFP machines were breaking down and that intensive care units were only able to treat two or three people "due to lack of equipment".     A senior doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the situation has become untenable.   "There is no public health in Zimbabwe at the moment; everything has come to a standstill," he said.   Even the scarce equipment is often not right.   "One needs gloves that fit just right when performing delicate operations, but we get old gloves that are too big," said another doctor.   A UN special rapporteur on food security, Hilal Elver, last week spoke of "disturbing information" that public hospitals had exhausted food stocks, forcing them to seek humanitarian aid and that medical equipment in some cases was "no longer operational".

In the second largest city of Bulawayo, Zimbabweans living abroad are helping in a small way by crowdfunding and sending money back home to offer health care for the vulnerable.   One such initiative is Citizwean Clinic, which opened its doors last month and attended to hundreds of patients in the first five days -- providing free consultation and drugs.   "We go to the hospital these days it's bad, there are no doctors. We heard that there were doctors here," said hypertensive patient Elina Dzingire, 63.    "We've really been helped here," she told AFP from the clinic in the city's Cowdray Park township.    Health Minister Obadiah Moyo admitted the situation in hospitals is constrained but says the government will soon advertise the posts left vacant by the sacked doctors.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 13:55:04 +0100 (MET)
By Ron LOPEZ

Manila, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - Typhoon Kammuri killed at least two people in the Philippines on Tuesday as it tore roofs off houses and forced the international airport in Manila to shut down.   The storm roared ashore late Monday and passed south of Manila -- home to 13 million people -- and thousands of athletes at the regional Southeast Asian Games.   Just before it exited into the South China Sea, the typhoon killed two people in the central island of Mindoro, where one man was crushed by a falling tree and another killed by a flying piece of lumber, police said.    Ahead of the storm's arrival a 33-year-old man was electrocuted on Monday while securing a roof against the winds, which by late Tuesday weakened to a maximum of 130 kilometres (81 miles) per hour.

Authorities were still assessing the storm's impact, but a small local airport was seriously damaged, many power poles toppled and homes were battered.   "A lot of trees fell... There were a lot of roofs flying during the typhoon too," said Junie Castillo, a disaster officer in one of the areas first hit.   Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport was "closed for operations" due to high winds, leaving nearly 500 flights cancelled, general manager Ed Monreal told AFP.   Flights would resume at 11:00 pm (1500 GMT), Monreal later told a news conference.   One of the terminals AFP visited, which would normally be bustling with morning departures, was occupied by a handful of staff and stranded passengers.

One traveller, 23-year-old Canadian Constance Benoit, was hit with a nearly day-long delay to her flight back home.   She had arrived in Manila on a typhoon-buffeted flight Monday morning from the central island of Cebu.   "It was the most turbulent flight I ever took in my life," she told AFP. "I just discovered what airsickness is."   About 340,000 people had been evacuated from their homes in the central Bicol region, disaster officials said.   The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.   The country's deadliest cyclone on record was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

- Games rescheduled -
Kammuri had already snarled some plans for the SEA Games, which opened Saturday and are set to run through December 11 in and around Manila.   The typhoon forced organisers to reschedule about half of the events set for Tuesday, but they pledged the competition would finish on time.   Kammuri wrought particular havoc on water-based and outdoor competitions, causing more than a dozen events to be postponed.   The storm is another difficulty for the Games, which suffered from a string of logistical glitches and a rush of last-minute construction in the run-up to Saturday's opening.    The competition, which is spread across three main sites that are hours' drive apart, includes a Games-record 56 sports and dozens of venues.   Around 8,750 athletes and team officials are expected at this year's 30th edition -- the biggest ever -- along with another 12,000 volunteers.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:24:08 +0100 (MET)

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

His discovery came after Tamra McBeath-Riley, 52, was found on Sunday less than two kilometres from the same vehicle suffering from dehydration.   McBeath-Riley told public broadcaster ABC that the trio -- accompanied by their blue Staffordshire terrier Raya -- had survived by drinking pre-mixed vodka drinks and water from a hole dug for cattle, eating biscuits and sheltering in a hole dug under her car.   But the third person, 46-year-old Claire Hockridge, has not been seen since splitting from Phu two days ago.   "She was still fine when he left but we obviously are now focusing our search to identify where she is," police superintendent Pauline Vicary said.   Police were "hopeful that she's still in that condition," Vicary added, as her colleagues resumed an aerial search.   McBeath-Riley and Hockridge live in Alice Springs, while Phu was visiting from elsewhere in Australia.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:07:45 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - The World Health Organisation warned of a "slide back" in global efforts to eliminate measles Tuesday, as the death toll from an outbreak that has killed dozens of children in Samoa continued to climb.   A total of 55 people have died since the epidemic began in mid-October, 50 of them children aged four or under, officials in the Pacific nation said Tuesday.   Another 18 infants are critically ill in hospital and the crisis shows no sign of slowing, with 153 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the national total to 3,881 in a population of 200,000.   Emergency measures including compulsory mass immunisations and school closures have so far done little to stop the virus spreading in a country that was particularly vulnerable to measles due to low vaccination rates of about 31 percent.

World Health Organisation (WHO) medical officer for the western Pacific, Jose Hagan, said it was a grim reminder of the danger posed by "probably the most infectious disease that we know of".   "Unfortunately the case (to) fatality rate of measles is much higher than people realise," he told Radio New Zealand.   "This is quite a severe disease and we just aren't used to seeing it, so it comes as quite a surprise when we see how fatal it can be."   He said the fatality rate in Samoa was less than two percent but had been known to reach five percent in developing countries.

Hagen said increased access to measles vaccines was estimated to have saved 21 million lives over the past 20 years.   "But we are starting to have a slide back and there are outbreaks happening all over the world in all WHO regions and it's leading to the virus being exported through international travel," he said.   Cases have skyrocketed in Europe, leading to Britain, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania all losing their measles-free status in August.   The United States narrowly maintained its "measles eliminated" status a few months later, despite experiencing its worst outbreak since 1992.   The WHO has pointed to various reasons for declining immunisation rates including lack of access to healthcare and complacency about the need to vaccinate.

Another major factor, which has been cited by the WHO as a reason for the severity of the Samoa outbreak, is misinformation about immunisation from anti-vaccine campaigners.   Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi this week said vaccination was the only answer to the epidemic.   He has ordered the government to cease non-essential operations on Thursday and Friday so public servants can help a mandatory vaccination campaign that aims to give anti-measles jabs to everyone aged below 60.