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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."
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Italy

US Consular Information Sheet Italy, Holy See (Vatican City) and San Marino - January 21, 2009 COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Italy is a developed democracy with a modern economy.
The Holy See is a sovereign entity that serves as the ecclesiastical, gove
nmental and administrative capital of the Roman Catholic Church, physically located within the State of the Vatican City inside Rome, with a unique, non-traditional economy.
San Marino is a developed, constitutional democratic republic, also independent of Italy, with a modern economy.
Tourist facilities are widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Italy, the Holy See, and San Marino for additional information. ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Italy is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Italy 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 fact sheet.
For all other purposes, a visa is required and must be obtained from the Italian Embassy or Consulates before entering Italy.
For further information concerning visas and entry requirements for Italy, travelers may contact the Embassy of Italy at 3000 Whitehaven Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, via telephone at (202) 612-4400 or online at http://www.ambwashingtondc.esteri.it/ambasciata_washington, or Italian Consulates General in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, or San Francisco, accessible through the Italian Embassy web site. Americans staying or traveling within Italy for less than three (3) months are considered non-residents. This includes persons on vacation, those taking professional trips, students registered at an authorized school, or persons performing research or independent study. As of May 2007, under Italian law (http://www.camera.it/parlam/leggi/07068l.htm), all non-residents are required to complete a dichiarazione di presenza (declaration of presence). Tourists arriving from a non-Schengen-country (e.g. the United States) should obtain a stamp in their passport at the airport on the day of arrival. This stamp is considered the equivalent of the declaration of presence. Tourists arriving from a Schengen-country (e.g. France) must request the declaration of presence form from a local police office (commissariato di zona), police headquarters (questura) or their place of stay (e.g hotel, hostel, campgrounds) and submit the form to the police or to their place of stay within eight business days of arrival. It is important that applicants keep a copy of the receipt issued by the Italian authorities. Failure to complete a declaration of presence is punishable by expulsion from Italy. Additional information may be obtained (in Italian only) from the Portale Immigrazione at http://www.portaleimmigrazione.it and the Polizia di Stato at http://www.poliziadistato.it/pds/ps/immigrazione/soggiorno.htm. Americans staying in Italy for more than three (3) months are considered residents and must obtain a permesso di soggiorno (permit of stay). This includes Americans who will work or transact business and persons who want to simply live in Italy.
An application “kit” for the permesso di soggiorno may be requested from one of 14,000 national post offices (Poste Italiane). The kit must then be returned to one of 5,332 designated Post Office acceptance locations.
It is important that applicants keep a copy of the receipt issued by the post office.
Additional information may be obtained from an Italian immigration website online at http://www.portaleimmigrazione.it/.
Within 20 days of receiving the permit to stay in Italy, Americans must go to the local Vital Statistics Bureau (Anagrafe of the Comune) to apply for residency. It generally takes one to two months to receive the certificate of residence (Certificato di Residenza). 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:
There have been occasional episodes of politically motivated violence in Italy, most often connected to Italian internal developments or social issues.
Italian authorities have found bombs outside public buildings, received bomb threats, and were subjects of letter bombs.
Firebombs or Molotov cocktails have been thrown at buildings or offices in the middle of the night.
These incidents have all been attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements.
Americans were not targeted or injured in these instances.
Demonstrations may have an anti-American character.
Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful have the potential to turn into confrontational situations and possibly escalate into violence.
U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Italy should take common sense precautions and follow news reports carefully in order to avoid demonstrations and to be aware of heightened security and potential delays when they occur.
American citizens are encouraged to read the Warden Messages posted on the Embassy’s web site at http://italy.usembassy.gov/acs/demonstration/default.asp. Italy remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Italy’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern 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:
Italy has a moderate rate of violent crime, some of which is directed towards tourists, principally for motives of theft.
Some travelers are victims of rape and beatings.
There are incidents of drinks laced with drugs being used by criminals to rob, and in some cases, assault tourists.
Many of these incidents occur in the vicinity of Rome’s Termini train station and at major tourist centers such as Campo de Fiori and Piazza Navona, as well as in Florence and Naples.
Criminals using this tactic “befriend” a traveler at a train station, bus stop, restaurant, café or bar in tourist areas, then eventually offer a drink laced with a sleeping drug.
When the tourist falls asleep, criminals steal the traveler’s valuables.
There are also instances where the victim is assaulted, either physically or sexually. Americans are urged to exercise caution at train stations and airports, and when frequenting nightclubs, bars and outdoor cafes, particularly at night, because criminals may make initial contact with potential victims in such settings.
Individuals under the effect of alcohol may become victims of crime, including robbery, physical and sexual assault, due to their impaired ability to judge situations and make decisions.
This is particularly a problem for younger Americans visiting Italy, where the age limit on the sale of alcoholic beverages is lower than in the United States.
If you are a victim of such a crime, please file a police report and contact the U.S. Embassy or nearest consulate.
There are also in-country organizations, which provide counseling, medical, and legal assistance to certain crime victims. Petty crimes such as pick-pocketing, theft from parked cars, and purse snatching are serious problems, especially in large cities.
Pick-pockets sometimes dress like businessmen.
Tourists should not be lulled into a false sense of security by believing that well-dressed individuals are not potential pick-pockets or thieves.
Most reported thefts occur at crowded tourist sites, on public buses or trains, or at the major railway stations: Rome’s Termini; Milan’s Centrale; Florence’s Santa Maria Novella; and Naples’ Centrale and Piazza Garibaldi.
Travelers should also be alert to theft in Milan’s Malpensa Airport, particularly at car rental agencies.
Clients of Internet cafes in major cities are also targeted.
Tourists who have tried to resist petty thieves on motor scooters have suffered broken arms and collarbones. Thieves in Italy often work in groups or pairs.
Pairs of accomplices or groups of street urchins are known to divert tourists’ attention so that another can pick-pocket them.
In one particular routine, one thief throws trash, waste or ketchup at the victim; a second thief assists the victim in cleaning up the mess; and the third discreetly takes the victim’s belongings.
Criminals on crowded public transportation slit the bottoms of purses or bags with a razor blade or sharp knife removing the contents.
Theft of small items such as radios, luggage, cameras, briefcases, and even cigarettes from parked cars is a major problem. Carjackings and thefts are reported by occupants of vehicles waiting in traffic or stopped at traffic lights.
Vehicles parked near beaches during the summer are broken into and robbed of valuables.
Robbers take items from cars at gas stations often by smashing car windows. In a scam practiced on the highways, one thief signals a flat tire to the driver of another car and encourages the driver to pull over.
Often, the tire has been punctured by an accomplice, while in other instances, there may, in fact, be nothing wrong with the vehicle.
When the driver stops, one thief helps change the tire, while the other takes the driver’s belongings.
Use particular caution driving at night on highways, when there may be a greater incidence of robbery attempts.
There are occasional reports of break-ins of rental cars driven by Americans when the precautions mentioned above were not followed during stops at highway service areas. On trains, a commonly reported crime involves one or more persons who pretend to befriend a traveler and offer drugged food or drink.
Also, thieves are known to impersonate police officers to gain the confidence of tourists.
The thief shows the prospective victim a circular plastic sign with the words “police” or “international police.”
If this happens, the tourist should insist on seeing the officer’s identification card (documento), as impersonators tend not to carry forged documents.
Tourists should immediately report thefts or other crimes to the local police. The U.S. Secret Service in Rome is assisting Italian Law Enforcement authorities in investigating an increase in the appearance of ATM skimming devices.
These devices are attached to legitimate bank ATMs, usually located in tourist areas, and capture the account information stored electronically on the card’s magnetic strip.
The devices consist of a card reader installed over the legitimate reader and a pin-hole video camera mounted above the keypad that records the customer’s PIN.
ATMs with skimming devices installed may also allow normal transactions to occur.
The victim’s information is sold, traded on-line, or encoded on another card such as a hotel key card to access the compromised account.
