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Faroe Islands

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faroe_Islands
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The early history of the Faroe Islands is not very clear. According to Færeyinga Saga emigrants who left Norway to escape the tyranny of Harald I of Norway settled in the isla
ds about the beginning of the 9th century. There is also evidence that Irish monks settled the islands, introducing sheep in the process. Early in the 11th century Sigmund, whose family had flourished in the southern islands but had been almost exterminated by invaders from the northern islands, was sent from Norway, from which he had escaped, to take possession of the islands for Olaf Tryggvason, king of Norway. He introduced Christianity and, though he was subsequently murdered, Norwegian supremacy was upheld. Norwegian control of the islands continued until 1380, when Norway entered into a union with Denmark, which gradually evolved into the double monarchy Denmark/Norway. The reformation reached the Faroes in 1538. When Norway was taken away from Denmark at the Treaty of Kiel in 1814, Denmark retained possession of the Faroe Islands.
The monopoly trade over the Faroe Islands was abolished in 1856. Since then, the country developed towards a modern fishery nation with its own fleet. The national awakening since 1888 was first based on a struggle for the Faroese language, and thus more culturally oriented, but after 1906 was more and more politically oriented after the foundation of the political parties of the Faroe Islands.
On April 12, 1940, the Faroes were invaded and occupied by British troops. The move followed the invasion of Denmark by Nazi Germany and had the objective of strengthening British control of the North Atlantic (see Second Battle of the Atlantic). In 1942–43 the British Royal Engineers built the only airport in the Faroes, the Vágar Airport. Control of the islands reverted to Denmark following the war, but in 1948 a home rule regime was implemented granting a high degree of local autonomy. The Faroes declined to join Denmark in entering the European Community (now European Union) in 1973. The islands experienced considerable economic difficulties following the collapse of the fishing industry in the early 1990s, but have since made efforts to diversify the economy. Support for independence has grown and is the objective of the government.
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Denmark, Greenland and the Faeroe Islands US Consular Information Sheet
August 15, 2006
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Denmark is a highly developed stable democracy with a modern economy. Greenland is a self-governing dependency of Denmark. The Faroe Islands are a self-governing overseas administrative division of Denmark. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Denmark for additional information.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Passport and visa regulations are similar for Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroes. A valid passport is required. U.S. citizen tourist and business travelers do not need visas for visits of up to 90 days. That period begins when entering any of the following countries which are parties to the Schengen agreement: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Denmark and other countries. Contact the Royal Danish Embassy at 3200 Whitehaven Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 234-4300 or visit its website at for the most current visa information.

Note: Although European Union regulations require that non-EU visitors obtain a stamp in their passports upon initial entry to a Schengen country, many borders are not staffed with officers carrying out this function. If an American citizen wishes to ensure that his or her entry is properly documented, it may be necessary to request a stamp at an official point of entry. Under local law, travelers without a stamp in their passports may be questioned and asked to document the length of their stay in Schengen countries at the time of departure or at any other point during their visit, and could face possible fines or other repercussions if unable to do so.

Find more information about Entry and Exit Requirements pertaining to dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction .
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Denmark remains largely free of terrorist incidents, however the country shares, with the rest of Western Europe, an increased threat of Islamic terrorism. Like other countries in the Schengen area, Denmark's open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering and exiting the country with anonymity. Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.

Public demonstrations occasionally occur in Copenhagen and other Danish cities and are generally peaceful events. Prior police approval is required for public demonstrations, and police oversight is routinely provided to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Nonetheless, as with any large crowd comprised of diverse groups, situations may develop which could pose a threat to public safety. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid areas where public demonstrations are taking place.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's web site , where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement , Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements 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, 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 pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad .
CRIME: Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroes all have very low violent crime rates, however, non-violent crimes of opportunity have slightly increased over the last few years, especially in Copenhagen and other major Danish cities, where tourists can become targets for pickpockets and sophisticated thieves. Criminals frequent airports, train stations, and cruise ship quays to take advantage of weary, luggage-burdened travelers. Thieves also operate at popular tourist attractions, shopping streets, and restaurants. In hotel lobbies and breakfast areas, thieves take advantage of even a brief lapse in attention to snatch jackets, purses, and backpacks. Women's purses placed either on the backs of chairs or on the floor are typical targets for thieves. Car and home break-ins are also on the rise.

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.

Denmark 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 within 24 hours. Danish police routinely inform victims of serious crime of their rights to seek compensation. The relevant forms can be obtained from the police or the Danish Victims' Compensation Board: Civilstyrelsen, Erstatningsnaevnet, Gyldenløvesgade 11, 1600 Copenhagen V, TEL: (45) 33-92- 3334; FAX: (45) 39-20-45-05; www.erstatningsnaevnet.dk ; Email: erstatningsnaevnet@erstatningsnaevnet.dk . Claim processing time is a minimum of 4 weeks. There is no maximum award limit.

See our information for Victims of Crime .
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Excellent medical facilities are widely available in Denmark. In Greenland and the Faroe Islands, medical facilities are limited and evacuation is required for serious illness or injury. Although emergency medical treatment is free of charge, the patient is charged for follow-up care.

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 (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's website at . 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 .

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department 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 Denmark is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

A valid U.S. driver's license may be used while visiting Denmark, but the driver must be at least 18 years old. Driving in Denmark is on the right side of the road. Road signs use standard international symbols. Many urban streets have traffic lanes reserved for public transport only. Unless otherwise noted on traffic signs, the speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on open roads, and 130 km/h on expressways.

Use of seat belts is mandatory for drivers and all passengers. Children under three years of age must be secured with approved safety equipment appropriate to the child's age, size, and weight. Children from three to six years of age may use approved child or booster seats instead of seat belts.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is considered a very serious offense. The rules are stringently enforced, and violations can result in stiff fines and possible jail sentences.

Copenhagen, the capital and largest city in Denmark, has an extensive and efficient public transportation system. Trains and buses connect Copenhagen with other major cities in Denmark and to Norway, Sweden, and Germany. Bicycles are also a common mode of transportation in Denmark. Passengers exiting public or tourist buses, as well as tourists driving rental cars, should watch for bicycles on their designated paths, which are usually located between the pedestrian sidewalks and the traffic lanes.

Danish expressways, highways, and secondary roads are of high quality and connect all areas of the country. It is possible to drive from the northern tip of Denmark to the German border in the south in just four hours. Greenland has no established road system, and domestic travel is performed by foot, boat, or by air. The majority of the Faroe Islands are connected by bridges or serviced by boat. Although the largest islands have roads, most domestic travel is done on foot, horseback, boat, or by air.

The emergency telephone number for police/fire/ambulance in Denmark and the Faroe Islands is 112. In Greenland contact the local police.

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 . See also additional information on driving in Denmark at .

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Denmark's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Denmark's air carrier operations. This rating applies to Greenland and the Faroe Islands as well. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet website at www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa .

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: The official unit of currency in Denmark is the Danish krone. ATM machines are widely available throughout Denmark. Please see our information on customs regulations .

For information concerning the importation of pets into Denmark, please visit the following website:
.
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 protection 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 Denmark's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Denmark 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 in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties .

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Denmark are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website , and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Denmark. 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 Dag Hammarskjolds Alle 24; 2100 Copenhagen, telephone: (45) 33-41-71-00; Embassy fax: (45) 35-43-02-23; Consular Section fax: (45) 35-38-96-16; After-hours emergency telephone: (45) 35-55-92-70. Information is also available via the U.S. Embassy's website at http://www.usembassy.dk. The United States has no consular presence in Greenland or the Faroe Islands.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated February 10, 2006, to update the section on Entry Requirements and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 24 Apr 2020 18:42:50 +0200 (METDST)

Copenhagen, April 24, 2020 (AFP) - The Faroe Islands had planned to close to tourists for a weekend this April to protect its fragile ecosystem.   However, isolated due to the pandemic, the Danish archipelago is now offering people a chance to discover the islands with virtual tours online.   "We do these tours for people who were supposed to come to the Faroe Islands and visit now and had to cancel their tours. This is kind of our way of giving them the experience they otherwise would have had, (but) through our eyes, ears and body," Kristina Sandberg Joensen, one of the virtual guides working for the Faroese tourism office, told AFP.   The self-governing territory in the North Atlantic, which has 187 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, closed its borders in mid-March.

In order to visit the islands virtually, "tourists" take in the stunning views on their phone or computer free of charge as their guide explores the local landscape in real time, either on foot, on horseback or at sea.    Each tourist can even control the direction their guide takes for 60 seconds, using on-screen joystick controls.   Between 20,000 and 40,000 people have taken part in virtual tours since they started on April 15, the tourism office said.   Known for its high cliffs, dramatic waterfalls and open expanses, the archipelago of 1,400 square kilometres (540 square miles) is home to 50,000 people and 80,000 sheep spread out over 18 islands.

Some 110,000 tourists visited the Faroe Islands in 2018, with their numbers increasing by 10 percent per year the past five years.   The archipelago had originally planned to close its main tourism sites on April 18 and 19, asking only a select number of volunteers to come help clean up the local ecosystem.   The operation has instead been postponed until September because of the coronavirus crisis.
Date: Thu, 14 Nov 2019 12:51:34 +0100 (MET)

Copenhagen, Nov 14, 2019 (AFP) - Authorities in the Faroe Islands have announced the archipelago in the North Atlantic will be "closed for maintenance" for two days in April when tourists won't be welcome, instead opening the doors to volunteer caretakers.   In practice, the self-governing Danish islands will keep hotels open and international flights running, but popular tourist sites will be temporarily closed on April 16 and 17 next year.   The event is a continuation of a pilot project run in the spring of 2019, when 100 volunteers from 25 countries were invited to the islands.

Registrations for eager volunteers opened on Wednesday at 1500 GMT and were to remain open for 24 hours, the Faroese tourism office said on its website.   One hundred people will then be randomly selected to be part of the maintenance crew, who will be offered housing and food during their stay although they will still need to pay for their own plane tickets.   "The fragile natural environment in some popular tourist locations has felt the effects of an increase of visitors," the head of the tourism office, Guri Hojgaard, told AFP in March shortly after the pilot project was launched.   "These areas need a helping hand to ensure they remain pristine".

For the first edition of the event they received about 3,500 applications and the selected volunteers helped with projects like creating walking paths, constructing viewpoints to help preserve nature and protect birdlife sanctuaries and re-building rock cairns.   A popular destination for its fascinating landscapes with 30-metre cliffs, the archipelago covers 1,400 square kilometres (540 square miles) and has 50,000 inhabitants and 80,000 sheep spread over 18 islands.   In 2018, 110,000 tourists visited the Faroe Islands and the number of tourists has increased by about 10 percent annually for the past five years.    According to Hojgaard, the "closed for maintenance, open for voluntourism" weekend can "contribute to the international discussion about overtourism by showing that tourists can actually be a part of the solution."
Date: Fri, 25 Nov 2011 12:19:28 +0100 (MET)

COPENHAGEN, Nov 25, 2011 (AFP) - A hurricane packing winds of almost 200 kilometres (125 miles) an hour tore through the Faroe Islands overnight, causing major damage and evacuations but no deaths, police said Friday.  "There was a hurricane... a lot of material damage has been reported but no deaths so far," said Rani Wardum, a police officer in Torshavn, the capital of the North Atlantic archipelago. "Winds reach up to 55 metres per second," or 198 kilometres per hour, in some places, meteorologist Mogens Roenebek of the Danish Meteorological Institute told AFP.

The Faroe Islands, an autonomous Danish province, are home to around 48,000 people. The extent of the damage was not immediately known. "Many roofs were blown off and we had to evacuate a retirement home. The seniors were moved into a hospital," Wardum said.

Some residents were also evacuated from their homes during the night and a number of boats came loose from their moorings and ended up on land, he added. "The winds are still raging, but it was particularly violent last night and overnight," Wardum said, noting that the southern coastal regions of the Faroes Islands were hardest hit. The storm was heading towards the west coast of Norway on Friday, with strong winds and heavy seas, according to Roenebek.
Date: Thu, 6 May 2010 16:55:58 +0200 (METDST)

REYKJAVIK, May 6, 2010 (AFP) - The quantity of ash spewed by Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano increased overnight and the higher ash cloud could make it to the Faroe Islands Friday, Icelandic authorities said Thursday.   "Ash production did increase last night and the ash plume is going higher now than the last couple of days," Agust Gunnar Gylfason, who monitors the eruption's progress at Iceland's Civil Protection Department, told AFP.

The ash cloud "might reach the Faroe Islands around midnight (GMT Thursday) under 20,000 feet (6,000 meters)" and continue on south towards Ireland on Friday, he added.   "The plume went up to 30,000 feet (9,000 meters) for some time last night, and again this morning, due to an increase in explosive activity, but otherwise it's been around 18,000 and 20,000 feet" high, he said.

At the strongest period of the eruption, Eyjafjoell sent a plume around 30,000 feet into the air, but scientists have stressed that the height of the plume does not necessarily reflect a particular quantity of ash.   On Tuesday, the plume contained about only 10 percent of the ash it held at the beginning of the eruption.   European airspace and airports across the continent were open on Thursday, but intergovernmental air traffic controller Eurocontrol said the ash cloud could mean transatlantic flights might need to be re-routed.

Airspace above Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland was partly shut Wednesday for the second time in two days, causing the cancellation of hundreds of flights.   The fresh disruption came after Europe's skies were closed for up to a week last month by the eruption of the Eyjafjoell volcano. It was the biggest aerial shutdown in Europe since World War II, with more than 100,000 flights cancelled and eight million passengers affected.
More ...

Antartica

General:
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Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
the northern parts of the country. Temperatures of between 20C to 35C are fairly standard throughout the year. Generally the winter effects of the American continent only last for short periods.
Safety & Security:
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The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Road Safety:
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Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
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When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.

Currency:
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Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Health Facilities:
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Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
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The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
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Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
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The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
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This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
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There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
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Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 03:03:18 +0100 (MET)
By Pierre-Henry DESHAYES

Half Moon Island, Antarctica, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - The swimsuit-clad tourists leap into the icy water, gasping at the shock, and startling a gaggle of penguins.   They are spectators at the end of the world, luxury visitors experiencing a vulnerable ecosystem close-up.   And their very presence might accelerate its demise.   Antarctica, a vast territory belonging to no one nation, is a continent of extremes: the coldest place on Earth, the windiest, the driest, the most desolate and the most inhospitable.   Now, it's also a choice destination for tourists.

