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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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Iraq

Iraq US Consular Information Sheet
2nd October 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
In 2005, Iraqi citizens adopted a new constitution and participated in legislative elections to create a permanent, democratic government, and in May 2006, a new Gove
nment of Iraq (GOI), led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was sworn in. Although the GOI has made political, economic and security progress, Iraq still faces many challenges, including overcoming three decades of war and government mismanagement that stunted Iraq's economy, sectarian and ethnic tensions that have slowed progress toward national reconciliation, and ongoing (even if abating) insurgent, sectarian, criminal, and terrorist violence. Conditions in Iraq are extremely dangerous. While Iraqi Security Forces now take the lead in providing security in most provinces, Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I) continues to assist the Iraqi government in providing security in many areas of the country. The workweek in Iraq is Sunday through Thursday. Visit the Department of State Background Notes on Iraq for the most current visa information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Passports valid for at least six months and visas are required for most private American citizens. An Iraqi visa may be obtained through the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, D.C. Travelers should not rely on obtaining a visa upon arrival at an airport or port of entry in Iraq. Visitors to Iraq who plan to stay for more than 10 days must obtain a no-fee residency stamp. In Baghdad, the stamps are available for all visitors at the main Residency Office near the National Theater. Contractors in the International Zone may also obtain exit stamps at the Karadah Mariam Police Station (available Sunday and Wednesday, 10:00-14:00.). There is a 10,000 Iraqi dinar (USD 8) penalty for visitors who do not obtain the required residency stamp. In order to obtain a residency stamp, applicants must produce valid credentials or proof of employment, two passport-sized photos, and HIV test results. An American citizen who plans to stay longer than two months must apply at the Residency Office for an extension. Americans traveling to Iraq for the purpose of employment should check with their employers and with the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, D.C. for any special entry or exit requirements related to employment. American citizens whose passports reflect travel to Israel may be refused entry into Iraq or may be refused an Iraqi visa, although to date there are no reported cases of this occurring.
U.S. citizens who remain longer than 10 days must obtain an exit stamp at the main Residency Office before departing the country. In Baghdad, they are available for all visitors at the main Residency Office near the National Theater. Contractors in the International Zone may also obtain exit stamps at the Karadah Mariam Police Station (available Sunday and Wednesday, 10:00-14:00). Exit stamp fees vary from USD 20 to USD 200, depending on the length of stay, entry visa and other factors. Those staying fewer than 10 days do not need to get an exit stamp before passing through Iraqi immigration at the airport. Visitors who arrive via military aircraft but depart on commercial airlines must pay a USD 80 departure fee at the airport.
Note: For information on entry requirements for other countries, please go to the Entry/Exit Requirements section in the Country Specific Information Sheet for the country you are interested in at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1765.html. You may also contact the U.S. embassy or consulate of that country for further information.
Visit the Iraqi Embassy web site at http://www.iraqiembassy.us for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at 1801 P Street NW, Washington, DC 20036; phone number is 202-742-1600; the fax is 202-333-1129.
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 risk of terrorism directed against U.S. citizens in Iraq remains extremely high. The Department of State continues to strongly warn U.S. citizens against travel to Iraq, which remains very dangerous.

