Greece offers a great variety of attractions for the international traveller. A beautiful climate linked with great beaches, a vibrant nightlife and historical monuments to rival any other location throughout the world. All of this located
Situated in southern Europe the country enjoys mild winters but very hot summers. There may be occasional cool breezes (meltemia) but these can serve only to fool the traveller into thinking that they are unlikely to burn. Rain is very uncommon during the height of summer (July and August) and all travellers should be advised to use very adequate sun-block lotion at all times.
Slip, Slop, Slap
Following the Australian mantra of Slip, Slop and Slap makes perfect sense. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat when out and about during the day and this should help protect against the intense suns rays. Nevertheless, despite all their best intentions, travellers get burnt. This is particularly a problem in the first few days after their arrival when they do not realise the intensity of the suns rays and how easily they can be exposed. Falling asleep beside the hotel's swimming pool or on the beach is a very common problem and must be avoided against. The tips of the ears, shoulders (especially along the bra-strap line, ankles and behind the knees are commonly exposed and forgotten areas.
After Sun care
To treat significant sunburn it is important to increase fluid intake but also to take extra salt on your food (unless medically contraindicated for some specific condition like high blood pressure etc). Soothing water soluble lotions (especially ones containing a mild anaesthetic and/or steroid cream) are probably best but certainly avoid any of the ones which paste the skin with a thick layer - which is almost impossible to remove without causing serious pain! The more severe sunburn cases may need medical care and even hospitalisation which really ruins a holiday.
Food & Water
As a European destination Greece has a good level of food and water hygiene. Unfortunately this can vary - especially as you move away from the main tourist destinations and also as the summer temperatures rise and food goes 'off' more quickly. Eating hot food, avoiding cold foods (side-salads, lettuce etc) and never eating undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) makes perfect sense. Eating food or taking fruit juice drinks from street vendors is a risk just not worth taking.
There may be both mosquitoes and sandflys about so having good repellents (DEET based ones) is worthwhile. The biggest problem will be early in the morning and towards the end of the daylight hours. However sitting in the shade while having lunch may be nice and cool but it is also often a place where these insects tend to hover looking for their next meal. Just don't allow that meal to be the blood in your unguarded ankle!
Seeing the Monuments
As mentioned previously Greece is covered with ancient monuments and these attract many thousands of tourists each year. The ruins are often not the most hospitable places for sun-sensitive tourists so taking care against the suns rays is essential - especially while standing carefully listening to the tour guide explain some complicated piece of history while the back of your legs get roasted! The other issue, for those trekking through the ruins, is the distinct possibility of a nasty twisted ankle.
Laser Night shows
Many of the ancient sites have beautiful night shows which depict something of the past splendour and are definitely worth seeing. However it is wise to wear good shoes as stumbling across loose stones is a particular problem at night and also bring a small torch, if possible, to guide your way. Getting separated from your travelling companions, or not being able to find your return bus, can lead to some understandable panic so listen carefully to any instructions and look out for some land marks before you get too far away into the night time crowd.
Some tourists may forget that rabies is a problem in many countries throughout the world and, even though Greece is regarded as rabies-free', there is always a problem if someone should get bitten. The possibility that this animal could have been recently smuggled into the country cannot be out ruled and so many would advise full post exposure treatment should this contact occur. Children may be at particular risk due to their inquisitive nature.
Sunburn and swimming go hand in hand but drowning can also occur all too frequently within this region. Strong currents, swimming after meals (or alcohol) and the ever popular romantic midnight swim are all serious risk factors. Also children running around the deep end of the pool may lose their footing and topple in without warning. Unfortunately a very small child sinks instantly with very little sign of the emergency to those close by. Parents need to keep aware of this risk at all times.
The summer working holiday
Many of our students head towards Greece for 2 to 3 months during the summer to work. The attractions are obvious but commonsense and sensible life-style choices are needed throughout their stay to lessen the risk of illness or them returning home with an infection they had not bargained for. Unfortunately many return home with life-long illnesses which have been contracted from a single unprotected sexual contact.
Vaccinations for Greece
As a general rule the usual travel vaccines are not recommended for most short-term travellers to this region. However for the student planning to spend a more prolonged period it would be sensible to consider cover against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and also to check that their Tetanus cover is up-to-date.
This is still one of the most popular destinations for northern European travellers and, in the vast majority of cases, they will have a fantastic time with only good memories. Unfortunately some less prepared folks will end up with serious sunburn and other illnesses or diseases which perhaps are frequently associated with their own lack of care and protection rather than anything specific to this beautiful country.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Athens, Nov 27, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.1-magnitude undersea earthquake shook the Greek island of Crete on Wednesday and was felt in other parts of the country, officials said. "It was a major earthquake, the whole island shook but fortunately so far no damage has been reported," Crete regional governor Stavros Arnaoutakis told state TV ERT. The Athens observatory said the quake struck at 9:23 am (0723 GMT) and had a depth of over 70 kilometres (44 miles).
