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Greece

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

6th December, 2019
HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Zakynthos, officials ordered the evacuation of the villages of Agalas and Keri in the south of the island. Some 120 tourists were also relocated to a safe area.   The Greek fire department on Sunday said it had been called to nearly 80 fires over the past 24 hours.   It has already faced more than 9,600 rural and urban fires this year.
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France

France and Monaco US Consular Information Sheet
December 22, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
France is a developed and stable democracy with a modern economy.
Monaco is a developed constitutional monarchy.
Tourist facilities are widely
available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on France and Monaco for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
France is party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter France for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
A passport is required and should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
Anyone intending to stay more than 90 days must obtain the appropriate visa issued by one of the French Consulates in the U.S., prior to departure for France.
This also applies to anyone considering marriage in France.
For further information about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet.
A passport is required to enter Monaco. A visa is not required for tourist/business stays up to 90 days in Monaco.
For further information concerning entry requirements for France, travelers may contact the Embassy of France at 4101 Reservoir Road NW, Washington, DC
20007, tel. (202) 944-6000, email: info@ambafrance-us.org, or the French Consulates General in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, or San Francisco.

For further information on entry requirements to Monaco, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Principality of Monaco. 2314 Wyoming Avenue, NW Washington, DC
20008, Tel: 202-234-1530, email: embassy@monaco-usa.org, or the Consulate General of Monaco, 565 Fifth Avenue – 23rd floor, New York, NY 10017, tel.: 212-286-0500, email: info@monaco-consulate.com.
For more information, visit the Embassy of France web site at www.consulfrance-washington.org or the Embassy of the Principality of Monaco web site at http://www.monaco-usa.org for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The Government of France maintains a threat rating system, known locally as “Vigipirate,” similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory System.
Under this plan, in times of heightened security concerns, the government augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations.
Over the last few years, there have been numerous arrests of suspected Islamic militants involved in various terrorist plots.
As with other countries in the Schengen area, France maintains open borders with its European neighbors, allowing the possibility of terrorist operatives entering/exiting the country with anonymity.

Political assassinations and bombings have occurred in France.
The National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC), as part of its decades-long bombing campaign on the island of Corsica, continues to conduct limited operations in the south of France and on Corsica.
In the 1990s there was a wave of bombings and attacks in Paris carried out by Algerian terrorists.
Today, numerous radical Islamic groups claim sympathizers within France’s large immigrant community, as evidenced by arrests over the last few years.

Although Americans have not been specifically targeted in terrorist attacks in France within the past few years, travelers should maintain vigilance.
Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places or any other suspicious activities. French law enforcement authorities are proactive and will respond immediately.
If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.

Although violent civil disorder is rare in France, in the past, student demonstrations, labor protests, and other types of demonstrations have developed into violent confrontations between demonstrators and police.
This was the case in March/April 2006, when a series of large demonstrations took place in central Paris. Several weeks of unrest occurred in the suburbs of Paris, as well as in other French cities and towns, in November 2005.
Neither of these periods of disorder exhibited any anti-U.S. sentiment, but it is important to remember that even a passer-by can be harmed should demonstrations devolve into violence.
Americans are advised to avoid street demonstrations, particularly if riot police are on the scene.

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, including 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., 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, please see A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
While both France and Monaco have relatively low rates of violent crime, a limited number of neighborhoods in the larger French cities merit extra caution.
Additionally, although the overall crime rate has fallen slightly in recent years, the violent crime rate has increased.
Thieves commonly target vehicles with non-local license plates, and work in or near tourist attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, hotels, beaches, trains, train stations, airports, and subways.
Americans in France and Monaco should be particularly alert to pickpockets in train stations and subways.
Travelers should keep photocopies of travel documents and credit cards separate from the originals, along with key telephone numbers to contact banks for credit card replacement.

Although thieves may operate anywhere, the U.S. Embassy in Paris receives frequent reports of theft from several areas in particular:
Paris: The Paris Police Prefecture published a pamphlet entitled “Paris in Complete Safety,” which provides practical advice and useful telephone numbers for visitors and can be accessed at http://www.prefecture-police-paris.interieur.gouv.fr/prevention/article/paris_securite_anglais.htm. Thieves operate on the rail link (RER) from Charles de Gaulle Airport to downtown Paris, where they prey on jet-lagged, luggage-burdened tourists.
In one common ruse, a thief distracts a tourist with a question about directions while an accomplice steals a momentarily unguarded backpack, briefcase, or purse.
Thieves also time their thefts to coincide with train stops so they may quickly exit the car just before the automatic doors close.
Travelers should consider taking an airport shuttle bus or taxi from the airport into the city.
Reports of stolen purses, briefcases, and carry-on bags at Charles de Gaulle Airport are not uncommon.
Travelers should monitor their bags at all times and never leave them unattended.
As thieves commonly target laptop bags, travelers should avoid carrying passports and other valuables in computer bags.
Another common method involves picking up a traveler’s shoulder bag that has been placed on the floor while the traveler is busy at the ticket counter. Also be aware that unattended bags are subject to destruction by airport security.

There are reports of robberies in which thieves on motorcycles reach into a moving car by opening the car door or accessing an open window or even breaking the window to steal purses and other bags visible inside.
The same technique is used against pedestrians walking with purses/bags/cameras slung over their street-side shoulder.
Those traveling by car should remember to keep the windows up and the doors locked and items that may be attractive to thieves out of sight.
Pedestrians are encouraged to remain aware of their surroundings at all times, and to keep bags slung across the body, with the bag hanging away from the street.

Many thefts occur on the Number One Subway Line, which runs through the center of Paris by many major tourist attractions (including the Grand Arch at La Défense, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysées, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, and the Bastille).
Pickpockets are especially active on this metro line during the summer months and use a number of techniques.
The most common, and unfortunately the most successful, is the simple “bump and snatch,” where an individual bumps into the tourist while at the same time reaching into the pockets/purse/bag.
Visitors should be particularly careful when metro doors are closing, as this is a favored moment for the less-sophisticated pickpockets to simply grab valuables and jump through the closing doors, leaving the victim helplessly watching as the thief flees.
Visitors are encouraged NOT to confront thieves aggressively; they often operate in groups and may become violent if cornered.
Simply drawing attention to an attempted theft will most likely stop the operation, and result in a tactical withdrawal by the thief.

