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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: Mon 6 Jan 2020
Source: Rudaw [in Kurdish, trans. ProMED Mod.NS, abridged, edited]

The number of patients infected with seasonal influenza H1N1 in Kurdistan region has reached 38. Khalis Qadir, director general at the Kurdistan Regional Ministry of Health, told Rudaw that 4 of these patients have died and only one is from Kurdistan region. Qadir indicated that most cases were from Erbil governorate as of the 38 patients, 17 were from Erbil, 11 were from Duhok and 10 were from Sulaymaniyah.
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:
More ...

Philippines

Philippines US Consular Information Sheet
June 17, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Philippines is an emerging economy with a democratic system of government, located in Southeast Asia.
The archipelago consists of more than 7,000 islands
of which over 800 are inhabited.
The major island groupings are Luzon in the north, the Visayas in the center and Mindanao in the south.
Tourist facilities are available within population centers and the main tourist areas.
English is widely spoken in the Philippines, and most signs are in English.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Philippines for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
U.S. citizens may enter the Philippines without a visa upon presentation of their U.S. passport, valid for at least six months after the date of entry into the Philippines, and a return ticket to the United States or an onward ticket to another country.
Upon arrival immigration authorities will annotate your passport with an entry visa valid for 21 days.
If you plan to stay longer than 21 days you must apply for an extension at the Philippine Bureau of Immigration and Deportation's main office at Magallanes Drive; Intramuros, Manila, Philippines or at any of its provincial offices at http://www.immigration.gov.ph.

Persons who overstay their visas are subject to fines and detention by Philippine immigration authorities.
American citizens are urged to remain aware of their visa status while in the Philippines and to strictly follow immigration laws and regulations.
Travelers departing the country from international airports must pay a Passenger Service Charge in Philippine Pesos.
Visit the Embassy of the Philippines web site at http://www.philippineembassy-usa.org for the most current visa information.

Special requirements exist for the entry of unaccompanied minors.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, the Philippine government requires that a waiver of exclusion be obtained from a Philippine Embassy or Consulate or from the Bureau of Immigration and Detention in Manila for a child under 15 years of age who plans to enter the Philippines unaccompanied by either a parent or legal guardian prior to the child's entry into the Philippines.

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:
U.S. citizens contemplating travel to the Philippines should carefully consider the risks to their safety and security while there, including those due to terrorism.
While travelers may encounter such threats anywhere in the Philippines, the southern island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago are of particular concern.
Travelers should exercise extreme caution in both central and western Mindanao as well as in the Sulu Archipelago.

Kidnap for ransom gangs operate in the Philippines.
In October 2007, one such gang abducted a visiting U.S. citizen whose whereabouts are unknown at this time.
Several other foreigners were also kidnapped for ransom in 2007.
The New People’s Army (NPA), a terrorist organization, operates in many rural areas of the Philippines, including in the northern island of Luzon.
While it has not targeted foreigners in several years, the NPA could threaten U.S. citizens engaged in business or property management activities, and it often demands “revolutionary taxes.”

Terrorist groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Jema’ah Islamiyah and groups that have broken away from the more mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front or Moro National Liberation Front, have carried out bombings resulting in deaths, injuries and property damage.
In November 2007, a bombing outside the House of Representatives in Metro Manila resulted in a number of deaths and injuries to bystanders.
On January 3, 2008, a bomb exploded at a Cotabato City disco pub, killing one and injuring eight.
The central and western areas of Mindanao have also experienced bombings targeting bus terminals and public buildings.
While those responsible do not appear to have targeted foreigners, travelers should remain vigilant and avoid congregating in public areas; U.S. Government employees must seek special permission for travel to Mindanao or the Sulu Archipelago.
When traveling in Mindanao, U.S. official travelers attempt to lower their profile, limit their length of stay and exercise extreme caution.
Some foreigners who reside in or visit western and central Mindanao hire their own private security personnel.

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 United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
As in many of the major metropolitan areas in the United States, crime is a significant concern in Metro Manila.
As a rule of thumb, Americans should exercise good judgment and remain aware of their surroundings.
Reports of confidence games, pick pocketing, internet scams and credit card fraud are common.
Be wary of unknown individuals who attempt to befriend you, especially just after you arrive in country.
A number of robberies and assaults involving the “date rape drug” (known locally as Ativan) have occurred; the drug is generally administered to unwitting male or female victims via food or drink.
It is best not to accept food, drink, or rides in private vehicles from strangers, even if they appear legitimate.
While Americans are not typically targeted for kidnapping, kidnappings and violent assaults do occur in the Metro Manila area.