Remnants of the former Baath regime, transnational terrorists, criminal elements and numerous insurgent groups remain active throughout Iraq. Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I) and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)-led military operations continue, and attacks persist against MNF-I and the ISF throughout the country. Turkish government forces have carried out operations against elements of the Kongra-Gel (KGK, formerly Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK)) terrorist group that are located along Iraq’s northern border. Despite recent improvements in the security environment, Iraq remains dangerous, volatile and unpredictable. Attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue, including in the International (or “Green”) Zone. Targets include hotels, restaurants, police stations, checkpoints, foreign diplomatic missions, and international organizations and other locations with expatriate personnel. Such attacks can occur at any time. Kidnappings still occur; the most recent kidnapping of an American citizen occurred in July 2008. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs), and mines often are placed on roads, concealed in plastic bags, boxes, soda cans, dead animals, and in other ways to blend with the road. Grenades and explosives have been thrown into vehicles from overpasses and placed on vehicles at intersections, particularly in crowded areas. Rockets and mortars have been fired at hotels, and vehicle-borne IEDs have been used against targets throughout the country. Occasionally, U.S. Government personnel are prohibited from traveling to certain areas depending on prevailing security conditions. In addition to terrorist and criminal attacks, sectarian violence occurs often. Detailed security information is available on the Embassy's web site at http://iraq.usembassy.gov and at http://www.centcom.mil.
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, including the Travel Warning for Iraq, and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Travelers are also referred to the U.S. Embassy Baghdad’s Warden Notices which are available on the Embassy web site at http://iraq.usembassy.gov.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad and Tips for Traveling Abroad.
CRIME: The U.S. Embassy and MNF-I are working with Iraqi authorities to establish law enforcement and civil structures throughout the country. U.S. and British military personnel are providing police protection as well, as the security situation permits. Petty theft is common in Iraq, including thefts of money, jewelry, or valuable items left in hotel rooms and pick-pocketing in busy places such as markets. Carjacking by armed thieves is very common, even during daylight hours, and particularly on the highways from Jordan and Kuwait to Baghdad. Foreigners, primarily dual American-Iraqi citizens, and Iraqi citizens are targets of kidnapping. The kidnappers often demand money but have also carried out kidnappings for political/religious reasons.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to 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. While U.S. Consular Services in Iraq are limited due to security conditions, the Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you 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.See our information on Victims of Crime.There is no 911-equivalent emergency telephone number in Iraq.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Basic modern medical care and medicines are not widely available in Iraq. The recent conflict in Iraq has left some medical facilities non-operational and medical stocks and supplies severely depleted. The facilities in operation do not meet U.S. standards, and the majority lack medicines, equipment and supplies. Because the Baghdad International Airport has limited operations for security reasons, it is unlikely that a private medical evacuation can be arranged.
Iraq does not allow visitors with HIV/AIDS to enter the country. At this time there is no waiver available for this ineligibility. However, please inquire directly with the Embassy of Iraq at http://www.iraqiembassy.org before you travel for any changes.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://www.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.
AVIAN INFLUENZA: The WHO and Iraqi authorities have confirmed human cases of the H5NI strain of avian influenza, commonly known as the "bird flu." Travelers to Iraq and other countries affected by the virus are cautioned to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. In addition, the CDC and WHO recommend eating only fully cooked poultry and eggs. For the most current information and links on avian influenza, see the State Department's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.
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 as well as whether medical evacuation would be possible from Iraq. 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 Iraq is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
All vehicular travel in Iraq is extremely dangerous. There have been numerous attacks on civilian vehicles, as well as military convoys. Attacks occur throughout the day, but travel at night is exceptionally dangerous and should be avoided. There have been attacks on civilian vehicles as well as military convoys on Highways 1, 5, 10 and 15, even during daylight hours. Travelers are strongly urged to travel in convoys with at least four vehicles in daylight hours only. Travel in or through Ramadi and Fallujah, in and between al-Hillah, al-Basrah, Kirkuk, and Baghdad and between the International Zone and Baghdad International Airport, and from Baghdad to Mosul is particularly dangerous. Occasionally, U.S. Government personnel are prohibited from traveling to select areas depending on prevailing security conditions. There continues to be heavy use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and/or mines on roads, particularly in plastic bags, soda cans, and dead animals. Grenades and explosives have been thrown into vehicles from overpasses, particularly in crowded areas. Travel should be undertaken only when absolutely necessary and with the appropriate security.
Buses run irregularly and frequently change routes. Poorly maintained city transit vehicles are often involved in accidents. Long distance buses are available, but are often in poor condition and drive at unsafe speeds. Jaywalking is common. Drivers usually do not yield to pedestrians at crosswalks and ignore traffic lights (if available), traffic rules and regulations. Roads are congested. Driving at night is extremely dangerous. Some cars do not use lights at night and urban street lights may not be functioning. Some motorists drive at excessive speeds, tailgate and force other drivers to yield the right of way. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by air carriers registered in Iraq, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Iraq's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
There is credible information that terrorists are targeting civil aviation. Military aircraft arriving and departing from Baghdad International Airport (ORBI) have been subjected to small arms and missile fire. Travelers choosing to utilize civilian aircraft to enter or depart Iraq should be aware that, although there have been no recent attacks on civilian aircraft, the potential threat still exists. Official U.S. Government (USG) personnel are strongly encouraged to use U.S. military or other USG aircraft when entering or departing Iraq. All personnel serving in Iraq under Chief of Mission (COM) authority are prohibited from entering or departing ORBI on commercial airlines unless they receive COM approval, which is granted on a case-by-case basis for emergency purposes only. Other personnel not under COM authority must be guided by their own agencies. Personnel under COM authority assigned to the Erbil and Sulaymaniyah areas are permitted to use commercial flights in and out of Erbil on a case-by-case basis.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
As of September 21, 2006, Iraqi law prohibits adult Iraqis and foreigners from holding and transporting more than U.S. $10,000 in cash out of Iraq. In addition, it permits adult Iraqi and resident foreigners to hold and transport no more than 200,000 Iraqi dinars to cover travel expenses. Iraqi law also prohibits taking more than 100 grams of gold out of the country. Iraqi customs personnel are taking action to enforce these laws and may pose related questions to travelers during immigration and customs exit procedures. (Civil customs personnel also will verify passport annotations related to any items such as foreign currency, gold jewelry, or merchandise that were declared by passengers upon entry into Iraq on Form-8.)
All U.S. citizens are reminded that it is their duty to respect Iraqi laws, including legal restrictions on the transfer of currency outside of Iraq. If you are detained at the airport or at any other point of exit regarding your attempt to transfer currency out of Iraq, you should contact – or ask that Iraqi authorities immediately contact -- the American Embassy.

Transporting large amounts of currency is not advisable. Almost all of the international companies working in Iraq have the capability to make payments to their employees and at least four Iraqi banks are also able to convert cash into an international wire transfer directed to a bank account outside Iraq. Branches of the Credit Bank of Iraq on Al-Sa’adoon St., Baghdad (creditbkiq@yahoo.com), Dar Es Salaam Bank (info@desiraq.com), Iraqi Middle East Investment Bank (coinvst@iraqimdlestbank.com) and Al-Warqaa Investment Bank (warkabank@hotmail.com) all have this capability. Please be aware that large wire transfers may require Central Bank of Iraq approval because of measures in place to combat money laundering. Such approvals can be obtained by the sending bank, if information on the origin of the funds and the reason for its transfer are provided. Additional information on banking in Iraq is available at the Central Bank of Iraq web site http://www.cbi.iq/.
Customs and MNF-I officers have the broad authority to search persons or vehicles at Iraq ports of entry. Officers may confiscate any goods that may pose a threat to the peace, security, health, environment, or good order of Iraq or any antiquities or cultural items suspected of being illegally exported. Goods that are not declared may be confiscated by an officer. Persons may also be ordered to return such goods, at their expense, to the jurisdiction from which they came. Please see our Customs Information.
The banking and financial infrastructure has been disrupted and is in the process of rebuilding. Hotels usually require payment in foreign currency. Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are extremely limited but the Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) provides ATM services in dinars and U.S. dollars at the TBI head office in central Baghdad and two other locations (See http://www.tbiraq.com.)
Telecommunications are very poor. There is limited international phone service in Iraq at this time. Local calls are often limited to a neighborhood network. There are no public telephones in the cities; however, calls may be made from hotels, restaurants or shops. Limited cellular telephone service and Internet service are available in Iraq.
Due to security conditions, the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is able to provide only limited emergency services to U.S. citizens. Because police and civil structures are in the process of being rebuilt, emergency service and support will be limited.
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 Iraqi laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Iraq 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: The U.S. and international media have occasionally reported on the difficult situation faced by Iraq's children, and it is completely understandable that some American citizens want to respond to such stories by offering to open their homes and adopt these children in need. However Iraqi law does not permit full adoptions as they are generally understood in the United States. It is not possible to adopt Iraqi children at this time. For more information on this issue, please refer to our flyer Intercountry Adoptions – Iraq.
Iraq is not party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, nor are there any international or bilateral treaties in force between Iraq and the United States dealing with international parental child abduction. The security situation in Iraq limits consular access to children. For more information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
The Travel Warning on Iraq urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Iraq. However, Americans living or traveling in Iraq despite that Warning are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Iraq. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. U.S. citizens may also contact the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq located in the International Zone via e-mail at baghdadacs@state.gov, via landline at 1-240-553-0581, extension 2413 (this number rings in Baghdad) or the U.S. Embassy's web site at http://iraq.usembassy.gov. The after-hours number in case of extreme emergency is GSM 1-914-822-1370 or Iraqna 07901-732-134.
* * * * * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Iraq dated January 22, 2008, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Aviation Safety Oversight, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 5 Jul 2018
Source: IraqiNews.com [edited]