Gare du Nord train station, where the express trains from the airport arrive in Paris, is also a high-risk area for pocket-picking and theft.
Travelers should also beware of thefts that occur on both overnight and day trains, especially on trains originating in Spain, Italy, and Belgium.
These involve the theft of valuables while passengers are sleeping, or when the bags are left unattended.

In hotels, thieves target lobbies and breakfast rooms, and take advantage of a minute of inattention to snatch jackets, purses, and backpacks.
While many hotels do have safety latches that allow guests to secure their rooms from inside, this feature is not as universal as it is in the United States.
If no chain or latch is present, a chair placed up against the door and wedged under the handle is usually an effective obstacle to surreptitious entry during the night.
There are, however, reports of thieves breaking into hotel rooms on lower floors through open windows while the occupants are sleeping.
To guard against this, hotel room windows should be kept locked at all times. Whenever possible, valuables should be kept in the hotel safe.

Many Americans report thefts occurring in restaurants and nightclubs/bars, where purses are stolen from the back of a chair or from under the table.
Again, keep valuables on your person and do not leave them unattended or out of sight.
Thefts also occur at the major department stores such as Galeries Lafayette and Printemps where tourists often place wallets, passports, and credit cards on cashier counters during transactions.

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are very common in France and provide ready access to cash, allowing travelers to carry as much money as they need for each day.
The rates are competitive with local exchange bureaus, and an ATM transaction is easier than cashing a traveler’s check.
However, crime involving ATMs is increasing.
Travelers should not use ATMs in isolated, unlit areas or where loiterers are present.
Travelers should be especially aware of persons standing close enough to see the Personal Identification Number (PIN) being entered into the machine.
Thieves often conduct successful scams by simply observing the PIN as it is entered and then stealing the card from the user in some other location.
If the card becomes stuck, travelers should immediately report it to the bank where the machine is located.

Large criminal operations in Paris involving the use of ATMs that “eat” the user’s ATM card have been reported.
This most often happens during a weekend or at night when the bank is closed.
The frustrated traveler often walks away after unsuccessfully trying to retrieve the card, with plans to return the first day the bank is open.
In such cases, a criminal gang has modified the machine using an add-on device equipped with a microchip that records the user’s PIN when it is typed in, and also prevents the card from being ejected.
The criminal retrieves the card from the device once the visitor departs, downloads the recorded PIN and then goes to other ATMs and withdraws as much cash as possible.
ATM users are strongly encouraged to carry a 24-hour emergency number for their ATM card and bank account that will enable the immediate prevention of withdrawals from the account if difficulties occur.

Pigalle is the “adult entertainment district” of Paris.
Many entertainment establishments in this area engage in aggressive marketing and charge well beyond the normal rate for drinks.
Reports of threats of violence to coerce patrons into paying exorbitant beverage tabs are not uncommon.
There have also been several violent confrontations between rival gangs in the district, including one in August 2007 one block from the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret.
Visitors are encouraged to avoid this area unless touring with a well-organized and reputable tour company.

Normandy:
There has been an increase in break-ins and thefts from vehicles in the parking lots at the Normandy beaches and American cemeteries common.
Valuables should not be left unattended in a car, and locking valuables in the trunk should not be considered a safeguard.
Thieves often pry open car trunks to steal bags inside.

Southern France: Thefts from cars with unlocked doors or open windows stopped at red lights or caught in slow traffic are very common, particularly along the Riviera of the Nice-Antibes-Cannes area, and in Marseille.
Car doors should be kept locked and windows raised at all times to prevent incidents of "snatch-and-grab" thefts.
In this type of scenario, the thief is usually a passenger on a motorcycle. Break-ins of parked cars are also fairly common.
Valuables should not be left in the car, not even in the trunk, when the vehicle is unattended.

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, to 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.
Under French law, compensation is available to victims of crime committed on French soil under certain circumstances. To learn about resources in the U.S., including possible compensation, see our information on Victims of Crime
The local equivalents to the “911” emergency line in France are as follows: 17 (police emergency), 18 (fire department) and 15 (emergency medical/paramedic team/ambulance).
In Monaco, the numbers are 17 (police emergency), 18 (fire department) and 9375-2525 (medical/paramedic team/ambulance).

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care comparable to that found in the United States is widely available. In France, the phone number for emergency medical services is 15.
In Monaco, the phone number for emergency medical services is 9375-2525.

The U.S. State Department is unaware of any HIV/AIDS related entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of France.
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 (CDC) 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 France and Monaco is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Roads in France are generally comparable to those in the United States, but traffic engineering and driving habits pose special dangers.
Usually, lane markings and sign placements are not as clear as in the United States.
Drivers should be prepared to make last-minute maneuvers, as most French drivers do.
The French typically drive more aggressively and faster than Americans, and tend to exceed posted speed limits.
Right-of-way rules in France may differ from those in the United States.
Drivers entering intersections from the right have priority over those on the left (unless specifically indicated otherwise), even when entering relatively large boulevards from small side streets.
Many intersections in France are being replaced by traffic circles, where the right-of-way belongs to drivers in the circle.

