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Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic US Consular Information Sheet
March 13, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Dominican Republic covers the eastern two-thirds of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The capital city is Santo Domingo, located on the south coast of th
island. Tourist facilities vary according to price and location. Spanish is the official language. Though English is widely spoken in major cities and tourist areas, it is much less common outside these areas. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Dominican Republic for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All Americans traveling by air outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009. Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other WHTI compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S. Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.

Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted. We expect cards will be available and mailed to applicants in spring 2008. The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information is available on our U.S. Passport Card page at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html. We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel. American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.

For information concerning entry and exit requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Dominican Republic at 1715 22nd Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 332-6280. There are also Dominican consulates in Boston, Chicago (Northfield, IL), Mayaguez, Miami, New Orleans, New York, and San Juan. Visit the Embassy of the Dominican Republic web site at http://www.domrep.org for the most current visa information.

Visas: Visitors who do not obtain a Dominican visa prior to entry must purchase a tourist card upon arrival to enter the country. Tourist cards cost ten U.S. dollars, which must be paid in U.S. currency. Tourist cards may be purchased at the Dominican Embassy in Washington or Dominican Consulates prior to arrival, as well as at Dominican airports at the time of entry. Tourist cards normally permit a legal stay of up to 60 days. Visitors who would like to extend their time in the Dominican Republic should visit the Migration Department in Santo Domingo and request an extension. Failure to request an extension will subject the visitor to a surcharge at the airport upon departure.

Travel of children and EXIT requirements: Strict exit requirements apply to minors under 18 years of age (of any nationality) who are residents in the Dominican Republic. Such children traveling alone, without one parent, or with anyone other than the parent(s), must present written authorization from a parent or legal guardian. This authorization must be in Spanish, and it must be notarized at a Dominican consulate in the United States or notarized and then certified at the Dominican Attorney General’s office (Procuraduria de la Republica) if done in the Dominican Republic. Though not a requirement for non-resident minors (in the Dominican Republic), the U.S. Embassy recommends that any minor traveling to the Dominican Republic without one or both parents have a notarized document from the parent(s). In addition to clarifying the reason for travel, this will facilitate departure from the Dominican Republic.

The specific guidelines on the Dominican regulations governing the travel of children in the Dominican Republic can be found (in Spanish) at http://www.migracion.gov.do.

Visit the Embassy of the Dominican Republic web site at http://www.domrep.org for the most current visa information.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
American citizens should be aware that foreign tourists are often considered attractive targets for criminal activity, and should maintain a low profile to avoid becoming victims of violence or crime. In dealing with local police, U.S. citizens should be aware that the standard of professionalism might vary. Police attempts to solicit bribes have been reported, as have incidents of police using excessive force.

Protests, demonstrations, and general strikes occur periodically. Previous political demonstrations have sometimes turned violent, with participants rioting and erecting roadblocks, and police sometimes using deadly force in response. Political demonstrations do not generally occur in areas frequented by tourists and are generally not targeted at foreigners. However, it is advisable to exercise caution when traveling throughout the country. Street crowds should be avoided. In urban areas, travel should be conducted on main routes whenever possible. Power outages occur frequently throughout the Dominican Republic, and travelers should remain alert during blackout periods, as crime rates often increase during these outages.

U.S. citizens considering overland travel between the Dominican Republic and Haiti should first consult the Country Specific Information Sheet for Haiti as well as the Internet site of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince for information about travel conditions in Haiti. Santo Domingo and the majority of tourist destinations within the Dominican Republic are located several hours from the Haitian border, and recent events in Haiti have generally not directly affected these areas.

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

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

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

CRIME: Crime continues to be a problem throughout the Dominican Republic. Street crime and petty theft involving U.S. tourists does occur, and precautions should be taken to avoid becoming a target. While pick pocketing and mugging are the most common crimes against tourists, reports of violence against both foreigners and locals are growing. Criminals can be dangerous and visitors walking the streets should always be aware of their surroundings. Valuables left unattended in parked automobiles, on beaches and in other public places are vulnerable to theft, and reports of car theft have increased. Cellular telephones should be carried in a pocket rather than on a belt or in a purse. One common method of street robbery is for at least one person on a moped (often coasting with the engine turned off so as not to draw attention) to approach a pedestrian, grab his or her cell phone, purse or backpack, and then speed away. This type of robbery is particularly dangerous because the motorcyclist reaches the intended victim at 15–20 miles per hour and often knocks the victim to the ground.

Many criminals have weapons and are likely to use them if they meet resistance. Be wary of strangers, especially those who seek you out at celebrations or nightspots. Traveling and moving about in a group is advisable. The dangers present in the Dominican Republic, even in resort areas, are similar to those of many major U.S. cities. Expensive jewelry attracts attention and could prompt a robbery attempt. Limiting the cash and credit cards carried on your person and storing valuables, wallet items, and passports in a safe place is recommended.

Burglaries of private residences continue to be reported as well as crimes of violence. Criminals may also misrepresent themselves in an effort to gain access to your residence or hotel room. In one 2005 homicide, a U.S. citizen was murdered by two men who posed as repairmen to gain access to the apartment. In another, the Dominican police arrested the building’s actual maintenance man and an accomplice for the crime.

The U.S. Embassy continues to receive reports from Americans who have been stopped while driving and asked for “donations” by someone who may appear to be a police officer before they would be allowed to continue on their way. Usually, the person(s) stopping the American drivers had approached from behind on a motorcycle; several of these motorcyclists pulled up alongside the driver's window and indicated that they were carrying a firearm. In some cases, the perpetrators were dressed in the light green uniform of “AMET,” the Dominican traffic police; however, they often seemed too young to be police officers or wore ill-fitting uniforms that might have been stolen. In another incident, individuals dressed in military fatigues told the victim they were police and requested the victim to follow them to the police station prior to robbing him. Such incidents should be reported to the police and the Consular Section. If Dominican police stop an American driver for a traffic violation, the driver should request a traffic ticket rather than paying an on-the-spot fine. The driver also has the right to ask police for identification. New regulations require police to wear a nametag with their last name. While everyone driving in the Dominican Republic should abide by traffic laws and the instructions of legitimate authorities, Americans finding themselves in the aforementioned scenarios should exercise caution. In general, drivers should keep their doors locked and windows closed at all times and leave themselves an escape route when stopping in traffic in the event of an accident or other threat. Incidents involving police may be reported to the Internal Affairs Department of the National Police at 809 688-1777 or 809 688-0777.

In 2006, the U.S. Embassy received reports of Americans and others who were victims of vehicular-armed robberies in the northern provinces of the Dominican Republic. At least three of the reports indicate the victims were intercepted during the morning hours, when there was little other traffic, while driving on rural highways connecting Santiago and Puerto Plata. Drivers should exercise extreme caution when driving at night and use major highways when possible.

Although kidnappings are not common in the Dominican Republic, in 2007, two American citizens were kidnapped and held for ransom, in separate instances.

Many public transportation vehicles are unsafe, especially the route taxis or “carros publicos” in urban areas. These are privately owned vehicles that run along certain routes, can take up to six or more passengers, and are inexpensive. Passengers in “carros publicos” are frequently the victims of pick pocketing, and passengers have on occasion been robbed by “carro publico” drivers. Urban buses (“guaguas”) are only marginally better. The U.S. Embassy is also aware of at least one incident in which the driver of a “motoconcho” (motorcycle taxi) robbed an American passenger. The U.S. Embassy cautions its staff not to use these modes of transportation. As an alternative, some scheduled interurban bus services use modern buses and run on reliable timetables. These are generally the safest means of intercity travel. With respect to taxis, visitors to the Dominican Republic are strongly advised to take only hotel taxis or taxis operated by services whose cabs are arranged in advance by phone and can subsequently be identified and tracked.

Credit card fraud is common and recent reports indicate that its incidence has increased significantly. The U.S. Embassy strongly advises Americans to restrict severely the use of credit/debit cards in the Dominican Republic. The increase in credit card fraud is particularly pronounced in the eastern resort areas of the Dominican Republic. According to reports, store workers, restaurant service staff and hotel employees may conceal devices that can instantly record the credit card information. Often, this device appears to be a normal card reader used by businesses. Credit or debit cards should be carefully protected and never allowed out of the owner’s sight. Stolen cards are often used to the maximum amount before the victims are able to contact the bank. Victims of credit card fraud should contact the bank that issued the credit card immediately. It is advisable to pay close attention to credit card bills following time spent in the Dominican Republic. There have been reports of fraudulent charges appearing months after card usage in the Dominican Republic.

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are present throughout Santo Domingo and other major cities. However, as with credit cards, the use of ATMs should be minimized as a means of avoiding theft or misuse. One local ATM fraud scheme involves sticking photographic film or pieces of paper in the card feeder of the ATM so that an inserted card becomes jammed. Once the card owner has concluded the card is irretrievable, the thieves extract both the jamming material and the card, which they then use. There are other ATM scams as well. Exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings when using an ATM card.

The overall level of crime tends to rise during the Christmas season, and visitors to the Dominican Republic should take extra precautions when visiting the country between November and January.

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

Beaches and Resorts: The Embassy occasionally receives reports of individuals who have become victims of crime, and particularly sexual assault, while at the beach. Vigilance is recommended. The numerous “all-inclusive” resorts serve abundant quantities of alcohol, a practice that encourages inattention and may be a factor in crime or sexual assault.

Tourist Police: The Dominican Republic does have police that are specially trained to assist tourists who require assistance. This public institution is called Politur and represents a cooperative effort between the National Police, Secretary of the Armed Forces, and the Secretary of Tourism. Politur typically has personnel in tourist areas to provide first responder type assistance to tourists. If you are the victim of a crime, Politur can help you get to a police station so that you may file a police report and seek further assistance. For more information on Politur and contact information, use the following link: http://www.politur.gov.do/. Politur is located at the corner of 30 de Marzo and Mexico, Bloque D, Governmental Building, Santo Domingo. The general phone number is 809-686-8639.

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care is limited, especially outside Santo Domingo, and the quality of care varies widely among facilities. There is an emergency 911 service within Santo Domingo, but its reliability is questionable. Outside the capital, emergency services range from extremely limited to nonexistent. Blood supplies at both public and private hospitals are often limited, and not all facilities have blood on hand even for emergencies. Many medical facilities throughout the country do not have staff members who speak or understand English. A private nationwide ambulance service, ProMed, operates in Santo Domingo, Santiago, Puerto Plata and La Romana; Telephone number is 809-548-7200. ProMed expects full payment at the time of transport. The U.S. Embassy maintains a non-comprehensive list of providers of medical care in the Dominican Republic, which can be found at the following link: http://www.usemb.gov.do/Consular/ACS/medical_assistance-e.htm.

Tap water is unsafe to drink and should be avoided. Bottled water and beverages are safe.
Dengue: Dengue is endemic to the Dominican Republic. To reduce the risk of contracting dengue, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends wearing clothing that exposes as little skin as possible and applying a repellent containing the insecticide DEET (concentration 30 to 35 percent) or Picaridin (concentration 20 percent or greater for tropical travelers). Because of the increased risk of dengue fever and the ongoing risk of malaria in the Dominican Republic (see below), practicing preventative measures is recommended by the CDC. For further information on dengue fever, please visit the CDC web site at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/dengue.

Malaria: There are occasional reports of cases of malaria in areas frequented by U.S. and European tourists including La Altagracia Province, the easternmost province in which many beach resorts are located. Malaria risk is significantly higher for travelers who go on some of the excursions to the countryside offered by many resorts. Prior to coming to the Dominican Republic, travelers should consult the CDC web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/index.htm for more information and recommendations on malarial prophylaxis.

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

The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo and the CDC are aware of several cases in which U.S. citizens experienced serious complications or died following elective (cosmetic) surgery in the Dominican Republic. The CDC’s web site at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5323a4.htm contains a report on patients who suffered postoperative infections following cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic. Patients considering travel to the Dominican Republic for cosmetic surgery may also wish to contact the Dominican Society of Plastic Surgeons (tel. 809-688-8451) to verify the training, qualifications, and reputation of specific doctors.

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. Americans traveling in the Dominican Republic should be aware that Dominican hospitals often require payment at the time of service and may take legal measures to prevent patients from departing the country prior to payment. 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 the Dominican Republic is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic in the Dominican Republic moves on the right side of the road. Speed limits vary from 25 mph in the city to 50 mph on rural roads, but they are generally not enforced. Drivers are required to carry liability insurance.

If you do drive in the Dominican Republic, you should be aware that the utmost caution and defensive driving are necessary. Traffic laws are similar to those in the United States, but undisciplined driving is common, due to a lack of adequate traffic controls. Many drivers will not use turn indicators. Rather, it is common for a vehicle operator to stick his hand out the window to signal a turn. Drivers can also be aggressive and erratic, often failing to yield the right-of-way even when road signs or signals indicate that they should. Travel at night on intercity highways and in rural areas should be avoided, due to animals on the road, poor road conditions, and other vehicles being driven at excessive speeds, often with malfunctioning headlights or taillights. Blackouts also increase the danger of night travel. Turning right on red lights is permitted, but should be done with caution.

Traffic accidents often result in serious injury or death. This is often the case when heavy vehicles, such as buses or trucks, are involved. Traditionally, vehicles involved in accidents in the Dominican Republic are not moved (even to clear traffic), until authorized by a police officer. Drivers who violate this norm may be held legally liable for the accident.

Dominican law requires that a driver be taken into custody for driving under the influence or being involved in an accident that causes serious injury or death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault. The minimum detention period is 48 hours; however, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months), or until a waiver is signed by the injured party (usually as the result of a cash settlement).

Visitors to the Dominican Republic might want to consider hiring a professional driver during their stay in lieu of driving themselves. Licensed drivers who are familiar with local roads can be hired through local car rental agencies. In case of accidents, only the driver will be taken into custody.

Pedestrians tend to step out into traffic without regard to corners, crosswalks, or traffic signals. Many pedestrians die every year crossing the street (including major, multi-lane highways) at seemingly random locations. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way, and walking along or crossing busy streets – even at intersections with traffic lights or traffic police present – can be very dangerous.

Seat belts are required by law, and those caught not wearing them will be fined. There are no child car seat laws. The law also requires the use of hands-free cellular devices while driving. Police stop drivers using cell phones without the benefit of these devices. Penalties for those driving under the influence and those involved in accidents resulting in injury or death can be severe.

Motorcycles and motor scooters are common in the Dominican Republic, and they are often driven erratically. Dominican law requires that motorcyclists wear helmets, but local authorities rarely enforce this law. As noted previously in this report, public transportation vehicles such as the route taxis (“carros publicos”) and urban buses (“guaguas”) are unsafe.

Please see the Crime section of this information sheet for more information regarding crimes involving road safety.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the Dominican Republic’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of the Dominican Republic’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Currency Regulations: It is legal to exchange currency at commercial banks, exchange booths in hotels and exchange houses. The exchange rate is set by the Central Bank, based on prevailing market conditions. The market determines the exchange rate. No more than USD $10,000 or its equivalent in another currency, including Dominican pesos, may be taken out of the Dominican Republic at the time of departure.

Real Estate: Real estate investments require a high level of caution, as property rights are irregularly enforced. Investors often encounter problems in receiving clear title to land, and title insurance is not available. Real estate investments by U.S. citizens have been the subject of both legal and physical takeover attempts. Absentee landlords and absentee owners of undeveloped land are particularly vulnerable. Investors should seek solid property title and not just a “carta de constancia,” which is often confused by foreigners with a title. An official land registry measurement (also known as 'deslinde' or 'mensura catastral') is also desirable for the cautious overseas investor. Squatters, sometimes supported by governmental or non-governmental organizations, have invaded properties belonging to U.S. citizens, threatening violence and blocking the owners from entering their property. In at least one instance, the U.S. citizen landowner was physically assaulted. Several U.S. citizens with long-standing expropriation disputes with the Dominican Government have not received compensation.

Gambling: Many Americans have reported losing large amounts of money at Dominican casinos by playing a game (or variations thereof) known as “Super Keno,” “Caribbean Keno,” “Progressive Keno,” or “Progressive Roulette.” Players have complained that the game’s rules are unclear and/or misleading. Any complaints arising from a casino should be directed to the Office of Casinos at the Secretary of Finance. To register a complaint with this office, call 809-687-5131, ext. 2120.

Divorce: In recent years, there have been a number of businesses, primarily on the Internet, which advertise “Quickie Dominican Divorces.” The services of these businesses should be used with caution, as they may misrepresent the process of obtaining a divorce in the Dominican Republic. While it is relatively simple for foreigners to obtain a divorce in the Dominican Republic, such divorces are only valid if specific steps are taken. Those seeking information regarding divorce should first consult with an attorney in their home state. Additional information is available via the U.S. Embassy's flyer on Divorce in the Dominican Republic at http://www.usemb.gov.do/Consular/ACS/divorce_DR-e.htm.

Alien Smuggling: Dominican authorities may prosecute anyone arrested for organizing the smuggling of aliens into or out of the Dominican Republic. This is in addition to any charges individuals may face in the other country involved, including the United States.

Hurricanes: The Dominican Republic is situated in an area of the Caribbean prone to hurricanes. In the event of a hurricane alert, a notice will be posted on the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo's web page at http://www.usemb.gov.do/index.htm. Further information can be obtained by visiting the National Weather Service's web site at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency at http://www.fema.gov.

Water Sports: Visitors to the Dominican Republic, including to local resort areas, should carefully assess the potential risk of recreational activities. Some of the swimming areas at popular beaches around the Dominican Republic are subject to dangerous undertows. Many beaches lack life guards and/or warnings of unsafe conditions. Resort managers usually offer current information on local swimming & surf conditions. Americans are cautioned not to swim alone, particularly at isolated beaches.

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 Dominican laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Dominican Republic are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. For more information on the Dominican judicial system, procedures, and penalties, please visit the Consular Section’s web page at http://www.usemb.gov.do. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web pages. The Dominican Republic is a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The United States formally accepted the accession of the Dominican Republic on June 1, 2007.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in the Dominican Republic are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the Dominican Republic. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located at the corner of Calle César Nicolás Penson and Avenida Máximo Gómez. The American Citizens Services (ACS) Unit can be reached by telephone at 809-731-4294, or via email at acssantodom@state.gov. ACS Unit office hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, Friday 7:30-12:15, except on U.S. and Dominican holidays. The Chancery of the U.S. Embassy is located a half-mile away from the Consular Section, at the corner of Calle César Nicolás Penson and Calle Leopoldo Navarro. The telephone number is 809-221-2171.

There is a Consular Agency in the north coast city of Puerto Plata at Calle Villanueva esq. Avenida John F. Kennedy, Edificio Abraxa Libraria, 2nd floor, telephone 809-586-4204, 809-586-8017, 809-586-8023; office hours are 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except holidays.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated May 09, 2007 to update Safety and Security, Crime, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: 26 Jun 2019
Source: VOX [edited]

Tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic are sparking concern among travellers.  It's not yet clear whether the deaths of 10 Americans over the past year are connected. [Some sources report as many as 13 deaths. - ProMED Mod.TG] Ten known US tourists have died at Dominican Republic resorts, or at the hospital immediately following resort stays -- including 3 within 7 days, and 2 within 3 days -- in just over a year.

Now over a dozen more visitors who fell dangerously ill on vacation in the Dominican Republic are coming forward. Sicknesses reportedly set in quickly, marked by frequently cited symptoms of abdominal pain, nausea, and sweating; guests' descriptions of a "chemical smell" in hotel rooms; and a pattern of minibar liquor consumption before indicators of illness set in.

The Dominican Republic's Ministry of Tourism attributes these deaths to natural causes; local and US federal authorities, however, are investigating the incidents, having left some American travellers uneasy, and the future of the Dominican Republic's robust tourism industry uncertain.  The incidents occurred at a collection of resorts on the island: the Terra Linda Resort in Sousa, the Excellence Resorts in Punta Cana, the Grand Bahia Principe in Punta Cana, the Grand Bahia Principe in La Romana, and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana.

At least 3 of the people who died reportedly began experiencing symptoms after having a drink from the minibar in their rooms. The US Embassy in Santo Domingo confirmed earlier this month [June 2019] that the FBI were dispatched to the island to conduct toxicology reports, and the Dominican Republic's Ministry of Health announced samples from the minibar in the guest room of CD and NH of Maryland, who were both found dead on 30 May 2019 in their room at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana, were undergoing testing. On Monday [24 Jun 2019], the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino announced it'd be removing liquor from minibars in its guest rooms.

As forensic scientist Lawrence Kobilinsky told the "Cut," many of the victims' symptoms might suggest methanol poisoning. Methanol is a toxic, synthetic chemical normally used in antifreeze, also used, illegally, to create counterfeit alcohol. Consuming even a small amount of pure methanol can lead to pulmonary edema, or fluid in the lungs, and respiratory distress, 2 of the official causes of death listed for CD and NH. They're also 2 of the official causes of death listed for SW of Pennsylvania, who also died at Grand Bahia Principe La Romana, after reportedly having a drink from her hotel room minibar, just 5 days before CD and NH's deaths.

The toxicology reports for CD, NH, and SW have not yet been released; the FBI said in mid-June 2019 that answers could be another 30 days coming.

Some recent travellers, however, suspect they were exposed to fumes emitted from the air conditioners in their rooms. CNN reports one Denver couple, KK and TS sued the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana -- the same resort where CD and NH stayed -- earlier this year [2019] for illnesses occurring during a trip last July 2018. KK and TS described a "chemical smell" overtaking their room, an odor similar to paint or industrial cleaner. [Earlier, reports indicated KK and SW described the smell as chemical or pesticide smell. Some of their clinical signs sound like organophosphates. This couple reported earlier a grounds worker was spraying the trees, which reportedly was over the air conditioner. - ProMED Mod.TG] Soon after, they said they experienced excruciating stomach cramps, diarrhoea, bloody stool, incessant sweats and drool, watery eyes, and dizziness. Back home in Denver, their doctors wondered whether they'd been exposed to organophosphates, chemicals most often used in pesticides.

KK said she thought back on what she had seen days earlier: A maintenance person spraying palm plants covering the air conditioning units just outside their room. "I wondered if someone sprayed our unit. They are always constantly out there taking care of the plants. We saw them out there with bug sprayers."

Other tourists told CNN they too became sick after they inhaled what they described as a chemical, or paint-like smell, at the Majestic Elegance Resort in Punta Cana in 2017, and at the Grand Bahia Principe Punta Cana going back to 2016.

As the New York Times reports, poisoning or pesticide exposure is even more likely when more than one person experiences the same outcome on the same timeline, as was the case with CD and NH. Chemicals like organophosphates, adds the Times, can "seep into a vent not adequately sealed, or be sucked inside by a hotel air conditioner." Current scientific literature indicates organophosphate poisoning can lead to respiratory failure in some cases.

Tourism drives much of the Dominican Republic's economy, employing more than 300 000 people and drawing a reported 6.6 million international travellers in 2018. A report on the Dominican Republic's economy from the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service says the Dominican government aims to draw 10 million tourists -- roughly the size of its current population -- by 2020, "generating estimated revenues of US $7.2 billion."

Preliminary autopsies conducted by Dominican authorities have been released by the resorts for several of the 10 Americans known to have died in the past year. In addition to pulmonary edema and respiratory failure, the causes of death for the tourists have included pneumonia, multiple organ failure, and an exceptionally common one: heart attack. According to Tourism Minister Javier Garcia, 5 of the deaths can be categorized as "natural causes." [While the Tourism Minister may report it as "natural causes," an investigation is necessary, including toxicology reports, to be fully certain of the cause of those individuals' deaths. - ProMED Mod.TG]

The Excellence Resorts in Punta Cana told the family of LC of New York City she died in her room on 10 Jun 2019 of a heart attack. Her son BC remains skeptical, telling WCBS, "I do not believe it was of natural causes."

It's not yet clear what caused this spate of heart attacks, respiratory failures, and food poisoning-like illnesses. And it's also not clear whether these catastrophic events, similar as they are in geographic location, presenting symptoms, and outcome, are connected. Neither the US Embassy nor the Dominican Ministry of Public Health has acknowledged the possibility of a connection; in fact, Garcia has said: "These cases are very regrettable, but isolated" [The deaths are indeed tragic and regrettable, but evidence revealed so far does not seem isolated. - ProMED Mod.TG].

The Dominican Republic's Ministry of Tourism asks the public to look at these recent deaths in context: Many millions of people travel to the Dominican Republic each year and don't fall seriously ill or die. A statement released by the ministry earlier this month [June 2019] references statistics and polls conducted by the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic. The "rate of tourist incidents" in 2018, the ministry says, fell to 1.4 per 100 000 tourists from 1.6 the previous year. It also highlights that 99 percent of American tourists told their survey they'd return to the Dominican Republic for future vacations.

Nevertheless, US travellers are concerned by recent news, to say the least. CNBC cites a survey from the American Society of Travel Advisors revealing that 2/3rds of its members have cancelled trips to the Dominican Republic for clients within one week. CBS News adds flights to the Dominican Republic from the US are down 74.3 percent from this time last year [2018], with cancelled flights up by 51.2 percent in recent weeks, according to data from flight analysis agency. The [US] State Department's most recent Travel Advisory on the Dominican Republic -- from April 2019 -- places the country as a Level 2, with the directive, "Exercise Increased Caution." The rationale: crime.  "Here we are talking about 9 people, but there are countries in the area where 10 times the number of Americans have died there," the Dominican Republic's tourism board reportedly said at a press conference on 21 Jun 2109, as covered by NBC News. (Details on the 10th death, of New York native VC on 17 Jun 2019, hadn't yet been released.) "But all eyes are on us."  [Byline: Stephie Grob Plante]
=====================
[There are several reports of individuals complaining of shortness of breath and an ill feeling after consuming products from the mini bar. There were television reports indicating some drink containers were filled by the hotel, or the pool bar and put back into the mini bar.

This is the 1st article reporting methanol. However, methanol is a common product substituted in alcoholic drinks because it is cheap and easy to make. Frequently, this type of alcohol is associated with blindness. An individual, possibly dehydrated, coming in from the sun who consumes the beverage somewhat quickly may react differently. But pulmonary oedema is certainly associated with methanol consumption.


Airway and lungs:
- Breathing difficulty
- No breathing
Eyes:
- Blindness, complete or partial, sometimes described as "snow
blindness"
- Blurred vision
- Dilation (widening) of the pupils [Organophosphates produce pin
point pupils - Mod.TG]
Heart and blood:
- Low blood pressure
Nervous system:
- Agitated behaviour
- Coma (unresponsiveness)
- Confusion
- Difficulty walking
- Dizziness
- Headache
- Seizures
Skin and nails:
- Bluish-colored lips and fingernails
Stomach and intestines:
- Abdominal pain (severe)
- Diarrhea
- Liver problems, including jaundice (yellow skin) and bleeding
- Nausea
- Pancreatitis (nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain)
- Vomiting, sometimes bloody
Other:
- Fatigue
- Leg cramps
- Weakness

Compare the clinical signs, as listed by the same source
<https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002832.htm> for organophosphate poisoning:

Symptoms of organophosphate or carbamate poisoning:

Heart and Blood
- Slow heart rate
Lungs and Airways
- Breathing difficulty
- Wheezing
Nervous System
- Anxiety
- Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
- Convulsions
- Dizziness
- Headache
- Weakness
Bladder and Kidneys
- Increased urination
Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Throat
- Drooling from increased saliva
- Increased tears in the eyes
- Small pupils
Stomach and Intestines
- Abdominal cramps
- Diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
Skin
- Blue-colored lips and fingernails

Note: Serious poisoning can occur if an organophosphate gets on your bare skin or if you don't wash your skin soon after it gets on you. Large amounts of the chemical soak through the skin unless you are protected. Life-threatening paralysis and death can occur very quickly.

While the clinical signs have some differences, it could have been a combination of organophosphates and methanol intoxication. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Dominican Republic: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/24>]
Date: Thu 27 Jun 2019
Source: USA TODAY on Yahoo News [edited]

A Denver man is the latest American tourist to die in the Dominican Republic this year [2019]. [KA] died on Tuesday [25 Jun 2019], the State Department confirmed to USA TODAY.

Denver's 9 News and Fox 31 report [KA] was on vacation with his daughter [MA] when he fell ill in the Caribbean vacation destination. [MA] told 9 News her father started to complain about a painful bump on his leg just before her flight home on Sunday [23 Jun 2019]. She said they stopped by their hotel's medical clinic, but decided against treatment unless the pain became worse.

[MA] had already returned to Denver when her father's pain worsened the following day [24 Jun 2019]. He booked an earlier return flight but was forced to disembark due to his symptoms.

His sister-in-law [MS] told Fox 31 he was dripping with sweat and vomited in the plane's lavatory. "They transferred him to Santo Domingo and (said) his breathing is really bad and his kidneys were failing," she said. [MS] noted while her brother-in-law had undergone a kidney transplant several years earlier, he was in perfect health when he left Colorado.

[KA]'s relatives said they were not even told he had died; they found out only after [MA] called the hospital repeatedly Wednesday [26 Jun 2019] morning. "It's been hard," she told 9News. "Not being able to get a hold of them, or them miscommunicating, or simply not knowing information."

Authorities are conducting an autopsy and investigation to determine the official cause of death, according to 9 News. (The family said they did not receive any diagnosis.)

Questions about safety have dogged the Dominican Republic since late May [2019], when the 1st of several Americans died in their hotel rooms and a Delaware woman claimed she was attacked there in January [2019].

Last week, tourism minister Francisco Javier Garcia held a press conference to dispel those concerns, stating, "The Dominican Republic is a safe country." Garcia also said the confirmed deaths -- 9 including [KA] -- are not out of the ordinary and the number is actually lower than in some previous years. Garcia said by this point in 2011 and 2015, 15 tourists had died in the Dominican Republic.  [Byline: Sara M. Moniuszko]
=====================
[The Dominican Republic is a small place compared with the USA, Europe, Russia, Australia, Canada, Brazil and others.  While this article says there were 9 deaths, including this victim, other sources and listed names add up to 13, with other victims being severely ill and reporting their illness and having survived to tell about it. This is a lot for a small place and even more so given that most of them are reporting the same clinical signs.

An autopsy alone is insufficient for determining a cause of death in these cases. We have been waiting weeks for the release of the toxicology report from the first 10 or more victims, which allegedly the US officials and CDC toxicologist are involved with.

If the man had no prior illness and suddenly started having these pains, sweating and vomiting, it seems quite out of the ordinary. His kidneys may well have failed from the toxins (allegedly) in his system, but it does not mean the kidney failure was the primary reason for death.

The excessive sweating, complained about by every victim prior to death, and by a few who managed to survive, as well as reports of vomiting roll together to make me think this is not a plain and simple death or a death from kidney failure.

I am still suspicious of organophosphates. I am also suspicious of the pain from a bump on his leg. This article does not address anything about the bump. I wonder if there was a bite or sting there? Or was he injected with something?

While the minister of tourism is saying it is safe, there is no indication of security being increased around the resorts to prevent others with nefarious motives from entering the area. There is no indication of an investigation from the resorts or the minister of tourism to assess what is really happening. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[It is also possible that the "bump" on his leg was an abscess either insect bit related or small entry wound related and the disease process described could also be consistent with sepsis, remembering that the individual had a history of a kidney transplant and was most likely on immunosuppressive drugs to prevent rejection of the transplanted kidney. - ProMED Mod.MPP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Dominican Republic: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/24>]
Date: Sat 15 Jun 2019, 1:03 PM
Source: New York Post [edited]

A group of Jimmy Buffett-diehards from Oklahoma were incredibly sick in paradise -- the latest in an ever-growing list of tourists to be sickened during a jaunt to the Dominican Republic, a report said.

DF, a travel agent who vacationed to Punta Cana with the Buffett-loving Central Oklahoma Parrothead Association, said 4 days into their April [2019] trip, he and other members came down with a mysterious illness. "I can't even explain how sick I was," DF told Oklahoma's News 4. "I lost 14 pounds during that time and was really sick."

By the end of the vacation, 47 of the 114 Oklahomans reported becoming ill, DF said, with many of them too sick to leave their rooms at the Hotel Riu Palace Macao.

DF said it's unclear what caused the illnesses -- Punta Cana doctors suggested a parasite might be to blame. Everyone who got sick swam in the resort pool equipped with a swim-up bar, DF recalled.

Some of the sick Parrotheads, the nickname for fans of the "Why Don't We Get Drunk" singer [Jimmy Buffet], tested positive for _Salmonella_ spp, according to DF, who said he did not.

The latest report of illness comes amid a spate of unexplained deaths on the island nation since January [2019]. The death count ticked to 8 on [Fri 14 Jun 2019], when the family of a 78-year-old Ohio man revealed he died suddenly after dinner and drinks at the Dreams Punta Cana Resort & Spa. Authorities are eyeing bootleg liquor from hotel minibars as the potential killer, sources have told The Post.  "I will not be going back to the Dominican any time soon," DF said.  [Byline: Sara Dorn]
=====================
[These people may be lucky they were only sick and not dead. However, _Salmonella_ sp most often causes diarrhoea and cramps along with severe dehydration and weakness. While an individual may develop a fever and be sweating, the sweating reported in the fatal cases is extreme sweating.

There is no report of the deceased individuals testing positive for salmonellosis.

Regardless of the cause, salmonellosis, or poisoning by something other than bacteria, the resorts involved in these reports appear to have a problem. The problem may be lack of awareness of chemicals from spraying trees above air conditioning units, to someone tampering with alcohol bottles, or perhaps uncleanliness at some eating/drinking  establishment. This many illness and deaths seems quite out of the ordinary for these resorts. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Dominican Republic: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/24>]
Date: Wed 12 Jun 2019
Source: New York Times [edited]
<https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/12/travel/dominican-republic-deaths.html>

More than two million Americans visit the Dominican Republic every year, making up about a third of the country's tourists. Six have died in the last year during their visits. Because of the seeming similarities among their deaths, their family members have suggested that they are connected and have raised suspicions about the resorts where they died. Here's what we know, and don't know, about the circumstances.

Who has died, and how?
Yvette Monique Sport, 51, died in June 2018 of a heart attack. Her sister, Felecia Nieves, has said that Ms. Sport had a drink from the minibar in her room at a Bahia Pri­ncipe resort, one of a number on the island, then went to sleep and never woke up.

In July 2018, David Harrison, 45, died at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana. Mr. Harrison died of a heart attack and The Washington Post reported that his death certificate also listed "pulmonary oedema, an accumulation of fluid in the lungs that can cause respiratory failure, and atherosclerosis" as causes of death. He and his wife were in the Dominican Republic for their wedding anniversary with their son.

In April of this year, Robert Wallace became sick at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, where he was attending a wedding and died. The 67 year old's family said that he became ill after drinking scotch from the minibar in the hotel. Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, of Allentown, Pa., was celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary when she died at the Luxury Bahia Pri­ncipe Bouganville, on May 25 of this year of a heart attack. She had been at the resort for less than 24 hours.

A few days later, Nathaniel Edward Holmes 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, from Prince George's County, Md., were found dead in their room at the Grand Bahia Pri­ncipe La Romana. The two had recently become engaged. An autopsy found that the couple had respiratory failure and pulmonary oedema.

Are the hotels connected?
Four of the dead were staying at Bahia Pri­ncipe resorts, which are part of a group of 14 hotels in the Dominican Republic that are popular among tourists because they are all-inclusive. The Luxury Bahia Pri­ncipe Bouganville, where Ms. Schaup-Werner died, is less than a five-minute walk away from the Grand Bahia Pri­ncipe La Romana, where Mr. Holmes and Ms. Day died. Both are near the town of San Pedro De Macoris.

The Hard Rock is across the island from the other two hotels in Punta Cana. It is not known which Bahia Principe resort Ms. Sport was staying in.

What are the hotels saying?
In a statement on Friday, Bahia Principe said reports of the deaths had been inaccurate and that the hotel was committed to "collaborating completely with the authorities and hope for a prompt resolution of their inquiries and actions." Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos said in a statement on Tuesday evening that it is waiting for official reports about the deaths and is, "Deeply saddened by these two unfortunate incidents, and we extend our sincerest sympathy to the families of Mr. Harrison and Mr. Wallace."

What are Dominican officials doing?
The Dominican Attorney General's office and the national police are investigating the deaths, but tourism officials have been downplaying them. The tourism minister, Francisco Javier Garci­a, said last week that in the last five years, more than 30 million tourists have visited the country, and that these deaths are "isolated incidents" and the island is safe for tourists. "These are situations that can occur in any country, in any hotel in the world," he said. "It's regrettable but sometimes it happens." The tourism ministry said last week that hotels had 60 days to install security cameras. What are U.S. officials saying?

In a statement issued Tuesday evening, the U.S. State Department said that "Dominican authorities have asked for F.B.I. assistance for further toxicology analysis," and it could take up to a month to receive the results. A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control said that the organization had not received a request for assistance from the Dominican Republic relating to these deaths. Are there any theories as to what might be causing the deaths? Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said in a phone interview that the symptoms that have been reported, like pulmonary oedema, bleeding and vomiting blood, are "consistent with poisoning," perhaps accidental.

But until toxicology reports are available, he said, it is difficult and too soon to definitively say what caused the visitors' deaths. "It's rare for travellers to die of unknown causes like this, and to have a high number of them in a relatively short period of time is alarming, shocking, sad," Dr. Inglesby said. "It's something that investigators should be able to get to the bottom of." The fact that toxicology reports have not been released or completed is "unconscionable and inexplicable," he said. Have there been other incidents? Two couples have come forward to say they fell ill while staying at one of the Bahia Pri­ncipe resorts where tourists have died. In January 2018, Doug Hand, 40, and his wife Susie Lauterborn, 38, were staying at the Grand Bahia Pri­ncipe La Romana when, he said in a phone interview, they got sick with fevers, nausea, cold sweats, diarrhoea and fatigue. Mr. Hand said that he didn't drink alcohol on the trip, but he did notice a "mouldy, mildew smell like the A.C. or filter hadn't been cleaned."

When Mr. Hand told an employee in the hotel's lobby that his wife was sick, the employee gave him directions to a doctor, but seemed more focused on ensuring the couple attended a meeting about buying time shares, Mr. Hand said. Kaylynn Knull, 29, and Tom Schwander, 33, are suing the resort chain for $1 million, their lawyer told The Times, because the Colorado-based couple became violently ill during their stay at the Grand Bahia Pri­ncipe La Romana last summer. Ms. Knull got a persistent headache and was sweating and drooling profusely, the lawyer, David Columna, said. She also had blurry vision, nausea and diarrhoea, she told CNN, and family doctors determined the couple had been exposed to organophosphates, a class of insecticides. "The hotel did nothing," said Mr. Columna, who is representing Ms. Knull and Mr. Schwander in the Dominican Republic. The couple, he said, "spent the night inhaling the chemical and they are still having side effects of the intoxication and the hotel hasn't given us any idea of what happened." [Byline: Elisabeth Malkin, Tariro Mzezewa]
Date: 6 Jun 2019
Source: Washington Post [edited]

Dominican government officials released more-detailed autopsy results on Thursday [6 Jun 2019] for 3 American tourists who died at adjacent beach resorts owned by the same hotel company during the last week of May 2019.

All 3 victims experienced eerily similar symptoms and internal trauma before their deaths, according to a news release from Dominican authorities. Pathologists said autopsies showed the 3 had internal haemorrhaging, pulmonary oedema, and enlarged hearts.

Toxicology reports are pending [These are likely to be the most interesting. - ProMED Mod.TG].

A U.S. State Department official said authorities have not yet established a connection between the 30 May 2019 deaths of 49-year-old CAD, and 63-year-old NEH, both of Prince George's County, MD, and the death on 25 May 2019 of 41-year-old MSW of Pennsylvania.

The FBI is providing Dominican law enforcement with "technical assistance with the toxicology reports," the State Department official said.

MSW had just checked into the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville, in the town of San Pedro de Macoris, and was taking pictures from her room balcony when she started to feel ill.

Less than 2 hours later, she was dead, local authorities said.

The bodies of CAD and HEH were found inside their room at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana after relatives grew concerned because they had not checked out of the resort.

The hotels are located next to each other on the island's southern coast, about 60 miles from the tourist-heavy Punta Cana area.

Dominican authorities initially did not run toxicology tests for MSW because there were no signs of violence, said Ramon Brito, a spokesman for the National Police's special tourism unit. After the Maryland couple was found, investigators ordered a set of tests to determine whether anything the 3 Americans consumed may have led to their deaths, Brito said.  [Byline: Arelis R. Hernandez]
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."