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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 14 Nov 2019 12:51:34 +0100 (MET)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haiti US Consular Information Sheet
June 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Haiti is one of the least developed and least stable countries in the Western Hemisphere. The availability of consumer goods and services is barely adequate in the capi
al, Port-au-Prince, but other parts of the country experience chronic shortages. Most consumer products are imported and expensive. Some tourism facilities in the large cities and resort areas are satisfactory, but many are rudimentary at best, and are difficult to find in most rural areas and small towns. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Haiti for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All Americans traveling by air outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. Haitian law requires U.S. citizens to have a passport to enter and exit Haiti. Once in Haiti, an undocumented U.S. citizen can experience delays of several weeks for the issuance of a passport, as it is often more difficult to establish identity and citizenship overseas than in the United States. The Haitian government requires foreigners to pay a departure fee. U.S. citizens are encouraged to contact the Embassy of the Republic of Haiti for more details regarding current entry, departure and customs requirements for Haiti. The Embassy of the Republic of Haiti is located at 2311 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008; the telephone number is (202) 332-4090, and the Internet address is http://www.haiti.org/. There are Haitian consulates in Miami and Orlando, Florida; Boston, Massachusetts; New York, NY; Chicago, Illinois and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens should exercise extreme caution and are strongly encouraged to register online at https://travelregistration.state.gov prior to travel.
Travel in Haiti can be dangerous and all visitors are urged to exercise vigilance and caution. In some cities and towns ordinary services such as water, electricity, police protection and government services are either very limited or unavailable. While U.N. personnel from several countries have been in Haiti since 2004, their presence does not guarantee absolute security for residents or visitors.
During 2007 and early April 2008, the Embassy issued several security related messages warning U.S. citizens in Haiti of violent or unstable conditions. On occasion, the U.S. mission in Haiti was forced to suspend service to the public or close because of security concerns. These concerns have also prevented Embassy personnel from traveling to or through some areas. Since October 2004 Embassy personnel have been prohibited from entering central Port-au-Prince after dark due to security concerns. The Embassy has also imposed a curfew on its officers from time to time. If situations occur where the Embassy must suspend operations or when officers are unable to travel freely, the Embassy will continue to be available by telephone to offer emergency services to U.S. citizens.
In early April 2008, there were violent demonstrations, looting, transportation disruptions, and up to seven reported deaths in Les Cayes and Port-au-Prince. Some American citizens were temporarily stranded in isolated locations and could not safely travel until calm was restored. Because political and economic conditions precipitating the civil unrest have not been entirely resolved, American citizens should defer non-essential travel to Haiti.
U.S. citizens in Haiti should avoid all large gatherings, as crowd behavior can be unpredictable. Visitors encountering roadblocks, demonstrations, or large crowds should remain calm and depart the area quickly and without confrontation. Assistance from Haitian officials, such as the police, is often unavailable. Overseas visitors must be particularly cautious on the days of planned political activities. U.S. citizens are urged to take common-sense precautions and avoid any event where crowds may congregate.

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: There are no "safe areas" in Haiti. Crime, a chronic problem over the years, has increased in recent years and can be subject to periodic surges sometimes not obviously explained by other events or conditions. The U.S. estimates that up to 8% of the cocaine entering the United States passes through Haiti. The state of law and order has steadily deteriorated as a result. Reports of kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, break-ins or carjackings are common. These crimes are primarily Haitian against Haitian, though several foreigners and U.S. citizens have been victimized. In 2007, there were 29 reported kidnappings of American citizens, including two victims who were killed. Many American citizens reported that they were beaten and or raped by their hostage takers. Kidnapping remains the most critical security concern; kidnappers frequently target children.
U.S. citizens who travel to Haiti should exercise extreme caution throughout the country. Travelers should keep valuables well hidden, ensure possessions are not left in parked vehicles, use private transportation, alternate travel routes, and keep doors and windows in homes and vehicles closed and locked. U.S. citizens should avoid all night-time travel due to poor road conditions and increased criminal activity after dark. They should be alert for suspicious onlookers when entering and exiting banks, as criminals often watch and subsequently attack bank customers. Withdrawals of large amounts of cash should be avoided.
Criminal perpetrators often operate in groups of two to four individuals, and are disposed occasionally to be confrontational and gratuitously violent. Criminals sometimes will seriously injure or kill those who resist their attempts to commit crime. In robberies or home invasions, it is not uncommon for the assailants to beat or shoot the victim in order to limit the victim's ability to resist. If an armed individual demands the surrender of a vehicle or other valuables, the U.S. Embassy recommends compliance without resistance. This recommendation also applies in the event of a kidnapping. Visitors to Haiti should exercise caution at all times and review basic personal security procedures frequently.
U.S. citizens in Haiti must be particularly alert when arriving from overseas at the Port-au-Prince airport, as criminals have often targeted arriving passengers for later assaults and robberies. Some recent incidents have resulted in death. The use of public transportation, including "tap-taps" (private transportation used for commercial purposes), is not recommended. Visitors to Haiti should arrange for someone known to them to meet them at the airport.
U.S. citizens should decline all requests to carry items for others to or from Haiti. Traffickers of illegal drugs have duped unsuspecting travelers into helping transport narcotics aboard commercial airlines.
Certain high-crime zones in the Port-au-Prince area should be avoided, including Croix-des-Bouquets, Carrefour, Martissant, the port road (Boulevard La Saline), urban route Nationale #1, the airport road (Boulevard Toussaint L'Ouverture) and its adjoining connectors to the New ("American") Road via Route Nationale #1 (which should also be avoided). This latter area in particular has been the scene of numerous robberies, carjackings, and murders. Embassy employees are prohibited from remaining in the downtown area after dark or entering Cite Soleil and La Saline and their surrounding environs due to significant criminal activity. Neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince once considered relatively safe, such as the Delmas road area and Petionville, have been the scenes of an increasing number of violent crimes.
Cameras and video cameras should only be used with the permission of the subjects; violent incidents have followed unwelcome photography. Their use should be avoided altogether in high-crime areas.
Holiday periods, especially Christmas and Carnival, often bring a significant increase in criminal activity. Haiti's Carnival season is marked by street celebrations in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. In recent years, Carnival has been accompanied by civil disturbances, altercations and severe traffic disruptions. People attending Carnival events or simply caught in the resulting celebrations have been injured and killed. Random stabbings during Carnival season are frequent. Roving musical bands called “rah-rahs” operate during the period from New Year's Day through Carnival. Being caught in a rah-rah event may begin as an enjoyable experience, but the potential for injury and the destruction of property is high. A mob mentality can develop unexpectedly leaving people and cars engulfed and at risk. During Carnival, rah-rahs continuously form without warning; some rah-rahs have identified themselves with political entities, lending further potential for violence.
The Haitian police are understaffed, poorly equipped and unable to respond to most calls for assistance. There are continued allegations of police complicity in criminal activity. The unsatisfactory response and enforcement capabilities of the Haitian national police and the weakness of the judiciary frustrate many victims of crime in Haiti. In the past, U.S. citizens involved in business and property disputes in Haiti have been arrested and detained without charge, and have been released only after intervention at high levels of the Haitian Government.

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

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Haiti are scarce and for the most part sub-standard; outside the capital standards are even lower. Medical care in Port-au-Prince is limited, and the level of community sanitation is extremely low. Life-threatening emergencies often require evacuation by air ambulance at the patient's expense. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

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 Haiti is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Cars are supposed to be driven on the right side of the road in Haiti, but few roads have lane indicators and drivers use whatever part of the road is open to them, even if it is not the correct side of the road. Traffic is extremely congested in urban areas, and hours-long traffic jams develop throughout the country.
Driving in Haiti must be undertaken with extreme caution. The situation on the roads can be described as chaotic at best, and it is advisable for those with no knowledge of Haitian roads and traffic customs to hire a driver through a local hotel. Roads are generally unmarked, and detailed and accurate maps are not widely available. Lanes are not marked and signs indicating the direction of traffic flow seldom exist. This lack of organization, along with huge potholes that occur without warning, may cause drivers to execute unpredictable and dangerous maneuvers in heavy traffic. The Haitian government lacks adequate resources to assist drivers in distress or to clear the road of accidents or broken-down vehicles blocking the flow of traffic. Drinking and driving is illegal in Haiti, but people frequently drive after drinking, especially at night.
Public transportation as it is usually defined does not exist in Haiti. While Haitians use buses, "tap-taps" and taxis, which may observe regular routes, much like public transportation, none of these should be considered reliable. The Embassy strongly discourages their use.
Those who drive in Haiti should do so defensively and conservatively, avoid confrontations such as jockeying for position, and remain aware of the vehicles around them. Drivers should carry the phone numbers of people to call for assistance in an emergency, as Haitian authorities are unlikely to respond to requests for assistance. When traveling outside of Port-au-Prince, drivers should caravan with other vehicles to avoid being stranded in the event of an accident or breakdown.
Although written and driving tests are required to qualify for driver's licenses, road laws are not generally known or applied. Signaling imminent actions is not widely practiced, and not all drivers use turn indicators or international hand signals properly. For instance, many drivers use their left blinker for all actions, including turning right and stopping in the road, and others flap their left arm out the window to indicate that they will be taking an unspecified action. Drivers do not always verify that the road is clear before switching lanes, turning, or merging.
Speed limits are seldom posted and are generally ignored. Speeding is the cause of many of the fatal traffic accidents in Haiti, as are overloaded vehicles on winding, mountainous roads and vehicles without brakes. Poor maintenance and mechanical failures often cause accidents as well. Drivers should be particularly cautious at night, as unlighted vehicles can appear without warning.
Right of way is not widely observed in Haiti, and there are few operational traffic lights or traffic signs. It is advisable at most intersections to stop and verify that there is no oncoming traffic even if it appears that you have the right of way. Drivers can be quite aggressive and will seldom yield. Walls built to the edge of roads frequently make it impossible to see around corners, forcing drivers to edge their cars into the road at intersections to check for oncoming traffic.
In addition to vehicles, a variety of other objects may appear on the road in Haiti, such as wooden carts dragged by people, small ice cream carts, animals, mechanics working on vehicles parked on the street, and even vendors and their wares. Vehicles are often abandoned in the road or by the side of the road. There are few marked crosswalks and sidewalks, and pedestrians often wend their way through traffic in urban areas. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Haiti’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Haiti'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:
The official currency of Haiti is the gourde, which has a variable exchange rate. Visitors will notice that most establishments in Haiti price items in an unofficial currency known as the “Haitian dollar.” (One Haitian dollar is equivalent to five gourdes.) Others give prices in gourdes or even in U.S. dollars. It is always a good idea to clarify with vendors which currency -- the gourde, Haitian dollar, or U.S. dollar -- is being used in a given transaction, as price tags often bear a number without indicating currency. The currency itself shows a value in gourdes. U.S. dollars are the currency of choice at the Labadee Beach cruise ship port-of-call.
Travelers' checks are often difficult to change in Haiti, but credit cards are widely accepted and some establishments accept or cash personal checks. At least one local bank chain has ATMs around Port-au-Prince that are compatible with some U.S. ATM cards. These ATMs are frequently out-of-order, and there have been reports of over-charging accounts.
Haiti, like most Caribbean countries, can be affected by hurricanes and other storms. Hurricane season runs from approximately June 1 - November 30 each year. Extensive flooding as a result of heavy rainfall has occurred in the past. Daily weather information in Haiti is available from national and international media. The Haitian meteorological service provides hurricane warnings via national radio. Both media and government information is only in Kreyol and/or French. Warnings are also available on the internet from many sources among which is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at hurricanes.noaa.gov. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
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 offences. Persons violating Haiti's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Haiti are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. The judicial process in Haiti can be extremely long; progress is often dependent on considerations not related to the specific case. Detainees may wait months or years for their cases to be heard before a judge or to have legal decisions acted upon by the authorities. Bond is not usually available to those arrested for serious crimes with the result that often suspects remain in custody for many months before formal indictment. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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 Haiti are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Departments travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Haiti. 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 Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located at Boulevard du 15 October, Tabarre 41, Tabarre, Haiti. The main Embassy switchboard number is: (509) (2) 229-8000. The America Citizens Services (ACS) Unit fax number is (509) (2) 229-8027, the email address is acspap@hotmail.com. Web site: http://haiti.usembassy.gov/. ACS Unit office hours are 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Consular Section is closed on U.S. and local holidays.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Haiti dated April 27, 2007 to update sections on Exit/Entry Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 4 Jul 2019 01:08:12 +0200

Port-au-Prince, July 3, 2019 (AFP) - At least five people were killed and three are missing in Haiti after a torrential downpour buffeted the capital of Port-au-Prince, the country's civil protection agency said Wednesday.   Three people were found dead in the city's impoverished Cite Soleil neighbourhood, while two others were killed elsewhere in Port-au-Prince.   In the busy hillside neighbourhood of Petionville, three people went missing and five were seriously injured when a wall collapsed under the weight of the downpour.

On Wednesday, heavy equipment was rolled out across the capital to clear mud and debris, while officials warned residents in flood-prone areas to remain on alert.   "There are unstable weather conditions prevailing in the Caribbean basin, and rain and thunderstorm activity could hit the country over the next two days," Haiti's civil protection agency said.

Heavy rain causes unusual damage in Haiti's main cities due to a lack of proper drainage infrastructure.   Some of the country's poorest residents also build flimsy homes along canals and gullies that easily become clogged with waste when it rains.   Every year Haiti has to prepare for potentially catastrophic storms during the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30. However due to a complete lack of urban planning, even heavy rain is enough to threaten lives across the country.
Date: Wed, 22 May 2019 02:06:35 +0200
By Amelie BARON

Port-au-Prince, May 22, 2019 (AFP) - With no oxygen in intensive care or gloves in the emergency room, residents at Haiti's largest hospital have gone on strike to protest the filthy environment and demand six months of back pay.   "We have almost nothing when we talk about emergency services," said Emmanuel Desrosiers, 24, one of the doctors-in-training at the State University of Haiti Hospital (HUEH) that began the work stoppage Monday.    "When a patient arrives, when we should immediately take charge, we start by listing the things they or their family need to go buy."   The HUEH, known as the "general hospital," is where the most disadvantaged families in this impoverished Caribbean country crowd. Buying the medical supplies themselves is a financial headache, but private clinics are far too expensive.   In crumbling buildings in the center of Port-au-Prince, male and female patients are crowded together in tiny rooms, while trash cans overflow.   "We feel ridiculous when we give hygienic advice to patients," one resident said of the situation.

The residents' selflessness as they work in an unsanitary environment is compounded by the fact that they have not been paid since the start of their residency, nearly six months ago.   After five years of medical studies, the state is required to pay them 9,000 Haitian gourdes (HTG) per month -- only about $100, due to the devaluation of the national currency.   Nothing is being done about the hospital's disrepair, with those in charge waiting for a new building to be completed, according to resident Yveline Michel.   The new HUEH will have two floors and more than 530 beds once it's finished -- but it's unclear when that will be.   The project began after the January 2010 earthquake, which destroyed more than half the hospital. The United States, France and Haiti invested $83 million in a new hospital, which should have been completed by 2016.   Instead, there is little visible activity on the construction site, which can be seen through the windows of the current building.

Due to the heat, the windows are always open, letting in noise and dust from the street. There are only a few fans in the hospital rooms, which do little to combat the humidity or the flies.   "At any moment we could lose patients, but the state isn't doing anything to save their lives," said Michel, 25.   "We're striking for the population, since it should make these demands."   But some locals question the residents' position because the strike prevents the already struggling hospital from functioning.   Since the strike began, the poorest families in the area no longer know where to go for medical emergencies, as the residents are in charge of admitting patients.   "Due to the lack of resources and the unsanitary environment, there are always people dying in the hospital, so it's not the strike causing that," said Michel in response.
Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2019 07:52:47 +0100
By Amelie BARON

Port-au-Prince, Feb 21, 2019 (AFP) - With flaming barricades and widespread looting, 10 days of street violence in Haiti have all but buried a tourism industry that managed to resurrect itself after a devastating earthquake in 2010.   Ugly, violent footage beamed around the world has again sent the message that this impoverished Caribbean country is politically unstable and no place to go on vacation.

The final straw was the helicopter evacuation last week of 100-odd Canadian tourists trapped as angry protesters demanded the resignation of the president, whom they accuse of corruption.   "We have been through 12 days of hell. We managed the crisis but today we are suffering from the aftershocks," said Tourism Minister Marie-Christine Stephenson.

- Blacklist -
Beside the direct effects of the demonstrations, the United States delivered another crushing blow on February 14 when it urged its citizens not to travel to Haiti, which thus joined a no-go list with war-torn countries like Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

The minister said the US travel alert for Haiti was too harsh, calling the riots something that flared up unexpectedly and are now over.   "OK, they lasted 12 days but I am not sure that other Caribbean countries, which have had riots of their own, have been punished as severely and quickly as we have," said Stephenson.   Overnight, the decision by the US State Department hit the tourism industry hard. Travel web sites simply stopped offering flights to Haiti's two international airports.   Hotels are reporting cancellation of reservations and many empty rooms.