On major highways, service stations are situated at least every 25 miles.
Service stations are not as plentiful on secondary roads in France as they are in the United States.
Paris, the capital and largest city in France, has an extensive and efficient public transportation system.
The interconnecting system of buses, subways, and commuter rails serves more than 4 million people a day with a safety record comparable to or better than the systems of major American cities.
Similar transportation systems are found in all major French cities. Between cities, France is served by an equally extensive rail service, which is reliable.
High-speed rail links connect the major cities in France. Many cities are also served by frequent air service.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the French and Monegasque National Tourist Office at http://us.franceguide.com/.
The website contains specific information concerning French and Monegasque driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of France's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of France's air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
French and Monegasque customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from France of items such as firearms, antiquities, medications, business equipment, sales samples, and other items.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of France in Washington, DC, one of France's consulates in the United States, or the Consulate General of Monaco in New York for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating French or Monegasque laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in France or Monaco 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 AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS:
Americans living or traveling in France or Monaco are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so they can obtain updated information on travel and security within France and Monaco.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in cases of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy/Consular Section in Paris is located at 4 avenue Gabriel, 75008 Paris (Place de La Concorde, métro stop Concorde), telephone: in country 01-43-12-22-22; from the U.S. 011-33-1-43-12-22-22 (24 hours); fax for Passport Services in country 01-42-96-28-39; from the U.S. 011-33-1-42-96-28-39; for Special Consular Services (emergencies) fax: in country 01-42-61-61-40; from the U.S. 011-33-1-42-61-61-40. Further information can be obtained at the U.S. Embassy's web site at http://france.usembassy.gov/
The Consulate General in Marseille is located at Place Varian Fry, 13006 Marseille, telephone: in country 04-91-54-92-00; from the U.S. 011-33-4-91-54-92-00 (24 hours); Consular Section fax: in country 04-91-55-56-95 and main fax 04-91-55-09-47; Consular Section fax from the U.S. 011-33-4-91-55-56-95, and main fax from the U.S. 011-33-4-91-55-09-47.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/marseille.html.

The Consulate General in Strasbourg is located at 15 Avenue d'Alsace, 67082 Strasbourg, telephone: in country 03-88-35-31-04; from the U.S. 011-33-3-88-35-31-04; fax: in country 03-88-24-06-95; from the U.S. 011-33-3-88-24-06-95.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/strasbourg.html.

The Consulate General in Strasbourg does not produce passports on the premises.
American citizens in this area whose passports are lost or stolen and have urgent travel needs should contact the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

The U.S. Government also has consular representation in Bordeaux, Lyon, Rennes, Nice and Toulouse that provide limited services to Americans, by appointment only.

The American Presence Posts in Bordeaux, Lyon and Rennes do not produce passports on the premises.
American citizens in this area whose passports are lost or stolen and have urgent travel needs should contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

The American Presence Post in Toulouse and the Consular Agency in Nice do not produce passports on the premises.
American citizens in this area whose passports are lost or stolen and have urgent travel needs should contact the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille.

The American Presence Post in Bordeaux is located at 10 place de la Bourse, 33076 Bordeaux (entry on 1 rue Fernand Philippart); telephone: in country 05-56-48-63-80; from the U.S. 011-33-5-56-48-63-80; fax: in country 05-56-51-61-97; from the U.S. 011-33-5-56-51-61-97.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/bordeaux.html
The American Presence Post in Lyon is located at 1, quai Jules Courmont, 69002 Lyon; telephone: in country 04-78-38-33-03; from the U.S. 011-33-4-78-38-33-03; fax: in country 04-72-41-71-81; from the U.S. 011-33-4-72-41-71-81.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/lyon.html
The American Presence Post in Rennes is located at 30, quai Duguay Trouin, 35000 Rennes; telephone: in country 02-23-44-09-60; from the U.S. 011-33-2-23-44-09-60; fax: in country 02-99-35-00-92; from the U.S. 011-33-2-99-35-00-92.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/rennes.html
The American Presence Post in Toulouse is located at 25, Allée Jean Jaures, 31000 Toulouse; telephone: in country 05-34-41-36-50; from the U.S. 011-33-5-34-41-36-50; fax: in country 05-34-41-16-19; from the U.S. 011-33-5-34-41-16-19. Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/toulouse.html
The Consular Agency in Nice is located at 7, Avenue Gustave V, 3rd floor, 06000 Nice, telephone: in country 04-93-88-89-55; from the U.S.
011-33-4-93-88-89-55; fax: in country 04-93-87-07-38; from the U.S. 011-33-4-93-87-07-38. Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/nice.html
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for France and Monaco dated May 5, 2008, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety & Security, Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Children’s Issues and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 12 Jan 2020 16:16:24 +0100 (MET)
By Marie-Pierre FEREY

Paris, Jan 12, 2020 (AFP) - A crippling French transport strike dragged into its 39th day on Sunday despite the government's offer to withdraw the most contested measure of the pension reform plans that sparked the protest.   Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Saturday he would drop plans to increase the official retirement age to 64 from 62 in an effort to end a strike which has paralysed Paris and its suburbs, with bus, train and metro services all badly disrupted.

"I am willing to withdraw from the bill the short-term measure I had proposed," said Philippe, prompting his boss French President Emmanuel Macron to dub the change "a constructive and responsible compromise."   The more reformist trade unions -- the FDT, Unsa and FRC -- welcomed the announcement and said they were now ready to work with employers on the sustainable financing of the state pension system.

The Unsa union for national railway workers maintained its strike call on Sunday while recognising the government's reconciliatory move.   The union "remains on strike " but will return to the negotiating table, secretary general Didier Mathis told AFP.   However the more hardline CGT, FO and Solidaires unions were standing firm, calling for the strike and protests to continue, among them a major demonstration on January 16.

- 'Some want to return to work' -
CGT head Philippe Martinez played down the impact of the CFDT and Unsa's readiness to resume negotiations, and spoke of internal splits within these groups.   "We will see" what these unions' workers have to say on the issue, he said, reiterating his call for the government to withdraw the pension reforms completely which he described at "the major requirement of a majority of unions representing a majority of employees".

However the arrival of empty January pay slips could sap the determination of some striking workers.   "It is clear that some colleagues want to go back to work," said one disillusioned Paris Metro worker during demonstrations on Saturday.   "It's going to get tricky financially," he added.   Private sector workers have not followed the unions' lead on the stoppage to turn the campaign into a true national strike.

- 'We're still here' -
The government's compromise move came a day after meetings with unions in a bid to end a strike that has frustrated Paris commuters, ruined December holiday travel plans, and hurt business.   Demonstrators in the capital on Saturday, some masked and hooded, broke shop windows along their protest route, set fires and threw projectiles at police in riot gear who responded with tear gas.

