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Faroe Islands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antartica

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Korea

General Information
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The land mass of Korea is currently divided into North and South since World War 11. The South is a democratic Republic and there are extensive tourist facilities available throughout
he main urban areas. The national tourism organisation (KNTO) operates an English language web site (http://www.knto.or.kr) which provides useful information for intending tourists.
Weather Profile
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South Korea has four distinct seasons throughout the year. The winters can be very cold while the summers hot and very humid. The rainfall is mainly concentrated during the summer season.
Overcoming Jet Lag
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ry to arrange your flights so that you arrive in plenty of time before the first match. Allow 48 hours if at all possible to get over the inevitable jet lag. Walk about on the flight, drink plenty of water and stay off the alcohol. Flight crews are understandably very sensitive nowadays about any disturbance and the last thing you will want is to be dumped off the flight to make your own way home. Sleep on the plane if possible though remember this may increase the risk of blood clots so move your legs about when awake. Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin if you are at higher than normal risk (older age group, over weight, on the contraceptive pill, varicose veins etc).
Arriving into Seoul
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The new Incheon international airport is an hour or two away from Seoul and there are no subways or rail systems connecting the airport to the city. However, buses and taxis are easily available. Customs facilities are good but careful so remember not to carry any parcels for another unless you are certain of the contents. A departure tax may be payable on leaving South Korea.
Personal Safety
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In Seoul, like any other major city, there is an increased risk of petty crime (pickpocketing, purse snatching etc) so take extra care of your belongings - especially in crowded places like markets, local buses and football matches! The Itaewon and other large markets are known risk areas for this type of activity. Use the hotel safe for your main valuables and carry little of importance while out and about.
Emergency Numbers
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In South Korea the emergency number for the main services is 112. The operators will usually speak good English. There is also a 24/7 service available through the Korean National Police where travellers can report crime etc. The number in Seoul is 313-0842 and in other regions 02-313-0842.
Medical Services
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Generally the level of health facilities throughout most of the main urban centres is excellent. However, treatment can be expensive and the medical providers will expect payment before treatment is started. Make sure your travel health insurance is adequate for your journey.
Road Safety
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The road infrastructure throughout most of South Korea is excellent. However, accidents do occur and if hiring a car ‘defensive’ driving is essential at all times while abroad. Safety belts are compulsory at all times for both front and rear seats. Any accident tends to lead to long delays as the paperwork is sorted out. The Koreans may at times drive their motorbikes and scooters on foot pavements so care should be taken at all times.
Customs Regulations
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The level of security at South Korean immigration is high so beware of the delays which may be incurred.
Food & Water Care
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While travelling it is essential that care is taken to protect your stomach against unnecessary risk. Generally tourists will be keen to try out the local cuisine but this can lead to days of illness. In most circumstances it is wise to stick to hot, freshly cooked food fruit you peel yourself. Bivalve shell fish (mussels, clams, oysters etc) are seldom cooked sufficiently to sterilise them completely and are best avoided. Undercooked fish (Sushi) or any meats should also be avoided.
Heat & Humidity
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The summer months in South Korea are hot and sticky. It will be important to have the right clothing (light weight loosely fitted cotton) and to drink plenty of water to replace what is lost through dehydration. Salt will also need to be replaced and providing there is no medical contraindication eating crisps, salted nuts etc is an excellent way to replenish your levels.
Avoiding Prickly Heat
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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.
Breathing the air
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Any of the airborne diseases are most commonly spread when folks crowd together. International football matches, market places, local transport and the cinema are times when exposure and infection are most likely. Carrying some simple cold remedies might be a wise precaution and avoid the crowds where possible!
Vaccines for your trip
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In most cases the only particular problem for those visiting either Japan or South Korea will be the risk of Hepatitis A (food and water spread). Of course Tetanus and various other food and water problems can occur but generally the risk is small providing a sensible approach is taken to act sensibly.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 11 May 2020 09:47:04 +0200 (METDST)

Seoul, May 11, 2020 (AFP) - South Korea announced its highest number of new coronavirus cases in more than a month Monday, driven by a cluster in a Seoul nightlife district that emerged just as the country loosens restrictions.   The nation has been held up as a global model in how to curb the virus, but over the weekend its capital -- as well as neighbouring Gyeonggi province and the nearby city of Incheon -- ordered the closure of all clubs and bars after a burst of new cases sparked fears of a second wave.   The news comes as parts of Europe begin a cautious re-opening, with health experts warning that moving too quickly will result in a surge in infection numbers.