The tremor occurred a day after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in Albania that has left more than 20 dead and hundreds injured. Shortly after the Albania tremor, a 5.4-magnitude shock hit Bosnia, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center reported on Tuesday. Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes but they rarely cause casualties. In July 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage.
Athens, Oct 2, 2019 (AFP) - Greek workers staged a fresh 24-hour strike Wednesday against government plans to deregulate the labour market, paralysing road and rail transport, closing banks and shutting down news outlets. Buses and trams stayed in their depots, the Athens metro was shut down and ferries serving islands on both sides of Greece stayed in port. The action also hit rail services, including to Athens airport. Banks were closed Wednesday and Poesy, the journalists' union, said there would be no news bulletins over the 24-hour strike period.
The strike caused long traffic jams in Athens as the GSEE, the largest union representing private-sector workers, organised a rally in the city centre to protest the planned legislation. It denounced "the suppression of collective conventions" and what it said was an assault on the unions. This was the second strike in a week against the planned reforms of conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, which he argues will open the way to investment and encourage growth of more than two percent. A strike last week hit transport, hospitals, schools and the courts. The unions say the proposed reforms will undermine collective agreements and make it harder to organise strikes.
The proposed law would require a more-than 50 percent turn-out of the workforce in any strike vote for it to be valid. Union leaders have also denounced a law passed in August which they say makes it easier to sack people in the private sector. Adedy, the federation of public-sector unions, which organised last week's strike, called on its members to join Wednesday's action. Mitsotakis came to power in July, replacing the left-wing government of Alexis Tsipras.
Athens, Sept 15, 2019 (AFP) - More than 160 firefighters on Sunday battled to contain a large fire near Athens blazing for a second day amid gale force winds, officials said. And in another emergency, authorities evacuated dozens of people from two villages and a hotel on the island of Zakynthos after a new fire broke out on Sunday.
The fire department said the blaze near Athens burned in the mountains above Loutraki, a coastal resort some 60 kilometres (35 miles) west of Athens. "The fire is burning near the top of the mountain," Stefanos Kolokouris, the fire department's deputy chief of operations, told state TV ERT. "We are trying to create a perimeter but the terrain is very difficult, with ravines," he said. Four water bombers and six helicopters were participating in operations. Given a lack of roads in the area, two squads of firefighters had to be carried to the mountaintop by Super Puma helicopter, state agency ANA said. Officials had already evacuated 50 people from a local monastery when the fire broke out on Saturday, but stressed that other inhabited areas were not in danger.
On Zakynthos, officials ordered the evacuation of the villages of Agalas and Keri in the south of the island. Some 120 tourists were also relocated to a safe area. The Greek fire department on Sunday said it had been called to nearly 80 fires over the past 24 hours. It has already faced more than 9,600 rural and urban fires this year.
May 01, 2008
Uruguay is a constitutional democracy with a large, educated middle class and a robust developing economy.
The capital city is Montevideo .
The quality of tourist facilities varies according to price and location.
Travelers are encouraged to seek travel agency assistance in making plans to visit Uruguay .
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Uruguay for additional information.
All United States citizens entering Uruguay for business or pleasure must have a valid passport.
U.S. citizens traveling on a regular passport do not need a visa for a visit of less than three months.
U.S. citizens traveling on diplomatic or official passports require a visa.
Air travelers are required to pay an airport tax upon departure.
This fee may be paid in U.S. dollars or in Uruguayan pesos.
For further information on entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Uruguay at 1913 “Eye” Street NW, Washington, DC 20006, tel. (202) 331-4219; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Travelers may also contact the Consulate of Uruguay in New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Puerto Rico.
Visit the Embassy of Uruguay web site at http://www.uruwashi.org/ for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Regular protests, some with an anti-American flavor, take place outside Congress, City Hall and the “University of the Republic.”
U.S. citizens visiting or residing in Uruguay are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid any large gatherings or any other event where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest.
If travelers encounter a protest they should walk the other way or enter a commercial establishment until the protest passes.
Taking pictures of protesters is not a good idea.
Although there have been no past instances of violence directed at U.S. citizens from cross-border extremist groups, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in the more remote areas of Uruguay near the border with Argentina and Brazil are urged to exercise caution.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, 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 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.
Petty street crime is prevalent in Montevideo .
The criminals tend to be non-violent.
However, criminals often resort to violence if the victims resist.
Travelers should exercise reasonable caution to minimize their exposure to crime.
Criminals prey on the unaware, particularly those carrying cameras, pocketbooks, laptops, or backpacks.
Travelers are advised to lock most valuables in secure hotel safes and to download their wallets of excess credit cards and cash.
If dining at an outdoor restaurant take extra care with pocketbooks or bags.
There are no “off limits” areas of the city and parts of “Ciudad Vieja” are popular tourist attractions.
However the only sections of Ciudad Vieja with continual police patrols are Plaza Independencia, the pedestrian street Sarandi, and the Mercado del Puerto.