All around Half Moon Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, blocks of ice of all sizes float by on a calm sea, their varying forms resembling weightless origami shapes.    On this strip of land, that juts out of the Antarctic Polar and towards South America, visitors can see wildlife normally only viewed in zoos or nature documentaries along with spectacular icy landscapes.   The ethereal shades of white that play across the pillowy peaks change with the light, acquiring pastel hues at dawn and dusk.   "Purity, grandeur, a scale that's out of this world," says Helene Brunet, an awestruck 63-year-old French pensioner, enjoying the scene.    "It's unbelievable, totally unbelievable. It's amazing just to be here, like a small speck of dust."

AFP joined the 430 passengers on board the Roald Amundsen, the world's first hybrid electric cruise ship, on its maiden voyage in the Southern Ocean.    "It's not your typical beach, but it's awesome to do it," says a numb Even Carlsen, 58, from Norway, emerging from his polar plunge in the three-degree C (37.4 F) water.   When tourists go ashore, bundled up in neon-coloured windbreakers and slathered in SPF50 sunscreen, they have to follow strict rules: clean your personal effects so you don't introduce invasive species, keep a respectful distance from wildlife to avoid distressing them, don't stray from the marked paths and don't pick up anything.   "We mucked up the rest of the world. We don't want to muck up Antarctica too," says an English tourist, as she vacuums cat hair off her clothes before going ashore.

- 'Heart of the Earth' -
The Antarctic peninsula is one of the regions on Earth that is warming the fastest, by almost three degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization -- three times faster than the global average.    In March 2015, an Argentinian research station registered a balmy 17.5 degrees Celsius, a record.    "Every year you can observe and record the melting of glaciers, the disappearance of sea ice... (and) in areas without ice, the recolonisation of plants and other organisms that were not present in Antarctica before," said Marcelo Leppe, director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

Antarctica is "like the heart of the Earth," he added, saying that it expands and contracts like a heart beating, while the mighty current which revolves around the continent is like a circulatory system as it absorbs warm currents from other oceans and redistributes cold water.   The Antarctic Treaty, signed 60 years ago by 12 countries -- it now has 54 signatories -- declared the area a continent dedicated to peace and science, but tourism has gradually increased, with a sharp rise in the past few years.   Tourism is the only commercial activity allowed, apart from fishing -- the subject of international disputes over marine sanctuaries -- and is concentrated mainly around the peninsula, which has a milder climate than the rest of the continent and is easier to access.

Cruise ships have roamed the region for around 50 years, but their numbers only started to increase from 1990, as Soviet ice-breakers found new purposes in the post-Cold War era.   Some 78,500 people are expected to visit the region between November and March, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).   That's a 40-percent increase from last year, due in part to short visits by a few new cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers, too many to disembark under IAATO regulations.     "Some might say 'Well, 80,000 people, that doesn't even fill a national stadium'... (and that it) is nothing like Galapagos which welcomes 275,000 a year," says IAATO spokeswoman Amanda Lynnes.    "But Antarctica is a special place and you need to manage it accordingly."

- 'Leave Antarctica to the penguins' -
It is Antarctica's very vulnerability that is attracting more and more visitors.   "We want to see this fantastic nature in Antarctica before it's gone," Guido Hofken, a 52-year-old IT sales director travelling with his wife Martina, says.    They said they had paid a supplement to climate compensate for their flight from Germany.

But some question whether tourists should be going to the region at all.   "The continent probably would be better off being left to penguins and researchers, but the reality is, that is probably never going to happen," said Michael Hall, professor and expert on polar regions at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.   "Vicarious appreciation never seems to be enough for humans. So with that being the case, it needs to be made as low risk to the Antarctic environment and as low carbon as possible," said Hall.    "However, when the average tourist trip to Antarctica is over five tonnes of CO2 emissions per passenger (including flights), that is a serious ask."

Soot or black carbon in the exhaust gases of the scientific and cruise ships going to the region is also of concern, said Soenke Diesener, transport policy officer at German conservation NGO Nabu.   "These particles will deposit on snow and ice surfaces and accelerate the melting of the ice because the ice gets darker and will absorb the heat from the sun and will melt much faster," he told AFP.   "So the people who go there to observe or preserve the landscape are bringing danger to the area, and leave it less pristine than it was," he added.

- Responsible tourism -
Antarctic tour operators insist they are promoting responsible tourism.   The trend is for more intimate, so-called expedition cruises, in contrast to popular giant cruise liners elsewhere which are criticised for being invasive and polluting.   With greener ships -- heavy fuel, the most commonly used for marine vessels, has been banned in Antarctica since 2011 -- cruise companies have sought to make environmental awareness a selling point, occasionally earning them accusations of greenwashing.

Global warming, pollution and microplastics are the result of human activities on other, faraway continents, say tour operators.   Here, their motto is "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, keep nothing but memories".   But before they've even set foot on the cruise ships departing from South America -- the most common itinerary -- visitors to Antarctica will already have flown across the world, causing emissions that harm the very nature they have come so far to admire.

Most visitors hail from the Northern Hemisphere, and almost half are from the United States and China, IAATO says.   "I'm a tourist who feels a little guilty about taking a flight to come here," admits Francoise Lapeyre, a 58-year-old globetrotter om France.   "But then again, there are priorities. There are some trips I just won't take, because they leave a big footprint and they're not worth it.   "Crisscrossing the planet to go to a beach for example," she says.

- Don't mention climate change -
Like other expedition cruises where accessible science is part of their trademark, the Roald Amundsen, owned by the Hurtigruten company, has no dance floor or casino.  Instead, there are microscopes, science events and lectures about whales and explorers like Charles Darwin.   But they steer clear of climate change, which is only mentioned indirectly.   That's a deliberate decision as the subject has proven "quite controversial", said Verena Meraldi, Hurtigruten's science coordinator.   "We held several lectures dedicated specifically to climate change but it leads to conflicts. There are people who accept it as a fact, others who don't," she said.   Onboard, "passengers" are referred to as "guests" and "explorers" rather than "cruisers".   "Explorers" are typically older, well-heeled, often highly travelled pensioners who are handed walking sticks as they step ashore.   "My 107th country," says a Dane, stepping ashore onto Antarctica.

The Roald Amundsen "guests" choose between three restaurants, from street food to fine dining -- a far cry from the conditions endured by the Norwegian adventurer for whom the ship is named, who had to eat his sled dogs to survive his quest to reach the South Pole in 1911.   They have paid at least 7,000 euros ($7,700) each for an 18-day cruise in a standard cabin, and up to 25,000 euros ($27,500) for a suite with a balcony and private jacuzzi.   Other cruises are banking on ultra-luxury, with James Bond-like ships equipped with helicopters and submarines, suites of more than 200 square metres (2,153 square feet) and butler services.   With a seaplane to boot, the mega-yacht SeaDream Innovation will offer 88-day cruises "from Pole to Pole" starting in 2021. The two most expensive suites, with a price tag of 135,000 euros per person, are already booked.
 