Mosul, Iraq's former Islamic State (IS) capital, is witnessing a growing rate of scabies infections in its western region, medical workers reported as the city struggles to overcome destruction resulting from the war against the extremist group. Moamen Shahwani, a doctor at the health department in Mosul, was quoted by the Iraqi website Sky Press in a press statement that western Mosul has recorded 150 scabies cases, warning that parasites causing the disease are spreading in the city.

He attributed the spread of the disease to several factors, most importantly the return of displaced families to the regions, which are still scarred by the war against Daesh (IS) and the resulting waste matter. "Garbage, debris and remains of corpses are almost at every corner; moreover, there is a shortage in water, electricity and other essential services," Shahwani said.

The doctor noted that, besides registered cases, there are other unregistered ones, with infected persons seeking treatment at outpatient clinics or resorting to herbal medicines. "The disease is highly dangerous and rapidly progressing, and it is difficult to contain it in a short period [in] an environment that lacks the simplest services," he added.

Mosul was IS's capital and base of operations in Iraq. It was from its Grand Nuri Mosque that IS founder, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed the group's rule. Iraqi forces recaptured the city last July [2017] after an operation that lasted for more than 8 months. Most of the city's infrastructure was demolished due to battles, and authorities continue to extract dead bodies from under the debris.  [Byline: Mohamed Mostafa]
====================
[Scabies is found worldwide and is an indicator of poor hygienic conditions, including lack of personal hygiene and clean clothes, crowded sleeping conditions and inadequate water resources. Thus, it is not surprising that scabies is found in Mosul under the present circumstances. More importantly, scabies can be an indicator of infections transmitted by human lice, like _Borrelia recurrentis_, _Rickettsia prowazekii_ and _Bartonella quintana_. Thus, those treating persons with severe febrile illness in Mosul should consider these infections. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Tue 26 Jun 2018
Source: Rudaw [edited]
<http://www.rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iraq/26062018>

After 3 reported deaths caused by viral haemorrhagic fever in Iraq's Euphrates Valley, a rights group has called on the government to undertake measures to prevent the disease from spreading, while officials say: "The situation doesn't call for worry." "The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights warns of spreading the viral haemorrhagic fever, which causes human deaths and has great dangers to public health and the economy of Iraq," read a statement from IHCHR on Tuesday [26 Jun 2018].

The virus is spread by mosquitoes, ticks, rodents, and bats into livestock and humans, or when humans butcher already-infected livestock. "We call on the Ministry of Health and Diwaniyah Health Department to fumigate animal sheds in the province and carry out rapid preventive measures to prevent the spreading of the disease to Iraq's provinces," added the rights group.

They call for butchers only to work at licensed locations and for the police and relevant administrations to issue instructions. Additionally, posters should be displayed, and seminars should be offered as part of an educational campaign. "After 2 people lost their lives due to the hemorrhagic fever in the Diwanyah province, our ministry has swiftly undertaken the necessary measures to prevent the disease and provide necessary medications," Sayf Badir, a spokesperson for the ministry, said in a statement.

A source from the Diwanyah Hospital told Baghdad Today of another death on Monday [25 Jun 2018], increasing the number to 3. The Provincial Council of Diwanyah held a meeting in the presence of the governor and the head of the province's police to discuss the issue. Dr. Sabah Mahdi, the director of the National Center for Containing and Preventing Diseases, said on Monday [25 Jun 2018] that the 1st recorded case of the disease in Iraq was in 1979. He revealed that there are continuous efforts by the veterinaries to spray pesticides on cattle fields.

"To prevent this disease, we advise all ranchers, laboratory employees, and veterinary employees to wear personal protection gear while dealing with animals," added Mahdi. "The preventive measures are continuous, and by following up on all the cases, the situation doesn't call for worry." The World Health Organization defines viral haemorrhagic fever as "a general term for a severe illness, sometimes associated with bleeding, that may be caused by a number of viruses." Symptoms are sudden and include fever, muscle ache, dizziness, neck pain, backache, headache, and sore eyes, among other symptoms. The mortality rate is 30 percent. There is no vaccine available for humans or animals. There have been no reported cases outside of Diwanyah.
======================
[If the virus is believed to be spread by mosquitoes, ticks, rodents, and bats into livestock and humans, the identity of the virus has not been determined. However, if it is transmitted to humans when they butcher livestock, that raises the possibility that the etiological agent is Congo-Crimean haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) virus.

Cases in Iraq would not be surprising because cases have occurred this year (2018) across the region, including Iran and Afghanistan, and was suspected in 2 fatal and 4 suspected cases in Iraq in 2010. Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is caused by infection with a tick-borne Nairovirus in the family Bunyaviridae. It is a viral zoonosis (animal to human) caused by infection with a tick-borne virus.

The hosts of the CCHF virus are mostly wild and domestic animals, including cattle, sheep and goats. Human transmission may occur when human beings come into contact with infected ticks (through tick bites) or direct contact with blood or tissues of an infected animal. CCHF can be transmitted from one infected human to another by contact with infectious blood or body fluids. In humans, until the etiological agent is identified, effective prevention will be difficult. ProMED-mail would appreciate receiving the name of the virus involved and the laboratory tests used to identify it. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map: Qadisiyyah Governorate, Iraq:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/25538>]
Date: Mon 9 Oct 2017
Source: MedPage Today [edited]

US service members deployed to Iraq showed signs of having been infected with latent visceral leishmaniasis during their service, researchers said.

In one study, latent visceral leishmaniasis was identified in asymptomatic Operation Iraqi Freedom soldiers (10.2 percent of 88), potentially putting them at risk of activation of the disease if they are immunosuppressed, according to Edgie-Mark Co of the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas <https://academic.oup.com/ofid/article/4/suppl_1/S122/4295608/A-Stealth-Parasite-Prevalence-and-Characteristics>.

In another study, 20 veterans with asymptomatic latent visceral leishmaniasis had no active disease, although it was not clear how likely the condition was to resurface and cause serious health problems, reported Nate Copeland of the Clinical Trials Center at Walter Reed Army Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, and colleagues <https://academic.oup.com/ofid/article/4/suppl_1/S122/4295606/Clinical-Evaluation-of-Latent-Visceral>.

Both studies were presented at the annual ID Week meeting, sponsored jointly by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society (PIDS), the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA), and the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA).

Leishmaniasis is spread by sand flies and is common in the Middle East. The zoonotic parasitic disease can cause chronic fever, weight loss, spleen problems, and pancytopenia. Bacterial infections, malnutrition, and severe bleeding can also occur. Researchers are concerned because visceral leishmaniasis, unlike the more common cutaneous form, can cause serious health problems.

"Visceral leishmaniasis can be severe, and even life-threatening if not recognized and treated appropriately," Copeland told MedPage Today.

He said that more than 20 cases of active visceral leishmaniasis were reported among US service members in the Iraq region from 2000-2013, along with hundreds of cutaneous cases.

The study by Copeland [et al.] checked 88 soldiers from the El Paso area who'd served in areas with endemic visceral leishmaniasis from 2002-2011 (86 percent male, median age 39). Via various tests, they found that 10.2 percent showed signs of asymptomatic visceral leishmaniasis.

"If you have a healthy immune system, it shouldn't be an issue. That's what your immune system does, it suppresses the disease," Co told MedPage Today. "But once you have conditions that weaken the system, that's when the disease reactivates." HIV, treatment with immunosuppressant drugs, and the use of steroids could put these soldiers at risk of emergence of active disease, he said.

"Reactivation has been reported in the literature among immunocompromised patients such as solid organ transplants patients and rheumatologic patients with immunosuppressive treatment," said Kanokporn Mongkolrattanothai of Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, who has treated leishmaniasis patients.

Mongkolrattanothai, who was not involved with the studies, told MedPage Today that the new studies are "useful" in light of the life-threatening nature of visceral leishmaniasis.

In the study of 20 soldiers with active visceral leishmaniasis (all male, median age 38.5), "the majority tested positive with a test showing a good cell-mediated immune response, which is essential for control of the _leishmania_ parasites," Copeland said. "These service members were all counseled on the clinical syndrome of visceral leishmaniasis as well as potential risk factors for activation based on what is known at this time."

These patients will be able to visit for re-checks every 1 or 2 years, Copeland said, "but if they remain asymptomatic they likely do not need further care in light of being a healthy and immune-competent group."

Tests revealed that another 2 service members showed signs of genetic material from leishmania parasites in their blood. "While they are also without symptoms, we are following them very closely, every 3-6 months, and monitoring their levels of parasite," Copeland said. "We have also been doing some evaluation as to whether these individuals have any evidence of an immunodeficiency allowing them to have parasites circulating in their blood stream."

"Neither service member is being treated at this point, " he said, "because there are definite known risks to treatment, but no clearly defined benefit to treating people without symptoms. [But] if they were to develop symptoms, there would be a very low threshold to treat them."

The next steps are to understand the risk to service members of latent visceral leishmaniasis infection and gain insight into risk factors for activation, he said.

"In tuberculosis, we have a very similar disease, conceptually," he said. "You have a parasite that most often causes no problems in healthy people exposed, but a certain subset go on to active disease early on after exposure, and others reactivate months to years later, often as a result of some risk factor."

"While we are not sure if the later reactivation is the case in leishmaniasis, we are concerned it may be," Copeland added. "In tuberculosis, there is clear evidence that if you treat those with latent infection, especially those with risk factors for reactivation, you can decrease the risk of future active disease. So that begs the question, would the same be true in leishmaniasis? In other words, can we treat these asymptomatic people now and prevent them from ever getting disease?"  [Byline: Randy Dotinga]
========================
[We know very little about latent Leishmaniasis in healthy subjects. There is no doubt that the exposure to leishmaniasis in the US armed forces in Iraq was extensive (see ProMED reports below from 2001 to 2004).

The tests described here respond with an Interferon-gamma response to stimulation with Leishmania antigens. The test may be false positive or negative and we have no data showing that even if the tests correctly identify people who have been exposed to Leishmania, they will eventually become ill with clinical visceral leishmaniasis.

The authors draw a comparison with tuberculosis. We know a lot more about latent tuberculosis but even here treating latent tuberculosis based on a positive quantiferon test in healthy, asymptomatic individuals is controversial. These people, if treated, are exposed to side effects and the benefit is not well quantified. It is a good rule in clinical medicine, that we treat patients and not laboratory results. Thus a sensible scenario would be to do follow up in Leishmania test positive, asymptomatic individuals.

For subjects with a confirmed (repeated) positive PCR for Leishmania in their blood or other samples like a bone marrow, the infection is no longer asymptomatic and should be treated accordingly, probably with liposomal amphotericin B. - ProMED Mod EP]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Sun 24 Sep 2017
Source: Alghad Press [in Arabic, trans. Mod.NS, edited]

The Parliamentary Health and Environment Committee revealed on [Sun 24 Sep 2017] the spread of plague and called for a national campaign against rodents that are causing the disease.