Mugging is common in other parts of Ciudad Vieja - particularly for travelers walking alone, or couples walking at night.
A smart alternative is to call for a taxi for evening travel between restaurants, bars, and hotels.
Victims are usually foreign tourists, individuals openly carrying valuable items, and motorists in unlocked vehicles stopped at busy intersections, particularly on Montevideo 's riverfront road known as the Rambla. Drivers should keep all car doors locked, the driver's window open only one inch, and purses, bags, briefcases and other valuables out of sight on the floor or in the trunk. Parked cars, particularly in the Carrasco neighborhood, are also increasingly targeted for break-ins. During the summer months (December-March), beach resort areas such as Punta del Este attract tourists, and petty street crimes and residential burglaries--similar to those that occur in Montevideo --rise significantly. Visitors are advised to exercise common sense in the conduct of their activities around Montevideo and in Uruguayan resort areas. They should be very attentive to personal security and their surroundings in the aforementioned areas.
Those planning to live in Montevideo should note that burglaries and attempted burglaries seem to be on the rise in upscale neighborhoods.
The perpetrators are mostly non-confrontational but determined teenagers.
A combination of preventive measures including rigorous use of locks and alarms, strong grillwork on all windows, guard dogs, keeping a residence occupied as much as possible, and using a security service is highly recommended.
Montevideo continues to experience armed robberies of patrons at crowded restaurants in the Pocitos neighborhood.
Most of these crimes have occurred very late at night.
Restaurant patrons should exercise extreme caution for late night dining.
Uruguayan law enforcement authorities have increased the number of uniformed policemen on foot in areas where criminal activity is concentrated and the number of patrol cars in residential areas. The clearly marked patrol cars are equipped with cellular phones and the phone numbers are conspicuously painted on the vehicles.
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 U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Facilities for medical care are considered adequate. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
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.
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 Uruguay is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in particular location or circumstance.
The Uruguayan Ministry of Transportation is responsible for maintaining safe road conditions countrywide. The Uruguayan Ministry of Interior highway police (tel. 1954) are responsible for traffic safety on highways and other roads beyond city limits. In urban and suburban areas, transit police and municipal employees share road safety responsibilities.
Driving is on the right-hand side of the road. Wearing seat belts and using headlights on highways and other inter-city roads 24 hours a day are mandatory. Children under 12 must ride in the back seat. Motorcyclists must wear helmets. The use of cellular phones while driving is prohibited. Right turns on red lights and left turns at most intersections marked with a stoplight are not permitted. Drivers approaching an intersection from the right or already in traffic circles have the right of way.
Flashing high beams indicate intent to pass or continue through unmarked intersections.
Many drivers ignore speed limits and traffic signs.
If you plan to drive, use extreme caution and drive defensively.
For driving under the influence, violators are fined and confiscated licenses may be retained for up to six months. In accidents causing injury or death, drivers are brought before a judge who decides if incarceration is warranted.
Inter-city travel is via bus, taxi, car service (remise), car, and motorcycle. Speed limits are posted on highways and some main roads. Most taxis have no seat belts in the back seat. Cycling outside the capital or small towns is hazardous due to a scarcity of bike paths, narrow road shoulders and unsafe driving practices.
Illumination, pavement markings, and road surfaces are sometimes poor. Route 1, which runs between Montevideo and Colonia or Punta del Este, and Route 2, between Rosario and Fray Bentos, are particularly accident-ridden because of heavy tourist traffic. Road accidents rise during the austral summer beach season (December to March), Carnaval (mid-to-late February), and Easter Week.
Within Montevideo , the emergency number to contact the police, fire department, rescue squad, or ambulance service is 911. In the rest of the country, dial 02-911 to connect with the Montevideo central emergency authority, which will then contact the local emergency service. The Automobile Club of Uruguay responds to emergency calls for roadside assistance at 1707, “Car Up” at 0800-1501 and the Automobile Center of Uruguay at 2-408-6131/2091. SEMM (tel. 159) and UCM (tel. 147), Montevideo-based ambulance services manned by doctors, have agreements with emergency medical units in other cities.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
You may also telephone Uruguay ’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety in Miami at (305) 443-7431.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed Uruguay ’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Uruguay ’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
Uruguay 's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Uruguay of items such as precious jewels, gold, firearms, pornography, subversive literature, inflammable articles, acids, prohibited drugs (medications), plants, seeds, and foodstuffs as well as some antiquities and business equipment. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Uruguay in Washington, D.C., or one of Uruguay 's consulates in the U.S. for specific information regarding customs requirements. Note: Travelers entering Uruguay with precious jewels or gold worth more than $500.00 ( U.S. ) must declare them to customs officers at the port of entry or face possible detention or seizure of the goods and charges of contraband or evasion of customs controls. Visitors are expected to comply with local law and regulations by approaching a customs officer before routine inspection of all incoming baggage, conducted on standard security equipment.
Please see our Customs Information.