Several stores were ransacked as marchers brandished union flags and chanted defiantly: "We are still here!" and "Macron resign!"   Protests were also held in Marseille, Toulouse, Lyon, Nantes and several other cities.   The interior ministry said 149,000 people had turned out throughout France.   The CGT put the figure at half a million, saying the 150,000 marched in Paris alone.

- 'Pivot age' -
In one of Macron's signature reforms, the government is seeking to rationalise 42 existing pension schemes into a single, points-based system it says will be fairer and more transparent but which unions fear will see millions work longer for a smaller retirement pay-out.   Particularly vexing was the proposal to impose the 64 "pivot age" that people would have to work to in order to qualify for a full pension.   Union meetings will be held on Monday to decide on the future of the strikes on France's local and national rail services.

The government, employers and unions are also keeping their eyes on the opinion polls.   "Public opinion supports the strikers," Martinez insisted late Saturday.   The government has ruled out cutting pensions but insists that something must be done to boost funding as workers are living longer post-retirement.   French Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne said Sunday that there was "no longer any reason" for the strike to continue now that the prime minister had proposed scrapping the "pivot age" of 64.
Date: Fri, 10 Jan 2020 06:09:20 +0100 (MET)
By Arnaud BOUVIER and David ARRODE

Paris, Jan 10, 2020 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to streets across France on Thursday in the latest mass protests against a pensions overhaul that critics say could cut benefits even while requiring people to work longer before retiring.

Tensions flared in Paris and other cities as some black-clad protesters smashed glass-panelled shopfronts and bus stops, while others hurled paving stones against police who tried to disperse crowds with tear gas.   It was the fourth day of demonstrations since the protest began on December 5 with a massive public transport strike now in its 36th day.   Police said at least 24 people had been detained in Paris, where 56,000 people marched toward the Saint-Lazare train station, according to the interior ministry.

Some 452,000 protesters turned out across France, the ministry said, as teachers and other public-sector employees joined train and metro workers.   The hardline CGT union said almost 1.7 million people protested around the country.   "Teachers like us stand to lose the most. Some could see their pensions cut by up to 100 euros a month!" Marylou Crampette, a 25-year-old school teacher, said at the Paris march.

Unions have staged their biggest show of strength in decades against plans for a single points-based system that would sweep away the country's 42 pension schemes, many offering early retirement mainly to public workers.   The government on Thursday night unveiled two bills that aim to appease the unions by committing to salary rises for teachers and researchers.   However, the unions are unlikely to agree to the measures, which still contain the key sticking point of the "pivot age" -- that would effectively extend the minimum age for receiving a full pension from 62 to 64.

- Fuel shortages? -
Commuters in Paris were again hit hard by scaled-back metro services, and the Eiffel Tower was shut as during the previous protests.   National train services also remained severely disrupted during what is now France's longest continuous rail strike.   "Between the government's stance of 'We're talking, everything is on the table' and the reality, you have to wonder if it really intends to... take the views of unions into account," CGT's Philippe Martinez said ahead of the Paris march.   Thousands of people also demonstrated in Toulouse, Nantes, Marseilles and other cities against the pension reform, a key plank in President Emmanuel Macron's pledge to shake up the French economy.   Unions have warned the strike could widen, with CGT energy workers this week blockading fuel refineries and depots, raising fears of petrol shortages.

Another day of mass demonstrations has been called for Saturday, and further protests were planned for January 14, 15 and 16, unions said.   A flurry of polls have shown support for the protest eroding in recent days.   "It's normal that they defend their rights, but they're doing it at the expense of the rest of the population," said Cedric Chevalier, 40, a manager at a clothing store in Paris.   Apart from his daily commute having doubled due to the strike, the store's "sales are down at least 20 to 30 percent, which means I'm losing money", he told AFP.

- 'Work a bit longer' -
Even the moderate CFDT union, which backs the plan for a single pension system, baulks at the new pension age of 64, which the government says is needed to plug a gaping deficit.   The CFDT, France's largest union, has urged the government to drop the measure and agree to a separate "financing conference" with unions, who want companies to pay more in payroll taxes to cover pension pay-outs.   Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who is set to meet labour leaders again on Friday, has said he is open to the idea but wants the "pivot age" of 64 to remain for now in the bill he intends to send to parliament in March.   Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin insisted the measure was "fair" in an  interview with the daily newspaper Figaro on Thursday.   "It's certain that we are going to have to work a bit longer," he said.
Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2020 09:03:14 +0100 (MET)

Paris, Jan 7, 2020 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Tuesday he had ordered police deployed at refineries and fuel depots to prevent planned union blockades amid the country's longest transport strike in decades.   "We are ensuring that there are no supply problems," he told RTL radio. "I don't fear any supply problems at all."

The hard-line CGT union has called for a four-day blockade of refineries and fuel depots starting Tuesday, raising the spectre of petrol shortages.   Philippe said that although unions have the right to strike, "the right to blockade is completely illegal, so it is not legal to blockade depots".

Of the 200-odd oil depots in France, "one or two were blockaded", he said.   The prime minister said he had called on regional authorities to mobilise police to ensure the facilities remain open.   The threatened siege is part of a transport strike that began December 5 over a planned government pension overhaul.   Union leaders have said the reforms could force millions to retire later than they had planned.   French officials were to restart talks with unions on Tuesday over the reforms.
Date: Sun, 5 Jan 2020 11:20:42 +0100 (MET)

Grenoble, France, Jan 5, 2020 (AFP) - Nearly 1,000 tourists, mostly British, were stuck in the French Alps on Saturday night after their flights were cancelled due to bad weather, authorities said.   Heavy fog covered the ski slopes around Chambery on Saturday, leading to the cancellation of seven flights out of the local airport and delays of several others.