- Worlds collide -
Outside, in the deafening silence, wildlife abounds.   All around are penguins, as awkward on land as they are agile in water. Massive and majestic whales slip through the waves, and sea lions and seals laze in the sun.   On Half Moon Island, chinstrap penguins -- so called because of a black stripe on their chin -- strut about in this spring breeding season, raising their beaks and screeching from their rocky nests.   "This is to tell other males 'This is my space' and also, maybe, 'This is my female'," ornithologist Rebecca Hodgkiss, a member of the Hurtigruten's scientific team, explains, as a group of tourists stroll around ashore.   The colony of 2,500 penguins has been gradually declining over the years, but it's not known if that is man's fault or they have just moved away, according to Karin Strand, Hurtigruten's vice president for expeditions.   Invisible to the naked eye, traces of humankind are however to be found in the pristine landscape.   Not a single piece of rubbish is in sight but microplastics are everywhere, swept in on ocean currents.   "We've detected them in the eggs of penguins for example," Leppe told AFP.

- Venice under water -
The Antarctic, which holds the world's largest reserve of freshwater, is a ticking time bomb, warn experts and studies.   They say that the future of millions of people and species in coastal areas around the world depends on what is happening here.   As a result of global warming, the melting ice sheet -- especially in the western part of the continent -- will increasingly contribute to rising sea levels, radically re-drawing the map of the world, says climate scientist Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.   This meltwater will contribute 50 centimetres (almost 20 inches) to the global sea level rise by 2100, and much more after that, he said.   "For every degree of warming, we get 2.5 metres of sea level rise. Not in this century, but in the long run," he said.

Even if the international community meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to under two degrees Celsius, sea levels will still rise by at least five metres.   "Which means that Venice is under water, Hamburg is under water, New York, Shanghai, Calcutta," he said.   It's impossible to predict when, but the scenario appears unavoidable, says Levermann.   In the same way that a cruise ship powering ahead at full speed can't immediately stop, sea levels will continue to rise even if all greenhouse gas emissions were to cease immediately, a study has said.

- Changing the world? -
The tourism industry says it hopes to make "ambassadors" out of Antarctica visitors.   "It's good for the animal life and for the protection of Antarctica that people see how beautiful this area is, because you cherish what you know and understand," said Hurtigruten chief executive Daniel Skjeldam.   Texan tourist Mark Halvorson, 72, says he is convinced.   "Having seen it, I am that much more committed to having a very high priority in my politics, in my own inner core convictions to being as environmentally friendly in my life as I can," he said.   So, do Guido and Martina Hofken see themselves as future "ambassadors of Antarctica"?    "Just a little bit, probably. But I don't think I will change the world," Guido Hofken concedes.    "The best thing would be for nobody to travel to Antarctica."
Date: Thu, 17 May 2018 09:57:07 +0200

Buenos Aires, May 17, 2018 (AFP) - Tourism regulation in Antarctica has become an urgent matter due to environmental threats, officials from the 53 member countries of the Antarctic Treaty warned at their annual meeting, held this week in Buenos Aires.

In the absence of rules, travel agencies offer trips to the region on boats sometimes equipped with helicopters or submarines, according to Segolene Royal, French ambassador for the Arctic and Antarctic poles.   "This activity creates considerable disturbance ... we are witnessing a race toward large-scale tourism that is dangerous for ecosystems," she said at the assembly on Wednesday.

During the austral summer of 2016/2017, around 44,000 tourists set off for Antarctica, compared with just 9,000 in 1995/1996, according to French authorities.   However, the push for regulation is not about banning tourism, former environmental minister Royal said, but rather about ensuring it is managed in compliance with the treaty and its environmental protection protocol.

In Buenos Aires, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting  -- whose mission is to regulate human activity on the continent -- also sought to encourage scientific cooperation between countries that have collectively set up around 100 research bases across the ice.   Also up for analysis is China's proposed fifth permanent scientific station in Antarctica, which would be located in the Ross Sea area south of New Zealand.
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2017 13:01:49 +0200
By Marlowe HOOD

Paris, July 5, 2017 (AFP) - A chunk of ice bigger than the US state of Delaware is hanging by a thread from the West Antarctic ice shelf, satellite images revealed Wednesday.   When it finally calves from the Larsen C ice shelf, one of the biggest icebergs in recorded history will be set adrift -- some 6,600 square kilometres (2,550 square miles) in total, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

The iceberg's depth below sea level could be as much as 210 metres (almost 700 feet), or about 60 storeys, it said.   "The crack in the ice is now around 200 kilometres (125 miles) long, leaving just five kilometres between the end of the fissure and the ocean," the ESA said in a statement.   "Icebergs calve from Antarctica all the time, but because this one is particularly large its path across the ocean needs to be monitored as it could pose a hazard to maritime traffic."

Scientists tracking the berg's progression expect it to break of within months.    The Larsen C shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its total surface area.   The massive ice cube will float in water and by itself will not add to sea levels when it melts.   The real danger is from inland glaciers.   Ice shelves float on the sea, extending from the coast, and are fed by slow-flowing glaciers from the land.    They act as giant brakes, preventing glaciers from flowing directly into the ocean.   If the glaciers held in check by Larsen C spilt into the Antarctic Ocean, it would lift the global water mark by about 10 centimetres (four inches), researchers have said.

The calving of ice shelves occurs naturally, though global warming is believed to have accelerated the process.   Warming ocean water erodes the underbelly of the ice shelves, while rising air temperatures weaken them from above.   The nearby Larsen A ice shelf collapsed in 1995, and Larsen B dramatically broke up seven years later.   The ESA is keeping an eye on Larsen C with its Copernicus and CryoSat Earth orbiters.

Man-made global warming has already lifted average global air temperatures by about one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial levels.    Antarctica is one of the world's fastest-warming regions.   The world's nations undertook in the Paris Agreement, inked in 2015, to cap average global warming at "well under" 2 C.
Date: Wed, 22 Jun 2016 21:35:09 +0200
By Jean-Louis SANTINI

Washington, June 22, 2016 (AFP) - Two sick workers were evacuated from a remote US research station near the South Pole on Wednesday in a risky rescue mission carried out in the dead of Antarctica's winter, a US official said.   A Twin Otter turboprop plane flew in dark and cold conditions to pick up the workers from the Amundsen-Scott station, about 250 meters from the geographic South Pole, a spokesman for the US National Science Foundation (NSF), Peter West told AFP.

The plane's crew and a medical team had made the 10-hour journey to the South Pole in the middle of Antarctica's 24-hour winter on Tuesday night to reach the unidentified patients, who could not be treated on site.   The NSF -- the US research agency that operates the Amundsen-Scott Station -- organized the rescue mission last week given the condition of the first patient, which was not disclosed for privacy reasons.   "It was really an emergency," West said.   It later became apparent that the second worker also needed to be evacuated.

The sick workers -- employees of the US company Lockheed Martin who worked on base logistics -- were then taken to the Rothera base, a British research station some 2,200 kilometers (about 1,365 miles) away, the spokesman said.   The pair, who were not identified, were then to be transferred to a hospital in South America, West said, without giving further details.   The Amundsen-Scott base was home to 48 people -- 39 men and nine women -- who work on-site throughout the austral winter, which spans February through October.

