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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: 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: Sun 29 Mar 2020
Source: Italian Government Health Ministry [in Italian, machine trans., edited]

Cases in Italy as of 6:00 pm 29 Mar 2020
----------------------------------------
Regarding health monitoring related to the spread of the new coronavirus [SARS-CoV-2] on the national territory, there are a total of 97,689 cases. At the moment 73,880 people are positive for the virus; 13,030 people have recovered. There are 27,386 patients hospitalized with symptoms, 3906 are in intensive care, and 42,588 are in home isolation.

There have been 10,779 reported deaths, however, this number can only be confirmed after the Istituto Superiore di Sanita has established the actual cause of the death.

Case distribution by province:
number of cases (number of new cases in past 24 hours)

  • Lombardy: 41 007 (1592)
  • Emilia-Romagna: 13 119 (736)
  • Veneto: 8358 (428)
  • Marche: 3558 (185)
  • Piedmont: 8206 (535)
  • Tuscany: 4122 (305)
  • Campania: 1759 (167)
  • Lazio: 2706 (201)
  • Liguria: 3076 (254)
  • Friuli Venezia Giulia: 1480 (44)
  • Sicily: 1460 (101)
  • Apulia: 1549 (91)
  • Umbria: 1023 (54)
  • Abruzzo: 1293 (160)
  • Molise: 127 (4)
  • Trento: 1594 (89)
  • Bolzano: 1214 (105)
  • Sardinia: 638 (14)
  • Basilicata: 202 (20)
  • Aosta Valley: 584 (73)
  • Calabria: 614 (59)
*********
Total: 97,689 (5217)
======================
[The tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Italy is now 97,689 cases, including 10,779 deaths, up from 92,472 cases and 10,023 deaths reported on 28 Mar 2020. The 24-hour change between 28 and 29 Mar 2020 was 5217 newly confirmed cases, compared with 5974 newly confirmed cases between 27 and 28 Mar 2020. Cases continue to be concentrated in Lombardy (41 007), the epicenter of the outbreak, Emilia-Romagna (13 119), and Veneto (8358), all in the northern part of the country. Those 3 provinces combined account for 52.8% of newly confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, representing a drop from the previous 24 hours when they represented 56.% of nationally reported cases. Another active province is Piemonte with a total of 8206 cases and represents 10.3% of newly reported cases. In the past 24 hours Tuscany has reported 5.9% of newly reported cases, a slight drop from the preceding day when it was reporting 6.1% of newly confirmed cases. There is an excellent interactive map at <http://opendatadpc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/b0c68bce2cce478eaac82fe38d4138b1> to visualize the caseloads per region in near real time.

On 9 Mar 2020, Italy announced a lockdown for the northern provinces where the outbreak was concentrated. On 10 Mar 2020, this was expanded to be countrywide. On 11 Mar 2020, Italy announced the closure of non-essential businesses. It is now 19 days since the start of the lockdown in the north and 18 days since the countrywide lockdown.

A map of Italy showing regions can be seen at
HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/75>. - ProMed Mod.MPP]
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 17:45:22 +0100 (MET)

Rome, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Italy recorded a shocking spike in coronavirus deaths Friday with 969 new victims, the worst daily record for any country since the pandemic began.   The infection rate however continued its downward trend, with the civil protection agency reporting nearly 86,500 confirmed cases in Italy -- a 7.4 percent increase, down from around 8.0 percent in previous days.
Date: Mon, 23 Mar 2020 12:57:25 +0100 (MET)
By Dmitry ZAKS

Rome, March 23, 2020 (AFP) - Italy banned travel and shut down a range of industries Monday in a last-ditch push to stem the spread of a coronavirus that has killed nearly 5,500 people in a month.   The latest wave of restrictions is  designed to get the Mediterranean country through a vital 10-day stretch in which the rate of deaths and infections is supposed to finally drop.   Italy's health officials sounded notes of guarded hope after reporting another 651 fatalities on Sunday.

The figure was the second-highest recorded during the crisis and above that officially registered anywhere else in the world in a day.   But it was still lower than the record 793 deaths health officials announced on Saturday.   The number of new infections also rose Sunday by a relatively modest 10.4 percent.   The chief health officer of northern Italy's devastated Lombardy region sounded uncharacteristically upbeat Sunday.   "These figures are always a matter of either seeing the glass as half full or half empty," Giulio Gallera wrote on Facebook.   "Today, the glass is half full."

- Confusion -
Italy has sacrificed its economy and liberties by shutting down and banning almost everything to halt the spread of a virus the government views as an existential threat.   Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took the extra step late Saturday of announcing plans to close "non-essential" factories and trades until April 3.   Italians spent much of Sunday trying to figure out what exactly Conte meant.

The government released a long list of industries and professions that would still be allowed.   These included translation services and chemical processing plants. Auto part makers were allowed to stay open, but steel mills were not.   Lawyers were told to work from home, but reporters were allowed to meet in newsrooms.   The decrees published Monday added to the air of confusion in the face of a disease Conte on Saturday called Italy's biggest threat since World War II.

They include a separate instruction forbidding Italians "from moving by public or private means of transport outside the municipality in which they are currently located".   This theoretically means that Italians cannot travel to their second homes at the weekend or visit out-of-town relatives.   There is an exception for people who can prove they must travel "for work needs of absolute urgency or for health reasons".   The long list of "essential" industries is accompanied by reports of companies urgently lobbying the government to be allowed to open their doors for the coming week.

- Decisive week -
The reality is that Conte's team is slowly running out of things to close or ban -- other than imposing a Chinese-style quarantine of cities and entire regions.   Ministers and health experts are all looking at the daily death toll and infection rates to see if their approach has worked.   Other nations are watching also, as they calibrate their response to a virus whose spread is currently being fought by measures that are restricting people's freedoms and devastating economies.

Both local and national officials pleaded with Italians while announcing their restrictions to sacrifice their liberties for the common good for two weeks.   The two-week deadline in Lombardy expired on Sunday.    The restrictions Conte imposed nationally are set to end of Wednesday, while the closure of schools and public buildings is due to expire on April 3.   Conte had indicated last week that he might have to extend the restrictions indefinitely.   His decision on what Italy intends to do next is expected this week.
Date: Fri, 20 Mar 2020 16:26:33 +0100 (MET)

Rome, March 20, 2020 (AFP) - Italy's government said Friday it is considering even further restrictions on its already locked-down population as the country reels under the continued spread of the coronavirus.   The country now has the most coronavirus fatalities in the world, after it surpassed China on Thursday with a rise of 427 deaths to an overall toll of 3,405.   "In the next 24 to 48 hours, new restrictions are possible," Italy's minister of regional affairs Francesco Boccia said Friday, citing the possibility of banning open-air activities.

The presidents of regions in the north -- Italy's richest and the most devastated by the virus -- have been pressing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to clamp down even harder on the movement of people, calling for the deployment of the army to help enforce the measures.    "Unfortunately, even today the statistics aren't going in the right direction, neither in terms of new infections or in terms of deaths," Lombardy's president Attilio Fontana told a press conference on Friday.   A list of requests by mayrs throughout Lombardy would be submitted to Conte on Friday, he added.   Fontana has asked Conte to close all private and public offices, other than essential ones, as well as construction sites, and to crack down harder on people who continue to flout the quarantine.    "I tried to convince him that we have to take more rigorous measures," Fontana told La7 television on Thursday, referring to a conversation with Conte.   "We can't joke around anymore."

Members of the Chinese Red Cross currently in Lombardy to help with the crisis have observed that the measures taken in Italy fall short of what is needed to contain the pandemic, Fontana said.    All of Italy has been on lockdown since March 10, but although restaurants, bars, and non-essential stores are shuttered, people are still allowed to leave their homes to travel back and forth to work, shop for food, or seek
medical care. 

Maurizio Casasco, president of the European Federation of Sports Doctors, said outdoor activities, even if performed alone, should be banned.    "Running in the street is a way of shirking your civic duties and represents an eventual risk," Casasco told the Corriere della Sera newspaper, adding that there should be no "grey zones" in people's behaviour.    Stefano Bonaccini, president of the Emilia Romagna region which is the country's second hardest-hit after Lombardy, banned running and most other open-air activities on Thursday.    "If someone wants to tell me that he can't give up running, I'll take him with me on a tour of the hospital," Bonaccini wrote on Facebook.
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2020 09:34:16 +0100 (MET)

Rome, March 19, 2020 (AFP) - Lockdown measures taken in Italy over the coronavirus pandemic will be extended beyond their original deadlines, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday.   Imposed nationally on March 12, the shutdown of most businesses and a ban on public gatherings in Italy, the European country worst hit by the pandemic, are due to expire on March 25.   School closures and other measures, such as a ban fan attendance at sporting events, are due to run on until April 3.   "The measures we have taken... must be extended beyond their original deadline," Conte told Thursday's edition of the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Conte referred to the closures of many businesses, "individual activities" and the shutdown of schools.   "We have avoided the collapse of the system, the restrictive measures function," Conte said.    He expressed hope that the country will hit a peak in a few days and see a decline in infection rates.   But he warned "we will not be able to return immediately to life as it was before" even after worst is over.   The pandemic killed 475 people in Italy between Tuesday and Wednesday, the worst toll in a country in a single day, according to an official count published Wednesday.   A total of nearly 3,000 people have died because of the virus in Italy, almost as many as in China, where the pandemic began in late December.
More ...

Costa Rica

Costa Rica - US Consular Information Sheet
June 05, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing country with a strong democratic tradition.
Tourist facilities are extensive and generally adequate.
The capi
al is San Jose.
English is a second language for many Costa Ricans.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Costa Rica for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
For entry into Costa Rica, U.S. citizens must present valid passports that will not expire for at least thirty days after arrival, and a roundtrip/outbound ticket.
Some U.S. airlines may not permit passengers to board flights to Costa Rica without such a ticket.
Passports should be in good condition; Costa Rican immigration will deny entry if the passport is damaged in any way.
Costa Rican authorities generally permit U.S. citizens to stay up to ninety days; to stay beyond the period granted, travelers must submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration.
Tourist visas are usually not extended except under special circumstances, and extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
There is a departure tax for short-term visitors.
Tourists who stay over ninety days may experience a delay at the airport when departing.
Persons who overstayed previously may be denied entry to Costa Rica.
Persons traveling to Costa Rica from some countries in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa must provide evidence of a valid yellow fever vaccination prior to entry.
The South American countries include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
See “SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES” for information on requirements to carry documentation within Costa Rica and on travel by dual national minors.


The most authoritative and up-to-date information on Costa Rican entry and exit requirements may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2114 “S” Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 234-2945/46 , fax (202) 265-4795 , e-mail consulate@costarica-embassy.org, web site http://www.costarica-embassy.org, or from the Costa Rican consulates in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Juan (Puerto Rico), San Francisco, and Tampa.
The Costa Rican immigration agency web site is http://www.migracion.go.cr.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington or one of Costa Rica's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements before shipping any items.
Visit the Embassy of Costa Rica web site at http://www.costarica-embassy.org for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
There have been no recent acts of terrorism in Costa Rica.
Visitors to Costa Rica may experience the effects of civil disturbances such as work stoppages and strikes.
Although infrequent, these acts can create inconveniences for visitors.
On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, currents are swift and dangerous, and there are few lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches.
Every year eight to twelve American citizens drown in Costa Rica due to riptides or sudden drop-offs while in shallow water.
Extreme caution is advised.

Adventure tourism is popular in Costa Rica, and many companies offer white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours, deep sea diving, and other outdoor attractions.
Americans are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies.
The government of Costa Rica regulates and monitors the safety of adventure tourism companies; enforcement of safety laws is overseen by the Ministry of Health.
Registered tourism companies with operating permits must meet safety standards and have insurance coverage.
The safety regulations enforced in Costa Rica are not the same as safety regulations enforced in the United States.

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:
Over one and a half million foreign tourists, the majority American, visit Costa Rica annually.
All are potential targets for criminals, primarily thieves looking for cash, jewelry, credit cards, electronic items and passports.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world.
Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to U.S. standards.
Travelers should minimize driving at night, especially outside urban areas.

Americans should avoid areas with high concentrations of bars and nightclubs, especially at night, and steer clear of deserted properties or undeveloped land.
For safety reasons, the Embassy does not place its official visitors in hotels in the San Jose city center, but instead puts them at the larger hotels in the outlying suburbs.
Americans should walk or exercise with a companion, bearing in mind that crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are common venues for criminal activities.
Travelers should ignore any verbal harassment, and avoid carrying passports, large amounts of cash, jewelry or expensive photographic equipment.
Tourists are encouraged to carry photocopies of the passport data page and Costa Rican entry stamp on their persons, and leave the original passport in a hotel safe or other secure place.
Costa Rican immigration authorities conduct routine immigration checks at locations, such as bars in downtown San Jose and beach communities, frequented by illegal immigrants.
American citizens detained during one of these checks who have only a copy of the passport will be required to provide the original passport with appropriate stamps.



Travelers should purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance when renting vehicles, park in secured lots whenever possible, and never leave valuables in the vehicle.
The U.S. Embassy receives several reports daily of valuables, identity documents, and other items stolen from locked vehicles, primarily rental cars.
Thefts from parked cars occur in downtown San Jose, at beaches, in the airport and bus station parking lots, and at national parks and other tourist attractions.
Travelers should use licensed taxis, which are red with medallions (yellow triangles containing numbers) painted on the side.
Licensed taxis at the airport are painted orange.
All licensed taxis should have working door handles, locks, seatbelts and meters (called "marias"); passengers are required to use seatbelts.
When traveling by bus, avoid putting bags or other personal belongings in the storage bins.
At all times have your belongings in your line of sight or in your possession.

Thieves usually work in groups of two to four.
A common scam has one person drop change in a crowded area, such as on a bus, and when the victim tries to assist, a wallet or other item is taken.
The most prevalent
scam involves the surreptitious puncturing of tires of rental cars, often near restaurants, tourist attractions, airports, or close to the car rental agencies themselves.
When the travelers pull over, "good Samaritans" quickly appear to change the tire - and just as quickly remove valuables from the car, sometimes brandishing weapons.
Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if at all possible, to the nearest service station or other public area, and change the tire themselves, watching valuables at all times.
In late 2006, the government of Costa Rica established a Tourist Police force, and units were established in popular tourist areas throughout the country.
The Tourist Police can assist with the reporting of a crime, which can be difficult for victims due to language barriers and the requirement that only investigative police can accept crime reports.

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 care in San Jose is adequate, but is limited in areas outside of San Jose.
Most prescription and over-the-counter medications are available throughout Costa Rica.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States.
A list of local doctors and medical facilities can be found at the website of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, at http://sanjose.usembassy.gov.
An ambulance may be summoned by calling 911.
Most ambulances provide transportation but little or no medical assistance.
The best-equipped ambulances are called “unidad avanzada.”
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 Costa Rica is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Costa Rica has one of the highest vehicle accident rates in the world.
The fatality rate for pedestrians and those riding bicycles and motorcycles is disproportionately high.
Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored, turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, turn signals are rarely used, passing on dangerous stretches of highway is common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way.
Roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common.
Pedestrians, cyclists, and farm animals may use the main roads.
Traffic signs, even on major highways, are inadequate and few roads are lined.
Shoulders are narrow or consist of drainage ditches.
All of the above, in addition to poor visibility due to heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous.
Landslides are common in the rainy season.
All types of motor vehicles are appropriate for the main highways and principal roads in the major cities.
However, some roads to beaches and other rural locations are not paved, and many destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension four-wheel drive vehicles.
Travelers are advised to call ahead to their hotels to ask about the current status of access roads.
Costa Rica has a 911 system for reporting emergencies.
In the event of a traffic accident, vehicles must/must be left where they are.
Both the Transito (Traffic Police) and the Insurance Investigator must make accident reports before the vehicles are moved.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of Costa Rica’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mopt.go.cr and www.visitecostarica.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Costa Rica’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Costa Rica’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:
Land Ownership and Shoreline Property: U.S. citizens are urged to use caution when making real estate purchases, and consult reputable legal counsel and investigate thoroughly all aspects before entering into a contract.
Coastal land within fifty meters of the high tide line is open to the public and therefore closed to development, and construction on the next one hundred fifty meters inland is possible only with the approval of the local municipality.

Squatters: Organized squatter groups have invaded properties in various parts of the country.
These squatter groups, often supported by politically active persons and non-governmental organizations, take advantage of legal provisions that allow people without land to gain title to unused agricultural property.
Local courts may show considerable sympathy for the squatters.
Victims of squatters have reported threats, harassment, and violence.
Documentation Requirements: Visitors are required to carry appropriate documentation at all times.
However, due to the high incidence of passport theft, tourists are permitted and encouraged to carry photocopies of the datapage and entry stamp from the passport, leaving the passport in a hotel safe or other secure place.
However, as noted under CRIME, Costa Rican immigration authorities conduct routine checks for illegal immigrants, especially in bars located in downtown San Jose and in beach communities.
An American citizen detained during one of these checks and carrying only the copy of the passport will be required to produce the original passport.
Tourists should consider carrying their passports when traveling overnight or a considerable distance from their hotel.
Tourists who carry passports are urged to place them securely in an inside pocket.

Exit Procedures for Costa Rican Citizens: Costa Rican children may only depart the country upon presentation of an exit permit issued by immigration authorities.
This policy, designed to prevent international child abduction, applies to dual national U.S./Costa Rican citizens.
Parents of minors who obtained Costa Rican citizenship through a parent or through birth in Costa Rica are advised to consult with appropriate Costa Rican authorities prior to travel to Costa Rica, especially if one (or both) parent(s) is not accompanying the child.



Disaster Preparedness: Costa Rica is located in an earthquake and volcanic zone.
Serious flooding occurs annually on the Caribbean side near the port city of Limon, but flooding occurs in other parts of Costa Rica as well, depending on the time of year and rainfall.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

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 Costa Rica’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica.
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 in Pavas, San Jose, and may be reached at (506) 2519-2000; the extension for the Consular Section is 2453.
The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and is closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays.
Those seeking information are strongly encouraged to utilize the embassy web site http://sanjose.usembassy.gov/, and can email consularsanjose@state.gov with any questions/concerns.
For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call (506) 2220-3127 and ask for the duty officer.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Costa Rica dated August 15, 2007, to update sections on Registration/Embassy Location and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: Q Costa Rica News [edited]
<https://qcostarica.com/costa-rica-is-the-first-country-in-america-where-very-resistant-antibiotic-bacteria-for-meningitis-is-isolated/>

A 50-year-old man and a senior became the 1st 2 people in Costa Rica -- and in the Americas -- found to be infected with the bacteria most resistant to antibiotics used in the treatment of meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia that cause serious brain damage and even death. The Centro Nacional de Referencia en Bacteriolog­a (CNRB) -- National Center of Reference in Bacteriology, of the Instituto Costarricense de Investigacian y Enseaanza en Nutricin y Salud (Inciensa) -- Costa Rican Institute for Research and Education in Nutrition and Health (Incense), issued an alert, in early February [2020], after documenting the circulation of _Neisseria meningitidis_ (_N. meningitidis_) serogroup Y, resistant to penicillin and not sensitive to cefotaxime [and ceftriaxone?], two 3rd generation antibiotics, reports La Nation.
====================
[Invasive meningococcal disease (meningococcaemia and meningitis) is a life-threatening infection caused by _Neisseria meningitidis_ that evolves rapidly, often even when appropriate treatment has been started promptly. Because antimicrobial treatment for invasive meningococcal disease with a 3rd-generation cephalosporin (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone) is the widely accepted standard recommendation (<https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/39/9/1267/402080>), resistance of _N. meningitidis_ to cefotaxime and ceftriaxone is very worrisome.

The news report above says that 2 patients in Costa Rica were infected with _N. meningitidis_ serogroup Y resistant to penicillin and 2 3rd generation cephalosporins, one of which was cefotaxime. The other 3rd generation cephalosporin is not specified, but is perhaps ceftriaxone, the other 3rd generation cephalosporin usually used to treat this disease. We are also not told in the news report above if the 2 patients were epidemiologically linked, nor are we told the extent (that is, MICs [minimum inhibitory concentration] of penicillin or cefotaxime), the mechanisms of resistance, or resistance to any of the other antimicrobial drugs used to prevent or treat this disease.

More information would be appreciated from knowledgeable sources. Reduced susceptibility of _N. meningitidis_ to penicillin has been reported in the past in many countries, including the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>), usually due to decreased affinity of target penicillin-binding proteins for penicillin and less commonly to beta-lactamase production (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC89938/>, <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3134848-relative-penicillin-g-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-and-reduced-affinity-of-penicillin-binding-protein-3/>, and <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC162989/pdf/392577.pdf>).

Meningococcal isolates with reduced susceptibility to penicillin G usually were reported susceptible to 3rd-generation cephalosporins (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone). For example, despite the decrease in susceptibility to penicillin G in 33% of 2888 isolates of _N. meningitidis_, all isolates were susceptible to ceftriaxone in Brazil from 2009 to 2016 (<https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29717974-surveillance-of-antimicrobial-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-strains-isolated-from-invasive-cases-in-brazil-from-2009-to-2016/>). Similar data have been reported for the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>).

However, one previous study reported 8 clinical isolates _N. meningitidis_ in Delhi, India in 2006 that were resistant to ceftriaxone and cefotaxime, with most also resistant to penicillin, ciprofloxacin, and chloramphenicol (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1698303/>). All of the isolates were identified as serogroup A _N. meningitidis_, but no further details concerning these isolates were given in this report (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1865813/>).

Resistance to other antimicrobial agents that may be used for therapy of meningococcal infections or for prophylaxis of case contacts has been reported in several countries. This includes resistance to chloramphenicol, fluoroquinolones, and rifampin. Horizontal exchange of genes that encode resistance for penicillin, rifampin, and the fluoroquinolones from other _Neisseria_ species that share a common ecological niche with _N. meningitidis_ in the nasopharynx has been proposed as one possible mechanism of acquisition of meningococcal antibiotic resistance (<http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/49/3/545>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Costa Rica: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/17>]
Date: Tue 21 Jan 2020
Source: Ahora Noticias, Costa Rica [in Spanish, machine trans., edited]
<https://www.ahoranoticiascr.com/2020/01/21/autoridades-cerraron-pizzeria-debido-a-casos-de-hepatitis-a-en-san-ramon/>

As many as 22 people suffered from hepatitis A infection in San Ramon de Alajuela, and consequently the Health authorities closed a pizzeria in the area. A source close to this media confirmed the existence of the cases which were detected since 13 Jan 2020.

The cases were thought to be related to food consumption in that establishment 4 of patients were employees of the pizzeria. In statements to the media La Nación, Azalea Espinoza of the Directorate of Surveillance of the Ministry of Health, said they intervened in the business, issued a closing health order, and proceeded to cleaning and disinfecting it. [Byline: Carlos Miranda]
========================
[Although the eating establishment was identified as a pizzeria, pizza itself is not likely to be the vehicle of transmission as it is cooked before serving unless ingredients are added after the cooking process. It is unclear if the pizzeria employees were the source of, or just part of, the outbreak.

With an incubation period averaging 28 but up to 45 days, more cases may occur. The cases are not broken down in regard to age. In children, most cases of HAV infection are subclinical so it is likely that the cases reported were in adults. In the developing world, HAV is not reported much in adults as most children have been infected, and therefore immune to subsequent infection, by the age of 10. That outbreaks are occurring in the area suggests improvement in potable water so fewer children are infected and therefore still susceptible to HAV as adults. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at: Costa Rica:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/17>]
Date: Wed, 8 Jan 2020 02:28:38 +0100 (MET)

San José, Jan 8, 2020 (AFP) - Costa Rica on Tuesday vehemently objected to the US government's decision to raise the alert level for tourists visiting the Central American country due to the risk of crime.   "We express energetic protest on the part of the Costa Rican government for the decision to change the recommendation level for American tourists," said foreign minister Manuel Ventura.

Ventura's statement came shortly after the US government issued a new travel advisory for visitors to Costa Rica.   According to the alert, "petty crime is the predominant threat for tourists in Costa Rica."   But the advisory warns that "armed robbery, homicide and sexual assault" could also occur.   Costa Rica also rose from Level 1, the lowest level, to Level 2 on he US State Department's travel alert scale. The highest is Level 4, which recommends no visiting.

The Central American country, known for its natural resources and beaches, attracts 1.2 million US tourists each year, according to official figures. In 2019, a total of more than 3 million foreign tourists visited.   "The change is surprising, because it puts Costa Rica -- which ended 2019 with a rate of 11 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants -- on par with countries on the continent that are among the most violent in the world," the Costa Rican foreign ministry said in a statement.

Data from the Ministry of Public Service indicates that there were 688 cases of theft of mobile phones, passports and money from tourists in 2019 -- only 0.02 percent of visitors to Costa Rica.   Tourism in Costa Rica has been shaken in recent years by several murders of female tourists, as well as sexual violence, including a Venezuelan-American woman who was killed near her hotel outside of the capital San Jose.
Date: Thu 8 Jan 2020
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

The Costa Rica Ministry of Health reported [Tue 7 Jan 2019] (computer translated) on the 2nd ever _Naegleria fowleri_, or "brain-eating amoeba" infection in their history.

The case is a 15-year-old who is presenting with a clinical picture of primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) remains in a serious state at the Liberia Hospital. The investigation into the case shows the young man acquired the amoeba by inhaling water in the thermal springs of Guayabo de Bagaces.

The 1st case of primary amebic meningoencephalitis in the history of Costa Rica was recorded in 2014 in an American child who later died.

_Naegleria fowleri_ is a microscopic amoeba which is a single-celled living organism. It can cause a rare and devastating infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, ponds and canals.

Infections can happen when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once the amoeba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM (which destroys brain tissue) and is usually fatal. Infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels.  _Naegleria fowleri_ infections are rare. Most infections occur from exposure to contaminated recreational water. Cases due to the use of neti pots and the practice of ablution have been documented.

[Byline: Robert Herriman]
=======================
[Amoebic meningoencephalitis is rare but is found worldwide and the reservoir is fresh water sources like lakes and rivers. It has been discussed if it is found in household water supplies, but so far cases have not been linked to tap water although it is possible in theory. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Fri 25 Oct 2019
From: Donald J. Brightsmith <dbrightsmith@cvm.tamu.edu> [edited]

There have been 37 cases of autochthonous transmission of malaria in 2019 as reported by the Costa Rican Ministry of Health (<https://www.ministeriodesalud.go.cr/index.php/vigilancia-de-la-salud/analisis-de-situacion-de-salud>). The ministry also reports 39 cases of malaria in country that were likely contracted in foreign countries, mostly in Nicaragua.

The autochthonous cases came mostly from the northern part of the country in the district of Crucitas, but cases were also reported from other areas of the country.
---------------------------------------------------
Donald J. Brightsmith
University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX
=============================
[ProMed thanks Dr. Donald J. Brightsmith for communicating this to us.

This is a comment from the WHO website, "Costa Rica: 'Ripe' for malaria elimination?"

"Costa Rica is one of 21 countries identified by WHO as having the potential to eliminate malaria by 2020. Its success in bringing down cases of indigenous malaria -- that is, transmission of the malaria parasite within a country's own borders -- has been commendable, so much so that it has received an award from the Pan American Health Organization in recognition of the strides made. Notably, no one has died from malaria since 2009.

"However, after recording 3 consecutive years of zero indigenous cases between 2013 and 2015, local transmission of the disease has slowly been creeping upwards: 4 cases in 2016 and 12 in 2017. Of equal concern is imported malaria: To date, 21 such cases have been detected in 2018, up from 5 for all of 2017.

"In June 2018, the Costa Rican Ministry of Health issued a public health alert following the reporting of 10 imported malaria cases in just one week in the country's northern region bordering malaria-endemic Nicaragua. The Ministry is working to quickly identify and treat imported cases to prevent onward transmission to local communities in high-risk zones of the country. The areas of concern are mainly agricultural sites, like banana plantations.

"One such area is the canton of Matina, home to some of Costa Rica's largest plantations that grow the yellow fruit. Situated next to a major port on the Caribbean Sea, the canton's agricultural produce is shipped to markets worldwide, making Matina an important economic hub.

"Although Matina is far from the area of the recent alert, and no cases of malaria have been reported this year, all 4 indigenous cases reported in 2016 originated from the canton, as well as 2 of the 12 indigenous cases in 2017. Health authorities are not taking any chances and are working with the canton's fincas bananeras (banana plantations) to step up malaria surveillance activities, particularly among plantation workers and nearby communities." - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 11:17:02 +0200 (METDST)

Berlin, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Germans risk being fined up to 500 euros ($540) for standing too close to each other from Friday as officials crack down on people flouting rules brought in to control coronavirus.   Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has ordered people not leave their homes unless they have an exceptional reason such as grocery shopping, exercise or medical appointments.   Gatherings of more than two people are banned and a distance of at least 1.5 metres (five feet) must be kept from others at all times.   Local governments have the power to set fines for transgressors, with city officials in Berlin saying their fines would be as high as 500 euros.

Similar announcements have come from across Germany's 16 states.   Hesse, home to finance hub Frankfurt, and North Rhine-Westphalia both promised penalties of up to 200 euros for people who gather in groups of more than two.   Bavaria, Germany's largest state, has been the worst affected by the coronavirus so far, with more than 18,000 cases.   There, people who stand less than 1.5 metres apart risk being fined 150 euros.

Queues of people standing far apart have become a common sight outside German supermarkets and pharmacies, with many sticking down tape to mark where people should stand on the pavement.   However, German police have also reported numerous violations of the rules.   Germany has recorded over 79,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.   A total of 1,017 people have died.
Date: Thu 26 Mar 2020
Source: Mongabay.com [edited]

In April 2018, workers with the Associacao Mico-Leao-Dourado, a Brazilian non-governmental organisation [NGO] dedicated to the protection of the golden lion tamarin, found one of the endangered primates, apparently sick and unable to climb trees, lying on the forest floor in Aldeia, some 80 km (50 mi) north east of Rio de Janeiro city. The following day, field staff searched for the animal but could not find it within the sprawling tropical forest. But later that month, the dead bodies of 2 others were discovered in nearby forest in Cambucaes and Imbau.

The stricken animals immediately set off alarm bells in Brazil's conservation community. By 17 May 2018, their worst fears were realized, as the 1st confirmed death of a golden lion tamarin due to yellow fever was announced by the Brazilian Ministry of Health and Ministry of the Environment.  "Until this report we didn't know if the [animals] were susceptible to the disease, even after 4 decades of working with the tamarins, but we now understand that they are even more susceptible to it than humans," explains Dr Carlos Ruiz, president of the Associacao Mico-Leao-Dourado (the Golden Lion Tamarin Association).

Known for their distinctive, lion-like manes and gold-orange pelage, the golden lion tamarin, or _Leontopithecus rosalia_, is a primate endemic to the Atlantic Forest biome that once stretched uninterrupted for hundreds of miles along Brazil's eastern coast, but which has since been reduced to only patches. By the 1980s, _L. rosalia_ was critically endangered due to habitat loss and extremely high levels of poaching.

By then, the population was down to just a few hundred individuals in isolated forest fragments scattered around the Sao Joao river basin in Rio de Janeiro state. However, a hugely successful campaign of intensively focused conservation action, including the introduction of zoo-born tamarins to wild populations, raised that number to 3700 by 2014.

Then came the outbreak of yellow fever, in late 2017-2018, Brazil's largest human epidemic since mass vaccinations began in the 1940s. The mosquito borne disease, normally found in remote reaches of the Amazon, spread to the populous southern states of Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, killing hundreds of people and infecting thousands more.

Scientists, alerted by the 1st yellow fever casualties in 2018 among the golden lion tamarin, were astonished to see the species decline by 32% due to the disease, a terrible setback for an animal already classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN).

Compounding the crisis was a misinformed reaction to the yellow fever outbreak by local people who made a spurt of attacks on all monkeys, apparently based on the false belief that tamarins, rather than mosquitoes, were capable of directly transmitting the disease to humans. Some primates were illegally killed by poisoning and others shot dead with rifles.

More bad news: Research published by Strier and colleagues in 2018 found that muriqui (woolly spider monkey) numbers also suffered "catastrophic" declines in the Atlantic Forest's Reserva Particular do Patrimonio Natural due to yellow fever, declining 10% and 26% for 2 separate populations.

"The impact of yellow fever has been absolutely devastating" on these primates, especially the tamarins, says Dr Ruiz. "It could set us back 30 years of conservation efforts." He does report some good news: Charity service volunteers are now continuously monitoring the surviving tamarin populations, aiding local health officials to ensure near 100% vaccination of people in stricken areas, and the regular exchange of information with government bodies to help prevent further significant outbreaks.

Yellow fever is believed to have originated in Africa and spread to Brazil as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. The disease first appeared in Recife, north east Brazil, in 1685, according to historical records. However, yellow fever is not endemic to the majority of the country, and therefore most monkeys have not developed resistance [or tolerance] to it, leaving them particularly vulnerable, according to the Brazilian Society of Primatology.

How, or whether, tamarin populations will bounce back after such significant losses remains unknown. "The biggest problem is how these species then recover from crashes," says Karen Strier, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin who has studied Atlantic Forest monkeys since the 1980s. "Either they must reproduce within the surviving group...or they must look to recruit from other populations. But the more fragmented the landscape, the more difficult [recruiting] is." The trouble with reproducing within just one group is that "if the population is small that may not work, and it also produces low genetic diversity."

Ominously, primate experts now fear that yellow fever outbreaks could become a regular occurrence in the Atlantic Forest biome, and that disease could be a looming new threat to the golden lion tamarin, even as illegal trafficking remains a serious concern. "From time to time, [yellow fever] reemerges...and may affect regions beyond the Amazon, if it has viability of transmission," says a spokesperson for the Brazilian Society of Primatology. "But it could become an endemic disease also of the Atlantic Forest."

A combination of climate change and deforestation in areas that serve as buffer zones between tropical forest and urban areas has allowed yellow fever to spread, the society representative added. Logging and charcoal production, agriculture and urbanization have devastated the tamarin's habitat, reducing it to only 2% of its original area in the Atlantic Forest, home to 22 of Brazil's 77 primate species.

Hope is now focused on a newly developed vaccine for non-human primates that could immunize species like the golden lion tamarin and perhaps save them from disease and help them evade extinction. Marcos Freire, a researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, who previously worked on a team producing a human yellow fever vaccine, has been seeking an alternative for primates since 2017, and thinks he now has one that could work. "We would like to vaccinate some of these animals and then transport them back to areas where there have been mortalities," he says. "But nobody has ever vaccinated a species of monkey before and so there are a lot of challenges." Freire says that he is currently applying to the nation's Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture for permission to capture and immunize wild populations of tamarins. "In Brazil, there have not yet been any licenses to administer vaccines for non-human primates," he says. "Dogs, cats and cows, yes -- but not primates."

The vaccine, which he initially hopes to use on 500 primates, is based on a dilution of the yellow fever vaccine administered to humans and uses a similar process and formula. "We applied different quantities of dosage to species in our primate center in Rio de Janeiro, and the results have been effective," he reveals. But practical challenges remain: How, for example, "would you test it on animals that are critically endangered?" asks Strier, who supports the vaccine's development. "And how do you administer it to animals in the wild in a cost-effective way? And what about the fact that there are humans that still haven't been vaccinated?"

Even if these hurdles are overcome, vaccination won't entirely eliminate the disease because some female mosquitoes pass the virus directly to their eggs. Meanwhile, other solutions offer promise, such as neutralizing mosquitoes by means of genetic modification, as explored in the case of the Zika virus, or using mathematical models to anticipate the arrival of the virus in various locales in order to immediately combat it.

The vaccine, should it prove efficacious, could offer important relief to these endangered primates, even as other human disruptions put heightened pressure on ecosystems in south eastern Brazil. No matter what the results, ongoing vaccine research will offer "a good opportunity to learn what happens," concludes Freire. "Do the [tamarins] survive because they are immune, or not infected? Any kind of [observed] result will be important. Because if every year we get another episode [of yellow fever and lack an effective response], then we'll have to go back to captive reproduction."  [byline: Peter Yeung]
====================
[The current expansion of yellow fever in South America raises concern for public health and also about potential conservation problems for susceptible non-human primate species in the continent. The virus is endemic in much of central and northern South America and makes sporadic incursions to southern areas of the continent, like the states of Santa Catarina, Parana and Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, Misiones in Argentina, or Paraguay.

The yellow fever virus was introduced into the Americas approximately 400 years ago, yet the complex interactions that were established after its introduction are far from being elucidated. There is need for more research on the eco-epidemiology of the disease in the continent, specifically on the role of each non-human primate species, and especially in the presence of the persistent anthropogenic global environmental change.
Developing a vaccine to be used in golden lion tamarins can be a powerful tool, but there are some issues that need to be considered. First, applying the vaccine to 500 wild tamarins may be risky, as it involves capturing and restraining wild animals, so this should be fine-tuned to minimize the probability of seriously injuring the tamarins in the process. Using an effective vaccine in 500 individuals would preserve those individuals during an outbreak, but yellow fever is not a transient problem for South American non-human primates of the Atlantic rainforest, so in parallel non-vaccinated tamarins should be monitored to evaluate the evolution of resistance or tolerance, or otherwise they will be dependent on vaccination in aeternum.

For a picture of a golden lion tamarin, go to

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Brazil:
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 08:29:09 +0200 (METDST)

Hanga Roa, Chile, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Inhabitants of Easter Island are leaning on a traditional form of ancestral discipline to overcome a coronavirus-imposed lockdown that threatens the Pacific island's vital tourism sector, and consequently their livelihoods.   Situated 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) off the coast of Chile, the island of 7,750 people is renowned for its giant humanoid monoliths called moais that were sculpted from basalt more than 1,000 years ago.

So far, there have been just two confirmed coronavirus cases on Easter Island, with two or three more under observation. But the local population can ill afford the outbreak to spread with just one hospital and three ventilators on the island.   Faced with this crisis, the locals have turned to the Tapu, an ancient tradition based on taking care of oneself that has been passed down through generations of the native Rapa Nui people.   "To accompany this self-care concept, we're applying the Rapa Nui tradition, an ancestral rule based on sustainability and respect," said the island's mayor Pedro Edmunds.   "It's called Tapu. You can hear about this concept in all the Polynesian islands."

Tapu is a complex concept related to secrecy, rules and prohibitions from which the English word "taboo" derives.   "If you say the word Tapu to a Polynesian, they will immediately tell you why we have to do Tapu. That's precisely because they know and understand what it signifies," said Edmunds.   It means that the island's lockdown has been diligently respected, leading to the virus being prevented from spreading far and wide.   "We've applied the Tapu concept for all Rapa Nui and the acceptance has been incredible," said Edmunds.   "The virus is contained in two families in the same area, so we know where they are, who they are, and they've been respecting the (isolation) protocols since the beginning," Edmunds told AFP.

- Tourism impact -
But now, there are greater worries about the pandemic's impact on tourism.   On average, 100,000 people visit the volcanic Polynesian island each year, mostly attracted by the mysterious moais.   The local government was quick to react to the spreading pandemic in Latin America, closing the island's borders on March 11 -- a week before Chile's government in Santiago did likewise -- with the apparition of its first positive case.   Throughout Chile, there have now been more than 3,000 cases with 16 deaths.   A week ago, Easter Island was put under total lockdown with a nighttime curfew from 2:00 pm to 5:00 am. On Tuesday, these were extended for a further two weeks.

- Plan B planting -
With streets, beaches and parks deserted, the indigenous inhabitants have turned to the knowledge passed down through generations to deal with the crisis.   Some indigenous Rapa Nui inhabitants have already adapted to their new circumstances and started to cultivate their land, like their ancestors did, said Sabrina Tuki, who has worked in tourism for 20 years.   "Our family and many families are already applying a Plan B and we've already started planting," said Tuki, whose regular work has completely ground to a halt.

Everyone is worried about the coming months. Edmunds says the island's inhabitants can last for a month with the borders closed.   But at the end of April, 3,000 people "will be seen begging in the streets for food from some local or national authority, because they won't be able to eat," said Edmunds.   It won't be the Rapa Nui, though, according to Edmunds, because the community has begun to rally together behind its concept of Tapu.   But the island's other inhabitants, who make up around half the population and mostly work in the service industry, will be in trouble.

- Taken by surprise -
The mayor doesn't expect the recovery to come until August, when tourists would return to the islands.   When it does restart, he's expecting a reduced capacity compared to the two flights a week the island was welcoming until three weeks ago.   Only one airline, Latam, operated the five-hour flights from the continent, but like many airlines its business has been hard hit by the virus.   "We're all affected; the whole chain, from the biggest agency to the craftsman," said Samuel Atan, a hiking guide who says the crisis caught everyone unawares.

The pandemic has highlighted the fragility of such a remote location. Without state subsidies, many could not survive, Edmunds says.   The challenge for the future will be to improve infrastructure and "re-enchant people to come back," said Tuki.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 04:05:11 +0200 (METDST)

New York, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - New York mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday urged all of the city's residents to cover their faces when outside and near others to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.   "Let's be clear. This is a face covering. It could be a scarf. It could be something you create yourself at home. It could be a bandana," de Blasio told reporters.   "It doesn't need to be a professional surgical mask. In fact, we don't want you to use the kind of masks that our first responders need, that our health care workers need. Don't use those," he added.   New York is the epicenter of America's deadly COVID-19 outbreak.   The city has recorded almost 50,000 confirmed cases, including 1,562 deaths, according to the mayor's office.   As of Thursday evening, the United States had a total of more than 243,000 declared cases and over 5,900 fatalities, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

President Donald Trump told reporters at his daily White House briefing on the coronavirus that he was not considering making it mandatory for all Americans to cover their faces.   "For example on the masks, if people wanted to wear them they can. If people wanted to use scarves, which many people have them, they can.   "In many cases, scarves are better. It's thicker. Depending on the material, it's thicker," he said.   Vice President Mike Pence added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would release official guidelines on masks in the coming days.   But Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator at the White House, said it is important people do not think masks replace social distancing or hand-washing.     "We don't want people to get an artificial sense of protection," she said. "They're an additive."

California Governor Gavin Newsom made similar recommendations as de Blasio on Thursday, but stressed that masks were "not a substitute" for social distancing.   "Individuals (who) want to have face coverings... that is a good thing and a preferable thing, in addition to the physical distancing and the stay-at-home order," he said.   More than three-quarters of Americans are currently living under various forms of lockdown, including New Yorkers who have been told not to leave their residences unless absolutely necessary.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 02:16:41 +0200 (METDST)

Lima, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra announced on Thursday a new measure restricting public movement by gender, as the country tries to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.   Men will only be allowed to leave their homes on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, while women are authorized to step outdoors on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.   No one is allowed out on Sundays.   "We have 10 days left, let's make this extra effort to control this disease," said Vizcarra.   He said the restrictions would apply until April 12, the original end date to a lockdown he imposed on March 16.   Panama announced a similar measure on Monday that went into effect two days later and will last for 15 days.

By Thursday, Peru had recorded just over 1,400 coronavirus cases and 55 deaths.   Vizcarra said the new measure aims to reduce by half the number of people circulating in public at any one time.   "The (existing) control measures have given good results, but not what was hoped for," said Vizcarra.   These restrictions will not apply to people employed in essential services, such as grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and hospitals.   Vizcarra added that security forces tasked with patrolling the streets have been told to be respectful toward the gender identities of homosexual and transgender people.   "The armed forces and police have been instructed not to have homophobic attitudes," said the president.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 00:55:21 +0200 (METDST)
By Samir TOUNSI

Kinshasa, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Lack of resources, a muddle over confinement and incipient panic are hobbling the response to coronavirus in DR Congo, fuelling fears especially for Kinshasa, one of Africa's largest and most chaotic cities.

Almost all of the infections in the vast central African nation have occurred in the capital, along with a handful in the east -- a deeply-troubled region hit by Ebola and militia attacks.   "The coming week will be the most difficult for Kinshasa. The numbers will quickly double or triple," Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who is leading DRC's fight against the pandemic, warned in an interview with Jeune Afrique magazine.   According to official figures released late Wednesday, there have been 123 confirmed cases, 11 of them deaths, in a nation of some 80 million people.

Kinshasa, which has been isolated from the rest of the country, has 118 cases but this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg giving the paucity of testing.   "On average, 50 tests are carried out each day at the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB)," said a health official, speaking on condition of anonymity.   Five cases have been recorded in six days in the Democratic Republic of Congo's volatile east, destabilised by 25 years of rebel and militant attacks.   Two of them emerged in Goma, the capital of the eastern North Kivu province, which is officially due to declare an end to the Ebola outbreak on April 12 if no more cases of haemorrhagic fever emerge.

- Fears of looting -
Kinshasa, home to at least 10 million people, was meant to go into lockdown on Saturday for four days under an announcement made unilaterally by the region's governor.   But officials delayed the measure after the announcement triggered fears of a rise in the prices of basic goods and the risk of unrest.   The national intelligence agency "warned the presidency of the threat of looting," an informed source said.   The city witnessed pillaging, led by security forces, in 1991 and 1993.

A day after the lockdown U-turn, President Felix Tshisekedi held an emergency meeting but there have been no announcements since.   "They want to decide on something that works. They can't afford to make mistakes," an observer said.   Later on Thursday, governor Gentiny Ngobila announced that Kinshasa's government district, which is also home to a number of embassies and banks, will be "put in quarantine" for two weeks starting from Monday.   Two globally-renowned names have been enlisted in the campaign against coronavirus: Dr. Muyembe, who helped discover the Ebola virus in 1976, is national coordinator, while the 2018 Nobel Peace laureate, gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, is overseeing the response in the east.

- 'General panic' -
Despite these reassuring appointments, preparations to deal with large numbers of coronavirus cases in Kinshasa are a mess, according to experts.   "The medical facilities are unequipped to take in sick people, apart from a hospital run by the Chinese," a health expert said.   There are only 65 ventilators in all of Kinshasa's hospitals, a researcher said. The INRB has no vehicles or fuel and foreign NGOs are pitching in to help, other sources said.   The problems have been experienced first-hand by some of Tshisekedi's entourage.    The president's special adviser, Vidiye Tshimanga, tested positive on March 23, after spending two days at home during which medical teams failed to arrive.

Tshimanga, who was diagnosed with a mild forum of coronavirus and is on the mend, told AFP that when he went for a lung scan on Monday, he was met by a hospital official "who refused to let me get out of the ambulance."
   One of his friends and a close aide of the president has meanwhile died, he told AFP.   "The medical teams were ill-informed and fearful of COVID-19 and hardly took care of him," Tshimanga said of his deceased colleague.   "I have heard of other cases like this," he said.  "A kind of general panic has set in. COVID-19 patients are being left to one side without receiving care. There is a lack of information... something that we (the government) are going to have to tackle as soon as possible."
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 22:32:53 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Troops and police in Ecuador have collected at least 150 bodies from streets and homes in the country's most populous city Guayaquil amid warnings that as many as 3,500 people could die of the coronavirus in the city and surrounding province in the coming months.   A joint military and police task force sent out to gather corpses in the horror-struck port city had  collected 150 in just three days, government spokesman Jorge Wated said late Wednesday.

Residents had published videos on social media showing abandoned bodies in the streets in the Latin American city worst hit by the pandemic.   Some left desperate messages for authorities to take away the corpses of people who had died in their homes.   Authorities have not confirmed how many of the dead were victims of the coronavirus.

Rosa Romero, 51, lost her husband Bolivar Reyes and had to wait a day for his body to be removed from their home.    A week later, amid the chaos of the city's mortuary system, she does not know where it is.   "In the forensic bureau they told us that they had taken him to the Guasmo Hospital. We went there to find him but he was not registered anywhere," Romero told AFP.   A 15-hour curfew imposed in the city makes further searching difficult.

- Government apology -
The government's spokesman apologized in a message broadcast on state television late Wednesday.   He said mortuary workers had been unable to keep up with the removal of bodies because of the curfew.   "We acknowledge any errors and apologize to those who had to wait days for their loved ones to be taken away," Wated said.    Mortuary workers in masks and protective clothing were seen carrying plastic-wrapped coffins in the city on Wednesday as authorities tried to cope with the backlog of dead.

Work at cemeteries and funeral homes has stalled, with staffers reluctant to handle the dead over contagion fears.   Ecuador is the Latin American country worst hit by the virus after Brazil, with more than 3,160 infections and 120 deaths by Thursday morning.

Guayaquil has Latin America's highest mortality rate from COVID-19 with 1.35 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants -- higher than the 0.92 per 100,000 registered in Brazil's epicenter Sao Paulo -- according to Esteban Ortiz from Ecuador's University of the Americas.    Guayaquil's surrounding province of Guayas has 70 percent of the country's COVID-19 infections.   Ecuador's first reported case of COVID-19 was a 71-year-old Ecuadoran woman who arrived in Guayaquil from Spain on February 14.

- 'Difficult days ahead' -
Wated said the government is preparing for even more difficult days ahead.   "The medical experts unfortunately estimate that deaths from COVID in these months will reach between 2,500 and 3,500 -- in the province of Guayas alone, and we are preparing for that," he said.   Autopsies have been restricted and the government, which has banned usually crowded funeral services, initially insisted that COVID-19 victims be cremated but was forced to relent after a public backlash.   "We are working so that each person can be buried with dignity in one-person spaces," Wated said, referring to a government-run cemetery being made available with capacity for around 2,000 bodies.

Last month, the city's mayor Cynthia Viteri sent municipal vehicles to block an Iberia plane sent to repatriate stranded foreigners from landing at the city's international airport.    But Viteri was unapologetic as the number of cases spiraled in her city.   "I take responsibility for protecting my city," she said.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 20:58:06 +0200 (METDST)

Blantyre, Malawi, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Malawi on Thursday announced its first three coronavirus infections, one of the last African countries to report the potentially deadly disease.   The southern African country was one of the few without any confirmed cases along with the Comoros, Lesotho, Sao Tome and Principe and South Sudan.      President Peter Mutharika said the infections were in the capital Lilongwe.

The first was detected in an elderly woman who had recently travelled to India to visit her relatives.   "Upon arrival in Malawi, she placed herself in self-quarantine for 14 days but later became symptomatic within the quarantine period," said Mutharika in an address to the nation.   Two of her contacts also tested positive.   Mutharika said the government would provide medical care for the three patients and track down their immediate contacts.   To date coronavirus has infected more than 6,720 people across Africa and killed at least 273.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 17:06:55 +0200 (METDST)

Port Louis, Mauritius, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Residents of the Indian Ocean island nation Mauritius rushed to supermarkets on Thursday after they had been shut for 10 days under a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.   Mauritius, usually a paradise holiday destination known for pristine beaches and coral reefs, has the most cases in eastern Africa with 169 infected and seven deaths -- including a 20-year-old woman with no prior health issues who died on Thursday.   The country was one of the first in Africa to impose a lockdown on March 20 -- when cases still stood at seven -- going so far as to shut supermarkets, bakeries and other shops often kept open in other nations.

Aware that people's stocks were starting to run low, the government decided to re-open under strict rules which divide people into three alphabetical groups to decide on which days they are allowed to shop.   Prakash Beeharry, a primary school teacher, told AFP he was lucky his surname starts with a 'B'.   "My neighbour, Mr Jayen Veerasamy, has to wait two more days before he can access the supermarket," he said.   Like many other mask-wearing shoppers, Beeharry stood in line from 6am to 10am before he was allowed in the supermarket.   "We only had 30 minutes to get all the groceries. Quite a challenge. I'm 45 years old and I've never experienced this... I hope things don't get worse."

Snaking long lines spread out from different supermarkets on the island, where shoppers kept a safe distance from each other and had their temperatures taken as they entered the stores.   "I feel relieved now that I have some supplies," said retired citizen Joseph who was one of the first at the Intermart in central Curepipe.   Other rules put in place allow only one member of a family in the store at a time, and masks are obligatory. The purchase of basics such as rice, flour, milk or oil are subject to restrictions.   Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth had initially shut the supermarkets because the situation was "extremely serious" and he saw the move as "the only way to stop the spread of the virus".

The decision was widely criticised, as while the middle and upper classes were able to prepare and stock food, the poor were not -- and many had yet to receive their salaries.   Tourism Minister Joe Lesjongard explained Tuesday that the government was "aware the population is starting to lack supplies".   "We should never have shut the supermarkets," said former prime minister and prominent opposition leader Paul Berenger.   In a bid to assist the poorest members of society, the government has distributed basic necessities to some 30,000 people.

A solidarity fund has also been created by government officials, with all lawmakers donating ten percent of their annual salaries.   Hotels on the island are now mostly empty, aside from a handful used as quarantine centres, while the renowned smiles of tourism staff have been replaced by the exhausted, defeated expressions of health workers.
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 15:40:59 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Thailand will introduce a six-hour night curfew in a bid to control the spread of coronavirus, authorities said Thursday, warning anyone who breached the order faced a two-year jail term.   The curfew from 10 pm to 4 am (1500 to 2100 GMT) will begin on Friday and bars everyone in the country from leaving their homes.    Exemptions will be made for essential staff, including medical workers, food and fuel transport staff, and postal services.    The number of infections in Thailand has soared past 1,800 -- up more than 80 percent from a week ago -- and the death toll has nearly quadrupled to 15 as of Thursday.

The government has come under criticism for not acting soon enough to curb the spread of the virus -- introducing incremental measures despite being the first country outside China to confirm a case, which happened in January.   In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha urged citizens not to panic.   "You can buy things in the daytime," he said.   Penalties for hoarding essential supplies such as face masks carry penalties of up to seven years in prison and a 140,000 baht ($4,200) fine, he said.

The stepped-up measures also include an entry ban on all arrivals -- including Thais -- for two weeks.   Thais who insist on returning will be placed under state quarantine, though Prayut implored them to defer travel plans.    On Thursday, Bangkok's popular markets were shuttered, while parks that were ordered to close were empty of joggers.   Thailand's economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus, especially those employed in the informal sector.   The Bank of Thailand expects the economy to shrink by 5.3 percent this year -- a 22-year low -- and nearly 22 million people have registered for cash handouts.