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Faroe Islands

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

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

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

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

Public demonstrations occasionally occur in Copenhagen and other Danish cities and are generally peaceful events. Prior police approval is required for public demonstrations, and police oversight is routinely provided to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Nonetheless, as with any large crowd comprised of diverse groups, situations may develop which could pose a threat to public safety. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid areas where public demonstrations are taking place.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's web site , where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement , Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States, or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad .
CRIME: Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroes all have very low violent crime rates, however, non-violent crimes of opportunity have slightly increased over the last few years, especially in Copenhagen and other major Danish cities, where tourists can become targets for pickpockets and sophisticated thieves. Criminals frequent airports, train stations, and cruise ship quays to take advantage of weary, luggage-burdened travelers. Thieves also operate at popular tourist attractions, shopping streets, and restaurants. In hotel lobbies and breakfast areas, thieves take advantage of even a brief lapse in attention to snatch jackets, purses, and backpacks. Women's purses placed either on the backs of chairs or on the floor are typical targets for thieves. Car and home break-ins are also on the rise.

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

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

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

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's website at . For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int.en. Further health information for travelers is available at .

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas .

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Denmark is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at . See also additional information on driving in Denmark at .

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

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

For information concerning the importation of pets into Denmark, please visit the following website:
.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protection available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Denmark's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Denmark are severe and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties .

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

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Denmark are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website , and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Denmark. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Dag Hammarskjolds Alle 24; 2100 Copenhagen, telephone: (45) 33-41-71-00; Embassy fax: (45) 35-43-02-23; Consular Section fax: (45) 35-38-96-16; After-hours emergency telephone: (45) 35-55-92-70. Information is also available via the U.S. Embassy's website at http://www.usembassy.dk. The United States has no consular presence in Greenland or the Faroe Islands.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated February 10, 2006, to update the section on Entry Requirements and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antartica

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Consular Information Sheet Italy, Holy See (Vatican City) and San Marino - January 21, 2009 COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Italy is a developed democracy with a modern economy.
The Holy See is a sovereign entity that serves as the ecclesiastical, gove
nmental and administrative capital of the Roman Catholic Church, physically located within the State of the Vatican City inside Rome, with a unique, non-traditional economy.
San Marino is a developed, constitutional democratic republic, also independent of Italy, with a modern economy.
Tourist facilities are widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Italy, the Holy See, and San Marino for additional information. ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Italy is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Italy for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet.
For all other purposes, a visa is required and must be obtained from the Italian Embassy or Consulates before entering Italy.
For further information concerning visas and entry requirements for Italy, travelers may contact the Embassy of Italy at 3000 Whitehaven Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, via telephone at (202) 612-4400 or online at http://www.ambwashingtondc.esteri.it/ambasciata_washington, or Italian Consulates General in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, or San Francisco, accessible through the Italian Embassy web site. Americans staying or traveling within Italy for less than three (3) months are considered non-residents. This includes persons on vacation, those taking professional trips, students registered at an authorized school, or persons performing research or independent study. As of May 2007, under Italian law (http://www.camera.it/parlam/leggi/07068l.htm), all non-residents are required to complete a dichiarazione di presenza (declaration of presence). Tourists arriving from a non-Schengen-country (e.g. the United States) should obtain a stamp in their passport at the airport on the day of arrival. This stamp is considered the equivalent of the declaration of presence. Tourists arriving from a Schengen-country (e.g. France) must request the declaration of presence form from a local police office (commissariato di zona), police headquarters (questura) or their place of stay (e.g hotel, hostel, campgrounds) and submit the form to the police or to their place of stay within eight business days of arrival. It is important that applicants keep a copy of the receipt issued by the Italian authorities. Failure to complete a declaration of presence is punishable by expulsion from Italy. Additional information may be obtained (in Italian only) from the Portale Immigrazione at http://www.portaleimmigrazione.it and the Polizia di Stato at http://www.poliziadistato.it/pds/ps/immigrazione/soggiorno.htm. Americans staying in Italy for more than three (3) months are considered residents and must obtain a permesso di soggiorno (permit of stay). This includes Americans who will work or transact business and persons who want to simply live in Italy.
An application “kit” for the permesso di soggiorno may be requested from one of 14,000 national post offices (Poste Italiane). The kit must then be returned to one of 5,332 designated Post Office acceptance locations.
It is important that applicants keep a copy of the receipt issued by the post office.
Additional information may be obtained from an Italian immigration website online at http://www.portaleimmigrazione.it/.
Within 20 days of receiving the permit to stay in Italy, Americans must go to the local Vital Statistics Bureau (Anagrafe of the Comune) to apply for residency. It generally takes one to two months to receive the certificate of residence (Certificato di Residenza). Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet. SAFETY AND SECURITY:
There have been occasional episodes of politically motivated violence in Italy, most often connected to Italian internal developments or social issues.
Italian authorities have found bombs outside public buildings, received bomb threats, and were subjects of letter bombs.
Firebombs or Molotov cocktails have been thrown at buildings or offices in the middle of the night.
These incidents have all been attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements.
Americans were not targeted or injured in these instances.
Demonstrations may have an anti-American character.
Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful have the potential to turn into confrontational situations and possibly escalate into violence.
U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Italy should take common sense precautions and follow news reports carefully in order to avoid demonstrations and to be aware of heightened security and potential delays when they occur.
American citizens are encouraged to read the Warden Messages posted on the Embassy’s web site at http://italy.usembassy.gov/acs/demonstration/default.asp. Italy remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Italy’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad. CRIME:
Italy has a moderate rate of violent crime, some of which is directed towards tourists, principally for motives of theft.
Some travelers are victims of rape and beatings.
There are incidents of drinks laced with drugs being used by criminals to rob, and in some cases, assault tourists.
Many of these incidents occur in the vicinity of Rome’s Termini train station and at major tourist centers such as Campo de Fiori and Piazza Navona, as well as in Florence and Naples.
Criminals using this tactic “befriend” a traveler at a train station, bus stop, restaurant, café or bar in tourist areas, then eventually offer a drink laced with a sleeping drug.
When the tourist falls asleep, criminals steal the traveler’s valuables.
There are also instances where the victim is assaulted, either physically or sexually. Americans are urged to exercise caution at train stations and airports, and when frequenting nightclubs, bars and outdoor cafes, particularly at night, because criminals may make initial contact with potential victims in such settings.
Individuals under the effect of alcohol may become victims of crime, including robbery, physical and sexual assault, due to their impaired ability to judge situations and make decisions.
This is particularly a problem for younger Americans visiting Italy, where the age limit on the sale of alcoholic beverages is lower than in the United States.
If you are a victim of such a crime, please file a police report and contact the U.S. Embassy or nearest consulate.
There are also in-country organizations, which provide counseling, medical, and legal assistance to certain crime victims. Petty crimes such as pick-pocketing, theft from parked cars, and purse snatching are serious problems, especially in large cities.
Pick-pockets sometimes dress like businessmen.
Tourists should not be lulled into a false sense of security by believing that well-dressed individuals are not potential pick-pockets or thieves.
Most reported thefts occur at crowded tourist sites, on public buses or trains, or at the major railway stations: Rome’s Termini; Milan’s Centrale; Florence’s Santa Maria Novella; and Naples’ Centrale and Piazza Garibaldi.
Travelers should also be alert to theft in Milan’s Malpensa Airport, particularly at car rental agencies.
Clients of Internet cafes in major cities are also targeted.
Tourists who have tried to resist petty thieves on motor scooters have suffered broken arms and collarbones. Thieves in Italy often work in groups or pairs.
Pairs of accomplices or groups of street urchins are known to divert tourists’ attention so that another can pick-pocket them.
In one particular routine, one thief throws trash, waste or ketchup at the victim; a second thief assists the victim in cleaning up the mess; and the third discreetly takes the victim’s belongings.
Criminals on crowded public transportation slit the bottoms of purses or bags with a razor blade or sharp knife removing the contents.
Theft of small items such as radios, luggage, cameras, briefcases, and even cigarettes from parked cars is a major problem. Carjackings and thefts are reported by occupants of vehicles waiting in traffic or stopped at traffic lights.
Vehicles parked near beaches during the summer are broken into and robbed of valuables.
Robbers take items from cars at gas stations often by smashing car windows. In a scam practiced on the highways, one thief signals a flat tire to the driver of another car and encourages the driver to pull over.
Often, the tire has been punctured by an accomplice, while in other instances, there may, in fact, be nothing wrong with the vehicle.
When the driver stops, one thief helps change the tire, while the other takes the driver’s belongings.
Use particular caution driving at night on highways, when there may be a greater incidence of robbery attempts.
There are occasional reports of break-ins of rental cars driven by Americans when the precautions mentioned above were not followed during stops at highway service areas. On trains, a commonly reported crime involves one or more persons who pretend to befriend a traveler and offer drugged food or drink.
Also, thieves are known to impersonate police officers to gain the confidence of tourists.
The thief shows the prospective victim a circular plastic sign with the words “police” or “international police.”
If this happens, the tourist should insist on seeing the officer’s identification card (documento), as impersonators tend not to carry forged documents.
Tourists should immediately report thefts or other crimes to the local police. The U.S. Secret Service in Rome is assisting Italian Law Enforcement authorities in investigating an increase in the appearance of ATM skimming devices.
These devices are attached to legitimate bank ATMs, usually located in tourist areas, and capture the account information stored electronically on the card’s magnetic strip.
The devices consist of a card reader installed over the legitimate reader and a pin-hole video camera mounted above the keypad that records the customer’s PIN.
ATMs with skimming devices installed may also allow normal transactions to occur.
The victim’s information is sold, traded on-line, or encoded on another card such as a hotel key card to access the compromised account.
Here are some helpful hints to protect yourself and to identify skimming devices: 1) Use ATMs located in well-lit public areas, or secured inside the bank/business 2) Cover the keypad with one hand as you enter your PIN 3) Look for gaps, tampered appearance, or other irregularities between the metal faceplate of the ATM and the card reader 4) Avoid card readers that are not flush with the face of the ATM 5) Closely monitor your account statements for unauthorized transactions Organized criminal groups operate throughout Italy, but are more prevalent in the south.
They occasionally resort to violence to intimidate or to settle disputes.
Though the activities of such groups are not generally targeted at tourists, visitors should be aware that innocent by-standers could be injured. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm. According to Italian Law (Law 80 of May 14, 2005), anyone caught buying counterfeit goods (for example, DVD’s, CD’s, watches, purses, bags, belts, sunglasses, etc.) is subject to a fine of no less than EUR 1,000.
Police in major Italian cities enforce this law to varying degrees.
Travelers are advised to purchase products only from stores and other licensed retailers to avoid unknowingly buying counterfeit and illegal merchandise. INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance.
The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Lost or stolen credit cards present risk of identity theft and should be cancelled immediately.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Italy is: 113. Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States. CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those of the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Italian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Italy are severe and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties. SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Strikes and other work stoppages occur frequently in the transportation sector (national airlines, airports, trains, and bus lines).
Most are announced in advance and are of short duration.
Information on strikes may be found at http://www.infrastrutture.gov.it/page/NuovoSito/site.php.
Reconfirmation of domestic and international flight reservations is highly recommended. U. S citizens using public transportation while in Italy are reminded they must adhere to local transportation laws and regulations. Travelers must purchase train tickets and validate them by punching them in validating machines usually located near the entrance of train tracks prior to boarding.
Failure to follow this procedure may result in an on-the-spot fine by an inspector on the train. Travelers must purchase bus tickets prior to boarding and validate them immediately after boarding. Tickets may be purchased at tobacco stores or kiosks. Failure to follow this procedure may result in an immediate fine imposed by an inspector on the bus. If the violator does not pay the fine on the spot, it will automatically double and will be forwarded to the violator’s home address. MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are available, but may be limited outside urban areas.
Public hospitals, though generally free of charge for emergency services, sometimes do not maintain the same standards as hospitals in the United States, so travelers are encouraged to obtain insurance that would cover a stay in a private Italian hospital or clinic.
It is almost impossible to obtain an itemized hospital bill from public hospitals, as required by many U.S. insurance companies, because the Italian National Health Service charges one inclusive rate (care services, bed and board). In parts of southern Italy, the lack of adequate trash disposal and incineration sites has led to periodic accumulations of garbage in urban and rural areas.
In some cases, residents have burned garbage, resulting in toxic emissions that can aggravate respiratory problems. The U.S. Navy initiated a public health evaluation in the Naples area in 2008.
Updates on that evaluation can be found at http://www.nsa.naples.navy.mil/risk.
After finding levels of bacterial and chemical contamination of potential health concern, particularly in samples of area well water, the Navy recommended all personnel living off-base in the Naples area use only bottled water for drinking, cooking, ice-making, and brushing teeth.
For more information on safe food and water precautions, see the CDC’s web site below.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Italy. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas. TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Italy is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Streets in historic city centers are often narrow, winding and congested.
Motor scooters are very popular and drivers often see themselves as exempt from conventions that apply to automobiles. Travelers who rent scooters should be particularly cautious.
Pedestrians and drivers should be constantly alert to the possibility of scooters’ sudden presence.
Most vehicle-related deaths and injuries involve pedestrians or cyclists who are involved in collisions with scooters or other vehicles.
U.S. citizens should remain vigilant and alert while walking or cycling near traffic.
Pedestrians should be careful, as sidewalks can be extremely congested and uneven.
Drivers of bicycles, motorcycles, and other vehicles routinely ignore traffic signals and traffic flows and park and drive on sidewalks.
For safety, pedestrians should look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even when using a marked crosswalk with a green avanti (“walk”) light illuminated.
Traffic lights are limited, often disobeyed, and a different convention of right-of-way is observed.
Italy has over 5,600 kilometers (3,480 mi.) of Autostrada, or superhighways.
Commercial and individual vehicles travel and pass on these well-maintained roads at very high speeds.
Accidents occur in which contributing factors include excessive speed, alcohol/drug use, and/or sleepiness of long-distance drivers.
Italy has one of the highest rates of car accident deaths in the European Union. In rural areas, a wide range of speed on highways makes for hazardous driving.
Roads are generally narrow and often have no guardrails.
Travelers in northern Italy, especially in winter, should be aware of fog and poor visibility, responsible for multiple-car accidents each year.
Most Italian automobiles are equipped with special fog lights.
Roadside assistance in Italy is excellent on the well-maintained toll roads, but limited on secondary roads.
Use of safety belts and child restraining devices is mandatory and headlights should be on at all times outside of urban areas. U.S. citizens driving in Italy are reminded that they must adhere to the local driving laws and regulations.
Vehicle traffic in some historic downtown areas of cities and towns throughout Italy is limited by a system of permits (called “ZTL” and functioning the same way as an EasyPass system in the United States might on the freeway).
Cameras record the license plates of cars driving in parts of the city that require a permit.
Although most of the automated verification stations are clearly marked, if a driver passes one it is impossible to know at the time that a violation occurred or has been recorded.
Violators are not pulled over or stopped, and there is no personal contact with a police officer.
Whenever possible, the fines imposed for these violations are forwarded to the driver’s home in the United States to request payment.
The fines are cumulative for each time a driver passes a control point.
A similar system of automated traffic control cameras is in place in many parts of the highway system and is used to ticket speeding violations. U.S. citizens driving in Italy should also note that, according to Italian regulation, if a resident of a non-European Union country (e.g. the United States) violates a traffic law, the violator must pay the fine at the time the violation occurs to the police officer issuing the ticket.
If the citizen does not or cannot pay the fine at the time, Italian regulation allows the police officer to confiscate the offender’s vehicle (even if the vehicle is a rental vehicle). For specific information concerning Italian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Italian Government Tourist Board (ENIT) offices via the Internet at: http://www.enit.it, tel: 212-245-4822 or the A.C.I. (Automobile Club Italiano) at Via Magenta 5, 00185 Rome, tel: 39-06-4477.
For information on obtaining international drivers licenses, contact AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.italiantourism.com and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.infrastrutturetrasporti.it. AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) assessed the Government of Italy’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Italy’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa. DISASTER PREPAREDNESS:
Several major earthquake fault lines cross Italy.
Principal Italian cities, with the exception of Naples, do not lie near these faults, but smaller tourist towns, like Assisi, do and experience earthquakes.
General information about disaster preparedness is available online from the U.S. Federal Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.
Detailed information on Italy’s earthquake fault lines is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at http://www.usgs.gov Italy also has several active volcanoes generating geothermal events.
Mt. Etna, on the eastern tip of the island of Sicily, has been erupting intermittently since 2000.
Mt. Vesuvius, located near Naples, is currently capped and not active.
Activity at Mt. Vesuvius is monitored by an active seismic network and sensor system, and no recent seismic activity has been recorded.
Two of Italy’s smaller islands, Stromboli and Vulcano in the Aeolian Island chain north of Sicily, also have active volcanoes with lava flows.
Detailed information on volcano activity in Italy is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at http://www.usgs.gov. CHILDREN’S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS:
Americans living or traveling in Italy are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Italy.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Via V. Veneto 119/A, tel.: 39-06-46741 and fax: 39-06-4674-2217; web site: http://italy.usembassy.gov/english/. The U.S. Consulates are located in: Florence:
Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci 38, tel: 39-055-266-951, consular fax: 399-055-215-550; Milan:
Via Principe Amedeo 2/10, tel: 39-02-290-351, and fax:
39-02-290-35-273; Naples:
Piazza della Repubblica, tel:
39-081-583-8111, and consular fax:
39-081-583-8275. There are U.S. Consular Agents located in: Genoa:
Via Dante 2, tel:
39-010-584-492, and fax: 39-010-553-3033; Palermo:
Via Vaccarini 1, tel:
39-091-305-857, and fax:
39-091-625-6026; Venice:
Viale Galileo Galilei, 30, tel: 39-041-541-5944, and fax: 39-041-541-6654. * * * This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update the sections onSafety and Security and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan

General
***************************
Japan is a highly developed country with excellent tourist facilities. The country covers a number of islands and the population is estimated at over 125 million. English is widely spoken in the main tourist a
d urbanised centres.
Weather Profile
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Due to the strong influence from the sea, Japan tends to have a high rainfall but milder winters than the adjacent mainland of China. This is similar to the climate experienced in Ireland by comparison to the rest of Europe. Spring and Autumn are usually the most pleasant months but during the Summer the climate can be significantly humid and tiring. During this time it will be essential that fluid intake is increased and that salt (lost through perspiration) is replaced - usually by increasing the amount eaten on your food providing this is not contraindicated by any personal medical condition such as blood pressure etc.
Alcohol Consumption
***************************
The Japanese authorities have limited patience with those arrested while under the influence of alcohol. For some travellers visiting the country this may mean a prolonged stay in the local jail and the subsequent missing of important appointments.
Natural Disasters
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Japan is situated in a region of the world which regularly experiences earthquakes and other climatic changes including typhoons. A number of relatively small earthquakes are reported each year but, to date, this has seldom affected any tourist itinerary. However, further information is available at http://www.tokyoacs.com
Safety and Security
***************************
The risk to personal security for tourists while travelling throughout Japan is small though commonsense care of personal belongings is always essential. Where available, use the hotel safety boxes to store valuables and your passport, return air tickets. During the mid 1990’s a number of terrorist incidents occurred but no recent serious problems are being reported.
Airport Taxes
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Many countries now include the cost of their ‘departure tax’ within the ticket. In Japan this will depend on which airport you leave from. The fee is collected in Yen at Kansai - Osaka International Airport but usually included in the ticket cost if flying via Narita - Tokyo International Airport.
Cost of living
***************************
Japan is not a cheap country for tourists. The cost of living is one of the highest throughout the world. Credit cards may be used in main cities but the ATM’s machines may not be available at all hours. Before taking a taxi from the airport it would be wise to check the costs and then assess whether or not it might be more prudent to use the local bus transport!
Medical Care
***************************
The level of medical care throughout most tourist regions in Japan is excellent. However, there may be limited English-speaking doctors in some more rural areas and even where this facility is available in the main cities the cost of healthcare can be very expensive. It is wise to carefully check your travel health insurance premium before you leave home.
Local Medications
***************************
Some commonly used European over-the-counter medications
may not be available in Japan. Also, there are strict laws governing the importation of certain medications which can be strictly enforced. Certain inhalers, sinus preparations etc may be confiscated on arrival. If you are taking any personal medications it may be wise to check before you leave. Obviously never carry packages for anybody else while travelling unless you are certain of the contents.
Avoiding Prickly Heat
***************************
The term prickly heat is used in a variety of ways but the cause is generally the same. In a hot climate the body perspires to maintain the internal temperature at a correct level. In the perspiration there will be fluid and your personal salts. The fluid evaporates but the salt dries against the skin. It is your individual reaction to this salt that leads to the ‘prickly heat rash’. The reaction to these salts can be minimised by removing the salts from the skin surface as soon as possible. Change your clothes regularly, use plenty of talcum powder to absorb the perspiration and dry off well after showering.
Food & Water Care in Japan
***************************
Any international traveller should recognise the risks of a ruined trip from unwise indulgence in local food and beverages. In Japan the level of food hygiene is high but the consumption of Sushi (uncooked raw fish) is unwise. Bivalve shellfish also carry a significant risk due to the limited level of sterilisation during the cooking process.
Malaria & Mosquitoes
***************************
No malaria transmission occurs throughout Japan although avoiding mosquito bites during the humid months is wise.
Airborne Disease
***************************
In any situation where you will be crowded together with many others the risk of a variety of airborne diseases will be higher. This will include serious diseases such as Meningococcal Meningitis but also others such as Influenza and the common cold. The risk of Meningococcal Meningitis in Japan is regarded as small and vaccine is not routinely recommended. However, having the Flu vaccine may be a wise precaution. It is also sensible to carry a small supply of lozenges to treat the inevitable sore throat which may occur.
Driving in Japan
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The road system throughout Japan is excellent but unfortunately the road signs may prove too much of a hurdle for those unfamiliar with the language! The congestion within the cities tends to be high and tolls on some of the major roads may be quite expensive. The traffic moves on the left side of the road but for many tourists it will be wiser to consider using local transportation rather than risking a ruined holiday.
English Help Lines
***************************
Tourists can obtain important information and assistance in English while visiting Japan through the following numbers;
In Tokyo - 03-3968 4099
Rest of Japan - 0120-461 997
Vaccines for Japan
***************************
For the majority of short-term travellers visiting Japan no particular vaccines will be recommended. Those planning to live for longer periods within the country will need to discuss this through in greater detail.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 1 May 2020 12:01:09 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, May 1, 2020 (AFP) - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday the government would plan for an approximately month-long extension of a state of emergency declared over the coronavirus pandemic.    Abe put in place an initial month-long state of emergency for seven regions on April 7, later expanding it to cover the entire country.   But with the measures due to expire on May 6, Abe said he had instructed his minister for the virus outbreak Yasutoshi Nishimura to plan for an extension.   "After receiving this report from the panel of experts, I asked Minister Nishimura to use extending the current framework of the state of emergency by about one month as the base scenario for swiftly drafting plans that will fit the needs of the regions," Abe said.

An expert panel advising the government is reviewing the situation in different parts of the country, he added.   "We will listen to their opinions and we hope to make a decision on May 4th."   Abe said Japan had so far managed to avoid the sharp increase in infections seen in some other parts of the world, but cautioned that vigilance was still needed.   "The view of experts is that we will continue to need cooperation of the Japanese people for the foreseeable future."

An extension of the state of emergency had been widely expected, despite the comparatively small scale of the outbreak in Japan, with nearly 14,300 infections recorded and 432 deaths so far.   The state of emergency is significantly less restrictive than measures seen in parts of Europe and the United States. It allows governors to urge people stay at home and call on businesses to stay shut.   But officials cannot compel citizens to comply, and there are no punishments for those who fail to do so.   Despite the relatively small scale of Japan's outbreak, there have been persistent fears about a spike in infections that could quickly overwhelm the country's healthcare system.

Doctors' associations have warned that hospitals are already stretched thin, with officials in Osaka even calling for donations of raincoats to serve as protective equipment for health workers stuck using trash bags.   Measures have been implemented to try to ease the pressure, including sending coronavirus patients with mild symptoms to hotels for quarantine, rather than keeping them in overcrowded hospitals.   The government has also said it is increasing testing capacity, but continues to face criticism for the relatively low numbers of tests being carried out, in part because of stringent criteria.
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2020 07:46:52 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 20, 2020 (AFP) - Japanese medics are warning more must be done to prevent the coronavirus from overwhelming the country's healthcare system as confirmed cases passed 10,000, despite a nationwide state of emergency.   Experts have been alarmed by a recent spike in COVID-19 infections, with hundreds detected daily.

Japan's outbreak remains less severe than in hard-hit European countries, but its caseload is one of Asia's highest after China and India, and is roughly on par with South Korea.   There have been 171 deaths recorded so far in Japan and 10,751 cases, with the country under a month-long state of emergency, initially covering seven regions but now in place nationwide.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has urged residents to reduce contact with other people by 70 to 80 percent, and the number of people on Tokyo's normally packed transport system has dropped significantly.   But the measures do not prevent people from going out, and many shops and even restaurants remain open, even as medical associations warn the country's healthcare system is struggling to cope.   "The system is on the verge of collapse in many places in Japan," said Kentaro Iwata, an infectious diseases specialist from Kobe University who has repeatedly criticised the government's response to the crisis.

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Iwata said Japan's strategy of limited testing and intensive contact-tracing worked well in the initial phase of the local outbreak, when numbers were small.   But he charged that Japan failed to adapt as the outbreak grew.   "We needed to prepare for once the situation changes, once the cluster-chasing became not effective and we needed to change strategy immediately," he said.   "But traditionally speaking, and historically speaking, Japan is not very good at changing strategy," he added.   "We are very poor at even thinking of plan B because thinking of plan B is a sign of admitting failure of plan A."

- Not a 'worst-case scenario' -
Japan's government argues it has adjusted its strategy, boosting testing capacity, changing rules that required all positive cases to remain in hospitals where wards quickly became full, and imposing the state of emergency to reduce the spread.   But medical experts have called the measures insufficient.   "Beds for novel coronavirus patients continue to be almost full," Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association, warned last week.   The association has been increasing beds but with a large number of new cases coming in every day, "beds are being occupied instantly," he said.

The health minister has acknowledged that hospitals have in some cases turned away suspected coronavirus patients in ambulances.   "Japan hasn't built a system in which ordinary hospitals can take infectious disease patients in an emergency, when designated hospitals can't cope," Ozaki said on Friday.   "We are doing our best... but infections are spreading faster than expected," he added.   And hospitals are also struggling with equipment shortages, with the mayor of Osaka calling for donations of unused raincoats for health workers currently forced to use garbage bags for protective equipment.

Both Iwata and Ozaki warned that the state of emergency now in place until at least May 6 was not sufficient.   "While they talk about border controls and decreasing person-to-person contacts, they let stores stay open," Ozaki complained.   Iwata said he was "half-encouraged and half-discouraged" by the infection numbers in Tokyo, which he called "relatively stable."    "My biggest fear was the explosion of diagnoses... like in New York City, which didn't happen," he said.   "These numbers are much better than the worst-case scenario."
Date: Sun, 19 Apr 2020 23:32:13 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 19, 2020 (AFP) - A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck off the east coast of Japan early Monday, according to the US Geological Survey, but no tsunami warning was issued.   The epicentre of the earthquake was 41.7 kilometres (26 miles) beneath the Pacific seabed, less than 50 kilometres off the coast of Miyagi prefecture, the USGS said on its website, rating the risk of casualties and damage as low.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) put the quake at a magnitude of 6.1 and a depth of 50 kilometres. Japan's Kyodo News Agency said no tsunami warning had been issued after the tremor, which hit just after 5.30 am (2030 GMT).    Japan sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.   In 2011, a devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck roughly 130 kilometres east of Miyagi prefecture, unleashing an enormous tsunami, triggering the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown and killing nearly 16,000 people.
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2020 10:43:39 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 16, 2020 (AFP) - Japan's government will convene a key panel of medics Thursday to advise on its state of emergency over the coronavirus, as local media reported the prime minister would expand the measures to cover the entire country.   Shinzo Abe has already declared a month-long state of emergency in seven regions, including Tokyo.   People in these places are being urged to stay inside but the rules stop far short of the tight lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.

Since the emergency came into effect on April 8, several regional governors have called for the measures to be expanded to cover their areas -- warning of a growing number of coronavirus infections and overwhelmed medical facilities.   Some have declared their own local emergencies, even though they carry no legal force.   "Today, an advisory committee will be held. We should listen to the opinions of experts about areas subject to a state of emergency," government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters at a regular afternoon briefing.   "If we limit areas (under the state of emergency), people are increasingly flowing to neighbouring ones. We have to deal with it while discussing what to do during the holidays," he added, referring to the Golden Week period in late April and early May, when much of the country travels.

Japan has so far seen a relatively small outbreak of the virus, despite recording its first case in mid-January, with around 8,500 infections and 136 deaths by Thursday.   But local medical associations and experts have sounded the alarm, and Abe has asked people in areas already under a state of emergency to reduce contact with others by 70 to 80 percent to avoid an explosive growth in infections.   The state of emergency allows governors to ask people to stay indoors and request that businesses close, but there are no enforcement mechanisms and no penalties for those who fail to comply.

In Tokyo, the governor has called on people to work from home, and significant drops have been seen in the number of people commuting each day on the city's notoriously crowded transport system.   But while some central areas have been uncharacteristically deserted, local neighbourhoods have remained relatively bustling, raising concerns about whether the measures will be sufficient.   Japan's two emergency medical associations this week issued a joint statement warning they are "already sensing the collapse of the emergency medical system," with hospitals unable to deal with patients suffering from non-coronavirus ailments.   And in Japan's third-biggest city Osaka, the mayor has appealed for donations of raincoats to serve as personal protection for health workers who he said were being forced to resort to garbage bags.
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."
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Afghanistan

Afghanistal US Consular Information Sheet March 03, 2009


COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:


Afghanistan has made significant progress since the Taliban were deposed in 2001, but still faces daunting challenges, including de

eating terrorists and insurgents, recovering from over three decades of civil strife, dealing with years of severe drought and rebuilding a shattered physical, economic and political infrastructure. Coalition and NATO forces under ISAF work in partnership with Afghan security forces to combat Taliban and al-Qa’ida elements who seek to terrorize the population and challenge the government. Violence in 2008 reached unprecedented levels, as both ISAF/Afghan forces and the Taliban initiated more battles than ever before. President Hamid Karzai was sworn in as President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on December 7, 2004 and the Afghan Parliament was subsequently convened in late 2005. The government is working to develop a more effective police force, a more robust legal system, and sub-national institutions that work in partnership with traditional and local leaders to meet the needs of the population. The U.S. works closely with the international community to provide coordinated support for these efforts. An Afghanistan-hosted Peace Jirga with Pakistan resulted in a commitment to cooperate in combating terrorism, facilitate the return of Afghan refugees, and support regional economic activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Afghanistan for additional information.


ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:


 A passport and valid visa are required to enter and exit Afghanistan. Afghan entry visas are not available at Kabul International Airport or any other ports of entry in Afghanistan. American citizens who arrive without a visa are subject to confiscation of their passport and face heavy fines and difficulties in retrieving their passport and obtaining a visa, as well as possible deportation from the country. Americans arriving in the country via military air usually have considerable difficulties if they choose to depart Afghanistan on commercial air, because their passports are not stamped to show that they entered the country legally. Those coming on military air should move quickly after arrival to legalize their status if there is any chance they will depart the country on anything other than military air. Visit the Embassy of Afghanistan web site at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org for the most current visa information. The Consular office of the Embassy of Afghanistan is located at 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 216, Washington, DC 20007, phone number 202-298-9125. 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:


The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan emphasizes that the security situation remains critical for American citizens. The Taliban and associated insurgent groups, al-Qaida network terrorist organizations, and narco-traffickers oppose the strengthening of a democratic government. These groups aim to weaken or bring down the Government of Afghanistan and to drive Westerners out of the country. They do not hesitate to use violence, including targeting civilians. Terrorist activities may include, but are not limited to bombings -- including improvised explosive devices and car bombs -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults and kidnappings. There were over 120 suicide attacks in 2008. There is an ongoing threat to attack and kidnap U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers throughout the country. In 2008,, more than 30 NGO workers were killed (six foreigners) and at least 78 NGO staff members (seven foreigners) were abducted. Over 25 other foreign civilians, including journalists, were kidnapped. Kabul continues to experience suicide bombings against Afghan government personnel and installations, Afghan and coalition military assets, and international civilians. Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political or other issues. Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem. Official Americans' use of the Kabul-Jalalabad, Kabul-Kandahar highways and other roads throughout the country is often restricted or completely curtailed because of security concerns. Insurgents continue to use roadside and car bombs to conduct attacks and abductions along major highways. Millions of unexploded land mines and other ordinance present a constant danger. The country faces a difficult period in the near term, and American citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events. Americans should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns. The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder. Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property, or Americans coming to the country to engage in business, have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death. Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated, with few roads, mostly in poor condition, irregular cell phone signals, and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or the larger cities. Americans traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may not even have a way to communicate their difficulties to the outside world. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, 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. 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:


 A large portion of the Afghan population is unemployed, and many among the unemployed have moved to urban areas. Basic services are rudimentary or non-existent. These factors may directly contribute to crime and lawlessness. Diplomats and international relief workers have reported incidents of robberies and household burglaries as well as kidnappings and assault. Any American citizen who enters Afghanistan should remain vigilant for possible banditry, including violent attacks.


INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:


The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for assistance. The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to provide a list of attorneys if needed. The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Afghanistan is: 119 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 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 Afghanistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. During the last several years, there have been incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens. Arrested Americans have faced periods of detention—sometimes in difficult conditions—while awaiting trial. Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Another sensitive activity is proselytizing. Although the Afghan Constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing is often viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society. Proselytizing may lead to arrest and/or deportation. 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.


SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:


Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is limited and unreliable. Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions. Credit card transactions are not available. International bank transfers are limited. Some ATM machines exist at Standard Charter Bank and Afghan International Bank (AIB) in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, but some travelers have complained of difficulties using them. International communications are difficult. Local telephone networks do not operate reliably. Most people rely on satellite or cellular telephone communications even to make local calls. Cellular phone service is available locally in Kabul and some other cities, but can be unreliable. Injured or distressed foreigners could face long delays before being able to communicate their needs to family or colleagues outside of Afghanistan. Internet access through local service providers is limited. In addition to being subject to all Afghan laws, U.S. citizens who are also citizens of Afghanistan may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Afghan citizens. U.S. citizens who are also Afghan nationals do not require visas for entry into Afghanistan. The Embassy of Afghanistan issues a letter confirming your nationality for entry into Afghanistan. However, you may wish to obtain a visa as some Afghan-Americans have experienced difficulties at land border crossings because they do not have a visa in their passport. For additional information on dual nationality in general, see the Consular Affairs home page for our dual nationality flyer. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. As stated in the Travel Warning, consular assistance for American citizens in Afghanistan is limited. Islam provides the foundation of Afghanistan's customs, laws and practices. Foreign visitors -- men and women -- are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts. Women in particular, especially when traveling outside of Kabul, may want to ensure that their tops have long sleeves and cover their collarbone and waistband, and that their pants/skirts cover their ankles. Almost all women in Afghanistan cover their hair in public; American women visitors should carry scarves for this purpose. Afghan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Afghanistan of items such as firearms, alcoholic beverages, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and printed materials. American travelers have faced fines and/or confiscation of items considered antiquities upon exiting Afghanistan. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers en route to Afghanistan may transit countries that have restrictions on firearms, including antique or display models. If you plan to take firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy and those that you will be transiting to learn about their regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling. Please consult http://www.customs.gov for information on importing firearms into the United States. Please see our Customs Information sheet.


MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:


Well-equipped medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan. European and American medicines are available in limited quantities and may be expensive or difficult to locate. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, and India are available, but their reliability can be questionable. Several western-style private clinics have opened in Kabul: the DK-German Medical Diagnostic Center (www.medical-kabul.com), Acomet Family Hospital (www.afghancomet.com), and CURE International Hospital (ph. 079-883-830) offer a variety of basic and routine-type care; Americans seeking treatment should request American or Western health practitioners. Afghan public hospitals should be avoided. Individuals without government licenses or even medical degrees often operate private clinics; there is no public agency that monitors their operations. Travelers will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country outside of Kabul, although there are some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages. For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance. Commercial medical evacuation capability from Afghanistan is limited and could take days to arrange. Even medevac companies that claim to service the world may not agree to come to Afghanistan. Those with medevac insurance should confirm with the insurance provider that it will be able to provide medevac assistance to this country. There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza in poultry in Afghanistan, to include the areas of Nangahar, Laghman, and Wardak provinces, and in the city of Kabul, however, there have been no reported cases of the H5N1 virus in humans. Updates on the Avian Influenza situation in Afghanistan are published on the Embassy’s web site at http://kabul.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html. For additional information on Avian Influenza, please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_1181.html Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Afghanistan. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB. http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx| The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Afghanistan. However, if one has questions, please inquire directly with the Embassy of Afghanistan at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org before you travel. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site. Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.


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 Afghanistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering improvised-explosive devices and land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways. An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordinance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Robbery and kidnappings are also prevalent on highways outside of Kabul. The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads. Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced. Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit. Rural roads are not paved. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.


AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:


As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa. U.S. Government personnel are not authorized to travel on Ariana Afghan Airlines or any other airline falling under the oversight of the Government of Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, owing to safety concerns; however, U.S. Government personnel are permitted to travel on international flights operated by airlines from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet international aviation safety standards for the oversight of their air carrier operations under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.


CHILDREN'S ISSUES:


 For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction. R


EGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:


Americans living or traveling in Afghanistan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Afghanistan. Americans without internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Kabul on Great Massoud (Airport) Road, local phone number 0700-108-001 or 0700-108-002, and for emergencies after hours 0700-201-908. The web site is http://kabul.usembassy.gov/ * * * * * This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 16, 2008 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Criminal Penalties, Special Circumstances, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 29 Apr 2020 09:04:26 +0200 (METDST)

Kabul, April 29, 2020 (AFP) - A suicide bomber killed at least three people and wounded 15 others after detonating explosives near a military outpost in Kabul on Wednesday, an official confirmed, in the first attack to rock the Afghan capital in weeks.    Interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian confirmed the toll, calling the blast "a crime by the enemy of Afghanistan against civilians during the month of Ramadan".   The attack appeared to target an Afghan special forces camp on the outskirts of Kabul, a security source told AFP.

No group has claimed responsibility for the incident, but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they were investigating whether their fighters were behind the attack.   The blast comes as violence has surged across Afghanistan, with the UN reporting earlier this week that attacks spiked in the country following the signing of a landmark US and Taliban agreement in late February that was supposed to lay the groundwork for a peace process.   Recent attacks have mostly been limited to rural areas and small towns. Under the US-Taliban deal, the insurgents have agreed not to attack cities.

The agreement established a framework for bringing to an end America's longest war following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime only for them to re-emerge and launch a deadly insurgency.   But planned talks between the Kabul government and Taliban have derailed in recent weeks.   Dozens of Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters have been dying almost daily with civilian casualties rising across the country as both sides ramp up operations.   Kabul has been spared most of the violence. However, a string of attacks targeting minority groups proves the capital remains vulnerable to militants.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 09:00:05 +0100 (MET)

Kabul, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Afghanistan has detected its first novel coronavirus case, the country's health minister said Monday, a day after Kabul announced it would suspend air and ground travel to Iran, where 12 people have died from the outbreak.   "I announce the first positive coronavirus (case) in Herat," health minister Firozuddin Feroz told a press conference, calling on citizens to avoid travel to the western province which borders Iran.
Date: Sat 15 Feb 2020 2:34:10 PM AFT
Source: MENAFN, Afghanistan Times News report [edited]

At least 35 people including women and children have died in the past few weeks due to pneumonia outbreak in Badakhshan Province in the north-western mountainous area, the provincial health department confirmed.

Dr Noor Khawari, head of the provincial public health department, said [Sat 15 Feb 2020] that the people had died in the Wakhan district, a remote area surrounded by high and impassable mountains.

He said that 15 of the dead were children, calling malnutrition and cold weather as the main reasons for the fatalities. A medical team had been dispatched to Wakhan to prevent further outbreak of the disease, according to Dr Khawari.

The provincial council had earlier said that at least 10 people had lost their lives since an unknown disease had broken out in the Yomgan district [Badakhshan Province].

The report caused panic and concerns among the residents as coronavirus [infection, COVID-19] in China that borders Badakhshan takes the lives of people every day.

But the ministry of public health denied outbreak of any unknown disease in Badakhshan, saying that the recent deaths happened only due to pneumonia and pertussis (whooping cough) as well as malnutrition. Badakhshan is one of the provinces where seasonal diseases like pneumonia and whooping cough break out during winter. The diseases claim the lives of people in the remote areas behind high mountains as the roads connecting them to the provincial capital are blocked by heavy snowfalls.

The provincial health department has deployed medical teams to the borders with China and Tajikistan to examine those entering from the neighbouring states and to prevent coronavirus [infection, COVID-9].
===========================
[We are told in the news report above that at least 35 people, including 15 children, died in the past few weeks due to a "pneumonia" outbreak in Wakhan district, a remote area surrounded by high and impassable mountains, with a population of about 14 000 residents. Wakhan is a narrow strip about 350 km (220 mi) long and 13-65 km (8-40 mi) wide that extends from Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan in the west to Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China in the east, separating the Pamir Mountains and Tajikistan to the north and the Karakoram Mountains and Pakistan to the south  (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wakhan_Corridor>).

A trade route through this valley has been used by travellers since antiquity
(<https://caravanistan.com/afghanistan/wakhan-corridor/>).

A map of this region can be found at

The local residents are concerned that the novel coronavirus infection, COVID-19, may be the cause of the outbreak of pneumonia in Wakhan district. There are about 70 500 total cases of COVID-19 in China, mainly concentrated in Hubei Province in Central China.

Although Xinjiang in Western China has reportedly 75 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1 death (assessed 16 Feb 2020 at 9:43 PM EST) (<https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6>), spread of COVID-19 to this very remote region in Afghanistan, that is easily cut off from the rest of the world especially in winter, seems unlikely. Also, 43% of deaths (15/35) occurred in children, which would be unusual for COVID-19. However, we are not told the clinical presentation of the illness, nor how a diagnosis of "pneumonia" was made in this undeveloped region. Other diagnoses, such as influenza, are also possible. More information from knowledgeable sources would be appreciated. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[Maps of Afghanistan:
Date: Wed 11 Dec 2019
Source: MENA FN [edited]

Officials in the Ministry of Public Health has said that 2 fresh positive cases of polio have been registered in southern Uruzgan [Oruzgan] and northern Baghlan provinces.

According to health officials, the families of the polio-affected children live in Dand-e-Ghori [Dahana-i-Ghori] and Khas Uruzgan districts, [respectively], and the areas were out of the government's control and deprived of medical facilities.

Dr. Abdul Qayum Khplwak, head of the medical institute for the southern part of Afghanistan, said that one of the 2 children has been deprived of polio vaccination in Khas Uruzgan district of the province. He said that despite tremendous efforts towards fighting polio, there are great obstacles against the implementation of the process.

"Until every child receives polio vaccination, our efforts would not reach a complete goal," he said, adding that "the fresh case in Uruzgan shows that southern provinces are facing serious polio threats."

Meanwhile, a local medical in charge for polio affairs in Baghlan, Marjan Rasikh, has put the age of the polio-affected child at 4 years old, saying that the case has marked the initial positive polio in the province.

Over 24 positive polio cases have been recorded from the beginning of 2019: more than 8 cases in Uruzgan, 5 in Helmand, 4 in Kandahar, 2 in Paktia, and 3 other cases in Badghis, Nangarhar, and Kunar provinces.

To prevent the positive cases of polio, the health officials said that anti-polio vaccination should be implemented across the country.
===================
[The addition of these 2 newly confirmed cases will increase the total number of cases reported from Afghanistan with dates of onset during 2019 to 24. There was a newly confirmed case from Kandahar reported in last week's GPEI (Global Polio Eradication Initiative) report with date of onset 10 Nov 2019.

Again, the common denominator in the occurrence of WPV1 (wild poliovirus type 1)-associated AFP (acute flaccid paralysis) cases (presumed to be WPV cases) and in cVDPV (circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus)-associated cases is the presence of a significant susceptible population, or, in other words, areas with suboptimal vaccination coverages.

A map of Afghanistan showing provinces can be found at
The HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Afghanistan can be found at
Date: Mon 2 Dec 2019
Source: China.org.cn, Xinhua News Agency report [edited]

One fresh polio case had been detected in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province, a local newspaper reported on [Mon 2 Dec 2019].

"With this new case, the total number of polio cases in 2019 reaches 22 in the country. The latest polio case has been reported from Kandahar city, capital of Kandahar province which permanently paralyzed an 18-month-old child," Daily Afghanistan-e-Ma reported.

The paper added that polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease.

"Most of the Afghan children affected by poliovirus this year [2019] are living in areas where kids do not have access to health facilities and regular anti-polio vaccination campaign. However, this time a child has been affected in a large city where anti-polio vaccination had been conducted repeatedly this year," the report said.

There is no cure for polio and the polio vaccine is the only safe and effective way to protect children.

The ongoing conflicts have been hindering the efforts to stamp out the infectious disease in the mountainous country.
===================
[The addition of 3 newly confirmed cases of polio (all 3 due to WPV1, as per End Polio Pakistan <https://www.endpolio.com.pk/polioin-pakistan/polio-cases-in-provinces>) in Pakistan and one newly confirmed case of polio in Afghanistan brings the total number of WPV1 associated cases with date of onset in 2019 to 116 (94 in Pakistan and 22 in Afghanistan). The key question here is whether Afghanistan and Pakistan, with all the challenges in vaccinating the susceptible populations due to a variety of anti-vaccination impediments, will be able to interrupt transmission of the WPV1 in both countries simultaneously.

Maps of Afghanistan:
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/137>. - ProMED Mod.MPP]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sat, 6 Jun 2020 11:29:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Lisa GOLDEN

Nicosia, June 6, 2020 (AFP) - Cyprus opens back up for international tourism on Tuesday, with airports welcoming visitors after an almost three-month shutdown, and a bold plan to cover health care costs for visitors.    But with arrivals expected to be down by 70 percent this year due to the chaos brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, it's a leap of faith for the small Mediterranean holiday island.   "Nobody here is expecting to make any money this year", Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios told AFP.    "We are setting the stage for the beginning of our recovery in 2021."

The divided island's tourism sector normally accounts for around 15 percent of GDP but has dried up in past months amid global measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.    Cyprus saw a record 3.97 million arrivals in 2019, with more than half its market made up of British and Russian visitors.   But even if the island's airports in Larnaca and Paphos will open up to arrivals on Tuesday with the first flight due to arrive from Athens around midday (0900GMT), neither Britain or Russia are among the 19 countries allowed to land there.

The list of permitted countries, which also include Bulgaria, Germany and Malta, have been chosen based on epidemiological data and split into two categories.    Initially all travellers will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test undertaken within 72 hours of travel, but from June 20, only those arriving from six countries in the second category, such as Poland and Romania, will need to do so.    The government says the lists will be revised weekly and more countries can be added.

Cyprus will also cover accommodation, dining and medical care for any tourists who fall ill with the COVID-19 illness during their stay, as well as accommodation and meals for their families and close contacts.    "What we offer and what we sell is not the sun and the sea, it's hospitality, and this is an extension of our hospitality," Perdios said.     The government has designated a 100-bed COVID-19 hospital for tourists that Perdios said would be located in the Larnaca region, while 112 ICU units have been allocated for visitors.     Perdios said several four-star hotels would provide 500 quarantine rooms for close contacts of those who fall ill.

- 'Right thing to do' -
A raft of other health measures, including disinfection protocols and temperature checks at border controls, aim to protect travellers and locals alike.    "We've gone to big lengths to think ahead of things that could go wrong and try to devise plan Bs and Cs", Perdios said.     The Republic of Cyprus, in the south of the island, has registered 960 novel coronavirus cases and 17 deaths.   Perdios expressed hope that British tourists could be welcomed "sometime after mid-July", with Russia "slightly later, maybe by a couple of weeks".

A recently announced deal with Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air to open a base in Cyprus from July was also an important step towards expanding and diversifying the island's tourist markets, he said.   While no date has been set to allow international tourists to visit the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, only recognised by Ankara, the health care commitment would still apply to those visiting the north during their stay once the crossings are reopened.   "I am very confident that not only will we be able to continue providing our citizens with protection, but also caring for everybody who comes to the island on holiday", he said.     "If we are coming out with a scheme like this, it's because we can afford it, but most importantly, because we feel that it's the right thing to do."
Date: Sat, 6 Jun 2020 00:50:56 +0200 (METDST)

Orlando, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - Tourists donned masks Friday and visited the attractions at Universal Orlando, the first of the major theme parks in Florida to open since the COVID-19 pandemic shut them down almost three months ago.   Universal Orlando resort and the other theme parks in this central Florida city closed on March 15 to prevent the spread of coronavirus.    New back-to-fun rules at the park include temperature controls at the entrance, mandatory use of face masks, markers on the ground to help enforce social distancing and posters thanking the public for their help "during this unprecedented time."

Universal Orlando is only reopening at 35 percent capacity and has launched a system of virtual lines in which space can be reserved, to avoid queues and crowds.    Terrence Wilson, 19, was happy with the result. "There's not a lot of people. I can get on all the rides without having to wait 40 minutes or an hour" he told the Orlando Sentinel.

On Monday, the Legoland Florida park opened in the city of Winter Haven, while SeaWorld in Orlando is scheduled to open on June 10.    The largest of Orlando's parks, Walt Disney World, will open on July 11.    That day the park's Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom sections will begin operating, while EPCOT and Hollywood Studios will follow suit on July 15.    Orlando is home to most of the state's theme parks and every year welcomes millions of tourists from all over the world.
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 20:36:47 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Friday announced a renewed lockdown in the city of Jeddah, gateway to the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, to counter a new spike in coronavirus cases.   "After reviewing the epidemiological situation and the high occupancy rates of intensive care departments, it was decided to take strict health precautions in the city of Jeddah for two weeks," starting from Saturday, the health ministry said.   The measures include a curfew running from 3 pm to 6 am, a suspension of prayers in mosques and a stay-at-home order for public and private sector workers in the Red Sea city whose airport serves Mecca pilgrims.

After an easing of precautions in the kingdom in late May, the ministry said that strict measures could also soon return to Riyadh, which was "witnessing a continuous increase during the last days" of critical cases of the pandemic.   Saudi Arabia has declared almost 96,000 coronavirus infections and 642 deaths from the Covid-19 respiratory disease, the heaviest toll in the Gulf.   It has suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading to Islam's holiest cities.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj, scheduled for the end of July, but have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in the hajj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 16:43:41 +0200 (METDST)
By Joe STENSON

Dublin, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland will dramatically accelerate its plan to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the coming days, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Friday.   "Today I can confirm that it is safe to move to phase two of the plan to reopen our country starting on Monday," Varadkar told a press conference.   "I'm also announcing an acceleration of the roadmap."   More workplaces will open and household visits will be permitted from Monday in line with the government plan to reopen the Republic announced in May.

However an escalation of the scheme will see citizens allowed to travel across their county of residence and/or up to 20 kilometres (12 miles) from home.   All shops will also be permitted to reopen whilst the final stage of the "roadmap" to end lockdown -- in place since 28 March -- will be brought forward from August to July.   Playgrounds will reopen while the government now intends to allow hotels, restaurants and bars serving food to resume trade on June 29.   "We are making progress, we are heading in the right direction, and we have earned the right to be hopeful about the future again," Varadkar said.   Ireland has suffered 1,664 deaths from the coronavirus, according to official figures.   Recorded deaths peaked at 77 in a single day in April, but by Thursday that figure had fallen to just five.

The Republic last Monday registered its first day without any COVID-19 deaths in more than two months, one week after entering the first phase of its plan to leave lockdown.   "We've proved we can suppress the virus, but now we do face another test," said health minister Simon Harris.   "We must prove we can live alongside it and keep it weak at the same time."

The easing includes provisions for shops to hold staggered opening hours and social distancing measures to remain in place.   "We must remain careful, cautious vigilant, and together," Harris added.   Finance minister Paschal Donohoe announced Friday that a government wage subsidy scheme enacted when the nation entered lockdown will be extended until the end of August.   To date, 1.37 billion ($1.55 billion) euros has been paid to half a million employees.   But he warned "this support cannot last forever" and he expected to see a continued decline in reliance on the scheme.
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 08:22:40 +0200 (METDST)
By Paola LÓPEZ

Quito, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - As much of Ecuador went into lockdown against the coronavirus, scientists shipped out of the Galapagos, leaving important research activity frozen and the Pacific archipelago's tourism in deep crisis.   Authorities are desperately hoping for a revival of the vital tourism industry -- the main engine of the local economy -- once visitors are allowed to fly in again from July 1.

In the meantime, local officials say they have to take a leaf out of English naturalist Charles Darwin's book and "adapt to survive."   Darwin based his theory of evolution on his studies of the islands' unique flora and fauna. But dozens of researchers following in his footsteps had to leave before air links were shut down as the pandemic advanced.   "Science has to a large extent been paralyzed these days in the Galapagos," Diego Quiroga of Quito's San Francisco University told AFP.

Sixteen researchers of various nationalities from the university's Galapagos Science Center were repatriated along with 50 US students when Ecuador shut its borders, suspended flights and imposed strict restrictions on movement in mid-March.   The move meant that the Galapagos was largely spared the devastating impact of the virus felt on the mainland.   Ecuador, a country of 17 million, has more than 40,000 infections with 3,500 deaths.   The Galapagos is the least affected of its provinces, with fewer than 80 infections among its 30,000 population.

- Research suspended -
The 76 projects being carried out under the Center's auspices remain in limbo, and an international congress set to draw 200 scientists to the archipelago was canceled.   The Charles Darwin Foundation, which has been operating on the islands for 60 years, had to shelve 20 research programs.

Around 30 of its scientists and volunteers who were carrying out field work "had to abandon their investigation sites," said Maria Jose Barragan, the foundation's CEO and science director.   With them went "an important season of investigation into the reproductive cycle of birds" in the Galapagos, she said.   The Galapagos National Park (PNG), a public body responsible for conservation of the archipelago, continues to operate.

- Adapting to less -
The Charles Darwin Foundation fears, however, the long-term impact of the pandemic on future research.   "I think the global picture for the conservation sector, regarding acquisition and availability of funds, will change becaus there will likely
be other interests" competing for funds, said Barragan.   "We have to adapt, which is actually the principle of the theory of evolution: change and adapt," she said.

Galapagos Science Center head Carlos Mena says he does not believe "funding for science is decreasing, but yes, it will move to other sectors, such as economic rejuvenation or the study of diseases and viruses."   As things stand, any freeze in research projects affects livelihoods on the archipelago.   Mena says this will translate into almost a million dollars in lost revenue for 2020. "Science brings in revenue. It's not huge, not like tourism, but yes, it generates revenue."

In the months of lockdown, between March and May, the Galapagos -- which had more than 270,000 visitors last year -- lost $200 million in tourism revenue, according to the Provincial Chamber of Tourism.   "The revenue is zero. There have been no tourists, therefore no admissions to the park, nor the economic revenue" they generate, said park director Andres Ordonez.

Mena believes tourism will come back stronger after the coronavirus, saying the work of researchers can "serve as a guide for better tourism" in the islands with their fragile ecosystems.   "The Galapagos have always been considered as a laboratory for studying the evolution of species," he said. "We can also see them as a laboratory for building tourism or a better model of society than before the pandemic."
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 03:12:32 +0200 (METDST)

Rio de Janeiro, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - Brazil's death toll from the novel coronavirus has surged to become the third-highest in the world, surpassing Italy's, according to official figures released Thursday.   The South American country of 210 million people reported a new record of 1,473 deaths in 24 hours, bringing its overall toll to 34,021, from 614,941 infections, the health ministry said.   Italy has confirmed 33,689 deaths from 234,013 infections.
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 2020 22:34:29 +0200 (METDST)

Johannesburg, June 4, 2020 (AFP) - South Africa said Thursday it had recorded 3,267 novel coronavirus cases in 24 hours, the biggest jump since the pandemic hit the country.   Africa's biggest industrial power now has a total of 40,792 infections, the health ministry said. It saw a rise of 56 deaths for a total of 848 fatalities.   More than half of the cases are in the Western Cape region where health services are under pressure.

South Africa is the sub-Saharan African country hardest hit by the pandemic.   President Cyril Ramaphosa on March 27 ordered South Africans to observe a lockdown aimed at slowing the disease's spread.   The move sharply limited people's freedom of movement while slowing an economy already in recession.   But Ramaphosa has gradually eased the lockdown measures and allowed most of the economy to restart.
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 2020 18:41:36 +0200 (METDST)

London, June 4, 2020 (AFP) - Masks will be compulsory on public transport in England from next week to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, transport minister Grant Shapps said Thursday.   "As of 15th June, face coverings will be mandatory on public transport," he said at a daily briefing on the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak.   The government had previously advised people to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport but stopped short of making them compulsory.   They remain only a recommendation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whose devolved administrations have responsibility for transport.

The announcement was made as part of plans to ease lockdown restrictions in England, as infection rates and the number of deaths from COVID-19 falls.   A total of 39,904 people have died in the outbreak in Britain, according to the latest official figures, which is the second-highest toll in the world after the United States.   "We need to ensure every precaution is taken on buses, trains, aircraft and on ferries," said Shapps, calling the use of face coverings a "condition of travel".   Small children, the disabled and anyone with breathing difficulties would be exempt, he added.   "We expect the vast majority won't need to be forced into this," he said, but warned that anyone refusing to do so could be prevented from travelling or even fined.
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 2020 14:00:58 +0200 (METDST)

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, June 4, 2020 (AFP) - Rohingya refugees infected with coronavirus are fleeing quarantine in their Bangladesh camps because they fear being transferred to an isolated island in the Bay of Bengal, community leaders said Thursday.   At least two infected refugees have gone missing since testing positive for the virus after the first COVID-19 death was reported Tuesday, they said.

About one million Rohingya -- most of whom fled a military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017 -- are packed into camps along the Bangladesh border, and the coronavirus has become the latest cause of misery.   Aid agencies have long warned that the virus could cause chaos in the overcrowded camps, where social distancing is virtually impossible.   So far only 29 infections have been detected, although 16,000 Rohingya are in quarantine zones within the camps.

It was not immediately clear how many tests have been conducted in the camps, but a senior health official said two people who proved positive had "fled the isolation hospital".   He added that only 20 refugees agreed to be tested in the past two days because they believe those infected will be sent to Bhashan Char island in the Bay of Bengal.   "It has created mass panic," Nurul Islam, a community leader, told AFP.

Bangladesh authorities have long wanted to establish a camp for 100,000 people on the isolated island, and have already sent 306 Rohingya there.   "The Rohingya are petrified," the health official told AFP on condition of anonymity.   "We have told them they won't be sent anywhere."

Some 500 isolation beds have been prepared in the camps, but most are empty because so few confirmed cases have been found, according to the official.   The first Rohingya fatality from the coronavirus was announced only Tuesday, and health officials say they desperately need to increase testing to see how widespread the virus may be.   But Khalilur Rahman Khan, the government administrator of one camp block, said doctors told him refugees were reluctant to participate.

Several Rohingya leaders said the transfer of the 306 refugees to Bhashan Char had sparked rumours that anyone with coronavirus would be sent to join them.   "People are scared to go for virus tests," said Abu Zaman, a community leader.   Mohammad Shafi, a camp neighbour of the refugee whose death was announced Tuesday, said people who had coronavirus symptoms such as fever and aches insisted they only had seasonal flu.   "I tried to reassure them that this a curable disease and most people will recover, but many don't believe it," he said.
Date: Wed, 3 Jun 2020 22:25:42 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, June 3, 2020 (AFP) - Chile's government said Wednesday it was prolonging a three-week shutdown of the country's capital Santiago as the COVID-19 death toll reached a new daily record.   Health officials said 87 people had died in the previous 24 hours, and nearly 5,000 new infections were recorded.   The South American copper-exporting nation has now registered more than 113,000 infections and 1,275 deaths.

Health Minister Jaime Manalich confirmed the government was extending a three-week lockdown of the capital for another week.   The city is home to seven million of the country's 18 million population and produces half its GDP.    Manalich said the population's mobility had only been reduced by 30 percent, because of a large numbers of permits granted to those needed for essential activities.   "There are many permits," the minister said, warning that "for the quarantine to be effective, mobility needs to be reduced by at least 50 percent."

The minister appealed to people to minimize time spent outside of their homes to help reduce infections, especially in the coming weeks when emergency health services are expected to be operating at maximum capacity.   Already in Santiago, 97 percent of intensive care unit beds are occupied, while units in the rest of Chile report having reached 88 percent capacity.