Here are some helpful hints to protect yourself and to identify skimming devices: 1) Use ATMs located in well-lit public areas, or secured inside the bank/business 2) Cover the keypad with one hand as you enter your PIN 3) Look for gaps, tampered appearance, or other irregularities between the metal faceplate of the ATM and the card reader 4) Avoid card readers that are not flush with the face of the ATM 5) Closely monitor your account statements for unauthorized transactions Organized criminal groups operate throughout Italy, but are more prevalent in the south.
They occasionally resort to violence to intimidate or to settle disputes.
Though the activities of such groups are not generally targeted at tourists, visitors should be aware that innocent by-standers could be injured. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm. According to Italian Law (Law 80 of May 14, 2005), anyone caught buying counterfeit goods (for example, DVD’s, CD’s, watches, purses, bags, belts, sunglasses, etc.) is subject to a fine of no less than EUR 1,000.
Police in major Italian cities enforce this law to varying degrees.
Travelers are advised to purchase products only from stores and other licensed retailers to avoid unknowingly buying counterfeit and illegal merchandise. INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance.
The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Lost or stolen credit cards present risk of identity theft and should be cancelled immediately.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Italy is: 113. Please see our information on 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 of 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 Italian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Italy are severe and convicted offenders can expect long 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:
Strikes and other work stoppages occur frequently in the transportation sector (national airlines, airports, trains, and bus lines).
Most are announced in advance and are of short duration.
Information on strikes may be found at http://www.infrastrutture.gov.it/page/NuovoSito/site.php.
Reconfirmation of domestic and international flight reservations is highly recommended. U. S citizens using public transportation while in Italy are reminded they must adhere to local transportation laws and regulations. Travelers must purchase train tickets and validate them by punching them in validating machines usually located near the entrance of train tracks prior to boarding.
Failure to follow this procedure may result in an on-the-spot fine by an inspector on the train. Travelers must purchase bus tickets prior to boarding and validate them immediately after boarding. Tickets may be purchased at tobacco stores or kiosks. Failure to follow this procedure may result in an immediate fine imposed by an inspector on the bus. If the violator does not pay the fine on the spot, it will automatically double and will be forwarded to the violator’s home address. MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are available, but may be limited outside urban areas.
Public hospitals, though generally free of charge for emergency services, sometimes do not maintain the same standards as hospitals in the United States, so travelers are encouraged to obtain insurance that would cover a stay in a private Italian hospital or clinic.
It is almost impossible to obtain an itemized hospital bill from public hospitals, as required by many U.S. insurance companies, because the Italian National Health Service charges one inclusive rate (care services, bed and board). In parts of southern Italy, the lack of adequate trash disposal and incineration sites has led to periodic accumulations of garbage in urban and rural areas.
In some cases, residents have burned garbage, resulting in toxic emissions that can aggravate respiratory problems. The U.S. Navy initiated a public health evaluation in the Naples area in 2008.
Updates on that evaluation can be found at http://www.nsa.naples.navy.mil/risk.
After finding levels of bacterial and chemical contamination of potential health concern, particularly in samples of area well water, the Navy recommended all personnel living off-base in the Naples area use only bottled water for drinking, cooking, ice-making, and brushing teeth.
For more information on safe food and water precautions, see the CDC’s web site below.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Italy. 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 Italy is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Streets in historic city centers are often narrow, winding and congested.
Motor scooters are very popular and drivers often see themselves as exempt from conventions that apply to automobiles. Travelers who rent scooters should be particularly cautious.
Pedestrians and drivers should be constantly alert to the possibility of scooters’ sudden presence.
Most vehicle-related deaths and injuries involve pedestrians or cyclists who are involved in collisions with scooters or other vehicles.
U.S. citizens should remain vigilant and alert while walking or cycling near traffic.
Pedestrians should be careful, as sidewalks can be extremely congested and uneven.
Drivers of bicycles, motorcycles, and other vehicles routinely ignore traffic signals and traffic flows and park and drive on sidewalks.
For safety, pedestrians should look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even when using a marked crosswalk with a green avanti (“walk”) light illuminated.
Traffic lights are limited, often disobeyed, and a different convention of right-of-way is observed.
Italy has over 5,600 kilometers (3,480 mi.) of Autostrada, or superhighways.
Commercial and individual vehicles travel and pass on these well-maintained roads at very high speeds.
Accidents occur in which contributing factors include excessive speed, alcohol/drug use, and/or sleepiness of long-distance drivers.
Italy has one of the highest rates of car accident deaths in the European Union. In rural areas, a wide range of speed on highways makes for hazardous driving.
Roads are generally narrow and often have no guardrails.
Travelers in northern Italy, especially in winter, should be aware of fog and poor visibility, responsible for multiple-car accidents each year.
Most Italian automobiles are equipped with special fog lights.
Roadside assistance in Italy is excellent on the well-maintained toll roads, but limited on secondary roads.
Use of safety belts and child restraining devices is mandatory and headlights should be on at all times outside of urban areas. U.S. citizens driving in Italy are reminded that they must adhere to the local driving laws and regulations.
Vehicle traffic in some historic downtown areas of cities and towns throughout Italy is limited by a system of permits (called “ZTL” and functioning the same way as an EasyPass system in the United States might on the freeway).
Cameras record the license plates of cars driving in parts of the city that require a permit.
Although most of the automated verification stations are clearly marked, if a driver passes one it is impossible to know at the time that a violation occurred or has been recorded.
Violators are not pulled over or stopped, and there is no personal contact with a police officer.
Whenever possible, the fines imposed for these violations are forwarded to the driver’s home in the United States to request payment.
The fines are cumulative for each time a driver passes a control point.
A similar system of automated traffic control cameras is in place in many parts of the highway system and is used to ticket speeding violations. U.S. citizens driving in Italy should also note that, according to Italian regulation, if a resident of a non-European Union country (e.g. the United States) violates a traffic law, the violator must pay the fine at the time the violation occurs to the police officer issuing the ticket.
If the citizen does not or cannot pay the fine at the time, Italian regulation allows the police officer to confiscate the offender’s vehicle (even if the vehicle is a rental vehicle). For specific information concerning Italian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Italian Government Tourist Board (ENIT) offices via the Internet at: http://www.enit.it, tel: 212-245-4822 or the A.C.I. (Automobile Club Italiano) at Via Magenta 5, 00185 Rome, tel: 39-06-4477.
For information on obtaining international drivers licenses, contact AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.italiantourism.com and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.infrastrutturetrasporti.it. AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) assessed the Government of Italy’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Italy’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. DISASTER PREPAREDNESS:
Several major earthquake fault lines cross Italy.
Principal Italian cities, with the exception of Naples, do not lie near these faults, but smaller tourist towns, like Assisi, do and experience earthquakes.
General information about disaster preparedness is available online from the U.S. Federal Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.
Detailed information on Italy’s earthquake fault lines is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at http://www.usgs.gov Italy also has several active volcanoes generating geothermal events.
Mt. Etna, on the eastern tip of the island of Sicily, has been erupting intermittently since 2000.
Mt. Vesuvius, located near Naples, is currently capped and not active.
Activity at Mt. Vesuvius is monitored by an active seismic network and sensor system, and no recent seismic activity has been recorded.
Two of Italy’s smaller islands, Stromboli and Vulcano in the Aeolian Island chain north of Sicily, also have active volcanoes with lava flows.
Detailed information on volcano activity in Italy is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at http://www.usgs.gov. CHILDREN’S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS:
Americans living or traveling in Italy are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Italy.
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 Via V. Veneto 119/A, tel.: 39-06-46741 and fax: 39-06-4674-2217; web site: http://italy.usembassy.gov/english/. The U.S. Consulates are located in: Florence:
Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci 38, tel: 39-055-266-951, consular fax: 399-055-215-550; Milan:
Via Principe Amedeo 2/10, tel: 39-02-290-351, and fax:
39-02-290-35-273; Naples:
Piazza della Repubblica, tel:
39-081-583-8111, and consular fax:
39-081-583-8275. There are U.S. Consular Agents located in: Genoa:
Via Dante 2, tel:
39-010-584-492, and fax: 39-010-553-3033; Palermo:
Via Vaccarini 1, tel:
39-091-305-857, and fax:
39-091-625-6026; Venice:
Viale Galileo Galilei, 30, tel: 39-041-541-5944, and fax: 39-041-541-6654. * * * This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update the sections onSafety and Security and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 20 May 2020 18:21:01 +0200 (METDST)

Rome, May 20, 2020 (AFP) - All Italian airports will be able to reopen from June 3 after many were closed to stem the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, the country's transport minister said Wednesday.   The Italian government had said on Saturday that it would reopen its borders to European Union tourists on that date and cancel the compulsory quarantine for foreign visitors to the peninsula.   "It will be possible to proceed with the reopening of all airports from June 3, when inter-regional and international transfers will again be allowed," Paola De Micheli told lawmakers.

Italy, the first European country to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, closed many airports, including Linate airport in Milan, on March 12.   Other airports could still operate but in a limited way, such as Rome's Fiumicino, Milan's Malpensa and the airports in Bologna, Palermo and Turin.    Ciampino airport in Rome and Peretola in Florence, which were closed on March 13, have been allowed to reopen since May 4.

The troubled Italian airline Alitalia, which is set to be nationalised, said on Wednesday that it would increase its flights by 36 percent in June compared with May.   Alitalia said that from June 2 it would gradually resume its services between Rome and New York and between Milan and southern Italy, as well as certain flights to Spain.
Date: Sat, 16 May 2020 21:58:56 +0200 (METDST)

Rome, May 16, 2020 (AFP) - Italy will reopen to European tourists from early June and scrap a 14-day mandatory quarantine period, the government said on Saturday, as it quickened the exit from the coronavirus lockdown.   Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also said on Saturday that gyms and cinemas would soon be able to welcome the public again, as the government seeks to restart economic activity while treading cautiously amid the lingering, though waning, coronavirus.    "We're facing a calculated risk in the knowledge that the contagion curve may rise again," Conte said during a televised address. "We have to accept it otherwise we will never be able to start up again."

Conte enforced an economically crippling shutdown in early March to counter a pandemic that has so far killed nearly 32,000 people in Italy.   The shutdown halted all holidaymaking in a country heavily dependent on the tourism industry.   Although Italy never formally closed its borders and has allowed people to cross back and forth for work or health reasons, it banned movement for tourism and imposed a two-week isolation period for new arrivals.

In March, the European Union banned foreign nationals from entering its Schengen zone, an open border zone comprising 22 of 27 member states, with exceptions for medical workers and essential travel.    But on Wednesday, the EU set out plans for a phased restart of summer travel, urging member states to reopen its internal borders, while recommending that external borders remain shut for most travel until at least the middle of June.

Beginning on June 3, visitors within the Schengen zone will be allowed to enter Italy with no obligation to self-isolate. Italians will also be able to move between regions, though local authorities can limit travel if infections spike.   Movements to and from abroad can be limited by regional decree "in relation to specific states and territories, in accordance with the principles of adequacy and proportionality to the epidemiological risk", the government said in a statement.    The latest decree is also a boon to Italy's agricultural sector, which relies on roughly 350,000 seasonal workers from abroad.   Farming lobby group Coldiretti said farms were already preparing to organise some 150,000 workers from places including Romania, Poland and Bulgaria.

- Cannot await vaccine -
The peak of Italy's contagion passed at the end of March but with experts warning a second wave cannot be ruled out, Conte had been reluctant to lift the lockdown quickly.   In his address, Conte said the country should ideally await a vaccine before opening up for business again, "but we can't afford it, we would end up with a strongly damaged economic and social structure".   His approach in recent weeks frustrated many of Italy's regions, with some already allowing businesses to reopen before the restrictions were lifted.   Restaurants, bars and hairdressers are being allowed to reopen on Monday, two weeks earlier than initially planned.

Shops will also open and Italians will finally be able to see friends, as long as they live within their same region.   Church services will begin again but the faithful will have to follow social distancing rules and holy water fonts will be empty. Mosques will also reopen.   Gyms, pools and sports centres will be able to open up again on May 25, Conte said on Saturday, provided they respect security protocols.    Theatres and cinemas will be allowed to reopen on June 15, he said.    Gatherings of large groups remain banned.
Date: Mon, 4 May 2020 11:21:48 +0200 (METDST)
By Ella IDE and Dmitry ZAKS

Rome, May 4, 2020 (AFP) - Stir-crazy Italians were free to stroll and visit relatives for the first time in nine weeks on Monday as Europe's hardest-hit country eased back the world's longest remaining coronavirus lockdown.   More than four million people -- an estimated 72 percent of them men -- returned to their construction sites and factories as the economically and emotionally shattered country tried to get back to work.

The sounds of banging and drilling echoed across Rome and a group of men drank espresso out of plastic cups in front of the Pantheon, the former Roman temple, as cafes reopened for takeout service.   "We can hear more noise now," Rome grocery story owner Daniela observed. "It's better than this frightening silence."   But bars and even ice cream parlours will remain shut. The use of public transport will be discouraged and everyone will have to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

- 'Moment of responsibility' -
Italy became the first Western democracy to shut down virtually everything in the face of an illness that has now officially killed 28,884 -- the most in Europe -- and some fear thousands more.   The lives of Italians began closing in around them as it became increasingly apparent that the first batch of infections in provinces around Milan were spiralling out of control.   Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte began by putting a quarter of the population in the northern industrial heartland on lockdown on March 8.

The sudden measure frightened many -- fearful of being locked in together with the gathering threat -- into fleeing to less affected regions further south.   The danger of the virus spreading with them and incapacitating the south's less developed health care system forced Conte to announce a nationwide lockdown on March 9.   "Today is our moment of responsibility," Conte told the nation.   The official death toll was then 724.   More waves of restrictions followed as hundreds began dying each day.   Almost everything except for pharmacies and grocery stores was shuttered across the Mediterranean country of 60 million on March 12.   Conte's final roll of the dice involved closing all non-essential factories on March 22.   Italy's highest single toll -- 969 -- was reported five days later.

- 'Worried about reopening' -
The economic toll of all those shutdowns has been historic.   Italy's economy -- the eurozone's third-largest last year -- is expected to shrink more than in any year since the global depression of the 1930s.   Half of the workforce is receiving state support and the same number told a top pollster that they were afraid of becoming unemployed.   And some of those who are out of a job already say they do not entirely trust in Conte's ability to safely navigate the nation out of peril.   "I am worried about the reopening. The authorities seem very undecided about how to proceed," 37-year-old Davide Napoleoni told AFP.

Conte's popularity has jumped along with that of most other world leaders grappling with the pandemic thanks to a 'rally around the flag' effect.   But a Demos poll conducted at the end of April found some of Conte's lustre fading.   Confidence in his government has slipped by eight percentage points to a still-strong 63 percent since March.

- Psychological toll -
Italy's staggered reopening is complicated by a highly decentralised system that allows the country's 20 regions to layer on their own rules.   Venice's Veneto and the southern Calabria regions have thus been serving food and drink at bars and restaurants with outdoor seating since last week.   The area around Genoa is thinking of allowing small groups of people to go sailing and reopening its beaches.

Neighbouring Emilia-Romagna is keeping them closed -- even to those who live by the sea.   All this uncertainty appears to be weighing on the nation's psyche.   A poll by the Piepoli Institute showed 62 percent of Italians think they will need psychological support with coming to grips with the post-lockdown world.   "The night of the virus continues," sociologist Ilvo Diamanti wrote in La Repubblica daily.   "And you can hardly see the light on the horizon. If anything, we're getting used to moving in the dark."
Date: Thu, 30 Apr 2020 14:53:05 +0200 (METDST)

Rome, April 30, 2020 (AFP) - Italy said on Thursday it would reopen two of its shuttered airports next week, Ciampino in Rome and Peretola in Florence.   The two airports will reopen on May 4 for passenger flights, the transport ministry said in a brief statement.    Ciampino is Rome's secondary airport and is mostly used by low-cost carriers, while Peretola is Tuscany's second-largest airport after Pisa.   The two airports have been shut to passenger flights since March 13.

Italy's current coronavirus lockdown expires on May 4, when many restrictions remain but more people are expected to head back to work and travel within regions will be allowed under some circumstances.   Over a series of weeks, more businesses will be allowed to reopen.    The nationwide quarantine began on March 9.    The opening of the airports next week will allow for testing of a screening system for coronavirus, the ministry said, without elaborating.    Italy's trains will also add new long-distance connections "in order to ensure minimum essential services," it said.
Date: Mon, 27 Apr 2020 19:07:24 +0200 (METDST)

Rome, April 27, 2020 (AFP) - One of Italy's top public health officials warned Monday that wearing face masks should not give people a false sense of security against the new coronavirus.   Italy and other countries are debating whether people should wear masks outdoors at all times -- even while not in a confined space.   The Mediterranean country is making the use of face masks mandatory on transport and in stores as it gradually rolls back lockdown measures starting next Monday.

ISS public health institute director Silvio Brusaferro said face masks should be worn on the street in cases when it is hard to maintain a safe distance from others.   But masks "must not give a false sense of security," Brusaferro told reporters.   "It is an additional element, but personal hygiene and distancing are more important."   Italy's official death toll from the virus rose Monday by 333 to 26,977 -- the highest in Europe and second behind the United States.   But both the number of deaths and new daily infections were the lowest in over a month.
More ...

Belgium

Belgium - US Consular Information Sheet
October 03, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Belgium is a highly developed and stable democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background N
tes on Belgium for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Belgium is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Belgium 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. Sufficient funds and a return airline ticket are required. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. For further information concerning entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Belgium at 3330 Garfield Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 333-6900; or one of the Belgian Consulates General in Atlanta, Los Angeles, or New York.Visit the Belgian Embassy web site at http://www.diplobel.org/usa for the most current visa information.
Belgian law requires that everyone carry some form of official identification at all times, which must be displayed upon request to any Belgian police official. A U.S. passport suffices for these purposes.
See the section on Special Circumstances for information on new business visitor and employee registration requirements.
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: Belgium remains largely free of terrorist incidents. Belgian law enforcement and security officials, in close cooperation with neighboring countries, maintain a solid anti-terrorism effort and a peaceful environment for tourists and business. However, like other countries that are members of the Schengen Agreement on free cross-border movement, Belgium’s open borders with its European neighbors allow the possibility for terrorist groups to enter/exit the country with anonymity.
Prior police approval is required for public demonstrations in Belgium, and police oversight is routinely provided to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Nonetheless, situations may develop that 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, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern 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: Belgium remains relatively free of violent crime, but low-level street crime is common. Visitors should always be watchful and aware of their surroundings, however, because muggings, purse snatchings, and pickpocketing occur frequently, particularly in the major cities. Transportation hubs like the Metro (subway) and train stations are also frequented by thieves who take advantage of disoriented travelers. In Brussels, pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft of light luggage and laptops are common at the three major train stations -- the North Station (Noordstation or Gare du Nord), the Central Station (Centraal Station or Gare Central) and especially at the South Station (Zuidstation or Gare du Midi). The latter is a primary international train hub, and travelers are advised to pay very close attention to their personal belongings when in the station. Common ploys are to distract the victim by spraying shaving cream or another substance on his or her back or asking for directions while an accomplice steals the luggage. It is a good idea to remain in physical contact with hand luggage at all times, and not to place carry-on luggage on overhead racks in trains.
Another growing problem, especially in Brussels, is theft from vehicles, both moving and parked. Do not leave valuables in plain sight where a thief may spot them. Thieves will sometimes position themselves at stop lights to scan for valuables in stopped cars. If they see a purse or other valuable item they break the window and steal the item before the victim can even react. Expensive car stereos and GPS navigational devices left in plain sight are often stolen from parked cars. Always drive with windows up and doors locked.
Travelers to Brussels should be aware that small groups of young men sometimes prey on unwary tourists, usually at night and often in Metro stations. Items such as expensive mobile phones and MP3 players are often the target. Travelers should carry only a minimum amount of cash, credit cards, and personal identification. Wearing expensive jewelry and watches is discouraged.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Good medical facilities are widely available in Belgium. The large university hospitals can handle almost every medical problem. Hospitals in Brussels and Flemish-speaking Flanders will probably have English-speaking staff. Hospitals in French-speaking Wallonia may not have staff members who are fluent in English, however. The Embassy Consular Section maintains a list of English-speaking doctors, which can be found on the Embassy web site at http://brussels.usembassy.gov/medical_facilities.html.
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/en.
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 Belgium is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Belgian urban highways are generally well built and maintained with extensive lighting systems, but rain and fog often reduce visibility. Rural roads are less likely to be illuminated at night. Belgian rules for right-of-way differ from those in the U.S., and new drivers should thoroughly understand these rules before driving in Belgium. For instance, traffic coming from the right generally has priority at uncontrolled intersections and roundabouts, even if coming from a smaller street. The maximum speed limit on Belgian highways is 120 kilometers (72 miles) per hour, but is not always posted except at Belgium’s borders and on roads leaving major airports. The maximum speed in urban areas is normally 50 km (30 miles) per hour. While Belgian authorities strictly enforce speed limits, many Belgians still drive significantly faster than the posted limit. Claims of ignorance may not prevent a significant fine for speeding, which can also lead to the vehicle’s being impounded if the driver is unable to pay the fine on the spot. Belgian police also conduct breath analysis checks for alcohol use, particularly at night and during major holidays.
Roadside assistance and information on road conditions are available in English from Touring Mobilis, tel: 0900 10280. Belgian police will also provide information on road conditions, tel: 02-642-6666. Emergency services are efficient and responsive. By phone within Belgium, for police emergencies dial 101 and for all other emergencies,112.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Belgium’s national tourist office at http://www.visitbelgium.com/.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belgium’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Belgium’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: While most forms of monetary transactions are available (cash, credit cards), U.S. money orders cannot be negotiated in Belgium. Personal checks may only be cleared through a bank at which a person holds an account and clearance can take from two to four weeks. Banks and exchange facilities may refuse U.S. dollar denominations of $50 and $100 if they are not equipped with devices to identify counterfeit currency. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are widespread in Belgium and accept most U.S. ATM cards to withdraw funds. Travelers seeking to purchase Euros are more likely to find a more favorable exchange rate at banks than at money exchange facilities located at tourist locations, train stations, and airports. Please see our Customs Information.
Non-EU citizens visiting Belgium and staying in a private residence are required by Belgian law to register with local Commune authorities within three days of their arrival. Any change in visa or resident status must also be requested through Commune authorities and must be completed prior to the expiration of the current status. Given the requirements to change status in Belgium, it is nearly impossible to do so within the 90 days permitted to remain in Belgium without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.
BUSINESS VISITOR AND EMPLOYEE REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT: Since April 1, 2007 non-Belgian employers and self-employed persons or their employees who carry out short term assignments in Belgium must declare these activities in advance.
This mandatory "Limosa" declaration applies to: (1) Employees and apprentices, who come to Belgium to execute certain temporary work and who, because of the nature of their short term assignment, are not subject to the Belgian social security system; (2) Self-employed people and self-employed apprentices who come to work in Belgium temporarily, irrespective of whether they are subject to the Belgian social security system.
Some exceptions to this general obligation exist. Certain persons may be exempted, especially for short-term assignments. For more information about the Limosa declaration, visit http://www.limosa.be.
For more information about working in Belgium, please see http://www.employment.belgium.be/home.aspx.
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 Belgian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belgium 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 see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Belgium are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Belgium. 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 in Brussels is located at 25 Boulevard du Regent. The telephone number from the U.S. is 011-32-2-508-2111. Within Belgium, the telephone number is 02-508-2111. The Embassy’s fax number is 02-511-2725. The Consular Section’s fax number is 02-513-0409. The American Citizen Services Unit of the Consular Section is open from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for American and Belgian holidays. Further information can be obtained at the Embassy’s web site at http://belgium.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Belgium dated March 13, 2008, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 6 May 2020 16:00:35 +0200 (METDST)

Brussels, May 6, 2020 (AFP) - Belgium retailers closed by the coronavirus epidemic will reopen to shoppers from Monday under strict social distancing rules, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said.   Customers will be advised to remain apart and to wear masks when the stores open on May 11 but, in their private lives, Belgians will be allowed to enjoy a little more social life from Sunday.   From then, Wilmes said, households will be allowed to invite over a group of up to four friends or relatives, on condition that it is always the same four people.   Sunday is Mother's Day in Belgium, but Wilmes said the decision had not been made for that reason, rather because "physical distancing from our loved ones has become unbearable".   With one of the highest per capita death rates in the world from the virus, Belgium began lifting a strict lockdown in stages this week.

Some businesses whose staff are not in contact with the public have already re-started work, but schools, restaurants and bars will remain closed a while longer.   And on public transport, passengers have been instructed to wear protective face masks of the kind that have become ubiquitous on the streets of Brussels.   When the shops do open they must ensure there's enough space for each client to occupy 10 square metres (yards) and to remain 1.5 metres away from staff.   Belgium's schools may be see a gradual return from May 18, but decisions will be made by the linguistic communities -- French, Dutch and German -- that manage them.   More than 8,300 people from a population of 11.5 million have died in the epidemic, but the daily toll is falling along with new admissions to hospitals, which were hard pressed but not overwhelmed.
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 16:40:42 +0200 (METDST)

Brussels, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - A 12-year-old girl confirmed infected with COVID-19 has died in Belgium, health officials said Tuesday.   Fatality from the virus at such a young age "is a very rare occurrence," said government spokesman Dr Emmanuel Andre, adding that her death "shook us".   The girl had a fever for three days before her death, and tested positive for COVID-19, said another spokesman, Steven Van Gucht.   The government gave no other details, notably not saying whether she had any other underlying health problems.

The girl's school is located in the city of Ghent, whose mayor Mathias De Clercq issued a statement about the "sad news", expressing condolences to the girl's family.    It added that the girl, whom he did not name, had not been at the school since March 13, just before a nationwide shutdown.   It was the first death of a child in the coronavirus crisis in Belgium, which has now recorded 705 deaths according to the latest official toll.   Last week, France reported the death of a 16-year-old girl from coronavirus in the greater Paris region.   Although serious COVID-19 infections are uncommon among the young, some exceptional cases have been taken to hospital intensive-care wards, as US health authorities have pointed out.

Belgium's toll on Tuesday represented a jump of nearly 200 fatalities from that given the previous day, which stood at 513.   It comprised 98 deaths recorded in the preceding 24-hour period, plus another 94 deaths over previous days that had not been counted in the national tally, Andre said.   The small EU country, with a population of 11.4 million, now has 12,775 cases of persons tested positive for COVID-19, of whom 4,920 have been hospitalised, including 1,021 in intensive care.   Hospitals in Brussels, the Dutch-speaking province of Limburg and the surroundings of Charleroi and Mons are now confronted with "a more complicated situation" as beds fill up, Andre said.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 12:35:06 +0200 (METDST)

Brussels, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Belgium's death toll from the novel coronavirus passed the 500 mark Monday, with almost 12,000 cases detected since the start of the epidemic.   Health authorities in the country of 11.4 million said 513 COVID-19 deaths had been recorded and 11,899 cases confirmed by laboratory tests.

But officials said the rise in admissions to hospital and to intensive care units had slowed slightly over the previous 24 hours.   "We're not at the peak, but at what we call the inflection point -- that means the force of the epidemic is beginning to diminish thanks to the efforts we have all made over the last two weeks," said Emmanuel Andre, spokesman for government's epidemic team.   "It is extremely important to keep up these efforts -- just because the curve is softening slightly today, it doesn't mean it won't get worse if we let up our efforts."

On Friday, Belgium extended lockdown measures by two weeks to April 18 to slow the spread of the virus.   Schools, restaurants and most shops are closed, entry to supermarkets is restricted to allow room for social distancing and people have been told to work from home.

Outdoor sports activities and walks outside are still allowed, but only in small groups, with a friend or with family members living under the same roof.    Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said the lockdown could be extended by another two weeks to May 3 if the spread of the virus demanded it.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 19:25:31 +0100 (MET)

Brussels, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Belgium on Friday extended its general lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus by two weeks to April 18.   The decision, confirmed by top officials, extended a confinement that began on March 18 until the end of the country's Easter holiday break, with schools, restaurants and most shops to remain closed.   Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said the period could be extended by another two weeks to May 3 if the spread of the virus demanded it.   "Our efforts are only beginning and to ease up now would have catastrophic consequences," she told a media briefing.   Outdoor sports activities and walks outside are still allowed, but only in small groups, with a friend or with family members living under the same roof.

In theory, travelling for work can only be done with a certificate from the employer.    Supermarkets in Belgium remain open, but shoppers are only admitted if there is enough space for one person per 10 square metres, and they must not stay for more than 30 minutes.   Belgium, a country of 11.4 million people, has recorded 7,284 cases of the novel coronavirus strain, and 289 deaths.    The extension in Belgium follows a similar decision in neighbouring France where the lockdown rules are stricter.   Europe is grappling with the global outbreak that has killed more than 10,000 people on the continent, mostly in Italy and Spain.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 17:41:36 +0100 (MET)

Brussels, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - A pet cat has been infected with the novel coronavirus in Belgium after being contaminated by its owner, Belgian health authorities said Friday.   Cases of contamination of pets are rare and authorities ruled out any risk of contamination to humans from home animals.   The reports follows similar cases in Hong Kong where two dogs tested positive for COVID-19 during a screening campaign carried out on 17 dogs and eight cats living in contact with people carrying the virus.

In Belgium, the discovery was made by researchers at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Liege.   This is "an isolated case" which can occur after "close contact between animals and infected  humans", said Doctor Emmanuel Andre, a government agency spokesman on the pandemic.    The virus can be transmitted from humans to animals but "there is no reason to think that animals can be vectors of the epidemic in our society", he said.

In Hong Kong, "the dogs showed no symptoms", while in Belgium "the cat was suffering from transitory respiratory and digestive problems", said the Belgian food safety agency AFSCA in a statement.    "So far, there is no evidence that a domestic animal can transmit the virus to humans or other pets", the public authority said.

As a precautionary measure, it is "strongly recommended" to apply standard rules of hygiene when dealing with pets: "avoid close contact with pets... wash your hands after handling any animal, do not let the animal lick your face."   The aim is to prevent the transmission of the virus to the animal and to prevent the animal itself from becoming a carrier of the virus.
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Eritrea

Eritrea US Consular Information Sheet
November 26, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Eritrea is a poor but developing East African country, the capital of which is Asmara. Formerly a province of Ethiopia, Eritrea became an independent country on M
y 24, 1993, following a 30-year struggle that culminated in an overwhelming referendum vote for independence. Tourism facilities are very limited. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Eritrea for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
All travelers should have a passport and valid visa prior to arrival; visas are not available at the airport unless specifically pre-authorized by the Eritrean government.
Travelers visiting Eritrea using a foreign passport do not need an exit visa, provided they leave before their entrance visa expiration date.
Persons staying beyond their entrance visa expiration date may be subject to fines or imprisonment, or be required to remain in Eritrea for an extended period while their case is reviewed in court.
All long-term residents, regardless of citizenship, must obtain an exit visa 30 days prior to departure, unless they hold a difficult-to-obtain multiple entry visa.
Upon entry and exit, visitors must declare all foreign currency, and may be asked to declare electronic equipment such as cameras, computers and video equipment.
Visitors must save all receipts for foreign exchange and present these upon departure to account for all foreign currency spent in Eritrea.
Failure to report foreign currency or meet customs requirements usually results in both a fine and imprisonment.
There is also a $20 airport departure tax.
Information about the airport tax and entry/exit requirements is available from the Embassy of Eritrea, 1708 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009; telephone (202) 319-1991; fax (202) 319-1304.
Overseas, inquiries may be made at the nearest Eritrean embassy or consulate.

U.S. citizens born in Eritrea, to Eritrean parents, or who in any other way appear to have Eritrean origins, are required to register with the Immigration and Nationality office in Asmara within seven business days of their entry into the country.
The Eritrean government sometimes subjects U.S. citizens of Eritrean heritage to the same entry/exit requirements as Eritrean citizens.
See the “Special Circumstances” section below for more information about dual nationality.

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:
Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a border war from 1998-2000.
United Nations peacekeepers patrolled the border until March 2008, when Government of Eritrea diesel fuel restrictions resulted in the peacekeepers’ withdrawal.
Both Eritrea and Ethiopia maintain large military presences along the border and currently all border crossings into Ethiopia from Eritrea remain closed.
U.S. citizens are strongly advised to avoid travel near the Eritrean-Ethiopian border and to register their presence in Eritrea with the U.S. Embassy in Asmara.

Since April 2008, large numbers of Eritrean troops have been deployed along the northeastern border of Djibouti.
U.S. citizens are strongly advised to avoid non-essential travel to the Southern Red Sea region of Eritrea, including the port of Assab.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance remain a serious problem throughout the country.
There are reports of accidents and numerous incidents where vehicles and people occasionally detonate mines.
Many detonations occurred on relatively well-traveled roads in and near the Gash Barka region of western Eritrea; subsequent investigations indicated that several mines had been recently laid.
Vast areas of the country still have not been certified free of mines and unexploded ordnance left over from both the 30-year war for independence and the subsequent 1998-2000 conflict with Ethiopia.
Americans should avoid walking alone and hiking in riverbeds or areas that local government officials have not certified as safe.

Although Eritrea and Sudan have diplomatic relations, the procedures for crossing their common border are not clear and subject to change.
Overland travel between the two countries is dangerous and ill advised.
Travelers crossing from Eritrea to Sudan north and west of the Keren-Barentu road risk becoming victims of banditry or Islamic extremist insurgent activity.
Several incidents were reported in 2007, apparently involving insurgents or criminals in this area.
The U.S. Embassy also received reports of sporadic bombings of vehicles and government facilities in the Gash Barka region near Sudan in 2007 and 2008.
If travel near the Eritrean-Sudanese border is essential, travelers should consult both the Eritrean authorities and the U.S. Embassy in advance.
Foreign travelers who wish to visit any area outside of Asmara must apply at least ten days in advance for a travel permit from the Eritrean government.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada , a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern 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 pamphletA Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Although still a safe city by many measures, Asmara reported significant increases of street crime, such as theft, robbery, and assault in 2008.
Travelers should exercise vigilance in their personal security and safety precautions regarding what valuables they carry and which areas they visit.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Eritrea are extremely limited.
Travelers must carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventative medicines because pharmaceuticals are in short supply.
Food and water-borne illnesses are very common among travelers, so drink only bottled or purified water and eat foods that are cooked or peeled.
Malaria is a serious risk to travelers in the lowlands of Eritrea, but Asmara is generally considered free of the disease.

There is no HIV testing requirement for temporary or permanent entry into Eritrea.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Eritrea before you travel.

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 website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
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 Eritrea is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

The roads between major cities (Asmara, Massawa, Mendefera, Dekemhare, Barentu, and Keren) are paved and in relatively good condition.
However, secondary roads and those in remote areas are usually unpaved and in poor condition.
U.S. citizens should avoid traveling on these roads, especially at night.
Bad weather can also make the condition of poor roads worse.
If you must take unpaved roads, check first with local government and village officials as new minefields continue to be discovered.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance litter the countryside in many areas, occasionally causing injuries and deaths.
Although the UN conducted de-mining efforts until late 2007, evidence of new mines has been reported, particularly in areas near the Ethiopian border.
All areas that are not well traveled are potentially dangerous due to live mines, especially north and west of Keren.
There are also minefields near Massawa, Ghinda, Agordat, Barentu, south of Tessenae, Nakfa, Adi Keih, Arezza, Dekemhare, and in a roughly 40-kilometer wide region just west of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border between the Setit and Mereb Rivers.

Many Eritreans use inexpensive public transportation, especially bus service.
Travelers should avoid taking buses due to extreme over-crowding.
Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive in Asmara, but usually carry multiple passengers along pre-defined routes.
If an empty taxi is available, a customer may request a "contract" taxi, which accepts no additional passengers, for a significantly higher fixed price.
Drivers should be aware of heavy and erratic pedestrian and bicycle traffic obstructing vehicle flow.
Occasionally horse-drawn carts, cattle, or goats add to the obstacles.
Other hazards are children and the elderly, who sometimes wander into the path of moving traffic, as well as small, slow, motorized carts.
Elderly or disabled people usually drive these carts and do not always yield to faster moving traffic.
When parallel parking on city streets, watch for pedestrians as you back into the space.
Please refer to our Road Safetypage for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Eritrea, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Eritrea’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Due to Eritrean government restrictions impacting Embassy operations, the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Asmara does not provide routine services to American citizens in Eritrea, including reports of birth, passports, and notaries.
Americans traveling or residing in Eritrea who require such services must travel to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside Eritrea, and should plan accordingly.

American citizens should also be aware that U.S. diplomatic personnel are subject to travel restrictions.
The Government of Eritrea requires resident diplomats to apply 10 days in advance for travel outside of Asmara city limits; often travel permission is not given.
This restriction can delay or prevent U.S. Embassy emergency assistance to American citizens outside of Asmara.

The consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Asmara has been closed for visa services since January 2007.
Eritrea has complicated citizenship laws and does not recognize renunciation of Eritrean citizenship.
Dual nationals who enter the country on Eritrean documents are treated as Eritrean citizens, regardless of their other citizenship.
U.S. citizens born in Eritrea, or who otherwise are considered to have acquired Eritrean citizenship, may be subject to certain obligations, including being drafted into national service, regardless of the documents they present at entry.
(National service is approximately six months of military training, followed by an often unspecified number of years in military or other government service.)

U.S.-Eritrean dual nationals who enter the country on an Eritrean passport or national ID card must obtain an exit visa prior to departure.
Exit visa applications can significantly delay travel plans or be denied, even for persons who entered Eritrea legally.
Eritrean dual nationals are also required to pay a 2% income tax on overseas earnings to the Eritrean Government prior to being granted an exit visa.
Additionally, Eritrean authorities sometimes to not allow Eritreans who left the country after 1993 to depart Eritrea after visiting the country, even if they have a U.S. passport and a valid Eritrean visa.

The government of Eritrea does not inform the U.S. Embassy of the detention of American citizens, and does not allow Embassy officials to visit incarcerated Americans.

Visitors are advised to exercise caution when taking photographs in Eritrea.
Foreigners in Asmara have been harassed and detained by local police and plain clothes security officials for taking photographs of street scenes in the city.
No law has been cited, but the arresting officials' justifications have been that (unmarked) government buildings are in the background and/or that the pictures are being taken (illegally) for commercial reasons.

All foreign nationals in Eritrea are required to apply for permits to travel outside of Asmara.
Travel permits must be presented at all checkpoints.
Checkpoints are found on major roads through Eritrea, but locations may change without notice.
Applications for travel permits are available at the Ministry of Tourism located on Harnet Avenue.
There is a high risk of earthquakes in Eritrea.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available on the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.
Please see our information on Customs Regulations.

Please see our Customs Information.

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 Eritrean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Eritrea 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 see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption
and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Eritrea are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Eritrea.
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 179 Alaa Street, PO Box 211, Asmara; telephone (291-1) 12-00-04; fax (291-1) 124-255 and (291-1) 127-584; the Embassy’s web site is located at http://eritrea.usembassy.gov/
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Eritrea dated April 28, 2008, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime,
Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 10 Sep 2016
Source: Asmarino Independent [edited]

Activists have reported a serious cholera outbreak in the Upper Gash-Barka Region of Eritrea, which is proving difficult to control. The outbreak was 1st observed at Barentu Referral Hospital 2 weeks ago when people who had travelled from the upper Gash region were reported to be suffering from an illness that was not diagnosed easily. However, as a result of the extended time taken for accurate diagnosis of cholera due to a severe shortage of expertise and infrastructure, the outbreak spread widely, affecting areas of the Gash-Barka Region.

It has now been a week since the Ministry of Health acknowledged the outbreak as being a potential national epidemic and has briefed health professionals in the region to that effect.

So far, the effort to curb the spread is proving futile, and the impact of the outbreak is being felt across the region. Markets were deserted as a result of the spread, and even cattle markets in small villages outside Barentu have been cordoned off to prevent the spread. An expert at the Ministry of Health's public health section for preventing such epidemics stated: "There is currently no national emergency response team to prevent and control such outbreaks; we are, therefore, prone to such epidemics, as it always takes time to pull such a team together to both control the outbreak and treat victims."

Already, the current epidemic is said to have spread from the Upper Gash Region to the Southern Region and particularly to the area of Mai Dima, where an epidemic control team has been dispatched.

According to health experts in the region, when such an outbreak occurs, even able-bodied adults find it impossible to cope with the acute loss of bodily fluids. Without appropriate medical assistance, it is impossible for patients to recover, and the situation is considerably worse for pregnant women and children.

Given the lack of public health awareness, Arbi Harnet calls on the people to take preventive actions by strictly adhering to personal and public hygiene practices.
======================
[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing Eritrea is available at
Date: Sat, 23 Jan 2016 12:14:06 +0100

Nairobi, Jan 23, 2016 (AFP) - Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki on Saturday dismissed fears the Horn of African nation faces a food crisis, despite sweeping drought across the wider region leaving millions in need of aid.   Floods and failed rains caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon have sparked a dramatic rise in the number of people going hungry in east Africa.

But authoritarian and isolated Eritrea has long rejected UN food aid in favour of a policy of self reliance, and Isaias said he was not worried.    "In view of the harvest shortfall that has affected the whole Horn of Africa region, President Isaias stated that the country will not face any crisis in spite of reduced agricultural output," the information ministry said, after he was interviewed by state-run media.   Isaias praised the government's "judicious policy and approaches of bolstering its strategic food reserves."

In November, the UN warned that Eritrea was among the countries at risk, like all the other nations in the wider region. "The current El Nino pattern, being the strongest ever recorded, has caused severe drought in the Horn of Africa nation, resulting in crop reduction by 50 to 90 percent; even failure in some regions," the United Nations said earlier this month.   In Ethiopia, over 10 million people need food aid, it added.    In Eritrea, few if any major foreign aid agencies are allowed operate, while the UN has limited access across the country, and most assessments are dependent on government reports.

Thousands of Eritreans flee the county each month, saying they are escaping conscription and rampant rights abuses.   Refugees from the repressive Red Sea state make up the third-largest number of people risking the dangerous journey to Europe after Syrians and Afghans, running a gauntlet of ruthless people smugglers to make the treacherous Mediterranean crossing.
Date: Thu 30 Jul 2015
Source: Eurosurveillance edition 2015; 20(30) [edited]

Louse-borne relapsing fever (_Borrelia recurrentis_) in asylum seekers from Eritrea, the Netherlands, July 2015
----------------------------------------------------------------------
[Authors: Wilting KR, Stienstra Y, Sinha B, Braks M, Cornish D, Grundmann H]

Two patients from Eritrea, recently arrived in the Netherlands, presented with fever and were investigated for malaria. Bloodfilms showed spirochetes but no blood parasites. Louse-borne relapsing fever caused by _Borrelia recurrentis_ was diagnosed. Treatment was complicated by severe Jarisch-Herxheimer reactions [inflammatory reaction observed after antimicrobial treatment of several infectious diseases] in both patients. Physicians should be aware of the possibility of _B. recurrentis_ infection in migrant populations who travel under crowded conditions, especially after passing through endemic areas such as Ethiopia and neighbouring countries.

_Borrelia recurrentis_ has for many centuries caused infections of often epidemic proportions known as relapsing fever. Since the infection is exclusively transmitted by body lice and humans are their only host, large scale outbreaks are only expected under circumstances conducive to louse infestation. We here report the 1st introduction of louse-borne relapsing fever into the Netherlands after World War II.

Case descriptions
-----------------
Patient 1
On 4 Jul 2015, a young adult from Eritrea was referred from the National Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers (Asielzoekercentrum, AZC) to a regional hospital in the northern Netherlands with a 5-day history of headache, dizziness, right upper quadrant pain, myalgia, and fever (39.3 deg C [102.7 deg F]). Malaria was suspected. The patient had been in the Netherlands for only 2 days after arriving in Europe 14 days earlier. En route to Europe, they travelled through Ethiopia, Sudan, and Libya. Previously, they had noticed chills while sheltering in an unofficial street camp in Rome where they stayed with a small group of fellow Eritreans before travelling to the Netherlands.

Thick and thin bloodfilms did not show malaria parasites and commercial malaria antigen tests were negative. However, filamentous unidentified structures were reported in the thick film by the laboratory of the peripheral hospital. The patient received empirical treatment with a single dose of ceftriaxone (2000 mg intravenously) for suspected bacterial septicaemia. After administration, their condition deteriorated and the patient was transferred within the next 2 hours to the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) where they arrived at the emergency department with headache, peripheral hypothermia (35.3 deg C [95.5 deg F]), hypotension (systolic/diastolic blood pressure 78/52 mmHg, heart rate of 106 beats per minute), abdominal pain but no hepatosplenomegaly, and shortness of breath (respiratory rate 23 breaths/min). Laboratory analysis showed leucocytopenia (leucocytes: 1.6 x 10(9)/L, norm: 4.5-10 x 10(9)/L), anaemia (haemoglobin: 6.5mmol/L, norm: 8.6-11.2 mmol/L) and thrombocytopenia (thrombocytes: 16x10(9)/L, norm: 150-450x10(9)/L). C-reactive protein (CRP) was 254 mg/L (norm: less than 1 mg/L). Kidney function was normal. The patient's liver function tests showed mildly elevated transaminases (alanine transaminase: 58 U/L, norm: 7-56 U/L; aspartate transaminase: 108 U/L, norm: 10-40 U/L; alkaline phosphatase: 124 U/L, norm 20-140 U/L; gamma-glutamyl transferase: 93 U/L, norm 0-51 U/L) and total bilirubin levels of 38 micromole/L (norm: less than 26 micromol/L) and direct bilirubin 35 micromol/L (norm: less than 7 micromol/L). Oxygen saturation was 91 percent (norm: 95-100 percent). Giemsa-stained thick and thin films revealed spirochetes in large numbers (Figure 1 [available at the source URL]) and no malaria parasites.

Given the patient's travel history, louse-borne relapsing fever was suspected. The clinical deterioration was provoked by the ceftriaxone administration leading to a severe Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction [1]. Treatment was switched to doxycyline 200 mg per day intravenously intravenously to reduce the risk of relapse [2]. The patient was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) for fluid resuscitation, cardiac support with noradrenalin, and supportive oxygen delivery via high flow nose mask.

_B. recurrentis_ was confirmed by 16S rDNA PCR and sequencing directly from blood 2 days later. The patient stayed at the ICU for 2 days, made a full recovery and was discharged after 6 days. The body louse _Pediculus humanus humanus_ was recovered from [the patient's clothing (Figure 2 [available at the source URL]).

Patient 2
In 9 Jul 2015, a 2nd young adult from Eritrea was directly referred by the responsible physician at the AZC to the UMCG. On arrival, the patient presented with general malaise, headache, fever (38.5 deg C [101.3 deg F]) and cough. Blood tests showed elevated inflammatory parameters (leucocytes: leucocytes: 12.7 x 10(9)/L, CRP: 320 mg/L), normal kidney function and slightly elevated transaminases, but the blood sample was haemolytic. Thick and thin films showed spirochetes and treatment was started with doxycyline 200 mg orally. 2 hours later the patient developed a severe Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction [that] required admission to intensive care where they received fluid resuscitation, inotropic treatment with noradrenalin, and oxygen via a face-mask. _B. recurrentis_ was confirmed by 16S rDNA sequencing.

The patient reported symptoms of chills and fever 2 weeks before presentation at our hospital. Their journey through North Africa followed the same route as that of Patient 1, but Patient 2 had arrived in Europe a week earlier. Patient 2 had camped out in the streets for 5 days in Rome (as had Patient 1). Patient 2 arrived in the Netherlands 2 weeks before presenting at our hospitals after travelling through Austria and Germany. The patient made a full recovery and was discharged after 5 days. Lice could not be recovered from the clothing.

Discussion
----------
_B. recurrentis_ should be suspected in patients presenting with fever and a recent history of migration from or through endemic countries (Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia). The infection is transmitted through body lice (_P. humanus humanus_, formally known as _P. humanus corporis_), which typically lives and breeds in the seams of clothes but can occasionally also be found in bed linens. Immigrants may share their clothing and that can pose an additional risk of transmission. The incubation period for relapsing fever is usually 4 to 8 days with a range of 2 to 15 days [3]. It should be noted that head lice (_P. humanus capitis_), which are not uncommon in Northern Europe, are incompetent vectors and cannot transmit _B. recurrentis_. The spirochetes are easily visible under a microscope in a Giemsa-stained thick or thin blood film as used for the diagnosis of _Plasmodium_ spp [4]. In our patients, the diagnosis was confirmed in both cases by 16S rDNA PCR and sequencing from blood.

Published evidence supports a single dose of tetracycline 500 mg intravenously as the conventional treatment, but considering the limited availability of this drug, doxycycline 200 mg can be used as an effective alternative [2,5]. In young children, pregnant women, or patients with a tetracycline allergy, erythromycin 500 mg can be used instead [6].

Both patients had travelled independently along a similar route before arriving in the Netherlands. Given the incubation period, it cannot be ruled out that the infection was acquired within Europe. Crucial information about risk factors such as exact travel history, recollection of louse infestation or bites and onset of symptoms was, however, impossible to obtain from our patients. Apart from being very sick and the fact that communication required an interpreter versed in Tigre our patients appeared to be traumatised and intimidated and not eager to volunteer information for fear of legal consequences.

Both patients developed a severe Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction after starting antibiotic treatment. _B. recurrentis_ evades host immune defences, resulting in very high bacterial loads (10(6)-10(8)/microl), and effective antibiotic therapy is followed by severe reactions characterised by sudden rigors, fever, and hypotension in virtually all treated patients [3]. Clinical symptoms are associated with increased plasma concentrations of tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-6 and interleukin-8 [7]. Treating physicians should be aware of this complication and the chances that ICU admission may be warranted. It is advised that patients receive 2 well-placed intravenous lines for rapid fluid resuscitation. Treatment of Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction consists mainly of supportive care. Corticosteroids seem to have limited beneficial effect but studies suggests that TNF-alpha blockers may be useful [8].

An ad hoc survey at the AZC on [16 Jul 2015] found body lice on 2 newly arrived Eritreans. Since then, all asylum seekers arriving from endemic countries to the AZC have been segregated into a different compound, where they turn over all of their personal clothes in exchange for disposable overalls. Personal clothes are then washed and returned on the next day. Used overalls and bed linen are subsequently destroyed. In addition to delousing, all arrivals receive a single dose of ivermectin as pre-emptive treatment against scabies and Eritreans who arrive with clinically manifest scabies (about 80 percent of all new arrivals) receive a 2nd dose a week later. No new cases of _B. recurrentis_ infection have been identified since mandatory delousing was implemented.

Conclusion
----------
Because infections with _B. recurrentis_ pose a significant health risk to other migrants, aid workers, healthcare personnel, and arguably to the general population, screening and delousing should be considered for arriving migrants already at ports of entry into the European Union. Our patients may have acquired body lice before arriving in Europe but transmission of infected lice between migrants after arrival in Europe cannot be ruled out and could pose an additional public health challenge.

[Figures and references are available at the source URL above.]
======================
[Relapsing fever is a bacterial infection caused certain species of the spirochete _Borrelia_. These organisms are able to periodically change their surface protein molecules to evade the host's immune response, thus causing a relapsing illness. Following an incubation period of about 7 days, the illness is characterized by recurring episodes of high fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, nausea and vomiting, each episode lasting several days, followed by a several-day asymptomatic interval. There may be up to 3-4 recurrences. Complications may include involvement of the lungs (ARDS; acute respiratory distress syndrome), central nervous system, spinal cord, eyes, heart, and liver. The bacteremia is intense (more than 10,000 organisms per ml of blood) during febrile episodes, which allows detection of organisms on a Wright-Giemsa stained blood smear. Thick blood smears are more sensitive than thin smears.

There are 2 types of relapsing fever: Tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF) and louse-borne relapsing fever (LBRF). LBRF is more severe than TBRF, with case-fatality rates without antimicrobial treatment of 30 to 70 percent in outbreaks. TBRF occurs in the Western hemisphere, Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. In the western United States, TBRF is usually associated with sleeping in rustic, rodent-infested cabins in mountainous areas. In the United States, 3 species, _Borrelia hermsii_, _B. parkerii_, and _B. turicatae_, transmitted by the bite of soft-bodied ticks (genus _Ornithodoros_) cause TBRF. A recently discovered _Borrelia_ species, _Borrelia miyamotoi_, has been found in hard-bodied ticks (_Ixodes_) in regions where Lyme disease is endemic.

LBRF is caused by a single species, _Borrelia recurrentis_, transmitted through abraded skin when the body louse is crushed during scratching. LBRF is endemic in Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia. Outbreaks are found in developing regions affected by war and in refugee camps characterized by overcrowding and poor personal hygiene. While mammals and reptiles may serve as a reservoir for tick-borne _Borrelia_ species, humans are the only host of _B. recurrentis_.

Treatment of relapsing fever consists of either a tetracycline (such as, doxycycline), a macrolide (such as, erythromycin), penicillin, or other beta-lactam antibiotics (such as, ceftriaxone). LBRF can be treated effectively with a single dose of the antibiotic (<http://jid.oxfordjournals.org/content/137/5/573.abstract>), whereas treatment of TBRF requires 7-10 days to prevent relapse. When initiating antibiotic therapy, all patients should be observed for a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction. The reaction, caused by massive release of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-6, interleukin-8, and other cytokines, is manifest by a worsening of symptoms with rigors, tachycardia, sweating, hypotension, and high ever, occurs in over 50 percent of cases. The Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction can be fatal. Pretreatment with anti TNF-alpha antibody has been found to suppress Jarisch-Herxheimer reactions (<http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199608013350503>).

Corticosteroids and antipyretic agents have little or no effect (<http://jid.oxfordjournals.org/content/137/5/573.abstract> and <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6132178?dopt=Abstract>), whereas meptazinol, an opioid agonist-antagonist, has been reported to reduce the severity of the reaction (<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6132178?dopt=Abstract>). Treatment with intravenous fluids and vasopressors to maintain adequate blood pressure may be required. - ProMed Mod.ML]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2012 13:40:00 +0100 (MET)

ADDIS ABABA, Jan 20, 2012 (AFP) - Addis Ababa said Friday that two Germans kidnapped during a deadly attack by unidentified gunmen on a group of tourists in northern Ethiopia had been taken to neighbouring Ethiopia. Germany said it was still investigating the pair's whereabouts. "There is news that they are in Eritrea by now," foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told AFP.

The Germans are believed to have been abducted when gunmen attacked a group of tourists in Ethiopia's remote Afar region earlier this week. Five people were killed in the attack: two Germans, two Hungarians and one Austrian. The German foreign ministry said three members of Germany's Federal Crime Agency were dispatched to Ethiopia to assist search efforts.  "The Federal Crime Agency (has) sent staff to Ethiopia in order to support the Embassy," a spokeswoman for Germany's foreign ministry told AFP from Berlin.  "They are trying to investigate where the two missing Germans could be." Six other Germans were among twelve survivors, some of them wounded, who were flown back to Addis Ababa on Wednesday. A Belgian citizen with gunshot wounds remains in hospital in Mekele in northern Ethiopia. The five bodies have been flown to the capital.

The attack took place near the famed Erte Ale volcano in Ethiopia's sparsely populated Danakil desert, close to the tense Ethiopia-Eritrea border.  The area, which boasts spectacular moon-like landscapes and is famed to be the hottest place on earth, is popular among travellers.  No group has claimed responsibility for the killings, but Ethiopia blamed arch-foe Eritrea for carrying out the attack. Eritrea vehemently denied being behind the incident, calling Ethiopia's claim "ludicrous" and a "smear campaign." The two Horn of Africa countries fought a bloody border war from 1998 to 2000 which killed 70,000 people. The border remains contested, with Ethiopian troops occupying land that international courts say belongs to Eritrea.
Date: Tue, 30 Aug 2011 12:41:08 +0200 (METDST)
by Jenny Vaughan

Shire, Ethiopia, Aug 30, 2011 (AFP) - In Ethiopias Endabaguna refugee camp, rows of gaunt Eritreans clad in rubber sandals give vent to their exasperation after days of trekking and dodging soldiers in an attempt to escape failed crops, hunger and an autocratic government. Over 12 million people across the Horn of Africa are struggling from the region's worst drought in decades, but secretive Eritrea is the only country to deny it has been affected by the crisis. "This year I farmed, but there was lack of rain. I dont know whats going to happen, only God knows," said Mehreteab, a refugee. He escaped from the army, risking death or jail if caught crossing the heavily militarized border, leaving his wife and three children behind. "There is no food and no grain in the home," he said. "I dont have any idea whats going to happen to them." Camps in northern Ethiopia receive about 900 refugees every month from Eritrea, one of the regions most isolated countries. A former colony of Italy and then part of Ethiopia, Eritrea fought a 30-year war with Ethiopia and only gained independence in 1991. A subsequent border conflict with Ethiopia from 1998-2000 still simmers.  Former rebel leader Issaias Afewoki, who has been in power since 1991 without elections, has cracked down on all dissidents and severely restricted press and religious freedom.

The majority of those arriving in the Ethiopian camps are young men escaping conscription, which forces men above 16 to serve in the military for decades on minimal pay. The UN recently called for tighter economic sanctions after releasing a report linking Eritrea to a failed bomb plot at the African Union. According to satellite imagery from the weather monitoring group FEWSNET, rainfall in parts of Eritrea this year has been "below average" - less than 10 percent of normal levels in some areas. Aid workers admit it is nearly impossible to know just how gravely the Eritrea is affected because access to information is so limited in the country where the only media is state-run. "Its been a black hole for us, we dont know whats going on there," said Matthew Conway, spokesman for the UN humanitarian coordination office in Nairobi. "But thats not to say its not happening."

The US ambassador to the United Nations has said she is "deeply concerned" that Eritrea is facing extreme hunger, and urged the government to allow humanitarian access. "The people of Eritrea who most likely are suffering the very same food shortages that were seeing throughout the region are being left to starve," Susan Rice told reporters in New York. And much like other countries in the region, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, Eritrea is vulnerable to increased food prices, exacerbating the crisis. According to the UN agriculture agency, global food prices jumped 33 percent in the last year. "High international prices affected every country in the world, so from that you can assume Eritrea is affected," said Shukri Ahmed, an economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization. Fiercely self-reliant Eritrea stopped sending market information to FAO about three years ago, Ahmed said, so it is impossible to know how much food prices have risen in the country. "Unfortunately, we dont have any information on the ground," he told AFP by phone from Rome.

Over half of Eritrea's food is imported, the FAO estimate, leaving it vulnerable to market fluctuations for staples such as sorghum and maize. Eritrean refugee Berhane, 35, said the cost of food has surged in recent years, though wages have remained the same. Intermittent work as a labourer earned him about $5 per day. But the cost of grain is about $3 per kilo and a sheep is about $170, more than he could make in a month, he told AFP. "How is someone with no money or daily work supposed to buy this?" he asked. "It is too expensive." Facing steep food costs, he relied on a small plot of land to feed his family. But the rains were two months late this year and his harvest failed. "The government doesnt do anything. Nothing. There are no rations," he told AFP.

The Eritrean authorities deny the country is facing food scarcity. "This nonsense about a hidden famine in Eritrea is utterly false," the Eritrea's information ministry said in an online statement last week. Instead, Asmara claims last year's harvest was the best in a decade, while state run media heap praise on government-run food security programs. But refugee Gebrielxavier, 25, said this is not true. He left Eritrea last November because his crop failed, he could not find work and his family went hungry. "We couldnt live. We were famished," he said. "And the government? It did nothing." He is now running a café in the refugee camp, where he earns less than $2 a  day and relies on UN food rations, but says he is still better off. "I got my freedom," he said.
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World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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