WORLD NEWS

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

Cuba

General:
**********************************
Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
the northern parts of the country. Temperatures of between 20C to 35C are fairly standard throughout the year. Generally the winter effects of the American continent only last for short periods.
Safety & Security:
**********************************
The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Road Safety:
**********************************
Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
**********************************
When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.

Currency:
**********************************
Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Health Facilities:
**********************************
Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
**********************************
The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
***********************************************
Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
************************************
The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
**********************************
This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
**********************************
There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
**********************************
Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 3 Jul 2019
Source: 660 City News [edited]

A Newfoundland woman is warning travellers to do their research before adventurous excursions abroad after she and several other Newfoundlanders became ill from a mysterious disease traced back to a cave she visited in Cuba. The illness was eventually identified as a respiratory infection called histoplasmosis, or "cave disease," caused by spores from bird or bat droppings in damp soil. [She] of Paradise, NL, travelled to Cuba with her husband on 27 Apr [2019], but her fever-like symptoms didn't appear until 21 May [2019], weeks after she returned home. X-rays showed nodules in her lungs and tests showed low blood counts. Her condition baffled local doctors, who initially thought her lung infection could be some form of pneumonia. The clue to her illness came from a chance meeting she'd made on the trip with a family of Newfoundlanders who had a mutual friend. [She] and her husband had travelled with the group on a tour that included cave diving in the Matanzas province of Cuba.

Back in Canada, a number of their new friends had also fallen ill. [She] and the travellers informed their doctors that they knew each other and were experiencing the same symptoms, and their illness was identified as a respiratory infection called histoplasmosis, or "cave disease." [She] said pinpointing the source of her condition offered some relief from what she called a terrible, alarming health issue that she feared might have been cancerous. "You didn't want to be too excited about the fact that somebody else was sick, but at least cancer was off the table," [she] said by phone Wednesday [3 Jul 2019].

Eastern Health, [her] local health authority, has issued an advisory for travellers heading to the Americas, Africa, East Asia and Australia to avoid contracting the disease. Histoplasmosis is a treatable disease, contracted by breathing in airborne spores where bird or bat droppings are disturbed in damp soil. Eastern Health described its symptoms as including "cough and chest pain, shortness of breath, fever and chills, headaches and flu-like illness." The disease is treatable and most people who contract it never show symptoms, but it can be serious for infants or people with compromised immune systems. The health authority said the advisory was issued after a low number of histoplasmosis cases were confirmed in the Eastern Health region. An exact number of cases could not be provided for privacy reasons, but [the patient] said she's heard of at least 5 others.

While the disease is treatable, it is rare in Newfoundland, making treatment more complicated. [The patient] said she's waiting to receive an anti-fungal medication that had to be approved from outside of the province, and she's been told she'll have to take the drug for treatment for the next 3 months to a year. [The patent] said she's still experiencing fatigue and a persistent cough, and her voice is still scratchy and strained from an illness she contracted from what was one of the most breathtaking excursions on her vacation. "It was absolutely amazing," she said of the cave. "It was so pristine and so nice-looking when we went in."

[She] said she'd advise other travellers to do a thorough background check on the regions they're visiting and any planned excursions. "It's without a doubt that you have to go and you have to research the excursion that you're going on," she said. "You have to know the region, the areas, 100%. [She] wrote a Facebook post about her experience that's been shared thousands of times, and she said people as far as France have written to her about experiencing similar, undiagnosed symptoms after travelling abroad.  [Byline: Holly McKenzie-Sutter]
====================
[_Histoplasma capsulatum_, a dimorphic fungus that grows in a mycelial form at ambient temperatures and as yeast at body temperature in mammals, is found worldwide in soil enriched by bird or bat droppings. Contaminated soil can be potentially infectious for years. Fungal spores become airborne during activities that disturb the contaminated soil, such as spelunking, mining, construction, excavation, demolition, roofing, chimney cleaning, farming, or gardening, which can lead to clusters of cases of histoplasmosis that follow inhalation of the aerosolized spores. The spores can travel distances downstream from the source in currents of air. Because of the presence of bats in caves, cave exploration is a known risk factor for histoplasmosis, which is sometimes known as "cave fever" (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10403317>). Physicians should be aware of the association between histoplasmosis and caving when caring for individuals who develop an acute febrile respiratory illness after cave exploration (<http://tinyurl.com/yxjust7x>).

Another disease that has also acquired the name "cave fever" is tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF). See ProMED-mail posts Tick-borne relapsing fever - Israel: spelunkers, tourists http://promedmail.org/post/20180422.5761531 and Tick-borne relapsing fever - USA: (TX) cave workers, 2017 http://promedmail.org/post/20180420.5759542.

Although birds cannot be infected by the _H. capsulatum_ and do not transmit the disease, bats can become infected by _H. capsulatum_ and may harbor the fungus in their gut (<https://academic.oup.com/jtm/article/15/2/133/1801173>).

In the US, histoplasmosis is endemic in the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi River valleys, where it is caused by _H. capsulatum_ var. _capsulatum_. Histoplasmosis has also been reported in Mexico, Central and South America, Oceania, Asia, Africa, and Europe (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4535725/>). In Africa, histoplasmosis occurs most commonly in west and central Africa, where it is caused by the _duboisii_ variety, which has yeast cells that average about twice the size of _H. capsulatum_ var. _capsulatum_  (<http://www.reviberoammicol.com/1997-14/155159.pdf>).

Most individuals with histoplasmosis are asymptomatic. Those who develop clinical manifestations are usually immunocompromised or are exposed to a large number of spores. Disseminated disease is especially more common in HIV/AIDS co-infected cases. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Newfoundland, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada:
Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2019 03:22:19 +0200
By Paul HANDLEY

Washington, June 5, 2019 (AFP) - The Trump administration clamped down on US tourist visits to Cuba Tuesday, aiming to cut the flow of dollars to a country that Washington accuses of helping prop up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The Treasury Department banned group educational travel, cruise ship and private yacht visits by Americans, taking aim at the most common ways US tourists and Cuban-Americans visit the Caribbean island.   The move could constitute a heavy hit on Cuba, which saw more than a quarter-million US visitors in the first four months of 2019, almost double the figure from a year earlier.   "The United States holds the Cuban regime accountable for its repression of the Cuban people, its interference in Venezuela, and its direct role in the man-made crisis led by Nicolas Maduro," the State Department said in a news release.   "Empowered by Cuba, he has created a humanitarian disaster that destabilizes the region."

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said the aim was to end what the administration considers "veiled tourism" to Cuba.   "We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime's access to US dollars," Bolton said on Twitter.   The Cuban government condemned the move, which could cost the country's economy tens of millions of dollars a year in lost income.   "They seek to stifle the economy and damage the standard of living of Cubans to wrest political concessions," said Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez in a tweeted statement. "They'll fail again."

- Reverses Obama's historic opening -
American tourism in Cuba took off after then-president Barack Obama moved to ease the half-century trade embargo against the communist government in 2014 -- even though continuing restrictions kept visits nominally in the realm of cultural and artistic exchanges and business dealings.   Cuba and the US restored ties in 2015 and Obama himself visited Havana in a historic presidential trip in March 2016, meeting with then-president Raul Castro. Weeks later, the ban was lifted on US commercial ship visits, opening the door for the Caribbean cruise ship industry to expand stops in Cuba.

But President Donald Trump came into office attacking the Obama opening, and within months began tightening relations, first by banning individual visits and limiting commercial interactions.   The State Department tied the new ban directly to Havana's support for Maduro -- whose embattled regime faces a direct challenge from US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, the self-declared acting president of Venezuela.  "Veiled tourism has served to line the pockets of the Cuban military, the very same people supporting Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and repressing the Cuban people on the island," the State Department said.

- 'Political grandstanding' -
Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the US agencies which arranges visits to Cuba, accused the Trump administration of playing politics by trying to appease conservative anti-Havana Cuban immigrants in Florida, an important election swing state where they carry significant political weight.   "This political grandstanding aimed at Florida in the run up to the 2020 elections is so unfortunate for the millions of Cubans that will feel the crunch from less US visitors," said Laverty.   "This has nothing to do with empowering the Cuban people and has everything to do with empowering a handful of people in Florida that have never even been to Cuba."   Travel industry officials said that people who are booked on tours now will be able to go, ensuring that advanced-booked cruise ships will likely be operating from Florida to Havana throughout this year.   But Royal Caribbean Cruises said ships leaving Wednesday and Thursday of this week will skip previously scheduled stops in Cuba as the company examines the new US policy.

Norwegian Cruise Lines said they are seeking additional information on the new policy to see how it will affect future travel.   Tessia Aral, the owner of ABC Charters in Miami, said it could have a huge impact on her business, which arranged trips to Cuba for about 10,000 people last year.   She said it will hurt not only companies like hers but also those of the many entrepreneurs in Cuba who have built businesses to serve tourists.   "The people making the rules have never been to Cuba. They don't know how things have changed" in recent years, she said.   "What they are doing is counter-productive. I believe it's really going to hurt the private entrepreneurs in Cuba -- all the private restaurants, all the private homes" who serve tourists.
Date: Sun, 10 Mar 2019 04:13:11 +0100
By Katell ABIVEN

Havana, March 10, 2019 (AFP) - In Havana, there's a shop selling a camera for more than $25,000 -- roughly 850 times the average monthly wage in Cuba.   The eye-popping sum earned predictable scorn on social media, but it begins to make sense when seen through the lens of the island's fledgling bid to tap into the luxury tourism market.

The exclusive camera store and other boutiques featuring A-list brands like Versace and Armani are located in a shopping gallery on the ground floor of the swanky Gran Hotel Manzana.   The mere existence of the shops certainly seems incongruous in a country that has been governed as a one-party communist state since 1959, and where the average wage is $30 a month.   But the hotel isn't exactly looking for locals to buy in -- it attracts "a clientele of private airplanes... princes and celebrities," according to general manager Xavier Destribats.

The Gran Hotel Manzana, the first ever five-star establishment in Havana, opened in 2017 in a sumptuous historic building that was, at the beginning of the 20th century, the island's first shopping mall.   The property run by Swiss group Kempinski is "the first genuine luxury hotel in Havana," said Destribats.   "It's the first hotel with a 1,000-square-meter spa," he said. All the rooms are at least 40 square meters (430 square feet), with prices ranging from $370 for a basic room in low season to $5,000 for the presidential suite.   "There was a certain type of clientele that didn't travel to Havana, or Cuba, because there wasn't the standard of luxury five-star hotel like in cities such as Paris or London," Destribats added.

- 'Feels like Miami' -
The hotel terrace offers stunning views over Havana's colorful historic neighbourhood, where many Cubans live in dilapidated buildings that have fallen into disrepair or have vegetation sprouting from them.   "It really doesn't feel like Cuba, clearly not -- it feels like being in the United States, Miami or Puerto Rico," said Celia Liegeois, a 26-year-old tourist from Paris.   Having traveled around the island nation for three weeks, she and a friend had decided to spend their last few days relaxing by the hotel's rooftop pool.

Nearby, Suki Lu, a recently arrived 28-year-old Chinese television presenter, is impressed at what she sees.   "It's beautiful. Look at the sunset! It's truly addictive," she said.   "I live in Dubai so when you talk about luxury hotels, the level there is really high, but I think I'll like this hotel," she said, while her friend used a drone to get an aerial view of the building.   The largest single group of visitors to the Gran Hotel Manzana -- one-fifth of the total -- are tourists from the United States, although there are plenty of visitors from Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The Kempinski group, which hopes to open two or three more hotels in Cuba, is of course not the only chain to show an interest in the ultra-luxury market.   In September 2018, Spain's Iberostar opened its second five-star hotel, the Grand Packard.   French hotel giant Accor is planning on opening its own luxury establishment on the Malecon, Havana's famous seaside boulevard, in September.   It will include a chocolate shop on its ground floor and a restaurant and concert space on its roof.   The employees' outfits will be designed by Spanish fashion designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

- US blacklist -
However, there is a slight catch: in every case, the hotels are owned by Gaviota, the Cuban army's branch dedicated to tourism.   The foreign hotel groups are only allowed to run the establishments, all built by French group Bouygues, which has a long-standing local presence.   Authorities don't publish the army's revenues, but this alliance between hoteliers and the military landed the luxury hotels on Washington's blacklist.

US tourists are technically banned from staying in the hotels -- but the restriction can be easily circumvented by either paying in cash or booking through travel agents.   Beyond hotels, developers have more ideas to entice those with deep pockets.   "There's a plan to build golf courses in partnership with real estate groups," said industry expert Jose Luis Perello.   The opening of a luxury hotel means Cuba has turned a corner, he said.   "Since it opened up to international tourism more than 20 years ago, Cuba has focused all its plans and strategies" on "sun and beach tourism" for the masses, Perello said.   That category currently accounts for 73 percent of the 70,000 hotel rooms on offer in Cuba. And those who rent them usually don't spend much money.

The same goes for cruise ship tourists -- while the number of cruises docking in Cuba has exploded, passengers only spend an average of $15 a day on land.   That isn't great news for Cuba, which welcomed 4.7 million tourists in 2018 -- it needs the cash.   The government, which has been subjected to US sanctions since 1962, used to depend on aid from its oil-rich ally Venezuela.   But with Venezuela in turmoil, Cuba is scrambling for other sources of hard currency and its economic growth has stagnated at around one percent -- not enough to cover the population's basic needs.   Opening luxury hotels is "a new stage," but also "a necessity," Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz says.
Date: Mon, 4 Feb 2019 03:08:04 +0100

Havana, Feb 4, 2019 (AFP) - The number of people killed in the powerful tornado that ripped through part of Havana last week has risen to six, authorities said Sunday.    Public Health Minister Jose Angel Portal Miranda said in state media that "sadly, two people have died among the 13 who were in critical condition." The earlier death toll was four.

The storm which hit Havana area towns including Regla, Guanabacoa, San Miguel de Padron and 10 de octubre late January 27, has been confirmed as a F4 storm, with F5 the strongest.    Its powerful winds overturned trees and homes and cars, and several areas a number of blocks wide were all but wiped off the map.
Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2019 19:01:10 +0100

Havana, Jan 28, 2019 (AFP) - A rare and powerful tornado has devastated sections of Havana, overturning cars, uprooting trees and leaving homes in shambles. Three people were killed and 172 injured, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said Monday.   A shaken resident, recalling a night of terror, said she clutched her daughter and crouched down in her kitchen as the tornado came roaring in Sunday night.   "It was as if rocks were falling -- it was hail -- and I felt things beginning to fall. It lifted my entire roof, and took everything away," Canaima Hernandez, 36, said, sobbing.   Hernandez's Havana neighborhood, Regla, was one of the hardest hit by the tornado, which state media said was comparable in strength to the most powerful hurricanes.

Residents picked their way through overturned vehicles, collapsed walls, overturned lampposts, and uprooted trees on Monday morning.   Diaz-Canel, who toured the city's darkened streets visiting emergency crews, wrote on Twitter that damage was "severe."   In the city's Luyano neighborhood storm debris -- including parts of a balcony ripped off an old building --  blocked the streets, AFP photographers reported.   As emergency sirens blared across the city, firefighters and ambulances rushed about on rescue missions, their flashing lights giving light to blacked out areas.   "As of now we mourn the loss of three human lives and 172 injured people are receiving aid," Diaz-Canel tweeted.    He added that several emergency teams were working hard to restore power to blacked-out areas.

At the Hijas de Galicia maternity hospital staff were forced to evacuate the building due to storm damage.   The tornado, spawned by a powerful storm that originated in the Gulf of Mexico, hit western Cuba with winds of up to 100 kilometers (60 miles) per hour.   "Islanders are used to these warnings, but they did not suspect the magnitude of what was approaching," said Granma, the Communist Party daily.     People described the tornado as having "the sound of a jet engine," and reported feeling changes in the environmental pressure when it arrived, Armando Caymares with the Institute of Meteorology said.

The tornado "caught me in the street, in the car with my wife and children," actor Luis "Panfilo" Silva wrote on his social media account.   "I had to dodge fallen trees, flooded areas and strong winds until I managed to get home. We experienced great fear," he wrote.   Francisco Sotolongo said it was a good thing the tornado's impact only lasted seconds. "Because if it lasted a minute there would be nothing left here."   High winds sent sea water surging over the city's famed Malecon esplanade and several meters into the city. The western provinces of Pinar del Rio, Artemisa and Mayabeque also were affected by the storm.
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."