The deputy head of the Parliamentary Health and Environment Committee, Fares Al-Barefkani, told Alghad Press that "new cases of plague have been identified, and the causes of the disease are known and are related to the poor municipal, disease control, sewage, and landfill services, in addition to widespread residential slums."

Al-Barefkani indicated that "there are a lot of residential slums that have emerged and are not under the control of Baghdad municipality and lack health services." He called for "a serious national campaign to combat rodents in the residential neighbourhoods that cause plague and provide medicines that help to eliminate the disease" and stressed that "there is a need to support Baghdad municipality and the health and the environment directorates to educate people on how to combat plague."

Al-Barefkani added that "the Parliamentary Health and Environment Committee does not have accurate data on the number of cases because we are in the process of follow-up in all the governorates."

On Tuesday [12 Sep 2017], the Ministry of Health denied some social media and other media reports about the occurrence of plague cases.
===================
[ProMED would again appreciate more information regarding whether plague cases have occurred in Iraq as it had been previously denied. If plague is present there, a program to eradicate rodents alone will not be effective in preventing human cases as the infected flea vector will seek other blood sources, such as humans.

This publication regarding the history of _Yersinia pestis_ in Iran also reviews the history of plague in other countries in the Middle East including Iraq:

Hashemi Shahraki A, Carniel E, Mostafavi E: Plague in Iran: its history and current status. Epidemiol Health. 2016 Jul 24; 38: e2016033; available at

"Throughout its history, Iraq has experienced multiple epidemics of plague. In 716 and 717 CE, a large outbreak known as al-Ashraf (the Notables) was recorded in Iraq and Syria. In an epidemic of bubonic plague in 1772 and 1773, many victims died in cities such as Basra (with 250 000 deaths) and Mosul. In 1801 CE, a large plague epidemic occurred in Mosul and Baghdad. A plague epidemic occurred again in Baghdad in 1908. From 1923 to 1924, approximately 90 cases of pneumonic plague were reported in Baghdad, and some plague outbreaks were reported in Basra." - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Tue 12 Sep 2017
Source: Alghad Press [in Arabic, trans. ProMED Mod.NS, edited]

The Ministry of Health denied on [Tue 12 Sep 2017] what has been circulated in some social media sites and other media sources about the occurrence of plague cases. The spokesman for the Ministry of Health, Saif Al-Bader, said in a statement that "after communicating with the relevant authorities and departments, it has been found that no deaths due to plague have occurred." He indicated that "this disease was eliminated from Iraq a long time ago and the health departments, whether in Baghdad or the other governorates, have not registered any cases in the whole country."

"The Ministry of Health is carrying out intensive campaigns to combat vectors of diseases, under the supervision and follow-up of the Communicable Diseases Control Center," Al-Bader added.

The director of the Communicable Diseases Control Center, Sabah Abdul-A'ayma, said that "the center continues to supervise all the teams from the different units of the center that are involved in the ongoing campaigns to fight disease carriers, especially in the areas that were mentioned in the rumors such as Al-Rusafa, Al-Saadoun, and Al-Batawin."

Abdul-A'ayma added that "the last campaign was carried out today [Tue 12 Sep 2017] as a team from the Communicable Diseases Control Center conducted an intensive rodent control campaign in the area of Al-Batawin, through the distribution of toxic baits and carrying out fumigation of rodent burrows in the region."

Abdul-A'ayma stressed that "these measures taken by the Communicable Diseases Control Center are aimed to reduce the spread of rodents, which are hard to control due to rapid reproduction as well as the presence of a poor environment from the accumulation of wastes and sewage that contributes to the spread of rodents."

Al-Bader pointed out that "the ministry calls on people not to believe these rumors that are aimed at spreading panic in society." He called on the media to adhere to the scientific standards and accuracy in the dissemination of any information affecting the health of the country, without reference to specialists particularly under the circumstances of the country's fight against terrorism.
========================
[ProMED would appreciate more information regarding whether plague cases have occurred in Iraq. If plague is present there, a program to eradicate rodents alone will not be effective in preventing human cases as the infected flea vector will seek other blood sources such as humans.

This publication regarding the history of _Y. pestis_ in Iran also reviews the history of plague in other countries in the Middle East including Iraq:

Hashemi Shahraki A, Carniel E, Mostafavi E: Plague in Iran: its history and current status. Epidemiol Health. 2016 Jul 24; 38: e2016033; available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5037359/>

"Throughout its history, Iraq has experienced multiple epidemics of plague. In 716 and 717 CE, a large outbreak known as al-Ashraf (the Notables) was recorded in Iraq and Syria. In an epidemic of bubonic plague in 1772 and 1773, many victims died in cities such as Basra (with 250 000 deaths) and Mosul. In 1801 CE, a large plague epidemic occurred in Mosul and Baghdad. A plague epidemic occurred again in Baghdad in 1908. From 1923 to 1924, approximately 90 cases of pneumonic plague were reported in Baghdad, and some plague outbreaks were reported in Basra." - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 16:41:23 +0100 (MET)
By Mariëtte Le Roux and Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - French commuters gritted their teeth for a ninth day of public transport strikes Friday, with unions vowing to keep up their protest against a pension overhaul through the holidays unless the government backs down.   Officials have said they are ready to negotiate, with Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer meeting teachers' representatives on Friday to try and stave off another day of class shutdowns.   "It was an intense and frank meeting... but we still need details, and maintain our call to strike on Tuesday," Stephane Crochet of the SE-Unsa union said.

Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when they forced a rightwing government to back down on pension reforms after three weeks of metro and rail strikes just before Christmas.   The prospect of a protracted standoff has businesses fearing big losses during the crucial year-end festivities, and travellers worried that their Christmas plans may be compromised.   "Right now it's a catastrophe here, but we're hoping there will be a solution before Christmas," Frederic Masse, a foie gras producer at the huge Rungis wholesale food market south of Paris, told AFP on Friday.