Some 535 holiday-makers bedded down for the night at the conference centre in the town of Aix-les-Bains, 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Chambery, while 450 others were bussed to hotels, the region's administrative authority, the Savoie prefecture, told AFP on Sunday.   "The passengers will be able to take off today from Lyon, Grenoble and Geneva airports," the prefecture said, adding that more buses had been chartered to cover the various airports.   Chambery is a popular gateway to the northern French Alps, with airlines operating direct flights from London, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh.
Date: Wed, 1 Jan 2020 12:05:54 +0100 (MET)

Paris, Jan 1, 2020 (AFP) - The leader of France's hardline CGT union on Wednesday urged all workers to join pension strikes that have crippled public transport over the past month, as a showdown with President Emmanuel Macron enters a second month.   In his New Year's address Tuesday Macron vowed not to back down on his plan to replace France's 42 separate pension schemes with a single system that would require people to work longer.

The government says the changes are necessary to make the system fairer for all and more sustainable but unions argue that workers, particularly in the public sector, will lose out.   Reacting to Macron's speech, CGT leader Philippe Martinez called for strikes "everywhere" from next week, both "in the public and the private sector".   "Faced with a self-satisfied president who thinks that everything is going fine in this country we have to send a stronger warning sign," he told BFM news channel.   "We're calling on all the French to mobilize, attend demonstrations and go on strike," he added.

The 28-day strike, which left thousands of travellers stranded over the Christmas holidays, is on course to exceed the longest transport strike to date in France, which lasted for 28 days in 1986 and early 1987.   Macron's New Year's address was closely watched for signs that the government's resolve might be weakening.    But while calling for a "rapid compromise" during a new round of negotiations with unions next week, Macron vowed that the reforms "will be carried out."

Reacting to his comments, Yves Veyrier, secretary-general of the Force Ouvriere (FO) Union, one of France's biggest, said: "I don't get the impression that there is much room for negotiation."   Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the France Unbowed (LFI) party, added on Twitter: "These are not (New Year) wishes but a declaration of war to the millions of French who refuse his reform."

Already another day of mass protests is set for January 9, when teachers, dockers, hospital workers and other public sector employees are expected to join transport workers by striking for the day.   Energy workers have also called for a three-day blockade of the country's oil refineries and fuel depots starting January 7, raising the spectre of petrol shortages.

But the strike participation rate is waning, with just 7.7 percent of employees at train operator SNCF on strike Tuesday, far below the levels seen when the protest began on December 5.   On Tuesday, musicians from the Paris Opera, whose employees enjoy a special retirement regime dating back to 1698, played a protest concert outside the Bastille Opera for several hundred passers-by.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:59:31 +0100 (MET)
By Nicolas DELAUNAY

Cousin Island, Seychelles, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Giant tortoises amble across Cousin Island as rare birds flit above.   The scene attests to a stunning success for BirdLife International, a conservation group that bought the tiny Seychelles isle in 1968 to save a songbird from extinction.   Thick vegetation smothers ruins that are the only reminder of the coconut and cinnamon plantations that covered the island when the group stepped in to protect the Seychelles Warbler.

Now teeming with flora and fauna and boasting white beaches, Cousin Island is firmly on the tourist map, with managers scrambling to contain visitor numbers and soften their negative environmental impact.    More than 16,000 people visited the island in 2018, compared with 12,000 a decade earlier.   "Tourism is important for Cousin. That's what allows us to finance the conservation projects we run here.    "But 16,000 tourists... that was too much," said Nirmal Shah, director of Nature Seychelles, which is charged with running the special reserve.

Before the island was in private hands, the population of Seychelles Warblers was thought to have shrunk to just 26, barely hanging on in a mangrove swamp after much of their native habitat had been destroyed.    Now, they number more than 3,000 and the greenish-brown bird has been reintroduced to four other islands in the archipelago.   The former plantations have transformed into native forests, teeming with lizards, hermit crabs and seabirds, and the island is the most important nesting site for hawksbill turtles in the western Indian Ocean.   The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) waxes lyrical about the "unique biodiversity and conservation achievements" of Cousin, "the first island purchased for species conservation", a model since replicated around the world.

- Nature first -
Tourists have been allowed onto the island since 1972, but the message is clear: nature comes first.   In a well-oiled routine, every morning a handful of luxury sailboats and small motorboats anchor off the island, where their occupants wait for Nature Seychelles to skipper them ashore on their boats.   "Tourist boats cannot land directly on the island, the biohazard risk is too big," Shah said.   "Non-indigenous animals who may accidently be on board could come to the island and threaten its (ecological) balance."   Too many tourists can also upset this balance.

Nature Seychelles in July increased the price of visits from 33 to 40 euros ($36 to $44) and removed a free pass for children under 15, resulting in a welcome 10-percent reduction in visitor numbers.   "Something had to be done, there was too much pressure on the environment," said Dailus Laurence, the chief warden of the island.   "When there are too many tourists it can bother nesting birds and turtles who want to come and lay their eggs on the island."

One guide said that some tourists, bothered by the island's ubiquitous mosquitos, would "leave the paths, move away from the group and walk where they are not supposed to", putting fragile habitats at risk.   Shah said that if they wanted to increase the number of tourists, it would require hiring more wardens and guides who live on the island, which would also have a negative impact on nature.   "Our absolute priority is nature, and it comes before tourists. If we have to take more steps to protect it and reduce the number of tourists, we will," he said.
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:45:27 +0100 (MET)
By Ivelisse RIVERA, con Leila MACOR en Miami

Yauco, Puerto Rico, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Living out in the open, their nerves on edge after a series of earthquakes that have shaken Puerto Rico, some 5,000 people are hoping that their president, Donald Trump, will heed the island's plea to be designated a disaster zone and free up much-needed aid.   Since December 28, more than 1,000 tremors have rattled the US island territory in the Caribbean, which just two years ago was devastated by two powerful hurricanes in quick succession.

In Yauco, one of the areas worst hit by the earthquakes, dozens of people were sitting on cot beds Wednesday in the parking lot of a municipal stadium, sheltered from the sun by white tents and blue tarps handed out by the federal disaster management agency, known as FEMA.  "The most difficult thing is the psychological aspect," said Wilfredo Rodriguez, 31. His house had been fractured by the seismic movement and he has spent a week living with his kids, aged six and 10, under an awning.    "We are living in constant fear of another powerful tremor," he said.