Taxis are the recommended form of public transportation.
However, the following safeguards are important: do not enter a taxi if it has already accepted another passenger; and request that the meter be used.
If the driver is unwilling to comply with your requests, it is best to wait for another cab.
It is also a good idea to make a mental note of the license plate number should there be a problem.
When driving in the city, make certain that the doors are locked and the windows rolled up.
All other forms of public transportation, such as the light rail system, buses and “jeepneys” should be avoided for both safety and security reasons.

Visitors should also be vigilant when using credit cards.
One common form of credit card fraud involves the illicit use of an electronic device to retrieve and record information, including the PIN, from the card's magnetic strip.
The information is then used to make unauthorized purchases.
To limit your vulnerability to this scam, never let your card out of your sight.

A continuing problem is the commercial scam or sting that attempts to sell or to seek negotiation of fraudulent U.S. securities.
Visitors and residents should be wary when presented with supposed Federal Reserve Notes or U.S. securities for sale or negotiation.
For further information, consult the Federal Reserve System's web site at http://www.federalreserve.gov/.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
The Philippines has a victim compensation program to provide financial compensation to victims of violent or personal crime and of unjust imprisonment.
Information may be obtained from the Philippine Department of Justice at 011-632-536-0447 or via the Internet at http://www.doj.gov.ph/.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in the Philippines is: 117.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Adequate medical care is available in major cities in the Philippines, but even the best hospitals may not meet the standards of medical care, sanitation, and facilities provided by hospitals and doctors in the United States.
Medical care is limited in rural and more remote areas.

Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost several or even tens of thousands of dollars.
Most hospitals will require a down payment of estimated fees in cash at the time of admission.
In some cases, public and private hospitals have withheld lifesaving medicines and treatments for non-payment of bills.
Hospitals also frequently refuse to discharge patients or release important medical documents until the bill has been paid in full.
A list of doctors and medical facilities in the Philippines is available on the web page of the U.S. Embassy in Manila at http://manila.usembassy.gov/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning the Philippines is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Travel within the Philippine archipelago is possible by boat, plane, bus or car.
Few tourists rent cars to drive, as the road system is crowded and drivers are undisciplined.
Driving off the national highways and paved roads is particularly dangerous, especially at night, and should be avoided.
To avoid overcrowded or unsafe transport, exercise caution in planning travel by older, inter-island ferryboats, or other public conveyances.

For specific information concerning Philippine driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. at tel. (202) 467-9300 or one of the Philippine consulates in the United State (Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco) or via the Internet at http://www.philippineembassy-usa.org/home.htm.
Please see also related information from the Philippine Department of Tourism at http://www.tourism.gov.ph and http://www.dotpcvc.gov.ph.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.lto.gov.ph/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the Philippines’ Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of the Philippines’ 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: Marriage in the Philippines:
The Philippine Government requires foreigners who wish to marry in the Philippines to obtain from the U.S. Embassy a “Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage” before filing an application for a marriage license.
Because there is no national register of marriages in the United States, the U.S. Embassy cannot provide such a certification.
As a result, the Philippine Government will accept an “Affidavit in Lieu of a Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage” in its place.
Americans may execute this affidavit at the U.S. Embassy in Manila Monday-Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., except for Philippine or American holidays.
The American must present his/her U.S. passport.
There is a fee of $30.00 or its peso equivalent for the affidavit.
Philippine authorities will not accept any substitute document issued in the United States.
Before traveling to the Philippines to be married, U.S. military personnel should contact their personnel office regarding Department of Defense joint service regulations.

Execution of the affidavit by a U.S. consular officer is a notarial act, and the consular officer is authorized by U.S. law to refuse to perform the service if the document will be used for a purpose patently unlawful, improper, or inimical to the best interests of the United States (see 22 C.F.R. section 92.9b).
Entering into a marriage contract for the principal purpose of facilitating immigration to the United States for an alien is an unlawful act, and the U.S. Code provides penalties for individuals who commit perjury in an affidavit taken by a consular officer.
Relationship fraud is a persistent problem in the Philippines, and it is not uncommon for Filipinos to enter into marriages with Americans solely for immigration purposes.
Relationships developed via correspondence, particularly those begun on the Internet, are particularly susceptible to manipulation.