The capital city was again choked by huge traffic jams as most metro lines remained shut, only a handful of buses and trams were running, and one in four TGV trains were cancelled.   "I'm sick of this, and I won't be able to keep working if it goes on," Zigo Makango, a 57-year-old security agent, told AFP onboard a bus in the Bobigny suburb northeast of Paris.   To get home at night Makango said he has to use taxis, but "my boss doesn't reimburse me for that".

- 'Historic reform' -
President Emmanuel Macron on Friday expressed his "solidarity" with people impacted by the strike, "but I want the government to continue its work" in forging a single pension system, a key campaign promise.   "It's a historic reform for the country," he told journalists at an EU summit in Brussels. 

The overhaul unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would do away with 42 separate regimes, some of which offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector employees such as train drivers, dockers and even Paris Opera employees.   But Philippe angered unions further by proposing a reduced payout for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of a new, so-called "pivot age" of 64.

They have called for new mass demonstrations for next Tuesday, the third since the action started on December 5 in the biggest show of strength in years by France's notoriously militant unions.   Philippe insisted on Twitter that "My door is open and my hand outstretched".   But Laurent Brun of the hard-line CGT union, the largest among public-sector workers including those at rail operator SNCF, has already warned "There won't be any Christmas truce" unless the government drops the plan entirely.

- France divided -
A poll released Thursday by the Elabe institute found France evenly divided on Philippe's plan, with 50 percent for and 49 percent against.  But 54 percent rejected the mooted 64-year cutoff for a full pension, and 54 percent supported the protest.

Staff at four of France's eight oil refineries were on strike Friday, affecting output and raising fears of shortages down the line.   And both Paris operas, the Garnier and the Bastille, again cancelled Friday performances and others through the weekend.   Macron's government insists the changes will make for a fairer system and help erase pension system deficits forecast to reach as much as 17 billion euros ($19 billion) by 2025.   The average French person retires at just over 60, years earlier than most in Europe or other rich OECD countries.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 14:05:22 +0100 (MET)

Milan, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - More than 300 flights were cancelled Friday in Italy due to a planned one-day strike by workers from Alitalia and Air Italy.   Alitalia said in a statement that 315 flights were cancelled on Friday, with another 40 cancelled Thursday night and Saturday morning. It was not immediately clear how many flights were cancelled at Air Italy.   The 24-hours strike, which involves pilots, flight attendants and ground personnel, was called by three unions to draw attention to what they called "the ongoing crisis at Alitalia and Air Italy."

The strike was felt most in Sardinia, with about 30 flights cancelled.    Money-losing Alitalia has been under special administration since 2017 when employees rejected a restructuring plan that would have laid off 1,700 workers out of an approximately 11,000.   The government has so far looked for buyers without success.    Unions plan to meet on Tuesday with Economy Minister Stefano Patuanelli.    A potential consortium of buyers for the ailing carrier fell apart last month after Atlantia, which operates Rome's airports, pulled out.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 05:24:44 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - Adventure tourism is a key part of New Zealand's international appeal but the White Island volcano eruption is a tragic reminder that such activities carry genuine risk that must be better explained to travellers, experts say.   The South Pacific nation offers a wealth of adrenaline-fuelled pursuits, from heli-skiiing on snow-capped mountains to ballooning and blackwater rafting through caves.

Some, such as bungee-jumping, jet-boating and zorbing -- where you hurl yourself down a hill inside an inflatable ball -- were invented or popularised in a country that prides itself on catering to intrepid visitors.   The tourism industry as a whole is among New Zealand's biggest earners, generating about NZ$16.2 billion ($10.7 billion) and attracting 3.8 million international visitors annually.     "Adventure tourism is a massive sector in New Zealand. We are promoting ourselves as the adventure capital of the world," professor Michael Lueck, a tourism expert at Auckland University of Technology, told AFP.

New Zealand is also renowned for its rugged landscapes, which feature prominently films such as Kiwi director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings".   Day-trips to White Island combined both, taking tourists including cruise ship passengers to a desolately beautiful island off the North Island coast where they could experience the thrill of standing on an active volcano.   Instead, at least 16 people are believed to have died and dozens suffered horrific burns when 47 tourists and guides were caught on the island during Monday's eruption.

The disaster has raised questions about why tourists were allowed on a volcano where experts had recently raised threat levels, as well as broader issues about the regulation of risky activities in the tourism sector.   "There will be bigger questions in relation to this event," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told parliament after the eruption.   "These questions must be asked, and they must be answered."

- 'Slapdash' or world's best? -
The disaster on White Island -- also known as Whakaari -- is not the first mass-fatality accident to affect tourists in New Zealand.   In 2015, seven people were killed when a scenic helicopter flight crashed into Fox Glacier. Two years earlier, a hot-air balloon claimed 11 lives and in 2010 nine died when a plane carrying skydivers plunged into a paddock.

Briton Chris Coker's son Brad, 24, died in the skydive plane crash and since then he has campaigned from afar for tighter regulations in New Zealand's adventure tourism sector.   "In my opinion, the New Zealand authorities... are still slapdash about tourist safety," Coker told news website stuff.co.nz after the White Island eruption.   "To run tourists there is insane. I know they signed a waiver and so on, but it's not really taking care of people."

Trade body Tourism Industry Aotearoa disputes such assessments, saying operators are "working within a world's best regulatory framework", but could not eliminate risk completely.   "Operators put safety first, but adventure activity inherently carries some risk and it's critical that 'adventure' remains in adventure tourism," TIA chief executive Chris Roberts told AFP.   "Operators take all practical actions to minimise the risks and the safety culture of individual operators remains the key factor in preventing accidents."

Roberts said the issue was not tourism operators, but the alert system they relied on at volcanic destinations such as White Island, which attracts about 17,000 visitors a year.   The GeoNet monitoring agency raised White Island's threat level in the week before the eruption but also advised current activity "does not pose a direct hazard to visitors".   "The reviews need to look at the science and specifically the guidance provided about volcanic activity, and whether the operating practices followed for the past 30 years need to change," Roberts said.

