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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Egypt has a total area of about 385,000 sq. miles and sits on the North Eastern corner of Africa. It is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea and on the East by Israel and the Red Sea. The Southern border is with Sudan (the large
The hot season in Egypt is from May to September. During this time temperatures can easily reach 370C though northern winds can provide a very necessary respite. November to March is the cooler time of the year and typical temperatures reach 140C though, during the evenings, temperatures can occasionally fall to near freezing. The humidity is mainly along the Mediterranean coastline and the average rainfall here is only about 8".
In the main towns and cities the level of medical care is very adequate for the tourist. English speaking doctors will be associated with all the larger hotels but nevertheless care should always before being admitted to a ‘clinic’ for further treatment should this ever become necessary. Travellers are encouraged to contact the Irish Embassy in Cairo for emergency assistance should the need ever arise.
Food & Water Hygiene:
A significant number of tourists visiting Egypt suffer stomach complaints. In many cases this is due to eating food from the market places or using the hotel tap water supply for drinking or brushing teeth. The hotter climate of the country and the poorer level of food hygiene leave the unwary tourist at particular risk. Salads and shellfish meals should particularly be avoided.
Cruising along the Nile:
Over the past number of years many Irish holiday makers have enjoyed themselves cruising along the Nile for a week and then visiting Luxor in the southern part of the country. In most cases these travellers remain very well with no particular health problems. Nevertheless, in a small number they appear to forget the basic rules of food and water hygiene and will sample the local foods in the market places on shore. This practice is frequently associated with a ruined second half of the holiday. Commonsense rules of looking but not touching are much wiser.
The ambient temperatures in Egypt can be very high and tourists are frequently exposed to the strong sunlight during their time in Egypt. It is essential that an adequate fluid intake is maintained (much higher than at home) and that travellers remember they may need to increase their salt intake (if this is not contraindicated because of heart disease or blood pressure). Small children and the elderly are at special risk.
Malaria risk in Egypt:
The risk of malaria in Egypt is small. The disease is usually only found during the warmer summer months (June to October) in the El Faiyûm area. Travellers may require prophylaxis but they should continuously remember to use adequate protection against mosquitoes and other insects.
Swimming in Egypt:
The fresh water rivers of Egypt are commonly infected with a disease called Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia). This parasite penetrates through intact skin and can cause significant health problems. Travellers are encouraged to swim only in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea or in well maintained swimming pools to avoid exposure.
Health Care while Diving:
Many of the world's most beautiful sites for diving are situated along the Red Sea. These are common tourist destinations and generally the risk of significant health worries will be small. However, check out the professionalism of the diving company before you develop too close a relationship. Make sure their equipment is in good working order and that their instructors are insisting on standard safety procedures for any proposed dive. Never dive after a large meal or following alcohol intake. Remember that you can get significantly sunburnt while snorkeling so take care to cover your back and shoulders with either a suit or sufficient water repellent cream.
Diving at night may be a beautiful experience but take extra care. Never dive beyond your personal limits and ensure that the 'buddy system' is fully operational at all times. Even the most experienced divers can have problems at times so never let you guard down and stay alert.
This disease is widespread in Egypt and is normally transmitted through the bite of warm blooded animals. Any bites, licks or scratches from these animals should be treated seriously by washing out the wound, applying an antiseptic and the seeking urgent competent medical attention.
Vaccines for Egypt:
All Irish travellers to Egypt should ensure that their vaccines against Poliomyelitis, Typhoid, Tetanus and Hepatitis A are in date. Those staying for longer periods or trekking through the country may require further protection against diseases like Rabies, Meningitis and Hepatitis B.
Further general health information on staying healthy while travelling abroad may be obtained free-of-charge from the Tropical Medical Bureau at either of our centres. Please always remember that each traveller is distinct and so individual specific information will require a medical consultation.
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Cairo, Dec 28, 2019 (AFP) - At least 28 people including textile workers and several Asian tourists were killed Saturday in two separate road crashes in Egypt, official media and other sources said. The deadliest accident occurred when a bus transporting textile workers collided with a car on the road between the cities of Port Said and Damietta in northern Egypt, state-run Al-Ahram newspaper said on its website. At least 22 men and women who worked for a clothing factory were killed and eight others injured, the report said. The accident came only hours after two buses carrying tourists collided with a truck east of Cairo on the road to the Ain Sokhna resort on the Red Sea, according to a security official.