The Marriage Application Process:
Once an American citizen has obtained from the U.S. Embassy an “Affidavit in Lieu of a Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage,” he/she may file an application for a marriage license at the office of the Philippine Civil Registrar in the town or city where one of the parties is a resident.
The U.S. citizen applicant must present: (a) the affidavit; (b) divorce decree(s) or death certificate(s), if applicable (required to verify civil status and legal capacity to contract marriage); (c) his/her U.S. passport; and (d) documentation regarding parental consent or advice, if applicable.
(Persons aged 18 to 21 must have written parental consent to marry in the Philippines; those aged 22 to 24 must have received parental advice.
Philippine law prohibits marriage for persons under the age of 18.)
A judge, a minister, or other person authorized by the Philippine Government can perform the marriage.

Marriage to a U.S. citizen confers neither citizenship nor an automatic eligibility for entry to the United States.
A foreign spouse requires an immigrant visa to live in the United States.
Questions about filing a petition to bring a foreign spouse to the United States may be directed to the nearest U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service office, to the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Office (telephone: (202) 663-1225) or, while in the Philippines, to the U.S. Embassy’s Immigrant Visa Unit at http://manila.usembassy.gov/.

Disaster Preparedness:
The Philippines is a volcano-, typhoon- and earthquake-prone country.
>From May to December, typhoons and flash floods often occur.
Flooding can cause road delays and cut off bridges.
Typhoons in the vicinity of the Philippines can interrupt air and sea links within the country.
Updated information on typhoons is available at http://www.pagasa.dost.gov.ph. Volcanic activity is frequent, and periodically the Philippine Government announces alerts for specific volcanoes.
Updated information on volcanoes in the Philippines is available at http://volcanoes.usgs.gov.
Earthquakes can also occur throughout the country.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the Philippines National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) at http://ndcc.gov.ph/home/ and from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

Customs: Philippine customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the Philippines of items such as firearms and currency.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Philippines in Washington, DC or one of the Philippine consulates in the United States (Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco) for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available in the Philippines; transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.

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 the Philippines’ laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Philippines are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in the Philippines 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 the Philippines.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at: 1201 Roxas Boulevard, Manila, Philippines, tel. (63) (2) 301-2000.
The American Citizen Services (ACS) section's fax number is (63) (2) 301-2017 and the ACS web page is at http://manila.usembassy.gov/.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for the Philippines dated January 17, 2008 to update sections on “Country Description,” “Safety and Security,” “Crime” and “Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2020 09:00:02 +0100 (MET)
By Ron Lopez with Mikhail Flores in Manila

Tanauan, Philippines, Jan 14, 2020 (AFP) - Taal volcano in the Philippines could spew lava and ash for weeks, authorities warned Tuesday, leaving tens of thousands in limbo after they fled their homes fearing a massive eruption.   The crater of the volcano exploded to life with towering clouds of ash and jets of red-hot lava on Sunday, forcing those living around the mountain south of Manila to rush to safety.

Many people abandoned livestock and pets as well as homes full of belongings after authorities sounded an alert warning that an "explosive eruption" could come imminently.   "We left everything apart from what we're wearing," said Robert Cadiz, a 47-year-old fisherman among some 30,000 who took refuge in shelters. "We were terrified."

Gerald Aseoche, 30, who left with his four young children and a few possessions, has missed work to stay with them as the volcano belches out lava and earthquakes tied to the eruption rattle the region.   "I am hoping this won't go on too long because I will lose my job if I can't report to work immediately," Aseoche, a house painter, told AFP at an evacuation centre.   "I can't leave them... family first," he said as he cradled one of his children.

Taal is one of the most active volcanoes in a nation hit periodically by eruptions and earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" -- a zone of intense seismic activity.   The Taal eruption has been putting on a stunning and terrifying display, with lightning crackling through its ash cloud in a poorly understood phenomenon that has been attributed to static electricity.

- Eruptions have lasted months -
Renato Solidum, head of the Philippines' seismological agency, said Taal's previous eruptions have lasted months so it was impossible to predict an end to the current activity.   However, he said the alert warning of a potentially catastrophic "explosive eruption" may remain in place for weeks, depending on developments.   "We have a protocol of waiting for several days, sometimes two weeks, to make sure that indeed... volcano activity has essentially stopped," he told AFP.