He only returns to his house to wash, then hurries back to the shelter. "We worry that there'll be a more powerful tremor while we are inside the house," he said.   Throughout the day, volunteers arrive to hand out food and toys for the children who fill the shelters: schools have been suspended because the buildings are not sturdy enough to withstand another quake.    The island's earthquake detection system has registered 1,104 tremors in the past two weeks alone, of which 186 could be felt by the population. By comparison, during the whole of 2019 there were 6,442 tremors, of which just 62 could be felt by people on the island.

Further south, in Guanico, Juan Santiago decided to move into a shelter on Saturday after a tremor of 5.9 on the Richter scale hit the island. "The mountain shook and rocks and earth started to come down," said the 30-year-old.  "My house has a crack in it and is about to fall down," he added. His home had weathered the Category Five winds of Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and of Hurricane Irma which followed it just two weeks later.   "It's different to a hurricane. What is happening now is much nastier," he said.

As he was talking the earth shook again, a tremor of 5.2 magnitude. Vehicles rocked like hammocks in the wind, but the quake-hardened victims barely reacted.   The houses in this part of the island are mostly rudimentary constructions built by the people who live in them with scant resources available in the mountains, where no regulations stipulate that buildings should be earthquake resistant.    The government of Puerto Rico said that as of Monday, there were 4,924 people living in 28 shelters in 14 municipalities. There were no figures on how many buildings had been damaged or destroyed.

- Seeking disaster designation -
Puerto Rico's governor Wanda Vazquez Garced called on Trump to declare the earthquake a disaster and clear the way for desperately needed aid. Trump had declared an emergency days before, but the governor wanted more.   The declaration of an emergency frees up to $5 million dollars in aid for the island, although Congress can bump that figure up. But if the situation is designated a disaster, there is no ceiling on funding, a FEMA spokesman said.   On Wednesday, the government said it would release $8.2 billion in delayed hurricane relief that had been stalled after the president threatened to divert Puerto Rico's emergency funds to help pay for his wall on the US-Mexico border.

In the past few days there have been growing calls among Democratic lawmakers for Trump to declare the situation in Puerto Rico a disaster.   It is a delicate subject, as Trump has accused the government of Puerto Rico of incompetence and of siphoning off hurricane relief money, triggering a public spat between the president and the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, as well as the former governor Ricardo Rossello, who was forced to step down last summer amid massive protests.   The Puerto Rican leaders accused Trump of treating the population of the island like second class citizens.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 23:16:11 +0100 (MET)

Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Firefighters battled to bring a blaze at Malabo's cathedral under control on Wednesday, as flames engulfed parts of the historic building, considered the most important Christian church in Equatorial Guinea.     Dozens of people gathered in silence near the cathedral in the early evening as the fire service sprayed water jets onto the century-old structure.

It was not immediately known whether anyone was hurt in the fire, in which huge flames consumed part of the facade of the building.       "We have just extinguished the fire, it's finished. The roof is gone, it is a catastrophe," firefighter Alfredo Abeso told AFP.   Another firefighter at the scene said: "The whole roof is gone, the interior is burned."   The cause of the fire is not known but the cathedral has been closed to the public since January 7 for restoration work.    Built in a neo-gothic style between 1897 and 1916, the cathedral is one of the central African country's main tourist attractions.

The blaze brought comparisons to the devastating fire that ravaged the 13th century Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris in April 2019.     The French Embassy in Malabo said the fire was a "cruel reminder" of the fire at Notre Dame.    "We share the emotion of our friends in Malabo and Equatorial Guinea and hope that the fire can be brought under control quickly," it said on Twitter.      Paris engineers are still working to stabilise the 13th century cathedral in the French capital after fire tore through its roof and dramatically toppled its spire last year.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 21:55:41 +0100 (MET)

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.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 21:25:04 +0100 (MET)

Lima, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Five tourists arrested for damaging Peru's iconic Machu Picchu site will be deported to Bolivia later on Wednesday, police said.   A sixth was released from custody and ordered to remain in Machu Picchu pending trial after paying bail of $910.   The six tourists -- four men and two women -- were arrested for damaging Peru's "cultural heritage" after being found in a restricted area of the Temple of the Sun on Sunday.   They were also suspected of defecating inside the 600-year-old temple, an important edifice in the Inca sanctuary.   "We've got the order. Today the five foreign tourists will be expelled," Cusco police official Edward Delgado told AFP.   "We're going to take them by road to the city of Desaguadero, on the border with Bolivia."   The border town, a nine-hour drive away, is the nearest frontier point to the southern Cusco region where Machu Picchu is located.

The sixth tourist, 28-year-old Nahuel Gomez, must sign at a local court every 10 days while awaiting trial.   He admitted to removing a stone slab from a temple wall that was chipped when it fell to the ground, causing a crack in the floor.   He could face four years in prison if found guilty of damaging Peru's cultural heritage.   Several parts of the semicircular Temple of the Sun are off limits to tourists for preservation reasons.   Worshipers at the temple would make offerings to the sun, which was considered the most important deity in the Inca empire as well as other pre-Inca civilizations in the Andean region.   The group -- made up of a Chilean, two Argentines, two Brazilians, including one of the women, and a French woman -- allegedly entered the Inca sanctuary on Saturday and hid on site so they could spend the night there -- which is prohibited.

A source with the public prosecutor's office told AFP that Nahuel admitted to the damage but said "it wasn't intentional, he only leant against the wall."   The Machu Picchu complex -- which includes three distinct areas for agriculture, housing and religious ceremonies -- is the most iconic site from the Inca empire, which ruled over a large swath of western South America for 100 years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.   Machu Picchu, which means "old mountain" in the Quechua language indigenous to the area, is at the top of a lush mountain and was built during the reign of the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438-1471).
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 20:53:05 +0100 (MET)

Alicante, Spain, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - A fire broke out Wednesday on the roof of the airport in Alicante, a city on the eastern Mediterranean coast which is a tourism hotspot, forcing its closure to air traffic.   "The fire is under control but it has not been extinguished. Firefighters are continuing to work," a spokesman for Spanish airport operator Aena told AFP, adding the airport will remain closed to air traffic until noon on Thursday.

