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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: Fri, 6 Mar 2020 03:09:21 +0100 (MET)

Santo Domingo, March 6, 2020 (AFP) - A Canadian tourist has the second confirmed case of the new coronavirus in the Dominican Republic, the public health ministry said Thursday.    The 70-year-old woman arrived in the Caribbean country on February 25 with her husband, who is not showing symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus that first appeared in China late last year.    The couple has been transferred from their hotel in Bayahibe, in the eastern part of the country, to a hospital isolation centre in the capital Santo Domingo.

The first known case of coronavirus infection in the Dominican Republic was discovered Sunday in a 62-year-old Italian tourist, who was also staying in Bayahibe.    The man was hospitalized and is recovering, according to authorities.    The country established airport and border controls to combat the spread of the virus when the outbreak first took hold in China's Hubei province, and has suspended flights from Milan for 30 days as the virus spreads near the Italian city.    There have been nearly 98,000 infections and some 3,300 deaths in 85 countries and territories throughout the world, according to a count by AFP.
Date: Mon 18 Nov 2019
Source: Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) [abridged, edited]

Between 2005 and 2014, there was an overall decreasing trend in the number of cases of malaria in the Region of the Americas; however, since 2015, there has been an increase in the number of malaria cases reported in the Region.

This overall increase is due to the increase in cases over the last 3 years in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela along with increased transmission in endemic areas of countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, Nicaragua, and Panama, as well as outbreaks in countries that were moving towards elimination (Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador) (Figure 1 [available at the source URL above]).

Despite this, in 2018, Guatemala and Honduras reported a significant decrease in malaria cases compared to the prior year, which has continued as of November 2019. El Salvador has not reported an autochthonous case in almost 3 years, while Paraguay and Argentina were certified by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) as malaria-free countries in July 2018 and May 2019, respectively.

In Venezuela, between 1 Jan and week 41 [ending 11 Oct] of 2019, a total of 323,392 malaria cases were reported, representing a slight decrease (1.5%) compared to the same period in 2018 (328,373 cases). In contrast, in 2017, there were 321,358 cases reported during the same period.

In Brazil, the Amazon region is characterized by high endemicity of malaria, accounting for nearly 99% of the cases reported nationally. In this region, there was a 24% overall decrease in the number of cases reported during the 1st semester of 2019 (71,549 cases) compared to the 1st semester of 2018 (93,995 cases).

In Colombia, between 1 Jan and week 42 [ending 18 Oct] of 2019, an outbreak has been occurring with 66,581 malaria cases reported, representing a 28.2% increase compared to the same period in 2018 (51,935 cases).

In Nicaragua, in 2019 as of week 41 [ending 11 Oct] of 2019, there were 9358 cases reported, representing a 15% decrease compared to the same period in 2018 (10,988 cases). This is mainly due to the decrease in cases reported in Puerto Cabezas since mid-2019.
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[The complete PAHO summary can be accessed at the source URL above.  The surge of malaria in Venezuela is well known and is due to an almost entire lack of any vector control activities over the past 10 years. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
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>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 09:15:57 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after more than two months of stringent curbs.   Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the ministry said in a series of measures announced on the official Saudi Press Agency.   The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday.   From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added.   The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21.   "Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing," Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday.   Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.

In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities.   That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said.   Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 05:52:24 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chile registered a new high for coronavirus cases on Monday, with nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours, including two ministers in President Sebastian Pinera's government.   Health authorities announced 4,895 new infections in the South American country and 43 deaths.

Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno and Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet said they were among those with the disease.   "I have been informed that the COVID-19 test I had a few days ago was positive," Moreno said on Twitter, adding that he had no symptoms so far.   The 63-year-old minister had placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff tested positive.  Jobet also tested positive after starting to quarantine preventatively on Saturday, "when he experienced mild symptoms, which could be associated with the disease," a statement from the Energy Ministry said.

The 44-year-old minister "has had no direct contact with President Sebastian Pinera or other cabinet members in recent days," the statement said, without specifying how he became infected.   Three other ministers, who had self-quarantined after being in contact with infected people, all tested negative and resumed work.

Chile suffered a surge in infections last week, prompting the government to order the lockdown of Santiago.   The capital is the main focus of the pandemic in Chile, with 90 percent of the country's 74,000 cases.   Last week, the Senate was closed after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus. Sessions were held by video conference.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 01:15:01 +0200 (METDST)

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

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

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

The government says the pandemic has so far cost the economy at least $8 billion.   Public sector working hours have been cut by 25 percent, with an accompanying 16 percent pay cut.   Moreno said on Sunday that 150,000 people had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.   Ecuador was struggling economically before the pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil.   The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by 6.3 percent this year, the sharpest drop of any country in South America.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 22:20:46 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland recorded no new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 21.   Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it a "significant milestone", adding on Twitter: "This is a day of hope. We will prevail."

The announcement came one week after Ireland, which has suffered 1,606 deaths from 24,698 infections, began to ease lockdown measures that had been in place for nearly two months.   Ireland entered lockdown in late March, recording a peak of 77 deaths on a single day on April 20.   "In the last 24 hours we didn't have any deaths notified to us," chief medical officer Tony Holohan said at a daily press briefing.   He warned that the zero figure could be a result of a lag in reporting of deaths over the weekend, but he added: "It's part of the continued trend that we've seen in (the) reduction in the total number of deaths."

Ireland has announced a five-step plan to reopen the nation by August and took the first steps last Monday -- allowing outdoor employees to return to work, some shops to reopen and the resumption of  activities such as golf and tennis.   While the news of no fresh deaths was greeted as progress, officials remain concerned there will be a "second wave" as the lockdown is loosened.   "The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed COVID-19 as a country," Holohan added in a statement.   "It will take another week to see any effect on disease incidence that might arise from the easing of measures."
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 21:59:40 +0200 (METDST)

Luxembourg, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Luxembourg will ease its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, reopening cafes and restaurants and allowing civil and religious ceremonies under strict conditions, the government announced.   The tiny country has so far registered only 3,993 COVID-19 cases, of which 110 have been fatal. Four people are in intensive care and shops were closed on March 18 to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told a news conference on Monday that eateries could reopen terraces with a maximum of four people at a single table.   Indoor dining in cafes and restaurants will resume on Friday, he said, with social distancing of 1.5 metres (five feet) between groups.   Marriages and funerals will also be allowed if the attendees wore face masks and kept two metres distance from each other.   Bettel however said cafes and restaurants would have to close at midnight.

Francois Koepp, the general secretary of the Horeca federation grouping hotels, restaurants and cafes, welcomed the announcement, saying the sector had "greatly suffered from the confinement".   He said it provided employment to some 21,000 people in this nation of 620,000 inhabitants.   Cinema theatres and gyms will open at the end of the week but children's parks will remain closed.   The government has pledged to give every citizen over 16 a voucher worth 50 euros ( $54) to spend in hotels to provide a boost to the sector.   The vouchers will also be given to some 200,000 cross border workers from Belgium, France and Germany.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 20:36:16 +0200 (METDST)

Prague, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - The Czech Republic and Slovakia will reopen their border this week for those travelling to the other country for up to 48 hours, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Monday.   "This will be possible without tests or quarantine" starting Wednesday, he added in a message posted on Twitter.   The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a single country until 1993. Babis himself was born in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

Both countries have fared well in the current pandemic, with Slovakia posting the lowest death toll per capita in the EU and the Czech Republic keeping its COVID-19 figures down as well.   The Czech government will also open border crossings with Austria and Germany on Tuesday but will still require negative COVID-19 tests from those entering the country.   "We have negotiated similar conditions on the other side of the border with our German and Austrian colleagues," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said.   The interior ministry said blanket border checks would be replaced by random ones and added it would still not allow tourists into the country.

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government was working on other measures to ease the travel restrictions adopted in mid-March.   "We would like to introduce them next week," he added.   Vojtech said EU citizens could now come to the Czech Republic "on business or to visit their family for a maximum of 72 hours if they submit a negative coronavirus test."

The country is also accessible to non-EU citizens who do seasonal jobs there, on condition they have tested negative.   Czech restaurants, bars, hotels, castles, zoos and swimming pools have been open since Monday, when the government lifted many anti-virus measures.   Czechs also no longer have to wear face masks outside their homes, except in shops and on public transport.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 17:45:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shafiqul ALAM

Dhaka, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Some 15,000 Rohingya refugees are now under coronavirus quarantine in Bangladesh's vast camps, officials said Monday, as the number of confirmed infections rose to 29.   Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped settlements, housing almost a million Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar, and officials had restricted movement to the area in April.

Despite this, the first cases in the camps were detected in mid-May.   "None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still we have brought them in isolation centres and quarantined their families," Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the surrounding Cox's Bazar area told AFP.   He said narrow roads to three districts of the camps -- where the majority of the infections were detected -- have been blocked off by authorities.

The 15,000 Rohingya inside these so-called blocks faced further restrictions on their movement, he said.   It comes as charity workers expressed fears over being infected in the camps as they worked without adequate protection.   Two of the areas under isolation are in Kutupalong camp, home to roughly 600,000 Rohingya.   "We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts," Bhuiyan said.

Seven isolation centres with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared, he said.   Officials hope to have just under 2,000 ready by the end of May, he added.   Mahbubur Rahman, the chief health official of Cox's Bazar, said authorities hoped this week they would double the number of tests being performed daily from 188.   He said further entry restrictions have been imposed on the camp, with a 14 day quarantine in place for anyone visiting from Dhaka.   "We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun," Rahman told AFP.

- 'Very little awareness' -
Bangladesh on Monday notched up a record single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 1,975 new infections, taking the toll to 35,585 cases and 501 deaths.   In early April authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox's Bazar district -- home to 3.4 million people including the refugees -- after a number of infections.

But a charity worker with one of the many aid organisations active in the camps said Monday he and many others were "very worried".   "Fear and panic has gripped aid workers because many of us were forced to work without much protection," he told AFP without wishing to be named.   "Social distancing is almost impossible in the camps. There is very little awareness about COVID-19 disease among the refugees, despite efforts by aid agencies."

The lack of information is exacerbated by local authorities having cut off access to the internet in September to combat, they said, drug traffickers and other criminals.   More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar to Cox's Bazar, where around 200,000 refugees were already living.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 15:25:38 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar's government has announced it will dispatch troops and doctors to an eastern town after several bodies were found in the streets and where two people died from the novel coronavirus.   Madagascar's cabinet held a special meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Toamasina, the country's second largest city.   The Indian Ocean island nation has registered 527 infections and two deaths, both in Toamasina.

Since Thursday, more than 120 new cases were confirmed, and several bodies were found in the city's streets though the cause of death was not clear.   "Doctors must carry out thorough examinations to see if these deaths are caused by another illness (...) or if they are really due to severe acute respiratory problems which is the critical form of COVID-19," Professor Hanta Marie Danielle Vololontiana, spokesperson for the government's virus taskforce, said in a national broadcast on Sunday.   The government will send 150 soldiers to reinforce Toamasina, maintain order and enforce measures against the coronavirus such as mask wearing and social distancing.

The cabinet also fired Toamasina's prefect without providing any explanation.    A team was also ordered to distribute a drink based on artemisia, a plant recognised as a treatment against malaria, which the Malagasy authorities claim cures COVID-19.    The potential benefits of this herbal tea, called Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study.    The cabinet has also announced an investigation into the death of a doctor in Toamasina. According to local press, the victim was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 and was found dead hanged in his room on Sunday morning.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 09:20:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Bhuvan Bagga with Indranil Mukherjee in Mumbai

New Delhi, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Domestic flights resumed in India on Monday even as coronavirus cases surge, while confusion about quarantine rules prompted jitters among passengers and the cancellation of dozens of planes.   India had halted all flights within the country, and departing and leaving for abroad, in late March as it sought to stop the spread of coronavirus with the world's largest lockdown.   But desperate to get Asia's third-largest economy moving again, the government announced last week that around 1,050 daily flights -- a third of the usual capacity -- would resume on Monday.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said strict rules would include mandatory mask-wearing and thermal screenings, although middle seats on the aircraft would not be kept empty.   The announcement reportedly caught airlines and state authorities off-guard, with several local governments announcing that passengers would have to go into quarantine for two weeks on arrival.   Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases, capped at 50 the number of departures and arrivals in and out of its capital Mumbai.

Airlines scrapped dozens of flights on Monday while hundreds of passengers cancelled their bookings, reports said.   The NDTV news channel said 82 flights to and from New Delhi had been cancelled and nine at Bangalore airport.   Other flights from cities including infection hotspots Mumbai and Chennai were struck off, many at short notice, reports said.   At Mumbai airport social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were cancelled at the last minute.

- 'Really scary' -
At New Delhi airport, hundreds of people anxious to get home but apprehensive about the risks queued from before dawn -- all wearing masks and standing at least one metre (three feet) apart.   Security personnel behind plastic screens verified check-in documents and that passengers had the government contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, on their phones.

"While I'm looking forward (to flying home), the idea of flying is really scary," student Gladia Laipubam told AFP as she stood in line.   "Anything can happen. It's very risky. I don't really know when I'll be able to come back to Delhi now. There is no clarity from the university too at this time."   One female airline employee wearing gloves, a mask and a protective face shield said she and many other colleagues felt "very nervous" about starting work again.   "Dealing with so many people at this time is so risky. I must have interacted with at least 200 people since this morning," she told AFP, not wishing to be named.

Cabin crew on the planes had to wear full protective suits with masks, plastic visors and blue rubber gloves, and many were also confused about the rules, the Press Trust of India reported.   "There is no clarity on whether I need to go into home quarantine for 14 days after returning to my base or show up for duty on Monday," one pilot told PTI.   New coronavirus cases in India crossed 6,000 for the third consecutive day on Sunday, surging to a record single-day spike of 6,767 infections.   The country has recorded almost 140,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.   Singh has said that international flights could resume in June, although dozens of special flights have in recent weeks brought back some of the hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad.
Date: Fri, 22 May 2020 11:02:28 +0200 (METDST)

Suva, Fiji, May 22, 2020 (AFP) - A huge fire at one of Suva's largest markets blanketed the Fijian capital in thick smoke before it was brought under control Friday, firefighters said.   The blaze engulfed the Suva Flea Market, a major tourist attraction near the waterfront, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the air.   The National Fire Authority said an adjoining shop was also badly damaged but there were no reports of injuries.   "It's been stopped now and no one was injured but that's all we can say at the moment," a spokesman told AFP.   The said the cause of the fire was being investigated.