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Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Benin dated August 17th, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finland

Finland - US Consular Information Sheet
January 13, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Finland is a highly developed democracy with a modern economy.
It is a member of the European Union.
Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read
the Department of State Background Notes on Finland for additional information.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
Finland is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Finland for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen fact sheet.

Travelers can contact the Embassy of Finland at 3301 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20008, tel: (202) 298-5800, or the Finnish Consulates General in Los Angeles or New York.
Additional information is available via the Internet at http://www.finland.org.
The U.S. Embassy in Helsinki is not able to assist private U.S. citizens in obtaining any necessary visas for neighboring countries, including Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

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:
Finland remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Finland’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
Elements of organized crime groups operating in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are present in Finland, but these do not represent a specific danger to U.S. citizen residents or tourists.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up to date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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

CRIME:
Although the crime rate in Finland is low compared to the U.S. and most European countries, it has increased in recent years; however, Finland remains a relatively safe environment.
Americans visiting Finland are seldom victims of crime, but visitors should not be complacent regarding personal safety or the protection of valuables.
The same precautions employed in the U.S. should be followed in Finland.
Finnish police services are excellent. Travelers should be aware that some police officers speak little English.
Due to the low crime rate, Finland has one of the lowest numbers of police officers of any European nation.
Outside of key sites in major urban centers, they rarely project a visible presence; consequently, response times to crisis situations may be unpredictable.
All forms of public transportation are considered safe.
Street crimes, such as muggings and pick-pocketing, remain uncommon, but do occur.

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

Finland has a program to provide financial compensation to victims who suffer serious criminal injuries.
According to existing regulations, the victim must report the incident to the police and file an application for compensation within 10 years of the date of the crime.
Finnish police routinely inform victims of serious crime of their right to seek compensation.
The relevant forms and further information can be obtained from http://www.treasuryfinland.fi.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Finland is 112.
Please see our additional information for Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

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 Finland’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Finland are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit 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
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Commercial and financial transactions in Finland are increasingly automated and on-line.
Cash is almost always acceptable (the currency is the euro), but most major credit cards are widely recognized.
Automatic Teller Machines are very common and many U.S.-issued bankcards are compatible with them.

MEDICAL FACILITIES and Health information:
In Finland, medical facilities and their staff are generally excellent and are widely available for emergency services.
English is commonly spoken by Finnish medical personnel.
Helsinki is a frequent medical evacuation point for emergency cases from the countries of the former Soviet Union.
The public hospital system and many private hospitals honor foreign credit cards.
Most pharmacies (“apteekki” in Finnish) are open during normal shopping hours and major cities have at least one 24-hour service pharmacy.
If you are a tourist or temporary visitor to Finland and you require immediate emergency medical assistance, you may visit a local medical center or clinic, called “ensiapuasema” (first-aid station) in Finnish.
Usually these stations are located at hospitals and provide a full range of services.
The emergency telephone number, 112, can be used throughout Finland to contact emergency medical services.
For more detailed information on medicines and medical issues, please visit the website of the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC at http://www.finland.org.
Travelers with special medical needs should consult with their personal physicians and take appropriate precautions, including bringing adequate supplies of necessary medication.
Medicines may be brought into the country as long as they are intended for the traveler’s personal use, however, there are special requirements concerning the quantity.
Medications categorized as narcotics may only be brought into the country to cover the traveler’s personal use for a maximum of 14 days and must be accompanied by a medical certificate stating why the traveler needs them.
For more detailed information, please contact the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC at http://www.finland.org
In addition, stringent Finnish customs regulations prohibit travelers from receiving drugs from abroad after having arrived in the country.
Travelers may also find local physicians reluctant to prescribe equivalent quantities of dosages.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Finland.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.
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 Finland is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Finnish roads are comparable to those in the U.S., though secondary roads may be less heavily traveled due to Finland’s sparse population outside the major urban areas.
These secondary routes often narrow to two lanes with a wider shoulder.
Slower vehicles are expected to move onto the shoulder to allow faster moving vehicles to pass.
Finland has an extensive network of highways throughout the country, as well as excellent public transportation services.
A valid U.S. driver’s license may be used while visiting Finland, but drivers must be at least 18 years of age.
Driving in Finland is on the right.
Traffic approaching from the right usually has priority, even if entering a primary roadway from a secondary one.
Road signs use standard international symbols and Finnish text.
Many urban streets have traffic lanes reserved for public transportation only.
Unless otherwise noted on traffic signs, the speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on open roads, and 120 km/h on expressways during summer (reduced to 100 km/h during winter).
Vehicles must use headlights at all times.
Use of seatbelts is mandatory for drivers and all passengers.
Minor children must be seated in approved child or booster seats.

