WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

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".
More ...

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".
More ...

Ecuador

Ecuador US Consular Information Sheet
November 05, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Ecuador is a Spanish-speaking country about the size of Colorado.
It has a developing economy and a democratically elected government.
Ecuador is geogra
hically and ethnically diverse.
In general, tourist facilities are adequate but vary in quality.
Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar in 2000.
Both U.S. coins and Ecuadorian coins, which are equivalent to the value of the U.S. coins, are used.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Ecuador for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A U.S. passport with remaining validity of at least six months is required to enter Ecuador. A valid U.S. passport is required to depart Ecuador.
Tourists must also provide evidence of return or onward travel.
U.S. citizens traveling on regular passports for tourism or business do not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or less.
Those planning a longer visit must obtain a visa in advance of arrival.
Travelers who stay in Ecuador beyond the allowed entry time are charged a substantial fee and are barred from re-entering Ecuador for six months from the date of departure.
An airport exit tax is required when departing Ecuador.

U.S. citizens whose passports are lost or stolen in Ecuador must obtain a new passport at the U.S. Embassy in Quito or the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil and present it, together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the main immigration offices in those cities prior to arriving at the airport in order to obtain permission to depart.

Ecuador’s exit procedures mandate that minors (under the age of 18) who are citizens or residents of Ecuador and who are traveling alone, with one parent, or with a third party, must present a copy of their birth certificate and written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian.
When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of the death certificate is required in lieu of the written authorization.
If documents are prepared in the United States, the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated into Spanish, notarized and authenticated by the Ecuadorian Embassy or an Ecuadorian consulate within the United States.
It is not uncommon for some local authorities to insist these documents be apostilled (authenticated).
Documents must be apostilled by the same State that issued the document.
For a list of State Authentication Authorities go to http://travel.state.gov/about/info/customer/customer_312.html; if documents are prepared in Ecuador, only notarization by an Ecuadorian notary is required.
This paragraph does not apply to children who enter Ecuador with U.S. passports as tourists, unless they hold dual U.S./Ecuadorian citizenship.

For further information regarding entry, exit, and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Ecuadorian Embassy at 2535 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009; telephone (202) 234-7166; web page http://www.ecuador.org/; or the Ecuadorian Consulate in Chicago (312) 338-1002/03; fax (312) 338-1004, Houston (713) 572-8731, Jersey City (201) 985-1700, Los Angeles (323) 658-5146; (323) 658-1068; fax (323) 658-1198, Miami (305) 539-8214, New Orleans (504) 523-3229, New York (212) 808-0211, or San Francisco (415) 982-1819.
Visit the Embassy of Ecuador’s web site at http://www.ecuador.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: The U.S. Embassy in Quito advises caution when traveling to the northern border region of Ecuador, to include areas in the provinces of Sucumbios, Orellana and Carchi, northern Esmeraldas, and southern Esmeraldas, south of Atacames.
U.S. government personnel are under limitations with respect to traveling alone and over-nighting in these areas due to the spread of organized crime, drug trafficking, small arms trafficking, and incursions by various Colombian terrorist organizations.
Since 1998, at least ten U.S. citizens have been kidnapped near Ecuador's border with Colombia.
One U.S. citizen was murdered in January 2001 by kidnappers holding him for ransom. Violent crime has significantly increased in 2007 and 2008 with American citizens being victims of crimes, to include but not limited to, homicides, armed assaults, robberies, sexual assaults, and home invasions.
American citizens have also been the victims of violent crime on beaches regardless of whether the beach is a popular tourist destination or remote.

Political demonstrations occur frequently throughout Ecuador for various reasons. Protesters often block city streets and rural highways, including major arteries such as the Pan American Highway. Public transportation is often disrupted during these events. Protesters may burn tires, throw rocks and Molotov cocktails, engage in destruction of property and detonate small improvised explosive devices during demonstrations. Police response may include water cannons and tear gas. U.S. citizens and U.S. affiliated interests are not usually targeted, but U.S. citizens are advised to avoid areas where demonstrations are in progress and to be prepared with backup transportation plans. Although political demonstrations have not been directed at foreigners in the past, visitors are reminded that peaceful demonstrations can turn violent with little or no warning.
Additionally, foreigners are prohibited from protesting in Ecuador and may be subject to arrest for participating in demonstrations of any kind.
Please see the following links for the local information in Quito and Guayaquil's Consular Districts, respectively at http://ecuador.usembassy.gov/security-and-safety/warden-messages.html and http://guayaquil.usconsulate.gov/warden_messages.html . U.S. citizens may also keep informed of daily happenings by following the local news and police reports.

Ecuadorian authorities may declare states of emergency in provinces and regions affected by civil unrest, natural disaster, or other disruptions. During states of emergency, authorities have expanded powers to restore order, including suspension of some constitutional rights, expanded detention powers, and imposition of curfews.

Radicals in various locations in Ecuador, including Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca, have occasionally placed small explosive devices that release political literature, known locally as pamphlet bombs. Targets have included local and international businesses and various Government of Ecuador buildings. Although no foreign tourists have been injured in these explosions, American citizens visiting or residing in Ecuador are urged to take common-sense precautions and avoid suspicious looking packages.

U.S. citizens should carry identification at all times, including proof of U.S. citizenship.
Travelers to Ecuador’s beach areas should be aware that strong currents, undertow, and underwater hazards may exist and are not always posted.
Most beaches lack staffed lifeguard stations.

For information on the Galapagos Islands, please see the “Special Circumstances” section of this Country Specific Information.
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:
Crime is a serious problem in Ecuador, and visitors should be alert and cautious.
Non-violent crime is common: hundreds of Americans are robbed every year in Ecuador.
Violent crime has increased in recent years.
Thieves and small gangs armed with guns or knives are now sometimes active even in smaller cities such as Otavalo, Manta, and Cuenca.
Tourists have been robbed at gunpoint on beaches and along hiking trails, including on the well-populated trail to the summit of Pichincha Volcano in Quito.
Incidents of rape have increased, even in well-traveled tourists areas and when the victims traveled in groups for safety. Shootings, kidnappings, and carjackings are still relatively rare, but American citizens have been victimized by those crimes.
The Ecuadorian government has increased police patrols in tourist areas, but travelers should remain alert to their surroundings and maintain constant control of personal belongings.

Travelers should avoid wearing expensive-looking jewelry and watches.
Avoid deserted beaches, hiking trails, and infrequently traveled roads, as well as the interior regions of large city parks, particularly at night. Robberies on public buses are a continuing problem.
The Embassy recommends that visitors use legitimate taxicabs (yellow, with meters) to travel around the larger cities.
Public buses can be dangerous – from both a traffic safety and a personal security point of view.