The volcano dramatically burst with activity on Sunday, shooting a massive column of ash 15 kilometres (nine miles) into the sky that then rained down on the region.   Falling ash pushed aviation officials to temporarily shut down Manila's main international airport, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights and stranding tens of thousands of travellers.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport resumed reduced operations on Monday and was gradually recovering on Tuesday, but a backlog of cancelled flights resulted in ongoing pain for travellers.    Taal's last eruption was in 1977, but it has a long history of activity. In 1965 the volcano, which is a popular tourist attraction set in a picturesque lake, killed some 200 people.   The country's most powerful explosion in recent years was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, about 100 kilometres northwest of Manila, which killed more than 800 people.
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2020 07:40:19 +0100 (MET)
By Ron Lopez with Mikhail Flores in Manila

Talisay City, Philippines, Jan 13, 2020 (AFP) - Lava and broad columns of ash illuminated by lightning spewed from a volcano south of the Philippine capital on Monday, grounding hundreds of flights as authorities warned of a possible "explosive eruption".

Fine grit coated homes and streets across the region surrounding the Taal volcano, which burst to life on Sunday accompanied by a series of earthquakes, forcing at least 10,000 people to seek refuge in evacuation centres.   "You could not sleep anymore, because every time you closed your eyes the house would shake," restaurant owner Lia Monteverde told AFP, saying the quakes came minutes apart.   "All of us didn't sleep at all. We just prepared to leave."    Taal sits in a picturesque lake and is one of the most active volcanoes in a nation where earthquakes and eruptions are a frightening and destructive part of life.

The Philippines sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide deep below the Earth's surface.   Schools in the region around Taal, some government offices in Manila and the Philippine Stock Exchange were closed as a precaution on Monday.   Dust masks sold out in stores as authorities warned locals that the ash could cause respiratory problems especially in the very young and those with pre-existing lung conditions.
 
Limited flight operations resumed mid-Monday at Manila's main international airport, nearly a day after authorities halted them due to the safety risk volcanic ash poses to planes.   However, travellers booked on over 240 cancelled flights still faced delays at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.    "I'm disappointed because this (delay) means additional expense for me and it's tiring to wait," said stranded traveller Joan Diocaras, a 28-year-old Filipino who works in Taiwan.   "But there's nothing we can do."

- Alert level raised -
The eruption began with an explosion of superheated steam and rock, but by early Monday "fountains" of lava had been spotted on Taal, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.   Stunning lightning shows have periodically played out above the volcano in a little-understood phenomenon that is attributed to static electricity.      Authorities raised the volcano alert level to its second-highest on Sunday, saying an "explosive eruption" could happen in "hours to days".

Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum told AFP the lava was evidence of fresh movement in the volcano, but said it was unclear if Taal would "sustain its activity".   Government seismologists recorded magma moving towards the crater of Taal, which is located 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of Manila.   Apart from the ash, some particles up to 6.4 centimetres (2.5 inches) in diameter, larger than a golf ball, had reportedly fallen in areas around the lake, Phivolcs said.

Taal's last eruption was in 1977, Solidum said.   Two years ago, Mount Mayon displaced tens of thousands of people after spewing millions of tonnes of ash, rocks and lava in the central Bicol region.   The most powerful explosion in recent years was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, about 100 kilometres northwest of Manila, which killed more than 800 people.
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2019 10:24:36 +0100 (MET)

Manila, Dec 26, 2019 (AFP) - A typhoon that swept across remote villages and popular tourist areas of the central Philippines on Christmas day claimed at least 16 lives, authorities said on Thursday.   Typhoon Phanfone, with gusts reaching 200 kilometres (125 miles) an hour, tore roofs off houses and toppled electric posts as it ripped through the central Philippines on Wednesday.   Videos from the typhoon's path showed fallen trees and strong winds pummelling flimsy houses. Local disaster officials cut felled trees to clear blocked roads.   At least 16 people were killed in villages and towns in the Visayas, the central third of the Philippines, according to disaster agency officials.   Phanfone also hit Boracay, Coron and other holiday destinations that are famed for their white-sand beaches and popular with foreign tourists.

Mobile phone and internet access on Boracay was cut during the storm and the networks remained down on Thursday, making assessment of the damage there difficult.   "Still, communication lines are down. Electricity is still down," Jonathan Pablito, police chief of Malay town in Alkan province, which is on an island neighbouring Boracay, told AFP.   Pablito said ferry services between Boracay and Aklan -- the main way to travel to and from the holiday island -- were still not operating on Thursday, even though the storm had passed.   "We have no news from coast guard if ships were allowed to sail. Since the 24th... all those going to the island and coming from the island weren't able to cross."