Ten flights which were due to land at Alicante were cancelled, as were 12 which were supposed to depart from the airport, he said.    Another four flights which were due to land at Alicante were diverted to other Spanish airports.   The flames were visible from inside the terminal, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.   Passengers and workers stood outside as dense smoke rose from the terminal building.   No one was injured and the authorities are still not sure what caused the fire.

The airport serves the eastern region of Valencia, which is home to several popular resorts such as Benidorm. It handled just under 14 million passengers last year, making it Spain's fifth busiest airport.   Aena recommended in a tweet that passengers contact their airline before heading to Alicante airport to see what the status of their flight was.   "We are coordinating with airlines. Consult your company to know if your flight is cancelled or will operate from an alternative airport," it said.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 11:12:40 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - A new virus from the same family as the deadly SARS pathogen could have been spread between family members in the Chinese city of Wuhan, local authorities said Wednesday.   The outbreak, which has killed one person, has caused alarm because of the link with SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   One of the 41 patients reported in the city could have been infected by her husband, Wuhan's health commission said in a statement on Wednesday.   The announcement follows news that a Chinese woman had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in Thailand after travelling there from Wuhan.

No human-to-human transmission of the virus behind the Wuhan outbreak has been confirmed so far, but the health commission said the possibility "cannot be excluded".   The commission said that one man who had been diagnosed worked at Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which has been identified as the centre of the outbreak, but his wife had been diagnosed with the illness despite reporting "no history of exposure" at the market.   At a press conference on Wednesday following a fact-finding trip to Wuhan, Hong Kong health officials also said that the possibility of human-to-human transmission could not be ruled out despite no "definitive evidence".

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, from Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection, said there were two family group cases among the recorded cases in Wuhan, including the husband and wife and a separate case of a father, son and nephew living together.   However, he said mainland doctors believed the three men were most likely to have been exposed to the same virus in the market.   The market has been closed since January 1.   The woman diagnosed in Thailand, who is currently in a stable condition, had not reported visiting the seafood market, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

WHO doctor Maria Van Kerkhove said Tuesday that they "wouldn't be surprised if there was some limited human-to-human transmission, especially among families who have close contact with one another".   The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Level 1 "Watch" alert for travellers to Wuhan after the patient was diagnosed in Thailand, saying they should practice normal precautions and avoid contact with animals and sick people.

Wuhan's health commission said on Wednesday that most of the patients diagnosed with the virus were male, and many were middle-aged or elderly.   In Hong Kong, hospitals have raised their alert level to "serious" and stepped up detection measures including temperature checkpoints for inbound travellers.   Hong Kong authorities said on Tuesday that the number of people hospitalised with fever or respiratory symptoms in recent days after travelling to Wuhan had grown to 71, including seven new cases since Friday.   Sixty of that total, however, have already been discharged. None have yet been diagnosed with the new coronavirus.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 03:48:17 +0100 (MET)
By Emile Kouton with Celia Lebur in Lagos

Lome, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - After he was struck down by malaria and typhoid, Togolese tailor Ayawo Hievi thought he was set to recover when he started taking drugs prescribed by his doctor.   But far from curing him, the medication he was given at the neighbourhood clinic made him far worse -- eventually costing him one of his kidneys.    The drugs were fake.   "After four days of care, there was no improvement, but I started to feel pain in my belly," Hievi, 52, told AFP.

After two weeks of suffering he became unable to walk and was rushed into the university hospital in the West African nation's capital Lome.    "The doctors told me that my kidneys had been damaged... the quinine and the antibiotics used to treat me in the medical office were fake drugs."   Now, over four years later, he remains crippled by chronic kidney failure and has to go to hospital for dialysis regularly.    Hievi's horror story is far from unique in a continent awash with counterfeit medicines.    The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year some 100,000 people across Africa die from taking "falsified or substandard" medication.

The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated in 2015 that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor quality anti-malaria drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   Weak legislation, poor healthcare systems and widespread poverty have encouraged the growth of this parallel -- and deadly -- market. Since 2013, Africa has made up 42 percent of the fake medicine seized worldwide.    The two drugs most likely to be out-of-date or poor, ineffective copies are antibiotics and anti-malarials, say experts.    And bogus drugs not only pose a risk to the patient -- they also play a worrying part in building resistance to vital frontline medications.

- 'Difficult to trace' -
In a bid to tackle the scourge, presidents from seven countries -- the Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Uganda -- meet Friday in Lome to sign an agreement for criminalising trafficking in fake drugs.    The goal is to bolster cooperation between governments and encourage other African nations to join the initiative.   But even if leaders put pen to paper, the task of stamping out the flows of counterfeit medication is huge.    Medicines spread out on plastic sheets or offered at ramshackle stalls are for sale at markets across West Africa.

Those hawked on the streets are often a fraction of the price of what's available in more reputable pharmacies where controls are stricter and supplies often have to come through official channels.    "It is very difficult to trace where the fake medicines come from," said Dr Innocent Kounde Kpeto, the president of Togo's pharmacist association.    "The countries which are mentioned on the boxes are often not the countries of origin or manufacture of these drugs. The manufacturers cover their tracks so as not to be identified".

It is estimated that between 30 and 60 percent of medicine sold in Africa is fake and Kpeto said most of it comes from China or India.    Efforts to staunch the deadly torrents of counterfeits have made some headway.    Some trafficking hubs have been dismantled, such as Adjegounle market in Cotonou that served as a key gateway for fakes heading to giant neighbour Nigeria.   In mid-November, the police in Ivory Coast made a record seizure of 200 tonnes in Abidjan and arrested four suspects including a Chinese national.

Togo is one of the pioneer countries trying to stop the flow.    It changed the law in 2015 and now traffickers can face 20 years in jail and a fine of some $85,000 (75,000 euros).   In a show of force in July the authorities burnt over 67 tonnes of counterfeit pharmaceuticals discovered between     But even given these recent successes, those in the industry like Dr Kpeto insist that the threat is still grave and involves "highly organised criminal networks".    "The phenomenon remains major," he said.    Traffickers can turn an investment of just $1,000 (900 euros) into a profit of $500,000, he claimed.   The fake medicines are smuggled in the same way as guns or narcotics and often bring higher returns.