A medical source said two Malaysian women and an Indian man were killed along with three Egyptians -- a bus driver, a tour guide and a security guard. At least 24 others were injured, several of them tourists and some left in serious condition, the medical source said without giving further details. Traffic accidents are common in Egypt where many roads are poorly maintained and regulations are laxly enforced. But efforts by authorities to crack down on traffic violations, including speeding, appear to have borne fruit in recent years, with official figures showing a decline in road deaths.
In 2018 there were 8,480 road accidents compared with 11,098 the previous year, according to the bureau of statistics. Deaths from traffic accidents fell from more than 5,000 in 2016 to 3,747 the following year and 3,087 in 2018, official figures show. Ain Sokhna is a popular seaside resort town in the Suez governorate southeast of Cairo. It is also home to several petrochemical, ceramics and steel factories.
Giza, Egypt, May 19, 2019 (AFP) - A bomb blast hit a tourist bus near Egypt's famed Giza pyramids on Sunday, wounding some of them, including South Africans, in the latest blow to the country's tourism industry. The roadside bomb went off as the bus was being driven in Giza, also causing injuries to Egyptians in a nearby car, medical and security sources said. Security and medical sources in Egypt said 17 people were injured, without giving a breakdown of their nationalities. No deaths were reported. South Africa said in a statement that the "bus explosion" injured three of its 28 citizens who were part of the tourist group. They would remain in hospital while the rest would return home on Monday, said the statement from the department of international relations. "A device exploded and smashed the windows of a bus carrying 25 people from South Africa and a private car carrying four Egyptians," the security source said.
Video footage captured by AFP showed the bus and car with broken windows on the side of the road. According to the security source, the wounded were being treated for scratches caused by the broken glass. Sunday's incident comes after three Vietnamese holidaymakers and their Egyptian guide were killed when a roadside bomb hit their bus as it travelled near the Giza pyramids outside Cairo in December. It also comes just little more than a month before the African Cup of Nations hosted by Egypt is to kick off. Egypt has been battling an insurgency that surged especially in the turbulent North Sinai region following the 2013 military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was replaced by former army general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In February 2018, the army launched a nationwide operation against militants, focusing mainly on the North Sinai region.
- Tourism recovery -
Some 650 militants and around 45 soldiers have been killed since the start of the offensive, according to separate statements by the armed forces. Since first being elected in 2014, Sisi has presented himself as a bulwark against terrorism, promising stability and increased security. Recently, the country's vital tourism industry has started to slowly rebound after suffering strong blows due to deadly attacks targeting tourists following the turmoil of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. Figures by the official statistics agency showed that tourist arrivals reached 8.3 million in 2017, compared with 5.3 million the previous year. Authorities have gone at great lengths to lure tourists back, touting a series of archaeological finds and a new museum next to the pyramids, as well as enhanced security at airports and around ancient sites. But that figure was still far short of the record influx of 2010 when more than 14 million visitors flocked to see the country's sites.
Brazil is the largest country in South America and extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean to the depths of the Amazon basin. The climate varies throughout the country but generally it experiences a humid
Safety & Security
The level of crime in many of the main urban centres is certainly rising and tourists need to be aware of the risks involved in travelling particularly in the evening hours. It is wise to use an official taxi for any journeys after dark. It is sensible not to flaunt any personal wealth and to use the hotel safety boxes for any valuables and your travel documents. The amount of crime against tourists tends to be greater in areas surrounding hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs and other similar establishments that cater to visitors, especially at dusk and during the evening hours. There are frequent reports of theft on city buses and such transportation should be avoided. A number of the main cities have established specialised tourist police units to patrol areas frequented by tourists. Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia all continue to experience a high incidence of crime.
Throughout this huge country the state of the roads varies greatly. In many regions the roads are dirt tracks and assistance would be hard to obtain for those travelling off from the main tourists routes. Bag snatching from traffic lights occurs in the main cities. If considering hiring a car make certain that your travel insurance is sufficient.
