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Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo. However, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the
site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Benin for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-232-6656.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach alone at any time of day. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport (see Crime section). They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.
The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

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.

CRIME: Street robbery is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not bring valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking incidents after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked. Stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.
Travelers should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:

Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your "discretion" or "confidentiality";

Any deal that seems too good to be true;
Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by "a reliable contact";
Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
Any offer of a charitable donation.
These scams, which may appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, International Financial Scams.

Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be "rescued." If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

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 website 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 Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.
With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.benintourisme.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.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 Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin 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 Benin 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 Benin. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. 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 Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Benin dated August 17th, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 10 May 2019 19:38:30 +0200
By Hazel WARD and Daphne BENOIT

Paris, May 10, 2019 (AFP) - French special forces have freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight raid in which two soldiers died, authorities announced Friday.   The operation was launched to free two French tourists who had disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Benin on May 1.

But during the raid, the French troops were surprised to discover two women also in captivity, with top officials saying they had been held for 28 days.    The French tourists were identified as Patrick Picque, 51, and Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, but the women's identities were not immediately clear.     "No one was aware of (the women's) presence," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters, while French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said.   "We know little about these other two hostages," Parly told reporters, saying that even Seoul and Washington did not appear to be aware the pair were in increasingly unstable Burkina Faso.    The raid was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron in what was seen as the last opportunity to stop the hostages being transferred to lawless territory in Mali to the north.

Parly said it was "too early to say" who had snatched the two French nationals from Benin, which has long been an island of stability in a region where Islamist militants are increasingly active.   "The message to terrorists and criminal gangs is clear: those who attack France and its nationals know that we will not spare any effort to track them down, find them and neutralise them," she said.   Four of the six kidnappers were killed in the raid.    French forces, helped by intelligence provided by the United States, had been tracking the kidnappers for several days as they travelled across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso from Benin to Mali.   They seized the opportunity to prevent "the transfer of the hostages to another terrorist organisation in Mali," Lecointre said, referring to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM).   The FLM is a jihadist group formed in 2015 and headed by a radical Malian preacher, Amadou Koufa. It is aligned with Al-Qaeda in the region.

- US intelligence support -
In a statement, Macron congratulated the special forces on the operation, in which he also expressed sorrow over the death of the two soldiers "who gave their lives to save those of our citizens".   And Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the "complex operation", as well as the United States which provided intelligence and support.

The operation was also made possible by the presence of France's Operation Barkhane, which counts some 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces battle jihadist groups.   American special forces and drones are also known to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as jihadist groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria.   Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

- Relief and sadness -
The French tourists -- Patrick Picque who works in a Paris jewellery shop, and Laurent Lassimouillas a piano teacher, -- went missing with their guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin.   The Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is famed for its elephants and lions, lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso.   The badly disfigured body of their guide was found shortly after they disappeared, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck.   The two freed men will be flown back to France on Saturday, alongside the South Korean woman, where they will be met on arrival by Macron and other top French officials.   Washington thanked the French forces for freeing the American hostage, with France saying she would likely be "repatriated independently" from the other three. 

The two dead French soldiers were named as Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, decorated naval special forces members born in 1986 and 1991 respectively.   They were part of the prestigious Hubert commando unit of the French naval special forces which was deployed to the Sahel at the end of March.   A total of 24 French soldiers have died in the region since 2013 when France intervened to drive back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali. The last death was on April 2.
Date: Tue 15 Jan 2019
Source: Punch [edited]

The Kwara state government has confirmed 2 cases of Lassa fever infecting a husband and wife in the state.

Speaking with newsmen on Tuesday [15 Jan 2019] at a news briefing, the Kwara commissioner for health, Alhaji Usman Rifun-Kolo, said the outbreak of Lassa fever was identified in a farm settlement in Taberu, Baruten local government area.

He explained that the 2 cases of the disease affected a husband and wife, natives of Benin republic, which shares a border with the state. He added that the husband and wife are farming in Baruten. "These cases of Lassa fever originated from Benin republic, whose citizen have interrelations with people in the Baruten area," he said.

According to him, the husband and wife were diagnosed in a health facility, and the state government had already deployed a disease-surveillance team to identify those who have been in contact with the patients.

Rifun-Kolo further explained that the surveillance team identified 4 people with a history of fever in the area. He said that the 4 cases raised suspicion of Lassa fever, which prompted them to take samples from the individuals for further investigation. He noted that the 4 individuals have commenced treatment in Taberu, Baruten LGA.
=====================
[The above report states that the couple was infected in Benin, although the timeline when that may have occurred is not given. The report also mentions 4 individuals in the Kwara state who had a history of Lassa fever, implying that the virus is present in that state in Nigeria as well. In December [2018], there were Lassa fever cases in Benin that were imported from Nigeria as well as infections that were locally acquired in Benin, so the Lassa fever cases cross the border in both directions. The source of the infecting virus for any of these cases is not mentioned. - ProMED Mod.TY

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Kwara state, Nigeria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/19690>]
Date: Wed 26 Dec 2018
Source: Quotidein Le Matinal [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]

Minister of health Benjamin Hounkpatin confirmed on Wednesday [26 Dec 2018] 4 new cases of Lassa haemorrhagic fever in Benin, including one in Cotonou. This occurred in the period from 15-26 Dec 2018.

In the case of Cotonou, a 28-year-old (has been infected). His case was detected on 24 Dec [2018], but his illness commenced the previous week. He had a fever, a cough, a cold, and fatigue. Due to the persistence of the cough and cold, and with the appearance of traces of blood in nasal discharge on 24 Dec 2018, the alert was given.