- 'Die for nothing' -
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with a market of 200 million people, is the number one destination on the continent for fake drugs and a showcase of difficulties being faced.    In September 2016 the World Customs Organization seized tens of millions of fake pills and medicines at 16 ports around Africa: 35 percent were intended for Nigeria.    Across the vast nation there are tens of thousands of vendors selling the counterfeits.   Competition between traffickers is fierce and the official agency meant to combat the problem is overwhelmed.

In a bid to improve the situation, Vivian Nwakah founded in 2017 start-up Medsaf and raised $1.4 million to help Nigerians track their medication from producer to user.    "The country doesn't have a reliable and centralised distribution network," she said.    "A hospital sometimes has to deal with 30 or 40 distributors for all the medications it needs. How can you have quality control with so many suppliers?"   As a result, fake or faulty medicine has not just flooded markets but also pharmacies and hospitals -- both state and private.    Sometimes, without hospital administrators even being aware, that means the drugs that reach the patients can be expired, poorly stored or the wrong doses. 

Medsaf works to ensure the quality control of thousands of products at over 130 hospitals and pharmacies in Nigeria. It looks forward to expanding deeper into Nigeria as well as Ivory Coast and Senegal.   The company uses technology, database management and analytics to monitor the movement of medications and verifies their official registration number, the expiry dates and storage conditions.   "Technology we use can help to solve most of the issues related to fake drugs," Nwakah said. "People die for nothing. We can change that."
Date: Mon 13 Jan 2020, 00.45 IST
Source: The Hindu [edited]

A 58-year-old woman from Seegemakki village in Tumari Gram Panchayat limits in Sagar taluk died due to Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD), also known as monkey fever, at a private hospital in Manipal in Udupi district on [Sat 11 Jan 2020].

The deceased, H, who had complained of high fever and aches in joints was admitted to government sub-divisional hospital in Sagar city for treatment on [Tue 7 Jan 2020]. Her blood tested positive for KFD.

Rajesh Suragihalli, District Health Officer, told The Hindu that as her health condition had worsened, she was shifted to a private hospital in Manipal on [Thu 9 Jan 2020] for advanced treatment. She failed to respond to the treatment and breathed her last on [Sat 11 Jan 2020], he said.

Following the death, the Department of Health and Family Welfare has sounded an alert in Sagar and Tirthahalli taluks from where 7 positive cases have been reported since [1 Jan 2020]. The vaccination drive has been stepped up in the villages from where positive cases are reported. Three advanced life support ambulances have been stationed in government sub-divisional hospital in Sagar to shift KFD patients with health complications to private hospitals in Shivamogga city or Manipal for additional treatment, he said.
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[Kyasanur Forest disease (KFD) is an acute febrile illness caused by Kyasanur Forest disease virus (KFDV), a member of the family _Flaviviridae_, characterized by severe muscle pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, and bleeding manifestations. The virus was 1st identified in 1957 after it was isolated from a sick monkey from the Kyasanur Forest in Karnataka state of India. The disease is transmitted to humans following a tick bite or contact with an infected animal, especially a sick or recently dead monkey. There is no evidence of person-to-person transmission (<https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/kyasanur/index.html>).

The case fatality of Kyasanur Forest disease (KFD) is 2-10% and mortality is higher in the elderly and in individuals with comorbid conditions. There is no specific treatment for KFD. Prompt symptomatic and supportive treatment can reduce morbidity and mortality. Surveillance (human, monkey, and tick), personal protection against tick bites, and vaccination are the key measures for prevention and control of KFD (<https://idsp.nic.in/WriteReadData/l892s/60398414361527247979.pdf>).

As per the media report above, 7 confirmed KFD cases have been reported from Sagar and Tirthahalli taluks in Karnataka state so far in 2020. KFD typically occurs during the dry season from November through May, which correlates with the increased activity of the nymphs of ticks. Exposure to adult ticks and nymphs in rural or outdoor settings increases the risk of infection; herders, forest workers, farmers, and hunters are particularly at increased risk of contracting the disease. Vaccination and personal protective measures against tick bites are keys to prevent KFD.

The recommended preventive measures include using tick repellents, walking along clear trails, avoiding contact with weeds, and wearing full sleeved clothes and long pants to reduce exposed skin to reduce contact with ticks and subsequent tick bites. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Karnataka State, India: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/307>]
Date: Mon 13 Jan 2020
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

An emergency committee to control the sale of food has been created in a city in northwest Argentina after a spike in _Salmonella_ cases in early 2020. There have been 51 confirmed cases of salmonellosis in Salta so far in 2020. At least 5 people have been hospitalized but recovered after treatment.

The committee will be responsible for controlling food sold on public roads at street stalls and at commercial premises. It includes experts from the National University of Salta (UNSA) and Catholic University of Salta (Ucasal). Officials hope by increasing controls they can bring the rise in infections under control and minimize the risk to the public. The group, created by the Mayor of Salta Bettina Romero and Undersecretary of Health and Human Environment Monica Torfe, held a meeting with Juan Jose Esteban, manager of the Hospital Senor del Milagro, and teams from the department of epidemiology of the province on preventive measures to tackle the salmonellosis rise this past week.

Norma Sponton, head of the microbiology sector; Teresita Cruz, of the epidemiological surveillance program of the province; Paula Herrera, from the Ministry of Health, and Jose Herrera, from the hospital also participated. Experts from the 2 universities are involved in training the inspectors who will be in charge of carrying out the control tasks.

Food contaminated with _Salmonella_ bacteria does not usually look, smell, or taste spoiled. Symptoms of salmonellosis infection can include diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for 4 to 7 days. In some cases, however, diarrhoea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.
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[The serotype of _S. enterica_ is not stated and it is not clear what the food reservoir for this ongoing outbreak is. A food diary of affected persons may be helpful.

The city of Salta is located in north-western Argentina in the province of the same name which can be found on a map at

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Argentina: