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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 ...

Iran

Iran - US Consular Information Sheet
July 1, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Iran is a constitutional Islamic republic with a theocratic system of government where ultimate political authority is vested in a religious scholar, the Supreme Leader

Shia Islam is the official religion of Iran, and Islamic law is the basis of the authority of the state.
The Iranian Constitution guarantees freedom of worship to Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, though they are sometimes the subject of discrimination and repression.
The workweek in Iran is Saturday through Thursday; however, many government offices and private companies are closed on Thursdays.
Friday is the day of rest when all establishments are closed.
Offices in Iran are generally open to the public during the morning hours only.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Iran for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Should you decide to travel to Iran despite the current Travel Warning, a passport and visa are required, except for travel to Kish Island.
To obtain a visa, contact the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan located at 2209 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20007; tel. 202-965-4990, 91, 92, 93, 94, 99, fax 202-965-1073, 202-965-4990 (Automated Fax-On-Demand after office hours).
Their web site is http://www.daftar.org/Eng/default.asp?lang=eng.

U.S. citizens traveling to Iran are being fingerprinted upon entry.
The Iranian press has reported that foreign tourists may obtain seven-day tourist visas at the airport in Tehran.
However, U.S. citizens are not eligible to receive these visas and have to obtain valid visas from the Iranian Interests Section in Washington.
Note:
possession of a valid Iranian visa will not guarantee entry into the country.
Some American travelers with valid visas have been refused entry at the border without explanation.
U.S. citizens do not have to obtain a visa for travel from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Kish Island.
U.S. passports are valid for travel to Iran.
However, the Iranian government does not recognize dual nationality and will treat U.S.-Iranian dual nationals solely as Iranian citizens.
Thus, U.S. citizens who were born in Iran, who became naturalized citizens of Iran (e.g. through marriage to an Iranian citizen), and children of such persons—even those without Iranian passports who do not consider themselves Iranian—are considered Iranian nationals by Iranian authorities.
Therefore, despite the fact that these individuals hold U.S. citizenship, under Iranian law, they must enter and exit Iran on an Iranian passport, unless the Iranian government has recognized a formal renunciation or loss of Iranian citizenship.
Dual nationals may be subject to harsher legal treatment than a visitor with only American citizenship.
(See section on Special Circumstances below.)
In the past, U.S.-Iranian dual nationals have been denied permission to enter/depart Iran using their U.S. passport; they have also had their U.S. passports confiscated upon arrival or departure.
(Depending on the circumstances, the individuals were sometimes able to retrieve their U.S. passports after renouncing their Iranian citizenship.)
Recently, Iranian authorities have prevented a number of Iranian-American citizen academics, journalists, and others who traveled to Iran for personal reasons from leaving, and in some cases have detained and imprisoned them on various charges, including espionage and being a threat to the regime.
Americans of Iranian origin should consider the risk of being targeted by authorities before planning travel to Iran.
Iranian authorities may deny dual nationals’ access to the United States Interests Section in Tehran, because they are considered to be solely Iranian citizens.

As a precaution, however, it is advisable for U.S.-Iranian dual nationals to obtain in their Iranian passports the necessary visas for the country which they will transit upon their return to the U.S. so that, if their U.S. passports are confiscated in Iran, they may depart Iran with their Iranian passport.
These individuals can then apply for a new U.S. passport in that third country.

Dual nationals whose U.S. passports are confiscated may also obtain a “Confirmation of Nationality” from the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland, which is the U.S. protecting power.
This statement, addressed to the relevant foreign embassies in Tehran, enables the travelers to apply for third-country visas in Tehran.
Dual nationals finding themselves in this situation should note in advance that the Swiss Embassy would issue this statement only after the traveler's U.S. nationality is confirmed and after some processing delay.
Dual nationals must enter and depart the United States on U.S. passports.

Visa extensions are time-consuming and must be filed at least one week in advance of the expiration date.
As of March 21, 2006, a foreign national and anyone accompanying him/her will pay a fine of 300,000 rials or 30,000 ottomans per day for each day of unauthorized stay in Iran.

All Iranian nationals, including U.S.-Iranian dual nationals, must have an exit permit stamped in their Iranian passports in order to depart Iran.
The stamp is affixed to the Iranian passport when it is issued and remains valid until the expiration date of the passport.
All Iranian nationals residing abroad and in Iran, including U.S.-Iranian dual nationals, are now required to pay an exit tax regardless of the duration of their stay in Iran.
More specific information on Iranian passport and exit visa requirements may be obtained from the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C.
Non-Iranian-national women who marry Iranian citizens gain Iranian nationality upon marriage.
If the marriage takes place in Iran, the woman’s American passport will be confiscated by Iranian authorities.
They must have the consent of their husbands to leave Iran or, in his absence, must gain the permission of the local prosecutor.
Iranian law combined with the lack of diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran means that the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran can provide only very limited assistance if an American woman married to an Iranian man has marital difficulties and/or encounters difficulty in leaving Iran.

After divorce or death of the husband, a foreign-born woman has the choice to renounce her Iranian citizenship but any of the couple’s children will automatically be Iranian citizens and their citizenship is irrevocable.
They will be required to enter and depart Iran on Iranian passports.
For a divorce to be recognized it should be carried out in Iran or, if outside Iran, in accordance with Sharia law.
Upon divorce, custody of the children normally goes to the mother until the child reaches age 7, at which point custody is automatically transferred to the father.
However, if the courts determine that the father is unsuitable to raise the children, they may grant custody to the paternal grandfather or to the mother, if the mother has not renounced her Iranian citizenship and is normally resident in Iran.
If the courts grant custody to the mother, she will need permission from the paternal grandfather or the courts to obtain exit visas for the minor children (under age 18) to leave the country.
Iran is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Please see the Department of State’s International Parental Child Abduction flyer on Iran for further 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:
U.S. citizens who travel to Iran despite the Travel Warning should exercise caution throughout the country, but especially in the southeastern region where westerners have been victims of criminal gangs often involved in the smuggling of drugs and other contraband.
American citizens should avoid travel to areas within 100 kilometers of the border with Afghanistan, within 10 kilometers of the border with Iraq, and generally anywhere east of the line from Bam and Bandar Abbas toward the Pakistan border.

Terrorist explosions have killed a number of people since 2005.
Be aware that the Iranian government has blamed the U.S. and/or UK governments for involvement in the February 2007 bombing that killed Iranian military forces in Zahedan in the southeast and the 2005/2006 bombings in Ahvaz/Khuzestan in the southwest.
A number of British firms were damaged in attacks in August and November 2005.

U.S. citizens are advised to avoid demonstrations and large public gatherings.
Increased tension between Iran and the West over the past several years is a cause of concern for American travelers.

Iranian security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited and could result in serious criminal charges, including espionage, which carries the death penalty.

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, including the Travel Warning for Uzbekistan and the Worldwide Caution can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security, including safety and security in Iran, 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:
Major crime is generally not a problem for travelers in Iran, although foreigners occasionally have been victims of petty street crime.
Young men in unmarked cars have robbed foreigners and young men on motor bikes have snatched bags.
There have been reports of robberies by police impersonators, usually in civilian clothing.
Insist on seeing the officer’s identity card and request the presence of a uniformed officer/marked patrol car.
Travelers should not surrender any documents or cash.

Travelers should not carry large amounts of hard currency.
In view of the possibility of theft, passports, disembarkation cards, other important documents and valuables should be kept in hotel safes or other secure locations.
Pre-booked taxis are safer than those hailed from the street.
Americans should check with their hotel or tour guide for information on local scams.
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 U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran or the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Because of the lack of a U.S. Embassy in Iran, the processing time for a replacement passport takes longer at the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy than elsewhere.

If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Interests Section for assistance.
The 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, Swiss Embassy officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent of the “911” emergency line in Iran is as follows:
115 for ambulance service, 125 for fire and 110 for police.
English speakers, however, are generally unavailable. See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Basic medical care and medicines are available in the principal cities, but may not be available in rural areas.
Medical facilities do not meet U.S. standards and sometimes lack medicines and supplies.

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.
In 2006, there were reports of Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, mostly in the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan province.
See www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs208/en for more information.
Iranian authorities have confirmed outbreaks of avian influenza (bird flu) in January 2008 in northern Iran, as well as earlier reports among wild swans in the Anzali Wetlands and in domestic poultry in the northern provinces of Azerbaijan and Gilan.
There have been a number of fatalities from avian flu reported in eastern Turkey, 45 kilometers from the Iranian border.
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 Iran is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:
Travelers in possession of International Driver’s Permits may drive in Iran, though the U.S. Interests Section in Iran does not recommend that tourists drive in Iran.
Iran has a very high rate of traffic accidents, the second highest cause of mortality in the country.
Drivers throughout Iran tend to ignore traffic lights, traffic signs and lane markers.
Urban streets are not well lit.
It is therefore particularly dangerous to drive at night.
Sidewalks in urban areas only exist on main roads and are usually obstructed by parked cars.
In the residential areas, few sidewalks exist.
Drivers almost never yield to pedestrians at crosswalks.
If you are involved in an accident, no matter how minor, do not leave the scene.
Wait until the police arrive to file a report.

Iranian authorities sometimes set up informal roadblocks, both in cities and on highways, often manned by young, inexperienced officers.
They are often suspicious of foreigners.
Ensure you carry a form of identification with you and avoid getting into disputes.
Pollution levels from cars are very high, particularly in Tehran, which can trigger respiratory problems. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the U.S. by carriers registered in Iran, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Government of Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
Civil aviation in Iran continues to experience air incidents and accidents, including five crashes with fatalities between April 20, 2005, and November 27, 2006.
Incidents have included engine failure and planes veering off the runway.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
The Iranian Government has seized the passports and blocked the departure of foreigners who work in Iran on tax/commercial disputes.

In addition to being subject to all Iranian laws, U.S. citizens who also possess Iranian citizenship may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on citizens of Iran, such as military service or taxes. Iranian-citizen males aged 18-34 are required to perform military service, unless exempt.
Iranian-Americans, even those born in the U.S., are included.

Dual nationals sometimes have their U.S. passports confiscated and may be denied permission to leave Iran, or encounter other problems with Iranian authorities.
Likewise, Iranian authorities may deny dual nationals’ access to the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran, because they are considered to be solely Iranian citizens.
Refer to the above section entitled "Entry/Exit Requirements" for additional information concerning dual nationality.

U.S. citizens who are not dual U.S.-Iran nationals are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport (biodata page and page with Iranian visa) with them at all times, so that if questioned by local officials, proof of U.S. citizenship is readily available.
Carry some other form of identification with you, such as a drivers license or other photo identification at all times as well.
Credit cards and bank cards are not widely accepted in Iran.
It is difficult to change dollars to rials in Iranian banks and you may not be able to access your U.S. bank accounts via the Internet from Iran.
You will not be able to access your U.S. bank accounts using ATMs in Iran.
Travelers checks can be difficult to exchange.
Bring enough hard currency to cover your stay, but make sure you declare this currency upon entry.
There is no Western Union or similar institution and bank transfers may not be possible.
Exchange money only at banks or an authorized currency exchange facility, not on the street, and keep your exchange receipts.

Pre-paid overseas calling cards are available at most newsagents.
The Internet is widely used in Iran.
There are Internet cafes in most hotels.
Usage may be monitored.

Do not work illegally.
You will be deported, fined and/or imprisoned.
You may also be prevented from entering the country again.
Islamic law is strictly enforced in Iran.
Alcohol is forbidden. Importation of pork products is banned.
Consult a guide book on Iran to determine how to dress and behave properly and respectfully.
Women should expect to wear a headscarf and jacket that covers the arms and upper body while in public.
There may be additional dress requirements at certain religious sites, e.g., women might need to put on a chador (which covers the whole body except the face) at some shrines.
During the holy month of Ramadan, you should in general observe the Muslim tradition of not eating, drinking or smoking in public from sunrise to sunset each day, though there are exemptions for foreign travelers who eat in hotel restaurants.
(See the Criminal Penalties section below for more information.)
In general, it is best to ask before taking photographs of people.
Hobbies like photography and those involving the use of binoculars (e.g., bird-watching) can be misunderstood and get you in trouble with security officials.
(See the Safety and Security section above for warnings on photography.)
For specific information regarding Iranian customs regulations, contact the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, DC.
Please see our Customs Information for U.S. regulations.
Most laptops are controlled items.
It is unlawful to bring controlled items into Iran, even on a temporary basis, unless specifically authorized by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in a manner consistent with the Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act of 1992 and other relevant law.
U.S. Government economic sanctions still govern imports of Iranian-origin goods and services and exports to Iran.
Except for carpets and foodstuffs, and information or informational materials and gifts valued at $100 or less, the importation of Iranian-origin goods or services into the United States is prohibited.
The exportation or re-exportation of goods, technology or services directly or indirectly from the United States or by a U.S. person to Iran also is prohibited, except in the following cases: articles donated to relieve human suffering (such as food, clothing and medicine), gifts valued at $100 or less, licensed exports of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices, and trade in informational materials.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Department of Treasury, provides guidance to the public on the interpretation of the current economic sanctions.
For further information, consult OFAC’s Compliance Programs Division, at 202-622-2490, visit the OFAC web site at http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/, or obtain information via fax at 202-622-0077.
For information concerning licensing of exports, contact OFAC’s Licensing Division at:

Licensing Division
Office of Foreign Assets Control
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Treasury Annex
Washington, DC 20220
Telephone (202) 622-2480; Fax (202) 622-1657

Iran is prone to earthquakes.
Many people have died in recent years, most notably in the city of Bam in 2003, killing 30,000.
In February 2005, an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale struck Zarand in southeast Iran.
In March 2006, several earthquakes occurred in Restan province, western Iran, killing around 100 and injuring 1200.
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 Iranian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Fines, public floggings, and long prison terms are common.
Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, as well as persons who encourage Muslims to convert, are subject to arrest and possible execution.
Drinking, possession of alcoholic beverages and drugs, un-Islamic dress, as well as public displays of affection with a member of the opposite sex are considered to be crimes.
Relations between non-Muslim men and Muslim women are illegal.
Adultery, sex outside of marriage and gay sex are all illegal under Iranian law and carry the death penalty.
DVDs depicting sexual relations and magazines showing unveiled women are forbidden.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Iran are severe and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Iran executes many people each year on drug-related charges.
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.

U.S. citizens in Iran who violate Iranian laws, including laws that are unfamiliar to Westerners (such as those regarding the proper wearing of apparel,) may face severe penalties.

The Iranian Government reportedly has the names of all individuals who filed claims against Iran at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague pursuant to the 1981 Algerian Accords.
In addition, the Iranian Government reportedly has compiled a list of the claimants who were awarded compensation in the Iran Claims Program administered by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.
The Iranian government is allegedly targeting award-holders who travel to Iran.
It is reported that upon some claimants' entry into Iran, Iranian authorities question them as to the status of payment of their respective awards with a view to recouping the award money.
It is also reported that the Iranian Government has threatened to prevent U.S. claimants who visit Iran from departing the country until they make arrangements to repay part or all of their award.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION/U.S. INTERESTS SECTION LOCATION:
There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Iran.
The Embassy of Switzerland serves as the protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran.
The U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy is currently located at Afrika Avenue, West Farzan Street, no. 59, Tehran.
The telephone numbers for the U.S. Interests Section are (98) 021-8878-2964 and 98-021-8879-2364, fax 98-021-8877-3265, email: tie.vertretung@eda.admin.ch.
The workweek is Sunday through Thursday.
Public service hours are 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon.
The Interests Section does not issue U.S. visas or accept visa applications.
The limited consular services provided to U.S. citizens in Tehran include:
(a) registering U.S. citizens;
(b) answering inquiries concerning the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens in Iran;
(c) rendering assistance in times of distress or physical danger;
(d) providing U.S. citizens with passport and Social Security card applications and other citizenship forms for approval at the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland;
(e) performing notarial services on the basis of accommodation; and,
(f) taking provisional custody of the personal effects of deceased U.S. citizens.
Americans living or traveling in Iran are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Iran.
They may also register on the web site of the U.S. Interests Section at www.eda.admin.ch/tehran.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate before flying to Iran.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the U.S. Interests Section to contact them in case of emergency.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 5, 2007, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, Criminal Penalties and Registration/U.S. Interests Section Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 1 Apr 2020 12:33:43 +0200 (METDST)

Tehran, April 1, 2020 (AFP) - Flooding in Iran caused by heavy rainfall has left 21 people dead and one missing, an emergency services spokesman said Wednesday, even as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.   Mojtaba Khaledi told Iran's ISNA news agency that 22 people had also been injured, with most of the casualties in southern or central provinces.   He said 11 people had died in Fars province, three each in Hormozgan and Qom, two in Sistan and Baluchistan province, and one each in Bushehr and Khuzestan.   Khaledi said one person was still missing in Hormozgan on the Gulf coast.

Flooding last week killed 12 people, and Khaledi warned of more heavy rain to come.   Iran is battling one of the world's deadliest coronavirus outbreaks with 3,036 deaths and 47,593 infections.   In March and April last year, heavy rainfall and flooding killed at least 76 people in Iran.   At the time, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimated 10 million people were affected, describing the floods as "the largest disaster to hit Iran in more than 15 years".
Date: Sun 29 Mar 2020 11:46 AM GST
Source: Reuters [abridged, edited]

Iran's coronavirus death toll has risen to 2640, a health ministry official said on Sunday [29 Mar 2020], as the Middle East's worst-hit country grapples with the fast-spreading outbreak. "In the past 24 hours we had 123 deaths and 2901 people have been infected, bringing the total number of infected people to 38 309," Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to the health minister, said in a tweet. "12,391 people infected from the virus have recovered." Health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV that 3467 of those infected were in "critical condition".  "I am happy to announce that also 12,391 people who had been infected across the country have recovered," Jahanpur said. "The average age of those who have died of the disease is 69."

President Hassan Rouhani urged Iranians to adapt to their new way of life, which was likely to continue for some time. "We must prepare to live with the virus until a treatment is discovered ... The new measures that have been imposed are for everyone's benefit ... Our main priority is the safety and the health of our people," Rouhani said during a televised meeting.

The government has banned inter-city travel after warning of a potential surge in coronavirus cases because many Iranians defied calls to cancel travel plans for the Persian New Year holidays that began on [20 Mar 2020]. The authorities told Iranians to stay at home, while schools, universities, cultural, religious, and sports centres have been temporarily closed.

To stem the spread of the virus in crowded jails, Iran's judiciary on Sunday [29 Mar 2020] extended furloughs for 100,000 prisoners. On [17 Mar 2020], Iran said it had freed about 85,000 people from jail temporarily, including political prisoners. "The 2nd wave of (the) temporary release of prisoners had already started and their (100,000 prisoners) furloughs have been extended until [19 Apr 2020]," judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili was reported as saying by state television. Iran said it had 189,500 people in prison, according to a report submitted by the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran to the Human Rights Council in January [2020].  [byline: Parisa Hafezi]
===================
[In the 24 hours from 28 to 29 Mar 2020, the number of cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Iran grew from 35 408 to, 38 309, an increase of 2901 newly confirmed cases. The number of deaths has also increased from 2517 to 2640 an increase of 123 deaths in the 24-hour period. In terms of total numbers of confirmed cases, Iran ranks 7th globally behind USA, Italy, China, Spain, Germany and France. In early March 2020, Iran and Italy were on the same trajectory with respect to daily growth in cumulative newly confirmed cases, but starting 8 Mar 2020, Italy's daily reported newly confirmed cases accelerated at an alarming speed. By 14 Mar 2020, Italy was reporting almost twice as many cases as Iran on a daily basis.