The patient was placed in isolation on [Tue 25 Dec 2018], and on the morning of Wed 26 Dec 2018, his result from the laboratory came back positive [for Lassa fever]. Subsequently, the patient was isolated and put on treatment.

According to the details provided by Hounkpatin, there is no indication of travel [by the patient] to an epidemic locality of Lassa fever. According to the patient's statements, there is no known contact with rodents.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, the minister reassured the public that public health measures are underway. He also reminded people of the behaviours that will help avoid becoming infected. This involves washing hands regularly with soap and water; avoiding contact with stool, sperm, urine, saliva, vomit, and contaminated objects from a person suspected to be ill or dead from Lassa; and protecting food and keeping it in a safe place, out of reach of rodents.

It should be recalled that 7 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the epidemic to date, including 5 positive cases.
=======================
[One case is located in Cotonou on the Benin coast and apparently was locally acquired, perhaps from contact with the rodent host or its excrement. The location of the other 3 cases is not mentioned, but a 13 Dec 2018 report indicated that there were 3 cases in the municipality of Parakou in Borgou Department, in the northern part of Benin. Perhaps these 3 cases, which came from the village Taberou (in Nigeria), located 5 km [3.1 mi] from Tandou in the commune of Tchaourou, are the ones mentioned in this report.

The previous Lassa fever cases in Benin this year [2018] occurred in January and also involved case importation from Nigeria. A previous WHO report stated that Lassa fever is endemic in bordering Nigeria, and, given the frequent population movements between Nigeria and Benin, the occurrence of additional cases is not unexpected. Strengthening of cross-border collaboration and information exchange between the 2 countries is, therefore, needed. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
For _Mastomys natalensis_, see
For _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_, see

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2018 13:37:32 +0200

Cotonou, June 29, 2018 (AFP) - Benin's Constitutional Court has banned the right to strike by workers in the country's defence, security, justice and health sectors, sparking concern among union officials and legal observers.   The ruling, issued late on Thursday, came after months of wrangling between the government and the court, which had previously said the measure was unconstitutional.

"Civil servants, public security forces and equivalents should fulfil their duties in all circumstances and not exercise their right to strike," the court said in its new ruling.   "There should be no disruption to the duties of public sector defence, security, justice and health workers."   The decision was taken "in the public interest" and for "the protection of citizens", it said.

Speaking on Friday, one senior union leader, who asked to remain anonymous, described the ruling as shocking and a "hammer blow".   And Benin legal affairs expert Albert Medagbe told AFP the decision was a "worrying sudden legal U-turn".   Earlier this month, a close ally of President Patrice Talon, Joseph Djogbenou, was elected to lead the Constitutional Court during a vote held behind closed doors.   Djogbenou is Talon's former personal lawyer and was previously  Benin's attorney general.

Until his arrival, the court had strained relations with Talon, and had criticised the government for misunderstanding and failing to respect the constitution.   The small West African nation was last year hit by a wave of public sector strikes, which brought the education, health and justice system to a near halt.   The industrial action was sparked by Talon's attempts to introduce free-market reforms.
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:31:52 +0100

Cotonou, Feb 21, 2018 (AFP) - Nine people appeared in a Benin court Wednesday on charges of selling fake drugs at the start of a landmark trial in a regional campaign against illicit medicines.   The suspects, who include executives from major pharmaceutical companies operating in the West African nation, were remanded in custody until March 6 on technical grounds.   They are accused of "the sale of falsified medicines, (and) display, possession with a view to selling, commercialisation or sale of falsified medical substances."   A tenth defendant, the head of the Directorate for Pharmacies, Medications and Diagnostic Evaluation (DPMED) under the control of the ministry of health, was not in court on the trial's opening day.   He is accused of failing to prevent the offences.

Benin launched the crackdown last year after mounting alarm about the scale of the trafficking of expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa.   Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product.   Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or -- in the case of antibiotics -- worsen the problem of microbial resistance.   According to an investigation by the Paris-based International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), West African markets are awash with fake drugs made in China and India.

In 2015, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor-quality antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   A 15-nation regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), last April announced an investigation into the fake drugs business.   A lawyer for the civilian plaintiffs told AFP that the trial in Benin was adjourned until March 6 at their request "in order to incorporate another case, of illegal pharmaceutical practice".
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Belgium

Belgium - US Consular Information Sheet
October 03, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Belgium is a highly developed and stable democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background N
tes on Belgium for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Belgium is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Belgium for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. Sufficient funds and a return airline ticket are required. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. For further information concerning entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Belgium at 3330 Garfield Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 333-6900; or one of the Belgian Consulates General in Atlanta, Los Angeles, or New York.Visit the Belgian Embassy web site at http://www.diplobel.org/usa for the most current visa information.
Belgian law requires that everyone carry some form of official identification at all times, which must be displayed upon request to any Belgian police official. A U.S. passport suffices for these purposes.
See the section on Special Circumstances for information on new business visitor and employee registration requirements.
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: Belgium remains largely free of terrorist incidents. Belgian law enforcement and security officials, in close cooperation with neighboring countries, maintain a solid anti-terrorism effort and a peaceful environment for tourists and business. However, like other countries that are members of the Schengen Agreement on free cross-border movement, Belgium’s open borders with its European neighbors allow the possibility for terrorist groups to enter/exit the country with anonymity.
Prior police approval is required for public demonstrations in Belgium, and police oversight is routinely provided to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Nonetheless, situations may develop that could pose a threat to public safety. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid areas where public demonstrations are taking place.
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.
CRIME: Belgium remains relatively free of violent crime, but low-level street crime is common. Visitors should always be watchful and aware of their surroundings, however, because muggings, purse snatchings, and pickpocketing occur frequently, particularly in the major cities. Transportation hubs like the Metro (subway) and train stations are also frequented by thieves who take advantage of disoriented travelers. In Brussels, pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft of light luggage and laptops are common at the three major train stations -- the North Station (Noordstation or Gare du Nord), the Central Station (Centraal Station or Gare Central) and especially at the South Station (Zuidstation or Gare du Midi). The latter is a primary international train hub, and travelers are advised to pay very close attention to their personal belongings when in the station. Common ploys are to distract the victim by spraying shaving cream or another substance on his or her back or asking for directions while an accomplice steals the luggage. It is a good idea to remain in physical contact with hand luggage at all times, and not to place carry-on luggage on overhead racks in trains.
Another growing problem, especially in Brussels, is theft from vehicles, both moving and parked. Do not leave valuables in plain sight where a thief may spot them. Thieves will sometimes position themselves at stop lights to scan for valuables in stopped cars. If they see a purse or other valuable item they break the window and steal the item before the victim can even react. Expensive car stereos and GPS navigational devices left in plain sight are often stolen from parked cars. Always drive with windows up and doors locked.
Travelers to Brussels should be aware that small groups of young men sometimes prey on unwary tourists, usually at night and often in Metro stations. Items such as expensive mobile phones and MP3 players are often the target. Travelers should carry only a minimum amount of cash, credit cards, and personal identification. Wearing expensive jewelry and watches is discouraged.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Good medical facilities are widely available in Belgium. The large university hospitals can handle almost every medical problem. Hospitals in Brussels and Flemish-speaking Flanders will probably have English-speaking staff. Hospitals in French-speaking Wallonia may not have staff members who are fluent in English, however. The Embassy Consular Section maintains a list of English-speaking doctors, which can be found on the Embassy web site at http://brussels.usembassy.gov/medical_facilities.html.
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 Belgium is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Belgian urban highways are generally well built and maintained with extensive lighting systems, but rain and fog often reduce visibility. Rural roads are less likely to be illuminated at night. Belgian rules for right-of-way differ from those in the U.S., and new drivers should thoroughly understand these rules before driving in Belgium. For instance, traffic coming from the right generally has priority at uncontrolled intersections and roundabouts, even if coming from a smaller street. The maximum speed limit on Belgian highways is 120 kilometers (72 miles) per hour, but is not always posted except at Belgium’s borders and on roads leaving major airports. The maximum speed in urban areas is normally 50 km (30 miles) per hour. While Belgian authorities strictly enforce speed limits, many Belgians still drive significantly faster than the posted limit. Claims of ignorance may not prevent a significant fine for speeding, which can also lead to the vehicle’s being impounded if the driver is unable to pay the fine on the spot. Belgian police also conduct breath analysis checks for alcohol use, particularly at night and during major holidays.
Roadside assistance and information on road conditions are available in English from Touring Mobilis, tel: 0900 10280. Belgian police will also provide information on road conditions, tel: 02-642-6666. Emergency services are efficient and responsive. By phone within Belgium, for police emergencies dial 101 and for all other emergencies,112.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Belgium’s national tourist office at http://www.visitbelgium.com/.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belgium’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Belgium’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: While most forms of monetary transactions are available (cash, credit cards), U.S. money orders cannot be negotiated in Belgium. Personal checks may only be cleared through a bank at which a person holds an account and clearance can take from two to four weeks. Banks and exchange facilities may refuse U.S. dollar denominations of $50 and $100 if they are not equipped with devices to identify counterfeit currency. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are widespread in Belgium and accept most U.S. ATM cards to withdraw funds. Travelers seeking to purchase Euros are more likely to find a more favorable exchange rate at banks than at money exchange facilities located at tourist locations, train stations, and airports. Please see our Customs Information.
Non-EU citizens visiting Belgium and staying in a private residence are required by Belgian law to register with local Commune authorities within three days of their arrival. Any change in visa or resident status must also be requested through Commune authorities and must be completed prior to the expiration of the current status. Given the requirements to change status in Belgium, it is nearly impossible to do so within the 90 days permitted to remain in Belgium without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.
BUSINESS VISITOR AND EMPLOYEE REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT: Since April 1, 2007 non-Belgian employers and self-employed persons or their employees who carry out short term assignments in Belgium must declare these activities in advance.
This mandatory "Limosa" declaration applies to: (1) Employees and apprentices, who come to Belgium to execute certain temporary work and who, because of the nature of their short term assignment, are not subject to the Belgian social security system; (2) Self-employed people and self-employed apprentices who come to work in Belgium temporarily, irrespective of whether they are subject to the Belgian social security system.
Some exceptions to this general obligation exist. Certain persons may be exempted, especially for short-term assignments. For more information about the Limosa declaration, visit http://www.limosa.be.
For more information about working in Belgium, please see http://www.employment.belgium.be/home.aspx.
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 Belgian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belgium 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 Belgium are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Belgium. 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 Brussels is located at 25 Boulevard du Regent. The telephone number from the U.S. is 011-32-2-508-2111. Within Belgium, the telephone number is 02-508-2111. The Embassy’s fax number is 02-511-2725. The Consular Section’s fax number is 02-513-0409. The American Citizen Services Unit of the Consular Section is open from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for American and Belgian holidays. Further information can be obtained at the Embassy’s web site at http://belgium.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Belgium dated March 13, 2008, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 22 Oct 2019
Source: The Brussels Times [abridged, edited]

Students from the UCLouvain [Catholic University of Leuven] have received an email warning of increased cases of mumps on the campus of Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe and in the colleges in the municipality [of Brussels-Capital Region].