Officials in the industry have yet to tally up the damage but say that for the second time in less than a year, they will have to lay off workers.   In July of last year, three days of riots over a government attempt to raise fuel prices ruined the summer vacation season for Haiti's tourism industry.   It is not just hotels that will suffer again, said Beatrice Nadal-Mevs, president of the Haitian Tourism Association.   "This is going to affect everyday people because these are direct jobs that are going to be lost and supply chains will be threatened: farming, fishing, crafts, transport," Nadal-Mevs said.

- Mardi Gras cancelled -
With the opposition planning more demonstrations to seek the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, the sector got yet more bad news with word that Carnival celebrations have been called off in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.   City Hall said it could not guarantee revelers' safety.   The festivities, which this year were planned for March 3-5, usually draw many Haitians living abroad and fleeing the winter cold in Canada and the eastern US.

Another major Carnival celebration is scheduled to take place in the city of Gonaives, but the government has not said if it will go ahead.   As grim as things are, some foreign tourists have gone ahead with visits to Haiti.   On Wednesday, a group of Australians under police escort visited a square featuring statues of heros of Haiti's independence from France. Days ago, demonstrators at the same plaza were throwing rocks at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas grenades.

A woman named Carole, who did not want to give her last name, said, "I trust the company we're traveling with. They not only want to take us but they want to bring us back."   Kevin McCue, another of the people in the group of 20, said he was glad that their tour operator had not opted for Plan B, which would have meant skipping Haiti and spending the whole week in the neighboring Dominican Republic.   "Tourism is alive and well here. People should come. The more they come, the better they spread some money among people who need it and the better for Haiti," said McCue.
Date: Sun, 17 Feb 2019 23:37:22 +0100

Ottawa, Feb 17, 2019 (AFP) - A group of 25 school students from Quebec and three chaperones were able to leave Haiti on Sunday, where they had been stuck due to violent anti-government protests.   "We are on the plane" back to Montreal, one of the chaperones confirmed in a message to AFP.   Canadian tour operator Transat also confirmed that the group of students was aboard flight TS663, which departed at 3:59 pm (2059 GMT) from Port-au-Prince.   In addition to the students, employees of Canada's temporarily-shuttered embassy were also heading home aboard the aircraft.   The day before, a group of 131 Canadian tourists were evacuated via helicopter from their beachside resort in Haiti after being trapped for one week at the site due to the ongoing unrest.   The tourists were ferried in shifts to the Port-au-Prince international airport, where they boarded a flight to Canada, Transat said.

On Friday, Canada officially warned its citizens against all travel to Haiti, an advisory issued after the temporary closure of its embassy in Port-au-Prince.   Since February 7, at least seven people have died as Haiti has been plunged into political crisis, with everyday life paralyzed by protests and barricades in the largest towns.   The protesters, angry at soaring inflation and the alleged theft of nearly $2 billion in Venezuelan oil relief, are demanding President Jovenel Moise's resignation.   Canada is one of Haiti's largest international donors and is home to a large Haitian diaspora, located mostly in French-speaking Quebec.
Date: Thu, 14 Feb 2019 20:37:05 +0100

Ottawa, Feb 14, 2019 (AFP) - Canada on Thursday temporarily closed its embassy in Haiti as violent protests against President Jovenel Moise's government trapped hundreds of Canadian tourists in the Caribbean island nation.   "Due to the current volatility, the Port-au-Prince embassy is closed today and we will continue to assess the situation in the coming days to ensure that our diplomats and their families are safe," Canada's foreign ministry said in a statement.   Clashes between police and protesters left at least one dead on Wednesday in Port-au-Prince, bringing to at least seven the number of people killed since protests began a week earlier.   The protesters, angry about skyrocketing inflation and the alleged theft of nearly $2 billion in Venezuelan oil relief to the island, are demanding Moise's resignation.

Gun violence and blocked roads prevented about 100 Canadian tourists staying at the all-inclusive Royal Decameron Indigo Beach resort to get to the airport on Sunday.   "At present, it is not safe to organize a trip to the airport, so for the moment our customers are at the hotel, they are perfectly safe," said Christophe Hennebelle, vice president of tour operator Transat.   "We are in constant contact with the Canadian embassy in Haiti and with the government authorities to assess the situation," he said, adding that he hoped that "in the coming days" the Canadians would be repatriated. An airplane remains on standby in Canada to go pick them up.   Ottawa, meanwhile, is urging Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel to Haiti.
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Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

Antartica

General:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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:
***********************************************
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:
************************************
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:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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;
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
*
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:
**********************************
Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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