Public transport in Finland is of good quality and is the recommended method of travel.
Passenger trains, intercity buses, and air flights provide regular service over longer distances.
Public transportation in urban centers includes buses, subways, trams, suburban trains, and taxis.
Taxis are more expensive than in major U.S. cities.
Most local residents use public transport in Helsinki as parking can be hard to find and expensive.
The bus, train, and subway systems are relatively safe.
Travelers should be aware that drunk-driving laws are strict and acceptable blood alcohol levels are much lower in Finland than in the U.S.
Police strictly enforce all traffic laws and institute random roadside breath analyzer tests.
Drivers who register .05 or above alcohol content are subject to immediate arrest.
Drivers should be aware that regulations and traffic signs differ significantly from those in the U.S.
Visitors should be familiar with both prior to operating a vehicle in Finland.
Driving in Finland during the winter months can be hazardous.
Daylight hours are very short and one should be comfortable with driving in darkness.
Icy road conditions are common.
If driving in Finland, the vehicle must be winterized with studded snow tires and engine heaters are strongly recommended.
When driving at night, drivers must be alert to moose wandering onto major roadways.
There have been incidents of moose being struck by vehicles, causing severe damage to the vehicle and injury, sometimes fatal, to the occupants.
For real-time updates on road conditions throughout Finland, see the Finnish Road Administration’s travel and traffic information web site at http://www.finnra.fi
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mek.fi
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Finland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Finland’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
Please see our information on customs regulations.

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

REGISTRATION AND EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Finland are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Finland.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Itainen Puistotie 14B.
The telephone number for the American Citizens Services unit is 358-9-616-25-701, 0830 to 1700 Monday to Friday (after hours, 358-9-616-25-0); the fax number is 358-9-616-25-800; e-mail:
HelsinkiACS@state.gov.
The address of the Embassy’s Internet home page is http://www.usembassy.fi
*

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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated May 23, 2008 to update the sections on Information for Victims of Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 25 Mar 2020 22:15:06 +0100 (MET)

Helsinki, March 25, 2020 (AFP) - Tough new restrictions banning travel between the Finnish capital and the rest of the country will be introduced from Friday to curb the spread of coronavirus, the country's prime minister said Wednesday.   "Movement into and out of the capital region, Uusimaa, will be forbidden," Finland's prime minister Sanna Marin told a press conference.   "Everybody will however have the right to return home or to their municipality of residence."

She said exceptions will be made for essential travel, including cases such as the death of a relative or under child visitation arrangements.    Goods will also continue to flow under the restrictions which will last for three weeks.    1.7 million people live in the province of Uusimaa, approximately a third of Finland's population.

Ministers stressed that over 500 of the country's 880 confirmed coronavirus cases in Finland, and two of the three recorded deaths, have been in the Uusimaa region.     Not all suspected cases are being tested and authorities have said the real number of infections could be 30 times higher.