- Rare rescue mission -
Near the world's southernmost point, workers spend this period withstanding nearly complete darkness and dramatically low temperatures -- on Tuesday, the thermometer dropped to -60 degrees Celsius (-76 degrees Fahrenheit).   It was only the third time that an emergency rescue operation has been launched in the middle of winter.   In 2001, the only doctor at the Amundsen-Scott station was suffering from a life-threatening pancreatic condition and required urgent evacuation. A second medical evacuation was carried out that year.

In 1999, the US station's doctor Jerri Nielsen, who was self-treating her own breast cancer, required medical evacuation but weather conditions were more favorable, as the mission took place in the spring.  The Twin Otter plane, operated by the Canadian company Kenn Borek Air, is specially designed to operate in extremely cold temperatures.

Research projects at the Amundsen-Scott station include monitoring long-term levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.     The station also operates two telescopes that observe "cosmic microwave background" radiation -- the faint light signature left by the Big Bang -- to study the origins of the universe, dark energy and dark matter.
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2014 09:04:56 +0200 (METDST)
by Martin PARRY

SYDNEY, June 18, 2014 (AFP) - Antarctic scientists warned Wednesday that a surge in tourists visiting the frozen continent and new roads and runways built to service research facilities were threatening its fragile environment.   Tourist numbers have exploded from less than 5,000 in 1990 to about 40,000 a year, according to industry figures, and most people go to the fragmented ice-free areas that make up less than one percent of Antarctica.   A growing number of research facilities are also being built, along with associated infrastructure such as fuel depots and runways, in the tiny ice-free zones.

It is these areas which contain most of the continent's wildlife and plants, yet they are among the planet's least-protected, said a study led by the Australian government-funded National Environmental Research Programme (NERP) and the Australian Antarctic Division.   "Many people think that Antarctica is well protected from threats to its biodiversity because it's isolated and no one lives there," said Justine Shaw from the NERP of the study published in the journal PLoS Biology.   "However, we show that there are threats to Antarctic biodiversity.   "Most of Antarctica is covered in ice, with less than one percent permanently ice-free," she added.   "Only 1.5 percent of this ice-free area belongs to Antarctic Specially Protected Areas under the Antarctic Treaty System, yet ice-free land is where the majority of biodiversity occurs."   Five of the distinct ice-free areas have no protection at all while all 55 of the continent's protected zones are close to sites of human activity.

- Fragile ecosystems -
Steven Chown of Monash University, another collaborator in the study, said the ice-free areas contain very simple ecosystems due to Antarctica's low species diversity.   This makes its native wildlife and plants extremely vulnerable to invasion by outside species, which can be introduced by human activity.   "Antarctica has been invaded by plants and animals, mostly grasses and insects, from other continents," he said.    "The very real current and future threats from invasions are typically located close to protected areas.    "Such threats to protected areas from invasive species have been demonstrated elsewhere in the world, and we find that Antarctica is, unfortunately, no exception."

The study said the current level of protection was "inadequate by any measure" with Shaw saying more was needed to guard against the threat posed by the booming tourism industry.   "(We need) to protect a diverse suite of native insects, plants and seabirds, many of which occur nowhere else in the world," she said.   "We also need to ensure that Antarctic protected areas are not going to be impacted by human activities, such as pollution, trampling or invasive species."   Antarctica is considered one of the last frontiers for adventurous travellers.   Most travel by sea, some paying in excess of US$20,000 for a luxury cabin in the peak period from November to March. There is also a healthy market for sightseeing flights.

Approximately 30 nations operate permanent research stations on the continent including the US, China, Russia, Australia, Britain, France and Argentina, and more are on the way.   China's state media said in December that the country was building its fourth base and a fifth was being planned.   Fellow study author Hugh Possingham, from NERP, said that without better protection "this unique and fragile ecosystem could be lost".   "Although we show that the risks to biodiversity from increasing human activity are high, they are even worse when considered together with climate change," he added.    "This combined effect provides even more incentive for a better system of area protection in Antarctica."
More ...

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
*

*

*
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: Mon, 18 May 2020 16:52:05 +0200 (METDST)

Helsinki, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Finland's national airline will restart routes between Europe and Asia in July once countries begin to lift coronavirus restrictions on travel, the company announced on Monday.   Beijing and Shanghai will be the first long-haul destinations to reopen, alongside Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok and three Japanese routes, Finnair said in a statement.

Flights to Delhi and New York will follow in August.    The move makes Finnair one of the first European carriers to restart intercontinental flights, after the Lufthansa Group announced on Friday it would resume 19 long-haul routes by early June.   "We expect aviation to recover gradually, starting in July," Finnair chief commercial officer Ole Orver said in a statement, adding that the company intends to bring its operations back to one-third of normal capacity.

Finnair cut 90 percent of its flights on April 1 and issued a profit warning as coronavirus restrictions brought international passenger travel almost to a standstill.     Facemasks will be mandatory on all Finnair flights "until at least the end of August," Finnair spokeswoman Paivyt Tallqvist told AFP.     "We have also taken a number of steps to avoid unnecessary movement on board," Tallqvist said, including having passengers disembark in smaller groups, and limiting capacity of shuttle bus transport between aircraft and the terminal to 50 percent.

Flights along the so-called "shorter northern route" between Helsinki and Asia, bypassing the Middle East, have been a key part of the Finnish carrier's growth strategy in recent years, with passenger numbers on its Asian routes doubling between 2010 and 2018.    On Monday, Finnair also announced it would restart 26 European routes in July, including to Brussels, Moscow, Prague and Paris.    Destinations including Rome, Madrid and Warsaw would be added in August, the firm said.     Finnair said it would open further routes on a monthly basis depending on demand and how travel restrictions change over the summer.
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 2020 19:53:20 +0200 (METDST)

Helsinki, April 22, 2020 (AFP) - Gatherings of more than 500 people will be banned until the end of July but other restrictions could be lifted soon, Finland's prime minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday.   Current emergency legislation forbidding groups of more than ten people in public is due to expire on May 13 and unless it is extended, the 500-person limit will then come into force, Marin told a press conference at the end of a day of cabinet discussions over when to lift the coronavirus containment measures.   "We have so far been successful in slowing the spread of the epidemic," Marin said, adding that "Finland will gradually move away from restrictions towards enhanced control of the epidemic."

Testing will be stepped up, Marin said, and a mobile app to trace chains of infection will be introduced.   Although educational establishments have begun to reopen in other Nordic countries such as Norway and Denmark, Finnish authorities will not make a decision on whether to allow children to return to school before next week.   On Tuesday a researcher for Finland's health authority THL said the virus has passed its peak in the country, providing that current restrictions are kept to.

Finnish health authorities have so far recorded 149 coronavirus related deaths and 4,100 confirmed cases, although not all suspected infections are being tested.   Since mid-March Finland has banned large public gatherings and shut its borders. Schools have been closed for children over ten and younger pupils told to stay at home where possible.   The continuing ban on public gatherings will be keenly felt on May 1, when Finns will be unable to follow the traditional "vappu" celebrations which see them don white caps and assemble in large numbers in the streets and parks for alcohol-fuelled picnics.

Earlier on Wednesday Finnish police announced the arrest on fraud and money laundering charges of a businessman involved in a botched deal to procure face masks for Finland's public sector.   Former payday loans entrepreneur Onni Sarmaste was allegedly paid five million euros to source the protective equipment earlier this month, with officials discovering on receiving the consignment that the two million masks were unsuitable for medical use.   The debacle led to the resignation of the head of Finland's emergency preparedness agency on 10 April.
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2020 12:36:39 +0200 (METDST)

Helsinki, April 15, 2020 (AFP) - Finland's prime minister lifted a blockade on the Helsinki region on Wednesday, but warned that the epidemic "is not yet under control" and other restrictions will remain.   The government on March 28 shut roads and rail services into and out of Uusimaa county, which contains the capital, to all but essential travel in a bid to stop infections spreading to the rest of the country.

But the growing number of cases outside Helsinki means that the blockade can no longer be justified under state of emergency legislation, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said.    "Some regions have seen higher levels of spread than in Uusimaa," Marin told a press conference.     But she called on residents to continue avoiding travel, saying that "now is not the right time to go to the summer cottage."

Other restrictions, such as the closure of schools for older children and bans on gatherings of more than 10 people, will remain in place, Marin said, warning that the country remains "at the mercy of the virus."    An expert group will report to the cabinet next week with its initial assessment of how long the restrictions should continue, and whether new measures should be introduced, such as the use of fabric masks in public places.    On Tuesday, the head of the public health authority THL said people should begin covering their faces when outside to reduce the risk of asymptomatic transmission.

Meanwhile, health authorities are due to receive the first results this week from a programme of antibody testing carried out on random members of the public, which officials hope will indicate how much of the population has been infected.     As of Wednesday, Finland had recorded 64 deaths from the coronavirus, and 3,161 confirmed infections, although only a fraction of suspected cases are being tested.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 10:17:01 +0200 (METDST)

Helsinki, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Finland announced tougher controls on Tuesday to further reduce arrivals from its neighbours including Sweden, where measures to tackle the coronavirus have been less severe and infection rates  higher.   The two countries' land border in Lapland is usually crossed by thousands of workers and families every day, although traffic across the Swedish and Norwegian borders has fallen by 95 percent since the government banned all but essential traffic on March 14, Finland's Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo told a press conference.   "In addition to extending the measures (for a month until May 13), quarantine requirements for arrivals will be tightened," Ohisalo said.

Under the new measures, workers must now carry a permission slip from their employer stating that the border crossing is essential and must remain under quarantine for 14 days on arrival in Finland.    The measures come after a senior Finnish infection specialist called for an end to work-related travel over the Lapland border, where 2,000 border crossings a day were still being made.    "It is a significant risk when so many people are coming through the border every day," Dr Markku Broas of Lapland Central Hospital told Finnish public broadcaster Yle on 29 March.

As of Monday, Sweden had recorded 477 deaths from coronavirus, compared with just 27 in Finland.   But while Finland has imposed emergency laws closing schools, blockading its capital region and forcing restaurants to close, Sweden has taken a notably softer approach with far fewer restrictions than elsewhere in Europe.

On Tuesday, Finland also announced that passenger ferries linking Finland with Germany, Estonia and Sweden would also stop selling tickets from Friday, as all existing restrictions on movement were extended for a further month until May 13.   Ohisalo told the press conference that the measures so far had succeeded in slowing the spread of the virus in Finland and that the government would begin "an exit conversation" in the coming days about when to roll back the restrictions.
Date: Wed, 25 Mar 2020 22:15:06 +0100 (MET)

Helsinki, March 25, 2020 (AFP) - Tough new restrictions banning travel between the Finnish capital and the rest of the country will be introduced from Friday to curb the spread of coronavirus, the country's prime minister said Wednesday.   "Movement into and out of the capital region, Uusimaa, will be forbidden," Finland's prime minister Sanna Marin told a press conference.   "Everybody will however have the right to return home or to their municipality of residence."

She said exceptions will be made for essential travel, including cases such as the death of a relative or under child visitation arrangements.    Goods will also continue to flow under the restrictions which will last for three weeks.    1.7 million people live in the province of Uusimaa, approximately a third of Finland's population.

Ministers stressed that over 500 of the country's 880 confirmed coronavirus cases in Finland, and two of the three recorded deaths, have been in the Uusimaa region.     Not all suspected cases are being tested and authorities have said the real number of infections could be 30 times higher.

On Wednesday the government also submitted a decree to parliament giving lawmakers emergency powers to force qualified health workers under the age of 68 to come into work.  However Marin said she hadn't managed to gain the necessary parliamentary backing to force restaurants to offer only takeaway or delivery services.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 19 May 2020 16:23:23 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 19, 2020 (AFP) - This year's Dublin marathon scheduled for October 25 was cancelled on Tuesday despite Ireland's move to lift coronavirus lockdown measures, indicating potential long-term disruption caused by the outbreak.   Ireland plans to have fully lifted restrictions well before October, in a staggered process that began on Monday.   But organisers indicated the race -- which had 22,500 entrants last year -- would still not go ahead because of safety fears.   "We made the difficult decision in the best interest of the health and well-being of all those involved in making our events such a success from runners, supporters, volunteers, sponsors, to suppliers," said race director Jim Aughney.   "We explored many alternatives for running the events safely but ultimately none were viable."    Ireland's five-stage "roadmap" to reopen the nation is due to be completed in August, when the current ban on mass gatherings of more than 5,000 people is set to expire.   The cancellation suggests coronavirus fallout may last longer than suggested by official plans and could hit similar events.

The London Marathon, which attracts tens of thousands of runners, has been postponed until October 4.    "We need to be aware that we will continue to be in the acute emergency phase of this crisis for some time with further waves an ever present danger," the health department Secretary-General Jim Breslin told a special parliamentary committee on the crisis.   "This is not a one, a two or even a three-day storm, after which we move to a recovery phase. The acute phase of this crisis will definitely be measured in months and most probably in years."   Ireland has suffered 1,547 deaths from COVID-19, according to the department of health.   On Monday the number of daily deaths had fallen from a peak of 77 to just four.   "We have suppressed the virus and limited its impact on public health," said chief medical officer Tony Holohan on Monday.   "We need to sustain this in the weeks and phases ahead."
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 18:54:14 +0200 (METDST)

Paris, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Air France said Monday it hoped to double the number of cities it serves, including over 40 European destinations, by the end of June as nations begin to lift coronavirus travel restrictions.   "Between now and the end of June and subject to travel restrictions being lifted, Air France plans to gradually resume its flights,"  the airline said.   Like other airlines, Air France grounded most of its planes as governments imposed stay-at-home orders and demand for travel evaporated. 

Air France said it was currently operating between three and five percent of its usual schedule and serving 43 destinations for essential passenger traffic as well as cargo.   The airline, which received a 7-billion-euro rescue package from the French government, listed more than 90 destinations it hopes to serve by the end of June.   That would be equivalent to 15 percent of its normal schedule, and use 75 of its fleet of 224 aircraft.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 18:20:03 +0200 (METDST)

Abuja, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Nigeria's government on Monday extended a coronavirus lockdown on the northern region of Kano after it became a hotspot for new infections.    The head of the country's coronavirus taskforce, Boss Mustapha, said the lockdown on the economic hub -- which includes Nigeria's second biggest city -- would be prolonged for two weeks.    The authorities will also start to impose "precision" lockdowns in any other areas that report a "rapidly increasing number of cases, when the need arises", he said.    The outbreak in Kano has become a major cause of concern after medics and residents last month began reporting a spike in deaths.

Regional officials at first put the "unexplained" fatalities down to other ailments, but government investigators later said coronavirus was suspected in most cases.    Neighbouring states to Kano have also begun reporting suspicious surges in death tolls that authorities are scrambling to investigate.    Nigeria has confirmed 5,959 infections and 182 deaths from the novel coronavirus across the country.    Kano is the second hardest hit region with 825 confirmed cases and 36 fatalities.   The region has already been under lockdown for a month but enforcement has been lax and measures have been eased sporadically for people to buy food during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Testing has been a key problem across Nigeria and only 35,345 samples have so far been screened in Africa's most populous nation of 200 million people.    Mustapha insisted there had been a slowdown in the transmission rate of the virus, "elongating the doubling time" from seven to 11 days.    But he announced that measures would remain in place limiting businesses and restricting crowds across the rest of the country despite earlier plans to gradually roll them back.     "Nigeria is not yet ready for full opening of the economy and tough decisions have to be taken for the good of the greater majority," he said.   The government has also imposed a night-time curfew and made mask wearing mandatory in all regions.     Mustapha complained that "non-compliance was rampant" with social distancing measures.     "The fight against COVID-19 is long-term as the virus is not likely to go away very soon," he said.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 17:21:58 +0200 (METDST)

Stockholm, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Sweden, whose softer approach to the new coronavirus pandemic has garnered worldwide attention, recorded its deadliest month in almost three decades in April, according to statistics released on Monday.   Sweden has stopped short of introducing the restrictive lockdowns seen elsewhere in Europe, instead opting for an approach based on the "principle of responsibility".

The Scandinavian country has kept schools open for children under the age of 16, along with cafes, bars, restaurants and businesses, and urged people to respect social distancing guidelines.   A total of 10,458 deaths were recorded in the country of 10.3 million inhabitants in April, Statistics Sweden said.   "We have to go back to December 1993 to find more dead during a single month," Tomas Johansson, population statistician at Statistics Sweden, said in a statement.

In total, 97,008 deaths were recorded in Sweden during the whole of 1993, which in turn was the deadliest year since 1918, when the Spanish flu pandemic ravaged the country.   Johansson told AFP there was no official breakdown explaining the high death toll in December 1993 but said there was a flu epidemic at the time.   According to preliminary data, the number of deaths has been on the decline since the end of April, including in Stockholm -- the epicentre of the Swedish epidemic -- where the highest number of deaths were recorded in early April.

The Swedish approach to the novel coronavisrus has come under criticism both at home and abroad, particularly as the number of deaths has far exceeded those in neighbouring Nordic countries, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures.   On Monday, Sweden reported a total of 30,377 confirmed cased of the new coronavirus and 3,698 deaths.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 16:52:05 +0200 (METDST)

Helsinki, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Finland's national airline will restart routes between Europe and Asia in July once countries begin to lift coronavirus restrictions on travel, the company announced on Monday.   Beijing and Shanghai will be the first long-haul destinations to reopen, alongside Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok and three Japanese routes, Finnair said in a statement.

Flights to Delhi and New York will follow in August.    The move makes Finnair one of the first European carriers to restart intercontinental flights, after the Lufthansa Group announced on Friday it would resume 19 long-haul routes by early June.   "We expect aviation to recover gradually, starting in July," Finnair chief commercial officer Ole Orver said in a statement, adding that the company intends to bring its operations back to one-third of normal capacity.

Finnair cut 90 percent of its flights on April 1 and issued a profit warning as coronavirus restrictions brought international passenger travel almost to a standstill.     Facemasks will be mandatory on all Finnair flights "until at least the end of August," Finnair spokeswoman Paivyt Tallqvist told AFP.     "We have also taken a number of steps to avoid unnecessary movement on board," Tallqvist said, including having passengers disembark in smaller groups, and limiting capacity of shuttle bus transport between aircraft and the terminal to 50 percent.

Flights along the so-called "shorter northern route" between Helsinki and Asia, bypassing the Middle East, have been a key part of the Finnish carrier's growth strategy in recent years, with passenger numbers on its Asian routes doubling between 2010 and 2018.    On Monday, Finnair also announced it would restart 26 European routes in July, including to Brussels, Moscow, Prague and Paris.    Destinations including Rome, Madrid and Warsaw would be added in August, the firm said.     Finnair said it would open further routes on a monthly basis depending on demand and how travel restrictions change over the summer.
Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 10:28:18 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland launched the first tentative step in its plan to lift coronavirus lockdown on Monday, with staff returning to outdoor workplaces as some shops resumed trade and sports facilities unlocked their doors.   The modest tweaks to the restrictions in place since 28 March start a staggered process set to stretch until August.

"I'm both pleased and nervous," health minister Simon Harris told state broadcaster RTE.    "I'm pleased that we've gotten to this point because of the incredible efforts of the Irish people in suppressing this virus."   "I'm nervous because the virus hasn't gone away, there still isn't a vaccine, there's still people in our country getting very sick, and there's still people dying every day."

Shops such as garden centres, hardware stores and farmers markets were permitted to open their doors whilst outdoor staff such as builders and gardeners returned to workplaces.   Football pitches, tennis courts and golf courses were also allowed to resume business whilst maintaining strict social distancing.

Meanwhile citizens were permitted to meet in small gatherings outside of people from different households.   But Harris urged caution as the republic took its first step in trying "to live successfully and safely alongside the virus".   "Just because somewhere is open doesn't mean we need to go," he said.   There have been 1,543 deaths from COVID-19 in Ireland according to the department for health.

Reported daily deaths peaked at 77 on 20 April, but by Sunday the figure had fallen to just 10.   As with other nations officials remain fearful a second wave of infections could inundate the healthcare system.   But Prime minister Leo Varadkar confirmed on Friday that Ireland would press ahead to the first of its five step plan to reopen the nation.   "This gives us reason to hope, but it is not a cause for celebration.  We have a long way to go yet," Varadkar said in a statement.

The fallout of the lockdown changes will be monitored for three weeks before the government decides whether to move to the next stage in the "roadmap" to reopening.   "Coronavirus is an inferno that is raging around the world", said Varadkar.   "In Ireland it is now a fire in retreat but it's not defeated -- we must extinguish every spark."
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 22:46:20 +0200 (METDST)
By Román ORTEGA, Iván DUARTE y Germán CAMPOS

Puebla, Mexico, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Scores of Mexicans are dying from drinking adulterated liquor, a consequence of the shortage of mainstream alcoholic beverages during the coronavirus pandemic, authorities say.   The first of at least 121 deaths in recent weeks occurred at the end of April in the western state of Jalisco, almost exactly a month after the government declared a health emergency over the spread of COVID-19.   Much of Mexico has run out of beer after factories producing liquor and beer were shut down, along with other non-essential firms.

Beer stocks were practically depleted within a month, and in some areas the prices of what was left doubled, according to industry sources.    Many of the 53 deaths in central Puebla province have been linked to a wake where people drank moonshine containing methanol -- a wood alcohol that in non-lethal doses can cause blindness and liver damage.    Twenty-three people died in the hours following the gathering in the town of Chiconcuautla, according to authorities.   The town's mayor said the popular "refino" drink, made from sugarcane, had been adulterated.

German Hernandez said his father died after being poisoned by drink known locally as "tejon" -- a blend of brandy with tejocote fruit (a type of hawthorn), in the Puebla town of Cacaloxuchitl.   "They sell it in the stores, and you can buy it and take it out. My father began trembling and feeling weak. He told us he felt bad, and we took him to the hospital," Hernandez told AFP.   "This has never happened before."    Deaths have also been recorded in the central state of Morelos and Yucatan and Veracruz in the east.

- Mafia trade -
Gangs specializing in bootleg booze are trying to take advantage of the lack of alternative alcohol sources during the shutdown.    "They usually have very well-structured mafias, and some escape the surveillance of the authorities," Ricardo Cardenas of the Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risks told AFP.   "We presume that, as a result of this shortage and demand being very high, some people are offering or trying to sell methanol instead of ethyl alcohol," said Denis de Santiago, head of Sanitary Risks in Jalisco.

Methanol is used in fuel, solvents and antifreeze.   The country's largest beer producers, Grupo Modelo -- which makes the popular Corona beer -- and Heineken, which makes Sol, halted production in early April.   Alcohol sales have been banned in some states, including Yucatan. In others, alcoholic beverages can only be purchased at certain times.   Some drinks companies have switched production to antibacterial gel that they are donating to the federal government and health workers.

- 'Who would have thought?' -
In Yucatan, where 38 people have died so far, victims unknowingly drank methanol in their usual "pajaretes" -- a common cocktail that includes milk, coffee, vanilla and brand-name sugarcane alcohol.   Humberto Macias, 36, said he saw three of his relatives die within days of each other after drinking a pajarete cocktail, made using a trusted brand of alcohol.   "We had always drunk it, including myself, many people. Who would have thought it was like this?" Macias said.

In the Yucatan peninsula town of Acanceh, seven people have died from alcohol poisoning.   "It's the first time I've heard of a case like this. I don't remember anything similar," the town's mayor Felipe Medina told AFP.   In Veracruz, Morelos and Yucatan, investigators are still trying to determine what drinks the victims consumed.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 19:55:15 +0200 (METDST)
By Gregory WALTON

Doha, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Qatar on Sunday began enforcing the world's toughest penalties of up to three years' in prison for failing to wear masks in public, in a country with one of the highest coronavirus infection rates.   More than 32,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the tiny Gulf country -- 1.2 percent of the 2.75 million population -- although just 15 people have died.   Only the micro-states of San Marino and the Vatican have had higher per-capita infection rates, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.   Violators of Qatar's new rules will face up to hree years in jail and fines of as much as $55,000.

Drivers alone in their vehicles are exempt from the requirement, but police erected checkpoints across the capital Doha on Sunday evening to check compliance by motorists.   Most customers gathered outside money lenders on Banks Street wore masks, while others produced a face covering when asked.   "From today it's very strict," said Majeed, a taxi driver waiting for business in the busy pedestrian area, who wore a black mask.   Heloisa, an expat resident, saw the steep penalties as "a bit of a scare tactic".   Wearing a mask is currently mandatory in around 50 countries, although scientists are divided on their effectiveness.

Authorities in Chad have made it an offence to be unmasked in public, on pain of 15 days in prison. In Morocco, similar rules can see violators jailed for three months and fined up to 1,300 dirhams ($130).   Qatari authorities have warned that gatherings during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan may have increased infections.   Abdullatif al-Khal, co-chair of Qatar's National Pandemic Preparedness Committee, said Thursday that there was "a huge risk in gatherings of families" for Ramadan meals.   "(They) led to a significant increase in the number of infections among Qataris," he said.   Neighbouring Saudi Arabia will enforce a round-the-clock nationwide curfew during the five-day Eid al-Fitr holiday later this month to fight the coronavirus.

- Labourers at risk -
Mosques, along with schools, malls, and restaurants remain closed in Qatar to prevent the disease's spread.   But construction sites remain open as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, although foremen and government inspectors are attempting to enforce social distancing rules.    Officials have said workers at three stadiums have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus. Masks have been compulsory for construction workers since April 26.   A 12-strong team of masked labourers kept their distance from one another as they worked under baking sun on a road project in Doha's blue-collar Msheireb district on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers were quarantined in Doha's gritty Industrial Area after a number of infections were confirmed there in mid-March, but authorities have begun to ease restrictions.   Khal said that most new cases were among migrant workers, although there has been a jump in infections among Qataris. He said the country had not yet reached the peak of its contagion.   Rights groups have warned that Gulf labourers' cramped living conditions, communal food preparation areas and shared bathrooms could undermine social distancing efforts and speed up the spread of the virus.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 13:43:50 +0200 (METDST)

Tehran, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Iran said Friday it had recorded nearly 7,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus, warning of infection clusters in new regions after it partially eased lockdown measures.   Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the COVID-19 illness had claimed a further 51 lives over 24 hours into Sunday.   The ministry raised the overall death toll to 6,988 since Iran announced its first fatalities in the Shiite pilgrimage city of Qom in February.   Jahanpour warned that cases were rising "in the province of Lorestan, and to some extent in Kermanshah, Sistan and Baluchistan".   "Khuzestan province is still in a critical situation," he added.

The southwestern province has become Iran's new coronavirus focal point, with the most critical "red" ranking on the country's colour-coded risk scale.   It is the only region so far where authorities have reimposed business lockdowns after a country-wide relaxation in April.   Iran stopped publishing provincial figures for the coronavirus last month, but the health ministry's latest report said there is a "rising trend or the beginning of a peak" in eight provinces, including Khuzestan.   The country on Friday reported its highest number of new infections in more than a month.   A virus taskforce official said Sunday that the increase was due to a surge in testing, not just of COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms.

Early in the outbreak "our focus was on severe cases that had to be hospitalised, but as we started to manage the disease we looked at those infected and not hospitalised," said Ali Akbar Haghdoost, head of the taskforce's epidemiology committee.   "It is possible that the reported number of infections have gone up, but this in no way means more have been infected with COVID-19," he told ISNA news agency.   According to Jahanpour, 1,806 new cases had been confirmed across Iran in the past day, bringing the total to 120,198.   Over 1,460 of the new cases were "outpatients, including those who had been in close contact with the infected," he said.

The ministry said 94,464 people hospitalised with the virus have recovered and been discharged.   Experts both at home and abroad have voiced scepticism about Iran's official figures, saying the real toll could be much higher.   Iran also cancelled rallies held annually in solidarity with the Palestinians, set for Friday next week.    President Hassan Rouhani had said Saturday that the Qods (Jerusalem) Day parades would go ahead with some measures against the virus.    But organisers said Sunday the event could not be held "decently" and would be scrapped apart from a televised speech by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 13:31:10 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar on Sunday reported the first death of a patient suffering from novel coronavirus nearly two months after it was first detected in the country, official statistics showed.   The Indian ocean island which has reported 304 cases has hit the headlines over a home-grown herbal concoction that President Andry Rajoelina claims can cure people infected with the virus.

Several African countries have ordered or expressed interest in the purported remedy, which is known as Covid-Organics.   The tonic drink is derived from artemisia -- a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment -- and other indigenous herbs.   But the World Health Organization has warned against "adopting a product that has not been taken through tests to see its efficacy".