The airport at Kalibo town in Aklan, which services Boracay, was badly damaged, according to a Korean tourist who was stranded there and provided images to AFP.   "Roads remain blocked, but some efforts have been made to clear away the damage. It's pretty bad," Jung Byung-joon said via Instagram messenger.   "Everything within 100 meters of the airport looks broken. There are a lot of frustrated people at the airport as flights have been cancelled.   "Taxis are still running but it's windy and still raining so no one wants to leave the airport, including me."   Another Korean tourist stuck at the damaged airport said she had been unable to make contact with her friend on Borocay on Thursday.   "I tried to call my friend in Boracay today and wasn't able to get through. Maybe something isn't working," Dahae Gong told AFP via Instagram.
   "I don't know when I will be able to go home."

- Memories of monster storm -
Still, there was no indication of any major damage or otherwise on Boracay.   Though much weaker, Phanfone tracked a similar path as Super Typhoon Haiyan -- the country's deadliest storm on record which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.   "It's like the younger sibling of Haiyan. It's less destructive, but it followed a similar path," Cindy Ferrer, an information officer at the Western Visayas region's disaster bureau, told AFP.   In San Jose town in Occidental Mindoro, a video uploaded by the local government showed overturned fishing vessels and ruined shanties on the coast due to the storm.

Tens of thousands of people in the mostly Catholic nation were forced to evacuate their homes on Wednesday, ruining Christmas celebrations.   Many others were not able to return to their families, with ferries and plane services suspended.   Among those killed was a police officer electrocuted by a toppled post while patrolling.   The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific typhoon belt, and is hit by an average of about 20 major storms a year.   Many of the storms are deadly, and they typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure, keeping millions of people perennially poor.
Date: Sun 22 Dec 2019
Source: CNN Philippines [edited]

At least 9 people are confirmed dead Sunday [22 Dec 2019] from suspected poisoning after reportedly consuming lambanog, or palm wine. Eight of the victims were from Rizal, Laguna.

According to Rizal mayor Vener Munoz, the victims were drinking a generic brand of lambanog. Munoz added it was unclear when the victims drank the beverage. He also said over 100 other people complained of pain after drinking lambanog but were not critical. They are currently being treated at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila.

In a post on Facebook, Laguna governor Ramil Hernandez said he has banned the sale of lambanog in the province so authorities can investigate the cases of poisoning in Rizal.

Meanwhile, another person from Quezon died from alleged poisoning, also after drinking lambanog.

A report from police in Candelaria said several people were drinking the beverage, which they bought from a store in barangay Santa Catalina Sur on Saturday [21 Dec 2019]. At around 11 a.m. the following day [Sun 22 Dec 2019], police said they received a call from barangay chairwoman Myla Escamilla saying the victims were brought to the hospital for alleged poisoning.

The police report said 2 were comatose, while 4 others were discharged after being treated.

Authorities in Candelaria are now investigating the case.
=================
[Lambanog (Philippines coconut wine) is wine made from coconut. It is well known for its strength, ordinarily carrying 80-90-proof alternatives. It is mostly produced in the Quezon province, Philippines; the process has been passed down through generations of coconut plantation farmers. The procedure includes collecting the sap from the coconut flower, comparable to rubber-tree tapping. The sap is then prepared and fermented to turn into tuba, a popular coconut toddy. The tuba is then distilled to make lambanog.

The method for making lambanog is cost effective, and coconut trees are plentiful in the Philippines. As such, the beverage has been coined a "poor man's beverage." Aside from economics, the process of making lambanog is an artistic expression distinct to the Filipino culture. It has been a part of Filipino tradition for centuries.

In Quezon, consuming lambanog wine is normally a public thing. Men relax in a circle and "tagayan" will ensue. The men take turns drinking shots from a cup put in the middle of the group. Normally, there is also a person singing and playing the guitar as part of the festivities; he takes his turn at drinking, too, so the music and songs get even more interesting as the consuming goes on. Lambanog wine was made an export product in 2001 and has definitely brought in foreign markets. To attract the youth and expand its advertising possibilities, lambanog is now industried and sold in different flavors such as cherry, jack fruit, apple, orange, four periods [?], strawberry, bubble gum, mint, etc. <http://lambanog.org/>

While there are no details regarding the signs and symptoms of the individuals affected, one has to wonder if methanol was either used in the process or added as an adulterant to produce an extra intoxicating effect.

