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Finland

Finland - US Consular Information Sheet
January 13, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Finland is a highly developed democracy with a modern economy.
It is a member of the European Union.
Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read
the Department of State Background Notes on Finland for additional information.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
Finland is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Finland 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.

Travelers can contact the Embassy of Finland at 3301 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20008, tel: (202) 298-5800, or the Finnish Consulates General in Los Angeles or New York.
Additional information is available via the Internet at http://www.finland.org.
The U.S. Embassy in Helsinki is not able to assist private U.S. citizens in obtaining any necessary visas for neighboring countries, including Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

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:
Finland remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Finland’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
Elements of organized crime groups operating in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are present in Finland, but these do not represent a specific danger to U.S. citizen residents or tourists.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
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 United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States 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 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Although the crime rate in Finland is low compared to the U.S. and most European countries, it has increased in recent years; however, Finland remains a relatively safe environment.
Americans visiting Finland are seldom victims of crime, but visitors should not be complacent regarding personal safety or the protection of valuables.
The same precautions employed in the U.S. should be followed in Finland.
Finnish police services are excellent. Travelers should be aware that some police officers speak little English.
Due to the low crime rate, Finland has one of the lowest numbers of police officers of any European nation.
Outside of key sites in major urban centers, they rarely project a visible presence; consequently, response times to crisis situations may be unpredictable.
All forms of public transportation are considered safe.
Street crimes, such as muggings and pick-pocketing, remain uncommon, but do occur.

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, to 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.

Finland has a program to provide financial compensation to victims who suffer serious criminal injuries.
According to existing regulations, the victim must report the incident to the police and file an application for compensation within 10 years of the date of the crime.
Finnish police routinely inform victims of serious crime of their right to seek compensation.
The relevant forms and further information can be obtained from http://www.treasuryfinland.fi.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Finland is 112.
Please see our additional information for Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

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 Finland’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Finland are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit 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
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Commercial and financial transactions in Finland are increasingly automated and on-line.
Cash is almost always acceptable (the currency is the euro), but most major credit cards are widely recognized.
Automatic Teller Machines are very common and many U.S.-issued bankcards are compatible with them.

MEDICAL FACILITIES and Health information:
In Finland, medical facilities and their staff are generally excellent and are widely available for emergency services.
English is commonly spoken by Finnish medical personnel.
Helsinki is a frequent medical evacuation point for emergency cases from the countries of the former Soviet Union.
The public hospital system and many private hospitals honor foreign credit cards.
Most pharmacies (“apteekki” in Finnish) are open during normal shopping hours and major cities have at least one 24-hour service pharmacy.
If you are a tourist or temporary visitor to Finland and you require immediate emergency medical assistance, you may visit a local medical center or clinic, called “ensiapuasema” (first-aid station) in Finnish.
Usually these stations are located at hospitals and provide a full range of services.
The emergency telephone number, 112, can be used throughout Finland to contact emergency medical services.
For more detailed information on medicines and medical issues, please visit the website of the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC at http://www.finland.org.
Travelers with special medical needs should consult with their personal physicians and take appropriate precautions, including bringing adequate supplies of necessary medication.
Medicines may be brought into the country as long as they are intended for the traveler’s personal use, however, there are special requirements concerning the quantity.
Medications categorized as narcotics may only be brought into the country to cover the traveler’s personal use for a maximum of 14 days and must be accompanied by a medical certificate stating why the traveler needs them.
For more detailed information, please contact the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC at http://www.finland.org
In addition, stringent Finnish customs regulations prohibit travelers from receiving drugs from abroad after having arrived in the country.
Travelers may also find local physicians reluctant to prescribe equivalent quantities of dosages.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Finland.
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.
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 Finland is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Finnish roads are comparable to those in the U.S., though secondary roads may be less heavily traveled due to Finland’s sparse population outside the major urban areas.
These secondary routes often narrow to two lanes with a wider shoulder.
Slower vehicles are expected to move onto the shoulder to allow faster moving vehicles to pass.
Finland has an extensive network of highways throughout the country, as well as excellent public transportation services.
A valid U.S. driver’s license may be used while visiting Finland, but drivers must be at least 18 years of age.
Driving in Finland is on the right.
Traffic approaching from the right usually has priority, even if entering a primary roadway from a secondary one.
Road signs use standard international symbols and Finnish text.
Many urban streets have traffic lanes reserved for public transportation only.
Unless otherwise noted on traffic signs, the speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on open roads, and 120 km/h on expressways during summer (reduced to 100 km/h during winter).
Vehicles must use headlights at all times.
Use of seatbelts is mandatory for drivers and all passengers.
Minor children must be seated in approved child or booster seats.

Public transport in Finland is of good quality and is the recommended method of travel.
Passenger trains, intercity buses, and air flights provide regular service over longer distances.
Public transportation in urban centers includes buses, subways, trams, suburban trains, and taxis.
Taxis are more expensive than in major U.S. cities.
Most local residents use public transport in Helsinki as parking can be hard to find and expensive.
The bus, train, and subway systems are relatively safe.
Travelers should be aware that drunk-driving laws are strict and acceptable blood alcohol levels are much lower in Finland than in the U.S.
Police strictly enforce all traffic laws and institute random roadside breath analyzer tests.
Drivers who register .05 or above alcohol content are subject to immediate arrest.
Drivers should be aware that regulations and traffic signs differ significantly from those in the U.S.
Visitors should be familiar with both prior to operating a vehicle in Finland.
Driving in Finland during the winter months can be hazardous.
Daylight hours are very short and one should be comfortable with driving in darkness.
Icy road conditions are common.
If driving in Finland, the vehicle must be winterized with studded snow tires and engine heaters are strongly recommended.
When driving at night, drivers must be alert to moose wandering onto major roadways.
There have been incidents of moose being struck by vehicles, causing severe damage to the vehicle and injury, sometimes fatal, to the occupants.
For real-time updates on road conditions throughout Finland, see the Finnish Road Administration’s travel and traffic information web site at http://www.finnra.fi
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mek.fi
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Finland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Finland’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
Please see our information on customs regulations.

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

REGISTRATION AND EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Finland are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Finland.
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 U.S. Embassy is located at Itainen Puistotie 14B.
The telephone number for the American Citizens Services unit is 358-9-616-25-701, 0830 to 1700 Monday to Friday (after hours, 358-9-616-25-0); the fax number is 358-9-616-25-800; e-mail:
HelsinkiACS@state.gov.
The address of the Embassy’s Internet home page is http://www.usembassy.fi
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated May 23, 2008 to update the sections on Information for Victims of Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 14 Dec 2018
Source: UUTISET [edited]

An unvaccinated individual, who caught the contagious disease in Poland, attended a large church service in Tampere and infected at least 2 other people. Three adults have been diagnosed with measles in Tampere after attending a Catholic parish church event in late November along with more than 100 people, according to the Pirkanmaa Hospital District.

Two of the adults diagnosed have been vaccinated, so they are not contagious. The source of the outbreak is an unvaccinated person, who caught the measles in Poland. But according to the Pirkanmaa Hospital District, further cases may still arise.

In 1975 Finland began to administer a single dose of the measles vaccine to all one-year-olds and by 1982 Finland began administering the vaccine in 2 doses between the ages of 1 and 6. However some people born in the 1970s are among those who received only one jab. MMR is a triple-dose vaccine that provides protection against measles, mumps and rubella.

Measles spread at religious event
---------------------------------
The event in question was Tampere's Pyhan Ristin (Sacred Cross) Catholic Parish church mass on 25 Nov 2018. It was attended by more than 100 people, including children. Pirkanmaa Hospital District doctor Kirsi Valve, a specialist in infectious diseases, confirmed that the infected individual who caught the measles in Poland was at the church event. The cases came to light when 2 vaccinated individuals contracted high fevers and came down with skin rashes. The unvaccinated person, who infected the others, has had more severe symptoms than the vaccinated individuals.

"The individuals quickly got in touch with healthcare services owing to high fevers, and skin rashes that rapidly spread all over their bodies," says Valve. "It was confirmed that on 25 Nov 2018 the unvaccinated individual who caught the measles in Poland and brought it back to Finland was at the parish event and is the source of the outbreak."

As the source of the outbreak is known, healthcare officials are also looking into whether the person could have possibly exposed others.

Measles in the news
-------------------
Measles has been on the agenda this winter after an unvaccinated child in Ostrobothnia took ill with measles. Meanwhile, it also came to light that many adults in Finland may not have been vaccinated against measles during the early 1970s.

Measles is a rare disease. The previous outbreak was 2 summers ago when 4 vaccinated children caught measles in Italy and started showing symptoms after returning to Finland. The Pirkanmaa Hospital District recommends that anyone who attended the Catholic parish event in late November 2018 and exhibits symptoms that suggest measles or anyone who hasn't been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine contact their healthcare centre.

If those who attended the parish event are healthy, but have not been vaccinated, the Pirkanmaa Hospital District recommends that they contact their healthcare centre to be vaccinated. The measles vaccine is free and administered as part of the MMR shot, which also provides protection against rubella and the mumps.
Date: Fri 2 Nov 2018
Source: UUTISET [edited]

Around 1/3 of the ticks in Finland -- mostly found in the south -- carry at least one pathogen, and 2 percent of the persistent arachnids carry several disease-causing agents, researchers at Turku University said.

About 30 percent of common ticks and 24 percent of taiga tick populations have been found to carry one disease pathogen. Common ticks more commonly carry several disease-causing pathogens than taiga ticks, according to the researchers.

The most common pathogen found in the ticks was _Borrelia burgdorferi_, the bacterial species that causes Lyme disease in humans, an illness referred to locally as borreliosis. The pathogen was found in 17 percent of the ticks at the university's growing tick database bank.

Lyme disease cases are treated with aggressive antibiotics without necessarily determining which specific bacterium is responsible for the infection.

Thanks to a growing tick database at the University of Turku, researchers have new insights into the disease pathogens that the tiny, blood-sucking arachnids carry.

New research has revealed that ticks on the south coast carry the most pathogens, but the region is almost exclusively home to the most common ticks: _Ixodes ricinus_, or castor bean ticks).

Both castor bean ticks and taiga ticks [_Ixodes persulcatus_] are now commonly found in areas across central Finland, the researchers said. Even further north, the tick populations are quite similar to ones in central areas, but the taiga has become more common in the north.

About 3 years ago, researchers at the university asked members of the public to send in ticks they had found, and now the institution has received more than 20 000 ticks. The researchers say that they want to take advantage of the significant amount of information they can learn from the specimens.

Examination of those thousands of tiny arachnids have uncovered many types of disease-causing bacteria, and researchers have new insights into the arachnids themselves and the potential illnesses they carry.

The researchers said they hope to learn more about ticks, saying that their research has only begun, and that their study of the ticks will continue for several years. Ultimately, their goal is to find how tick-borne illnesses are transmitted, they said.
======================
[This is an interesting example of how a large group of people, many undoubtedly non-scientists, can contribute to an effort that requires many hours of collection effort. Although _Borrelia burgdorferi_ is endemic in Finland, finding it and possibly other bacterial pathogens in about 1/3 of the 20 000 ticks collected is of public health significance. _Ixodes ricinus_ is also the tick vector of European tick-borne encephalitis virus, but no mention is made of it in the above report. Perhaps it was not tested for. Images of both ticks can be found in the above report. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2018 16:46:12 +0100
From: topic@afp.com

Helsinki, Nov 1, 2018 (AFP) - Santa Claus has already begun his preparations in Lapland -- by protecting himself from winter viruses and making sure he hires enough elves.   On Thursday nurse Tiia Kahkonen administered an anti-influenza vaccine to Santa, at his village in the Arctic Circle town of Rovaniemi, northern Finland. 

The jab is likely to be a sensible precaution, as the flu season coincides with the busiest time of the year by far in Lapland.    In December last year 390,000 foreign visitors spent a night in Finnish Lapland, an increase of almost ten percent on the previous Christmas.    By far the largest group of Christmas holidaymakers were Brits, followed by Russian, French and German tourists, according to official statistics.

Meanwhile a recruitment agency in Finnish Lapland, inside the Arctic circle, has put out a call for Christmas elves to look after the hordes of tourists who come to visit Santa in his natural habitat during the winter months.   Prior experience is not essential as the advert, posted by the firm Lapland Staff, promises that training will be provided in "the required elfing and communication skills."   Successful applicants will also be given tips on how to deal with the cold in northern Finland where temeratures rarely rise above zero degrees Celsius, and can drop as low as minus 40.

Although handling Santa's reindeer is not listed among the job's duties, elves will need to herd groups of visitors on and off buses, as well as keep tourists entertained. "Looking after the fireplace and pouring hot juice" are also required, as is supervising the toboggan hill.   Tourism to Lapland has reached an all-time high in recent years, with visitors spending 3.5 million nights in Lapland across the whole year, up from 2.6 million a decade earlier, according to Statistics Finland.    Much of the recent growth has been driven by tourism from Asia.
Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2017 04:43:36 +0100
By Camille BAS-WOHLERT

Rovaniemi, Finland, Dec 17, 2017 (AFP) - In the run up to Christmas tourists from around the world flock to the Santa Claus Village, an amusement park in Finnish Lapland, where temperatures can hit nearly -15 degrees Celsius (5 Fahrenheit).    They buy soft toys and souvenirs from pricey gift shops while a bearded Santa receives hundreds of admirers a day throughout December before embarking on his world tour from the valleys of Finland to the skyscrapers of New York and beyond to deliver gifts.

Holding their winter beanie hats in their hands, visitors wait patiently in line for a brief encounter with "Joulupukki" -- the Finnish word for Santa Claus -- and a photo opportunity in exchange for hard currency.    "We've seen other Santas but that wasn't the real one. But we're told that is the real one," said Mary Gleadall, an eight-year-old tourist from Southampton in the UK, visiting the amusement park with her parents, brother and sister.    According to Christmas lore, Santa lives in a secret place in the middle of the snowy pines of the North Pole. But the question is where?     Since 2010, Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, has marketed itself as Santa's "official home".    Situated a few miles from the city, the Santa Claus Village is located in front of a huge gas station. 

Tourists rush to cross the Arctic Circle, marked by a white line, to meet Santa Claus in his wooden home with a pointed roof.    But entering his private cottage is out of the question as Mother Claus is reportedly protective of their privacy.    In a large room, the white-bearded old man sits in an armchair next to a chest full of letters.    Each year, he receives more than 300,000 visitors, a deluge he embraces with humility.    "I'm very happy. I'm not exhausted but, of course, I get tired once in a while" he says.    And how does Santa Claus regain his energy?    "I love to take nap every once and then. Fifteen minutes sleeping and then all is very good." he says.

- Exalted tourists -
Shizuka Kawahara and Saki Itoi, Japanese tourists in their thirties, flew for more than 24 hours to hug Santa for a few seconds in a precious moment immortalised with a photograph taken by an elf.    The price for one shot starts at 30 euros ($35). Photographing with one's own camera is forbidden as it would ruin the magic of the moment, says the staff of the house.     Four-year-old Harry Gleadall, Mary's brother, approaches Santa without fear.    He quickly states his list of what he wants for Christmas: Transformers and some more Transformers before he skeptically shakes Santa's hand.    "But what if it wasn't the real Santa Claus?" Harry asks with concern.    Eager to set the record straight -- and justify the long trip -- his mother quickly assures him that the chubby red-clothed man is indeed the real deal.    After a tour around the shop which sells hand-made "Lapland" emblems and tons of souvenirs, the family is back in the village square, surrounded by wooden homes, Christmas carols piped out of nearby speakers.

- Polar safari -
In this winter wonderland, tourists have the opportunity to go on a reindeer sleigh ride.    A snow "safari" of 400 metres costs 14 euros per child and 18 euros per adult, an exotic experience for many foreigners who seek to discover the arctic landscapes steeped in pink light.    The -13 degrees Celsius does not discourage the plucky visitors bundled up in their ski suits.    "Everything that have been told to me during childhood, it's come true," said Perpetua, a tourist from Dubai, describing the break from the year round desert climate as "heaven".   "We expected magic and this is what we found," added Max, an Italian tourist. "Everything seems to be magic, the lights, the place, everything here".   But Miriana, a 24-year-old Italian on a university exchange programme in southern Finland, was less convinced.   "The place is really nice. But I think nevertheless that it's a bit commercial," she said.
Date: Tue 18 Oct 2016
From: Tiina Nokireki <tiina.nokireki@evira.fi> [edited]

The Finnish Food Safety Authority (Evira) received a bat (Daubenton's bat, _Myotis daubentonii_) for laboratory analyses. The bat was found by a private person. The bat had neurological signs and then died.

Laboratory analyses conducted during the 13 and 14 Oct 2016, confirmed the presence of rabies by FAT. The virus was then identified as European Bat Lyssavirus type 2 (EBLV-2) by RT-PCR and partial sequencing of the gene for the nucleoprotein. Also cell culture is positive.

The bat originated from Inkoo in the province of Southern Finland and is part of the Uusimaa region. This is the 2nd case of EBLV-2 in a bat in Finland.
-----------------------------------------
Tiina Nokireki
Head of Section, DVM, Specialist in Veterinary Medicine, Infectious
Diseases
Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira
Research Department, Veterinary Virology
Mustialankatu 3,
FI-00790 Helsinki,
Finland
=========================
[Special thanks to Dr. Nokireki for this important contribution. Infections by European Bat Lyssavirus type 2 (EBLV-2) have been previously reported in Northern Europe, not only in bats, but also in humans. EBLV-1 appears to be more prevalent, accounting for the vast majority of all EBLV-infected bats. Reports of EBLV-2 correspond to Daubenton's bats (_Myotis daubentonii_), indicating that this bat species is the reservoir of this _Lyssavirus_ strain.

For a picture of a Daubenton's bat go to

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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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."