- 'Understand the risks' -
Travel companies such as White Island Tours brief customers before setting off and require them to sign a waiver declaring they understand the risk, as well as supplying equipment such as hard-hats and gas masks.   However, some relatives of those affected by the eruption have expressed scepticism that their loved ones truly appreciated the potential danger they faced.   Options for legal redress are limited under New Zealand's Accident Compensation Commission scheme, which covers victims' medical bills and provides modest compensation but does not allow civil suits for damages.

Neither Roberts nor Lueck expected the White Island eruption to hit international arrivals in New Zealand, which have continued to climb despite major earthquakes in 2011 and 2016.   The nature of any review arising from White Island remains uncertain, but Lueck said at the very least tourists needed to be better informed about any risks.   "Operators and tourism boards should have tourists understand what these risks are, and not brush over quickly signing a waiver," he said.   "Only then can tourists make an informed decision and decide whether or not they want to take that particular risk."
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 21:25:36 +0100 (MET)

Kinshasa, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Twenty-three cases of Ebola have been recorded in four days in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where deadly violence is hampering efforts to end the 16-month-old epidemic, authorities said on Thursday.   Ten cases were recorded on Tuesday alone in Mabalako in North Kivu province, after six on Monday, according to the Multisectoral Committee for Epidemic Response (CMRE).   Three out of the six were practitioners of traditional medicine, it said.

On Wednesday, three cases were recorded in North Kivu, including one in the Biena neighbourhood -- which has had no new Ebola cases for the last 85 days.   More than 2,200 people have died since the epidemic was declared on August 1, 2018.   As of November 22, the rate of new cases had fallen to 10 per week.   CMRE said "security reasons" -- attacks on Ebola health workers and sites by armed groups and angry youths -- had "paralysed" work in the key zones of Beni, Biakato and Mangina.   The attacks led to a pullout of locally-employed Ebola workers in Biakato by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 15:59:23 +0100 (MET)

Juba, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Devastating flooding in South Sudan following a fierce drought could tip parts of the country into famine in the next few months, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Thursday.   According to the UN refugee agency nearly one million people were affected by floodwaters that submerged entire towns, compounding an already dire humanitarian situation after six years of war.

The WFP said that 5.5 million people are expected to be going hungry in early 2020 -- the time at which the population is generally benefiting from their harvest in October and November of the previous year.   An earlier harvest failed due to drought. This time crops have been washed away.    "The number of people in need is likely to increase because of the catastrophic level of destruction caused by floods since October following a drought that hammered parts of the country earlier in the year," the agency said in a statement.

The floods wiped out 73,000 metric tons of potential harvests as well as tens of thousands of cattle and goats, said the WFP.   "We know the problems that we've been having in South Sudan, but the rains and the floods have led to a national disaster and are much worse than anyone could have anticipated," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.    "In fact, if we don't get funding in the next few weeks and months, we are literally talking about famine. We need support, we need help and we need it now."   The agency estimated its needs at $270 million (242 million euros) for the first half of 2020.   South Sudan declared a "man-made" famine affecting around 100,000 people in 2017. 

The term "famine" is used according to a scientific system agreed upon by global agencies, when at least 20 percent of the population in a specific area has extremely limited access to basic food; acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two per 10,000 people per day for the entire population.   "Famine in South Sudan was defeated after four months in 2017 by a concerted large-scale humanitarian response," said the WFP.   "Experts now say the country's food security outlook has never been so dire."   Political instability is also high as President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar have again delayed their formation of a power-sharing government, this time by 100 days until February 2020.
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2019 09:33:13 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Dec 11, 2019 (AFP) - Up to 20,000 protesters rallied in Sydney on Wednesday demanding urgent climate action from Australia's government, as bushfire smoke choking the city caused health problems to spike.   Sydney has endured weeks bathed in toxic smoke as hundreds of blazes have raged across the countryside, with hospitals recording a 25 percent increase in the number of people visiting emergency departments last week.   On Tuesday smoke alarms rang out across Australia's biggest city, with thick haze triggering smoke alarms and forcing buildings to be evacuated, school children to be kept indoors, and ferries to be cancelled.   The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought.   Police estimated the crowd size at 15,000, organisers put the figure at 20,000.

Many of the protestors voiced anger at the government's silence in the face of the crisis.   "The country is on fire" said 26-year-old Samuel Wilkie attending his first climate protest. He described politicians' response as "pathetic".    "Our government is not doing anything about it," said 29-year-old landscape gardener Zara Zoe. "No one is listening, no one is doing anything."   Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- a staunch backer of Australia's vast coal industry -- has said little about the smoke since the crisis began, preferring to focus on fire-hit rural communities.   Organiser Chloe Rafferty said that had created anger at the conservative government's inaction.   "I think the wider public can see that we are not expecting the climate crisis in the future but we are facing the climate crisis now," she told AFP.   "People are experiencing it in their day-to-day lives."   As well as a rise in people visiting hospitals with smoke-related health symptoms, the number of emergency calls for ambulances spiked 30 percent last week.    "For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat," top health department official Richard Broome said.   "However, people with conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are at greater risk because the smoke can trigger their symptoms."

Smoke from bushfires is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in Australia, releasing fine particles that can lodge deep within people's lungs and cause "severe" health impacts over time, according to scientist Mick Meyer from government-funded scientific research agency CSIRO.   "The impact of smoke on people remote from the fires may, on occasion, substantially exceed the direct injury to people within the fire zone," he wrote in The Conversation.   "But we currently lack the operational tools to understand the extent of these impacts or to manage them."   Six people have been killed and more than 700 houses destroyed in bushfires this fire season.   Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 -- when almost 200 people died -- the scale of this year's devastation has been widely described as unprecedented.   Three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has been burnt -- the size of some small countries -- and vast swathes of koala habitat scorched.   Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Trinidad Express [abridged, edited]

The number of local deaths from the influenza virus has risen to 24. At the Health Ministry's update last week, 16 fatalities were reported from the flu, with Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh appealing to citizens -- especially those considered at-risk -- to get vaccinated.
Date: Sat 30 Nov 2019
Source: The New Indian Express, Express News Service [edited]

According to official data, 14 swine flu [influenza A/H1N1] deaths across the state were recorded this year [2019] till [17 Nov 2019]. The figure is slightly less than the previous year's [2018] toll of 17. The total number of H1N1 swine flu-positive cases [has] also come down this year [2019] compared with 2018 from 402 to 325. Health officials are setting up isolation wards in hospitals as a preventive measure.

