WORLD NEWS

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

Bhutan

Bhutan - US Consular Information Sheet
February 23, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Bhutan is a small, land-locked Himalayan country that completed its transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in June 2008.
Bhutan i
one of the world’s smallest and least developed economies.
The United States does not have full diplomatic relations with Bhutan and there is no U.S. diplomatic presence there.
Consular issues relating to Bhutan, including assistance to U.S. citizens, are handled by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Bhutan for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Independent travel is not permitted in Bhutan. Visitors are required to book travel through a registered tour operator in Bhutan. This may be done directly or through a travel agent abroad.
Further information, including a list of authorized tour operators in Bhutan, may be obtained from the Tourism Council of Bhutan, PO Box 126, Thimphu, Bhutan, telephone +975-2-323251, 2-323252, fax +975-2-323695.
Entry by air is available only via India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Thailand. The border with China is closed. The minimum daily tariff is set by the Bhutanese Department of Tourism and cannot be negotiated. The rate includes all accommodations, all meals, transportation, services of licensed guides and porters, and cultural programs where and when available. The rate is the same for both cultural tours and treks. Travelers should contact the Tourism Council for the latest daily tariff.
At this time, the only carrier servicing Bhutan is Drukair, the Bhutanese government airline. Drukair will board only travelers with visa clearance from the Tourism Authority of Bhutan.

A passport and visa are required for entry into and exit from Bhutan.
Visa applications are available from selected travel agencies.
Travel agencies will usually arrange for a traveler’s entry visa and clearance.
Visitors, including those on official U.S. government business, should obtain visas prior to entering the country.
For additional entry/exit information, please contact the Bhutan Mission to the United Nations (Consul General), 763 First Avenue, New York, NY
10017, telephone (212) 682-2268, fax (212) 661-0551.

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:
Recent efforts to resettle many of the approximately 100,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepali ethnic origin currently living in Nepalese refugee camps, coupled with the transition to democracy, have given rise to some civil unrest in usually peaceful Bhutan.
Bhutanese Maoists and Communist groups (including the Bhutan Communist Party and the Bhutan Tiger Force operating from the camps in Nepal), who denounce the monarchy and demand that the refugees be repatriated to Bhutan, have been linked to violence in the country.
A series of small bombs were set off between October 2006 and December 2008; most took place in small cities and towns on the southwestern border, near India, except for one in the capital, Thimphu.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
There is relatively little crime in Bhutan. Petty crime, such as pick-pocketing and purse snatching, is occasionally reported.
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 U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.
If you are the victim of a crime while in Bhutan, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi for assistance.
(See the contact information below.)
The Embassy’s consular 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 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.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line for Bhutan police in Bhutan is 113.
The emergency number for ambulance service is 112.

Please see our information on 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 Bhutanese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Bhutan recently implemented extremely strict restrictions on the sale or use of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
A traveler caught selling tobacco products could be charged with illegal smuggling and fined or imprisoned.
Smoking is prohibited in public places.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bhutan 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.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Visitors are advised to carry cash or travelers checks, since credit cards are not widely accepted in Bhutan.
When credit cards are accepted, usually during bank hours, an extra service fee, usually a percentage of the overall purchase, is often charged.

Druk Air, the only carrier servicing Bhutan, has rigid restrictions on the amount and size of luggage passengers may carry into the country. Passengers are advised to book bulky items ahead as unaccompanied baggage, since the aircraft servicing Bhutan have limited space available for large bags, and airline employees may not load large pieces of luggage. Flights into and out of Paro Airport are restricted to daylight hours and are dependent on suitable weather conditions. Flights are sometimes delayed or cancelled, particularly during the monsoon season between June and August. Passengers are advised to allow at least 24 hours' transit time for connecting flights from Paro Airport and to travel on non-restricted air tickets so that they can be rebooked on the first available air carrier if a connecting flight is missed.

Bhutanese customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Bhutan of items such as firearms, ammunition, explosives and military stores; narcotics and drugs (except medically prescribed drugs); tobacco products; wildlife products, especially those of endangered species; and antiques. It is advisable to contact the Bhutan Mission to the United Nations (Consulate General), 763 First Avenue, New York, NY
10017, telephone (212) 682-2268, fax (212) 661-0551, for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in the populated areas in Bhutan such as Thimphu and Paro are available but may be limited or unavailable in rural areas.
If Americans need urgent medical care, they should try to get to the General Hospital in the capital city, Thimphu.
Medical services may not meet Western standards, and some medicines are in short supply.
Certain emergency medical services are provided free of charge to all tourists.
Visitors planning to trek in Bhutan should pay special attention to the risk of altitude illness.
Treks in Bhutan can take visitors days or weeks away from the nearest medical facility.
Helicopter evacuation from remote areas is available in Bhutan through the registered tour operators, or by contacting the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Bhutan.
There are no disclosure regulations or restrictions for HIV/AIDS patients who enter Bhutan on a tourist visas for a maximum two week visit.
For longer stays applicants must present the results of an HIV/AIDS test completed within the six months prior to their visit.
The test can also be administered by Bhutanese officials upon arrival. Travelers should verify this information with the Bhutan Mission to the United Nations at (212) 682-2268.

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.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site.
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
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 Bhutan is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
General road conditions outside of urban areas are poor, and emergency services generally are not available.
Because of the mountainous terrain, roads tend to have steep drop-offs and blind curves.
However, because tourists to Bhutan are required to arrange their trips through registered tour operators, tourists do not drive themselves, but travel in groups with experienced drivers.
Please refer to our Road Safety page and Bhutan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Bhutan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Bhutan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site.
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:
There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Bhutan. Although no formal diplomatic relations exist between the United States and Bhutan, informal contact is maintained through the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India. Updated information on travel and security in Bhutan may be obtained at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, at any other U.S. Consulate in India, or at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal, as well as at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand.
Americans living or traveling in Bhutan are encouraged to register through the State Department’s travel registration web site or with the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi to obtain updated information on travel and security within Bhutan.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in person or via mail.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi is located on Shanti Path, Chanakya Puri, New Delhi 110 021, India, telephone +91-11-2419-8000, fax +91-11-2419-8407.

The following U.S. missions are included as they are Drukair destinations:
The U.S. Consulate in Kolkata is located at 5/1 Ho Chi Minh Sarani, Kolkata 700 071, India, telephone +91-33-3984-2400, fax +91-33-2282-2335.
The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu is located at Maharajgunj in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The Consular Section can be reached through the Embassy switchboard at (977) (1) 400-7200 or directly by fax at (977) (1) 400-7281 or contacted by email.
The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok is located at 120/22 Wireless Road, Bangkok, Thailand, telephone +66-2-205-4000, fax +66-2-205-4103.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated April 25, 2008, to update the sections on Country Description, Safety and Security, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

National. 7 Sep 2019

Dengue fever cases in Phuentsholing are on the rise 2 months after the outbreak was 1st reported. Public awareness and campaigns have been of little help. Phuentsholing hospital saw a total of 2121 dengue-positive cases as of yesterday [6 Sep 2019], 313 more than the [1 Sep 2019] record. With 894 dengue-positive cases reported from private diagnostic centres in the town, Phuentsholing saw 3015 positive cases as of yesterday [6 Sep 2019].

Figures from the diagnostic centres, however, include both Bhutanese and people from across the border. The chief programme officer with Department of Public Health (DoPH), Ministry of Health, Rixin Jamtsho, said that 77% of the total cases in the country were reported from Phuentsholing hospital." The cases were reported from 19 dzongkhags [administrative district] till yesterday [6 Sep 2019]," Rixin Jamtsho said. "[The] majority of the cases reported from other districts had travelled to Phuentsholing prior to their illness."

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Bhutan:

1 Aug 2019. A total of 138 acute undifferentiated fever or dengue fever cases were reported in Doksum in Trashiyangtse as of yesterday [31 Jul 2019]. Health officials in Doksum tested 64 samples using dengue rapid test kit. Two tested positive for dengue NS1, 4 for dengue IgM, and 21 for 8 dengue IgG antibody.

[Dengue IgG antibody test is not confirmatory of acute infection unless serial serum samples have been tested. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

- National. 9 Aug 2019. The number of people affected by the dengue outbreak in Doksum in Trashiyangtse has increased 4-fold since the outbreak was reported on 26 Jul [2019] with 76 cases. A total of 314 cases were reported from Doksum as of yesterday evening [8 Aug 2019]. Most cases presented fever, joint pain, headache, and generalised body pain as symptoms.

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Bhutan:
26th June 2019
http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-06/26/c_138176103.htm

THIMPHU, June 26 (Xinhua) -- Heavy rainfall in Bhutan has killed at least two people, triggered flash floods, landslides and road blocks, and damaged homes, streets and vehicles. The two were buried alive after the landslide washed away their home in southern district of Samtse on Tuesday due to massive landslide that was triggered by heavy rains. The continuous rainfall and flash floods have blocked more than four national highways, damaged bridges and affected many commuters and office goers.

According to the National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology, the southern belt of Bhutan has recorded heavy rainfall on Tuesday. The downpour continued on Wednesday, further affecting the lives of people living in southern part of the country.  People residing in Phuentsholing said that they had to evacuate at early as 3 a.m. due to swollen rivers. The engineering workshops were overflown and drains were invisible due to landslides and flash floods. Falling of boulders and landslides damaged many vehicles, with some being submerged in mud. The schools in Phuentsholing town had to postpone their exams due to the damages caused by the heavy rainfall.

In Gelephu district a highway bridge was damaged. National highways between four districts were blocked. Many public buses and commuters were cancelled due to swollen rivers.  In 2017 a monsoon rainfall washed away an entire town in southern district of Sarpang.

Date: Sat 20 Apr 2019
Source: Kuensel [edited]

The recent [influenza A(H1N1)] outbreak in Bumthang is under control with the number of infected people visiting hospital declining from 30 to 35 a day to about a dozen these days.

Since the 1st case was reported on [8 Apr 2019] about 227 people were reported to have been infected by influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 causing seasonal flu.

Of the total infected, around 90 percent were students of Wangdicholing lower secondary school (WLSS), Bumthang. The 1st incident was reported on [8 Apr 2019] when 45 students did not come to school. Some were sent home and some referred to hospital.

Medical Officer of Wangdicholing hospital Dr Pema Wangchuk said the samples from the infected were sent to the Royal Center for Disease Control for investigation, which confirmed the disease as influenza A(H1N1). However, the doctor said it is a normal seasonal flu that occurs every year, especially during early spring and winter.

Signs and symptoms of influenza are fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pains, sore throat and runny nose, sometimes with vomiting and diarrhoea.

Students are infected easily mainly because of congestion, lack of hand hygiene practice, and not having preventive measures for cough, according to health officials. The hospital organised advocacy and preventive measures to avoid further spreading of the disease.

As per the report from WLSS, about 64 infected students could not attend regular classes until [15 Apr 2019]. Although the number decreased, there are students not being able to attend classes while some teachers were also infected.

This is the 2nd consecutive outbreak. Last winter more than 350 people were infected by the same virus.

The current outbreak falls under the moderate category, where preventive measure and sensitization programme and treatment could work.  [Byline: Nim Dorji]
==================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Bumthang, Bhutan:
Date: Sat 13 Apr 2019
Source: Kuensel Online [edited]

A bird flu (H5N1) outbreak has affected 13 poultry farms and one turkey farm at Dhamdara in Phuentsholing. The outbreak was confirmed on 8 Apr 2019 through laboratory testing from the National Centre for Animal Health (NCAH), Serbithang, Thimphu.  No human contact was reported.

In response, a total of 1130 poultry birds in the affected areas were culled, about 4002 eggs disposed, 613 kg (1351 lb) of feed disposed, and 12 chicken coops destroyed.

The National Incident Command Committee (NICC) has activated the Incident Operation Centre (IOC) at Thromde Veterinary Hospital in Phuentsholing with the Rapid Response Team (RRT) from different ministries and agencies for immediate containment and response to the outbreak.

A press release from the ministry states, "As the disease is brought under control at the source of outbreak the public should not panic. The public is also advised to take precautions like washing of hands after handling poultry, chicken and eggs with soap and water."

Program director of NCAH, Dr. RB Gurung, the focal person of bird flu, said the outbreak was reported in the field on 6 Apr 2019. He said the outbreak is under control by about 80% yesterday [Fri 12 Apr 2019]. As the outbreak location was at the outskirt of town, there were not many vehicles on the road, which made it easier, he added.

The response team also created awareness in the community. Vehicles traveling out of the demarcated infected and restricted zones are also disinfected.

Dr. RB Gurung said poultry farmers are cautioned to comply with farm biosecurity measures and not allow visitors into the farms without proper safety measures. "We need to observe the outbreak area for one month," Dr. RB Gurung said.

The Department of Livestock, Chhukha Dzongkhag Livestock Sector, Department of Public Health, Royal Bhutan Police, Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority and the Regional Livestock Development Centre Tsimasham and local authorities in Phuentsholing have initiated the response to the H5NI outbreak jointly. [Byline: Rajesh Rai]
=========================
[Phuntsholing, also spelled as Phuentsholing, is a border town in southeastern Bhutan and is the administrative seat of Chhukha District. The town occupies parts of both Phuentsholing Gewog and Sampheling Gewog; map at <http://tinyurl.com/y672je4t>.

It may be assumed that the event in Bhutan is related to wild bird migration; 2 of the 3 earlier outbreaks notified by Bhutan to the OIE took place in a similar season, namely, March (2018) and April (2015). Bhutan has already reported the event to the OIE; see http://promedmail.org/post/20190413.6418964. - ProMED Mod.AS]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Chhukha District, Bhutan: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/12668>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 11:08:10 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Parents lined up from sunrise holding sleeping infants as the Philippines launched a campaign on Monday to vaccinate millions of children against polio, which has re-emerged nearly two decades after the nation's last cases.   Years of falling vaccination rates, made worse by the botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, culminated in an outbreak of the preventable disease in September.   "This is for the welfare of my child," Ruth Miranda told AFP after the vaccine was squirted into her child's mouth at the Manila slum they call home.

Miranda's child is among scores who are unprotected in the capital of about 13 million people, where vaccination rates of young children plunged from 77 percent in 2016 to a mere 24 percent in June.   The atmosphere at the event in Manila was festive -- with ice cream vendors and music -- but the stakes for the campaign are high.

Polio, which can cause paralysis and can be fatal in rare cases, has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.   Two cases were detected in September, the first polio infections in the Philippines since 2001, adding to the woes of a country already hit by deadly measles and dengue epidemic.   The risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunisation coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.

The Philippines was the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass programme in 2016, but a botched rollout led to claims that children had died after being vaccinated.   A dramatic drop in vaccine confidence followed, with trust plunging from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, according to a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.   The Philippines polio outbreak has been traced back to the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.   According to the WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunisation rates get too low.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 10:25:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shingo ITO, Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of rescue workers in Japan battled on Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed at least 43 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper efforts.   Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country's 47 prefectures, and triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding.   "Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday.   "Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night," Abe said.

But even as rescuers, including troops, combed through debris, the country's weather agency forecast rain in central and eastern Japan that it warned could cause further flooding and new landslides.   "I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.   In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, rain was already falling and was expect to intensify.   "We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts," local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP.   "We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain."

- 43 dead, 16 missing: NHK -
By late Monday afternoon, national broadcaster NHK said the toll had risen to 43 dead, with 16 others missing and over 200 people injured. The government gave lower figures but was continuing to update its information.   The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said.   Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member.   While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, it was the heavy rains that caused most damage.

A total of 142 rivers flooded, mainly in eastern and northern Japan, with river banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said.   In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.   As water slowly receded Monday, television footage showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.   Elsewhere, rescuers used helicopters to winch survivors from roofs and balconies, or steered boats through muddy waters to reach those trapped.

- Japan dedicates rugby win to victims -
By Monday afternoon, some 75,900 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.   The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or real," a woman in Nagano told NHK.   "I feel lucky I'm still alive."   The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.

By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.   The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.   But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their stunning 28-21 win to the victims of the disaster.   "To everyone that's suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys," said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2019 23:31:57 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 13, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors will use a second Ebola vaccine from November in three eastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the deadly virus, medical officials said Sunday.   "It's time to use the new Ad26-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson's Belgian subsidiary," said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who leads the national anti-Ebola operation in the DRC.    It will arrive in the eastern city of Goma, in North Kivu province, on October 18 and be used from the beginning of next month, he added.   DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, which began in August 2018, has killed 2,144 people, making it the second deadliest outbreak of the virus, after the West Africa pandemic of 2014-2016.

Muyembe said the communes of Majingo and Kahembe had been selected to receive the vaccine as they were considered the epicentres of the epidemic.   "We will extend this vaccination to our small traders who often go to Rwanda to protect our neighbours," he added.   "If it works well, we will expand vaccination in South Kivu and Ituri."   DR Congo's eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu sit on the borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.   The Belgian laboratory will send a batch of 200,000 doses to neighbouring Rwanda and 500,000 doses in the DRC, Muyembe said.   More than 237,000 people living in active Ebola transmission zones have received a vaccination produced by the pharma company Merck Sharpe and Dohme since August 8, 2018. 

The J&J vaccine had been rejected by DRC's former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.   But Ilunga's resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled funds intended for the fight against Ebola.   In his letter of resignation Ilunga said "actors who have demonstrated a lack of ethics" want to introduce a second vaccine, but did not elaborate.    Muyembe, who took over the Ebola fight in the DRC in July, said "The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the most science-based data."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 20:02:59 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - A palace that once housed Ethiopia's emperors and also served as a torture site under the communist Derg regime is to open to the public in a controversial government tourism project.    The palace compound in Addis Ababa, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has rebranded "Unity Park", was formally launched Thursday and will be open from Friday.    Abiy's office said on Twitter Thursday that the project "symbolises our ability to come together".

But critics have dismissed it as vanity project for Abiy that could prove divisive.   Backed by the United Arab Emirates, the project cost more than $160 million (145 million euros), Ethiopian officials told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.    Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia's rulers for more than a century.   Abiy himself does not live there, and it has seen little activity in recent years.    Abiy's advisers say he has taken a keen interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 -- visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.

The government's "Home-Grown Economic Reform" agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.    On Thursday, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.    The restored rooms feature items like Menelik's sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace and was then etained there after the Derg overthrew him in 1974.

The site also includes a sculpture garden with installations representing Ethiopia's nine regions, and a zoo is expected to open by the end of the year.    Aklilu Fikresilassie, an Ethiopian employee of the United Nations who attended the launch Thursday, said he was "really fascinated" to set foot inside a place that had been closed to the public his entire life.    "For us it's like a government house, so now when you enter that palace it tells you that we are getting somehow closer to our leaders," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the palace will succeed in bringing Ethiopians together.   In a country grappling with ethnic divisions, some worry that the palace could alienate ethnic Oromos who contend that their ancestors were forced off their land when Addis Ababa was built.    Journalist and former political prisoner Eskinder Nega said the renovations were undertaken "without consultation from the public", which he called "a huge mistake."    "This is all about heritage, about preserving heritage. The people should have had a say in it," he said.    "Like everything else this was decided from the top and implemented only by the decision of the prime minister."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 13:13:57 +0200 (METDST)

Hanoi, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Selfie-snapping tourists railed against the closure of Hanoi's 'train street' on Thursday after police blocked off the Instragram-famous tracks for safety reasons.   The narrow railway corridor in central Hanoi has become a hotspot among visitors seeking the perfect holiday snap on the tracks -- often dodging trains that rumble through daily.    But Hanoi authorities said this week they would block people from the tracks to avoid accidents, and police on Thursday erected barricades to keep out disappointed visitors.    "I'm very frustrated because today I can't go in and take a picture," Malaysian tourist Mustaza bin Mustapha told AFP, vowing to come back later.

Dozens of other tourists were turned away, though some managed to get onto still-open sections of the railway, moving out of the way as an afternoon train chugged past.    Built by former colonial rulers, the railway once shipped goods and people across France's former Indochina colony and remains in use today by communist Vietnam's state-run railway company.    The stretch of the tracks was once known as a rough part of town, occupied by drug users and squatters until their recent discovery by camera-wielding holidaymakers who have splashed images of the area across social media.

Cafe owners complained that business would be hurt thanks to the new regulations, and that tourists always moved out of the way for oncoming trains.   "There has never been any regretful accidents here," said Le Tuan Anh, who runs a cafe from his home along the tracks.   "Compared to traffic density elsewhere in the city, this is much safer," he said, referring to Hanoi's chaotic, motorbike-clogged streets.   New signs were installed in the area Thursday, warning passersby not to take photos or videos in the "dangerous area", much to the chagrin of British tourist Harriet Hayes.   "People come from all over the world to Hanoi just to see the train go past," she told AFP.   "It's such a shame that we come and have been told that we have to leave."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 06:51:42 +0200 (METDST)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Large numbers of tourists are rushing to scale Uluru -- also known as Ayers Rock -- ahead of a looming ban on climbing a site sacred to indigenous Australians.   Photographs of hundreds of people clambering up the giant red monolith have provoked a social media backlash, with critics lashing as "ignorant" those going against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   "A mass of morally and ethically bankrupt people," indigenous woman Laura McBride tweeted alongside an image showing a queue of people snaking up the side of Uluru.    "One even hiking a toddler up, teaching the next generation how to be ignorant."   "Imagine rushing to climb Uluru before it closes just so you could brag about disrespecting the oldest living culture in the world," tweeted National Indigenous Television journalist Madeline Hayman-Reber, who called the scenes "embarrassing".

Officials say the ban, which comes into effect on October 26, is intended to show respect for cultural practices, protect the site from further environmental damage and to ensure visitors' safety.    More than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park in the 12 months to June 2019, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year. Around 13 percent of those who visited during that period made the climb, park authorities said.    More recent figures are not available but Tourism Central Australia CEO Stephen Schwer said there had been a "significant jump" in the number of people visiting in recent weeks, with the period leading up to the ban coinciding in part with school holidays.   "Its been very busy, particularly down in the national park precinct itself," he told AFP.   "We've had quite an issue with accommodation availability, because there's a lot of people want to climb Uluru before it closes. It's been a busier than normal holiday period."   Japanese visitors and Australians on driving holidays were most likely to want to scale Uluru, Schwer said, though he urged them not to do so.

Australian tourist Belinda Moore, 33, drove to Uluru from her home in central Queensland state to ascend the rock, an experience she said she "absolutely loved".   "It's always been something to tick off the bucket list and when we heard it was closing, we knew it was now or never," she told AFP.   Moore said she did not think her climb was disrespectful to traditional owners as she was not Aboriginal.    "It may be for their own people, because it's their sacred site," she said.   "I'm pretty sad that they're closing it, but it's still amazing just to see it. I would still recommend it."   The climb will be permanently closed as of October 26, the anniversary of ownership being handed back to the Anangu people.

Uluru has great spiritual and cultural significance to indigenous Australians, with their connection to the site dating back tens of thousands of years.   Though visitor numbers were expected to decline once the ban was in place, Schwer said local tourism operators were "not particularly concerned" as it would return the area to normality.   "People need to remember that in central Australia we're a very interconnected community," he said. "The people who are requesting the climb closure are our friends and colleagues.   "We're just looking forward to being able to have the climb consigned to the annals of history."
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2019 22:01:17 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 9, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after torrential rains hit the capital Kinshasa, flooding several neighbourhoods. a local official said.    The bodies were found between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.    Five people were killed in the capital's Selembao municipality where around 30 houses collapsed, local mayor Augustin Mankesi told Top Congo radio station.   One woman died in the Pelende district after she was electrocuted, he added.    "Our community is stricken," Mankesi added, calling on the Congolese authorities for help.   Fatal floods and rains are frequent in Kinshasa. In January last year 48 people were killed in landslides, floods and after houses collapsed, according to authorities.    Residents told AFP the road from the sea port district of Matadi to the Kinshasa turnoff has been closed due to erosion caused by the rain.    The passage is Kinshasa's main supply route for imported goods and also serves as an exit point for exports.
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2019 12:04:37 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Oct 6, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together as the ultraconservative kingdom begins offering up tourist visas for the first time.   The tourism authority said in a statement published on Twitter that Saudi women travelling alone would also be able to check into a hotel by presenting valid ID.

In the past, couples wanting to stay in a hotel had to prove they were married.    "This is no longer required for tourists," the statement said.   Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it was opening its doors to holidaymakers with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy.   The kingdom had previously only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   On September 28, Saudi authorities warned that tourists who violated "public decency", including with immodest clothing and public displays of affection, would be subject to fines.
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2019 03:30:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Giovanna FLEITAS

Petorca, Chile, Oct 5, 2019 (AFP) - For Erick Hurtado, the worst thing about the drought that has devastated his family farm in Chile is the dead animals.   "Going out and seeing the animals dead on the ground is so horrible," Hurtado says as he gazes across the dusty paddocks of his farm in Petorca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso.

Farmers are counting the cost of one of the driest austral winters in six decades, which has destroyed crops and left tens of thousands of farm animals dead in the fields of central Chile.   Hurtado's farm, owned by his grandfather, has lost half its 60 head of cattle.   So far, 106,000 animals have died due to lack of water and fodder, mostly goats, cattle and sheep, according to the agriculture ministry.   President Sebastian Pinera, who last month announced a $5 billion plan to improve water distribution, this week set up a crisis group of government agencies to tackle the water crisis, which he said had become "more extensive and more intense."

In Colina, north of the capital Santiago, the drought has been hard on small farmers. Scrawny cattle pick at sprigs of strawy grass on pastures that have turned to dust. Cows, goats and horses roam hungry on hills have turned to a dry muddy brown.   "The drought has been disastrous for us," said Sandra Aguilar. Her family owned about a hundred head of cattle. Today, only half survive thanks to a trickle of water provided by a neighbor who still has some reserves.   "The situation is complicated," said Javier Maldonado, governor of the province of Chacabuco, where several agricultural areas have been hit particularly hard by the drought.    "We have to be realistic, climate change is here to stay," he said.

- Water shortages -
Dominga Mondaca points out the deep fissures that run through the garden behind her house in the village of La Ligua near Valparaiso. The garden used to be full of strawberries and citrus trees; now it's cracked earth.    "We have had many years with little water. But the last year, it didn't rain at all," said the 73-year-old, one of more than 600,000 people the government is supplying by tanker trucks as part of emergency measures.   She says she has had to give up raising chickens, in order to keep what little water she and her husband receive for their own consumption, washing and cleaning. Whatever is left, she uses to sprinkle on herbs in a small kitchen garden.   The agriculture ministry says 37,000 family farms need assistance in the central Chile.

- Thirsty avocados? -
In Petorca, some rivers have run dry, and the landscape has been left parched, but lush avocado and citrus plantations are nevertheless thriving.   Locals in Petorca say the real, long-term problem is the mismanagement of water resources.    "There is an excess of monoculture plantations that consume all the water," said Diego Soto of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) told AFP.   Avocados need a lot of water to grow, said Soto.   "An avocado tree needs 600 liters of water per week, whereas humans consume 50 liters a day, or 350 liters a week," he said.   Producers refute these figures and say the real problem is a lack of infrastructure to store water, both above and below ground.    "The avocado is not a crop that needs more water," insisted Francisco Contardo, chairman of the local producers' committee.   Avocados are a key export for Chile, mostly to the US and China, but drought has reduced exports by 25 percent.

- Less snow -
For many though, the changes being wrought by climate change are overwhelmingly obvious. Snow in the highlands of central Chile was relatively scarce this year.    Scientists predict an average decrease of between five and 10 percent snowfall every 10 years in almost the entire Andes mountains, one of the country's main sources of water.   "The central zone of Chile is highly dependent on the summer melt season, its snow and glaciers, which means that if the snow cover is reduced, there is also a reduction in the availability of water resources," said Paul Cordero, climate change expert at the University of Santiago.   Weak snowfall forced the country's main ski resorts to use artificial snow machines much earlier and more often this season than in previous years.    "Chile has been living as if it were a country with an abundance of water," said Pinera.   "Climate change and global warming have changed this situation probably forever."