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 Uruguay ’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Uruguay 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.
The Uruguayan Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing strictly enforces all regulations regarding hunting permits, as well as seasonal and numerical limits on game. Visitors who contravene local law have been detained by the authorities and had valuable personal property (weapons) seized. Under Uruguayan law, seized weapons can only be returned after payment of a sum equivalent to the value of the property seized. Hunters are also subject to stiff fines for practicing the sport without all appropriate permits.
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages onintercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Uruguay are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Uruguay .
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Lauro Muller 1776; telephone (598) (2) 418-7777; fax (598) (2) 418-4110 or -8611. Internet: http://uruguay.usembassy.gov/, email: MontevideoACS@state.gov. Consular Section hours for American Citizen Services are Monday to Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., except U.S. and Uruguayan holidays.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated August 28, 2007 to update Sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Aviation Safety Oversight, Children’s issues, and Registration/Embassy Location.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Torrential rains in central and southern Uruguay in the past several days have caused massive floods and forced some 7,400 people to leave their homes, according to the latest update by the country's National Emergency System. The central city of Durazno is the most affected, with 5,299 evacuees, according to official reports.
Defense Minister Jose Bayardi visited one of the camp sites managed by the military to help the displaced. ”We have established a high level of experience (in the face of these catastrophes) which we have succeeded in institutionalizing,“ he told the media. Troops will continue monitoring the situation because ”there are many people who do not want to leave their homes due to fear of being robbed and looted” Bayardi said.
The National Highway Police also said that 12 national highways remain cut-off in different directions. Uruguay's National Meteorological Institute said that between June 11 and 16, some southern regions of the country received around 270 mm of rain. On Wednesday morning, the Yi River, which had been 11.8 meters higher than its normal water level in the Durazno area, was falling at a rate of 11 cm per hour, according to local media reports.
A map of Colonia department in southern Uruguay is available at
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/27367>. - ProMED Mod.TY]
By Lucia LACURCIA
Montevideo, July 19, 2018 (AFP) - Enrique Curbelo is delighted. Selling cannabis has allowed the affable 76-year-old to keep his privately owned pharmacy in Montevideo open in a market dominated by big chains. "I had to sell what they didn't sell," he told AFP. "For me it's like selling aspirin." It's been this way for a year now. Every Wednesday, Ismael Fernandez receives a WhatsApp message from his local pharmacist telling him a new stock of cannabis has arrived. After leaving work, he heads there and buys the 10 grams that Uruguayan law permits, costing 400 pesos, around $13.
Fernandez then heads home and rolls a joint "to relax" with his partner Stefania Fabricio. No longer do they need to surreptitiously contact a dealer and pay more for Paraguayan or Brazilian marijuana that's been "pressed, mixed (and is) sometimes very bad and full of chemicals." "Now it's much easier than when it started," Fernandez, a 31-year-old who works for a cleaning company, told AFP. It has been four and a half years since marijuana use became legal in Uruguay and a year since it has been sold in pharmacies -- up to 40 grams a month per person.
Initially, there was insufficient supply, leaving people standing in long queues as stocks sometimes ran out. Pharmacies are better prepared now. "They send you a message with a number which you use later to go and collect it, and in my pharmacy you can order it online," added Fernandez, the father of a three-year-old. Hairdresser Fabricio, also 31, says "it's good quality," but not too strong. "It doesn't send your head spinning, but it's not meant to. You get a hit but you can still do things perfectly." - 'Privileged' - She says she feels "privileged" to live in a country that enacted a law to "get tons of people out of the black market." As a result, she said, the stigma attached to those who smoke pot is changing, "albeit slowly."
The system is simple: to buy cannabis in a pharmacy you must be at least 18, live in Uruguay and sign up as a "buyer" at the post office. An initial stumbling block arose when banks refused to work with establishments selling cannabis due to international rules against drug-trafficking. But the country plowed on, and last year it became the first in the world to fully legalize its sale. But Enrique Curbelo had to get over his own prejudices before deciding to join the select band of pharmacies selling the plant. There are 14, half of them in the capital, serving the 24,812 registered buyers.
- 'Normal people' -
Users can choose between two brands and two types of cannabis -- sativa and indica -- both provided by an official distributor. Customers are generally not the stereotypical grubby-looking student or idle waster. On this day in Curbelo's store they include two young women, a man in his 50s and an older lady -- "normal people," says the pharmacist. Official statistics say 70 percent of buyers are male and 49 percent are between the ages of 18 and 29.
To keep anyone from exceeding their monthly allowance, a fingerprint machine is used to register every sale. Along with the ability to purchase cannabis in a pharmacy, Uruguayans have the right to grow their own -- up to a six-plant maximum -- or to join a cannabis club, which can have up to 45 members and 99 plants. Federico Corbo, a 41-year-old gardener, grows cannabis in his garden on the outskirts of Montevideo. He experiments by crossing species in an attempt to improve quality and optimize the flowering period. Corbo is not impressed with the quality on offer in pharmacies. "It's not the worst, but it's low," he said, insisting quality control needs to be improved. "Marijuana that doesn't reach the minimum standards -- with crushed flowers, no aroma, low quality -- shouldn't be sold in the pharmacy. "Maybe, as I'm a grower, I'm very demanding, but there is a cost associated to the product and it must be offered to the public in the best way possible."
According to the Institute of Cannabis Regulation and Control (Ircca), an average cultivator or club member supplies cannabis to two other people, while those who buy it in a pharmacy share it with one other. "Approximately half of marijuana users have access to regulated cannabis," says Ircca. The rest prefer to continue buying the drug on the black market, put off by the need to register as a user. "It's wrong -- if they legalize it they have to do so in a way in which the state doesn't keep a paternalistic role in overseeing how much you smoke or stop smoking," one clandestine user, who wished to remain anonymous, told AFP. This 48-year-old lawyer simply doesn't trust the authorities. He pointed to the danger a change of government could bring, or even the return of dictatorship. "Right now that seems impossible," he said, "but you can never discount it."
World Travel News Headlines
By Nicolas DELAUNAY
Cousin Island, Seychelles, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Giant tortoises amble across Cousin Island as rare birds flit above. The scene attests to a stunning success for BirdLife International, a conservation group that bought the tiny Seychelles isle in 1968 to save a songbird from extinction. Thick vegetation smothers ruins that are the only reminder of the coconut and cinnamon plantations that covered the island when the group stepped in to protect the Seychelles Warbler.
Now teeming with flora and fauna and boasting white beaches, Cousin Island is firmly on the tourist map, with managers scrambling to contain visitor numbers and soften their negative environmental impact. More than 16,000 people visited the island in 2018, compared with 12,000 a decade earlier. "Tourism is important for Cousin. That's what allows us to finance the conservation projects we run here. "But 16,000 tourists... that was too much," said Nirmal Shah, director of Nature Seychelles, which is charged with running the special reserve.
Before the island was in private hands, the population of Seychelles Warblers was thought to have shrunk to just 26, barely hanging on in a mangrove swamp after much of their native habitat had been destroyed. Now, they number more than 3,000 and the greenish-brown bird has been reintroduced to four other islands in the archipelago. The former plantations have transformed into native forests, teeming with lizards, hermit crabs and seabirds, and the island is the most important nesting site for hawksbill turtles in the western Indian Ocean. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) waxes lyrical about the "unique biodiversity and conservation achievements" of Cousin, "the first island purchased for species conservation", a model since replicated around the world.
- Nature first -
Tourists have been allowed onto the island since 1972, but the message is clear: nature comes first. In a well-oiled routine, every morning a handful of luxury sailboats and small motorboats anchor off the island, where their occupants wait for Nature Seychelles to skipper them ashore on their boats. "Tourist boats cannot land directly on the island, the biohazard risk is too big," Shah said. "Non-indigenous animals who may accidently be on board could come to the island and threaten its (ecological) balance." Too many tourists can also upset this balance.
Nature Seychelles in July increased the price of visits from 33 to 40 euros ($36 to $44) and removed a free pass for children under 15, resulting in a welcome 10-percent reduction in visitor numbers. "Something had to be done, there was too much pressure on the environment," said Dailus Laurence, the chief warden of the island. "When there are too many tourists it can bother nesting birds and turtles who want to come and lay their eggs on the island."
One guide said that some tourists, bothered by the island's ubiquitous mosquitos, would "leave the paths, move away from the group and walk where they are not supposed to", putting fragile habitats at risk. Shah said that if they wanted to increase the number of tourists, it would require hiring more wardens and guides who live on the island, which would also have a negative impact on nature. "Our absolute priority is nature, and it comes before tourists. If we have to take more steps to protect it and reduce the number of tourists, we will," he said.
By Ivelisse RIVERA, con Leila MACOR en Miami
Yauco, Puerto Rico, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Living out in the open, their nerves on edge after a series of earthquakes that have shaken Puerto Rico, some 5,000 people are hoping that their president, Donald Trump, will heed the island's plea to be designated a disaster zone and free up much-needed aid. Since December 28, more than 1,000 tremors have rattled the US island territory in the Caribbean, which just two years ago was devastated by two powerful hurricanes in quick succession.
In Yauco, one of the areas worst hit by the earthquakes, dozens of people were sitting on cot beds Wednesday in the parking lot of a municipal stadium, sheltered from the sun by white tents and blue tarps handed out by the federal disaster management agency, known as FEMA. "The most difficult thing is the psychological aspect," said Wilfredo Rodriguez, 31. His house had been fractured by the seismic movement and he has spent a week living with his kids, aged six and 10, under an awning. "We are living in constant fear of another powerful tremor," he said.
He only returns to his house to wash, then hurries back to the shelter. "We worry that there'll be a more powerful tremor while we are inside the house," he said. Throughout the day, volunteers arrive to hand out food and toys for the children who fill the shelters: schools have been suspended because the buildings are not sturdy enough to withstand another quake. The island's earthquake detection system has registered 1,104 tremors in the past two weeks alone, of which 186 could be felt by the population. By comparison, during the whole of 2019 there were 6,442 tremors, of which just 62 could be felt by people on the island.
Further south, in Guanico, Juan Santiago decided to move into a shelter on Saturday after a tremor of 5.9 on the Richter scale hit the island. "The mountain shook and rocks and earth started to come down," said the 30-year-old. "My house has a crack in it and is about to fall down," he added. His home had weathered the Category Five winds of Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and of Hurricane Irma which followed it just two weeks later. "It's different to a hurricane. What is happening now is much nastier," he said.
As he was talking the earth shook again, a tremor of 5.2 magnitude. Vehicles rocked like hammocks in the wind, but the quake-hardened victims barely reacted. The houses in this part of the island are mostly rudimentary constructions built by the people who live in them with scant resources available in the mountains, where no regulations stipulate that buildings should be earthquake resistant. The government of Puerto Rico said that as of Monday, there were 4,924 people living in 28 shelters in 14 municipalities. There were no figures on how many buildings had been damaged or destroyed.
- Seeking disaster designation -
Puerto Rico's governor Wanda Vazquez Garced called on Trump to declare the earthquake a disaster and clear the way for desperately needed aid. Trump had declared an emergency days before, but the governor wanted more. The declaration of an emergency frees up to $5 million dollars in aid for the island, although Congress can bump that figure up. But if the situation is designated a disaster, there is no ceiling on funding, a FEMA spokesman said. On Wednesday, the government said it would release $8.2 billion in delayed hurricane relief that had been stalled after the president threatened to divert Puerto Rico's emergency funds to help pay for his wall on the US-Mexico border.
In the past few days there have been growing calls among Democratic lawmakers for Trump to declare the situation in Puerto Rico a disaster. It is a delicate subject, as Trump has accused the government of Puerto Rico of incompetence and of siphoning off hurricane relief money, triggering a public spat between the president and the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, as well as the former governor Ricardo Rossello, who was forced to step down last summer amid massive protests. The Puerto Rican leaders accused Trump of treating the population of the island like second class citizens.
Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Firefighters battled to bring a blaze at Malabo's cathedral under control on Wednesday, as flames engulfed parts of the historic building, considered the most important Christian church in Equatorial Guinea. Dozens of people gathered in silence near the cathedral in the early evening as the fire service sprayed water jets onto the century-old structure.
It was not immediately known whether anyone was hurt in the fire, in which huge flames consumed part of the facade of the building. "We have just extinguished the fire, it's finished. The roof is gone, it is a catastrophe," firefighter Alfredo Abeso told AFP. Another firefighter at the scene said: "The whole roof is gone, the interior is burned." The cause of the fire is not known but the cathedral has been closed to the public since January 7 for restoration work. Built in a neo-gothic style between 1897 and 1916, the cathedral is one of the central African country's main tourist attractions.
The blaze brought comparisons to the devastating fire that ravaged the 13th century Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris in April 2019. The French Embassy in Malabo said the fire was a "cruel reminder" of the fire at Notre Dame. "We share the emotion of our friends in Malabo and Equatorial Guinea and hope that the fire can be brought under control quickly," it said on Twitter. Paris engineers are still working to stabilise the 13th century cathedral in the French capital after fire tore through its roof and dramatically toppled its spire last year.
Rio de Janeiro, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Widespread complaints over foul-smelling drinking water in Rio de Janeiro have triggered a run on supermarket bottled water, though the public utility denied any health risk Wednesday. Rio governor Wilson Witzel set alarm bells ringing in a Twitter post on Tuesday, saying the situation -- fuelled by social media rumours -- was "unacceptable" and calling for a "rigorous investigation."
Moving to calm growing fears, public water utility Cedae attributed the problems to the presence of geosmin, a harmless organic compound, insisting the resulting earthy-tasting tap water was safe to drink. "The results of the analyses show the presence of geosmin, at a rate sufficient to change the taste. But there is no risk to health," Sergio Marques, the official in charge of water quality, told a press conference. Cedae later said it had fired the head of the Guandu treatment plant, which supplies nearly 80 percent of Rio's drinking water. It said the supply from Guandu would be treated with carbon in the coming days to get rid of the geosmin.
According to O Globo newspaper, nearly 70 districts of the capital have been affected. It reported that more than 1,300 cases of gastroenteritis were recorded over the last 15 days in Santa Cruz in the west of Rio, where water quality complaints were rife. Cedae's president Helio Cabral apologized "to the whole population for the problems in the water supply," which began earlier this month.
The problem has been exacerbated by false rumours circulating on social media that the water was toxic. Despite assurances, many Rio citizens were taking no chances. In supermarkets, mineral water stocks have been selling out and long queues are formed as soon as they are replenished. Geosmin is also responsible for the earthy taste in some vegetables.
Lima, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Five tourists arrested for damaging Peru's iconic Machu Picchu site will be deported to Bolivia later on Wednesday, police said. A sixth was released from custody and ordered to remain in Machu Picchu pending trial after paying bail of $910. The six tourists -- four men and two women -- were arrested for damaging Peru's "cultural heritage" after being found in a restricted area of the Temple of the Sun on Sunday. They were also suspected of defecating inside the 600-year-old temple, an important edifice in the Inca sanctuary. "We've got the order. Today the five foreign tourists will be expelled," Cusco police official Edward Delgado told AFP. "We're going to take them by road to the city of Desaguadero, on the border with Bolivia." The border town, a nine-hour drive away, is the nearest frontier point to the southern Cusco region where Machu Picchu is located.
The sixth tourist, 28-year-old Nahuel Gomez, must sign at a local court every 10 days while awaiting trial. He admitted to removing a stone slab from a temple wall that was chipped when it fell to the ground, causing a crack in the floor. He could face four years in prison if found guilty of damaging Peru's cultural heritage. Several parts of the semicircular Temple of the Sun are off limits to tourists for preservation reasons. Worshipers at the temple would make offerings to the sun, which was considered the most important deity in the Inca empire as well as other pre-Inca civilizations in the Andean region. The group -- made up of a Chilean, two Argentines, two Brazilians, including one of the women, and a French woman -- allegedly entered the Inca sanctuary on Saturday and hid on site so they could spend the night there -- which is prohibited.
A source with the public prosecutor's office told AFP that Nahuel admitted to the damage but said "it wasn't intentional, he only leant against the wall." The Machu Picchu complex -- which includes three distinct areas for agriculture, housing and religious ceremonies -- is the most iconic site from the Inca empire, which ruled over a large swath of western South America for 100 years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Machu Picchu, which means "old mountain" in the Quechua language indigenous to the area, is at the top of a lush mountain and was built during the reign of the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438-1471).
Alicante, Spain, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - A fire broke out Wednesday on the roof of the airport in Alicante, a city on the eastern Mediterranean coast which is a tourism hotspot, forcing its closure to air traffic. "The fire is under control but it has not been extinguished. Firefighters are continuing to work," a spokesman for Spanish airport operator Aena told AFP, adding the airport will remain closed to air traffic until noon on Thursday.
Ten flights which were due to land at Alicante were cancelled, as were 12 which were supposed to depart from the airport, he said. Another four flights which were due to land at Alicante were diverted to other Spanish airports. The flames were visible from inside the terminal, according to an AFP photographer at the scene. Passengers and workers stood outside as dense smoke rose from the terminal building. No one was injured and the authorities are still not sure what caused the fire.
The airport serves the eastern region of Valencia, which is home to several popular resorts such as Benidorm. It handled just under 14 million passengers last year, making it Spain's fifth busiest airport. Aena recommended in a tweet that passengers contact their airline before heading to Alicante airport to see what the status of their flight was. "We are coordinating with airlines. Consult your company to know if your flight is cancelled or will operate from an alternative airport," it said.
Beijing, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - A new virus from the same family as the deadly SARS pathogen could have been spread between family members in the Chinese city of Wuhan, local authorities said Wednesday. The outbreak, which has killed one person, has caused alarm because of the link with SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2002-2003. One of the 41 patients reported in the city could have been infected by her husband, Wuhan's health commission said in a statement on Wednesday. The announcement follows news that a Chinese woman had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in Thailand after travelling there from Wuhan.
No human-to-human transmission of the virus behind the Wuhan outbreak has been confirmed so far, but the health commission said the possibility "cannot be excluded". The commission said that one man who had been diagnosed worked at Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which has been identified as the centre of the outbreak, but his wife had been diagnosed with the illness despite reporting "no history of exposure" at the market. At a press conference on Wednesday following a fact-finding trip to Wuhan, Hong Kong health officials also said that the possibility of human-to-human transmission could not be ruled out despite no "definitive evidence".
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, from Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection, said there were two family group cases among the recorded cases in Wuhan, including the husband and wife and a separate case of a father, son and nephew living together. However, he said mainland doctors believed the three men were most likely to have been exposed to the same virus in the market. The market has been closed since January 1. The woman diagnosed in Thailand, who is currently in a stable condition, had not reported visiting the seafood market, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
WHO doctor Maria Van Kerkhove said Tuesday that they "wouldn't be surprised if there was some limited human-to-human transmission, especially among families who have close contact with one another". The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Level 1 "Watch" alert for travellers to Wuhan after the patient was diagnosed in Thailand, saying they should practice normal precautions and avoid contact with animals and sick people.
Wuhan's health commission said on Wednesday that most of the patients diagnosed with the virus were male, and many were middle-aged or elderly. In Hong Kong, hospitals have raised their alert level to "serious" and stepped up detection measures including temperature checkpoints for inbound travellers. Hong Kong authorities said on Tuesday that the number of people hospitalised with fever or respiratory symptoms in recent days after travelling to Wuhan had grown to 71, including seven new cases since Friday. Sixty of that total, however, have already been discharged. None have yet been diagnosed with the new coronavirus.
By Emile Kouton with Celia Lebur in Lagos
Lome, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - After he was struck down by malaria and typhoid, Togolese tailor Ayawo Hievi thought he was set to recover when he started taking drugs prescribed by his doctor. But far from curing him, the medication he was given at the neighbourhood clinic made him far worse -- eventually costing him one of his kidneys. The drugs were fake. "After four days of care, there was no improvement, but I started to feel pain in my belly," Hievi, 52, told AFP.
After two weeks of suffering he became unable to walk and was rushed into the university hospital in the West African nation's capital Lome. "The doctors told me that my kidneys had been damaged... the quinine and the antibiotics used to treat me in the medical office were fake drugs." Now, over four years later, he remains crippled by chronic kidney failure and has to go to hospital for dialysis regularly. Hievi's horror story is far from unique in a continent awash with counterfeit medicines. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year some 100,000 people across Africa die from taking "falsified or substandard" medication.
The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated in 2015 that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor quality anti-malaria drugs in sub-Saharan Africa. Weak legislation, poor healthcare systems and widespread poverty have encouraged the growth of this parallel -- and deadly -- market. Since 2013, Africa has made up 42 percent of the fake medicine seized worldwide. The two drugs most likely to be out-of-date or poor, ineffective copies are antibiotics and anti-malarials, say experts. And bogus drugs not only pose a risk to the patient -- they also play a worrying part in building resistance to vital frontline medications.
- 'Difficult to trace' -
In a bid to tackle the scourge, presidents from seven countries -- the Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Uganda -- meet Friday in Lome to sign an agreement for criminalising trafficking in fake drugs. The goal is to bolster cooperation between governments and encourage other African nations to join the initiative. But even if leaders put pen to paper, the task of stamping out the flows of counterfeit medication is huge. Medicines spread out on plastic sheets or offered at ramshackle stalls are for sale at markets across West Africa.
Those hawked on the streets are often a fraction of the price of what's available in more reputable pharmacies where controls are stricter and supplies often have to come through official channels. "It is very difficult to trace where the fake medicines come from," said Dr Innocent Kounde Kpeto, the president of Togo's pharmacist association. "The countries which are mentioned on the boxes are often not the countries of origin or manufacture of these drugs. The manufacturers cover their tracks so as not to be identified".
It is estimated that between 30 and 60 percent of medicine sold in Africa is fake and Kpeto said most of it comes from China or India. Efforts to staunch the deadly torrents of counterfeits have made some headway. Some trafficking hubs have been dismantled, such as Adjegounle market in Cotonou that served as a key gateway for fakes heading to giant neighbour Nigeria. In mid-November, the police in Ivory Coast made a record seizure of 200 tonnes in Abidjan and arrested four suspects including a Chinese national.
Togo is one of the pioneer countries trying to stop the flow. It changed the law in 2015 and now traffickers can face 20 years in jail and a fine of some $85,000 (75,000 euros). In a show of force in July the authorities burnt over 67 tonnes of counterfeit pharmaceuticals discovered between But even given these recent successes, those in the industry like Dr Kpeto insist that the threat is still grave and involves "highly organised criminal networks". "The phenomenon remains major," he said. Traffickers can turn an investment of just $1,000 (900 euros) into a profit of $500,000, he claimed. The fake medicines are smuggled in the same way as guns or narcotics and often bring higher returns.
- 'Die for nothing' -
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with a market of 200 million people, is the number one destination on the continent for fake drugs and a showcase of difficulties being faced. In September 2016 the World Customs Organization seized tens of millions of fake pills and medicines at 16 ports around Africa: 35 percent were intended for Nigeria. Across the vast nation there are tens of thousands of vendors selling the counterfeits. Competition between traffickers is fierce and the official agency meant to combat the problem is overwhelmed.
In a bid to improve the situation, Vivian Nwakah founded in 2017 start-up Medsaf and raised $1.4 million to help Nigerians track their medication from producer to user. "The country doesn't have a reliable and centralised distribution network," she said. "A hospital sometimes has to deal with 30 or 40 distributors for all the medications it needs. How can you have quality control with so many suppliers?" As a result, fake or faulty medicine has not just flooded markets but also pharmacies and hospitals -- both state and private. Sometimes, without hospital administrators even being aware, that means the drugs that reach the patients can be expired, poorly stored or the wrong doses.
Medsaf works to ensure the quality control of thousands of products at over 130 hospitals and pharmacies in Nigeria. It looks forward to expanding deeper into Nigeria as well as Ivory Coast and Senegal. The company uses technology, database management and analytics to monitor the movement of medications and verifies their official registration number, the expiry dates and storage conditions. "Technology we use can help to solve most of the issues related to fake drugs," Nwakah said. "People die for nothing. We can change that."