A map of Iran showing provinces can be seen at
HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/128>. - ProMed Mod.MPP]
Date: Fri 27 Mar 2020
Source: AP News [edited]

Standing over the still body of an intubated 5-year-old boy wearing nothing but a plastic diaper, an Iranian healthcare worker in a hazmat suit and mask begged the public for just one thing: Stop drinking industrial alcohol [methanol, the most common industrial alcohol] over fears about the new coronavirus.

The boy, now blind after his parents gave him toxic methanol in the mistaken belief it protects against the virus, is just one of hundreds of victims of an epidemic inside the pandemic now gripping Iran.

Iranian media report nearly 300 people have been killed and more than 1000 sickened so far by ingesting methanol across the Islamic Republic, where drinking alcohol [ethanol] is banned and where those who do rely on bootleggers. An Iranian doctor helping the country's Health Ministry told the Associated Press on Friday [27 Mar 2020] the problem was even greater, giving a death toll of around 480 with 2850 people sickened. [Apparently all from methanol intoxication. - ProMed Mod.TG]

The poisonings come as fake remedies spread across social media in Iran, where people remain deeply suspicious of the government after it downplayed the crisis for days before it overwhelmed the country.

"Other countries have only one problem, which is the new coronavirus pandemic. But we are fighting on 2 fronts here," said Dr. Hossein Hassanian, an adviser to Iran's Health Ministry, who gave the higher figures to the AP. "We have to both cure the people with alcohol [methanol] poisoning and also fight the coronavirus."

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, clearing up in 2-3 weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

The pandemic has swept across the world, overwhelming hospitals, crippling economies, and forcing governments to restrict the movements of billions of people. Particularly hard hit has been Iran, home to 80 million people.

As of now, there is no known cure for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Scientists and doctors continue to study the virus and search for effective medicines and a vaccine.

But in messages forwarded and forwarded again, Iranian social media accounts in Farsi falsely suggested a British schoolteacher and others cured themselves of the coronavirus with whiskey and honey, based on a tabloid story from early February [2020]. Mixed with messages about the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, some wrongly believed drinking high-proof alcohol would kill the virus in their bodies.

The Islamic Republic has reported over 29 000 confirmed cases [of COVID-19] and more than 2200 deaths from the virus, the highest toll of any country in the Middle East. International experts also fear Iran may be under-reporting its cases, as officials for days played down the virus ahead of a parliamentary election.

That fear of the virus, coupled with poor education and internet rumours, saw dozens sickened by drinking bootleg alcohol containing methanol in Iran's southwestern Khuzestan province and its southern city of Shiraz. Videos aired by Iranian media showed patients with IVs stuck in their arms, lying on beds otherwise needed for the fight against the coronavirus, including the intubated 5-year-old boy. Iranian media also reported cases in the cities of Karaj and Yazd.

In Iran, the government mandates manufacturers of toxic methanol add an artificial color to their products so the public can tell it apart from ethanol, the kind used in cleaning wounds. Ethanol is also the kind of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, though its production is illegal in Iran.

Some bootleggers in Iran use methanol, adding a splash of bleach to mask the added color before selling it as drinkable. Sometimes it is mixed with consumable alcohol to stretch supply, and other times it comes as methanol, falsely advertised as drinkable. Methanol also can contaminate traditionally fermented alcohol.

Methanol cannot be smelled or tasted in drinks. It causes delayed organ and brain damage. Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation, blindness, and even coma.

Hassanian said his figures included reports from coroner's offices around Iran also counting those who died outside of hospitals from the poisonings.

"Unfortunately, in some provinces, including Khuzestan and Fars, deaths from drinking methanol has exceeded the number of deaths from the new coronavirus," he said.

Dr. Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologist in Oslo, said to expect more methanol poisoning victims.

"The virus is spreading, and people are just dying off, and I think they are even less aware of the fact there are other dangers around," Hovda said. "When they keep drinking this [methanol], there's going to be more people poisoned."

Even before the outbreak, methanol poisoning had taken a toll in Iran. One academic study found methanol poisoning sickened 768 people in Iran between September and October 2018 alone, killing 76.

Other Muslim nations banning their citizens from drinking also see such methanol poisoning, although Iran appears to be the only one in the pandemic so far to turn toward it as a fake cure. In Buddhist Cambodia, police said they seized 4200 liters (1100 gallons) of methanol from a man who unwittingly planned to make toxic hand sanitizer because of the virus outbreak.

Muslim drinkers in Iran can be punished with cash fines and 80 lashes. However, minority Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians can drink alcoholic beverages in private.

While police occasionally announce alcohol busts, the trade in nontoxic alcohol also continues. Locally made Iranian arak from fermented raisins, known as Aragh sagi, sells for USD 10 for a 1.5 l [1.6 qt] bottle. Imported vodka sells for USD 40 a bottle.

"Every year during Nowruz, or the Persian New Year holidays beginning 21 Mar 2020, my customers double," said Rafik, an Iranian-Armenian who makes vodka in the basement of his Tehran home. He spoke on the condition only his 1st name be used for fear of arrest. "This year [2020], because of coronavirus, it jumped up by 4- or 5-fold."

Farhad, a self-described heavy drinker who lives in central Tehran, said alcohol remains easy to find for those looking for it. "Even you can find it offered when you are walking down the street, " he said.

Since 1979, Iran's 40 alcohol factories have seen their production changed to pharmaceutical needs and sanitizers. Others had been left idle, like the abandoned Shams alcohol factory east of Tehran.

But now, in a time when even some mosques in Iran hand out high-proof alcohol as a sanitizer, officials plan to start work again at Shams to produce 22 000 l [23 247 qt] of 99% alcohol a day. [This alcohol is not for internal consumption but can be used in hand sanitizers. - ProMed Mod.TG]  [Byline: Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell]
====================
[Methanol toxicity initially lacks severe toxic manifestations. Its pathophysiology represents a classic example of lethal synthesis in which toxic metabolites cause fatality after a characteristic latent period. In other words, these people may not realize they are sick or ill until sometime after consumption.

Methanol is sometimes used as an ethanol substitute for alcohol. Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fruit juices, fermented beverages, and diet soft drinks containing aspartame are the primary sources of methanol in the human body, but [they contain] minute quantities.

Wood alcohol is also known as methanol. It is a commonly used toxic organic solvent causing metabolic acidosis, neurologic issues, and death when ingested. It is a part of many commercial industrial solvents and of adulterated alcoholic beverages or is mistaken as being the same as alcohol for ingestion. Methanol toxicity remains a common problem in many parts of the developing world, especially among members of lower socioeconomic classes.

Neurological complications are recognized more frequently due to advanced technologies and because of early recognition of the toxicity and advances in supportive care. Hemodialysis and better management of acid-base disturbances remain the most important therapeutic improvements.

Serum methanol levels of greater than 20 mg/dL correlate with ocular injury. Funduscopic changes are notable within only a few hours after methanol ingestion. The mechanism by which the methanol causes toxicity to the visual system is not well understood. Formic acid, the toxic metabolite of methanol, is regarded as being responsible for ocular toxicity, and blindness can occur in humans.

The prognosis in methanol poisoning correlates with the amount of methanol consumed and the subsequent degree of metabolic acidosis; more severe acidosis confers a poorer prognosis. Methanol has a relatively low toxicity. The adverse effects are thought to be from the accumulation of formic acid, a metabolite of methanol metabolism. The prognosis is further dependent on the amount of formic acid that has accumulated in the blood, with a direct correlation existing between the formic acid concentration and morbidity and mortality. Little long-term improvement can be expected in patients with neurologic complications.

The minimal lethal dose of methanol in adults is believed to be 1 mg/kg of body weight. The exact rates of morbidity and mortality from methanol intoxication are not available.

Rapid, early treatment is necessary for survival, but sequelae such as blindness may be permanent.

Metabolic acidosis in methanol poisoning may necessitate the administration of bicarbonate and assisted ventilation. Bicarbonate potentially may reverse visual deficits. In addition, bicarbonate may help to decrease the amount of active formic acid.

Antidote therapy, often using ethanol or fomepizole, is directed towards delaying methanol metabolism until the methanol is eliminated from the patient's system either naturally or via dialysis. Like methanol, ethanol is metabolized by ADH [alcohol dehydrogenase], but the enzyme's affinity for ethanol is 10-20 times higher than it is for methanol. Fomepizole is also metabolized by ADH; however, its use is limited because of high cost and lack of availability.

Hemodialysis can easily remove methanol and formic acid. Indications for this procedure include (1) greater than 30 mL [1 oz] of methanol ingested, (2) serum methanol level greater than 20 mg/dL, (3) observation of visual complications, and (4) no improvement in acidosis despite repeated sodium bicarbonate infusions.

Intravenous administration of ethanol in a 10% dextrose solution may be helpful. As ethanol prolongs the elimination half-life of methanol, the treatment may take several days, and the patient should be hospitalized. Dialysis may be necessary to prevent kidney failure as well. Hemodialysis remains an effective treatment.

Portions of this comment were extracted from

This tragic development is another example of the broader deleterious impact of a pandemic on other aspects of public health.  Anecdotal reports of other potentially harmful "home remedies" for COVID-19 being hawked on the internet reminds us that education of the general public and responsible messaging are more important now than ever. - ProMed Mod.LXL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Sat, 14 Mar 2020 11:58:18 +0100 (MET)

Tehran, March 14, 2020 (AFP) - Iran said on Saturday that the novel coronavirus has claimed 97 more lives, raising the country's total to 611, as the number of confirmed cases jumped again.   Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said that "1,365 fresh cases have been added to the number of confirmed infections in the past 24 hours", bringing the total to 12,729.   Jahanpour told a televised news conference that more than 4,300 of those with confirmed infections had recovered so far.

Tehran province had the highest number of new cases with 347, followed by Isfahan with 155 and the northern region of Alborz with 134.   "Naturally, the number of confirmed cases will increase" even more as Iran steps up its laboratory sampling and tests, he said.   The outbreak in Iran is one of the deadliest outside of China, where the disease originated.
Date: Tue 3 Mar 2020 12:24 AM MYT
Source: The Star, Associated Press (AP) report [edited]

Iran put its armed forces on alert on Tuesday [3 Mar 2020] to assist health officials in battling the new coronavirus [SARS-CoV-2] that has killed at least 77 people, an outbreak that has sickened top officials and pushed even its supreme leader into wearing disposable gloves while trying to reassure the nation. Even as government officials sit metres away from each other at meetings now in an effort to stop its spread, the virus is ravaging both its civilian leadership and its Shiite theocracy. A top emergency official and at least 23 members of parliament reportedly contracted the virus and now suffer from the COVID-19 illness it causes. Others have died.

There are now over 2540 cases of the new virus across the Middle East, with 2336 in Iran alone. Of those outside Iran in the region, most link back to the Islamic Republic. Experts worry Iran's percentage of deaths to infections, now around 3.3%, is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be far greater than current figures show.

Meanwhile, a gloved Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sought to minimise the virus while praising the doctors and nurses combating the outbreak. He urged the nation to pray. "This disaster, in our opinion, is not such a big disaster, there have been and there are bigger disasters than this," Khamenei said. "Of course I don't want to downplay the issue, but let's not exaggerate it much either. Something has happened, it will exist in the country for a time, which hopefully will be short, and then it will go away."

The death of Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi on Monday [2 Mar 2020] makes him the highest-ranking official within Iran's leadership to be killed by the virus. State media referred to him as a confidant of Khamenei. The virus earlier killed Hadi Khosroshahi, Iran's former ambassador to the Vatican, as well as a recently elected member of parliament. Ahmad Tuyserkani, an adviser to Iran's judiciary chief, died on Monday night [2 Mar 2020] from the virus, semi-official media reported. Those sick include vice president Masoumeh Ebtekar, better known as "Sister Mary", the English-speaking spokeswoman for the students who seized the US Embassy in Teheran in 1979 and sparked the 444-day hostage crisis, state media reported. Also sick is Iraj Harirchi, the head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus who tried to downplay the virus before falling ill.

On Tuesday [3 Mar 2020], lawmaker Abdolreza Mesri told Iranian state television's Young Journalists Club programme that 23 members of parliament had the coronavirus. He urged all lawmakers to avoid the public. "These people have a close relationship with the people and they carry different viruses from different parts of the country, which may create a new virus, so we recommend the lawmakers to cut off their relationship with the public for now," Mesri said.

Members of Iran's Supreme Council of Economic Coordination, including president Hassan Rouhani, met on Tuesday [3 Mar 2020] and sat metres apart from each other. State media did not comment on the move, nor the fact the meeting appeared attended by fewer officials than normal. Iran's state-run IRNA news agency also reported that Pirhossein Koulivand, head of the country's emergency services, had come down with the new virus. It said he was undergoing treatment.

Khamenei ordered Iran's armed forces to be ready to help health workers, but it wasn't immediately clear what the order entailed. Officials previously said they had plans for 300,000 soldiers and members of the Basij, the all-volunteer force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, to sanitize public areas, direct traffic and trace contacts that sick people had with others. The Guard also has been spraying down streets in major Iranian cities. "Whatever helps public health and prevents the spread of the disease is good and what helps to spread it is sin," Khamenei said at an annual tree-planting ceremony. He had never worn gloves at the ceremony in recent years.

However, life has slowed in Iran's capital, Tehran, where a perfume seller simply stood at her stand at an upscale mall with no one to offer samples. "People are afraid to touch anything or take anything from us," she said. "Everyone is at a loss."

Meanwhile on Tuesday [3 Mar 2020], the Middle East's largest airline, Emirates, said it had to reduce or ground flights due to the new virus. Because of the slowdown, the government-owned carrier has asked its employees to take paid and even unpaid leave for up to a month at a time. Emirates operates out of Dubai, the world's busiest for international travel. "We have been tested before and Emirates will come out stronger," chief operating officer Adel Al-Redha said.

The world's largest airline trade association, IATA, says Middle East carriers have already lost around USD 100 million in revenue due to a drop in ticket sales because of disruptions caused by the virus.
=======================
[In the past 24 hours, the number of cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Iran has grown from 1501 to 2336, an increase of 835 newly confirmed cases. The number of deaths has also increased from 66 to 77, an increase of 11 new deaths. The number of MPs (members of parliament) in the country who have been infected is curious, 23 out of 290 parliament members (7.9%).

Qom, the apparent epicenter of this outbreak, is located to the south west of Tehran in central Iran. Other media reports have mentioned that Tehran has become a major focus of cases.

A map of Iran showing provinces can be seen at
<https://www.mapsofworld.com/iran/iran-political-map.html> and a HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Iran is available at
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 13:16:35 +0200 (METDST)

Madrid, Spain, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Spain's daily coronavirus death toll shot up to 743 on Tuesday after falling for four straight days, lifting the total to 13,798, the health ministry said.   However, it emphasised that the rise was due to weekend deaths being tallied and that the overall "downward trend" is continuing.   The new figure represents a 5.7 percent increase over the 637 deaths recorded on Monday, the lowest number of fatalities since March 24 in the world's second hardest-hit country after Italy in terms of deaths.

The number of new infections also grew at a faster pace, rising 4.1 percent to 140,510, the health ministry said. The number of new cases had risen by 3.3 percent on Monday.   The "slight" rise was due largely to the fact that many deaths and new infections which occur over the weekend are only now being tallied, said Maria Jose Sierra of the health ministry's emergencies coordination unit.   "In reality the downward trend is what we continue to observe in the reports we have received in recent days," she told a daily news conference to discuss the figures.   The number of people in hospital intensive care units continues to fall, she added.   Spain had seen the number of new infections and death drop each day since it recorded a record 950 fatalities on Thursday.   But the percentage increase in the number of new deaths is far lower than the 32.63 percent leap recorded as recently as March 21.

Mari Angels Rodriguez, a nurse at the Hospital Josep Trueta hospital in Girona in northeastern Spain, said the volume of work in the intensive care unit had fallen "a lot".   "The collapse in the first few days was brutal, everyone was coming to emergency services, all the usual causes as well as all the possible cases of COVID-19," she told AFP.   "What wears me out the most is seeing young and middle aged people, without chronic conditions, who arrive in moderate shape and quickly end up in the intensive care unit (ICU)."   "The other day a 17-year-old girl was admitted to hospital and the next day she was in the ICU. It is full of young people. Psychologically you are not ready for this," she added.   "It hits you the speed with which a patient gets seriously ill. When they start to get bad, it is like they are drowning, in half an hour they are intubated or are dead."
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 12:57:35 +0200 (METDST)

Seoul, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Two elderly South Korean coronavirus patients recovered from severe pneumonia after being treated with plasma from survivors, researchers said Tuesday, offering hope in the face of the global pandemic.   Scientists have pointed to the potential benefits of plasma -- a blood fluid -- from recovered individuals who have developed antibodies to the virus enabling the body's defences to attack it.   Since emerging in China in December, the coronavirus has killed almost 75,000 people as drugmakers worldwide race to develop a vaccine and treatments for the disease.

Plasma therapy could become "an alternative treatment for patients in critical condition who do not respond to antiviral drugs," said Choi Jun-yong, a doctor and researcher at Severance Hospital in Seoul, where both patients were treated.   But large-scale clinical trials were needed to prove its effectiveness, he added.   One of the two patients was a 71-year-old man with no underlying conditions who only improved when treated with plasma from a recovered patient in his 20s, along with steroids.   He was initially given malaria drugs and a respirator for severe pneumonia.   The other patient, a 67-year-old female, also did not respond to initial treatments including malaria, HIV drugs, and oxygen therapy. She began to recover after receiving plasma therapy and steroids at the same time, researchers said.

Their findings were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Korean Medicine.   Kwon Jun-wook, an official at Seoul's Central Disease Control Headquarters, said plasma therapy was "important" when there was "currently no vaccine or treatment available" for the virus.    He called on experts to examine the two cases urgently.   Research on plasma and other therapies "will proceed quickly", Kwon added.   Small studies on plasma have demonstrated its effectiveness in treating infectious diseases, including Ebola and SARS.

Trials started in France on Tuesday involving 60 patients in Paris hospitals, half of whom will receive plasma from recovered patients.   The US Food and Drug Administration authorised physicians to experiment with the strategy to fight the coronavirus, and tests are also being carried out in China.   South Korea endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the virus, but appears to have brought it under control thanks to its extensive "trace, test and treat" programme.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 12:55:32 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Hundreds of Greek healthcare workers demonstrated on Tuesday to protest at working conditions and lack of manpower and equipment in public hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.   The demonstrations were staged to coincide with World Health Day, according to the federation of hospital personnel.   "You only saw us when we covered our faces," proclaimed a poster printed by hospital trade unions, bearing a picture of doctors wearing anti-coronavirus masks.    Demonstrators at the large Evangelismos hospital in central Athens held up signs demanding job hiring, virus testing and hospital equipment.

Police tried to enter the hospital courtyard where the rally was taking place before being forced back by demonstrators, an AFP photographer said.   A similar protest was held at the main hospital in Larissa in central Greece, according to images from public television ERT.    Despina Tossonidou, president of the doctors' union at Voula hospital in southern Athens, said that in addition to the hiring of medical staff, intensive care units in private clinics should be requisitioned "to overcome the shortcomings of the public sector" during the virus crisis.   Health care in Greece was drastically affected by the country's 2010-2018 financial crisis and tough austerity required by creditors in exchange for bailouts.

As part of its measures to deal with the pandemic, the government has offered clinics 30 million euros ($32.6 million) and announced the hiring on short-term contracts of 2,000 doctors and 2,000 nursing staff.    "These measures are just a drop in the ocean," said Tossonidou, a radiologist.    "The hospital system needs 30,000 additional permanent doctors," she said, also citing the lack of protective equipment and COVID-19 testing in hospitals.    "The majority of tests are currently carried out in private hospitals at costs ranging from 150 to 300 euros ($163-326)," said Tossonidou.    Greece, a country of around 10.7 million people, has suffered relatively less than other European nations in the pandemic, recording 81 deaths out of 1,755 cases.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 11:28:32 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Japan on Tuesday declared a state of emergency over a spike in coronavirus cases, ramping up efforts to contain infections but stopping short of the strict lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.  The government has come under mounting pressure to tackle an outbreak that remains small by global standards but has raised concerns among Japanese medical experts, with warnings that local healthcare systems are already overstretched.   "As I decided that a situation feared to gravely affect people's lives and the economy has occurred... I am declaring a state of emergency," Abe said.   The move allows governors in seven affected regions including Tokyo to ask people to stay indoors and request businesses close.

But many supermarkets and other shops will stay open, transport will continue to run and there are neither enforcement mechanisms nor penalties laid out for those who fail to comply with government requests.   "Although a state of emergency is declared, it won't mean a city lockdown as seen overseas," Abe said.   "We will prevent the spread of infection while maintaining economic and social services such as public transport as much as possible."   Pressure to declare an emergency had increased after Tokyo reported several days of record infections, with 143 new cases logged on Sunday.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has already asked residents of the capital to avoid unnecessary outings and work from home, but had pushed for an emergency declaration to give her requests legal strength.   Seven regions are covered by the month-long declaration: Tokyo, neighbouring Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, the western hub of Osaka and neighbouring Hyogo, and the southwestern region of Fukuoka.   The measure will last through to the end of the Golden Week holiday period, when much of the country travels in a rare break.

- 'Lives at stake' -
"It may cause inconvenience in daily life, but I call for everyone's cooperation because lives are at stake," Koike told reporters earlier.   The measure also allows governors to commandeer property for medical purposes and close public facilities like schools, many of which have already shut down.   The economic impacts of the measure and the broader global pandemic have raised concern of a recession in Japan, and Abe on Monday unveiled plans for a stimulus package worth around $1 trillion, or 20 percent of gross domestic product.

Japan has so far been spared the sort of virus outbreak seen in parts of Europe and the United States, with close to 4,000 confirmed infections and 80 deaths.   But medical experts have repeatedly sounded the alarm in recent weeks, citing the rapid increase of infections in parts of the country.    And on Monday, doctors in Tokyo said the situation in the capital was already in "critical condition".

- Public backing -
In a bid to ease the pressure, rules requiring people infected with the virus to stay in hospital even if their symptoms are mild have been relaxed, with Koike saying hotels would be designated as quarantine facilities for those in non-serious condition.   The government has also pledged to step up testing capacity and the number of beds and ventilators available to treat those in serious condition.

The state of emergency is a relatively relaxed approach to lockdown compared to other parts of the world, a function of Japan's legal system, which restricts the government's ability to limit the movement of citizens.   "Japan is still haunted by the negative legacy of the war and the oppression of its citizens," said Yoshinobu Yamamoto, an emeritus professor of international politics at the University of Tokyo.   But he warned that there could be calls for stronger measures if the outbreak continues to spread.

Japan saw its first case of the virus in mid-January, and came under heavy criticism for its handling of the coronavirus-wracked Diamond Princess, where an on-board quarantine ended with over 700 people contracting the virus and 11 deaths.   In the capital, people expressed support for the state of emergency, with some saying they felt it should have been declared sooner.   "When you see on TV what's going on in New York with the cases doubling within three, four days, it really sends chills down my spine," 76-year-old Mitsuo Oshiyama told AFP.   "I don't understand why the government waited so long."
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 10:17:01 +0200 (METDST)

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

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

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

On Tuesday, Finland also announced that passenger ferries linking Finland with Germany, Estonia and Sweden would also stop selling tickets from Friday, as all existing restrictions on movement were extended for a further month until May 13.   Ohisalo told the press conference that the measures so far had succeeded in slowing the spread of the virus in Finland and that the government would begin "an exit conversation" in the coming days about when to roll back the restrictions.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 07:07:55 +0200 (METDST)
By Philippe Carillo

Port Vila, Vanuatu, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - A deadly cyclone destroyed much of Vanuatu's second-largest town but early warnings appeared to have prevented mass casualties in the Pacific nation, with some residents sheltered in caves to stay safe, aid workers said Tuesday.   Tropical Cyclone Harold, which claimed 27 lives when it swept through the Solomon Islands last week, lashed Vanuatu's northern provinces overnight as a scale-topping category five superstorm.   The town of Luganville, population 16,500, took a direct hit as winds of 235 kilometres per hour (145 miles per hour) brought down buildings and caused flash flooding.

World Vision's Vanuatu director Kendra Gates Derousseau said the charity's local manager told her the damage was comparable to the last category five monster to hit the country, Cyclone Pam in 2015.   "I managed to speak to her on a satellite phone and she estimated about 50 percent of dwellings have been significantly damaged, the World Vision office has lost its roof," she told AFP.   "She mentioned that she has heard no reports of casualties or any significant injuries at this time," the Port Vila-based aid worker added.

Communications remain down across much of the country and Gates Derousseau said the scale of the disaster would remain unclear until remote island communities, such as southern Pentecost, had been contacted.   "They were directly in the eye (of the cyclone) and they have very few concrete buildings, they shelter in traditional thatch dwellings or caves," she said.   Red Cross Vanuatu secretary general Jacqueline de Gaillande said the communications issues meant that the most recent updates she received were social media posts from the charity's local staffers on Monday evening.   "They showed a lot of damage but we have no numbers of casualties yet," she told AFP.

- COVID-19 complications -
A massive international aid effort was launched after Cyclone Pam in 2015 flattened Port Vila, killed 11 people and wiped out almost two-thirds of the country's economic capacity.   Gates Derousseau said a similar operation was unlikely in Harold's wake because Vanuatu was determined to remain one of the world's few places with no confirmed COVID-19 cases.   She said allowing an influx of international aid workers risked inadvertently importing the virus, so Vanuatu's international borders would remain closed to new arrivals.

"It (the aid effort) has to be locally led, locally driven, working with humanitarian partners who are currently in-country.   "There are already large stockpiles of supplies in place, which is a lesson we learned from Pam, so we can get to work fairly quickly."   She said replacement supplies could be brought in from overseas once the stockpiles ran out, but they would be disinfected to ensure they were virus-free.   Vanuatu lacks the health infrastructure to deal with even a mild coronavirus outbreak, with local media reporting last month that the nation of 300,000 has only two respiratory ventilators.

Cyclone Harold has already caused widespread damage in the Solomon Islands, where an inter-island ferry ignored weather warnings and 27 people died after being washed off its decks.   Modelling early Tuesday showed it continuing to track southeast, passing south of Fiji as a category four Wednesday and weakening to category two as it brushes Tonga a day later.   However, the storm system has already proved unpredictable, with forecasters initially expecting it to only reach category three before petering out.   Fiji on Tuesday pre-emptively issued cyclone alerts for its southern islands, warning of high seas and damaging gale-force winds.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 04:07:12 +0200 (METDST)

Copenhagen, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Denmark is to gradually lift restrictions put in place to fight the new coronavirus, starting with the reopening of day-care nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools from April 15.   Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that according to health authorities "it is appropriate and justified to start a slow opening. But on condition that everyone keeps their distance and washes their hands."

The reopening of schools will take place gradually, with kindergartens and primary schools opening from April 15 and middle and high schools waiting until May 10, she told a press conference on Monday.   Bars, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping centres, hairdressers and massage parlours will remain closed, and gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited.   "Daily life is not going to return as before for the moment. We will live with many restrictions for many more months," the prime minister warned.   Border closures remain in place and travel abroad is not recommended.

Large gatherings are prohibited until August.   Frederiksen called on Danes to keep observing health rules and social distancing.   "A little slip in our individual behaviour can have a big impact on our well-being as a society," she said.    Denmark closed its borders to foreigners on March 14, the same day it recorded its first coronavirus fatality, and days later closed bars and restaurants and most shops.

The Nordic nation has recorded 4,875 infections and 187 deaths related to COVID-19.    It is the second European country after Austria to unveil its plans for a gradual easing of restrictions.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 00:04:15 +0200 (METDST)

Rabat, April 6, 2020 (AFP) - Wearing face masks in public will be obligatory in Morocco from Tuesday in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus, according to an official decree.   The decision was announced late Monday after a government meeting on how to control the epidemic.   Morocco imposed a public health state of emergency on March 19, confining everyone to their homes except those with a permit to be out and about for their work.

Police, security agents and soldiers in armoured cars have been deployed around the country, erecting road barriers and control points.   The official number of COVID-19 cases in Morocco has doubled in a week to 1,120, including 80 fatalities.   The real numbers are likely to be significantly higher as there is a lack of testing gear in the country.
Date: Mon, 6 Apr 2020 22:58:13 +0200 (METDST)

Sao Paulo, April 6, 2020 (AFP) - The epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Latin America, Brazil's Sao Paulo state, said Monday it expects 111,000 deaths in the next six months, and extended its stay-at-home measures another two weeks.   The forecast -- an official projection, the state government said -- would appear to put Brazil on track to become one of the worst-hit countries in the world.   The global death toll from the virus currently stands at 70,000, according to a tally compiled by AFP.

Sao Paulo, the teeming industrial hub where the new coronavirus first appeared in Latin America, has confirmed 4,620 cases and 275 deaths so far.   Governor Joao Doria, who closed non-essential businesses on March 24 and advised people to stay home, said containment measures would be needed for at least two more weeks or the situation would get far worse.   "If we continue seeing people in the streets and gathering unnecessarily, we will go to more restrictive measures," he told a news conference.   Police are already authorized to break up crowds by force if necessary, he said.

Without containment measures, Sao Paulo -- whose capital is the mega-city of the same name -- would register 270,000 deaths in the next six months, said the head of the state's public health research institute, Dimas Covas.   Brazil has been the Latin American country hit hardest by the new coronavirus, with 553 deaths and more than 12,000 confirmed cases so far.   Health experts warn under-testing means the real number is likely much higher.

Sao Paulo, a state whose population of 46 million makes it about the size as Spain, has seen more infections and deaths than any other.   The state is probably facing another 1,300 deaths this week, Covas said.   The governor has openly clashed over containment measures with far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who claims they are needlessly wrecking the economy over a disease he has compared to a "little flu."
Date: Mon, 6 Apr 2020 22:54:10 +0200 (METDST)

Jerusalem, April 6, 2020 (AFP) - Israel will ban inter-city travel from Tuesday to Friday this week in order to forestall the spread of coronavirus during the Passover holidays, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.    "There will be a lockdown between Tuesday from 4:00 pm (1300 GMT) until Friday at 7:00 am -- you must stay in your cities and villages," he said late Monday on television.

He also said that on Wednesday evening, when the traditional Seder meal for Passover is to be held, only people living under the same roof will be permitted to interact.     "Every family must stay at home and nobody can leave their homes between 6:00 pm on Wednesday and 7:00 am on Thursday," the prime minister added.     "The coming days will be decisive for the state of Israel," he said.    Coronavirus has so far killed 57 people in the Jewish state and infected more than 8,900, according to official figures.    Cases in Israel are concentrated heavily in the ultra-Orthodox community where health restrictions have been slow to take root, with some refusing to accept the limitations.

Netanyahu on Friday gave the green light for soldiers to be deployed in the mostly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, which is considered the centre of Israel's novel coronavirus outbreak.   In his address on Monday, the premier pointed to "positive signs of progress" in the fight against coronavirus.   "We can envisage starting to come out of quarantine progressively after Passover, but it will depend on you," he told citizens.   Israelis are currently restricted from venturing out more than 100 metres (330 feet) from their homes, except to go to the supermarket, pharmacy or hospital.