On Wednesday the government also submitted a decree to parliament giving lawmakers emergency powers to force qualified health workers under the age of 68 to come into work.  However Marin said she hadn't managed to gain the necessary parliamentary backing to force restaurants to offer only takeaway or delivery services.
Date: Fri 14 Dec 2018
Source: UUTISET [edited]

An unvaccinated individual, who caught the contagious disease in Poland, attended a large church service in Tampere and infected at least 2 other people. Three adults have been diagnosed with measles in Tampere after attending a Catholic parish church event in late November along with more than 100 people, according to the Pirkanmaa Hospital District.

Two of the adults diagnosed have been vaccinated, so they are not contagious. The source of the outbreak is an unvaccinated person, who caught the measles in Poland. But according to the Pirkanmaa Hospital District, further cases may still arise.

In 1975 Finland began to administer a single dose of the measles vaccine to all one-year-olds and by 1982 Finland began administering the vaccine in 2 doses between the ages of 1 and 6. However some people born in the 1970s are among those who received only one jab. MMR is a triple-dose vaccine that provides protection against measles, mumps and rubella.

Measles spread at religious event
---------------------------------
The event in question was Tampere's Pyhan Ristin (Sacred Cross) Catholic Parish church mass on 25 Nov 2018. It was attended by more than 100 people, including children. Pirkanmaa Hospital District doctor Kirsi Valve, a specialist in infectious diseases, confirmed that the infected individual who caught the measles in Poland was at the church event. The cases came to light when 2 vaccinated individuals contracted high fevers and came down with skin rashes. The unvaccinated person, who infected the others, has had more severe symptoms than the vaccinated individuals.

"The individuals quickly got in touch with healthcare services owing to high fevers, and skin rashes that rapidly spread all over their bodies," says Valve. "It was confirmed that on 25 Nov 2018 the unvaccinated individual who caught the measles in Poland and brought it back to Finland was at the parish event and is the source of the outbreak."

As the source of the outbreak is known, healthcare officials are also looking into whether the person could have possibly exposed others.

Measles in the news
-------------------
Measles has been on the agenda this winter after an unvaccinated child in Ostrobothnia took ill with measles. Meanwhile, it also came to light that many adults in Finland may not have been vaccinated against measles during the early 1970s.

Measles is a rare disease. The previous outbreak was 2 summers ago when 4 vaccinated children caught measles in Italy and started showing symptoms after returning to Finland. The Pirkanmaa Hospital District recommends that anyone who attended the Catholic parish event in late November 2018 and exhibits symptoms that suggest measles or anyone who hasn't been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine contact their healthcare centre.

If those who attended the parish event are healthy, but have not been vaccinated, the Pirkanmaa Hospital District recommends that they contact their healthcare centre to be vaccinated. The measles vaccine is free and administered as part of the MMR shot, which also provides protection against rubella and the mumps.
Date: Fri 2 Nov 2018
Source: UUTISET [edited]

Around 1/3 of the ticks in Finland -- mostly found in the south -- carry at least one pathogen, and 2 percent of the persistent arachnids carry several disease-causing agents, researchers at Turku University said.

About 30 percent of common ticks and 24 percent of taiga tick populations have been found to carry one disease pathogen. Common ticks more commonly carry several disease-causing pathogens than taiga ticks, according to the researchers.

The most common pathogen found in the ticks was _Borrelia burgdorferi_, the bacterial species that causes Lyme disease in humans, an illness referred to locally as borreliosis. The pathogen was found in 17 percent of the ticks at the university's growing tick database bank.

Lyme disease cases are treated with aggressive antibiotics without necessarily determining which specific bacterium is responsible for the infection.

Thanks to a growing tick database at the University of Turku, researchers have new insights into the disease pathogens that the tiny, blood-sucking arachnids carry.

New research has revealed that ticks on the south coast carry the most pathogens, but the region is almost exclusively home to the most common ticks: _Ixodes ricinus_, or castor bean ticks).

Both castor bean ticks and taiga ticks [_Ixodes persulcatus_] are now commonly found in areas across central Finland, the researchers said. Even further north, the tick populations are quite similar to ones in central areas, but the taiga has become more common in the north.

About 3 years ago, researchers at the university asked members of the public to send in ticks they had found, and now the institution has received more than 20 000 ticks. The researchers say that they want to take advantage of the significant amount of information they can learn from the specimens.

Examination of those thousands of tiny arachnids have uncovered many types of disease-causing bacteria, and researchers have new insights into the arachnids themselves and the potential illnesses they carry.

The researchers said they hope to learn more about ticks, saying that their research has only begun, and that their study of the ticks will continue for several years. Ultimately, their goal is to find how tick-borne illnesses are transmitted, they said.
======================
[This is an interesting example of how a large group of people, many undoubtedly non-scientists, can contribute to an effort that requires many hours of collection effort. Although _Borrelia burgdorferi_ is endemic in Finland, finding it and possibly other bacterial pathogens in about 1/3 of the 20 000 ticks collected is of public health significance. _Ixodes ricinus_ is also the tick vector of European tick-borne encephalitis virus, but no mention is made of it in the above report. Perhaps it was not tested for. Images of both ticks can be found in the above report. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2018 16:46:12 +0100
From: topic@afp.com

Helsinki, Nov 1, 2018 (AFP) - Santa Claus has already begun his preparations in Lapland -- by protecting himself from winter viruses and making sure he hires enough elves.   On Thursday nurse Tiia Kahkonen administered an anti-influenza vaccine to Santa, at his village in the Arctic Circle town of Rovaniemi, northern Finland. 

The jab is likely to be a sensible precaution, as the flu season coincides with the busiest time of the year by far in Lapland.    In December last year 390,000 foreign visitors spent a night in Finnish Lapland, an increase of almost ten percent on the previous Christmas.    By far the largest group of Christmas holidaymakers were Brits, followed by Russian, French and German tourists, according to official statistics.

Meanwhile a recruitment agency in Finnish Lapland, inside the Arctic circle, has put out a call for Christmas elves to look after the hordes of tourists who come to visit Santa in his natural habitat during the winter months.   Prior experience is not essential as the advert, posted by the firm Lapland Staff, promises that training will be provided in "the required elfing and communication skills."   Successful applicants will also be given tips on how to deal with the cold in northern Finland where temeratures rarely rise above zero degrees Celsius, and can drop as low as minus 40.

Although handling Santa's reindeer is not listed among the job's duties, elves will need to herd groups of visitors on and off buses, as well as keep tourists entertained. "Looking after the fireplace and pouring hot juice" are also required, as is supervising the toboggan hill.   Tourism to Lapland has reached an all-time high in recent years, with visitors spending 3.5 million nights in Lapland across the whole year, up from 2.6 million a decade earlier, according to Statistics Finland.    Much of the recent growth has been driven by tourism from Asia.
Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2017 04:43:36 +0100
By Camille BAS-WOHLERT

Rovaniemi, Finland, Dec 17, 2017 (AFP) - In the run up to Christmas tourists from around the world flock to the Santa Claus Village, an amusement park in Finnish Lapland, where temperatures can hit nearly -15 degrees Celsius (5 Fahrenheit).    They buy soft toys and souvenirs from pricey gift shops while a bearded Santa receives hundreds of admirers a day throughout December before embarking on his world tour from the valleys of Finland to the skyscrapers of New York and beyond to deliver gifts.

Holding their winter beanie hats in their hands, visitors wait patiently in line for a brief encounter with "Joulupukki" -- the Finnish word for Santa Claus -- and a photo opportunity in exchange for hard currency.    "We've seen other Santas but that wasn't the real one. But we're told that is the real one," said Mary Gleadall, an eight-year-old tourist from Southampton in the UK, visiting the amusement park with her parents, brother and sister.    According to Christmas lore, Santa lives in a secret place in the middle of the snowy pines of the North Pole. But the question is where?     Since 2010, Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, has marketed itself as Santa's "official home".    Situated a few miles from the city, the Santa Claus Village is located in front of a huge gas station. 

Tourists rush to cross the Arctic Circle, marked by a white line, to meet Santa Claus in his wooden home with a pointed roof.    But entering his private cottage is out of the question as Mother Claus is reportedly protective of their privacy.    In a large room, the white-bearded old man sits in an armchair next to a chest full of letters.    Each year, he receives more than 300,000 visitors, a deluge he embraces with humility.    "I'm very happy. I'm not exhausted but, of course, I get tired once in a while" he says.    And how does Santa Claus regain his energy?    "I love to take nap every once and then. Fifteen minutes sleeping and then all is very good." he says.

- Exalted tourists -
Shizuka Kawahara and Saki Itoi, Japanese tourists in their thirties, flew for more than 24 hours to hug Santa for a few seconds in a precious moment immortalised with a photograph taken by an elf.    The price for one shot starts at 30 euros ($35). Photographing with one's own camera is forbidden as it would ruin the magic of the moment, says the staff of the house.     Four-year-old Harry Gleadall, Mary's brother, approaches Santa without fear.    He quickly states his list of what he wants for Christmas: Transformers and some more Transformers before he skeptically shakes Santa's hand.    "But what if it wasn't the real Santa Claus?" Harry asks with concern.    Eager to set the record straight -- and justify the long trip -- his mother quickly assures him that the chubby red-clothed man is indeed the real deal.    After a tour around the shop which sells hand-made "Lapland" emblems and tons of souvenirs, the family is back in the village square, surrounded by wooden homes, Christmas carols piped out of nearby speakers.

- Polar safari -
In this winter wonderland, tourists have the opportunity to go on a reindeer sleigh ride.    A snow "safari" of 400 metres costs 14 euros per child and 18 euros per adult, an exotic experience for many foreigners who seek to discover the arctic landscapes steeped in pink light.    The -13 degrees Celsius does not discourage the plucky visitors bundled up in their ski suits.    "Everything that have been told to me during childhood, it's come true," said Perpetua, a tourist from Dubai, describing the break from the year round desert climate as "heaven".   "We expected magic and this is what we found," added Max, an Italian tourist. "Everything seems to be magic, the lights, the place, everything here".   But Miriana, a 24-year-old Italian on a university exchange programme in southern Finland, was less convinced.   "The place is really nice. But I think nevertheless that it's a bit commercial," she said.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 09:41:19 +0200 (METDST)

Beijing, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - A Chinese county of around 600,000 residents has gone into lockdown after a woman who visited the area tested positive for the coronavirus, underscoring concerns over a second wave of domestic infections.   The tightening comes as China reported 35 new confirmed cases on Thursday, drastically down from the peak of the crisis.   But they were all imported, bringing the tally of such cases to 841 and adding to fears about infections brought in from overseas.

Jia county in central Henan province said in a social media post Wednesday that it was tightening restrictions on villages and residential compounds, and was not allowing people to enter or leave their homes without the relevant authorisation.   Employees will also need permits issued by their companies in order to go to work, and vehicles can only be used on alternate days depending on their number plates.   The latest rules were introduced after a woman who visited Jia county tested positive for the deadly virus following interactions with an asymptomatic doctor during her visit.

Although new cases have dwindled in China and its central Hubei province at the epicentre of the outbreak, concerns have been growing over a fresh wave of infections from overseas or asymptomatic carriers.   The country has in recent weeks started publishing data on a growing number of imported cases -- mostly returning Chinese nationals -- and on Wednesday started releasing figures on asymptomatic cases.   On Thursday, the National Health Commission reported 55 new asymptomatic patients, and it now has 1,075 asymptomatic cases remaining under medical observation. Of this number, 226 were imported.

Concerns over a resurgence of the deadly pathogen in China have led to a choppy return to regular life, with some cities re-introducing restrictions after easing rules.   Top tourist attractions in China's financial centre Shanghai closed just weeks after reopening, including the Shanghai Tower -- the world's second-tallest building -- and indoor attractions such as the Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai Ocean Aquarium and Madam Tussauds.   Over the weekend, Chinese media reported that Sichuan province shut entertainment spots such as karaoke venues again as well, after a brief reopening.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 03:03:38 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - The coronavirus has killed 884 people over the past 24 hours in the US, a new one-day record for the country with by far the highest number of reported cases anywhere in the world, Johns Hopkins University said Wednesday evening.   That took the total death toll in America to 4,475.   The number of reported cases rose by 25,200 over the past 24 hours to 213,372, said the university's coronavirus tracker.   The grim record for deaths in one day is held by Italy with 969 on March 27.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 02:45:55 +0200 (METDST)

Los Angeles, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - The Grand Canyon was closed to visitors with immediate effect Wednesday, making the Arizona landmark visited by millions each year the latest tourist hotspot to shut over the coronavirus pandemic.   The closure follows several warnings in recent days by county officials and Navajo Native American leaders over crowds continuing to gather at the natural wonder.   Arizona congressman Raul Grijalva said hundreds of visitors were staying in the Grand Canyon Park despite officials instructions to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.

The National Park Service has so far avoided a blanket closure of its 419 sites across the United States, preferring to assess each on a case-by-case basis.   "As soon as we received the letter from the Health and Human Services Director and Chief Health Officer for Coconino County recommending the closure of Grand Canyon National Park, we closed the park," said US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in a statement.   More than 80 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Coconino County, including at least one inside Grand Canyon Park.   Wyoming's Yellowstone, and both Joshua Tree and Yosemite in California, are among national parks which have already closed.
Date: Wed, 1 Apr 2020 23:39:11 +0200 (METDST)

Paris, April 1, 2020 (AFP) - France on Wednesday reported its highest daily number of deaths from COVID-19 since the coronavirus epidemic began, saying 509 more people had died in hospital to bring the toll to 4,032.   There are now 24,639 people hospitalised in France with COVID-19, with 6,017 of them in intensive care, health official Jerome Salomon told reporters in his daily update. The death toll on Tuesday had risen by 499.   The French figures include only those who died in hospital and not those who died at home or in old people's homes.

The number of confirmed cases also rose by 4,861 to 56,989. Many cases however go unregistered because of a lack of testing equipment.   Salomon noted that the number of people in intensive care was already above France's pre-crisis intensive care capacity of around 5,000.   France has been in lockdown since March 17 in a bid to slow the spread of the epidemic and officials have repeatedly warned it will take time for the measures to bear fruit.

- Hospitals under stress -
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told a parliamentary committee Wednesday that when the confinement finally came to an end, it would likely be a step-by-step process.   He said it would probably not be "all at once, everywhere and for everyone" indicating it could be  subject to where people live, testing and their age.   The possibility in the coming weeks and months of stepped-up testing would allow the government to ascertain the proportion of people contaminated and thus the degree to which the French population has immunity, he said.

France is currently carrying out 30,000 tests a day, far fewer than in neighbouring Germany, a weakness that has been repeatedly noted by the right-wing opposition.   But France is hoping to greatly ramp up testing in the coming days and weeks with the arrival of serology blood tests and then rapid tests that can provide results in minutes.   The government's strategy is aimed at limiting the peak of the epidemic so that the health system is not overwhelmed.

Hospitals have been under immense stress in the east of the country -- one of the worst hit areas -- but also in the region around Paris. One hundred more patients will be transferred from Paris to elsewhere in France on Thursday.   Interior Minister Christophe Castaner warned residents to write off any travel plans for school holidays starting this weekend, promising to punish any unwarranted movement.

Health Minister Olivier Veran, who has faced strong questioning over stocks of protective gear and virus testing kits, said "the days ahead will be more difficult".   But, he added, "there are also hopeful signs" in the numbers of admissions to intensive care units.   France has ordered "more than a billion and a half masks" from within the country and abroad, he added.   However Philippe Juvin, head of emergency services at the Georges Pompidou hospital in Paris, warned on CNews that "we are greatly fooling ourselves about the gravity of this disease."
Date: Wed, 1 Apr 2020 20:07:46 +0200 (METDST)

Lisbon, April 1, 2020 (AFP) - The Portuguese face at least another two weeks in lockdown after the government decided Wednesday to extend confinement measures as deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic near 200.

The restrictions were first imposed on the 10-million population on March 19 but they have not been as extensive as in neighbouring Spain where more than 9,000 have died from the virus.   Lisbon has ordered people to stay at home unless they have to work and to go out only for exercise, within the local area, to buy groceries, help relatives or walk the dog.

Shops and restaurants have been closed but supermarkets and chemists remain open.   Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced the extension to the state of emergency, which can be decreed only for periods of two weeks, and which parliament is expected to approve on Thursday.    Costa praised his compatriots' "exemplary" response to the crisis saying, "the effort ... is bearing results".

A total of 84 people have been stopped by police for being outside without a valid reason and 1,600 establishments have been closed after failing to ensure new client safety regulations.   TAP Air Portugal has cancelled all flights until at least May 4, except to the Atlantic islands of Azores and Madeira, and announced 90 percent of its 11,000 employees would go part-time under a government aid scheme.
Date: Wed, 1 Apr 2020 18:39:00 +0200 (METDST)

Warri, Nigeria, April 1, 2020 (AFP) - Thousands of Nigerians have been left cut off from homes and businesses as states across Africa's most populous nation have shut their borders to halt the spread of coronavirus.    Central Benue on Wednesday became the latest of Nigeria's 36 states to ban all movement in and out, meaning swathes of the country have become impassable.    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday ordered a total lockdown in largest city Lagos and the capital Abuja.

But a string of regional governors around the country have taken matters into their own hands and unilaterally ordered the closure of their state borders.    The governors -- powerful players in Nigeria's federal system -- insist the strict measures are needed to contain the disease as Nigeria has so far registered 151 confirmed cases and two deaths.    But the moves have sown confusion and left many stranded.     Thousands have crowded on a bridge across the river Niger trying to cross between Delta and Anambra states in the oil-rich south of the country.

Emeka Okwudile lives on one side of the river but owns a shop in a market in a town on the other side.   "We have no option than to either adhere to the lockdown or cross the river Niger using canoes to access our shops," he told AFP.    Adewale Timiyin was travelling from his home in Lagos out to the east of the country when the barriers went up.    He said he had bribed a police officer to get by one checkpoint but there was now no way to proceed.    "We have to stay with a cousin pending when the lockdown will elapse," he said.
Date: Wed, 1 Apr 2020 17:23:05 +0200 (METDST)

Brazzaville, April 1, 2020 (AFP) - Twenty people were killed on Wednesday when a lightning strike damaged a high-voltage power line in a suburb of the Congolese capital Brazzaville, the local mayor and witnesses said.   The mayor of Kintele, Stella Mensah Sassou Nguesso, told state radio that seven bodies had been sent to a nearby morgue and another 13 to a mortuary in the capital.

An eyewitness said lightning "cut through two high-voltage cables," electrocuting people on the ground.   "One cable fell on a house... and electrocuted three occupants," said the eyewitness, who gave his name only as Rock.   "The other cable, which fell into a courtyard flooded with water, electrocuted the neighbours," he said. The area was hit by heavy rains early Wednesday.

Ambulances, hearses, security officials and electric company workers rushed to the scene, another witness said.   Private individuals could be seen taking some bodies and injured people into their cars to take them to morgues and hospitals.   The number of injured was not immediately known.
Date: Wed, 1 Apr 2020 15:46:23 +0200 (METDST)

London, April 1, 2020 (AFP) - Britain reported 563 daily coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, the first time the national toll has exceeded 500, bringing the total fatalities to 2,352, according to official figures.   "As of 5pm (1600 GMT) on 31 March, of those hospitalised in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus, 2,352 have sadly died," the health ministry said on its official Twitter page.

Some 29,474 people have now tested positive, an increase of 4,324 over the previous day, it added.   Britain locked down last week in an attempt to combat the virus, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who himself has tested positive, warned that it would "get worse before it gets better".

The virus has also hit the royal family, with Prince Charles only coming out of isolation on Tuesday after displaying mild symptoms of the disease.   On Wednesday he released a video message praising the "remarkable" state-run National Health Service. "None of us can say when this will end, but end it will," he said.    "Until it does, let us all try and live with hope and, with faith in ourselves and each other, look forward to better times to come."
Date: Wed, 1 Apr 2020 14:43:58 +0200 (METDST)

Paris, April 1, 2020 (AFP) - A man has been jailed in France for repeatedly violating strict anti-coronavirus lockdown rules, which have seen 359,000 fines issued countrywide as the outbreak death toll continues to mount, authorities said Wednesday.    Police Minister Christophe Castaner warned residents to write off any travel plans for school holidays starting this weekend, promising to punish any unwarranted movement as the country continues to evacuate dozens of critically ill patients from hospitals in overstretched areas of the country.

The Ile-de-France region, with Paris at its core, saw its first evacuations Wednesday as the outbreak which started in the east of France takes an ever-heavier toll on the capital.   Twenty-four patients were sent from Paris to Brittany in northern France in the morning on a high-speed train, fully equipped as a hospital on tracks, with 12 others to follow on a second train later.

A third of the 499 deaths registered in France in the previous 24 hours had been from Ile-de-France, the government said, with the countrywide death toll now at 3,523.   Only deaths in hospital are counted towards the official tally, which excludes people who passed away in old age facilities or at home.   To date, the government has evacuated nearly 300 patients from hospitals in hard-hit areas of the country to lesser burdened ones, and some to Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg. Austria said Wednesday it would take three patients from eastern France.

- 'We must stand strong' -
As the medical crisis escalates, a court in Calais in the country's north sentenced a 20-year-old man to two months in prison after he was caught eight times without the self-certified document all residents are required to show if they leave the house for critical business.   This can include essential shopping, going to the doctor, walking the dog, a quick jog, and going to work for those in critical fields.     In Paris on Tuesday, a court sentenced a 22-year-old man to 105 hours of community service, also for repeatedly violating the lockdown.

Castaner said some 5.8 million checks have been carried out and 359,000 fines issued since the lockdown started on March 17, and stressed that leaving on holiday was not allowed under the lockdown rules that have confined millions of children at home with schools closed.   Even with train and plane traffic slashed to a minimum, authorities fear a holiday exodus and the minister said controls will be stepped up on the roads and at train stations and airports.   "Confinement is a strain for families, I know, but we must stand strong," he said.   More than 22,700 people are hospitalised for COVID-19 in France, with 5,565 in intensive care.
Date: Wed, 1 Apr 2020 12:33:43 +0200 (METDST)

Tehran, April 1, 2020 (AFP) - Flooding in Iran caused by heavy rainfall has left 21 people dead and one missing, an emergency services spokesman said Wednesday, even as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.   Mojtaba Khaledi told Iran's ISNA news agency that 22 people had also been injured, with most of the casualties in southern or central provinces.   He said 11 people had died in Fars province, three each in Hormozgan and Qom, two in Sistan and Baluchistan province, and one each in Bushehr and Khuzestan.   Khaledi said one person was still missing in Hormozgan on the Gulf coast.

Flooding last week killed 12 people, and Khaledi warned of more heavy rain to come.   Iran is battling one of the world's deadliest coronavirus outbreaks with 3,036 deaths and 47,593 infections.   In March and April last year, heavy rainfall and flooding killed at least 76 people in Iran.   At the time, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimated 10 million people were affected, describing the floods as "the largest disaster to hit Iran in more than 15 years".