South Korean officials reported 35 new cases Monday, taking its total to 10,909, after recording only single-digit increases for eight of the preceding 12 days -- many of them overseas arrivals.    But as of noon on Monday, a total of 86 cases had been linked to the new nightlife cluster, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.   At first it was thought to have been triggered by a 29-year-old man who tested positive after spending an evening at five clubs and bars in the Itaewon area in early May.   But the KCDC said there appeared to be multiple origins for the cluster, with director Jeong Eun-kyeong telling reporters people visited "different kinds of clubs" on "different dates".

Health officials are struggling to trace "thousands of people" who went to clubs and bars in Itaewon, said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun.   "The majority of the visitors are not reachable," Chung said, urging all of them to get tested.   "If you hesitate a single day, our daily clock may stop for a month. Please contact the nearest clinic or health centre right now."   City authorities are urging everyone who visited the district over a two-week period to get tested, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon told a radio station.   Daegu, South Korea's fourth-largest city that was once the epicentre of the outbreak, on Monday also ordered the closure of all bars and clubs.   The spike in new infections came as everyday life in South Korea returns to normal, with the government relaxing social distancing rules last week.

The country endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the disease outside mainland China, and while it never imposed a compulsory lockdown, strict social distancing had been widely observed since March.   But it appeared to have brought its outbreak under control thanks to an extensive "trace, test and treat" programme that has drawn widespread praise.   Facilities such as museums and churches have reopened and some professional sports -- including baseball and soccer -- have started new seasons, while schools are set to re-open starting this week.
Date: Wed, 6 May 2020 22:23:34 +0200 (METDST)

Seoul, May 6, 2020 (AFP) - South Korea returned largely to normal Wednesday as workers went back to offices, and museums and libraries reopened under eased social distancing rules after new coronavirus cases dropped to a trickle.   The South endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the disease outside China and while it never imposed a compulsory lockdown, strict social distancing had been widely observed since March.   Employees were urged to work from home where possible while the new school term was postponed from its March start.

Scores of events -- from K-pop concerts to sports seasons -- were delayed or cancelled, while museums and galleries were closed and religious services suspended.    But the South appears to have brought its outbreak under control thanks to an extensive "trace, test and treat" programme that has drawn widespread praise.   In a population of 51 million, its death toll is little more than 250, and new cases have slowed to just a handful -- 13 in the past three days, all of them arriving international passengers. More than 90 of the South's imported cases are returning citizens.

At least 100 people visited the National Museum of Korea in Seoul on Wednesday morning, and the first visitors of the day -- a married couple -- were given a bouquet of flowers by staff.   "Many of our colleagues also came back to work today, so we are very excited about the reopening, we are very happy," museum spokeswoman Lee Hyun-ju told AFP.   Some workers were bittersweet about going back to the office.   "I wanted to go home as soon as I sat down at my desk in the office today. But there is also this weird sense of stability," wrote one Twitter poster.    Another tweeted: "I feel like my holidays are now over."

The South reported two new infections on Wednesday, taking the total to 10,806, the Korea Centers for Disease Control said.   Some professional sports, including baseball and soccer, are starting their new seasons this week after being postponed over virus fears, although the matches will be played behind closed doors.   Schools are to reopen in stages starting from May 13.   Under what Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun referred to as "everyday life quarantine", South Koreans are still encouraged to wear face masks and wash their hands frequently, among other recommendations.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 12:57:35 +0200 (METDST)

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

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

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

Trials started in France on Tuesday involving 60 patients in Paris hospitals, half of whom will receive plasma from recovered patients.   The US Food and Drug Administration authorised physicians to experiment with the strategy to fight the coronavirus, and tests are also being carried out in China.   South Korea endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the virus, but appears to have brought it under control thanks to its extensive "trace, test and treat" programme.
6th April 2020

South Korea reported fewer than 50 new coronavirus cases for the first time in more than six weeks, having once been the hardest-hit country outside China, where the virus first emerged.   The South confirmed 47 new cases on the previous day, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, taking its total to date to 10,284. It was the lowest increase since late February.
Date: Mon 30 Mar 2020
Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare, Korean CDC [in Korean, machine trans., edited]

Data taken from a table on the website of the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW). Data source: Korean CDC [in Korean]

Date and time:
29 Mar 2020 0:00 AM KT 9583 confirmed cases, 152 deaths
30 Mar 2020 0:00 AM KT 9661 confirmed cases, 158 deaths Change: 78 newly confirmed infections; 6 new deaths.

Distribution of cases by metropolitan city/province:
total case / change from 0:00 AM 29 Mar 2020 to 0:00 AM 30 Mar 2020:

  • Seoul: 426 / 16
  • Busan: 118 / 1
  • Daegu: 6624 / 14
  • Incheon: 58 / 0
  • Gwangju: 20 / 0
  • Daejeon: 34 / 0
  • Ulsan: 39 / 0
  • Sejong: 46 / 0
  • Gyeonggi: 463 / 15
  • Gangwon: 36 / 2
  • Chungbuk: 44 / 3
  • Chungnam: 127 / 0
  • Jeonbuk: 13 / 1
  • Jeonnam: 9 / 0
  • Gyeongbuk: 1298 / 11
  • Gyeongnam: 95 / 1
  • Jeju: 9 / 1
  • Quarantine: 202 / 13
*******
Total: 9661 / 78
===========================
[In the past 24 hours, the tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Korea has increased by 78 cases and 6 deaths as compared with yesterday's 24 hour period (28-29 Mar 2020) when there were 105 newly confirmed cases. A total of 9661 cases including 158 deaths were reported today, up from 9538 cases and 152 deaths yesterday [28 Mar 2020]. The daily newly confirmed case count had been at or below 100 newly confirmed cases per day for 8 consecutive days. Daegu continues to stand out as a focal point for transmission with 68.6% of the total cases reported followed by Gyeongbuk with 13.4% of the total cases reported. In the past 24 hours, Daegu reported 18% of the total newly confirmed cases while Seoul represented 20.5% of the newly confirmed case reports and in Gyeonggi 19.2%. Quarantined imported cases represented 16.7% of the newly confirmed cases.

Similar to what is being seen in China, Korea is identifying increasing numbers of imported cases returning to South Korea. There are now 202 imported cases in quarantine with the 1st report of patients in quarantine on 16 Mar 2020, when 4 cases were reported (COVID-19 update (41): global, surge capacity, vaccine development, WHO http://promedmail.org/post/20200316.7096222). As in China, there is strict surveillance and follow-up of these individuals, reversing the pattern of the western countries strengthening screenings of individuals from South Korea and China. There are obvious concerns regarding initiating new clusters that might escape into the community.

A map of South Korea showing provinces can be seen at
and a HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at
More ...

Panama

Panama - US Consular Information Sheet
June 05, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Panama has a developing economy. Outside the Panama City area, which has many first-class hotels and restaurants, tourist facilities vary in quality. The U.S. dollar is t
e paper currency of Panama, and is also referred to as the Panama balboa. Panama mints its own coinage. Read the Department of State Background Note on Panama for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: U.S. citizens traveling by air to and from Panama must present a valid passport when entering or re-entering the United States. Sea travelers must have a valid U.S. passport (or other original proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a certified U.S. birth certificate with a government-issued photo ID). American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on applying for a passport.

Panamanian law requires that travelers must either purchase a tourist card from the airline serving Panama or obtain a visa from a Panamanian embassy or consulate before traveling to Panama. Further information may be obtained from the Embassy of Panama, 2862 McGill Terrace NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel. (202) 483-1407, or the Panamanian consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Juan, San Diego, San Francisco or Tampa.

U.S. citizens transiting the Panama Canal as passengers do not need to obtain visas, report to customs, or pay any fees. U.S. citizens piloting private craft through the canal should contact the Panama Canal Authority at 011-507-272-1111 or consult the canal’s web page at http://www.pancanal.com.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

Panamanian law requires all persons to carry official identification documents at all times. This law applies to both Panamanian citizens and visitors to the country. Due to an increase in illegal aliens in Panama, the police have been checking documents more frequently, resulting in the detention of people not carrying identification. For this reason, all Americans are encouraged to carry their passports or other official identification at all times.

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.

Visit the Embassy of Panama web site at http://www.embassyofpanama.org/cms/index4.phpfor the most current visa information.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: U.S. citizens are warned not to travel to Darien Province. Embassy personnel are only allowed to travel to Darien Province on official business with prior approval of the Embassy’s Regional Security Officer. This restricted area encompasses the Darien National Park as well as privately owned nature reserves and tourist resorts. While no incidents have occurred at these resorts, U.S. citizens, other foreign nationals and Panamanian citizens have been the victims of violent crime, kidnapping and murder in this general area. Reliable communications and medical infrastructure are not readily available in the region, which makes travel therein potentially hazardous. Moreover, all around the Panama-Colombia border area the presence of Colombian terrorist groups, drug traffickers and other criminals is common, increasing the danger to travelers. Note: The Secretary of State has designated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

There is increasing evidence that the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, has increased its operations in Panama’s Darien Province, including in areas far removed from the immediate vicinity of Panamanian-Colombian border. In February 2008 encounters between six FARC members and the Panamanian police near the city of Jaque resulted in the arrest of the FARC members.

From time to time, there may be demonstrations protesting internal Panamanian issues, or manifestations of anti-American sentiment by small but vociferous groups. While most demonstrations relate to labor disputes or other local issues and are typically non-violent, it is nonetheless a good security practice to avoid demonstrations. U.S. citizens are advised to exercise caution on the campus of the University of Panama, where members of radical, anti-U.S. student groups are active. For updated security information, contact the U.S. Embassy Consular Section at the address below.

Visitors should be cautious when swimming or wading at the beach. Some beaches, especially those on the Pacific Ocean, have dangerous currents that cause drowning deaths every year. These beaches are seldom posted with warning signs.

On the Pacific coast, boaters should be wary of vessels that may be transporting narcotics northward from Colombia. Special permission is needed from the Ministry of Government and Justice and the National Environment Authority to visit the National Park on Coiba Island. At this time, the island, a former penal colony, has fewer than 20 prisoners. Boaters should avoid the southeastern coast of Kuna Yala Comarca (San Blas Islands), south of Punta Carreto, on the Atlantic Coast.

Local maritime search and rescue capabilities are limited and well below U.S. standards.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Crime in Panama City is moderate but increasing, particularly because of the activities of youth gangs. The city of Colon is a high crime area. Police checkpoints have become commonplace on weekends on roads in both cities. Based upon reported incidents by local police, the high-crime areas around Panama City are San Miguelito, Rio Abajo, El Chorrillo, Ancon, Curundu, Veracruz Beach, Panama Viejo, and the Madden Dam overlook. Crimes there are typical of those that plague metropolitan areas and range from rapes to armed robberies, muggings, purse-snatchings, "express kidnappings" from ATM banking facilities, in which the victim is briefly kidnapped and robbed after withdrawing cash from an ATM, and petty theft. Tourists recently experienced a problem with armed bandits during an organized canoe trip on the Chagres River. There have been several targeted kidnappings, including in Panama City, one of which involved a U.S. citizen, and one which involved the complicity of corrupt law enforcement officials. If concerned for their safety when being stopped by Panamanian law enforcement, U.S. citizens should consider slowing down and turning on their hazard lights, acknowledging the request to stop, and proceeding deliberately to a safe public place at which to stop.

Panama City has a curfew for persons under 18 years of age. Under the law, students attending night classes must have a carnet or permit, issued by the school or, if employed, a Certificate of Employment. Minors who are picked up for a curfew violation are subject to detention at a police station until parents or legal guardians can arrange for them to be released into their custody. Parents or legal guardians may be fined up to U.S. $50.00 for the violation.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The Panamanian Government also sponsors a program for Assistance to Victims of Crimes. The program is managed by the Oficina de Asistencia a Víctimas de Crímenes, located at the Policia Tecnica Judicial in the Ancon area of Panama City, telephone number is 011-507-262-1973 or 011-507-512-2222.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Although Panama City has some very good hospitals and clinics, medical facilities outside of the capital are limited. When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical insurance have, when a medical emergency occurs, found it to be life-saving. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. In Panama, most hospitals accept credit cards for hospital charges, but not for doctors' fees.

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

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

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

Panama's roads, traffic and transportation systems are generally safe, but traffic lights often do not exist, even at busy intersections. Driving is often hazardous and demanding due to dense traffic, undisciplined driving habits, poorly maintained streets, and a lack of effective signs and traffic signals. On roads where poor lighting and driving conditions prevail, night driving is difficult and should be approached with caution. Night driving is particularly hazardous on the old Panama City – Colon highway.

Buses and taxis are not always maintained in a safe operating condition due to lack of regulatory enforcement. Auto insurance is not mandatory and many drivers are uninsured. If an accident occurs, the law requires that the vehicles remain in place until a police officer responds to investigate. Traffic in Panama moves on the right, as in the U.S., and Panamanian law requires that drivers and passengers wear seat belts.

Flooding during the April to December rainy season occasionally makes city streets impassible and washes out some roads in the interior of the country. In addition, rural areas are often poorly maintained and lack illumination at night. Such roads are generally less traveled and the availability of emergency roadside assistance is very limited. Road travel is more dangerous during the rainy season and in the interior from Carnival through Good Friday. Carnival starts the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday and goes on for four days.

Traveling on the Pan American Highway: There is often construction at night on Panama's main Pan American highway. There are few signs alerting drivers to such construction and the highway is not well lit at night. When traveling on the highway, travelers should be aware of possible roadblocks. The Pan American Highway ends at Yaviza in the Darien Province of Panama and does not go through to Colombia. The paved portion of the road ends at Santa Fe, with all-weather surface through Canglón. Travelers going to South America by car may wish to ship their cars on a freighter.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.ipat.gob.pa/ and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mop.gob.pa/default0.asp.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Panama’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight ofPanama’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Panamanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Panama of items such as firearms and ammunition, cultural property, endangered wildlife species, narcotics, biological material, and food products. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Panama in Washington or one of Panama's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. Please see our Customs Information.

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

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Panama are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Panama. Americans withoutInternet 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 and U.S. Consular Section are located in Avenida Demetrio Basilio Lakas, Building No.783 in the Clayton section of Panama City. The international mailing address is: Apartado 0816-02561, Zona 5, Panama, Republic of Panama.

The U.S. mailing address is U.S. Embassy Panama, Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-9100. The telephone numbers for the Embassy are 011-507-207-7000, or for after-hours emergencies, 011-507-207-7200; Consular Section 011-507-207-7030 and fax 011-507-207-7278 or 011-507-207-7303. The Embassy web site is http://panama.usembassy.gov/. E-mail inquiries may be addressed to Panama-ACS@state.gov.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Panama dated December 2007, to update sections on Security and Information for Victims of Crimes.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 04:46:26 +0200 (METDST)

Panama City, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - The government of Panama on Monday announced strict quarantine measures that separate citizens by gender in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.   From Wednesday, men and women will only be able to leave their homes for two hours at a time, and on different days.   Until now, quarantine regulations were not based on gender.

Men will be able to go to the supermarket or the pharmacy on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and women will be allowed out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.   No one will be allowed to go out on Sundays.

The new measures will last for 15 days.   "This absolute quarantine is for nothing more than to save your life," security minister Juan Pino said at a press conference.   According to Pino, more than 2,000 people were detained last week for not abiding by the quarantine.   Since the first case was reported on March 10, Panama has confirmed 1,075 cases of the coronavirus, 43 of which are in intensive care, and 27 deaths.
Date: Wed, 11 Mar 2020 03:43:43 +0100 (MET)

Panama City, March 11, 2020 (AFP) - Panama's health minister on Tuesday confirmed eight cases of the new coronavirus in the country, including one death, the first virus-linked death in Central America.   "Of the eight patients we are reporting, one person is in intensive care, another unfortunately died," Minister Rosario Turner said during a press conference in Panama City.   According to the ministry, a 64-year-old man who was already suffering from diabetes complications associated with bacterial pneumonia died of the COVID-19 virus on Sunday.   Turner said that the deceased man was the director of a school and that two of the other cases were affiliated with the same establishment.   The other seven people who tested positive ranged in age from 29 to 59 and all but one had recently travelled abroad.

Panama is the second Central American country to record cases of the COVID-19 virus following Costa Rica, where 13 people tested positive, including three Americans.   The Panamanian government ordered public and private schools closed until April 7 in the potentially affected regions.   The Health Ministry, meanwhile, called on the population "to remain calm and follow prevention protocols."   A total of 117,339 cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded worldwide, including 4,251 deaths, across 107 countries and territories, according to an AFP tally.
Date: Tue 25 Jun 2019 10:30 EST
Source: La Prensa [in Spanish trans. Mod.TY, edited]

The Ministry of Health (MINSA) reported this [Tue 25 Jun 2019] 5 cases of equine encephalitis in Darien province. The Minister of Health Designate, Rosario Turner, explained that they are dealing with children.

Meanwhile, the current Minister of this office, Miguel Mayo, signalled that now it is being determined if they are dealing with Venezuelan equine encephalitis or eastern equine encephalitis, since both have circulated in Panama.

Mayo added that currently the patients are being treated in the Hospital del Nino Jose Renan Esquivel and that the ministry will provide more details of these cases in the coming hours.

The disease, transmitted by the bite of infected _Culex_ mosquitoes, attacks the nervous system causing disorientation, reduction in reflexes and movement of arms and legs. The usual hosts are horses and humans.  [Byline: Urania Cecilia Molina]
========================
[This is not the 1st time there have been human cases of encephalitis caused by both Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) and eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) in Darien province of Panama. As noted earlier, both viruses occur in Panama. The case fatality rate for humans infected with VEEV is relatively low -- less than 1 percent, whereas it is much higher in individuals with neurological disease from EEEV infections. Children are more severely affected by VEEV infection than adults.

If VEE virus infection in these children is confirmed, it would be of interest to know which VEEV subtype is involved in these cases, as subtype IAB or IC can cause massive equine epizootics over wide geographic areas with spillover to many humans. Subtype ID usually causes a few sporadic human cases (see ProMED-mail archive no. http://promedmail.org/post/20100617.2034). The results of confirmation of the virus involved in these cases is awaited with interest. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Panama:
Date: Mon, 13 May 2019 06:50:44 +0200

Panama City, May 13, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit Panama on Sunday, injuring at least five people and causing damage to businesses and homes, officials said.   The strong quake struck at a depth of 37 kilometers (23 miles) in the far west of the country near the Costa Rican border, according to the US Geological Survey.

It was followed by a smaller 5.4-magnitude quake in Colon province, on central Panama's Caribbean coast, according to the country's National Civil Protection System (Sinaproc).   Five people were injured in the first quake, which hit 22 km from the town of Puerto Armuelles, said Sinaproc.   Four homes were damaged, including two that collapsed, it said.

President Juan Carlos Varela had said on Twitter earlier that just one person was hurt, in Puerto Armuelles.    He reported damage to homes and businesses in the Central American nation.   School classes were suspended for Monday in Baru district, where the first quake struck.   There was no tsunami alert issued from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The second quake occurred late Sunday and was not related to the afternoon quake near Puerto Armuelles, Sinaproc said.   So far no damage has been reported from the second quake, it added.   In November 2017 a 6.5-magnitude quake on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica left buildings swaying in the capital San Jose and contributed to the deaths of two people who had heart attacks.   Further north, two months earlier in September 2017 a 7.1-magnitude earthquake killed more than 300 people in Mexico.
Date: Fri 4 Jan 2019
Source: WHO Emergencies preparedness response [edited]

The Panama Ministry of Health has reported an increase in cases of hantavirus infection in Los Santos Province, Republic of Panama, to the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). Between 1 Jan - 22 Dec 2018, a total of 103 confirmed cases of hantavirus [infections] have been reported at the national level, 99 of which were reported in Los Santos Province. In Los Santos Province, 51 cases were classified as hantavirus fever (HF) without pulmonary syndrome, and 48 cases were classified as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), including 4 deaths.

Of the 51 HF cases, 41 percent were female, 55 percent aged between 20-59 years, with 76 percent occurring between June 2018 and November 2018.

Of the 48 HPS cases, 56 percent were female, 67 percent aged between 20-59 years, with more than half of the cases occurring in February 2018 (17 percent) and between June 2018 and September 2018 (42 percent).

Of HPS cases, 4 deaths were reported (2 female, 2 male, all aged over 60 years).

Cases were confirmed by serology and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Sequencing determined that the type of virus associated with this outbreak is Choclo virus. It was 1st isolated in 1999 in the western Republic of Panama.

Hantavirus cases have been reported in the Republic of Panama since 1999 (Figure 1). In the last 5 years, transmission has been documented in Los Santos, Herrera, Veraguas, and Cocle provinces. During 2018, cases have been reported in Los Santos (99 cases, Figure 2), Herrera (2 cases), Cocle (one case) and Veraguas (one case) provinces (Figure 3). Since the reservoir for hantavirus is sylvatic rodents and transmission can occur when people come in contact with rodent habitats, the current increase in hantavirus cases in the Republic of Panama could be related to changes in the abundance and distribution of rodent species, as well as strengthened surveillance and laboratory capacity at the provincial level. Environmental and ecological factors affecting rodent populations can have a seasonal impact on disease trends.

Figure 1 [graph]. Distribution of HF and HPS cases by year, Republic of Panama, 1999-2018 (as of November 2018).
Figure 2 [graph]. Distribution of confirmed hantavirus [infection] cases by epidemiological week, Los Santos Province, Republic of Panama, January-December 2018.
Figure 3 [map]. Geographical distribution of confirmed hantavirus [infection] cases, Republic of Panama, January-November 2018.

Public health response

The public health responses currently being implemented include:
- Investigation and monitoring of cases, including case management.
- Enhanced surveillance and active case finding.
- Rodent control and mitigation measures.
- Increasing awareness and health promotion in the affected areas.

WHO risk assessment
------
HPS is a zoonotic, viral respiratory disease. The causative agent belongs to the genus _Hantavirus_, family Bunyaviridae. Infections are acquired primarily through inhalation of aerosols or contact with the excreta, droppings or saliva of infected rodents. Cases of human hantavirus infection usually occur in rural areas (forests, fields, farms, etc.), where rodents hosting the virus might be found. Infected individuals may experience headache, dizziness, chills, fever and myalgia. They may also experience gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains, and diarrhoea, followed by sudden onset of respiratory distress and hypotension. Symptoms of HPS typically occur from 2-4 weeks after initial exposure, though symptoms may appear as early as one week to as late as 8 weeks following exposure. The case fatality rate can reach 50 percent.

In the Americas, HPS cases have been reported in several countries. In January 2019, World Youth Day will be hosted in the Republic of Panama. This mass gathering will take place predominantly in Panama City, while side events will occur in other provinces. Though a seasonal increase of hantavirus during the month of January has not been previously documented, increases in cases have been related to outdoor and agricultural activities in rural environments. Nevertheless, participants to the World Youth Day should be provided with recommendations and guidance on how to take appropriate precautionary measures to reduce their risk of infection. Health awareness campaigns for health personnel and the general public are planned for the coming weeks. Organisers and public health authorities should collaborate with travel and tourism sectors in placing educational materials and appropriate signage at strategic locations and points of entry (e.g. airports, public transport stations, travel agent offices). Alternative forms of media including public service announcements on planes, ships and public radio should also be considered.

Based on current epidemiological data and public health response, WHO's risk assessment is that there is no significant risk of international spread of HPS in relation to this event.

WHO advice

PAHO/WHO recommends that Member States continue efforts of detection, investigation, reporting, and case management for the prevention and control of infections caused by hantavirus.

Particular attention should be paid to travellers returning from the affected areas, who are advised to report their travel history, as early identification and timely medical care can improve clinical outcomes.

Care during the initial stages of the illness should include antipyretics and analgesics as needed. In some situations, patients should receive broad-spectrum antibiotics while confirming the etiologic agent. Given the rapid progression of HPS, clinical management should focus on the patient's haemodynamic monitoring, fluid management, and ventilation support. Severe cases should be immediately transferred to intensive care units (ICUs).

Health awareness campaigns should aim to increase detection and timely treatment of the illness and prevent its occurrence by reducing people's contact with rodents. Preventive measures should cover occupational and eco-tourism related hazards. While most usual tourism activities pose little or no risk of exposing travellers to rodents or their excreta, people who engage in outdoor activities such as camping or hiking should take precautions to reduce possible exposure to potentially infectious materials.

HPS surveillance should be part of a comprehensive national surveillance system and must include clinical, laboratory and environmental components. WHO recommends the implementation of integrated environmental management, with the goal of reducing rodent populations. Throughout the World Youth Day event, syndromic surveillance may alert public authorities to increased influenza-like and GI symptoms among mass gathering participants.

At this time, WHO does not recommend any restrictions on travel and/or trade to the Republic of Panama based on available information for the current hantavirus outbreak.

References:
- Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). Epidemiological Alert Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS). 17 Oct 2013.
- Hantavirus in the Americas: Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment, prevention and control.
- Hantavirus information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

[Footnotes]
Hantavirus fever (HF): Cases who present with fever, myalgia, headache, gastrointestinal symptoms, and weakness. This case definition is used for epidemiological surveillance purposes to detect patients potentially exposed to the virus. Source: Guide for Hantavirus Disease Management in Republic of Panama, Gorgas Memorial Institute, Panama Ministry of Health.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS): Cases who present with cardio-respiratory symptoms, classified as mild, moderate, or severe. Source: Guide for Hantavirus Disease Management in Republic of Panama, Gorgas Memorial Institute, Panama Ministry of Health.

National Reference Laboratory, Gorgas Memorial Institute,

World Youth Day Panama 2019. (<https://bit.ly/2KdmDxT>)

For the last 5 World Youth Day events (2016 in Krakow, Poland; 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; 2011 in Madrid, Spain; 2008 in Sydney, Australia; and 2005 in Cologne, Germany), the range in the number of attendees was 500 000 in Australia (<https://bit.ly/2rXptP1>) to 3,700,000 in Brazil (<https://bit.ly/2EVxs77>).
====================
[Although ProMED-mail has reported most of the cases of hantavirus infections in Panama during 2018, this WHO summary and the graphs and map may be of interest to subscribers and other readers. It is helpful to note that laboratory diagnosis has been carried out by the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory, the national reference laboratory in Panama. The methods used for diagnosis are mentioned in this report. Interestingly, Choclo is the hantavirus identified in these cases, based on genomic sequence analysis. Curiously, Choclo virus is never mentioned in the popular press reports that come to ProMED-mail from Panama. It is reassuring to know that the virus responsible for these cases, or at least the ones for which samples and diagnostic testing was done, confirm the ProMED conclusion that Chocolo virus was involved. Earlier, Dr. Jan Clement suggested that Seoul hantavirus might be involved in some of the cases in the Americas including Panama. Presumably, genomic analysis by the Gorgas Lab would have detected this virus. Nonetheless, diagnostic laboratories should be aware of this possibility and look for it.

The WHO report indicates that rodents are the reservoir hosts of Choclo virus but does not specify which rodents play that role. The rodent host of Choclo virus is the pygmy rice rat (_Oligoryzomys fulvescens_), a photograph of which can be accessed at <http://www.medwave.cl/medios/perspectivas/Hantavirus/Actualiz/Fig2.jpg>. These rodents live in and around agricultural areas and adjacent houses and buildings. They can be persistently infected with the virus and shed it in urine, feces, and saliva, the source of human infections.

Map of Panama: <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/americas/panama.jpg>. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
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World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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