WORLD NEWS

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

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: 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.
=====================
[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>]
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]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 27 Jan 2020 01:07:04 +0100 (MET)

Wuhan, China, Jan 27, 2020 (AFP) - China's central government said on Monday that the nationwide total of confirmed infections from a deadly respiratory virus had risen to 2,744, with 769 new cases coming to light.   However, it said no new deaths were confirmed outside of Hubei province, which had earlier reported 24 new fatalities to bring the national total to 80 dead.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 22:16:28 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chinese authorities have ordered the extension of a public holiday in an effort to contain an epidemic that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000 worldwide, state-run media reported.   A working group chaired by Premier Li Keqiang to tackle the outbreak decided on Sunday "to reduce population flows" by extending the Spring Festival holiday which had been scheduled to end on January 30, state news agency Xinhua said.   It was not immediately clear how long the extension is.

The group also ordered changes to "the starting dates of schools" and "people to work from home by working online."   "The meeting stressed that the country is at a crucial time in the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus outbreak, urging Party committees and governments at all levels to take more 'decisive, powerful and orderly, scientific and well-planned' measures to effective curb the spread," Xinhua reported.   In a bid to slow the spread of the respiratory virus, the government had previously locked down hard-hit Hubei, a province in central China that is at the outbreak's epicentre, in an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people.

The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen, which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   Originating in Hubei's capital of Wuhan, the virus has spread throughout China and across the world -- with cases confirmed in around a dozen countries including as far away as the United States.   Several countries were making arrangements to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, where an eery calm pervades as new restrictions prohibit most road traffic in the metropolis of 11 million.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 21:47:53 +0100 (MET)

Washington, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - US health authorities said Sunday there are now five confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States and more are expected.   Nancy Messonnier, head of the respiratory disease section at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said around 100 people in 26 states are being investigated for the virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Of the confirmed cases, all five people had travelled to Wuhan, Messonier said during a conference call with reporters.   "Every case we have had in the United States is someone who has had direct contact in Wuhan," she said.   Messonier said there are two cases in California and one each in Arizona, Illinois and Washington state. Until now the toll was three.   While Chinese officials have launched an extraordinary emergency response, Messonier insisted that the health risk for Americans in general remains low "at this time."
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 13:44:57 +0100 (MET)

Lagos, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Nigerian health authorities have announced stepped-up emergency measures to tackle a rise in Lassa fever cases after 29 people died this month.   "As at 24th of January 2020, 195 confirmed cases and 29 deaths had been reported in 11 states," the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said in a statement Saturday.   A national emergency operations centre had been activated to coordinate the response "to the increasing number of Lassa fever cases" across the country.

Endemic to Nigeria, Lassa fever belongs to the same family as the Ebola and Marburg viruses, but is much less deadly.   The virus is spread by contact with rat faeces or urine. It starts with fever and can, in worst case scenarios, lead to severe bleeding and organ failure.   Nigeria declared an outbreak of Lassa fever a year ago and around 170 people died from the virus in 2019.

The number of cases usually climbs in January due to weather conditions during the dry season.    Almost 90 percent of the recent confirmed cases have been in Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi states in southern Nigeria, but their have also been deaths in the north.

The NCDC said that compared to the same period last year the fatality rate had dropped from 23.4 percent to 14.8 percent.    It encouraged Nigerians to "practise good hygiene and take measures to protect themselves and their families".   Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with a population of some 200 million, has five laboratories with the capability to diagnose Lassa fever.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 12:18:19 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Two Chinese provinces and three cities have ordered citizens to wear face masks in public, to help control the spread of a deadly virus.   The measure is required in the provinces of Guangdong in the south and Jiangxi in the centre, plus the eastern city of Nanjing, Ma'anshan city in Anhui province, and Xinyang city in Henan, according to local authorities.   China's industry and information technology ministry has said it would "spare no effort in increasing supply" after demand for masks skyrocketed.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 04:03:51 +0100 (MET)

Hong Kong, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Hong Kong's Disneyland announced it was shutting its doors on Sunday until further notice over the deadly virus outbreak in central China, a day after city authorities classified the crisis as an emergency.   "As a precautionary measure in line with prevention efforts taking place across Hong Kong, we are temporarily closing Hong Kong Disneyland park out of consideration for the health and safety of our guests and cast members," the park said in a statement.
Date: 26 Jan 2020
Source: MENAFN [edited]

Two more polio cases have surfaced from Landikotal tehsil in Khyber tribal district, after which the number of reported cases in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reached 4 this year [2020].

According to the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), a 2-year-old [male child] from Nekikhel and another child from Torwela have been diagnosed with polio. The samples of these 2 children were sent for laboratory tests in 2019, so these cases will be counted in the tally of 2019, which stands at 141 now.

The 2 cases in Landiktoal were reported 2 days after the emergence of 3 new polio cases in Qambar, Dadu and Sajawal districts of Sindh. Among them, 2 children contracted the crippling disease in 2019, but the cases were confirmed on Friday [24 Jan 2020].

On [21 Jan 2020], the 1st case of polio in Pakistan in 2020 surfaced in Lakki Marwat, the district with the highest number of cases in 2019.

The year 2019 was worse for Pakistan in polio eradication efforts, as 141 cases surfaced in Pakistan, including 96 cases in KP. Most cases in KP surfaced in Lakki Marwat, where 32 children were diagnosed with the crippling disease. In 2018, only 12 cases were reported, while in 2017, 8 cases were reported.

Currently, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only 2 countries in the world which have not fully eradicated polio. The main cause behind the emergence of so many polio cases is refusal of parents to cooperate with the vaccination teams. According to media reports citing Health Ministry data, over a million parents refused to cooperate with vaccination teams in 2019. Most of the refusal cases were reported in April last year [2019] when rumours spread in Peshawar that many children had fainted after consuming vaccination drops. A total of 1 089 087 parents refused to give vaccination drops to their children in 2019.

The emergence of so many polio cases in Pakistan, particularly in KP, has brought the federal and provincial governments under pressure over their performance and strategy to control the spread of disease.

Experts believe that polio vaccination efforts cannot succeed completely until the refusing parents are convinced to cooperate with vaccination teams.
==================
[The End Polio Pakistan website has not added all of the media reported cases as yet, so it's a bit difficult to follow at times and know which cases were 2019 onset and which were 2020 onset. The above media report clearly states 2019 onset and puts the tally for 2019 as 141 cases, but the media reports from Friday's [24 Jan 2020] report is less clear (see Poliomyelitis update (10): global, Pakistan (BA, SD) http://promedmail.org/post/20200124.6911971).

A good map of Pakistan showing districts and provinces can be found at:
Date: Fri 24 Jan 2020
Source: SciTechDaily [abridged, edited]

Citation: Amman BR, Bird BH, Bakarr IA, et al. Isolation of Angola-like Marburg virus from Egyptian rousette bats from West Africa. Nat Commun. 2020; 11:510.  <https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-14327-8>

Scientists have detected Marburg virus in fruit bats in Sierra Leone, marking the 1st time the deadly virus has been found in West Africa. A total of 11 Egyptian rousette fruit bats tested positive for active Marburg virus infection. Research teams caught the bats separately in 3 health districts.

The presence of Marburg virus, a close relative to Ebola virus that also causes hemorrhagic disease in people, was detected in advance of any reported cases of human illness in Sierra Leone. However, the virus's presence in bats means people who live nearby could be at risk for becoming infected. No outbreaks have been reported to date.

The findings, based on PCR, antibody, and virus isolation data, were officially published today [24 Jan 2020] in the journal Nature Communications. Preliminary findings were announced earlier in December 2018 to ensure rapid notification to the citizens of Sierra Leone and the international health community.

The paper highlights the value of collaborating with government and key stakeholders across human, animal, and environmental sectors to engage at-risk communities about the discovery, address health concerns, and communicate risk-reduction strategies before recognized spillovers occur.

Marburg virus was detected by projects led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the USAID-funded PREDICT project led by the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Njala University, Sierra Leone; and the University of Makeni, Sierra Leone.

"Finding Marburg virus in bats in Sierra Leone before any known cases in people is a huge success, as public health officials and doctors can now include Marburg virus among the possible causes when diagnosing hemorrhagic fever cases in the region," said Tracey Goldstein, co-principal investigator and pathogen detection lead for the PREDICT project from the UC Davis One Health Institute.

To date, there have been 12 known outbreaks of Marburg virus, with the most recent in Uganda in 2017. The largest and deadliest outbreak occurred in Angola in 2005 when 227 people died. Five of the new strains identified among the Marburg-positive bats in Sierra Leone were genetically similar to the strain that caused the outbreak in Angola. This is the 1st time scientists have detected these Angolan-like strains in bats.

The virus-positive bats were all Egyptian rousette bats, the known reservoir for Marburg virus, which primarily feed on fruit. Infected bats shed the virus in their saliva, urine, and feces. Egyptian rousette bats are known to test-bite fruits, urinate, and defecate where they eat, potentially contaminating fruit or other food sources consumed by other animals or people, particularly children. These bats sometimes serve as a food source for local populations as well. People may be exposed to Marburg virus through bat bites as they catch the bats.

Following the announcement of the preliminary findings by the government of Sierra Leone, the PREDICT team worked with government partners, universities, and other key stakeholders to develop and implement evidence-based public health messaging across national, district, and local community levels in Sierra Leone.  "Over a year ago, we worked with our Sierra Leone government colleagues to inform people across the country as fast as possible of this new health risk and remind people not to harm or come in contact with bats," said Brian Bird from the UC Davis One Health Institute and global lead for Sierra Leone and Multi-Country Ebola operations for PREDICT-USAID. "I'm very proud of that work and our teams now that this full report is available."
----------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap Alerts
<promed@promedmail.org>
and
Mary Marshall
===========================
[The initial report of this finding, prior to this publication, was posted by ProMED-mail (Marburg virus disease - Sierra Leone (02): bats, additional information http://promedmail.org/post/20181223.6221436) when the virus was detected for the 1st time in fruit bats in Sierra Leone.

According to the CDC (<https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/marburg/index.html>), Marburg virus was 1st recognized in 1967, when outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). A total of 31 people became ill, initially laboratory workers followed by several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them; 7 deaths were reported. The 1st people infected had been exposed to imported African green monkeys or their tissues while conducting research. One additional case was diagnosed retrospectively.

The reservoir host of Marburg virus is the African fruit bat, _Rousettus aegyptiacus_. Fruit bats infected with Marburg virus do not show obvious signs of illness. Primates (including humans) can become infected with Marburg virus, and may develop serious disease with high mortality.

Ebola virus is closely related to Marburg virus. "Ebola viral RNA fragments were found in an oral swab from a greater long-fingered bat (_Miniopterus inflatus_), captured in 2016 in Liberia's Sanniquellie-Mahn district, which borders Guinea. The bat, which lives in many parts of Africa, roosts in caves and feeds on insects. Scientists had previously found 2 other Ebola species in a related insect-eating bat, _M. schreibersii_. However, most other evidence has pointed to fruit bats as the carriers of Ebola Zaire, Epstein says [J Epstein, veterinary epidemiologist at EcoHealth Alliance in New York City and a member of the PREDICT consortium]. "What it really says to me is that this is a virus that has multiple hosts, and it might be regionally dependent as to which species carries it."

Supporting the variety of bat hosts for Ebola, the bat implicated in the initiation of the West African Ebola virus outbreak in December 2013 was _Mops condylurus_, long-tailed insect-eating bats, that were previously suspected in an outbreak of the Sudan strain of Ebola virus, which is related to the Zaire strain. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Sat, 25 Jan 2020 11:49:16 +0100 (MET)
By Su Xinqi, Jerome TAYLOR

Hong Kong, Jan 25, 2020 (AFP) - Hong Kong on Saturday declared a new coronavirus outbreak as an "emergency" -- the city's highest warning tier -- as authorities ramped up measures to reduce the risk of further infections.   The announcement came as city leader Carrie Lam faced criticism in some quarters over her administration's response to the crisis.

Of the five people who have tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong so far, four arrived via a newly built high-speed train terminal which connects with the mainland.   That led to calls from some medical experts and politicians to limit, or even halt, arrivals from China, the epicentre of the outbreak with 41 people dead.

Lam held emergency meetings with health officials on Saturday morning after returning from Davos.   "Today I declare the lifting of the response level to emergency," she told reporters.   Schools and universities, which are currently on a Lunar New Year break, would remain closed until 17 February, Lam said.   All mainland arrivals to Hong Kong will now need to sign health declaration forms, she added, while public events including a new year gala and next month's marathon, would also be called off.    "We haven't seen serious and widespread infections (in Hong Kong), but we are taking this seriously and we hope to be ahead of the epidemic," Lam said.

- Tragic past -
Hong Kong has a recent experience of deadly viral outbreaks.    Nearly 300 people were killed by SARS in 2003, a tragedy that left a profound psychological impact on one of the most densely populated places on earth.   The city's ability to combat the crisis was hampered by moves in mainland China to cover up and play down the outbreak, leaving a lasting legacy of distrust among many Hong Kongers.   Animosity towards the mainland has intensified in recent years as Beijing tightens political control over the semi-autonomous territory.

The outbreak also comes at a sensitive time for Lam, who currently boasts record low approval ratings after seven months of pro-democracy protests.   "We must stand united so that we can prevent and control the disease," she said, in a nod to the political unrest.   The often violent protests have battered Hong Kong's reputation for stability and helped tip it into recession, with the recent virus outbreak compounding the city's economic woes.

Hospitals are already struggling with the winter flu season, but officials are isolating anyone with a history of travel to central China and those exhibiting respiratory tract infections that look similar to the virus.   So far some 300 people have been tested and monitored for the virus. Quarantine centres have been set up in remote holiday parks for anyone found to have come into close contact with people who tested positive.   On Saturday, officials announced a newly built but still-empty public housing block would be used for medical staff on the frontline who did not want to risk returning to their families.
Date: Sat, 25 Jan 2020 06:46:59 +0100 (MET)
By Mahmut Bozarslan and Fulya Ozerkan in Istanbu

Elazig, Turkey, Jan 25, 2020 (AFP) - A powerful earthquake has killed at least 20 people and injured more than 1,000 in eastern Turkey, as rescue teams searched through the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors on Saturday.    At least 30 people were missing following the magnitude 6.8 quake on Friday night, which had its epicentre in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in the eastern province of Elazig.   "It was very scary, furniture fell on top of us. We rushed outside," 47-year-old Melahat Can, who lives in the provincial capital of Elazig, told AFP.   President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said all steps were being taken to aid people affected by the quake, which caused widespread fear.   "We stand by our people," Erdogan said on Twitter.

The Turkish government's disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said the quake hit Sivrice at around 8.55 pm (1755 GMT). Turkey lies on major faultlines and is prone to frequent earthquakes.    Turkish television showed images of people rushing outside in panic, as well as a fire on the roof of a building.   Interior, environment and health ministers, who were in the quake zone, said the casulties were in Elazig province and in the neighbouring province of Malatya, which lies to the southwest.

At least 20 people died and 1,015 others were wounded, according to AFAD.   "There is nobody trapped under the rubble in Malatya but in Elazig search and rescue efforts are currently under way to find 30 citizens," Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Friday.   Rescue teams were searching for survivors trapped in a five-storey collapsed building in a village some 30 kilometres from Elazig, according to AFP journalists at the scene. One person was pulled alive from the rubble.   Emergency staff and people waiting at the scene lit fires in the streets to stay warm in freezing temperatures.   Sports centres, schools and guest houses had been opened to accommodate quake victims in Malatya.

- 'Everybody is in the street' -
Sivrice -- a town with a population of about 4,000 people -- is situated south of Elazig city on the shores of Hazar lake -- one of the most popular tourist spots in the region and the source of the Tigris river.   The lake is home to a "Sunken City", with archaeological traces dating back 4,000 years in its waters.

The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders, the Turkish broadcaster NTV reported, adding that neighbouring cities had mobilised rescue teams for the quake area.   "Everybody is in the street, it was very powerful, very scary," said Zekeriya Gunes, 68, from Elazig city, after the quakes caused a building to collapse on her street.   "It lasted quite long, maybe 30 seconds," added Ferda, 39. "I panicked and was undecided whether to go out in this cold or remain inside."

The US Geological Survey assessed the magnitude as 6.7, slightly lower than AFAD, adding that it struck near the East Anatolian Fault in an area that has suffered no documented large ruptures since an earthquake in 1875.   "My wholehearted sympathy to President @RTErdogan and the Turkish people following the devastating earthquake that has hit Turkey. Our search and rescue teams stand ready to assist," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote on Twitter.   In Athens, the Greek premier's office said later that Mitsotakis had spoken by phone to Erdogan.   "The Turkish president... said Turkish teams had the situation under control for now and that it would be re-evaluated in the morning," his office added.

In 1999, a devastating 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit in western Turkey, leaving more than 17,000 people dead including about 1,000 in the country's largest city Istanbul.    In September last year, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Istanbul, causing residents to flee buildings in the economic capital.   Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate the city of 15 million people, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.