After your flight you will experience a degree of jet lag. Travelling from Europe this will be less than when you travel home but nevertheless it will still cause your body to complain for 24 to 48 hours. Try to have a more relaxing time for the first few days (and also after returning home if possible!). Be careful not to fall asleep by the pool and then awaken with sunburn which could ruin your time abroad.
In any country of this size the level of medical care will vary greatly. This is particular true out side the main tourist resorts. English speaking doctors should be available but the level of hospital care can be worrisome. Make certain you carry sufficient supplies of any medication you may require for your entire holiday. Essential drugs (asthma, diabetes, epilepsy etc) should be divided for security.
Sun Exposure and Dehydration
The hot humid tropical climate often leads to quite significant problems for the Irish traveller. Make sure you cover your head when out in the sunlight and drink plenty of fluids to replenish that lost through perspiration. Replace the salt you loose by eating crisps etc orby putting salt on your meal (providing there is no contraindication).
Visiting the Iguassu Falls
These huge waterfalls border Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. There is only minimal risk of malaria and so malaria prophylaxis is not generally recommended. Also, Yellow fever is not transmitted in this area but mosquitoes can abound. Sensible insect bite precautions should be followed at all times.
Food & Water
Many tourists who visit Brazil stay in the main resorts along the southern coast. The food and water preparation in the hotels is normally excellent but eating food from street vendors is generally unwise. Shell fish (bivalve oysters, mussels, clams etc) are unwise even in a five star hotel. Check the water from the cold water tap in your room. If you can’t easily smell chlorine (swimming pool style) don’t use it even for brushing your teeth. If travelling around the country (Caribbean coast or into the Amazon regions) take significantly more care.
This viral disease occurs throughout Brazil and it is usually transmitted through the bite from an infected warm-blooded animal (eg dogs, cats & monkeys). Any contact should be avoided but if it occurs treat it very seriously and seek competent medical attention immediately after you wash out the area and apply an antiseptic.
The risk of malaria is significant all year throughout the Amazon regions. There is insignificant risk for those staying along the coast up as far as Fortaleza and for those remaining in this region prophylaxis is not usually recommended. The risk in the region of Brasilia is also thought to be minimal though this is an area which has unusually experience an outbreak of Yellow Fever recently, and so the situation will require review.
Mosquito Borne Diseases Apart from malaria the other two main diseases transmitted by mosquitoes which cause problems in Brazil are Dengue Fever (mainly along Caribbean Coast but has been reported much further south) and Yellow Fever (mainly in the Amazon Basin but thought to be spreading to other regions). Avoidance techniques are important at all times throughout the day. Swimming **************************************** Most of the main tourist swimming pools will be well maintained and the smell of chlorine will be evident. If sea swimming is on your agenda make sure you go where there are plenty of others and never swim alone. Look for warning signs and pay attention to local advice. Be very careful of local currents which can be dangerous. Vaccinations **************************************** The Brazilian Embassy is advising all travellers to Brazil to have vaccination cover against Yellow Fever. Also for your personal protection it is wise to consider some further vaccines. Generally we would recommend the following vaccination cover; * Yellow Fever (mosquito borne) * Tetanus (childhood booster) * Typhoid (food & water borne) * Hepatitis A (food & water borne) For those travelling more extensively or staying in the country for longer periods we would usually suggest that further vaccines are considered including Hepatitis B, Meningitis and Rabies. Summary **************************************** Many travellers to Brazil will remain perfectly healthy and well providing they follow some sensible precautions. Further information is available from either of our centres regarding any recent disease outbreaks.
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Rio de Janeiro, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Widespread complaints over foul-smelling drinking water in Rio de Janeiro have triggered a run on supermarket bottled water, though the public utility denied any health risk Wednesday. Rio governor Wilson Witzel set alarm bells ringing in a Twitter post on Tuesday, saying the situation -- fuelled by social media rumours -- was "unacceptable" and calling for a "rigorous investigation."
Moving to calm growing fears, public water utility Cedae attributed the problems to the presence of geosmin, a harmless organic compound, insisting the resulting earthy-tasting tap water was safe to drink. "The results of the analyses show the presence of geosmin, at a rate sufficient to change the taste. But there is no risk to health," Sergio Marques, the official in charge of water quality, told a press conference. Cedae later said it had fired the head of the Guandu treatment plant, which supplies nearly 80 percent of Rio's drinking water. It said the supply from Guandu would be treated with carbon in the coming days to get rid of the geosmin.
According to O Globo newspaper, nearly 70 districts of the capital have been affected. It reported that more than 1,300 cases of gastroenteritis were recorded over the last 15 days in Santa Cruz in the west of Rio, where water quality complaints were rife. Cedae's president Helio Cabral apologized "to the whole population for the problems in the water supply," which began earlier this month.
The problem has been exacerbated by false rumours circulating on social media that the water was toxic. Despite assurances, many Rio citizens were taking no chances. In supermarkets, mineral water stocks have been selling out and long queues are formed as soon as they are replenished. Geosmin is also responsible for the earthy taste in some vegetables.
By Allison JACKSON
Sao Paulo, Dec 10, 2019 (AFP) - Gripping the deadly snake behind its jaws, Fabiola de Souza massages its venom glands to squeeze out drops that will save lives around Brazil where thousands of people are bitten every year. De Souza and her colleagues at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo harvest the toxin from hundreds of snakes kept in captivity to produce antivenom. It is distributed by the health ministry to medical facilities across the country.
Dozens of poisonous snake species, including the jararaca, thrive in Brazil's hot and humid climate. Nearly 29,000 people were bitten in 2018 and more than 100 died, official figures show. States with the highest rates of snakebite were in the vast and remote Amazon basin where it can take hours to reach a hospital stocked with antivenom. Venom is extracted from each snake once a month in a delicate and potentially dangerous process.
Using a hooked stick, de Souza carefully lifts one of the slithering creatures out of its plastic box and maneuvers it into a drum of carbon dioxide. Within minutes the reptile is asleep. "It's less stress for the animal," de Souza explains. The snake is then placed on a stainless steel bench in the room where the temperature hovers around 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit). De Souza has a few minutes to safely extract venom before the snake begins to stir. "It's important to have fear because when people have fear they are careful," she says.
- Antivenom 'crisis' -
The snakes are fed a diet of rats and mice that are raised at the leafy institute and killed before being served up once a month. After milking the snake, de Souza records its weight and length before placing it back in its container. The antivenom is made by injecting small amounts of the poison into horses -- kept by Butantan on a farm -- to trigger an immune response that produces toxin-attacking antibodies.
Blood is later extracted from the hoofed animals and the antibodies harvested to create a serum that will be administered to snakebite victims who might otherwise die. Butantan project manager Fan Hui Wen, a Brazilian, says the institute currently makes all of the country's antivenom -- around 250,000 10-15 millilitre vials per year.
Brazil also donates small quantities of antivenom to several countries in Latin America. There are now plans to sell the life-saving serum abroad to help relieve a global shortage, particularly in Africa. About 5.4 million people are estimated to be bitten by snakes every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Between 81,000 and 138,000 die, while many more suffer amputations and other permanent disabilities as a result of the toxin. To cut the number of deaths and injuries, WHO unveiled a plan earlier this year that includes boosting production of quality antivenoms. Brazil is part of the strategy. It could begin to export antivenom as early as next year, Wen says. "There is interest for Butantan to also supply other countries due to the global crisis of antivenom production," she says.
World Travel News Headlines
By Su Xinqi, Jerome TAYLOR
Hong Kong, Jan 25, 2020 (AFP) - Hong Kong on Saturday declared a new coronavirus outbreak as an "emergency" -- the city's highest warning tier -- as authorities ramped up measures to reduce the risk of further infections. The announcement came as city leader Carrie Lam faced criticism in some quarters over her administration's response to the crisis.
Of the five people who have tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong so far, four arrived via a newly built high-speed train terminal which connects with the mainland. That led to calls from some medical experts and politicians to limit, or even halt, arrivals from China, the epicentre of the outbreak with 41 people dead.
Lam held emergency meetings with health officials on Saturday morning after returning from Davos. "Today I declare the lifting of the response level to emergency," she told reporters. Schools and universities, which are currently on a Lunar New Year break, would remain closed until 17 February, Lam said. All mainland arrivals to Hong Kong will now need to sign health declaration forms, she added, while public events including a new year gala and next month's marathon, would also be called off. "We haven't seen serious and widespread infections (in Hong Kong), but we are taking this seriously and we hope to be ahead of the epidemic," Lam said.
- Tragic past -
Hong Kong has a recent experience of deadly viral outbreaks. Nearly 300 people were killed by SARS in 2003, a tragedy that left a profound psychological impact on one of the most densely populated places on earth. The city's ability to combat the crisis was hampered by moves in mainland China to cover up and play down the outbreak, leaving a lasting legacy of distrust among many Hong Kongers. Animosity towards the mainland has intensified in recent years as Beijing tightens political control over the semi-autonomous territory.
The outbreak also comes at a sensitive time for Lam, who currently boasts record low approval ratings after seven months of pro-democracy protests. "We must stand united so that we can prevent and control the disease," she said, in a nod to the political unrest. The often violent protests have battered Hong Kong's reputation for stability and helped tip it into recession, with the recent virus outbreak compounding the city's economic woes.
Hospitals are already struggling with the winter flu season, but officials are isolating anyone with a history of travel to central China and those exhibiting respiratory tract infections that look similar to the virus. So far some 300 people have been tested and monitored for the virus. Quarantine centres have been set up in remote holiday parks for anyone found to have come into close contact with people who tested positive. On Saturday, officials announced a newly built but still-empty public housing block would be used for medical staff on the frontline who did not want to risk returning to their families.
Elazig, Turkey, Jan 25, 2020 (AFP) - A powerful earthquake has killed at least 20 people and injured more than 1,000 in eastern Turkey, as rescue teams searched through the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors on Saturday. At least 30 people were missing following the magnitude 6.8 quake on Friday night, which had its epicentre in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in the eastern province of Elazig. "It was very scary, furniture fell on top of us. We rushed outside," 47-year-old Melahat Can, who lives in the provincial capital of Elazig, told AFP. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said all steps were being taken to aid people affected by the quake, which caused widespread fear. "We stand by our people," Erdogan said on Twitter.
The Turkish government's disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said the quake hit Sivrice at around 8.55 pm (1755 GMT). Turkey lies on major faultlines and is prone to frequent earthquakes. Turkish television showed images of people rushing outside in panic, as well as a fire on the roof of a building. Interior, environment and health ministers, who were in the quake zone, said the casulties were in Elazig province and in the neighbouring province of Malatya, which lies to the southwest.
At least 20 people died and 1,015 others were wounded, according to AFAD. "There is nobody trapped under the rubble in Malatya but in Elazig search and rescue efforts are currently under way to find 30 citizens," Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Friday. Rescue teams were searching for survivors trapped in a five-storey collapsed building in a village some 30 kilometres from Elazig, according to AFP journalists at the scene. One person was pulled alive from the rubble. Emergency staff and people waiting at the scene lit fires in the streets to stay warm in freezing temperatures. Sports centres, schools and guest houses had been opened to accommodate quake victims in Malatya.
- 'Everybody is in the street' -
Sivrice -- a town with a population of about 4,000 people -- is situated south of Elazig city on the shores of Hazar lake -- one of the most popular tourist spots in the region and the source of the Tigris river. The lake is home to a "Sunken City", with archaeological traces dating back 4,000 years in its waters.
The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders, the Turkish broadcaster NTV reported, adding that neighbouring cities had mobilised rescue teams for the quake area. "Everybody is in the street, it was very powerful, very scary," said Zekeriya Gunes, 68, from Elazig city, after the quakes caused a building to collapse on her street. "It lasted quite long, maybe 30 seconds," added Ferda, 39. "I panicked and was undecided whether to go out in this cold or remain inside."
The US Geological Survey assessed the magnitude as 6.7, slightly lower than AFAD, adding that it struck near the East Anatolian Fault in an area that has suffered no documented large ruptures since an earthquake in 1875. "My wholehearted sympathy to President @RTErdogan and the Turkish people following the devastating earthquake that has hit Turkey. Our search and rescue teams stand ready to assist," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote on Twitter. In Athens, the Greek premier's office said later that Mitsotakis had spoken by phone to Erdogan. "The Turkish president... said Turkish teams had the situation under control for now and that it would be re-evaluated in the morning," his office added.
In 1999, a devastating 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit in western Turkey, leaving more than 17,000 people dead including about 1,000 in the country's largest city Istanbul. In September last year, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Istanbul, causing residents to flee buildings in the economic capital. Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate the city of 15 million people, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.
By Albert Kambale with Samir Tounsi in Kinshasa
Masisi, DR Congo, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - In eastern DR Congo, thousands have fled violence to camps in the remote mountain forests where they battle cholera, hunger and misery in a forgotten humanitarian disaster. Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has long struggled with violence from several militia groups, a legacy of the 1990s Congo wars that dragged in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda. The region is now also the epicentre of the latest Ebola epidemic, which has killed more than 2,200 people since August 2018.
Away from the Ebola headlines, tens of thousands of people are scattered in squalid camps across the mountains around Masisi, where they have fled, traumatised by violence, starving and with no chance to return home. "I fled my village after clashes broke out," said Gentille, a 26-year-old Hutu Congolese. "We could no longer go to the fields. Many people died because clashes broke out in the middle of the village, very early one morning."
That fighting broke out in November and December involving one of the so-called Mai-Mai militia, the Nduma Defense of the Congo-Renove (NDC-R) and a coalition of other armed rivals, according to UN experts. Now Gentille, a mother of five lives in a camp of 8,000 displaced people. Along with the unsanitary conditions, a lack of clean water and food, since late last year, a cholera and measles outbreak has worsened life in the camps. Several anti-cholera treatment units have been opened by Doctors without Borders (MSF), which reports 520 cases and two deaths. "Three of my children got cholera. One died," says Gentille. "Here in the camp, we do not have enough toilets. More than 180 people use the same toilet. Since it is always busy, the children defecate outside and all around."
Around 685,000 displaced people survive in the mountainous areas, estimates MSF, a figure the aid group hopes will draw attention of the donors. A year after coming to power, President Felix Tshisekedi has promised far-reaching reforms and a crackdown on corruption. But militia violence and ethnic clashes still undermine security of populations in the east.
Kathmandu, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - Health authorities in Nepal on Friday confirmed that a student who returned from Wuhan, China tested positive for the new coronavirus, becoming the first South Asian country to report the deadly disease. The 32-year-old student arrived in Nepal on January 9, and entered the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Kathmandu four days later after running a fever and reporting trouble breathing, hospital spokesperson Anup Bastola told AFP.
The health ministry confirmed the case in a statement. "The results of a sample, sent to Hong Kong, have returned positive," Bastola told AFP. "He was discharged after recovery. We are monitoring the patient and he and his family members are healthy. So are all the health workers in the hospital," Bastola said.
Nepal's health ministry also said in a statement that surveillance has been increased at the airport, "and suspicious patients entering Nepal are being monitored with correct manpower and equipment". At least 26 people have been killed by the previously unknown SARS-like coronavirus. Cases have been reported in half a dozen countries, including the United States.
Antananarivo, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - At least 26 people have died in Madagascar after almost a week of heavy rain in the north-west of the island, the government said on Friday. The tropical Indian Ocean nation is in the midst of an intense six-month rainy season that often results in casualties and widespread damage. Flooding in the districts of Mitsinjo and Maevatanana has claimed at least 26 lives since Sunday, and 15 more people are still missing and thousands have been displaced, the National Bureau of Disaster Risk Management (BNGRC) announced on Friday. Strips of road were swept away by the rains and access to affected areas has been cut off.
The BNGRC warned that flooding in lowland and rice-growing areas also posed a risk of "food insecurity and malnutrition". A disruption in the supply of basic goods could also lead to surge in prices, it added. Prime Minister Christian Ntsay declared the situation a "national loss". "The government is calling on national figures and international partners to help the Malagasy people with emergency aid, early recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction," spokeswoman Lalatiana Andriatongarivo said in a statement. The rainy season usually stretches from October to April in Madagascar, a former French colony off Africa's south-eastern coast.
Global warming has increased the risk and intensity of flooding, as the atmosphere holds more water and rainfall patterns are disrupted. Built-up urban areas with poor drainage systems are especially vulnerable to heavy downpours, scientists say. Nine people were killed in January 2019 after heavy rains caused a building to collapse in the capital Antananarivo. During this period, the country is also often hit by cyclones and other tropical storms. Cyclone Belna landed in the northwest last month, killing at least two people and displacing hundreds.
Beijing, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - China has quarantined cities and shut major tourist attractions from Disneyland to the Forbidden City and a section of the Great Wall as it scrambles to stop a deadly SARS-like virus from spreading further. The drastic moves come as hundreds of millions of people criss-crossed the country in recent days to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, which officially started Friday and is typically a joyous time of gatherings and public celebration. Here is a rundown of the measures taken so far in an unprecedented quarantine effort:
- Cities under lockdown -
Public transport has been stopped in 13 cities in central Hubei province, with train stations shut, events cancelled and theatres, libraries and karaoke bars closed in some locations. The epicentre of the outbreak is provincial capital Wuhan, the biggest city on lockdown, where the government has halted all travel out of the Yangtze River metropolis of 11 million. Wuhan residents have been told to stay home and authorities are limiting the number of taxis allowed on roads. There are few flights available to the city, deepening the isolation. Similar quarantine measures are being taken in the other, smaller cities. These include strict controls on weddings and funerals, temperature screening of people as they arrive and the suspension of online taxi services. More than 41 million people in total are affected by the city shutdowns.
- Festivities cancelled -
Wuhan and Beijing have cancelled public events that usually attract hundreds of thousands of people to temples during the New Year holiday. Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has asked China's 1.4 billion citizens to forego New Year gatherings and confine themselves at home until all is clear. To discourage nationwide travel, the government also said all tickets for rail, air, road, or water transport could be refunded.
- Attractions closed -
The historic Forbidden City, a sprawling imperial palace in Beijing that is one of the country's most revered cultural sites, will temporarily close from Saturday. Other famous landmarks including a section of the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs and Yinshan Pagoda are also not open to visitors. Shanghai Disneyland said it would shut for an indefinite period "to ensure the health and safety of our guests and cast". Women's Olympics football qualifiers scheduled for February 3-9 in Wuhan have been moved to the eastern city of Nanjing.
- Temperature checks -
Staff in full body protective suits were seen checking the temperatures of people entering a subway station in Beijing on Friday. The country has ordered sterilisation and ventilation at airports and bus stations, as well as inside planes and trains, while travellers are being screened for fever. 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. In Wuhan, city authorities have made it mandatory to wear a mask in public places. In response to skyrocketing demand for masks -- 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".
- A new hospital -
In Wuhan, authorities are rushing to build a new hospital in a staggering 10 days as a rising number of patients are infected by the new coronavirus. The facility is expected to be in use by February 3 and will have a capacity of 1,000 beds spread over 25,000 square metres, according to state media. Dozens of excavators and trucks were filmed working on the site by state broadcaster CCTV. Its construction began after reports surfaced of bed shortages in hospitals designated as dealing with the outbreak, which has now infected 830 people across China.
Beijing, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - China announced Friday it will close a section of the Great Wall and other famous Beijing landmarks to control the spread of a deadly virus that has infected hundreds of people across the country. A range of Lunar New Year festivities have been cancelled to try to contain the virus, and Beijing's Forbidden City and Shanghai's Disneyland have also been closed temporarily.
The Ming Tombs and Yinshan Pagoda will also be closed from Saturday, the authority that oversees the sites said, while the Bird's Nest stadium -- the site of the 2008 Olympic Games -- was shuttered from Friday. The Great Wall attracts around 10 million tourists a year and is a popular destination for visitors during the New Year holiday. The Juyongguan section will close, while the Great Wall temple fair was cancelled at the Simatai section of the famous landmark.
Tourists at the Gubei water town by the Simatai section will have their temperature tested, the authority said in a statement on the WeChat social media app. The Bird's Nest will be closed until January 30 in order to "prevent and control" the spread of the virus, authorities said. An ice and snow show taking place on the pitch will be closed. The measures in the capital are the latest to try and control the outbreak of the new coronavirus, after authorities rapidly expanded a mammoth
The previously unknown virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003. Although there have only been 29 confirmed cases in Beijing, city authorities have cancelled large-scaled Lunar New Year events this week. The city government said it would call off events including two popular temple fairs, which have attracted massive crowds of tourists in past years. Beijing's Forbidden City -- which saw 19 million visitors last year -- is usually packed with tourists during the Lunar New Year festival, when hundreds of millions of people travel across China.