From <http://lambanog.org/>, arrack, additionally spelled arak, is a distilled alcoholic drink typically generated in South and Southeast Asia and made from either the fermented sap of coconut flowers, sugarcane, grain (e.g., red rice), or fruit from the country of origin. The clear distillate may be blended, grown old [aged] in wooden barrels, or repeatedly distilled and filtered, depending upon the taste and color objectives of the supplier. Arrack is not to be [confused with] having arak, an anise-flavored alcoholic beverage traditionally consumed in Eastern Mediterranean and North African nations.

It is possible someone added methanol to the lambanog in an attempt to produce a bigger buzz or kick from the alcohol without realizing its toxicities.

Methanol is a toxic alcohol that is used industrially as a solvent, pesticide, and alternative fuel source. It also occurs naturally in humans, animals, and plants. Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fruit juices, fermented beverages, and diet soft drinks containing aspartame are the primary sources of methanol in the human body. Most methanol poisonings occur as a result of drinking beverages contaminated with methanol or from drinking methanol-containing products. In the industrial setting, inhalation of high concentrations of methanol vapor and absorption of methanol through the skin are as effective as the oral route in producing toxic effects. The characteristic pungent (alcohol) odor of methanol does not provide sufficient warning of low levels of exposure.  <https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ershdb/emergencyresponsecard_29750029.html>

Also known as wood alcohol, methanol is a commonly used organic solvent that, because of its toxicity, can cause metabolic acidosis, neurologic sequelae, and even death when ingested. It is a constituent of many commercially available industrial solvents and of poorly adulterated alcoholic beverages. Methanol toxicity remains a common problem in many parts of the developing world, especially among members of lower socioeconomic classes. <https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ershdb/emergencyresponsecard_29750029.html>

Methanol poisoning (MP) results from accidental or voluntary ingestion of methyl alcohol, a compound used in the chemical industry and as fuel. Methanol is in no case suitable for consumption.

Methanol causes inebriation similar to ethanol, and patients may merely appear drunk, lose their inhibitions, and become ataxic. At the same time, gastrointestinal symptoms manifest. MP patients typically suffer from nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. If examined that early, tachypnea, tachycardia, and hypertension, results of metabolic acidosis, may already be detected. In severe cases, fatal respiratory or cardiac failure may occur.

The stage described above is usually followed by a latency period of several hours, generally 12-24 hours. Only then can neurological symptoms be observed. The greater the amount of methanol ingested, the earlier the additional symptoms set in. Simultaneous consumption of ethanol delays onset of further deficits since both alcohols are competitive substrates for alcohol dehydrogenase.

Progressive vision loss is characteristic for MP, and patients may claim blurred vision, scotomas, scintillations, visual field restriction, and, eventually, complete blindness. Seizures may be registered. Patients show increasingly reduced levels of awareness and may fall into a coma.  <https://www.symptoma.com/en/info/methanol-poisoning>

More information from knowledgeable sources on this situation would be appreciated; please inform ProMED-mail at <promed@promedmail.org>. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Laguna province, Calabarzon, Philippines:
Quezon, Philippines: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/20269>]
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2019 09:52:36 +0100 (MET)
By Ferdh Cabrera

Padada, Philippines, Dec 16, 2019 (AFP) - Rescuers in the southern Philippines used heavy equipment and their bare hands on Monday in hopes of finding several people feared trapped beneath a building toppled by a powerful earthquake that claimed at least three lives.   Sunday's tremor cracked schools, toppled homes and injured dozens but largely spared big cities on the island of Mindanao, which is still recovering from a string of deadly quakes in October.

Searchers have pulled survivors from the collapsed market building in the town of Padada, but were still looking for a person who had texted authorities saying six people were trapped under the rubble.   "The person can no longer be reached," fire official Fred Trajeras told reporters, adding that rescuers' held out hope survivors could be found.   A young child was killed when a family home collapsed near the epicentre, and searchers pulled the bodies of two victims from the collapsed market building.

However applause erupted after Lesley Jane Gatos, 31, was pulled from the rubble on Sunday, shortly after the tremor.   Gatos used her phone to call for help and then began making noise to attract the attention of rescuers, who reached her after clearing a path in the debris.   "Finally I was able to get out. I saw people. They clapped because I was the first one rescued," she told AFP.   The collapsed building was near the epicentre of the 6.8 magnitude quake and is in the same region that was hit by three tremors above 6.0 in a matter of weeks in October.   Those quakes killed some two dozen people and forced tens of thousands into shelters as well as heavily damaging homes and offices.

The Philippines is situated on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.   Searchers were fanning out across the quake-hit areas of Mindanao on to fully assess the damage, but have already reported several schools and hospitals were cracked.   President Rodrigo Duterte, who is from Davao and was there during the quake, was not hurt.  "The first lady... said the car she was riding (in) was swaying," spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 17:37:27 +0100 (MET)
By Helen ROXBURGH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Wuhan, authorities banned tour groups and police were conducting spot checks for animals in vehicles leaving and entering the city, state media said.   It added that city health authorities had scheduled 800 beds to be made available in three hospitals and 1,200 more would soon be ready, and passengers were being screened for fever at the airport, railway stations and bus terminals.   Doctors at the University of Hong Kong released a study on Tuesday estimating that there have been 1,343 cases of the new virus in Wuhan.   The WHO has only called a global public health emergency a handful of times, including during the H1N1 -- or swine flu -- pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 20:58:18 +0100 (MET)

Lima, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Peru is installing security cameras at its world renowned Machu Picchu site after it was damaged earlier this month by foreign tourists, authorities said Tuesday.   "We are going to strengthen security at Machu Picchu by installing high-tech cameras," Jose Bastante, head of the archaeological park, told AFP.   Bastante said 18 cameras will be located at three strategic points of the citadel as well as access points from surrounding mountains.   "This will allow us to better control visitors and avoid any action or infraction to the regulations, also any type of risk," he said, adding that drones were also being used for security.

Five tourists accused of damaging the iconic site were deported to Bolivia last week and barred from returning to the country for 15 years.    A sixth, from Argentina, was fined $360 and must pay $1,500 to the culture ministry for repairs after he admitted to damaging the Temple of the Sun at the ancient Inca sanctuary.

The Argentine, 28-year-old Nahuel Gomez, also received a suspended sentenced of three years and four months, but can leave the country once the fines are paid.   Gomez admitted to causing a stone slab to fall from a temple wall. It was chipped when it fell, causing a crack in the floor.   "The damaged caused is significant. The integrity of Machu Picchu has been broken," Bastante said.   Members of the group were also suspected of defecating inside the 600-year-old temple.

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: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 17:28:23 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Beleaguered national airline South African Airways (SAA) announced on Tuesday it was cancelling 10 domestic and one international flight in an effort to streamline services and save cash.   The cash-strapped airline was last month placed under a state-approved business rescue plan to avoid total collapse following a costly week-long strike by thousands of its workers.   SAA said in was dropping 10 domestic flights between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, while canning its direct route between Johannesburg and Munich.

Passengers on cancelled domestic flights will be accommodated on its budget sister airline, Mango, while international travellers would be re-routed via its flights between Johannesburg and Frankfurt, and London Heathrow.   "These decisions are in line with SAA's usual policy of reviewing flights and consolidating services with low demand," it said in a statement.   "Furthermore, during the current process of business rescue, these cancellations represent a responsible strategy to conserve cash and optimise the airline's position ahead of any further capital investment."

The company said there might be further flight schedule changes over the coming days.   Aviation analyst Phuthego Mojapele said a spate of cancellations by clients were exacerbating problems for SAA.   "At the moment SAA's perception out there ... it's not really looking good because there is negative news that is being perpetuated on the wires every single day," Mojapele told local television station, eNCA.   "However, SAA's records in terms of safety, in terms of the service has always been excellent," he added.

The debt-ridden carrier, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts, has been awaiting a two-billion rand ($138 million) payout from the Treasury to fund a rescue plan announced in December.   Finance Minister Tito Mboweni last week told journalists that the government was still trying to "find a solution to finance the airline".    Local media have reported that SAA is selling nine older aircraft to make way for new planes, part of a separate plan to rid itself of its most costly aircraft.   SAA, Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines, employs more than 5,000 workers. It has a fleet of more than 50 aircraft flying to more than more 35 domestic and international destinations.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 12:26:16 +0100 (MET)

Taipei, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Taiwan on Tuesday reported its first confirmed case of the new SARS-like coronavirus as the government warned the public against travelling to Chinese city where it emerged.    The patient is a Taiwanese woman in her fifties, living in Wuhan, who returned to the island on Monday with symptoms including fever, coughing and a sore throat.   Asian countries have ramped up measures to block the spread of the new virus as the death toll in China rose to six and the number of cases jumped to almost 300 since it first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The Taiwan patient reported her symptoms to quarantine officials on arrival at Taoyuan airport and was immediately taken to a hospital for treatment, said the island's Centers for Disease Control (CDC).    The woman told officials that she had not visited any local markets or had contact with birds or wild animals while in Wuhan.    Authorities are monitoring some 46 passengers and crew from the same flight, the agency said.

The CDC raised its alert on Wuhan to the highest level, urging the public against travelling to the city unless necessary.    "We ask the public not to panic as the individual was taken to hospital directly from the airport and did not step into the community," it said in a statement, adding that it reported the case to the World Health Organization and China authorities.   The coronavirus has spread to Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 12:08:14 +0100 (MET)

Kathmandu, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Eight Indian tourists, including four children, have died after they were found unconscious in their room at a hill resort in Nepal on Tuesday, police said.   The eight -- two couples and their children -- had slept in one room at a hotel in Daman, a popular tourist destination in Makwanpur district about 55 kilometres (34 miles) from Kathmandu.   "They were found unconscious this morning and airlifted to Kathmandu but died during treatment," police spokesman Shailesh Thapa Chettri told AFP.

The families, from the south-eastern state of Kerala, used a gas heater in their room to keep warm, a district official told AFP.   "We suspect they died of suffocation, but autopsy reports will confirm the cause," Chettri added.   India is Nepal's biggest source of tourists, making up some 16 percent of visitors to the Himalayan nation.
Date: Sun, 19 Jan 2020 14:17:42 +0100 (MET)

Kathmandu, Jan 19, 2020 (AFP) - Avalanches, heavy snow and poor visibility hampered the search Sunday for four South Koreans and three Nepalis caught in an avalanche in the popular Annapurna region of the Himalayas, officials said   Relatives of the missing Koreans have arrived in Kathmandu alongside several officials sent by Seoul to help with the emergency rescue efforts, Ang Dorjee Sherpa of the Korean Alpine Federation told AFP.

The missing group was near the Annapurna base camp around 3,230 metres (10,600 feet) above sea level when the avalanche struck after heavy snowfall on Friday.   "Our team reached the area but could not proceed with their search because of more avalanches. We are exploring ways to move the operation forward," said Mira Acharya from Nepal's tourism department.

Rescuers were working with Korean officials to deploy drones in the search on Monday, said Dilip Gurung of the tourism management committee in Chhomrong, which lies on the trekking route.   "It is difficult for people to go. We will try to fly drones to help find something," Gurung said.   Helicopters were sent out on Saturday to rescue about 200 people stranded around Annapurna and other nearby mountains after the incident.

Guesthouses and the trekking route were blanketed in a thick layer of snow.   "The snow was very deep and it took us more than double the time to dig through and walk," said Jeevan Dahal, a guide who was rescued by helicopter.   "We saw the avalanche-hit area from the helicopter. Everything was white."   Tek Gurung, a guesthouse owner aiding the search operation, said more than two metres of snow (6.6 feet) had fallen on the trekking trails and it was "extremely difficult" to search the snow-covered area on foot.

Six of the missing were part of the same expedition, while one Nepali porter was escorting a different group.   The four foreigners -- two men and two women -- were part of an 11-member team of South Korean nationals. Others have safely descended.    Education officials in Seoul said they were part of a team of volunteer teachers working with children in Nepal.

Two more South Koreans were due to arrive in Nepal on Sunday to help with the search, the country's foreign ministry said.   Sherpa said it had snowed heavily around Annapurna in recent days, making the trek risky.   "The weather and snow got worse and, feeling it was becoming dangerous and difficult, they decided to turn. As they were heading back the avalanche hit," Sherpa told AFP on Saturday.

Annapurna is an avalanche-prone and technically difficult mountain range with a higher death rate than Everest, the world's highest peak.    Thousands of trekkers visit the route every year for its stunning views of the Himalayas.   A snowstorm killed about 40 people on the circuit in 2014, in one of the biggest trekking tragedies to hit Nepal.