As the winter season has set in and the minimum temperatures are coming down, health officials are instructing the public to take precautions in order to stay away from being infected by swine flu. The health department has initiated steps to set up district-[wide] swine flu testing facilities and isolation wards in every district hospital, area hospital, and community health centre.

As per the requirement of treatment procedure, the government has to set up special isolation wards in all government hospitals and provide protection kits to the healthcare staff, especially to those who will attend to the patients suffering from the flu. Across the state, Visakhapatnam registered the highest number of positive swine flu cases and deaths. Out of 325 positive cases, 180 alone were reported from Visakhapatnam, of which 8 died. West Godavari district registered 3 deaths, and Anantapur, East Godavari, and Srikakulam registered one death case each.

All the district health officials have been instructed to intensify awareness camps and screening centres. As part of the action plan, isolation wards with 5-10 beds are to be set up in every teaching, district, and area hospital. A sufficient stock of drugs, masks, and PPE [personal protective equipment] kits are to be made available. Currently, there are 18 labs eligible for conducting confirmation test in the state. "We are creating awareness by distributing pamphlets and putting up screening centres at bus stops and railway stations," DMHO [district medical and health officer] Dr. TSR Murthy said.

Symptoms of swine flu are generally similar to that of seasonal flu. These include cough, fever, sore throat, stuffiness, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Later on, breathlessness, chest pain, drowsiness, low blood pressure, sputum mixed with blood, and bluish discoloration of nails also develops.
Date: Thu 28 Nov 2019
Source: GDN Online [edited]

Two expatriates living in Oman died after contracting the seasonal influenza (H1N1) or swine flu in the governorate of Dhofar -- the 1st in July and the 2nd in August [2019]. They were among 78 confirmed cases of swine flu registered at the Sultan Qaboos Hospital over the first 9 months of 2019 in the governorate.

The hospital authorities reported a total of 599 registered suspected cases of H1N1 between January and last September [2019]. Doctors working at Sultan Qaboos Hospital dealt overall with 1779 cases of respiratory infections during the same period.

Patients most vulnerable to the respiratory viruses are those over 18 years, particularly pregnant women; those suffering from chronic illnesses, kidney and heart diseases, liver problems, diabetes, asthma, blood disorders, and HIV/AIDS; and even health workers, according to Muscat Daily.
Date: Wed 11 Dec 2019
Source: UNICEF/WHO Situation report 11 Dec 2019 [edited]

Highlights
- 5 new human cases reported in the past week
- In response to 1st human vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1) case from the island province of Basilan, in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), outbreak immunization was conducted
in Maluso, Basilan, with bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) against polio type 1, vaccinating 13 547 children under 10 years old (102% of the target).
- Currently 9 human cases confirmed with circulating VDPV type 2 (cVDPV2), 1 case with VDPV1, 1 case with cVDPV1, and 1 case with immunodeficiency-related VDPV type 2 (iVDPV2).
- A case with VDPV1 from Sultan Kudarat is pending genetic analysis; 1 case of cVDPV1 from Malaysia was confirmed as genetically linked to the Basilan case.
- Synchronized polio vaccination campaign conducted on [25 Nov 2019 - 10 Dec 2019] (including 2 days of extension) vaccinated 4 309 566 children under 5, which is 98% of the target total of 4.4 million children under 5. A total of 1 395 365 children under 5 were vaccinated in National Capital Region (NCR), which is 109% of the target, and 2 914 201 (94%) in Mindanao.
- DOH planning to conduct outbreak immunization with bOPV targeting 710,296 children under 10 in the Sulu Archipelago, Zamboanga City, and Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat, on [6-12 Jan 2020].
- Current polio outbreak resulting from persistently low routine immunization coverage, and poor sanitation and hygiene.
- Philippines is affected by both cVDPV1 and cVDPV2. cVDPV is considered a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

cVDPV1
---------
- In response to the 1st human case confirmed with VDPV1 from Maluso, Basilan (BARMM), outbreak immunization was conducted in the area with bOPV for children under 10 years old, vaccinating 13,547 children under 10 years of age (102% of the target).
- A cVDPV1 case in Sabah state, Malaysia, was confirmed to be genetically linked to the Basilan case by the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) in Australia. Since the 2 viruses are genetically linked, they are both classified as circulating.
- A new VDPV1 case from Sultan Kudarat (Region XII) was confirmed on [6 Dec 2019] and is pending further genetic analysis.
- All 13 cVDPV1 environmental samples found in Manila are genetically linked.

cVDPV2
---------
- All 9 human cases and 17 environmental samples confirmed with cVDPV2 are genetically linked. All human cases were reported from Mindanao (BARMM and Region XII), whereas environmental samples were found in NCR and Davao.
- All samples were tested by the National Polio Laboratory at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), whereas sequencing and genetic analysis is done at the NIID in Japan, and additional genetic characterization is provided by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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[Given the identification of the cVDPV1 case in Malaysia that is genetically related to the VDPV1 case in Basilan, it is now clear there are at least 2 separate cVDPV outbreaks in the Mindinao region of the Philippines: one of the outbreaks is associated with cVDPV2, and the other with cVDPV1 and one outbreak of cVDPV1 in the Manila Metropolitan area (although only environmental samples have been positive without AFP (acute flaccid paralysis) cases as yet.) What all these areas have in common is pockets of populations with suboptimal vaccination coverages. Clearly, we await further information on the genetic profiling of the newly identified VDPV1 case in Sultan Kudarat, also located in southern Philippines. Note that Basilan Island, Sultan Kudarat, and Sabah state in Malaysia, while all in the same general area, are not contiguous, each being on a different island. In. total, there are 11 cases of AFP in the Philippines that are attributable to infection with a VDPV.

A map showing the provinces in the Philippines can be found at

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of the Philippines: