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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

Date: Sun, 22 Mar 2020 18:02:51 +0100 (MET)

Athens, March 22, 2020 (AFP) - Greece will impose a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, limiting people to their homes except for essential outings, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Sunday.    "I have given orders that all appropriate action be taken to enforce the ban on all unnecessary movement across the country," Mitsotakis said in a televised address to the nation.   The restrictions will come into force from 6:00 am local time (0400 GMT) on Monday, and will require citizens to carry proof of identity to leave their homes. 

Outings are only permitted for people "going to work, the doctor, or to visit someone who needs help, or those who are buying food or medication", the prime minister said.    Citizens are also permitted to leave the house to walk their pets or exercise outdoors alone or with one other person.

There are 15 recorded deaths and 624 infections from the coronavirus in Greece, which has a population of 11 million.    Since reporting its first death from the virus on March 12, the country has gradually rolled out measures to limit gatherings and non-essential travel along with closing schools, shops and entertainment venues.
Date: Sat, 21 Mar 2020 10:59:18 +0100 (MET)

Athens, March 21, 2020 (AFP) - A strong 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck early Saturday in northwest Greece, damaging property in the city of Parga, authorities said.   The quake struck at 0049 GMT (0249 local time), with the epicentre 11 kilometres (around six miles) from Parga in Kanalaki district, and 316 kilometres northwest of Athens, the Athens geodynamic observatory said.   "No casualties have been reported at the moment," Parga mayor Nikolas Zacharias told AFP by telephone.

"Some old abandoned houses in Kanalaki collapsed and some houses suffered significant damage in this district of 2,500 inhabitants," Zaharias said, adding the temblor was strong throughout the area.   Landslides partially damaged the region's roads, he added.   Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes, but they rarely cause casualties.   In 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage.   In 1999, a 5.9-magnitude quake left 143 people dead in Athens and the region northwest of the capital.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 09:33:48 +0100 (MET)

Athens, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Greece has announced a broad shutdown of public areas and travel restrictions, to be activated in case of a coronavirus outbreak.   The measures, formalised in a decree late on Tuesday, include temporary travel bans to and from countries with a large number of infections.

The decree also permits the requisitioning of beds in hotels and private clinics.   It also foresees the temporary closure of "indoor public gathering areas" such as schools, places of worship, cinemas, theatres, sports halls and businesses.   "We are ready to do whatever is necessary to protect public health," government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.   The country has so far registered no confirmed cases of the virus.   Greece's health ministry has earmarked 13 hospitals nationwide equipped to handle virus cases.

A health ministry spokesman earlier this week noted that owing to the virus' long gestation period, health checks at ports and airports had minor chances of success.   On Monday, the Greek Olympic Committee said it had discussed alternative plans for the Olympic Flame lighting ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Games in case of a virus outbreak.

The flame for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is scheduled to be lit on March 12 in ancient Olympia and, following a torch relay on Greek soil, will be handed to the Tokyo organisers at a ceremony on March 19 at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 09:07:42 +0100 (MET)

Athens, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - Greece was hit with a 24-hour strike Tuesday over a pension reform encouraging people to stay longer in the workforce.   The labour action paralysed public transport in Athens, intercity trains and ferry ship services.   Civil servants are also walking off the job and journalists will stage a three-hour work stoppage against the pension reform.   "This bill is practically the continuation of (austerity) laws introduced in 2010-2019," civil servants' union ADEDY said.

Unions will hold street protests in Athens, Thessaloniki and other major cities later in the day.   The new conservative government says the reform, to be voted by Friday, will make the troubled Greek pension system viable to 2070.   The labour ministry says the overhaul -- the third major revamp in a decade -- will contain pension increases and reduce penalties for pensioners still working.

Successive governments have attempted to reform the pension system, whose previously generous handouts are seen as one of the causes of the decade-long Greek debt crisis.   Chronic overspending and the inaccurate reporting of the budget deficit spooked creditors in 2010, and required three successive bailouts by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to avert a Greek bankruptcy.   In return for billions of euros in rescue funds, Greece had to adopt unpopular austerity reforms and pension cuts.
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.
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Kenya

General Information:
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Kenya is situated on the east coast of Tropical Africa and is one of the most popular tourist resorts in the continent. The country is bounded by Ethiopia and Somalia in the north, Ugan
a on the west, Tanzania to the south and the Indian ocean to the east. The country has been regarded as one of the more stable in Africa but nevertheless recent events, as they head towards a multiparty democracy, have led to a spiralling devaluation in their currency and general unease and disturbances.
Climate:
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Nairobi is situated at approx. 6000' and has a mild climate throughout the year. Malaria prophylaxis is not usually recommended for those visiting Nairobi city alone. The main rains tend to fall in April and May or October and November. The annual rainfall tends to be about 39 inches but significant variations can occur. Mombasa, on the coast, has a much more tropical climate and travellers will need to take more care with regard to personal hygiene and also serious protection against mosquito bites.
Health Care Facilities:
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In general, travellers to Nairobi find that the level of health care facilities are good. All doctors in Kenya speak English and the level of care they provide is usually excellent for the holiday maker. As in many other countries in central Africa, the screening of blood against various viral agents cannot be assured and so travellers should avoid all but essential of blood transfusions. Sterile needles and syringes are in good supply in the major towns and so a syringe kit is not usually necessary. All of the larger hotels will have their own English speaking medical officer, though travellers are usually asked to pay cash. There are many hotels and restaurants providing excellent menu facilities and food borne disease can usually be traced to eating salads or undercooked bivalve shellfish.
Swimming in Kenya:
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In all the major tourist resorts throughout Kenya there are swimming pools and these are usually the best places to indulge. On the coast the sand is exceptionally fine and it feels as if you are walking on flour. Just be careful of local strong currents and don't swim out to the coral. Watch out for the sea urchins. Their spines are very uncomfortable and may need to be extracted by medical staff. Keep your children in view at all times and warn them to take care. If you are trekking around Kenya or on Safari don't go swimming in any fresh water rivers or lakes. There is a disease called Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia) which will penetrate through your skin and may cause serious problems in the future.
Rabies in Kenya:
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This viral disease occurs throughout Kenya and is a significant risk for travellers who are going away from the major tourist areas. Keep clear of all warm blooded animals and if you are bitten (even licked or scratched) wash out the area immediately, apply an antiseptic and get medical attention. Even though the risk of Rabies for the traveller is very small don't ever disregard a contact of this type. The beach hotels near Mombasa are favourite haunts for monkeys. Don’t feed them and stay clear. Report any bite (lick or scratch) immediately. Watch your children at all times.
Trekking through Kenya:
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Some travellers to Kenya will have no particular itinerary planned and so start their holiday from either Nairobi of Mombasa. Those planning to go off the beaten track should register with the Irish Counsel. Great care should always be exercised as each year too many tourists have significant problems while trekking off the usual routes. The major risks revolve around food and water borne disease, the risk of rabies, altitude sickness on Mount Kenya, being robbed or simply getting lost!

Tips for Trekkers
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Always plan your trip well in advance
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Make sure that you know about personal health and general food & water hygiene.
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Check in frequently
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Never travel alone
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Make sure you have plenty of clean water
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Stick to your itinerary
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If you are in trouble, admit it!
The Risk of Malaria:
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In Kenya, malaria poses a very real risk outside Nairobi. One of the highest risk areas is Mombasa which is where many travellers will find themselves at some time. Malaria is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito and so the first line of defence is to protect yourself against mosquito bites. (see leaflet on Protection against Insect Bites - Tropical Medical Bureau). Also it is essential to take your prescribed malaria tablets on a regular basis. Only stop your tablets under exceptional circumstances. Nevertheless, the traveller must remember that there is no perfect protection against malaria and the disease can still occur even after all the precautions have been taken. So be aware that any peculiar symptoms (especially 'flu) for at least a year after your trip will need to be checked out.
After your Journey:
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Just remember that some tropical diseases may not become evident for weeks or even months after your trip. If you are ill within a year of your journey always seek medical help.
Further Information:
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General travel health information may be obtained from the Tropical Medical Bureau at any of our centres. Please remember, every traveller will require a specialised consultation and this leaflet only contains general guideline information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 13 Mar 2020 11:41:16 +0100 (MET)

Nairobi, March 13, 2020 (AFP) - Kenya announced Friday the first confirmed case of coronavirus in East Africa, as the region so far unscathed by the global pandemic scaled up emergency measures to contain its spread.   A 27-year-old Kenyan woman tested positive for the virus on March 12 in Nairobi, a week after returning from the United States via London.   She was in a stable condition and recovering, Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe told reporters.   "We wish to assure all Kenyans that the government will use all the resources available to fight coronavirus," he said, as the government rolled out a raft of new containment measures.

The government had traced all the contacts of the patient since she arrived back in Kenya on March 5, he added.   "At the moment, there is absolutely no need for panic and worry," he said.   There are now 14 countries in Africa with confirmed cases of the virus that has swept the globe, infecting more than 130,000 people and killing nearly 5,000.   But to date the continent has been spared the worst of the pandemic.    Only five people have succumbed to coronavirus so far -- all in north Africa -- with the sub-Saharan region recording no deaths and very low numbers
of confirmed cases.

But countries in East Africa -- which until the positive case in Kenya, had only recorded negative test results -- have been taking precautions.   Some flights have been restricted, with Kenya Airways suspending its route to Rome, and charter flights from Italy to the Kenyan coast on hold.   It has also suspended international conferences, a top earner in Nairobi, a hub for such events in the region, and non-essential travel abroad for politicians.   The government announced more expansive restrictions on Friday, including a temporary ban on major public gatherings, prison visits and activities between schools.

- Soap and sanitiser -
Other countries in the region have been rolling out their own measures.   In Rwanda, which shares a border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has confirmed cases, washing basins with soap and sanitiser have been placed on streets for commuters to use before boarding buses.   Authorities in Kigali, the capital, have also banned concerts, rallies and trade fairs -- although like in Kenya and Uganda, church services have been proceeding and bars, restaurants and entertainment precincts remain open.   Neighbouring Burundi, meanwhile, has quarantined 34 people in a hotel in Bujumbura as a precaution.

Uganda has ordered that visitors from a number of affected countries self quarantine for 14 days, or consider simply not visiting at all.   South Sudan's health ministry said meanwhile that it was "temporarily suspending direct flights between South Sudan and all affected countries"   Kagwe, the Kenyan health minister, also addressed a rumour circulating on social media that people with black skin cannot contract the virus.   "I would like to disabuse that notion. The lady (confirmed with coronavirus in Kenya) is an African, like you and I," he said.
Date: Thu 20 Feb 2020
Source: Daily Nation (Kenya) [edited]

A malaria outbreak has left over 130 people seeking treatment in Bomet County in the past 4 days, according to local health officials.

Bomet County Executive for Health Joseph Sitonik confirmed the outbreak at a press conference Thursday morning [20 Feb 2020]. He said the number of affected residents was rising by the day. "Public health officers have mounted a surveillance in the affected regions with a view to containing further spread of infections," Dr. Sitonik said.

In January [2020], 4 patients were treated, but in the recent past the number of patients has increased sharply.

A majority of the cases have been reported in Sotik. Some 60 patients have been treated at various hospitals in the sub-county, Dr. Sitonik said. "So far, 39 cases have been recorded at Longisa Hospital and 25 cases at Tenwek Hospital," he said.  [Byline: Vitalis Kimutai]
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[Bomet County is part of the former Rift Valley Province. It is located at an altitude of 1960 meters (6430 ft), which usually excludes malaria transmission because the temperature is too low. Thus, sustained transmission at this altitude probably signals an increasing temperature, which allows development of _Plasmodium falciparum_ malaria (we assume it is _P. falciparum_) in the local _Anopheles_ mosquito population. _P. falciparum_ requires a 24-hour temperature of not below 20 deg C (68 deg F) to develop in the mosquitoes. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Bomet, Rift Valley, Kenya: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/17486>]
Date: Mon 3 Feb 2020
Source: The Star [edited]

Six more people on Monday morning [3 Feb 2020] were treated and discharged following a suspected anthrax outbreak in Emityot village in Sotik, Bomet. Health executive member Joseph Sitonik said all the individuals exhibited cutaneous signs where watery wounds appeared on parts of their bodies. Sitonik said they were out of danger.

Those referred on Sunday [2 Feb 2020], he added, were also attended to and discharged. No patient is admitted to any health facility as a result of anthrax, Sitonik said. "We treated and released them after they tested positive for the disease, but we would also like to state that there are no patients admitted to hospitals since their conditions are not severe," Sitonik told journalists in his office.

The number of those who came in contact with the carcasses of the animals was 29: 4 [children] under 5 years old, 17 male adults, and 8 women. Sitonik said the number of animals that died were 7.

While calling on residents from the area to visit the nearest health facilities for a check-up, the CEC said the disease had adverse effects on humans, saying it can cause severe pneumonia.  [byline: Felix Kipkemoi]
====================
[The previous report had 18 villagers affected and treated. With these additional 6 over the weekend, the total is now 24 people with cutaneous lesions. Whether these 24 were all included in the 29 carcass handlers is unclear, though not impossible. How the 4 children under 5 years of age came to be exposed is not described, but it could well have been through playing and coming in contact with a butchered carcass. There would have been ample spilt blood. And we now have 7 dead cattle in this village. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Bomet, Rift Valley, Kenya:
Date: Thu 30 Jan 2020
Source: Daily Nation [edited]

A shortage of yellow fever vaccine at City Hall since October [2019] has disrupted plans of many Kenyans seeking to travel abroad.

A spot check by the Business Daily since [Mon 27 Jan 2020] showed that dozens of Kenyans were being turned away and forced to pay more to get the jab at airports.

A nurse at the Nairobi County's inoculation centre, who sought anonymity, said the last time City Hall had supplies for the vaccine was in late October [2019], adding that they had not received any fresh stocks despite making requisitions to health authorities.

City Hall charges Sh 3000 [USD 29.85], up from the previous Sh 2500 [USD 24.88], for the vaccine that is mandatory for all people seeking to travel to countries that are considered to be vulnerable to yellow fever. The same dose goes for USD 50 or about Sh 5043 at the airports.

Kenya is one of the eastern, central, western and southern African countries the World Health Organisation considers to be prone to the disease, making the yellow fever vaccine a must-have for any traveller to or from these nations.  [Byline: Kevin Rotich and John Mutua]
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[It is not clear why the yellow fever (YF) vaccine shortage exists. The shortage and higher than previous prices run the risk of driving vaccination efforts underground, administration of fake vaccine, sale of fake vaccination certificates or issuance of the certificates without vaccination. These practices have been a problem in the past.

Not only would these illegal practices pose a risk to the individuals who might be exposed to YF virus and be unprotected, there is a risk to the general public should a viraemic individual introduce the virus into an area where the vector mosquitoes are abundant enough to permit ongoing transmission of the virus. This also damages public confidence in health officials in general. Fortunately, the governor has been aware of these practices, has taken steps to inform the public, and instructing the police to investigate and prosecute the offenders. Close monitoring of the current vaccine situation by Kenya health authorities would be prudent. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Mon 16 Dec 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [abridged, edited]

Health officials continue to report cases of the parasitic disease, leishmaniasis, in Kenya. During the week ending [8 Dec 2019], officials saw 34 additional cases.

This brings the leishmaniasis outbreak tally this year [2019] to 2822, including 34 deaths.

Most cases of leishmaniasis have been reported from Mandera, Marsabit, Wajir, and Garissa counties.

Leishmaniasis is not a single disease, but a group of syndrome due to a variety of species of this parasite. They affect different populations and are related to a characteristic vector, the sandfly.

The disease can range from asymptomatic infections to those causing significant illness and death. Disease can appear on a spectrum from a single skin ulcer to destructive lesions of the face to terminal organ disease.

The vector for this parasite is a phlebotomine sandfly. There are a few different species implicated depending on the part of the world. Sandflies are very small (about 1/3 the size of a mosquito) and make no noise when flying. Their bites can sometimes be painless; because of these reasons, many people have no idea they were bitten. Even one bite of a sandfly can transmit disease, so travellers on short trips can still get infected.

There are several species of _Leishmania_ that cause disease in humans. The most common are _L. donovani_ (kala-azar), _L. tropica_ (Baghdad boil), and _L. braziliensis_ (espundia, [affects mucous membranes]). After getting bitten by a sandfly, the disease may manifest itself from a week to many months later.

It starts out as a papule that enlarges to an ulcer. The ulcer can give the appearance of a volcano crater. Lesions may appear singly or multiple; many heal spontaneously within weeks to months to years.

Certain species (_L. braziliensis_) can disseminate to the mucosal areas of the face and mouth and cause very destructive and disfiguring disease (espundia [affects the mucous membranes]) that appears similar to leprosy.

Kala-azar, an Indian name given to systemic type of the disease due to the greyish appearance of the body, can result in enlarged spleen and liver, diarrhoea, emaciation, weakness, and death.
=======================
[Leishmaniasis, both cutaneous and visceral, are endemic in Kenya. Please see our review of the situation in Kenya in archive no.

[An image of the phlebotomine sandfly vector can be seen at

[Maps of Kenya: <https://goo.gl/pcUuf4> and
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Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

St. Vincent and the Grenadines US Consular Information Sheet
April 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is an English-speaking developing Caribbean island nation. Tourism facilities are widely available. Read the De
artment of State Background Notes on St. Vincent and the Grenadines for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
For information concerning entry requirements, travelers can contact the Embassy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 3216 New Mexico Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20016, telephone (202) 364-6730, or the consulate in New York.

All Americans traveling by air outside the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.
This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009.
Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other WHTI compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S.
Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.

Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted.
It is expected that the cards will be available and mailed to applicants in spring 2008.
The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the Passport Card is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.
We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel.
American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.

U.S. citizens should take special care to secure these documents while traveling, as it can be time-consuming and difficult to acquire new proof of citizenship to facilitate return travel should the original documents be lost or stolen.

U.S. citizens traveling to St. Vincent and the Grenadines must also present an onward or return ticket.
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:
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 Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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

CRIME:
Petty street crime occurs in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. From time to time, property has been stolen from yachts anchored in the Grenadines. Valuables left unattended on beaches are vulnerable to theft. Persons interested in nature walks or hikes in the northern areas of St. Vincent should arrange in advance with a local tour operator for a guide; these areas are isolated, and police presence is limited.

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 in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and can explain how funds can be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are limited.
The main hospital is Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (Telephone (784) 456-1185). There is a hospital in the capital, Kingstown, but serious medical problems may require evacuation to another island or the United States. There is no hyperbaric chamber; divers requiring treatment for decompression illness must be evacuated from the island. The closest hyperbaric chamber is located in Barbados. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and the hospital often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

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 St. Vincent and the Grenadines is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Vehicles travel on the left side of the road. Roads are narrow, and generally poorly paved, with steep inclines throughout the islands. Taxis and buses are relatively safe, but buses are often overcrowded. Vans are generally overcrowded and frequently travel at high rates of speed. Night driving is discouraged in mountainous areas because the roads are not well marked; there are few, if any, guardrails, and roads are steep and winding.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning St. Vincent and the Grenadines driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Tourist Organization in New York at http://www.svgtourism.com/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
All Caribbean countries can be affected by hurricanes. The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Information on hurricane preparedness abroad is provided in Hurricane Season: Know Before You Go.
There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados is responsible for consular issues on the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, including American Citizens Services. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their citizenship documents with them at all times so that if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available.
Please see the State Department’s 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 St. Vincent and the Grenadines laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in St. Vincent and the Grenadines 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 St. Vincent and the Grenadines are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within St. Vincent and the Grenadines. 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 in Bridgetown is located in the Wildey Business Park in suburban Wildey, south and east of downtown Bridgetown.
The main number is (246) 431-0225; after hours, the Embassy duty officer can be reached by calling (246) 436-4950.
The web site for Embassy Bridgetown is http://barbados.usembassy.gov/. Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, except Barbados and U.S. holidays.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for St. Vincent and the Grenadines dated April 2, 2007, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 8 Mar 2016 21:55:36 +0100

Kingstown, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, March 8, 2016 (AFP) - Police on the Caribbean island of St Vincent say they are investigating the murder of a German tourist killed when masked gunmen attacked his yacht last week.   No arrests have been made over the assault, which took place in Wallilabou Bay on the resort island's northwest coast, a popular tourist destination where scenes from the hit Hollywood movie franchise "Pirates of the Caribbean" were filmed.   Martin Griff, 49, died from gunshot wounds to his neck, police say.    The two attackers also wounded the boat's captain, Reinhold Zeller, a 63-year old German who was shot in the arm. He was treated in the hospital in the capital Kingstown.   The assailants stole money and credit cards.

Griff was on vacation with his wife and two children, German media reported.   Writing in a letter to St Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on Tuesday, the German Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Lutz Gorgens -- whose jurisdiction extends to St Vincent and other Caribbean islands -- described the incident as "tragic and gruesome," saying it was "difficult to bear for Germans as well as Vincentians."   Gorgens said he hoped the police "bring to justice those responsible for this cruel crime."   Gonsalves on Friday described the killing as a "terrible stain" on the Caribbean island -- part of the nation St Vincent and the Grenadines, located north of Venezuela -- that could cost it "millions of dollars because we sell peace, security, tranquillity."
Date: Wed 7 May 2014
Source: I-Witness News [edited]

On mainland St Vincent, 2 cases of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus [infection] have been confirmed, as the total number of confirmed cases in the country has climbed to 39.

The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment said on Wed 7 May 2014 that there are 37 confirmed cases of the virus on the northern Grenadine island of Bequia, where an outbreak began in late April [2014].

The illness was first detected in the Caribbean in December 2013, in St Martin, and Antigua and St Vincent and the Grenadines have become the latest countries to declare an outbreak.

Luis de Shong, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment said on Wednesday that his ministry continues to implement vector control activities against the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito, which causes [transmits] the chikungunya virus.

He said private sector and other key stakeholders such as the National Emergency management Organisation, the Roads, Bridges and General Services Authority, the Ministry of Tourism and the Central Waster and Sewerage Authority are all engaged in the multi-sectorial approach towards fighting this disease.

"The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment will continue active surveillance and island-wide intense vector control campaign. Additionally, several public outreach programmes have been held and more are scheduled throughout St Vincent and the Grenadines to sensitise Vincentians about the virus and the Ministry urges the participation of all individuals in fighting the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito and the chikungunya virus," de Shong said.

The ministry said it was reiterating the importance of avoiding mosquito bites by implementing vector control measures at the individual and community levels, such as keeping water drums and tanks covered, getting rid of unused tires, keeping the general surroundings clean, the use of appropriate clothing to avoid mosquito bites, and the use of insect repellents.
----------------------------------
Communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
====================
[Maps of St Vincent and the Grenadines can be accessed at
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/36>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Fri 1 Nov 2008
Source: The Daily Herald [edited]

As authorities scramble to stem the dengue outbreak in St Maarten, the number of confirmed cases continues to climb.  The Dengue Action Response Team (DART) announced on Thursday [23 Oct 2008] that 90 laboratory-confirmed cases of dengue had been recorded 1-25 Oct [2008]. The results of 48 lab tests are pending, and DART said the figure was expected to surpass 100 this month [November 2008].

Meanwhile, St Maarten Laboratory Services (SLS) has introduced a new laboratory system for dengue testing. The new system will enable Dutch-side health officials to obtain immediate results of laboratory tests carried out by SLS rather than having to send hem to Curasao or the lab on the French side, as was being done in the past.Sector Health Care Affairs (SHCA) Preventive Health Department head Dr Rachel Eersel met with family physicians on Tuesday evening [21 Oct 2008] to inform them about the latest strategies being implemented to fight dengue fever and to inform them about the new laboratory form. "The DART team is requesting every household to take immediate measures as the outbreak continues to (worsen). The only way to stop the dengue outbreak from growing is by every household taking mosquito-breeding preventive action. By taking measures, you are protecting your family from getting dengue fever," the Government Information Service said.

In the meantime, the Hygiene and Veterinary Department is continuing with its fogging campaign in the various districts, weather conditions permitting. The house-to-house/yard inspections are part of the public health response to dengue on the island and are part of an intensified community campaign to eradicate the mosquito that transmits dengue fever.
-------------------
[This report is from the Dutch side of St. Maarten/St. Martin Island. The Daily Herald <http://www.thedailyherald.com/news/daily/l142/dengue142.html> reported that authorities are continuing their efforts to stem the spread of dengue fever in St Maarten with intensified house-to-house inspection around the Island Territory. Inspections will focus on potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and inspectors are hoping to inspect some 15 000 households by the end of the campaign.

A number of civil servants who have been reassigned to carry out the inspections will start the inspections, and the final logistics are currently being put into place, the Government Information Service (GIS) said in a press release on Wednesday [22 Oct 2008].  Maps showing the location of St Maarten/St Martin in the Caribbean can be accessed at <http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/namerica/caribb/stmartin.htm>, and the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map can be found at <http://healthmap.org/promed?g=3578421&amp;v=18.067,-63.067,10>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Sat 4 Oct 2008 Source: The Daily Herald [edited] Health experts have concluded that collated information produced by local authorities and Institute Veille de Sanitaire (INVS) confirms St Martin is at the beginning of a fresh outbreak of dengue, that effectively began 10 days ago [23 Sep 2008] and urges preventative treatments be "rigorously" implemented. In a release issued by the Prefecture Thursday [2 Oct 2008], La Cellule Inter-Regionale d'Epidemiologie (CIRE) of Antilles-Guyana met with the Committee of Experts for Infectious Diseases in the Northern Islands on Wednesday [1 Oct 2008] to analyse the current situation. The release contained no statistics or figures, but went on to say "given the favourable climatic conditions for development of mosquitoes, preventative measures already known by the population must be implemented without delay and in a rigorous manner. It is at this early stage that preventative measures can be most effective." In accordance with this information, an intensive fogging campaign begins as of today [4 Oct 2008], Friday. It is advised to leave house doors and windows open when the truck passes for the chemical to be most effective. The dengue management committee is due to meet again on 16 Oct [2008] to assess the local situation. The Prefecture of St. Martin and St. Barths once again reminds the population of the action to be taken to prevent the spread of dengue [virus] which is transmitted by the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito. Anti-mosquito sprays and creams should be used liberally. Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants in the evenings. Make sure mosquito screens are installed on windows and doors. Young children, babies, and elderly persons should sleep under mosquito netting. Throw out any stagnant water collecting in flower vases, or other receptacles, around the house or in the yard and make sure rain gutters are unblocked after heavy rainfall. Stagnant pools of water are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Cisterns must be covered with mosquito netting. It is also encouraged to breed Guppy fish, which feed on mosquito larvae. Check the septic tank is functioning properly. Currently there is no specific treatment or vaccine for dengue. ================= [Maps showing the location of the French overseas collectivity of Saint Martin in the Caribbean can be accessed at and the Health Map/ProMED interactive map at . - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Tue, 7 Sep 2004 18:10:31 +0200 (METDST) PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad Sept 7 (AFP) - Hurricane Ivan Tuesday threatened several Caribbean islands, where residents were urged to rush preparations to safeguard their lives and properties. On Tuesday morning the center of the powerful hurricane, the second in just days, was located 75 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Trinidad's sister island of Tobago. The two islands, as well as St Vincent, the Grenadines and Grenada were placed under a hurricane warning. The Netherlands Antilles Tuesday morning also put the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao under a hurricane watch, which means the storm could hit them within 36 hours. "Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. It warned that with sustained winds of 185 kilometers (110 miles) per hour and higher gusts, Ivan was "a dangerous" hurricane and that it could strengthen further. On Tuesday morning, Bardados already reported wind gusts of 145 kilometers (90 miles) per hour and pounding rain flooded the streets of Port-of-Spain and roads on Tobago. Long-term forecasts, which have a wide margin of error, have the hurricane slamming into Jamaica on Friday and then into Cuba on Sunday. This would bring the storm dangerously close to Florida, which has just been pounded by Frances, the second hurricane to hit the southeastern US state in three weeks.
More ...

Colombia

Colombia - US Consular Information Sheet
August 13, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Colombia is a medium-income nation of some 44 million inhabitants.
Its geography is very diverse, ranging from tropical coastal areas and rainforests t
rugged mountainous terrain.
Tourist facilities in Colombia vary in quality and safety, according to price and location.
Security is a significant concern for travelers, as described in the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Colombia.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Colombia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
All U.S. citizens who are not also Colombian citizens must present a valid U.S. passport to enter and depart Colombia, and to return to the United States.
Dual U.S-Colombian citizens must present a Colombian passport to enter and exit Colombia, and a U.S. passport to return to the United States.
Be aware that any person born in Colombia may be considered a Colombian citizen, even if never documented as such.
U.S. citizens born in Colombia or who otherwise have Colombian citizenship, will need both a Colombian passport and a U.S. passport for the trip.
U.S. citizens traveling to Colombia do not need a Colombian visa for a tourist stay of 60 days or less.
Travelers entering Colombia are sometimes asked to present evidence of return or onward travel, usually in the form of a round-trip plane ticket.
Americans traveling overland must enter Colombia at an official border crossing.
Travelers arriving by bus should ensure, prior to boarding, that their bus will cross the border at an official entry point.
Entering Colombia at unauthorized crossings may result in fines or incarceration.
Travelers planning to enter Colombia over a land border should carefully read our information on Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below.
The length of stay granted to travelers is determined by the Colombian immigration officer at the point of entry and will be stamped in your passport.
Extensions may be requested by visiting an office of the Colombian immigration authority, known as the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, or DAS, after arrival in Colombia.
Fines are levied if a traveler remains in Colombia longer than authorized, and the traveler cannot leave Colombia until the fine is paid.
Any traveler possessing a Colombian visa with more than three months’ validity must register the visa at a DAS immigration office within 15 days of arrival in Colombia or face fines.
The DAS immigration office in Bogota is located at Calle 100 and Carrera 11B.
No arrival tax is collected upon entry into Colombia, but travelers leaving by plane must pay an exit tax at the airport, in cash.
The tax varies with the dollar/peso exchange rate, but is usually between $50 and $70.
Some airlines include all or a portion of this tax in the cost of your airline ticket; check with your airline to find out how much you will have to pay at the airport.
U.S. citizens whose U.S. passports are lost or stolen in Colombia must obtain a new U.S. passport before departing.
They must then present the new passport, along with a police report describing the loss or theft, to a DAS office.
Information about obtaining a replacement U.S. passport in Colombia is available on the U.S. Embassy’s website at http://bogota.usembassy.gov.
Contact information for DAS is available in Spanish at http://www.das.gov.co.
The Embassy in Bogotá or the U.S. Consular Agency in Barranquilla can provide guidance on contacting DAS when you apply for your replacement passport.
For further, specific guidance on Colombian entry requirements, including information about Colombian visas, travelers should contact the Colombian Embassy at 2118 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008; telephone (202) 387-8338; website: http://www.colombiaemb.org; or the nearest Colombian consulate.
Consulates are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Also see the Department of State’s general information on Entry and Exit Requirements.
Visit the Embassy of Colombia website at http://www.colombiaemb.org for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
ADDITIONAL EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR MINORS:
To prevent international child abduction, Colombia has implemented special exit procedures for Colombian children under 18 who are departing the country without both their mother and their father or a legal guardian.
These procedures apply even if the child is also a U.S. citizen.
Complying with the procedures can be complex and time-consuming, especially if an absent parent is outside Colombia at the time.
Advance planning is essential.

The procedures are as follows: Upon exiting the country, the person traveling with the child (or the child him/herself) must present a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate, along with written, signed authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian.
The authorization must explicitly grant permission for the child to travel alone, with one parent, or with a third party, by name.
When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of a death certificate is required instead of written authorization.
When one parent has sole custody of the child, that parent may present a custody decree instead of the other parent’s written authorization.
If the documents to be presented originated in the United States, they must first be translated into Spanish and then signed in front of a Colombian consul at a Colombian consulate.
Then, upon arrival in Colombia, the documents must be presented to the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for certification of the consul’s signature.

Alternatively, the documents can be translated into Spanish, then notarized by a notary public in the United States, and authenticated by requesting an apostille from the competent authority in the state where the documents were prepared.
The document, translation, and apostille can then be presented to immigration officers at the airport when the child travels.
If the documents originated in Colombia and are written in Spanish, only notarization by a Colombian notary is required.
For documents originating in countries other than the United States or Colombia, please inquire with the Colombian embassy serving that country.
In cases where the absent parent refuses or is unable to provide consent, the other parent can request assistance from the Colombian child protective service, Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF).
In appropriate cases, ICBF will investigate and may issue a document that will allow the child to travel without both parents’ consent.
This process may take a significant amount of time and is not within the control of the U.S. government.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Violence has decreased markedly in many urban destinations, including the cities of Bogota, Medellin, Barranquilla, and Cartagena.
Cali has made less progress combating crime than most other large cities.
The level of violence in Buenaventura remains high.
Small towns and rural areas of Colombia can be extremely dangerous due to the presence of narco-terrorists.
Common crime remains a significant problem in many urban and rural areas, as described in the section on crime below.

The incidence of kidnapping in Colombia has diminished significantly from its peak at the beginning of this decade.
Nevertheless, terrorist groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and other criminal organizations, continue to kidnap and hold civilians for ransom or as political bargaining chips.
No one is immune from kidnapping on the basis of occupation, nationality, or other factors.
On July 2, 2008, the GOC effected a successful military rescue of three Americans, Ingrid Betancourt, and eleven members of the Colombia security forces. President Uribe called on the FARC to release the remaining hostages and seek peace. Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped Americans, it is U.S. policy not to make concessions to kidnappers.
Consequently, the U.S. government’s ability to assist kidnap victims is limited.

Official and personal travel by U.S. Embassy employees outside most urban areas is subject to strict limitations and reviewed by security officers on a case-by-case basis.
U.S. Embassy employees are allowed to travel by air, but inter- and intra-city bus transportation is off limits to them.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada, or for overseas callers, 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:
Although the threat of terrorism has decreased in most of Colombia’s cities, they nevertheless experience much of the same crime that is seen in comparably sized cities throughout the region.
Robbery and other violent crimes, as well as scams against unsuspecting tourists, are common in urban areas.
Generally speaking, if you are the victim of a robbery, you should not resist.
Some of the most common methods used by criminals in Colombia are noted below:
Robberies of ATM customers:
Tourists and others have been robbed after using automatic teller machines (ATMs) on the street.
In some cases, robbers have used motorcycles to approach their victims and later flee the scene.
Americans are urged to use ATMs only inside shopping malls or other protected locations.
Driving to and from the location – rather than walking – provides added protection.
When using an ATM, you should be on the lookout for anyone watching or following you.

Robberies of taxi passengers:
Robbery of taxi passengers is a serious problem in Bogota.
Typically, the driver – who is one of the conspirators – will pick up the passenger and then stop to pick up two or more armed cohorts, who enter the cab, overpower the passenger, and take his/her belongings.
If the passenger has an ATM card, the perpetrators may force the passenger to withdraw money from various ATM locations.
Such ordeals can last for hours.
In almost every case of taxi-related crime, the victims have been riding alone and have hailed taxis off the street.
Rather than hailing a taxi, you should use the telephone dispatch service that most taxi companies offer.
Many hotels, restaurants, and stores will call a taxi for you, and the taxi usually arrives within minutes.
When a taxi is dispatched by telephone, the dispatcher creates a record of the call and the responding taxi.

Robberies while departing airports:
U.S. citizens arriving at major Colombian airports have occasionally been victimized by armed robbery while en route from the airport to their hotel or home.
The perpetrators typically scout out victims at the airport and then follow their vehicles before robbing the occupants at a stoplight.
Travelers should remain vigilant at airports and report to local airport police if they suspect they are being observed.
Robberies on Hiking Trails:
Several U.S. citizens were robbed in 2007 while hiking on nature trails in and around Bogota.
Because hiking trips generally take place in isolated settings, participants are especially vulnerable.
Hikers in Colombia are more protected if they travel in large groups.
Use of disabling drugs:
The Embassy continues to receive reports of criminals in Colombia using disabling drugs to temporarily incapacitate tourists and others.
At bars, restaurants, and other public areas, perpetrators may offer tainted drinks, cigarettes, or gum.
Typically, victims become disoriented or unconscious, and are thus vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault, and other crimes.
Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended at a bar or restaurant, and be suspicious if a stranger offers you something to eat or drink.
Counterfeit money scam:
U.S. citizens in Colombia routinely fall victim to a scam in which purported undercover police officers approach them on the street and request to examine their money, supposedly to determine if it is counterfeit.
The “officers,” who are in fact criminals, then flee with the money.
In a variation of this scam, the thieves may ask to see jewelry.
Legitimate Colombian police officers do not make such requests.

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 are 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 local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Colombia is 112 for police and 119 for fire.
There will not be an English speaker answering the phone[g1] .

See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care is adequate in major cities but varies greatly in quality elsewhere.
Emergency rooms in Colombia, even at top-quality facilities, are frequently overcrowded and ambulance service can be slow. Many private health care providers in Colombia require that patients pay for care before treatment, even in an emergency.
Some providers in major cities may accept credit cards, but those that do not may request advance payment in cash.
Uninsured travelers without financial resources may be unable to obtain care, or relegated to seeking treatment in public hospitals where care is far below U.S. standards.
The Embassy regularly receives reports of U.S. citizens in Colombia who have died or suffered complications from liposuction and other elective surgeries intended to treat obesity.
Before undergoing such a procedure in Colombia, the Department of State recommends that you consult with your personal physician, research the credentials of the provider in Colombia, and carefully consider your ability to access emergency medical care if complications arise.
It is important to confirm that your medical insurance provides coverage in Colombia, to include treatment of complications from elective procedures or medical evacuation if necessary.
Should you suffer complications as a result of medical malpractice, collecting damages from your surgeon may be difficult.
Colombia has seen a recent increase in the use of unregulated drugs that purport to enhance sexual performance.
Several American tourists recently died after using these substances, which come in liquid, powder, or tablet form.
You are urged to seek guidance from a physician before ingesting any such substances in Colombia.
Travelers to the capital city of Bogota may need time to adjust to the altitude of 8,600 feet, which can affect blood pressure, digestion, and energy level, and cause
mild dyspnea with exercise, headaches, sleeplessness, , and other discomfort.
Travelers should drink liberal fluids to maintain hydration,, and should avoid strenuous exercise unti they have acclimated to the altitude.
Travelers with circulatory or respiratory problems should consult a physician before traveling to Bogota or other high-altitude locations.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water 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 website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

Colombia has imposed HIV/AIDS travel restrictions on groups of travelers subject to restrictions or bans.
Entry is restricted to PLWHA (customs officials on the lookout). A waiver may be requested from the Colombian embassy (Source: NAM April 2006, USSD December 06).
Please inquire directly with the Embassy of Colombia at http://www.colombiaemb.org before you travel.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm that 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 Colombia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Due to the security environment in Colombia, U.S. government officials and their families are not permitted to travel by road between most major cities.
They also cannot use inter- or intra-city bus transportation, or travel by road outside urban areas at night.
All Americans in Colombia are encouraged to follow these same precautions.
Traffic laws in Colombia, including speed limits, are often ignored and rarely enforced, creating dangerous conditions for drivers and pedestrians in major cities.
Under Colombian law, seat belts are mandatory for front-seat passengers in a private vehicle.
Car seats are not mandatory for children, but a child under ten is not permitted to ride in a front seat.
It is against the law to talk on a cellular phone while driving in Colombia, and violators may be fined.
While driving outside major cities, it is mandatory to drive with your lights on.
If an accident occurs, the involved parties must remain at the scene and not move their vehicles until the authorities arrive; this rule is strictly enforced, and moving a vehicle or leaving the scene of an accident may constitute an admission of guilt under Colombian law.
Americans seeking to import their own vehicles into Colombia should consult with their nearest Colombian consulate for information on Colombian taxes and licensing rules, which can be complicated and bureaucratic.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Colombia’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards for oversight of Colombia’s air carrier operations.
For more information, please visit the FAA’s website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Colombia employs strict screening procedures for detecting narcotics smuggling at its international airports.
Americans and other travelers are occasionally questioned, searched, fingerprinted, and/or asked to submit to an abdominal x-ray upon arrival or departure.
Most airport inspectors do not speak English, and travelers who do not speak Spanish may have difficulty understanding what is asked of them.
Please refer to the section on Criminal Penalties for further information on the strict enforcement of Colombia’s drug laws. Please see our Customs Information.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS:
Travelers generally must not enter or exit Colombia while carrying cash or other financial instruments worth more than 10,000 U.S. dollars.
Colombian authorities may confiscate any amount over $10,000, and may initiate a criminal investigation into the source of the money and the traveler’s reasons for carrying it.
Recovery of the confiscated amount requires a lengthy, expensive legal process and may not always be possible.
Americans wishing to send large sums of money to or from Colombia should contact their nearest Colombian consulate, or speak with Colombian customs officials, and should also consider seeking advice from an attorney or financial professional.

Colombian law prohibits tourists and business travelers from bringing firearms into Colombia.
Illegal importation or possession of firearms may result in incarceration.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Buying or selling them is illegal in Colombia, and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and fines.

Colombian law forbids the export of pre-Columbian objects and other artifacts protected by cultural patrimony statutes.
Under an agreement between the United States and Colombia, U.S. customs officials are obligated to seize pre-Columbian objects and certain colonial religious artwork when they are brought into the United States.
Please contact the Embassy of Colombia in Washington or one of Colombia's consulates in the United States for detailed customs guidance.
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 Colombia’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
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.

If you are arrested, the U.S. government cannot request your release.
Colombia and the United States do not have a prisoner transfer agreement, and so any sentence for a crime committed in Colombia is ordinarily served in a Colombian prison.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs in Colombia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long prison sentences under harsh conditions, with significant expense and great hardship for themselves and their families.
Colombian police make multiple arrests daily for drug trafficking at major airports, and have sophisticated means for detecting illegal drugs in baggage or on your person.
Travelers are sometimes requested to undergo an x-ray to ensure that they are not smuggling narcotics within their own bodies.
There are more than 30 Americans incarcerated in Colombia for attempting to smuggle drugs out of the country.

The hardships resulting from imprisonment do not end even after release from prison:
Colombian law requires that serious offenders remain in the country to serve a lengthy period of parole, during which the offender is given no housing and may lack permission to work.
As a result, family members must often support the offender, sometimes for more than a year, until the parole period expires.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Colombia is an earthquake-prone country.
Flooding and mudslides also sometimes occur in parts of the country.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
If a serious natural disaster occurs in Colombia, the Embassy will publish important information for American citizens on its website at http://bogota.usembassy.gov.

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 residing or traveling in Colombia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Colombia.
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 Calle 24 Bis No. 48-50 Bogotá, D.C. Colombia.
Mailing address:
Carrera 45 No. 24B-27 Bogotá, D.C. Colombia.

In case of a serious emergency that jeopardizes the health or safety of an American citizen in Colombia, please call the Embassy at (571) 315-0811; Embassy fax: (571) 315-2197;
Consular Section phone: (571) 315-1566. The Embassy’s American Citizens Services office provides routine information at http://bogota.usembassy.gov.
For questions not answered there, inquiries may be sent by email to ACSBogota@state.gov.
Email messages are answered by the next business day.
The Embassy’s American Citizens Services office is open for passport applications, notary services, and routine in-person inquiries from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon Monday through Thursday, excluding U.S. and Colombian holidays.
Inquiries concerning Social Security and other federal benefits can be made in-person from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, except holidays.
The American Citizens Services fax number is (571) 3152196/7.
The U.S. Consular Agency in Barranquilla, which accepts passport applications and performs notarial services, is located at Calle 77B, No. 57-141, Piso 5, Centro Empresarial Las Americas, Barranquilla, Atlantico, Colombia; telephone (575) 353-2001; fax (011-57-5) 353-5216.
The Consular Agency is not staffed to respond to after-hours emergencies; in case of an emergency in the Barranquilla/north coast area, please contact the Embassy in Bogota at (571) 315-0811.
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*

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This replaces the Country Specific Information issued May 29, 2008, to update sections throughout.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 26 Mar 2020 06:44:50 +0100 (MET)

Montevideo, March 26, 2020 (AFP) - Countries across Latin America have tightened measures to halt the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus, with more lockdowns, border and school closures as well as increased aid to the region's poorest.   As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise -- numbering more than 7,400 and 123 deaths as of Wednesday -- Bolivia and Colombia became the latest countries to impose a total lockdown, while Chile extended its school closures until the end of April.   Here are the latest measures taken in several Latin American nations:

- Bolivia -
Bolivia is closing its borders and ordering a strict lockdown until April 15 starting at midnight Wednesday, President Jeanine Anez said as she declared a state of "sanitary emergency."   The steps are designed to add teeth to a lockdown that was ordered on Sunday but has largely been ignored.   More police and soldiers have been deployed to enforce the measures, Anez said.   There would be narrow exceptions to who can cross the borders and the times at which people can be outside their homes, she added.

- Colombia -
A three-week total lockdown began just after midnight Tuesday and is set to last until April 12.   "Stay at home, prevent the virus from spreading and save lives," said President Ivan Duque.   Nearly 500 cases of the deadly virus have been reported in Colombia, which has a population of 48 million.   The capital city Bogota had already been on lockdown since Sunday on the orders of the mayor.

- Chile -
About 1.3 million residents of Santiago -- including those of the Chilean capital's most affluent neighborhoods -- will be on lockdown for least a week starting at 0100 GMT Thursday, officials said.   This follows an order by authorities to extend school closures until May. Classes were suspended on March 16, just under two weeks after the first coronavirus case was recorded.   Chile has reported more than 1,100 infections and three deaths.

- Panama -
Panama will allow the cruise ship Zaandam -- operated by the Holland America cruise line -- to sail through its canal even though there are 42 people aboard with flu-like symptoms, Health Minister Rosario Turner said Wednesday.   The vessel, with 1,800 passengers, set sail on March 7 from Buenos Aires headed for San Antonio on the central coast of Chile.   But the ship had to alter its plans when ports along the way stopped it from docking due to coronavirus fears.   Every ship that reaches Panama must present a list of sick people, "and if we suspect there are people with respiratory problems, they cannot land," Turner said.   The Zaandam is set to cross the 80-kilometer inter-oceanic Panama Canal on Thursday and meet up on the Caribbean side with another cruise ship, the Rotterdam, which is to deliver supplies and kits to test for COVID-19.   The aim is to reach Fort Lauderdale in Florida on March 30, its operator said.   There have been 558 cases of the virus in Panama, including eight deaths.

- Honduras -
Soldiers have begun distributing food to locked-down residents in the poorest neighborhoods of the capital Tegucigalpa.   President Juan Orlando Hernandez said 800,000 poor families -- 3.2 million people -- would receive food to ensure they stayed indoors.   Honduras has recorded 36 COVID-19 cases so far.

- Brazil -
President Jair Bolsonaro has warned of possible "chaos" and "looting" of supermarkets if state shutdowns ordered by the governors of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are not ended.   Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly scoffed at the severity of the deadly pandemic, previously criticized the closing of schools and businesses in Sao Paulo and Rio, two of the country's most populous states.   "Companies aren't producing anything. They can't pay their employees. And if the economy collapses, there won't be any way to pay public officials. We are facing chaos," Bolsonaro said.   If that happens and supermarkets are looted, he added, "we'll have chaos plus the virus."
Date: Thu 30 Jan 2020
Source: Colombia Reports [edited]

A mysterious illness is ravaging indigenous communities in western Colombia, where 10 children have died so far this year [2020], local media reported on Wednesday [29 Jan 2020]. Regional authorities sent physicians and bacteriologists to the Baudo river in the Choco province to confirm suspicions that contaminated water is killing the children. At least 180 other minors have fallen ill because of the mystery illness in the river communities with about 1500 inhabitants, according to Red Mas Noticias.

Bajo Bauco Mayor Hermenegildo Gonzalez told radio station La FM that the indigenous communities along the river have no access to drinking water, often suffer food shortages and have no access to healthcare, which is complicating what exactly is causing the recent spike in child deaths.

"The issue of water consumption is one of the major risk factors as well as food management and the handling of waste," Choco health secretary Carlos Murillo told television network RCN. According to the mayor, the physicians and bacteriologists will need at least until the end of the week to have access to medical facilities that will allow them to establish what is causing the deaths.

The Choco province is Colombia's poorest province, with a poverty rate exceeding 60% and a child mortality rate of 65 per 1000 children, according to national statistics agency DANE. The dumping of mercury used in illegal mining and waste products that come from the production of cocaine aggravates the health situation, especially among children. Ongoing guerrilla and paramilitary activity in the province complicates efforts to combat chronic state abandonment in the Pacific province and provide basic public services to often isolated communities like those living along the Baudo river.  [byline: Adriaan Alsema]
===========================
[The report provides no information about the symptoms of affected children that lead to illness and death. Although the indigenous group involved is not mentioned, they doubtless are the Embera, who live by hunting and fishing, usually in villages near rivers in a difficult environment. This area is one of the rainiest lowland tropical forests in the world, with 10,000 mm [400 inches] of rainfall annually, making traditional agriculture impossible, with resulting malnutrition and, at times, starvation.

With unavailable potable drinking water, use of river water is probably common. Choco is Colombia's major gold-producing department, with likely corresponding mercury contamination of water and fish.

A map showing the location of the Baudo river watershed is available at the above URL.

ProMED-mail would be interested in receiving the information coming from the team sent to the area to investigate the situation. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 05:14:37 +0100 (MET)

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

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

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

Under fire for his economic policies and corruption in the country, Duque launched a national dialogue with mayors and other officials 10 days ago.   The strike committee has presented Duque with a list of 13 demands, including the withdrawal of his proposed tax reforms, and full compliance with the 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas.   Among them is a call to dismantle the feared ESMAD riot police, widely criticized for its heavy handed response to protesters.   Duque has yielded to some of the demands on tax reform, announcing the return of Value Added Tax to the poorest 20 percent of the population and benefits for companies that hire young people.
Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2019 23:59:53 +0100 (MET)
By Hector Velasco

Bogota, Nov 27, 2019 (AFP) - Colombian unions marked their second general strike in a week on Wednesday as tens of thousands poured onto the streets in protest against the government of right-wing President Ivan Duque.   Public transport was largely shut down and shops and offices closed in the centre of the capital as a series of protests that began with a 250,000-strong march last Thursday continued for a seventh consecutive day.

Some protesters banged pots and pans as they made their way through the streets. Large demonstrations were also held in Cali and Medellin.   "We are outraged by so much mistreatment and so much corruption," said David Martinez, a 50-year-old public employee who joined a march in Bogota dressed as a clown.   "I'm dressed as a clown because that's how the government sees us. People have risen up in Ecuador, Chile, in Bolivia, now it's our turn to say: No More!" Martinez told AFP.

The protests have been largely peaceful but sporadic violence has left four dead -- including a young man who died Monday after being wounded in clashes with riot police on Saturday. Some 500 people have been injured.   Police said 184 people had been detained in the protests since last week.   "They have turned Colombia into a democracy where they favor a minority of businessmen and bureaucrats, while the vast majority must try to hang on to their privileges," teachers union Fecode said in a statement.   Duque, under fire over his economic policies and corruption, launched a "national dialogue" Sunday with mayors and other officials in a bid to assuage popular anger.   However, protest leaders reacted angrily when they were initially omitted from direct talks.

- US support -
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced "steadfast support" for Duque's government in a phone call to the beleaguered president on Wednesday, the State Department said.   Pompeo "welcomed the national conversation that President Duque has convened in Colombia in response to recent demonstrations," it said.   A Gallup poll published on November 7 showed Duque's approval ratings at 26 percent in October, the lowest since he took office in August 2018, while 70 percent of respondents believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.

The National Strike Committee -- which groups unions, students, university lecturers and indigenous groups -- presented a list of 13 demands to the government, including the withdrawal of Duque's proposed tax reforms, and full compliance with the 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas.   But perhaps the most controversial is the call to dismantle the feared ESMAD riot police, after the death Monday of 18-year-old protester Dilan Cruz, who was hit in the head by a tear gas canister.

Duque has yielded to some of the demands on tax reform, announcing the return of Value Added Tax to the poorest 20 percent of the population and benefits for companies that hire young people.   "This government is open building towards the future, but it must be done with the whole of society," Duque said in an interview with Colombia's W Radio, insisting that many of the protesters claims were based on disinformation or "false premises."
Date: Fri, 22 Nov 2019 06:03:13 +0100 (MET)

Bogota, Nov 22, 2019 (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of Colombians took to the streets of the capital Bogota on Thursday amid a general strike to protest the policies of President Ivan Duque's right-wing government.   There were reports of clashes and arrests as trade unions, students, opposition parties and the South American country's indigenous organizations challenged the full gamut of Duque's economic, social and security policies.   At night, a thunderous chorus of pot-banging, unusual in Colombia, took place in the cities of Cali and Medellin, and lasted for hours in Bogota.   "Colombia won on this historic day of citizen mobilization," a statement by organizers from the National Strike Committee said, as they requested an "immediate" meeting with Duque to discuss the protesters' array of complaints.   "We call on all citizens to be ready to take further action in the street if the national government continues to neglect our demands," they added.

Later in the day Duque announced that he had heard the protesters' demands, but did not respond to their request for direct dialogue.   "Today, Colombians spoke. We hear them. Social dialogue has been a main principle of this government and we need to deepen it with all sectors of society," he said.   The protests come amid social upheaval across South America, as a wave of unrest over the past two months has battered governments in Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador.   The popularity of Duque's right-wing government -- a key US ally -- has been on the wane since his election 18 months ago, as it deals with hosting 1.4 million refugees from neighboring Venezuela's economic meltdown as well as the complex fallout of a 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels and rampant drug trafficking.

- Troops deployed -
Troops were deployed in the capital and other cities to protect "strategic facilities," authorities said.   The Colombian office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced concern over the deployment, saying states must limit the use of military forces "for the control of internal disturbances."   Spokesmen for several organizations backing the protests said more than one million people had marched nationwide.

Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez counted some 207,000 demonstrators, adding that "in general terms the participants marched peacefully" while denouncing "some vandals who wanted to disrupt public order."    At least 42 civilians and 37 police were wounded in clashes, and 36 people were arrested across the country, according to authorities.   In the center of Bogota, clashes took place at nightfall, where people wearing ski masks and hoods threw stones and other projectiles at police, who fought back with tear gas.   A new gathering of people banging pots was called for Friday afternoon, as young protesters continued to demonstrate into the night shouting "Long live the national strike."

The general strike was widely followed in big cities like Bucaramanga in the northeast and Medellin in the northwest, along with Bogota where riot police used stun grenades to turn back thousands of students walking towards the international airport, an AFP journalist said.   Several separate marches converged on Bolivar Square, the historic center of the capital close to the presidency.   "We are marching because in Colombia we are tired of corruption, of impunity, that the government does nothing for the poor," Olga Canon, 55, told AFP.   Organizations that participated in the strike take issue with Duque's security policy as well as attempts to introduce a more flexible labor market, weaken public pension funds and raise the retirement age.   Students are demanding more funding for education, while indigenous communities insist on greater protection in remote areas where 134 activists have been killed since Duque came to power in August 2018.

- 'Afraid to march' -
"We are very afraid to march in the streets but we do it anyway because the state is spreading so much fear with its militarization and by closing the borders," political science student Valentina Gaitan, 21, told AFP.    The borders with Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela were closed until Friday to avoid any threat to "public order and security," authorities said.   Duque, who does not hold a majority in parliament, suffers from a 69 percent unpopularity rating, according to polls. His party, the Democratic Center (CD), suffered serious setbacks in October local elections.   Political analyst Jason Marczak said the outrage against the government, the target of several demonstrations in recent months, is part of a "considerable demonstration of discontent in the region."   "The unsatisfied claims and deep polarization are the basis for this massive event," said Marczak, of the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 22:49:49 +0100 (MET)

Dublin, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland is to impose a lockdown in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday.   "Everybody must stay at home, in all circumstances," he said of the new measures to come into force at midnight (0000 GMT) on Saturday and last until 12 April.   Exceptions will be made for essential workers, medical appointments and the purchase of food.   Travel for "vital family reasons", for farming and exercise within two kilometres (one mile) of homes will also be allowed.

All public or private gatherings "of any number of people" outside a single household are also prohibited.   "These are radical actions aimed at saving as many people's lives as possible," said Varadkar at a press conference.   "I'm asking us for a time to forego our personal liberties and freedoms for a greater cause."   There have been 22 COVID-19 related deaths and 2,121 confirmed cases of the virus in Ireland, according to department of health figures released earlier Friday.   Earlier this month the Irish government ordered schools, universities and pubs to close nationwide.   Swathes of non-essential businesses were also ordered shut earlier this week as Ireland braced for an uptick of COVID-19 cases within its borders.

Emergency coronavirus legislation passed through the final stages of Irish parliament and was signed into law by president Michael D. Higgins earlier Friday.   The bill enacts a rent freeze and a moratorium on evictions for the duration of the crisis.   It also streamlines the registration of healthcare and defence forces staff returning to the workforce, and enables the Irish government's financial supports to those laid off as a result of COVID-19 business closures.   "The legislation is emergency legislation for a time of crisis," said Higgins in a statement.   "These are difficult times, but our difficulties will come to an end."
Date: Sat, 28 Mar 2020 11:03:02 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, March 28, 2020 (AFP) - South African police enforcing a coronavirus lockdown on Saturday fired rubber bullets towards hundreds of shoppers queueing outside a supermarket in Johannesburg, an AFP photographer said.   Between 200 and 300 people gathered outside a popular grocery store, Shoprite, early Saturday in Yeoville, a crime-prone area in Johannesburg's gritty central business district on day two of a nationwide lockdown.

But as they scrambled to secure their spots, many did not observe the recommended safe distance between them.   Police arrived in 10 patrol vehicles and started firing rubber bullets towards the shoppers.   Startled shoppers trampled on each other and a woman with a baby on her back fell to the ground.   Later the police used whips to get the shoppers to observe social distancing rules.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered South Africa's 57 million people to stay at home for 21 days and deployed the police and the military to enforce the lockdown.   But many people, especially from poor neighbourhoods, have defied the order, going out in numbers looking for food.   While jogging and dog-walking are banned, shopping for food and other basics, but not alcohol, is permitted.   South Africa, which has 1,170 confirmed coronavirus cases, recorded its first death from the virus on Friday.
Date: Sat, 28 Mar 2020 09:41:43 +0100 (MET)

Accra, March 28, 2020 (AFP) - Ghana has announced a two-week lockdown in the country's two main regions starting Monday to curb the spread of coronavirus.   The move came as the authorities reported 137 confirmed cases, including four deaths.   President Nana Akufo-Ado said there would be "restrictions on movement of persons in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area and the Greater Kumasi Metropolitan Area and contiguous districts for a period of two weeks."

He said residents would only be allowed to go out to buy food, water and medicines and to use public toilets.   "There shall be, during this period, no inter-city movement of vehicles and aircrafts for private or commercial purposes.. except for vehicles and aircrafts providing essential services and those carrying cargo," he said.   Ghana has already closed schools, suspended public events and banned large gatherings.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 19:25:31 +0100 (MET)

Brussels, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Belgium on Friday extended its general lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus by two weeks to April 18.   The decision, confirmed by top officials, extended a confinement that began on March 18 until the end of the country's Easter holiday break, with schools, restaurants and most shops to remain closed.   Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said the period could be extended by another two weeks to May 3 if the spread of the virus demanded it.   "Our efforts are only beginning and to ease up now would have catastrophic consequences," she told a media briefing.   Outdoor sports activities and walks outside are still allowed, but only in small groups, with a friend or with family members living under the same roof.

In theory, travelling for work can only be done with a certificate from the employer.    Supermarkets in Belgium remain open, but shoppers are only admitted if there is enough space for one person per 10 square metres, and they must not stay for more than 30 minutes.   Belgium, a country of 11.4 million people, has recorded 7,284 cases of the novel coronavirus strain, and 289 deaths.    The extension in Belgium follows a similar decision in neighbouring France where the lockdown rules are stricter.   Europe is grappling with the global outbreak that has killed more than 10,000 people on the continent, mostly in Italy and Spain.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 18:17:31 +0100 (MET)

Bangui, Central African Republic, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - The Central African Republic, a poverty-stricken state that the UN has singled out as highly vulnerable to coronavirus, has stepped up measures over fears that the disease is spreading locally.   President Faustin-Archange Touadera, in a statement received by AFP on Friday, said that after four cases of infection ad been detected, all among people coming from abroad, a fifth had now surfaced.

In this light, "there are grounds for fearing local transmission" of coronavirus, he said.   New measures unveiled by the authorities include a two-week ban on people coming in from countries where the virus is being transmitted locally, except for diplomats and NGO workers.

Schools, childcare facilities and universities are being closed, and restrictions have been placed on movement between the capital Bangui and the rest of the country.   The United Nations on Wednesday said the CAR "is one of the least prepared countries to face a COVID-19 outbreak, with 2.2 million people already in need of health assistance and about 70 percent of health services provided by humanitarian organisations."   The country has been ravaged by three civil wars in 20 years and remains prey to violence from armed groups that control two-thirds of the country.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 17:45:22 +0100 (MET)

Rome, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Italy recorded a shocking spike in coronavirus deaths Friday with 969 new victims, the worst daily record for any country since the pandemic began.   The infection rate however continued its downward trend, with the civil protection agency reporting nearly 86,500 confirmed cases in Italy -- a 7.4 percent increase, down from around 8.0 percent in previous days.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 17:41:36 +0100 (MET)

Brussels, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - A pet cat has been infected with the novel coronavirus in Belgium after being contaminated by its owner, Belgian health authorities said Friday.   Cases of contamination of pets are rare and authorities ruled out any risk of contamination to humans from home animals.   The reports follows similar cases in Hong Kong where two dogs tested positive for COVID-19 during a screening campaign carried out on 17 dogs and eight cats living in contact with people carrying the virus.

In Belgium, the discovery was made by researchers at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Liege.   This is "an isolated case" which can occur after "close contact between animals and infected  humans", said Doctor Emmanuel Andre, a government agency spokesman on the pandemic.    The virus can be transmitted from humans to animals but "there is no reason to think that animals can be vectors of the epidemic in our society", he said.

In Hong Kong, "the dogs showed no symptoms", while in Belgium "the cat was suffering from transitory respiratory and digestive problems", said the Belgian food safety agency AFSCA in a statement.    "So far, there is no evidence that a domestic animal can transmit the virus to humans or other pets", the public authority said.

As a precautionary measure, it is "strongly recommended" to apply standard rules of hygiene when dealing with pets: "avoid close contact with pets... wash your hands after handling any animal, do not let the animal lick your face."   The aim is to prevent the transmission of the virus to the animal and to prevent the animal itself from becoming a carrier of the virus.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 14:53:24 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - China reported more than 50 imported cases of the coronavirus on Friday, hours after announcing a ban on foreigners entering the country.   In recent weeks China's tally of infections has dwindled dramatically, with only a handful of domestic patients each day.

But just as the country appears to be bringing the outbreak under control, nations around the globe are battling to control soaring numbers of infections in new hotspots.   There were another 55 new infections in China on Friday, the National Health Commission said, with one local infection and 54 imported cases from overseas.   Beijing has been racing to control the number of infections being brought into the country -- mostly Chinese nationals returning home from overseas, including large numbers of students abroad.

On Thursday Beijing announced dramatic measures to curb arrivals into the country, including reducing the number of international flights, limiting the capacity on board to 75 percent, and imposing a ban on foreigners entering China.   Non-nationals living in China with valid visas and resident permits will be blocked from returning to the country after midnight on Friday night, the foreign ministry said.    The ministry said it was a "temporary measure that China is compelled to take in light of the outbreak situation."

Diplomats and the crew of international airlines and vessels will still be permitted to enter.   Flights in and out of China will also be capped at just one route a week to each country, including for international airlines.   The tally of cases brought into China from abroad climbed to 595 on Friday, health officials said.   A series of strict measures had already been put in place to try and stem the wave of infections coming in.   All Beijing-bound international flights have been diverted to other urban centres, where passengers will first be screened for the virus.

Many Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai have also imposed a compulsory 14-day quarantine for all arrivals from abroad.    There were nearly 1,100 return international passenger flights scheduled to come to China this week.   There were another five deaths on Friday, according to the National Health Commission -- all in the province of Hubei where the virus first emerged late last year.   In total 81,340 people have been infected in China, and the outbreak has claimed 3,292 lives.

- Clashes -
Hubei lifted travel restrictions this week after two months in lockdown, but fears remain of a rebound in cases elsewhere in the country, even though only healthy people are allowed to leave the province.   Traffic police in Jiangxi reportedly blocked people trying to enter the province from neighbouring Hubei on Friday.    Videos posted on China's Twitter-like platform Weibo purportedly showed scores of people clashing with police on a bridge connecting the provinces.   Other footage showed people trying to overturn a vehicle.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 12:37:54 +0100 (MET)

London, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - British police faced criticism on Friday for using "over-the-top" methods to maintain a coronavirus lockdown, after officers armed with sweeping new powers deployed drones to detect walkers far from home.   Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch said the police must behave within the rule of law after it also emerged that road checkpoints had been set up to quiz drivers about their journeys.   "It's understandable why police are dispersing parties and barbecues but demanding drivers give journey details at road checkpoints is over-the-top," said director Silkie Carlo.     "It's critical we protect public health and critical we protect basic democratic norms too. Arbitrary policing will not help the country to fight this pandemic."

The drone incident happened in the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire, central England, while roadblocks were used in other parts of the country.   Social media users compared their actions to "the Stasi", East Germany's notorious state police.    Another civil liberties group, Liberty, said in a statement: "We need a response in terms of public health rather than a response in terms of criminal justice to this epidemic."   Britons have been told since the beginning of the week that they are only allowed to leave their homes for limited reasons such as going to work, essential food shopping, or for exercise once a day.   But they are not allowed to travel for recreational purposes.

To enforce the new rules, police were officially handed powers which prevents people leaving their home "without reasonable excuse".   Those ignoring the tougher restrictions on movement could be hit with a £60 fine doubled to £120 (133 euros,$147) for any second offence.   The measures will be in place for at least six months, with a review every three weeks.   Derbyshire police defended their actions, claiming in a tweet that "we will not be apologetic for using any legal and appropriate methods to keep people safe".   It added: "Our actions and the government's advice are there to keep you and others safe."   A total of 11,658 coronavirus cases have so far been confirmed in Britain, and 578 deaths.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 11:59:09 +0100 (MET)

Madrid, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - The death toll in Spain soared over 4,800 Friday after 769 people died in 24 hours, in what was a record one-day figure for fatalities, the government said.    Health ministry figures showed the number of deaths reaching 4,858, while cases jumped to 64,059, although the rate of new infections appeared to be slowing, registering a 14 percent increase compared with 18 percent a day earlier.