Pickpockets and other petty thieves are particularly active in public markets, airports, bus terminals, restaurants, and crowded streets.
Backpackers are frequently targeted for robbery and “snatch and grabs”; business travelers carrying laptop computer bags are similarly targeted.
Many travelers who travel by bus store their luggage below the bus, where it is sometimes stolen.
Therefore, we recommend that you do not store your passport in your luggage. Always be aware of your surroundings, and try to not travel alone.
Thefts from vehicles are common.
Do not leave anything of value in plain view in a car, including sunglasses or sports equipment.
Carjackings have occurred in both rural and urban areas.
Visitors are advised to drive with doors locked and windows rolled up.

In Quito, travelers should be particularly alert on the crowded streets of south Quito, at the Panecillo, in Old Quito, and in the areas of El Tejar, Parroquia San Sebastian, Avenida Cristobal Colon, and Gonzalez Suarez.
The U.S. Embassy strongly discourages hiking to the summit of Pichincha as violent crime is sharply rising.
Groups as large as eight have been robbed at gunpoint by masked men; female hikers have been sexually assaulted.
The Mariscal Sucre District is a popular tourist area in Quito with numerous restaurants, bars, hotels, and shopping sites.
Since 1999, U.S. government employees and private U.S. citizens have been victimized there, prompting the U.S. Embassy to put certain bars off-limits and to declare a nighttime curfew in the area for its employees.
Increased police presence and better lighting in prime tourist squares of Old Quito have improved safety, but similar measures in the Mariscal district have not been as effective.

In Guayaquil, take extra caution in the downtown area at night, in the street market area of La Bahia, at the Christ Statue (Sagrado Corazon de Jesus) on Cerro del Carmen, in the airport area, and in the southern part of the city.
The riverfront park area called the Malecon 2000 and the passage up to the lighthouse in the Las Penas area are generally safe and well patrolled although at night caution should be observed.
There have been repeated instances of travelers followed from the airport and intercepted by robbers using two vehicles to cut off the traveler.
There is some evidence that those most at risk are people who appear to be returning from family visits laden with gifts and large amounts of cash.
There have been armed robberies of restaurants and their patrons, including in the fashionable areas of Guayaquil.
Guayaquil has also experienced an increase in kidnappings for ransom, often in connection with hijackings, although tourists have not been targeted.

Criminals sometimes use incapacitating drugs such as scopolamine on unsuspecting tourists in order to rob them.
These so-called date rape drugs are put into drinks in order to drug the unsuspecting victim.
This drug can render the victim disoriented and can cause prolonged unconsciousness and serious medical problems.
Never allow a stranger to “buy” you a drink and never leave your drink unattended.
Several American citizens have reported thefts of property following ingestion of such substances.

Every year, 15 to 20 American citizens are arrested for attempting to traffic drugs between Ecuador and the United States, or between mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos.
Suitcases with false bottoms and other packages are common methods of transporting illegal substances. Many of these citizens claim to have been unaware that they were transporting drugs.
As in any other country, do not accept gifts, packages, or suitcases from other persons; even trusted travel companions have been known to take advantage of their friends and family to traffic drugs through Ecuador’s airports. See the Criminal Penalties section below for more details about Ecuador strict laws and sentences regarding illegal drug trafficking.

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

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
Female victims of crime may receive assistance from the Comisaria de la Mujer at Ave. 24 de Mayo y Calle Loja, telephone 593 2 228 4016 or the Oficina de Derechos de la Mujer, Guayanas E-331 y Inglaterra, Quito 593 2 252 9909.
The local equivalent to the emergency line in Ecuador is the same as the U.S., dial “911”. The operators typically speak Spanish only. Victims should also call the Embassy or Consulate to report the crime and for assistance.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Adequate medical and dental care can be readily obtained in the major cities of Ecuador.
In smaller communities and in the Galapagos Islands services are limited, and the quality is variable and generally below U.S. standards.
Ambulances, with or without trained emergency staff, are in critically short supply.
Acute surgical and cardiac services are not available on the Galapagos Islands.
Serious cases must be evacuated to the Ecuadorian mainland or the United States for treatment.
Pharmacies are readily available in any city.
However, the availability of some medications is sporadic, and formulations and brand names will differ from products available in the U.S.
Narcotics and tranquilizers are extremely limited in availability.
“Pharmacists” sometimes prescribe and dispense medications.
These individuals often have little training and prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics and other inappropriate medications.
Travelers should not seek their advice.
Folk healers and traditional markets offer herbal and folk remedies which should be avoided as formulations are questionable and some components may interact with other prescription medications.

Travelers to Quito (close to 10,000 feet) and other highland areas may require some time to adjust to the altitude, which can adversely affect blood pressure, digestion, and energy level.
Travelers are encouraged to consult with their personal health care providers before undertaking high-altitude travel.
In particular, travelers with heart or lung problems and persons with sickle cell trait may develop serious health complications at high altitudes.

Scuba divers in the Galapagos Islands should be aware of limited facilities for decompression.
A privately owned decompression chamber is available on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands.
The Ecuadorian Navy operates a second decompression chamber at the San Eduardo Naval Base in Guayaquil.
Due to the high costs for these services and associated emergency transportation, divers are advised to obtain adequate medical evacuation and divers insurance.

Travelers should be aware of the presence of malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever in areas of Ecuador below 4,500’ elevation.
Historically there has not been dengue or malaria in the Galapagos archipelago, and yellow fever has only occurred in the Amazon Basin.
Travelers who are on an appropriate anti-malarial drug have a greatly reduced chance of contracting malaria, while vaccine can provide protection against yellow fever.
Avoiding mosquito bites is the only effective prevention for dengue and personal protective measures, such as the use of insect repellents, help to reduce the risk of contracting all of these illnesses.
Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a high-risk area, and for up to one year thereafter, should seek prompt medical attention.
For additional information on malaria or dengue, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarials, consult the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization web sites listed below.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Ecuador.
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 web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith .

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

Road travel throughout Ecuador can be dangerous, especially at night.
Many roads are poorly maintained or unmarked.
Heavy rains and mudslides often close or wash out roads.
Heavy fog is common in mountainous areas.
Driving practices differ from U.S. standards.
Inter-urban and inter-provincial bus passengers are often targets of crime, including robbery and sexual assault.

Highways are often unmarked and do not have signs indicating destinations.
Road safety features such as crash barriers and guardrails along steep mountainsides are rare.
In the countryside livestock are often herded along roads or graze on roadsides.
Many roads are used for pedestrian and animal traffic as well as vehicular traffic.
Driving habits vary from region to region.
In general, drivers in Quito and the mountain areas and the Oriente (eastern jungle) drive more slowly, observe traffic signals, and slow down for speed bumps.
Vehicles are reasonably well maintained.
On the coast, drivers have a more liberal approach to vehicle maintenance and traffic regulations.
In all areas buses, both intra-city and intercity, will stop at any point on their route to pick up or drop off passengers.
Speed bumps abound, even on major highways such as the Pan American Highway, to slow traffic.
Drivers turn right and left from any lane and do not yield for pedestrians and cyclists.

Intoxicated drivers can be encountered at any time, but they are especially prevalent on weekends and holidays.
Ecuador’s frontier regions are largely rural, poor, and lack police presence.
Because drug traffickers, criminal organizations, and smugglers of all types use clandestine border crossings to move their goods, the U.S. Embassy advises against driving on all but the most traveled highways.

If you are the driver of a vehicle involved in an automobile accident, you will likely be taken into police custody, especially if injuries are involved.
You are almost certain to spend some time in jail until all parties are satisfied that responsibility has been assigned and adequate financial satisfaction received.
Drivers may face criminal charges if injuries or damages are serious.
When driving your own vehicle or a rented vehicle, be sure to have proper vehicle registration papers with you.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.turismo.gov.ec/ and the Ministerio de Transporte y Obras Publicas, the national authority responsible for road safety, at http://www.mtop.gov.ec/ .

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Ecuador's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Ecuador'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
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS: A significant number of Ecuadorian tour vessels operating in the Galapagos Islands are neither inspected nor operated in accordance with U.S. regulations, and do not meet U.S. safety standards.
The Government of Ecuador requires that vessels carrying more than sixteen passengers comply with the International Safety Management (ISM) code established by the International Maritime Organization.
However, the quality of inspections, oversight, crewmember proficiency evaluation, and other requisites for safe vessel operation may vary substantially.
Tour boat accidents are more frequent among small vessels (those carrying fewer than sixteen passengers), but travelers should inquire about safety features of any vessel, regardless of size. When boarding vessels be sure to look for the life boats, floatation devices and if possible take a moment to inspect the life vest you would be using if there were an accident.

There have been at least three cases in 2004-2006 in which small quantities of drugs have been placed by unknown persons in unsecured pockets of tourists' checked bags, including backpacks, en route to the Galapagos.
Upon arrival, these drugs have been detected by police canine units, and the owners of the bags have been arrested and detained for months while the cases are resolved.
Travelers are advised to secure all parts of their bags thoroughly before checking them on flights to the Galapagos.

Strikes and disturbances by local fisherman in the Galapagos Islands have become violent on occasion.
While tourists have not been targeted, the incidents affected their movement and access to some sites.
Such disturbances have been minimal since April 2004, but the issue remains unsettled and could resurface at any time.

The islands are over 600 miles from the mainland and help may be slow in arriving in case of emergency.
The Government of Ecuador has very limited search and rescue capabilities.
Travelers to the Galapagos are encouraged to contact tour operators and visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs' web site for the most recent information when planning their trips to the Galapagos.

OTHER LEGAL ISSUES: Under Ecuadorian law, business disputes that normally would be handled by civil litigation in the United States may be converted into criminal proceedings.
This provision of the law has been used to impose travel prohibitions against resident U.S. citizens, and it also has led to the arrest and incarceration of U.S. business people while they were awaiting a hearing on the civil matter.

When considering purchasing property in Ecuador, Americans should be aware that competing claims to property might only surface after an apparently legal sale has been made.
Deficiencies in the Ecuadorian system for surveying and registering property and weaknesses in the judicial system mean that these disputes can last years.
The Mission is aware of several cases of American citizen land owners in Ecuador being threatened with physical harm and/or confiscation of their property by individuals claiming rights to the land, and, in at least one case, buildings have been razed.
American citizens considering buying property in Ecuador should engage a competent attorney and carefully research land title issues before making a purchase.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Ecuador has 19 potentially active volcanoes, including nine that have shown recent activity.
Earthquakes occur frequently.
Three active volcanoes within 50 kilometers of Quito pose a significant threat to the city: Guagua Pichincha, Cotopaxi, and Reventador.
The primary threat is from failures of transportation, water, communications, and power systems due to heavy ash fall and damage to infrastructure outside the city.
Air transportation is especially vulnerable.
Potentially serious respiratory problems are caused by inhalation of ash.

The town of Banos, a popular tourist destination approximately 120 kilometers south of Quito, is at the base of the Tungurahua Volcano.
Tungurahua has erupted explosively several times since 1999, most recently in February of 2008, causing deaths and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.
Explosive eruptions can occur with little warning.
The resulting flows of mud and lava could pose a significant and immediate threat to Banos and other population centers in the vicinity.
Travelers should to be aware of these conditions when choosing to stay overnight in Banos, especially on the western side of the town, and should be ready to evacuate on short notice.

Other volcanoes active in Ecuador include Reventador, 100 kilometers east of Quito, and Cotopaxi, 50 kilometers south of Quito.
In 2002, lava and mudflows caused by Reventador volcano closed a major Quito/northern-border highway and volcanic ash blanketed Quito, shutting down the Quito airport for several days.

The Quito City Government and the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute monitor these volcanoes and issue regular reports on their activity.
In the event of eruptions, travelers should pay close attention to the news media for updates on the situation.
Other volcanoes in Ecuador may also exhibit increased activity at any time.
Further information is available via the Internet from the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute at http://www.igepn.edu.ec/ and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/VAAC/guag.html .

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS:
Ecuadorian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Ecuador of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, electronic equipment, and currency.
Contact the Embassy of Ecuador in Washington, D.C., or one of Ecuador’s consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. 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 Ecuadorian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ecuador 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 Ecuadorian government is required by international law to notify the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. Consulate promptly when an American citizen is arrested and requests such notification.
Delays in notification can limit the assistance the U.S. Government can provide an arrested American citizen.
Therefore, Americans should promptly identify themselves as such to arresting officers and request that the U.S. Embassy in Quito or the U.S. Consulate in Guayaquil be notified immediately.

Prison conditions in Ecuador are extremely poor.
In many facilities food is insufficient in both quantity and quality, and prisoners must pay for adequate nutrition from their own funds.
Most Ecuadorian prisons provide poor medical care, and urgent medical conditions may receive only minimal attention.
The Guayaquil penitentiary medical clinic does not have medicine but is staffed with medical personnel. Prisoners must personally pay to have someone outside of the prison obtain medicine and prescriptions. Those accused of crimes in Ecuador can expect lengthy delays before trial and sentencing.
The accused are usually incarcerated while awaiting trial and sentencing, and in the case of serious crimes, bail is generally not an option.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information on 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 Ecuador are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Ecuador.
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 Quito is located at Avigiras E12-170 y Eloy Alfaro.
The telephone during business hours (8:00a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) is (011) 593 2 398 5000.
For after-hours emergencies use (011) 593 2 398 5000. Within the same city use the last seven digits.
Add the city code for intercity telephone calls.
The Embassy's web site is http://ecuador.usembassy.gov/
The U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil is located at the corner of 9 de Octubre and Garcia Moreno (near the Hotel Oro Verde); telephone (011-593-4) 232-3570 during business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) or 232-1152 for after-hours emergencies; fax (011-593-4) 232-0904.
The Consulate General's web site is http://guayaquil.usconsulate.gov/.

Consular services for U.S. citizens in the Galapagos Islands are provided by the Consulate General in Guayaquil with assistance from a U.S. Consular Agent in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos, at (05) 2526-330 or (05) 2526-296.

The Consular Section in Quito is open for American Citizen Services, including registration, from 1:30 to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday, excluding U.S. and Ecuadorian holidays.
In order to provide better customer service and reduce waiting times, the American Citizen Services section in Guayaquil uses an online appointment system. Appointments are available from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Notary appointments are Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., excluding U.S. and Ecuadorian holidays. Walk-in service remains available, but customers with appointments take precedence.
To make an appointment, go to http://guayaquil.usconsulate.gov/online_appointments.html
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Ecuador dated March 28, 2008, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Information for Victims of Crime, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 08:22:40 +0200 (METDST)
By Paola LÓPEZ

Quito, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - As much of Ecuador went into lockdown against the coronavirus, scientists shipped out of the Galapagos, leaving important research activity frozen and the Pacific archipelago's tourism in deep crisis.   Authorities are desperately hoping for a revival of the vital tourism industry -- the main engine of the local economy -- once visitors are allowed to fly in again from July 1.

In the meantime, local officials say they have to take a leaf out of English naturalist Charles Darwin's book and "adapt to survive."   Darwin based his theory of evolution on his studies of the islands' unique flora and fauna. But dozens of researchers following in his footsteps had to leave before air links were shut down as the pandemic advanced.   "Science has to a large extent been paralyzed these days in the Galapagos," Diego Quiroga of Quito's San Francisco University told AFP.

Sixteen researchers of various nationalities from the university's Galapagos Science Center were repatriated along with 50 US students when Ecuador shut its borders, suspended flights and imposed strict restrictions on movement in mid-March.   The move meant that the Galapagos was largely spared the devastating impact of the virus felt on the mainland.   Ecuador, a country of 17 million, has more than 40,000 infections with 3,500 deaths.   The Galapagos is the least affected of its provinces, with fewer than 80 infections among its 30,000 population.

- Research suspended -
The 76 projects being carried out under the Center's auspices remain in limbo, and an international congress set to draw 200 scientists to the archipelago was canceled.   The Charles Darwin Foundation, which has been operating on the islands for 60 years, had to shelve 20 research programs.

Around 30 of its scientists and volunteers who were carrying out field work "had to abandon their investigation sites," said Maria Jose Barragan, the foundation's CEO and science director.   With them went "an important season of investigation into the reproductive cycle of birds" in the Galapagos, she said.   The Galapagos National Park (PNG), a public body responsible for conservation of the archipelago, continues to operate.

- Adapting to less -
The Charles Darwin Foundation fears, however, the long-term impact of the pandemic on future research.   "I think the global picture for the conservation sector, regarding acquisition and availability of funds, will change becaus there will likely
be other interests" competing for funds, said Barragan.   "We have to adapt, which is actually the principle of the theory of evolution: change and adapt," she said.

Galapagos Science Center head Carlos Mena says he does not believe "funding for science is decreasing, but yes, it will move to other sectors, such as economic rejuvenation or the study of diseases and viruses."   As things stand, any freeze in research projects affects livelihoods on the archipelago.   Mena says this will translate into almost a million dollars in lost revenue for 2020. "Science brings in revenue. It's not huge, not like tourism, but yes, it generates revenue."

In the months of lockdown, between March and May, the Galapagos -- which had more than 270,000 visitors last year -- lost $200 million in tourism revenue, according to the Provincial Chamber of Tourism.   "The revenue is zero. There have been no tourists, therefore no admissions to the park, nor the economic revenue" they generate, said park director Andres Ordonez.

Mena believes tourism will come back stronger after the coronavirus, saying the work of researchers can "serve as a guide for better tourism" in the islands with their fragile ecosystems.   "The Galapagos have always been considered as a laboratory for studying the evolution of species," he said. "We can also see them as a laboratory for building tourism or a better model of society than before the pandemic."
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 01:15:01 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Demonstrators defied coronavirus restrictions to march in cities across Ecuador on Monday in protest against President Lenin Moreno's drastic economic measures to tackle the crisis.   Moreno last week announced public spending cuts including the closure of state companies and embassies around the world, but trade unions Monday said workers were paying a disproportionate price compared to Ecuador's elite.   "This protest is because the government is firing workers to avoid making the rich pay," Mecias Tatamuez, head of the county's largest union, the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), told reporters at a march in Quito.

Around 2,000 people marched in the capital, waving flags and banners and shouting anti-government slogans.   The protesters wore masks and respected distancing measures recommended against the spread of the coronavirus that has caused at least 3,200 deaths in the country, making it South America's worst hit nation per capita. Authorities say more than 2,000 further deaths are likely linked to the virus.

Demonstrations took place in several other cities, including Guayaquil, the epicentre of Ecuador's health crisis, where union leaders said hundreds marched through the city.   Moreno ordered the closure of Ecuadoran embassies, a reduction in diplomatic staff and scrapped seven state companies as part of measures designed to save some $4 billion.    He also announced the liquidation of the TAME airline, which has lost more than $400 million over the last five years.

The government says the pandemic has so far cost the economy at least $8 billion.   Public sector working hours have been cut by 25 percent, with an accompanying 16 percent pay cut.   Moreno said on Sunday that 150,000 people had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.   Ecuador was struggling economically before the pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil.   The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by 6.3 percent this year, the sharpest drop of any country in South America.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 22:32:53 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Troops and police in Ecuador have collected at least 150 bodies from streets and homes in the country's most populous city Guayaquil amid warnings that as many as 3,500 people could die of the coronavirus in the city and surrounding province in the coming months.   A joint military and police task force sent out to gather corpses in the horror-struck port city had  collected 150 in just three days, government spokesman Jorge Wated said late Wednesday.

Residents had published videos on social media showing abandoned bodies in the streets in the Latin American city worst hit by the pandemic.   Some left desperate messages for authorities to take away the corpses of people who had died in their homes.   Authorities have not confirmed how many of the dead were victims of the coronavirus.

Rosa Romero, 51, lost her husband Bolivar Reyes and had to wait a day for his body to be removed from their home.    A week later, amid the chaos of the city's mortuary system, she does not know where it is.   "In the forensic bureau they told us that they had taken him to the Guasmo Hospital. We went there to find him but he was not registered anywhere," Romero told AFP.   A 15-hour curfew imposed in the city makes further searching difficult.

- Government apology -
The government's spokesman apologized in a message broadcast on state television late Wednesday.   He said mortuary workers had been unable to keep up with the removal of bodies because of the curfew.   "We acknowledge any errors and apologize to those who had to wait days for their loved ones to be taken away," Wated said.    Mortuary workers in masks and protective clothing were seen carrying plastic-wrapped coffins in the city on Wednesday as authorities tried to cope with the backlog of dead.

Work at cemeteries and funeral homes has stalled, with staffers reluctant to handle the dead over contagion fears.   Ecuador is the Latin American country worst hit by the virus after Brazil, with more than 3,160 infections and 120 deaths by Thursday morning.

Guayaquil has Latin America's highest mortality rate from COVID-19 with 1.35 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants -- higher than the 0.92 per 100,000 registered in Brazil's epicenter Sao Paulo -- according to Esteban Ortiz from Ecuador's University of the Americas.    Guayaquil's surrounding province of Guayas has 70 percent of the country's COVID-19 infections.   Ecuador's first reported case of COVID-19 was a 71-year-old Ecuadoran woman who arrived in Guayaquil from Spain on February 14.

- 'Difficult days ahead' -
Wated said the government is preparing for even more difficult days ahead.   "The medical experts unfortunately estimate that deaths from COVID in these months will reach between 2,500 and 3,500 -- in the province of Guayas alone, and we are preparing for that," he said.   Autopsies have been restricted and the government, which has banned usually crowded funeral services, initially insisted that COVID-19 victims be cremated but was forced to relent after a public backlash.   "We are working so that each person can be buried with dignity in one-person spaces," Wated said, referring to a government-run cemetery being made available with capacity for around 2,000 bodies.

Last month, the city's mayor Cynthia Viteri sent municipal vehicles to block an Iberia plane sent to repatriate stranded foreigners from landing at the city's international airport.    But Viteri was unapologetic as the number of cases spiraled in her city.   "I take responsibility for protecting my city," she said.
Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2020 17:10:49 +0100 (MET)

Quito, March 24, 2020 (AFP) - The coronavirus pandemic has reached Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site, an official source said on Tuesday.   Norman Wray, president of the Galapagos Government Council, told the state EcuadorTV channel that tests results  on Monday established that four people had contracted the COVID-19 disease.   The four permanent residents of the archipelago had returned to the islands from the port of Guayaquil, the worst affected city in Ecuador with more than half of its near 1,000 confirmed cases.   The archipelago of volcanic islands lies just over 900 kilometres to the west of Ecuador.

English naturalist, biologist and geologist Charles Darwin developed his Theory of Evolution after studying endemic species in the Galapagos islands.   More than 30,000 people live on the islands, which have a limited medical infrastructure.   A week ago, the government ordered a total ban on visitors to the islands, where measures are already in place to restrict the movement of people.   In 2019, more than 270,000 people visited the Galapagos islands, including many from countries that have been badly affected by the coronavirus, such as France, Spain and the United States.

Without giving more details, Wray said there was "still a large number of people who went to Galapagos more than 14 days ago who haven't been able to leave," both foreigners and Ecuadorans.    Ecuador, one of the worst coronavirus-affected countries in Latin America, has taken a number of steps to combat the spread of the disease, including closing its borders, night-time curfews, restrictions on the circulation of vehicles, a closure of schools and universities, a lockdown, and a state of exception.   The infected people in the Galapagos will undergo health protocols before being transferred to the mainland, the regional government said.
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2020 18:28:20 +0100 (MET)

Quito, March 19, 2020 (AFP) - A plane operated by Spanish carrier Iberia sent to Ecuador to pick up stranded foreigners was prevented from landing at an airport in Guayaquil, which is under lockdown over the coronavirus, officials said Thursday.   Cynthia Viteri, mayor of Ecuador's second city, said she ordered vehicles to block the runway of the international airport to prevent the plane from landing.   "I take responsibility for sending vehicles from the municipality of Guayaquil to prevent the Iberia plane from landing with 11 passengers from Madrid," Viteri said n a video posted on social media.   The flight from Madrid, with only crew aboard, was able to land later in Quito.

Ecuador has banned all flights since Monday to stop the spread of the coronavirus.   However, the transport ministry said it was allowing empty planes to arrive in order to collect foreigners trying to leave the country, and it condemned the mayor's actions, saying they "complicated planned aviation activity."   Prosecutors have launched an investigation into the incident.   Viteri said she ordered the plane blocked because the surrounding province of Guayas is isolated from the rest of the country and has the largest number of the country's infections -- 128 of the 168 cases registered to date.   "I take responsibility for protecting my city," she said.
More ...

Puerto Rico

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 15 Mar 2020 23:58:27 +0100 (MET)

San Juan, March 15, 2020 (AFP) - The US territory of Puerto Rico on Sunday ordered a 9:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, the strongest measure yet taken on American soil.   It took effect immediately and lasts until March 30.   "Faced with the possibility of transmission and propagation of the virus, I have ordered the imposition of a curfew for all residents of Puerto Rico," Governor Wanda Vazquez announced in a video message.   "We must take every precaution to ensure that we do not become potential carriers," Vazquez said.

The Caribbean territory of 2.9 million, whose residents are US citizens, also will close many businesses from Sunday until the end of the month, she said.   That includes malls, movie theaters, concert venues, gyms, bars and other businesses that bring together large crowds on the island popular with tourists.   The exceptions will be businesses in the food supply chain, and in the medical care system, as well as drugstores, gas stations, banks and senior citizens' group homes.

At night, only those who are providing or receiving medical care, or carrying out essential duties, will be allowed to be on Puerto Rico's streets.   Anyone defying the curfew faces a six-month jail term and a fine of up to $5,000.   The island declared a state of emergency when its first cases were reported March 12. The island has reported five cases.   On Friday, Vazquez accepted the resignation of Health Secretary Rafael Rodriguez Mercado, who was under fire for his handling the coronavirus emergency.

Recently, island residents were irate when two warehouses were found to be filled with abandoned supplies, apparently never used after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.   The storms' one-two punch left Puerto Ricans without power for months and killed nearly 3,000 people, according to the local government's official numbers.   President Donald Trump has accused the Puerto Rican government of incompetence and siphoning off hurricane relief money.   The Puerto Rican leaders accused Trump of treating the population of the island like second class citizens.
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:45:27 +0100 (MET)
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.
Date: Sat, 11 Jan 2020 15:43:12 +0100 (MET)

Washington, Jan 11, 2020 (AFP) - A 5.9 magnitude earthquake rocked Puerto Rico Saturday, the latest in a series of powerful tremors that have shaken the US territory in recent days, the US Geological Survey reported.

The latest quake occurred at 8:54 am local time (1254 GMT) around 13 kilometres (eight miles) southeast of Guanica, a town on the island's southern Caribbean coastline that was hard hit by earlier quakes.   The USGS revised its initial report of a 6.0 magnitude quake to 5.9.   It follows a 6.4 magnitude quake Tuesday that killed one person, knocked
out electric power and caused widespread damage.

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez declared a state of emergency after Tuesday's quake, which forced an automatic shutdown of the power grid.    Puerto Rico's electric power authority reported outages in the towns of Ponce, Lares, Adjuntas and San German after the latest quake.   The Pacific Tsunami Information Center in Hawaii issued a statement saying there was "no significant tsunami threat" but a small possibility of tsunami waves along coasts nearest the epicentre.

The island is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which came ashore more than two years ago as a devastating Category 4 storm.   Starting December 28, a wave of tremors have swept the island, putting residents on edge.   The 6.4 quake on January 7 came a day after a 5.8 magnitude quake; it was followed by major aftershocks.   Saturday's quakes were also preceded by a string of smaller tremors.
Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2020 23:44:45 +0100 (MET)
By Ricardo Arduengo

Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, Jan 7, 2020 (AFP) - Puerto Rico's governor declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after a powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake killed at least one person in the south of the island and caused widespread damage.   Governor Wanda Vazquez said the declaration would allow for the activation of National Guard troops in the US territory still recovering from a devastating 2017 hurricane.   The US Geological Survey said the quake struck at 4:24 am (0824 GMT) with the epicenter off the coast of the southern city of Ponce, and was followed by more than a dozen aftershocks.

Tuesday's quake was the most powerful in a series of tremors that have shaken the island since December 28.   Scientists initially sent out an alert about a potential tsunami but it was later canceled.   The island's electricity authority said the quake had forced an automatic shutdown of the power grid, already severely damaged by Hurricane Maria more than two years ago.   The worst damage appeared to be in towns on the southwest coast, including Ponce, Guayanilla and Guanica.   El Nuevo Dia newspaper said a 73-year-old man died after a wall fell in his home in Ponce. Eight others there were reported injured.

Two power plants in Guayanilla sustained major damage, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said. The city could be without power for two weeks, its mayor Nelson Torres Yordan said.   Celebrity chef Jose Andres announced that a charity he runs, World Central Kitchen, had started serving meals and distributing solar-powered lamps in quake-hit areas.   Vazquez announced that $130 million in emergency aid funding will be disbursed.   On social media, people wrote of being shaken awake by the force of the quake.   One woman on Twitter said she had been "wrenched from sleep."   "Everybody is awake & scared all over," she posted.   In Guayanilla, the Inmaculada Concepcion church, built in 1841, was heavily damaged.   Volunteers salvaged statues and other valuable items from the ruins as a priest consoled distraught parishioners.

- 'Be safe' -
A 5.8 magnitude quake on Monday toppled some structures, caused power outages and small landslides, but did not result in any casualties.   It also destroyed a popular tourist landmark, Punta Ventana, a natural stone arch that crumbled on the island's southern coast.   Vazquez, the governor, said government employees were being given the day off on Tuesday to take care of their families.   "We want everyone to be safe," she said.   She said ports were undamaged and there are several weeks' supply of gasoline, diesel and natural gas stored so people need not worry about shortages.

The White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed and Pete Gaynor, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), had been in touch with the governor.   Trump's administration came under severe criticism for its response to Hurricane Maria.   The Category 4 storm destroyed the island's already shaky power grid, overwhelmed public services, left many residents homeless and claimed several thousand lives, according to government estimates.
Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2020 12:52:34 +0100 (MET)

Washington, Jan 7, 2020 (AFP) - A strong earthquake struck south of Puerto Rico early Tuesday, the US Geological Survey said, the latest in a series of tremors that have shaken the island since December 28.   The shallow 6.5 magnitude quake struck 13.6 kilometres (8.5 miles) south of the city of Ponce, the USGS said, revising down its initial reading of 6.6.   The quake struck just off the US territory's southern Caribbean coastline at 4:24 am local time (0824 GMT).   "The whole island is without power," the director of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Jose Ortiz, told local media.

Puerto Rico's governor Wanda Vazquez Garced posted on Twitter that the government's security protocols had been activated.   She said government employees were not expected at work, adding: "We want everyone to be safe."   On social media, people wrote of being shaken awake by the force of the quake.   One woman on Twitter said she had been "wrenched from sleep", adding "Everybody is awake & scared all over."

Dramatic images also shared on social media appeared to show widespread damage in the town of Guayanilla, home to around 20,000 people, as well as nearby Guanica.   The mayor of Guayanilla told local news channel NotiUno that the town's church had collapsed in the incident.

An alert issued by the Tsunami Warning Center immediately following the earthquake was later cancelled.   Tuesday's quake was the strongest of a series of tremors that have shaken the island since December 28, topping Monday's 5.8 quake.   That earthquake toppled houses and caused power outages, but there were no reports of casualties.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sat, 6 Jun 2020 11:29:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Lisa GOLDEN

Nicosia, June 6, 2020 (AFP) - Cyprus opens back up for international tourism on Tuesday, with airports welcoming visitors after an almost three-month shutdown, and a bold plan to cover health care costs for visitors.    But with arrivals expected to be down by 70 percent this year due to the chaos brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, it's a leap of faith for the small Mediterranean holiday island.   "Nobody here is expecting to make any money this year", Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios told AFP.    "We are setting the stage for the beginning of our recovery in 2021."

The divided island's tourism sector normally accounts for around 15 percent of GDP but has dried up in past months amid global measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.    Cyprus saw a record 3.97 million arrivals in 2019, with more than half its market made up of British and Russian visitors.   But even if the island's airports in Larnaca and Paphos will open up to arrivals on Tuesday with the first flight due to arrive from Athens around midday (0900GMT), neither Britain or Russia are among the 19 countries allowed to land there.

The list of permitted countries, which also include Bulgaria, Germany and Malta, have been chosen based on epidemiological data and split into two categories.    Initially all travellers will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test undertaken within 72 hours of travel, but from June 20, only those arriving from six countries in the second category, such as Poland and Romania, will need to do so.    The government says the lists will be revised weekly and more countries can be added.

Cyprus will also cover accommodation, dining and medical care for any tourists who fall ill with the COVID-19 illness during their stay, as well as accommodation and meals for their families and close contacts.    "What we offer and what we sell is not the sun and the sea, it's hospitality, and this is an extension of our hospitality," Perdios said.     The government has designated a 100-bed COVID-19 hospital for tourists that Perdios said would be located in the Larnaca region, while 112 ICU units have been allocated for visitors.     Perdios said several four-star hotels would provide 500 quarantine rooms for close contacts of those who fall ill.

- 'Right thing to do' -
A raft of other health measures, including disinfection protocols and temperature checks at border controls, aim to protect travellers and locals alike.    "We've gone to big lengths to think ahead of things that could go wrong and try to devise plan Bs and Cs", Perdios said.     The Republic of Cyprus, in the south of the island, has registered 960 novel coronavirus cases and 17 deaths.   Perdios expressed hope that British tourists could be welcomed "sometime after mid-July", with Russia "slightly later, maybe by a couple of weeks".

A recently announced deal with Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air to open a base in Cyprus from July was also an important step towards expanding and diversifying the island's tourist markets, he said.   While no date has been set to allow international tourists to visit the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, only recognised by Ankara, the health care commitment would still apply to those visiting the north during their stay once the crossings are reopened.   "I am very confident that not only will we be able to continue providing our citizens with protection, but also caring for everybody who comes to the island on holiday", he said.     "If we are coming out with a scheme like this, it's because we can afford it, but most importantly, because we feel that it's the right thing to do."
Date: Sat, 6 Jun 2020 00:50:56 +0200 (METDST)

Orlando, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - Tourists donned masks Friday and visited the attractions at Universal Orlando, the first of the major theme parks in Florida to open since the COVID-19 pandemic shut them down almost three months ago.   Universal Orlando resort and the other theme parks in this central Florida city closed on March 15 to prevent the spread of coronavirus.    New back-to-fun rules at the park include temperature controls at the entrance, mandatory use of face masks, markers on the ground to help enforce social distancing and posters thanking the public for their help "during this unprecedented time."

Universal Orlando is only reopening at 35 percent capacity and has launched a system of virtual lines in which space can be reserved, to avoid queues and crowds.    Terrence Wilson, 19, was happy with the result. "There's not a lot of people. I can get on all the rides without having to wait 40 minutes or an hour" he told the Orlando Sentinel.

On Monday, the Legoland Florida park opened in the city of Winter Haven, while SeaWorld in Orlando is scheduled to open on June 10.    The largest of Orlando's parks, Walt Disney World, will open on July 11.    That day the park's Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom sections will begin operating, while EPCOT and Hollywood Studios will follow suit on July 15.    Orlando is home to most of the state's theme parks and every year welcomes millions of tourists from all over the world.
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 20:36:47 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Friday announced a renewed lockdown in the city of Jeddah, gateway to the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, to counter a new spike in coronavirus cases.   "After reviewing the epidemiological situation and the high occupancy rates of intensive care departments, it was decided to take strict health precautions in the city of Jeddah for two weeks," starting from Saturday, the health ministry said.   The measures include a curfew running from 3 pm to 6 am, a suspension of prayers in mosques and a stay-at-home order for public and private sector workers in the Red Sea city whose airport serves Mecca pilgrims.

After an easing of precautions in the kingdom in late May, the ministry said that strict measures could also soon return to Riyadh, which was "witnessing a continuous increase during the last days" of critical cases of the pandemic.   Saudi Arabia has declared almost 96,000 coronavirus infections and 642 deaths from the Covid-19 respiratory disease, the heaviest toll in the Gulf.   It has suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading to Islam's holiest cities.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj, scheduled for the end of July, but have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in the hajj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 16:43:41 +0200 (METDST)
By Joe STENSON

Dublin, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland will dramatically accelerate its plan to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the coming days, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Friday.   "Today I can confirm that it is safe to move to phase two of the plan to reopen our country starting on Monday," Varadkar told a press conference.   "I'm also announcing an acceleration of the roadmap."   More workplaces will open and household visits will be permitted from Monday in line with the government plan to reopen the Republic announced in May.

However an escalation of the scheme will see citizens allowed to travel across their county of residence and/or up to 20 kilometres (12 miles) from home.   All shops will also be permitted to reopen whilst the final stage of the "roadmap" to end lockdown -- in place since 28 March -- will be brought forward from August to July.   Playgrounds will reopen while the government now intends to allow hotels, restaurants and bars serving food to resume trade on June 29.   "We are making progress, we are heading in the right direction, and we have earned the right to be hopeful about the future again," Varadkar said.   Ireland has suffered 1,664 deaths from the coronavirus, according to official figures.   Recorded deaths peaked at 77 in a single day in April, but by Thursday that figure had fallen to just five.

The Republic last Monday registered its first day without any COVID-19 deaths in more than two months, one week after entering the first phase of its plan to leave lockdown.   "We've proved we can suppress the virus, but now we do face another test," said health minister Simon Harris.   "We must prove we can live alongside it and keep it weak at the same time."

The easing includes provisions for shops to hold staggered opening hours and social distancing measures to remain in place.   "We must remain careful, cautious vigilant, and together," Harris added.   Finance minister Paschal Donohoe announced Friday that a government wage subsidy scheme enacted when the nation entered lockdown will be extended until the end of August.   To date, 1.37 billion ($1.55 billion) euros has been paid to half a million employees.   But he warned "this support cannot last forever" and he expected to see a continued decline in reliance on the scheme.
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 08:22:40 +0200 (METDST)
By Paola LÓPEZ

Quito, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - As much of Ecuador went into lockdown against the coronavirus, scientists shipped out of the Galapagos, leaving important research activity frozen and the Pacific archipelago's tourism in deep crisis.   Authorities are desperately hoping for a revival of the vital tourism industry -- the main engine of the local economy -- once visitors are allowed to fly in again from July 1.

In the meantime, local officials say they have to take a leaf out of English naturalist Charles Darwin's book and "adapt to survive."   Darwin based his theory of evolution on his studies of the islands' unique flora and fauna. But dozens of researchers following in his footsteps had to leave before air links were shut down as the pandemic advanced.   "Science has to a large extent been paralyzed these days in the Galapagos," Diego Quiroga of Quito's San Francisco University told AFP.

Sixteen researchers of various nationalities from the university's Galapagos Science Center were repatriated along with 50 US students when Ecuador shut its borders, suspended flights and imposed strict restrictions on movement in mid-March.   The move meant that the Galapagos was largely spared the devastating impact of the virus felt on the mainland.   Ecuador, a country of 17 million, has more than 40,000 infections with 3,500 deaths.   The Galapagos is the least affected of its provinces, with fewer than 80 infections among its 30,000 population.

- Research suspended -
The 76 projects being carried out under the Center's auspices remain in limbo, and an international congress set to draw 200 scientists to the archipelago was canceled.   The Charles Darwin Foundation, which has been operating on the islands for 60 years, had to shelve 20 research programs.

Around 30 of its scientists and volunteers who were carrying out field work "had to abandon their investigation sites," said Maria Jose Barragan, the foundation's CEO and science director.   With them went "an important season of investigation into the reproductive cycle of birds" in the Galapagos, she said.   The Galapagos National Park (PNG), a public body responsible for conservation of the archipelago, continues to operate.

- Adapting to less -
The Charles Darwin Foundation fears, however, the long-term impact of the pandemic on future research.   "I think the global picture for the conservation sector, regarding acquisition and availability of funds, will change becaus there will likely
be other interests" competing for funds, said Barragan.   "We have to adapt, which is actually the principle of the theory of evolution: change and adapt," she said.

Galapagos Science Center head Carlos Mena says he does not believe "funding for science is decreasing, but yes, it will move to other sectors, such as economic rejuvenation or the study of diseases and viruses."   As things stand, any freeze in research projects affects livelihoods on the archipelago.   Mena says this will translate into almost a million dollars in lost revenue for 2020. "Science brings in revenue. It's not huge, not like tourism, but yes, it generates revenue."

In the months of lockdown, between March and May, the Galapagos -- which had more than 270,000 visitors last year -- lost $200 million in tourism revenue, according to the Provincial Chamber of Tourism.   "The revenue is zero. There have been no tourists, therefore no admissions to the park, nor the economic revenue" they generate, said park director Andres Ordonez.

Mena believes tourism will come back stronger after the coronavirus, saying the work of researchers can "serve as a guide for better tourism" in the islands with their fragile ecosystems.   "The Galapagos have always been considered as a laboratory for studying the evolution of species," he said. "We can also see them as a laboratory for building tourism or a better model of society than before the pandemic."
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 03:12:32 +0200 (METDST)

Rio de Janeiro, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - Brazil's death toll from the novel coronavirus has surged to become the third-highest in the world, surpassing Italy's, according to official figures released Thursday.   The South American country of 210 million people reported a new record of 1,473 deaths in 24 hours, bringing its overall toll to 34,021, from 614,941 infections, the health ministry said.   Italy has confirmed 33,689 deaths from 234,013 infections.
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 2020 22:34:29 +0200 (METDST)

Johannesburg, June 4, 2020 (AFP) - South Africa said Thursday it had recorded 3,267 novel coronavirus cases in 24 hours, the biggest jump since the pandemic hit the country.   Africa's biggest industrial power now has a total of 40,792 infections, the health ministry said. It saw a rise of 56 deaths for a total of 848 fatalities.   More than half of the cases are in the Western Cape region where health services are under pressure.

South Africa is the sub-Saharan African country hardest hit by the pandemic.   President Cyril Ramaphosa on March 27 ordered South Africans to observe a lockdown aimed at slowing the disease's spread.   The move sharply limited people's freedom of movement while slowing an economy already in recession.   But Ramaphosa has gradually eased the lockdown measures and allowed most of the economy to restart.
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 2020 18:41:36 +0200 (METDST)

London, June 4, 2020 (AFP) - Masks will be compulsory on public transport in England from next week to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, transport minister Grant Shapps said Thursday.   "As of 15th June, face coverings will be mandatory on public transport," he said at a daily briefing on the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak.   The government had previously advised people to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport but stopped short of making them compulsory.   They remain only a recommendation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whose devolved administrations have responsibility for transport.

The announcement was made as part of plans to ease lockdown restrictions in England, as infection rates and the number of deaths from COVID-19 falls.   A total of 39,904 people have died in the outbreak in Britain, according to the latest official figures, which is the second-highest toll in the world after the United States.   "We need to ensure every precaution is taken on buses, trains, aircraft and on ferries," said Shapps, calling the use of face coverings a "condition of travel".   Small children, the disabled and anyone with breathing difficulties would be exempt, he added.   "We expect the vast majority won't need to be forced into this," he said, but warned that anyone refusing to do so could be prevented from travelling or even fined.
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 2020 14:00:58 +0200 (METDST)

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, June 4, 2020 (AFP) - Rohingya refugees infected with coronavirus are fleeing quarantine in their Bangladesh camps because they fear being transferred to an isolated island in the Bay of Bengal, community leaders said Thursday.   At least two infected refugees have gone missing since testing positive for the virus after the first COVID-19 death was reported Tuesday, they said.

About one million Rohingya -- most of whom fled a military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017 -- are packed into camps along the Bangladesh border, and the coronavirus has become the latest cause of misery.   Aid agencies have long warned that the virus could cause chaos in the overcrowded camps, where social distancing is virtually impossible.   So far only 29 infections have been detected, although 16,000 Rohingya are in quarantine zones within the camps.

It was not immediately clear how many tests have been conducted in the camps, but a senior health official said two people who proved positive had "fled the isolation hospital".   He added that only 20 refugees agreed to be tested in the past two days because they believe those infected will be sent to Bhashan Char island in the Bay of Bengal.   "It has created mass panic," Nurul Islam, a community leader, told AFP.

Bangladesh authorities have long wanted to establish a camp for 100,000 people on the isolated island, and have already sent 306 Rohingya there.   "The Rohingya are petrified," the health official told AFP on condition of anonymity.   "We have told them they won't be sent anywhere."

Some 500 isolation beds have been prepared in the camps, but most are empty because so few confirmed cases have been found, according to the official.   The first Rohingya fatality from the coronavirus was announced only Tuesday, and health officials say they desperately need to increase testing to see how widespread the virus may be.   But Khalilur Rahman Khan, the government administrator of one camp block, said doctors told him refugees were reluctant to participate.

Several Rohingya leaders said the transfer of the 306 refugees to Bhashan Char had sparked rumours that anyone with coronavirus would be sent to join them.   "People are scared to go for virus tests," said Abu Zaman, a community leader.   Mohammad Shafi, a camp neighbour of the refugee whose death was announced Tuesday, said people who had coronavirus symptoms such as fever and aches insisted they only had seasonal flu.   "I tried to reassure them that this a curable disease and most people will recover, but many don't believe it," he said.
Date: Wed, 3 Jun 2020 22:25:42 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, June 3, 2020 (AFP) - Chile's government said Wednesday it was prolonging a three-week shutdown of the country's capital Santiago as the COVID-19 death toll reached a new daily record.   Health officials said 87 people had died in the previous 24 hours, and nearly 5,000 new infections were recorded.   The South American copper-exporting nation has now registered more than 113,000 infections and 1,275 deaths.

Health Minister Jaime Manalich confirmed the government was extending a three-week lockdown of the capital for another week.   The city is home to seven million of the country's 18 million population and produces half its GDP.    Manalich said the population's mobility had only been reduced by 30 percent, because of a large numbers of permits granted to those needed for essential activities.   "There are many permits," the minister said, warning that "for the quarantine to be effective, mobility needs to be reduced by at least 50 percent."

The minister appealed to people to minimize time spent outside of their homes to help reduce infections, especially in the coming weeks when emergency health services are expected to be operating at maximum capacity.   Already in Santiago, 97 percent of intensive care unit beds are occupied, while units in the rest of Chile report having reached 88 percent capacity.