This information -- widely reported in Belgium -- was confirmed by the spokesperson for the University Isabelle Decoster to Belga.

The total number of infected is currently not known as students can go to doctors across the city. Sick students are asked to stay at home.  [Byline: Jules Johnston]
====================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Belgium:
Date: Thu 24 Oct 2019
Source: Brussels Times [edited]

Two people in Belgium have been infected with _Listeria_ bacteria that lead to the death of 3 people and a miscarriage over a 2-year period in the Netherlands, a sampling by a federal health centre showed. [See ProMED-mail post Listeriosis - Europe (15): (Netherlands) fatal, WGS, cold cuts http://promedmail.org/post/20191005.6711608, which described a listeriosis outbreak that affected 20 people, 3 of whom died and one woman had a miscarriage, over the past 2 years after eating cold cuts produced by Offerman, a Netherland-based producer. - ProMED Mod.ML]

The cases in Belgium affected a 97-year-old woman and a Dutch national who recently gave birth in Antwerp [Belgium], a study by federal health research centre Sciensano confirmed. Both women were infected with the bacteria in 2018, according to the study, which compared samples of bacteria in the Netherlands with those of Belgian patients infected, HLN reports.

The centre's study comes after three people died and one woman had suffered a miscarriage in the Netherlands after eating meat contaminated with _Listeria_ over a 2-year period, which was reportedly linked to Dutch meat producer Offerman.

In Germany, 2 _Listeria_-related deaths were also reported in the central state of Hesse. [See ProMED-mail post Listeriosis - Europe (16): (Germany) fatal, WGS, meat, healthcare facilities http://promedmail.org/post/20191019.6736570, which described a listeriosis outbreak that affected 40 people, 3 of whom have died, in 12 German states between 2014 and 2019, due to _Listeria_-contaminated meat products manufactured at a processing facility in the German state of Hesse and widely distributed to more than 20 European countries. This German outbreak associated with the Hesse-based meat processing facility is unrelated to the Netherlands/Belgium outbreak associated with the Netherlands-based meat processing facility. - ProMED Mod.ML]

News of the deaths led supermarkets in Belgium to issue recalls for pre-packaged meat, a move they said at the time was precautionary. Offerman, a subsidiary of Belgian food group Ter Beke, has since been shut down in the Netherlands.

The Sciensano study could not identify the cause of the infections in Belgium, since isolated cases, unlike outbreaks, are not subject to follow-ups, Het Nieuwsblad reports.  [Byline: Gabriela Galindo]
==================
[The incriminated meat is refrigerated cold cuts that are not cooked before eating (i.e., ready-to-eat). Cold cuts are well-recognized sources for listeriosis. Even if initial contamination adds only a few _Listeria_ organisms to the food, the contamination can be significant for refrigerated foods because _L. monocytogenes_ can subsequently multiply at refrigerator temperatures to a sufficient number to cause disease. People at increased risk for disseminated listeriosis, which include pregnant women (and their new-borns), adults aged 65 years or older, and people with weakened immune systems, should avoid eating food potentially contaminated with _Listeria_. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
Date: Wed 25 Sep 2019
Source: Food Safety News (FSN) [edited]

A _Salmonella_ outbreak that sickened almost 200 people at a Belgian school was likely caused by eggs used to make a tartar sauce, according to authorities. The Agency for Care and Health (Zorg en Gezondheid) and Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) investigation detected _Salmonella_ in the freshly prepared tartar sauce. Findings from an online survey of students and teachers also reached the same conclusion on the source.

The Agency for Care and Health had previously received information about a number of students from the school complaining of gastrointestinal illness. Since 14 Sep 2019, no new cases of illness have been reported so the Spermalie Hotel and Tourism School in Bruges [West Flanders] has been allowed to resume normal operation. About 200 students and teachers from the school became ill from 6 Sep 2019 onward. Laboratory analyses of stool samples revealed students and teachers had been affected by _Salmonella_.

The Agency for Care and Health handled the online survey part of the investigation, FASFC took samples of meals served on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at the school restaurant. The samples were sent to the lab of Sciensano, the Belgian Institute for Health. The online survey showed the tartar sauce was the most likely source of the outbreak.

A total of 65 samples were sent to Sciensano and after analysis of the different dishes, _Salmonella_ was detected in the freshly prepared tartar sauce. Bacteria present in the food appeared to be the same as in the stool samples from patients.

Staff and students were asked to pay particular attention to hand hygiene and those sick were encouraged to stay at home. The kitchen of the school restaurant and all kitchens and related equipment have been cleaned and disinfected. The sale of any raw food was also suspended. Control measures have been verified by environmental sampling and no _Salmonella_ has been detected in lab analysis of these samples.

Belgium reported 2698 confirmed salmonellosis cases in 2016 compared to 3050 the year before.
===========================
[Tartar sauce (<https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tartar_sauce>) is based on either mayonnaise (egg yolk, mustard or vinegar, bitartrate, oil) or aioli (olive oil, garlic), with certain other ingredients added. In the UK, recipes typically add to the base capers, gherkins, lemon juice, and dill. US recipes may include chopped pickles or prepared green sweet relish, capers, onions (or chives), and fresh parsley. Chopped hard-boiled eggs or olives are sometimes added, as may be Dijon mustard and cocktail onions.

Salmonellosis is often thought to be associated with cracked eggs or eggs dirty with fecal matter, a problem controlled by cleaning procedures implemented in the egg industry. It is clearly the case, however, that most of the salmonellosis outbreaks linked to eggs were associated with uncracked, disinfected grade A eggs, or foods containing such eggs. The undamaged eggs become contaminated during ovulation, and thus were contaminated with the bacteria before the eggshell was formed. To avoid this, uncooked eggs should only be used as an ingredient, if pasteurized. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Belgium:
Date: Thu, 25 Jul 2019 15:48:48 +0200

Brussels, July 25, 2019 (AFP) - Belgian meteorologists registered record high temperatures on Thursday as western Europe sweltered under a multi-day heatwave that has disrupted transport and triggered safety warnings.   David Dehenauw, chief forecaster at the Royal Meteorological Institute, said a high of 40.6 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit) had been recorded on the Kleine-Brogel military base, in northeastern Belgium.

"New Belgian national record: 40.6 in Kleine Brogel now and it's not finished yet! Unbelievable!" Dehenauw said on Twitter.   The temperature in Belgium exceeded 40 degrees for the second day in a row after it reached 40.2 degrees in Liege, the previous record, on Wednesday.  Thursday's new record is likely to be temporary as temperatures continued to rise in the middle of the afternoon.

In Brussels, the country's reference station, it was a record 38.8 degrees at 15:00 (1300 GMT), compared to 36.8 degrees an hour earlier in Europe's unofficial capital.  Since the beginning of official temperature records in 1833, it has never been so hot.    The previous record of 36.6 was set on in June, 1947.
Date: Fri 17 May 2019
Source: [in French, trans. Corr.SB, edited]

An additional patient, the 19th, was admitted to the hospital in Flanders, [East Flanders province] suffering from legionellosis.

This case comes in addition to the 18 others who have been exposed to _Legionella_ bacteria in the Evergem area [East Flanders], right next to Ghent, and who developed legionnaires' disease, a lung disease that is not transmitted from human to human.

Of the total of 19 patients, 2 men died: one Monday night [20 May 2019] and the other [Wed 22 May 2019], in 2 different Ghent hospitals.

The exact source of _Legionella_ causing the [legionellosis] outbreak in the region has not yet been located. The bacterium normally contaminates people via inhalation of water vapor or micro-droplets, but many exposed individuals do not develop disease.
========================
[This news report above adds 3 cases since the last report posted by ProMED-mail (Legionellosis - Europe (01): Belgium (OV) http://promedmail.org/post/20190514.6468996) for a total now of 19 cases. At the time of the initial report, cooling towers in the vicinity of the Ghent Canal were suspected to be the source of this outbreak. The Ghent Canal separates the town of Evergem, where 7 cases occurred, from the town of Oostakker, where 2 cases occurred. The Ghent-Terneuzen Canal, links Ghent in Belgium to the port of Terneuzen in the Netherlands, thereby providing Ghent with access to the sea (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent-Terneuzen_Canal>).

A map showing the location of Evergem and this area can be found at
<https://goo.gl/maps/y9Z1tQzbKJa1NkSm7>.

The news report above fails to state where the new cases reside, if _Legionella_ genotypes of the clinical isolates match each other, which would indicate a common source outbreak, and the results of environmental testing for _Legionella_. We await the results of the ongoing investigation. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Belgium:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2020 11:20:59 +0100 (MET)

Dhaka, Feb 19, 2020 (AFP) - Bangladesh on Wednesday kicked off a drive to vaccinate more than a million people against cholera, which infects tens of thousands a year, as part of an international campaign to eliminate transmission by 2030.   The delta nation has sought to reduce the impact of the disease -- which causes acute diarrhoea and spreads through contaminated food and water -- through vaccines and by setting up a dedicated treatment hospital.   "We have brought down the mortality rate in cholera to almost zero in Bangladesh," said senior scientist Firdausi Qadri at the Dhaka-based International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research.   But she admitted that the number of infections was still very high.   According to the World Health Organisation, cholera infects about 1.3 to five million people every year, and kills an estimated 21,000 to 143,000.

Bangladesh has an estimated 100,000 cases a year, according to authorities, but plans to immunise half its 168 million people in the next decade.   Daisy Akter, who lost two sisters and a brother to cholera in the 1970s, was one of the first recipients of the oral vaccine at a Dhaka neighbourhood on Wednesday.   "No villager came to offer funeral prayers for them fearing they might get the disease," she told AFP.   "We had to bury them in the front yard of our home."   UN agencies and Bangladesh authorities have already carried out a massive cholera vaccination drive in the country's southeast, where nearly one million Rohingya refugees have lived in overcrowded camps since 2017.   Some 800,000 Rohingya and 600,000 locals were vaccinated in that campaign.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 17:16:35 +0100 (MET)

Juba, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - Swarms of locusts which are wreaking havoc across East Africa have now arrived in South Sudan, the government said Tuesday, threatening more misery in one of the world's most vulnerable nations.   Billions of desert locusts, some in swarms the size of Moscow, have already chomped their way through Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan and Uganda.   Their breeding has been spurred by one of the wettest rainy seasons in the region in four decades.

Experts have warned the main March-to-May cropping season is at risk. Eggs laid along the locusts' path are due to hatch and create a second wave of the insects in key agricultural areas.    The arrival of the locusts could be catastrophic in South Sudan, where war  followed by drought and floods has already left six million people -- 60 percent of the population -- facing severe hunger.   Agriculture Minister Onyoti Adigo Nyikiwec said the locusts had crossed the eastern border with Uganda on Monday.   "The report came that these are matured. As you know locusts are like human beings, they send their reconnaissance ahead of time to make sure that whether there is food or not and if the area is good for breeding."

Meshack Malo, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in South Sudan, said about 2,000 locusts had been spotted so far, and if not controlled quickly, could have a devastating impact.   "These are deep yellow which means that they will be here mostly looking at areas in which they will lay eggs."    He said the FAO was training locals and acquiring sprayers and chemicals to try and combat the locusts. It is the first locust invasion in 70 years in the country.   Other countries have employed aircraft to spray the swarms, while desperate locals have employed tactics like banging pots and pans or shooting at them.    Nyikiwec said the government had prepared a contingency plan.   "We are training people who will be involved in spraying and also we need chemicals for spraying and also sprayers. You will also need cars to move while spraying and then later if it becomes worse, we will need aircraft."

Earlier this month Somalia declared a national emergency over the invasion.   The FAO says the current invasion is known as an "upsurge," the term for when an entire region is affected.   However, if the invasion cannot be rolled back and spreads, it becomes known as a "plague" of locusts.   There have been six major desert locust plagues in the 1900s, the last of which was in 1987-89. The last major upsurge was in 2003-05.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 15:26:41 +0100 (MET)
By Ismail BELLAOUALI

AIT-BEN-HADDOU, Morocco, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - Millions worldwide may have seen the desert fortress in the hit fantasy series "Game of Thrones", but fewer know they can visit the Moroccan village of Ait-Ben-Haddou.   The fortified old settlement at the foot of the majestic Atlas mountains enchanted audiences in the HBO series and also served as a dusty backdrop in Ridley Scott's epic swords-and-sandals film "Gladiator".

But unlike other famous locations from movie and television history, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has so far missed out on a mass influx of tourism -- something some of its inhabitants are eager to change.    "Several people have told me that they came here to see the filming location of 'Game of Thrones'," said Ahmed Baabouz, a local tour guide. "There is tourism linked to cinema here but frankly we have not developed it to the extent it could be."   Ait-Ben-Haddou is southern Morocco's most famous fortress. Time seems to have stopped at the site overlooking a valley some 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) from the town of Ouarzazate.

After passing through the imposing entrance way, visitors navigate a labyrinth of winding alleys that eventually lead onto a public square where the settlement's inhabitants once gathered.    There is a mosque and two cemeteries -- one for Muslims and one for Jews. Most inhabitants have long since departed though, with a few homes converted into stalls selling handicrafts.    The fortress is an ideal film setting, located a short distance from the studios of Ouarzazate, the "Mecca" of Moroccan cinema. Productions ranging from "Lawrence of Arabia" to "The Mummy" have been filmed here.

More recently, scenes from the cult series "Game of Thrones" were shot at Ait-Ben-Haddou, with the site standing in for the fictional Yellow City of Yunkai which is conquered by Daenerys Targaryen, a key character in the "GOT" universe.   Hammadi, 61, is a privileged witness to the location's cinematic history.   "All of these productions have contributed to the reputation of the region," he said, grinning widely.    Hammadi himself has appeared as an extra in a number of films. And while like most people he lives in a more modern home in a village on the other side of the valley, he continues to return to Ait-Ben-Haddou to welcome tourists.

-'House of the Dragon' -
On a wall at the entrance to Hammadi's former home, photos bear witness to the projects he has worked on.    One shows him dressed as an ancient Roman with director Ridley Scott on the set of "Gladiator".    "We have a very rich cinematic heritage that we hope to use to attract tourists," said tour guide Baabouz, who is 29.   But "nothing indicates that 'Game of Thrones' was shot here," he added.    On Morocco's Atlantic coast, the city of Essaouira also formed the backdrop to scenes from the series.    But there too, Moroccan tourism promoters are yet to capitalise on the connection.

In comparison, Northern Ireland, Malta and Dubrovnik in Croatia have attracted hordes of fans from around the world, drawn by their links to the franchise.    To remedy this, Baabouz and other young people in the village are pooling their limited resources towards an ambitious project: a museum in the fortress, gathering photography from the productions that have been filmed here.    US channel HBO has commissioned a prequel to "GOT", called "House of the Dragon". George R.R. Martin, the author of the books on which the series is based, wrote on his blog that shooting would also take place in Morocco.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 09:44:12 +0100 (MET)

Macau, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - Macau's casinos will reopen Thursday after authorities lifted a city-wide two-week closure aimed at stopping the spread of the deadly new coronavirus.    The resumption of the lynchpin industry comes after the city reported no new infections in the last two weeks, with the number confirmed cases at just ten people.

The former Portuguese colony took the unprecedented step of shutting down almost all of its lucrative entertainment sector earlier in the month, including casinos, nightclubs and many bars.   The vast majority of Macau's tourists are mainland Chinese travellers, drawn to the city's casinos.

As the only place in China where casinos are allowed, Macau's gambling houses account for about 80 percent of government revenue.   But arrivals tanked as the epidemic spread.   Authorities said casinos that don't want to reopen because of low tourist numbers could apply to extend the closure, but they must be up and running within 30 days.

Macau's government has been keen to ensure the casinos keep employing staff through the downturn and are trying to avoid lay-offs.   Officials said all gamblers and casino staff must wear face masks.   First found in the city of Wuhan in central China, the new coronavirus has infected over 72,000 people on the mainland and 60 in Hong Kong.    It has also taken over 1,800 lives on the mainland and one in Hong Kong.
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.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 08:50:55 +0100 (MET)

Peshawar, Pakistan, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - A policeman was killed and two others wounded Tuesday by a roadside bomb aimed at polio vaccination workers in Pakistan's restive northwest, officials said.    The attack came a day after Islamabad launched a nationwide anti-polio drive, aiming to immunise tens of millions of children in Pakistan -- one of only three countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, where the crippling disease remains endemic.

Opposition to inoculations grew after the CIA organised a fake vaccination drive to help track down Al-Qaeda's former leader Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.   According to Captain Wahid Mehmood, a district police chief, a police van monitoring the polio team was hit on the outskirts of the north-western city of Dera Ismail Khan.   "It was an IED (improvised explosive device) explosion in which one of our policemen got martyred while two others were wounded", Mehmood told AFP.   Sadaqat Khan, a local police official, confirmed the toll.   There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Pakistani Taliban and other militants have targeted polio vaccinators in the past.

The nationwide polio vaccination campaign aims to vaccinate some 39 million children.  Tuesday's attack follows a devastating year in Pakistan's long fight against polio, with at least 17 cases reported in 2020 so far.   In 2019, the number of polio cases jumped to 144 from just 12 in 2018.

Even as Pakistan has tried to eliminate polio, a new challenge has emerged in the form of a growing global movement against vaccinations.   The phenomenon has attracted adherents worldwide, fuelled by medically baseless claims and proliferated on social media resulting in a resurgence of once-eradicated, highly contagious diseases.
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 21:19:05 +0100 (MET)
By Joe JACKSON

London, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - Britain on Monday battled the fallout from Storm Dennis after the second severe storm in seven days left one woman dead over the weekend.   Winds of more than 90 miles (140 kilometres) an hour, along with more than a month's worth of rain in 48 hours in some places, led officials to issue rare "danger to life" warnings.   A 55-year-old woman was found dead after being swept away by near the flood-prone town of Tenbury Wells in western England.   "We are all devastated," her family said in a statement after a body was discovered.

James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, which is responsible for flood protection, said more than 400 homes in England had been flooded while at least 1,000 agency staff were working "to protect and support those communities which have been hit".   "This is not yet over," he told BBC radio.   "We still have many flood warnings in force and we may still see significant flooding in the middle of this week from larger rivers."   The storm also pummelled much of France, with some 20,000 people without electricity on Monday after suffering power cuts in the northwest.

- 'More extreme' -
In Britain, more than 600 warnings and alerts -- a record number -- were issued on Sunday, extending from the River Tweed on the border of England and Scotland to Cornwall in the southwest.   After a day of torrential rain, major flooding incidents were declared in south Wales and parts of west central England.  In northern England, the defence ministry deployed troops in West Yorkshire, which had also been hit by flooding from last weekend's Storm Ciara.   There were fears that rivers there could burst their banks.

Newly appointed environment secretary George Eustice said the government had done "everything that we can do with a significant sum of money" to combat increased flooding.    "We'll never be able to protect every single household just because of the nature of climate change and the fact that these weather events are becoming more extreme," he said.   Youth climate activists gathering for a national conference in Staffordshire, west central England, were forced to cancel the event because of the storm.   "There's a bleak irony in our being beaten back by climate change," 15-year-old attendee Sophia said in a statement released by organisers.

- 'Supercomputer' announced -
Two rivers in south Wales burst their banks on Sunday, prompting rescue workers to launch operations to evacuate hundreds of people and their pets trapped in their homes.   Police said a man in his 60s died after entering the River Tawe, north of the Welsh city of Swansea, but later clarified that the death was not "linked to the adverse weather".

Meanwhile the bodies of two men were pulled from rough seas off the south coast of England on Saturday as the storm barrelled in.   Britain's Coastguard said it had sent a helicopter and rescue team to join navy and other search vessels after receiving reports of a man overboard in the sea near Margate, Kent.   "After many hours of searching, a body was sadly found in the water... and was brought to shore," it added.

Around the same time in nearby Herne Bay, emergency responders discovered another dead man following reports a person had been pulled from the sea, according to Kent police.   In a timely announcement the Met Office, Britain's national weather service, said Monday it would invest £1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) in a state-of-the-art supercomputer to improve forecasting.   The government claims it is the world's "most powerful weather and climate supercomputer".
Date: Sun 16 Feb 2020, 5:00 PM
Source: WHO, Weekly Bulletin on Outbreaks and Other Emergencies, page 9 [abridged, edited]

During week 4 [week ending 26 Jan 2020], a total of 73 suspected cases including one death were reported across the country, compared to 46 suspected cases and no deaths in the previous week. The majority of cases in week 4 were reported from Sankuru province (78%).

In the past 4 weeks (weeks 1 to 4 of 2020) a total of 222 suspected cases with 4 deaths (CFR: 1.8%) were notified in the country, with the majority of cases being reported from the provinces of Sankuru (31%), Bas-Uele (18%), Equateur (15%) and Mai-Ndombe (9%). There has been an increase in the weekly case incidence since week 2 of 2020.

Between weeks 1 and 52 of 2019 a cumulative total of 5288 monkeypox cases, including 107 deaths (CFR 2%) were reported from 133 health zones in 19 provinces.
======================
[Monkeypox (MPX) virus is endemic and widespread geographically in the DR Congo, with cases occurring sporadically in several provinces. January 2020 is off to a similar start with 222 suspected cases and 4 deaths reported in 4 provinces. The 2% CFR is relatively low for the clade of MPX that occurs in the DRC, which can reach 10% or more. The 222 cases are suspected, and there is the possibility that without laboratory confirmation some of them may be varicella cases misdiagnosed as MPX. There is no additional information about the circumstances under which these cases acquired their infection. Monkeys are not the reservoirs of the virus, despite the name that the virus has received. Studies of prevalence of MPX virus in populations of rodent hosts are not mentioned in this or previous reports. The main reservoirs of MPX virus are suspected to be rodents, including rope squirrels (_Funisciurus_ spp., an arboreal rodent) and terrestrial rodents in the genera _Cricetomys_ and _Graphiurus_. Halting the bushmeat trade and consumption of wild animals to halt MPX virus exposure will be culturally and economically difficult, so continued occurrence of cases can be expected. MPX virus can be transmitted between people but not readily. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Fri 31 Jan 2020
Source: Nigeria CDC Situation report, yellow fever [edited]

Highlights
----------
In this reporting period:
- A total of 139 suspected cases were reported in 90 LGAs across 27 states
- All 139 suspected cases had blood samples collected
- 2 presumptive positive and 1 inconclusive case were reported; the inconclusive case was reported from Katsina State
- No confirmed case was recorded from Institute Pasteur Dakar
- No death was recorded from all the cases reported

Yellow fever response activities are being coordinated by the multi-agency yellow fever Technical Working Group (YF TWG).

Off-site support is being provided to all states.

Yellow fever preventive mass vaccination (PMVC) campaigns are planned for implementation in Oyo, Delta, Benue, Osun, Bauchi and Borno in the 3rd and 4th quarters.

Graphs and a map accessible at the above URL;
Figure 1 [graph]: Epidemic Curve of All Cases of Yellow Fever in Nigeria from Week 1 - Week 5, 31 Jan 2020
Figure 2 [graph]: Trends of Confirmed Cases in Nigeria - 2018, 2019 and January 2020
Figure 3 [graph]: Yellow fever Attack rate by State in Nigeria from Week 1 - Week 5, 31 Jan 2020
Figure 4: Map of Nigeria Showing States with Suspected and Presumptive confirmed Cases from Week 1 - Week 5, 31 Jan 2020
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[This report is not clear about the number of confirmed yellow fever (YF) cases that there have been in Nigeria this year (2020). The above report indicates that there are 139 suspected cases and all have had blood samples taken but does not state if all samples have been tested for YF by the Institute Pasteur in Dakar. The report does state that no confirmed case was recorded by the Institute Pasteur Dakar. The report states that 2 cases are presumptive and 1 is inconclusive. The graph in Figure 2 shows no confirmed cases in 2020.

It is curious that a 19 Jan 2020 report indicated that there were 141 suspected yellow fever cases in Jos North, Wase, Bassa, Kanam and Riyom Local Governments of Plateau State, of which 25 cases had been confirmed (see Yellow fever - Africa (02): Nigeria (PL) http://promedmail.org/post/20200121.6903167). A 29 Dec 2019 The World Health Organization (WHO) report confirmed 13 cases of yellow fever (YF), with 3 deaths in 4 local government areas of Plateau State (see Yellow fever - Africa (01): Nigeria (PL) http://promedmail.org/post/20200101.6862783). It is possible that all of these Plateau state cases occurred in 2019 and, hence, are not included in the above 2020 report which does not mention any cases in Plateau state. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Sat 15 Feb 2020 2:34:10 PM AFT
Source: MENAFN, Afghanistan Times News report [edited]

At least 35 people including women and children have died in the past few weeks due to pneumonia outbreak in Badakhshan Province in the north-western mountainous area, the provincial health department confirmed.

Dr Noor Khawari, head of the provincial public health department, said [Sat 15 Feb 2020] that the people had died in the Wakhan district, a remote area surrounded by high and impassable mountains.

He said that 15 of the dead were children, calling malnutrition and cold weather as the main reasons for the fatalities. A medical team had been dispatched to Wakhan to prevent further outbreak of the disease, according to Dr Khawari.

The provincial council had earlier said that at least 10 people had lost their lives since an unknown disease had broken out in the Yomgan district [Badakhshan Province].

The report caused panic and concerns among the residents as coronavirus [infection, COVID-19] in China that borders Badakhshan takes the lives of people every day.

But the ministry of public health denied outbreak of any unknown disease in Badakhshan, saying that the recent deaths happened only due to pneumonia and pertussis (whooping cough) as well as malnutrition. Badakhshan is one of the provinces where seasonal diseases like pneumonia and whooping cough break out during winter. The diseases claim the lives of people in the remote areas behind high mountains as the roads connecting them to the provincial capital are blocked by heavy snowfalls.

The provincial health department has deployed medical teams to the borders with China and Tajikistan to examine those entering from the neighbouring states and to prevent coronavirus [infection, COVID-9].
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[We are told in the news report above that at least 35 people, including 15 children, died in the past few weeks due to a "pneumonia" outbreak in Wakhan district, a remote area surrounded by high and impassable mountains, with a population of about 14 000 residents. Wakhan is a narrow strip about 350 km (220 mi) long and 13-65 km (8-40 mi) wide that extends from Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan in the west to Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China in the east, separating the Pamir Mountains and Tajikistan to the north and the Karakoram Mountains and Pakistan to the south  (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wakhan_Corridor>).

A trade route through this valley has been used by travellers since antiquity
(<https://caravanistan.com/afghanistan/wakhan-corridor/>).

A map of this region can be found at

The local residents are concerned that the novel coronavirus infection, COVID-19, may be the cause of the outbreak of pneumonia in Wakhan district. There are about 70 500 total cases of COVID-19 in China, mainly concentrated in Hubei Province in Central China.

Although Xinjiang in Western China has reportedly 75 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1 death (assessed 16 Feb 2020 at 9:43 PM EST) (<https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6>), spread of COVID-19 to this very remote region in Afghanistan, that is easily cut off from the rest of the world especially in winter, seems unlikely. Also, 43% of deaths (15/35) occurred in children, which would be unusual for COVID-19. However, we are not told the clinical presentation of the illness, nor how a diagnosis of "pneumonia" was made in this undeveloped region. Other diagnoses, such as influenza, are also possible. More information from knowledgeable sources would be appreciated. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[Maps of Afghanistan: