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Estonia

Estonia US Consular Information Sheet
October 28, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Estonia is a stable democracy with an economy that has developed rapidly in recent years.
Tourist facilities in Tallinn are comparable to other western Europe
n cities, but some amenities may be lacking in rural areas.
Some goods and services may not be available outside of major cities.
Please read the Department of State Background Notes on Estonia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport is required.
Estonia is a party to the “Schengen” –Agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Estonia for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen Fact Sheet.
For further information concerning entry requirements and residency permits, contact the Estonian Embassy, located at 2131 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202)588-0101, or the Consulate General of Estonia in New York City, telephone (212) 883-0636. Visit the Embassy of Estonia web site at http://www.estemb.org for the most current visa information. American citizens who wish to reside in Estonia (e.g. for work, studies, retirement, etc.) can also consult with the Estonian Citizenship and Migration Board at http://www.mig.ee
Information about dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Civil unrest generally is not a problem in Estonia, and there have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Large public gatherings and demonstrations may occur on occasion in response to political issues, but these have been, with few exceptions,
without incident in the past.

During periods of darkness, (roughly October through April), reflectors must be worn by pedestrians.
Violators of this law may be subject to a fine of up to 600 EEK (Estonian Kroon), or up to 6,000 EEK if the pedestrian is under the influence of alcohol. Reflectors are inexpensive and are available at most supermarkets and many smaller shops.
To meet legal requirements, the reflector’s packaging must include a reference to European safety standard EN13356.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.

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 others callers, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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

CRIME:
Estonia is a relatively safe country, although crime in Tallinn’s “Old Town” is an ongoing concern, particularly during the summer tourist season.
Travelers should exercise the same precautions with regard to their personal safety and belongings they would take in major U.S. cities.
The most common crimes encountered by foreign tourists are purse snatching, pick-pocketing, and mugging.
Tourists are often targeted by individuals and small groups of thieves working together.
In public places such as the “Old Town,” in particular the Town Hall Square (“Raekoja Plats”), as well as the airport, train stations, bus stations and the Central Market, one must exercise special care in safeguarding valuables against purse-snatchers and pickpockets.
Valuables should never be left unattended in vehicles and car doors should be kept locked at all times.
Some violent crime does occur, mainly at night and often in proximity to nightlife areas.
Public drunkenness, car theft and break-ins also continue to be a problem in Tallinn.

The Estonian Police agencies are modern, well-equipped law enforcement entities on a standard comparable to most Western European police, with only isolated instances of corruption. However, large-scale reductions in the police force are scheduled for this year, which may decrease some of their capabilities. Many police officers speak only very limited English.

Credit card fraud is an ongoing concern, as is internet-based financial fraud and “internet dating” fraud.
Travelers should take precautions to safeguard their credit cards and report any suspected unauthorized transaction to the credit card company immediately.
Racially motivated verbal harassment and, on occasion, physical assault of Americans and other nationals of non-Caucasian ethnicity has occurred.
If an incident occurs, it should be reported to the police and to the Embassy.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft of a U.S. passport abroad 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 process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Estonia is: 112. The level of English spoken by the operator answering may be minimal.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
The quality of medical care in Estonia continues to improve but still falls short of Western standards.
Estonia has many highly trained medical professionals, but hospitals and clinics still suffer from a lack of equipment and resources.
Elderly travelers and those with health problems may be at increased risk.
Visitors to forest areas in warm weather should also guard against tick-borne encephalitis.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Estonia.
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
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.
In recent years, a number of American citizens have been disembarked from cruise ships and hospitalized due to serious medical problems. Holding a policy providing for medical evacuation coverage can be critical to ensure access to timely emergency medical care. 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 is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Driving in Estonia can be more dangerous than in much of the United States.
Many roads, especially in rural areas, are poorly lit and are not up to Western standards.
Some drivers can be aggressive, recklessly overtaking vehicles and traveling at high speed, even in crowded urban areas.
Despite strict Estonian laws against driving under the influence of alcohol, accidents involving intoxicated drivers are very frequent. It is not uncommon for the police to set up checkpoints on major streets and highways; drivers should pull over when asked.
Drivers should always remain alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians.

Estonian traffic laws require drivers to stop for all pedestrians in marked crosswalks.
Nevertheless, Estonian motorists do not always comply with this regulation, and pedestrians should always be careful when crossing the streets.
In rural areas, wild animals, such as deer and moose, and icy road conditions can create unexpected hazards.
Dark-clothed or drunken pedestrians walking along unlit roads or darting across dimly-lit streets or highways pose a risk to unsuspecting drivers.
Winter roads are usually treated and cleared of snow, but drivers should remain vigilant for icy patches and large potholes.

Estonian laws against driving under the influence are strict and follow a policy of zero tolerance. Penalties are severe for motorists caught driving after consumption of even a small amount of alcohol. Local law requires that headlights be illuminated at all times while driving.
Use of a seatbelts by all passengers is required, and children too small to be secure in seatbelts must use child car seats.
The speed limit is 50 km/h in town and 90 km/h out of town unless otherwise indicated.
A right turn on a red light is prohibited unless otherwise indicated by a green arrow.
According to Estonian law vehicles involved in accidents should not be moved to the side of the road until the police reach the scene. Americans planning to drive in Estonia must obtain an international driving permit prior to arrival.

For information about international driving permits, contact AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance.
The Eesti Autoklubi (Estonian Auto Club – www.autoclub.ee), which is affiliated with AAA, provides emergency roadside assistance.
Drivers do not need to be a member to receive assistance; however, the fees charged are higher for non-members.
The number to call for roadside vehicle assistance and towing service is 1888.
For ambulance, fire or police assistance the number is 112.
Please note that for both numbers, the level of English spoken by the operator answering may be minimal.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
You may also visit the website of Estonia’s national tourist office at http://www.visitestonia.com.
For specific information concerning Estonian driving permits, vehicles inspections and road tax mandatory insurance, contact the Estonian Motor Vehicle Registration Center at http://www.ark.ee/atp.
Additional information may be obtained from the website of the Estonian Road Administration at http://www.mnt.ee/atp, or from Baltic Roads at http://www.balticroads.net
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Estonia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Estonian Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Commercial and financial transactions in Estonia are increasingly automated and on-line.
Cash is almost always acceptable. The national currency is the Estonian Kroon (EEK), the value of which is pegged to the Euro (15.65 EEK= 1 Euro). Most credit cards are widely recognized throughout the country.
ATM machines are common and many U.S.-issued bankcards are compatible with them. Bank checks are virtually unknown, and checks drawn on a U.S. bank are of little use in the country.

Estonia’s customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes.
ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States.
For additional information call (212) 354-4480, send and email to acarnet@uscib.org, or visit http://www.uscib.org for details.

Please see our information on Customs Regulations.
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 Estonian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Estonia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable both in Estonia as well as in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

DUAL NATIONALITY:
Estonian law requires that individual with dual nationality must choose between Estonian citizenship and his of her other citizenship at age 18. After that time, Estonian law does not permit the individual to carry passports of two (or more) different countries. However, the Estonian government reportedly has not regularly enforced this law in the past with respect to persons of Estonian background, and thus a number of individuals have continued to carry both Estonian and American passports. Any American citizen who also carries an Estonian passport should be aware that the Estonian government may not recognize the person as an American citizen in certain circumstances, thus limiting the consular services that can be provided by the U.S. Embassy (e.g. in case of arrest, etc.).

Please note that this discussion of dual nationality relates only to person who have a claim to Estonian citizenship, and not to persons who merely acquire an Estonian “residence” permit. For more information on citizenship and dual nationality, please see our web page.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on international adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Estonia are encouraged to register with the U.S Embassy in Tallinn through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Estonia.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn by visiting in person.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The latest security information is available from the Embassy, including on its web site, http://estonia.usembassy.gov.

The U.S. Embassy is available 24 hours a day for emergency assistance for American citizens visiting or residing in Estonia. The Embassy is located approximately 1 km outside of Tallinn’s “Old Town.” The address is: Kentmanni 20, 15099 Tallinn, Estonia.
The Embassy’s main switchboard number is telephone (372) 668-8100.
The Consular Section can be reached directly at (372 668-8128, 8111, 8197 or 8129. The Consular Section’s fax number is (372) 668-8267. The Consular Sections’ email address for American Citizen Services is ACSTallin@state.gov. For after-hours emergencies, an Embassy Duty Officer may be contacted by mobile phone at (372) 509-2129, if dialing from the U.S., and 509-2129 if dialed from within Estonia.
The Embassy’s web site is http://estonia.usembassy.gov.
The American Citizen Services Unit email address is ACSTallinn@state.gov
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 26, 2008 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Medical Insurance, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, Criminal Penalties, Dual Nationality, and Registration/Embassy location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 14 Apr 2018 09:35
Source: Err [edited]

A man who had returned from an overseas trip and a woman with whom he came in contact were diagnosed with measles in Saaremaa this week [week of Sun 8 Apr 2018].

This year [2018], 4 cases of measles have been diagnosed in Estonia, which in 2016 had been listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as among the countries which had eliminated endemic measles. Last month [March 2018], an unvaccinated child contracted the disease on an overseas trip; their mother caught it in turn upon their return to Estonia.

It is not currently known whether the woman to contract measles this week [week of Sun 8 Apr 2018] was vaccinated or not; the man had been vaccinated with only 1 of 2 doses of the measles vaccine.

In the course of the Health Board's epidemiological study, persons who have been in contact with the 2 individuals as well as their vaccination status were determined. Those who have come in contact with them were also advised regarding the nature of the disease, prevention measures as well as vaccination.

Last week [week of Sun 1 Apr 2018], a case of rubella was diagnosed in Rapla County as well. The previous 2 instances of rubella in Eesti were recorded in 2013.

Measles and rubella are considered highly contagious diseases, but the modern measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is over 95 percent effective in preventing measles and rubella.

According to the immunization schedule in Estonia, children are administered the 1st dose of the MMR vaccine at 1 year of age and the 2nd dose at age 13. The MMR vaccine is free for children in Estonia.

Measles symptoms
Some of the earliest symptoms in the onset of measles include fever, malaise, cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis and light sensitivity. A few days later, the signature rash appears, which begins behind the ears and spreads to the face and neck before covering the entire body. A measles patient is contagious beginning 4 -- 5 days before and for up to 5 days following the onset of the rash.

There is no treatment for the disease itself; only symptoms can be treated. Complications can include pneumonia, middle ear infections and inflammation of the brain.  [Byline editor: Aili Vahtla]
====================
[According to <https://news.err.ee/591626/number-of-unvaccinated-children-in-estonia-on-rise>, despite the fact that a number of serious infectious diseases have been beaten due to vaccination [in Estonia], there has been a steady increase in the number of parents refusing vaccination and number of children being left unprotected from various diseases.

"While the percentage of refusals in relative to the total number of vaccinations isn't high -- 3-3.9 percent in 2016 -- the steady increase of those refusing and the steady growth in the number of children being left unprotected from a number of infectious diseases is worrisome," said Director General of the Health Board Tiiu Aro.

For example, at the end of 2016, 95.4 percent of children ages 1-14 were vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

"Considering the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommended level of vaccination for halting the spread of diseases, which is 95 percent, we should be satisfied, however the coverage level among children up to 2 years of age was 93.2 percent, which means that we did not achieve the recommended level of coverage," Aro noted.

As of the end of 2016, a total of 7481 children were unvaccinated against MMR, over 60 percent of whom live in Tallinn.

A Healthmap/ProMED of Estonia can be found at
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2013 13:51:13 +0100 (MET)

TALLINN, Feb 13, 2013 (AFP) - Officials in Estonia raised the alarm Wednesday after a report into drug use in Europe found that the small Baltic nation had the highest incidence of deaths from drug overdoses in the EU. Last year, 160 people died from overdoses, data from the Europe Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions (EMCDDA) showed, an increase of 21 percent from last year. Most of the deaths were caused by taking a highly addictive form of synthetic heroin known as China White, which is often smuggled in from Russia.

"More people per million inhabitants perish in Estonia than in any other EU country due to drug overdoses, and most of these deaths are related to drugs called 'China White'," Ave Talu, head of Estonia's Drug Monitoring Centre, told AFP. While the average number of deaths from overdoses across the 27-member EU bloc stands at up to 20 people per million, in Estonia the figure is five times higher, at over 100 per million. In 2011, 132 people died from overdoses in the former Soviet nation of 1.3 million people.

Most of the people who died in 2012 were ethnic Russian men, the EMCDDA data showed. Using a new antidote to synthetic heroin, naloxone, could "cut the death rates from overdose nearly in half," Talu said. But the drug is not yet available on a community outreach basis, she said. "In Estonia, naloxone is used only by medical staff and unlike some other countries like the US, we do not yet have community-based naloxone distribution and training programmes, but they are urgently needed."
Date: Fri, 21 Dec 2012 16:42:17 +0100 (MET)

TALLINN, Dec 21, 2012 (AFP) - Pilots at the struggling Baltic carrier Estonian Air announced on Friday they would go on strike from January 7, demanding a return to a collective pay deal that was voided by the company.   The Estonian Airline Pilots Association, which represents all of the carrier's 75 pilots, warned that it could not accept plans to end a five-year-old agreement from February.   "We expect most of the pilots to be on strike," Rauno Menning, chairman of the association's board, told AFP.   In a statement, Estonian Air said the strike call was a surprise.

"Estonian Air has offered pilots a collective agreement that is line with the market and competitive situation and follows all EU flight safety requirements," the carrier's chief executive Jan Palmer was quoted as saying.   Menning faulted that stance.   "We are surprised that the company is surprised by the strike news, because we made the decision in November to go strike if needed, so Estonian Air knew this was a possibility," he told AFP.   Estonian Air had just warded off industrial action by other employees through a deal last week with the Estonian Air Cabin Crew Union, which is valid to the end of 2013.   State-controlled Estonian Air has made repeated efforts to cut its losses.   In November, the airline said it would slash staff numbers by half, from 318 to 146.   Estonian Air operates a small fleet of 10 planes.

Created in 1991, the year the Baltic republic of 1.3 million regained its independence from the Soviet Union, the airline has had mixed fortunes.   It was privatised in 1996, and from 2003 to 2010 was almost evenly split between the state, which owned 51 percent, and Scandinavian carrier SAS, with 49 percent.   Since then, the state has gradually raised its holding to the current 97 percent, but says its wants to find a new strategic investor.   Estonian Air's revenues in the first nine months of 2012 were 70.4 million euros ($93 million), compared with 58.7 million euros in the same period of 2011.   But nine-month losses reached 20.2 million euros, up from 11.2 million euros in the same period a year earlier.
Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2012 14:00:20 +0200 (METDST)

TALLINN, Oct 08, 2012 (AFP) - Striking Estonian doctors on Monday extended their week-long labour action to major hospitals in the Baltic state's capital and second city Tartu and curbed inpatient care in some other regions. The Estonian Doctors' Union said however that emergency care and treatment for children, pregnant women and patients with cancer would not be affected.

Terming the union's wage demands "unrealistic", the Estonian authorities last week repeated an offer to raise doctors' salaries by 6.6 percent as of January, but the union turned it down. It is demanding a 20 percent increase in the minimum wage to 1,400 euros ($1,800) next year and another 20 percent hike in 2014. The average monthly income of doctors in the EU state and eurozone member was 1,700 euros ($2,185) in 2011, compared to a national average of 839 euros ($1,078), according to Estonia's social affairs ministry.

After failed talks last week between the Estonian Health Insurance Fund, Hospital Union and the Doctors' Union, the delegations were to resume negotiations Monday. European Commission deputy chief Siim Kallas, a former Estonian prime minister, weighed into the dispute at the weekend saying the Estonian health care system created 20 years ago "has failed" and called for major reforms to give patients the option to choose from a number of health insurance providers. "Patients are not the priority in Estonia's current health care system," Kallas added.
Date: Mon, 1 Oct 2012 11:13:00 +0200 (METDST)

TALLINN, Oct 1, 2012 (AFP) - Doctors in Estonia's capital Tallinn and the Baltic state's second city of Tartu went on strike on Monday over pay, threatening to extend their protest nationwide if their demands are not met. The Estonian Doctors' Union said members at Tallinn and Tartu's hospitals were cancelling outpatient appointments, but that emergency room treatment would not be affected. In addition, the union pledged that the strike would not affect children, pregnant women and patients with cancer.

Estonian health authorities had on Friday tried to head off the strike by offering a 6.6 percent pay increase, double their previous offer, from next January, but the union turned it down. The union is demanding a written pledge for a gradual 20 percent increase of its members' minimum wage to 1,400 euros ($1,800). According to Estonia's ministry of social affairs, the average monthly income of doctors in the country was 1,700 euros ($2,185) in 2011, compared to an average national salary of 839 euros ($1,078). The doctors' union has said if its demands are not met, the strike will expand next week to other towns.

Patients' rights groups are angry, saying work stoppage is not the way to resolve problems in the health sector in the former Soviet-ruled nation of 1.3 million, which joined the European Union in 2004. "We do not support the doctors' strike, because it's not in the interest of patients," Anne Veskimeister, spokeswoman of the Estonian Patients' Association, told AFP. "The main problems in Estonian healthcare are the lack of choice of doctor or medical institution, too long a waiting time to see the doctor even in some urgent cases, an unwillingness of state and medical officials to admit and deal with medical errors, and complete lack of objective surveillance in healthcare," she added.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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